Perceptions of the Feminine Through Art
in the European Union
Utah State University
The objective of this paper is to investigate how women and
the concept of feminine have been perceived by the European Union
and how this perception has been reflected in art, in particular
literature and film. This paper concentrates on two artistic
expressions that are concerned with the contradictions between
the personal and social realms present in the process of Europe
unification, and analyzes their attempts to offer novel approaches
to resolving the contradictions.
To explore how the role of the feminine is perceived in the European
Union, I have selected two artistic expressions from two European countries, Spain and France.
The example chosen from Spain is the work of Dolores Soler-Espiauba,
a woman writer, who is also a professor of Spanish in the "Conseil
de l'Europe". Her novel, Los canardos, illustrates
the role of Spanish women in the cultural unification of Europe
of the 80's. The example selected from France is Krzysztof Kieslowski's
movie Blue , filmed in the 90's. The director is actually
from Poland, which makes the movie even more interesting, since
it represents an "outsider's" perspective on the topic
studied, showing the relationship between the importance of individual
development and social/political issues. Each work illustrates
the role of the feminine in a different aspect of unity in the
new European reality.
It is generally accepted that the European Union has been an
economic success. In fact, the role of this organization in its
original form was strictly limited to facilitating economic development
in member countries by developing an integrated economic structure.
It was only later that the idea of unification among the member
states in the political and cultural realms was formulated and
pursued. Despite the fact that this experiment has been going
on for a number of years, it is not at all clear that much progress
has been made in these two areas, particularly with respect to
cultural unification. This is, in my opinion, related to the
fact that the cultural problems should be formulated and analyzed
in the subjective language, that requires interpretation and
is quite different from the objective language used to describe
the economic/functional. Since the origin of the union lies in
the economic realm, it is not at all surprising that the unification
in the cultural realm is pursued within the union using the objective,
approach, particularly since it has proven rather effective in
the economic integration. This, of course, creates problems,
since the cultural world cannot be reduced to the objective map.
The same is true about the realm of subjective/individual, i.e.,
the realm of feelings, whose understanding requires interpretation,
and whose complexity cannot be mapped using the flatland language
of physical sciences.[1 ]
According to Wilber the Kosmic development takes place in four
realms which even though complimentary, cannot be reduced to
each other (The Eye of Spirit 13). According to Wilber
these realms are: 1. individual-subjective;
2. individual-objective; 3. cultural; and 4. structural-functional
(political-economic) (The Eye of Spirit 13). Human development
also takes place in the four quadrants, and any transcendence
in one of them needs to be accompanied by related development
in the other three, if such transcendence is to be stable. Thus,
harmonious and stable development is the one that takes place
in all four quadrants.
If we follow Wilber's approach in our analysis of the European
Union, we recognize, through the works studied, that the European
Union is practically neglecting the individual-subjective and
cultural aspects, concentrating mainly in the structural-functional
(political-economical) realm. In Soler-Espiauba's work, which
is focused on the situation of the language professors in the
Conseil de l'Europe, we can observe the cultural aspects of the
unification. Her work demonstrates the dominatory structure that
the European Union still has with regard to these aspects. Kieslowski
concentrates on the other subjective realm, the individual one.
In some ways this realm seems to be, at least at the first glance,
quite removed from the issues of the unification. In Kieslowski's
work, however, we see a clear connection between the cultural
unification and an individualís ability to be in communion
with the society. Kieslowski's movie demonstrates that the European
Community is an union only in a quite limited sense, since it
concentrates only on the political and economical issues and
does not address the individual fulfillment and development.
Both works confirm an observation expressed frequently in the
European mass media, that is well summarized by the Spanish periodical
Tiempo: "the European Union thinks only about money"
(Sanchez Bardon 28; my translation) , and does not pay attention
to the cultural and individual aspects.
As we indicated before, Soler-Espiauba's work is concerned with
the cultural unification of the European Union. Her work shows
the discrimination born by some language professors in the European
Union, specifically in the Conseil de l'Europe, because of their
profession and nationality. This discrimination is fostered by
paternalistic attitudes and nationalisms present among the driving
forces of unification, which in turn originate in cultural bias
based on the projection of economic ranking onto the cultural
relationships, as well as by a technocratic-economic approach
towards cultural values, and reveals that the unity proclaimed
by the European Union is much more apparent than real.
Soler-Espiauba's novel conveys the impression that the unification
process defends only the economic interests, marginalizing the
groups which do not directly contribute, at least in the perception
of decision-makers, to the economic production. Her work demonstrates
that the European Union not only does not address, let alone
resolve, the issue of economic bias towards culture, which have
been present in the member countries since before the unification,
but adds to it another type of bias related to cultural-nationalistic
prejudices. Not only does this situation show that no transcendence
of the local, nationalistic tendencies in cultural relationships
has been achieved, but it also demonstrates that the continuation
of the old regime, organized around a system of hierarchies which
places the non-productive cultural element in a position of inferiority
is still well alive. The European Union, based on the suppression
of economic and labor boundaries, is also attempting to include
all the languages of member countries in its activities, the
latter being a step towards cultural unification. Soler-Espiauba,
in Los canardos, refers to the European Union as the "house"
(9; my translation) which includes all different nationalities,
with their cultures and languages. It is curious that she chooses
the same image that was used by Juan Gelpi in Literatura y
paternalismo en Puerto Rico to describe a single nation.
