Tuesday, September 23

Today, not yesterday or the next day.

Following a conversation with a friend, about God and time and hope and possibility (really ought to have been a pub conversation, with empty glasses cluttering the table), I did some thinking. My friend was projecting (as far as I can tell) the idea that it is today we should think about. So although people will naturally have expectations, based on previous time spend with us, or perhaps just preconceptions, we should try to free ourselves from these expectations. We should live each day as if it is a new day, if that is possible. Which lead me to a few questions, and namely one about whether, having made what we feel are mistakes, or done stupid things, whether we ought to apologise for them, or just forge the new, forge the better and concentrate on that? Because when we apologise, even to other people, we are simultaneously solidifying regrets, or concentrating on what went wrong, rather than today, here, these minutes, this evening where the sky is dark and the streetlamps lit. I'm not sure; a lot depends on the context, as Offred discusses (or rather Atwood discusses via Offred) in The Handmaid's Tale. It is a question, like most, of interpretation, but what does saying sorry do? For the people who know you, they will probably know that you are sorry, and for those who don't, I suppose you just have to hope, and concentrate on each day as it arrives.

(And yet we plan weeks, months, years ahead. We're forced to. We can't help looking at yesterday, either: 'we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.' Incidentally, when I borrowed someone else's copy of The Great Gatsby, they'd underlined it as well.)

Language is key. The attention to detail. The peeking out of the sides of our hoods.

In 'The Handmaid's Tale', the female 'handmaids' are named Of + [commander's name]. Our (for she is ours; she is the voice which Atwood has sung in knowledge that the personal is the political) protagonist is called Offred.

If she had simply named the women Mrs + [husband's name], I doubt we would have been asking where the Ms was. Especially since it seems that a lot of women in my generation are hardly aware of Ms. By subverting our traditional naming practices, however, she comments on the possessive power element embedded into our naming system through a patriarchal society. We ask, why should this women be named after a man? (A man, incidentally, with whom in Gilead she has not initially chosen to associate herself. The choice was not there.) Why, moreover, should she be defined in terms of the man? ‘Offred’ insinuates that the most important thing is that she is owned; she is someone else’s; she is Fred’s, and he has laid claim to her more publically than any wedding ring.

We turn the question to ourselves. We can’t help it. The parallel is clear. Why should we be defined (for naming is defining, see 'Translations' - Brian Friel) by our male partner? And what on earth happens if our partner isn't male? (Gilead being a puritan, Christian fundamentalist state, homosexuality or anything verging remotely away from heterosexuality is forbidden. The choice, again, is not there.)

This example from 'The Handmaid's Tale' is a small one, but it shows how Atwood is clearly tackling gender issues: question of power, possession, and patriarchy.