Gelpi defines a person that uses paternalist rhetoric as: "The
one who sees himself as a father and places other members of
society in an inferior position of children" (2; my translation).
The paternalist rhetoric, Gelpi continues, refers often to familial
relationships, and its main metaphor is to compare the nation
to a "large family" (2; my translation). According
to Gelpi any attempt of unification that is based on the interests
of a particular group is bound to result in a paternalist approach
to politics. Soler-Espiauba criticizes this kind of unifying
space. In her novel she presents the Community as a house in
which not all members receive the same treatment and some of
them are considered "foreign" for reasons of nationality
and profession. The main character of the novel states:
In front of the elevator door, which threatens to close if I
do not harry up, reserved and courteous gestures by two German
translators, somewhat familiar: "You first," "of
course, you," "no, no please." She fat and pink,
completely similar to the millions of compatriots, has just told
me with her best smile: "Please, go, we are the ones who
are home, we should be the ones who are polite." I am shocked.
I enter with my best smile too... she has convinced me. How dared
I think I was home? After working here for five years, not missing
a class even one day, not arriving late..., of course I am not
home, because there must be a difference between an European
translator and a professor of languages. (9; my translation)
From this example we can deduct that some kind of hierarchy is
established according to the nationality and narrowly perceived
economic productivity of a person. According to the author, in
this hierarchy the ranking of language professors is quite lower
than that of technocrats and businessman. This productivity based
hierarchy distinguishes even between translators and language
teachers, the former ranked higher, presumably because they contribute
directly to economic integration and production. Soler-Espiauba
refers directly to this situation in the same novel: "You
think, with bitterness, about your colleagues from different
nations, who have worked here since the Institution appeared,
more than 20 years ago... Professors from Italy, France, Holland,
suffering with a smile the same humiliations, injustices"
(66; my translation). The ranking of language professors goes
even deeper and depends on the geographic origins of the language,
since there exists a certain prejudice towards the countries
of the South in Europe. The main character states: "Portugal,
a country which was good taste to ignore, because everything
that was ìsnobbishî lied north of the Pyrinees"
(17; my translation). The author, in a personal interview expressed
openly the contradiction that exists between the theoretical
plan of equality of the European Union and the hierarchical reality
which exits in the Institution:
The discriminatory treatment that the group of professors, where
I belong, suffers is very obvious, since a couple of months ago
the powers that be thought of privatizing the service, which
of course would be our end... I do not think this as a discrimination
against Spanish, since we have been integrated since 86. At the
beginning perhaps yes (the scene at the elevator they were not
German by chance: Italians would not have reacted this way, not
even French)... As for the kind of language, I told you about
a "word" that is used and that I do not like: "les
petites langues" or "les langues exotiques." English
and French have all rights and are very important. German is
wining much importance with the entrance of countries from the
East... After it's Spanish, thanks to the Latin-American background,
of course. Dutch has some audience, because of the bilingual
situation of this country. The rest have not any importance.
(Personal interview 7-12-96; my translation)
From this we can conclude that the cultural integration expressed
by the inclusion of all the member languages in the Unionís
proceedings is more a political manipulation than a true means
of unification. This is reflected in the principal characterís
words: "He complemented you that night, simulating his interest,
on your contribution as a language professor to the European
Union during the difficult time of unification" (52; my
translation). This politics is similar to the paternalist rhetoric
since it places some members in a position of inferiority, while
at the same time letting them believe in a participation which
is illusory. We thus see that the diversity of cultures and
languages within the European Union, which could be a source
of its richness, in practice turns into pathological, dominatory
structure. In this respect the author says: "The opposition
North/South is evident in all situations. This opposition could
be quite enriching, as is demonstrated mainly in classes. Not
so much in faculty meetings and discussions about work, where
the lack of understanding or opposition could be ferocious"
(Personal interview, 7-12-96; my translation).
Through Soler-Espiauba's novel we can see that another important
aspect of the discriminatory attitude towards the "cultural"
professions is related to the issue of gender. Based on the novel
one might conclude that one of the main reasons for the discrimination
toward language professors is the fact that the majority of them
are women. In addition, we believe that the discrimination is
related to the fact that the problem-solving oriented rulers
of the European community find it difficult to understand and
accept the subjective character of the cultural unification.
This character is subjective regardless of whether it is women
or men who are actually involved in the cultural unification.
In our opinion it is not by accident, however, that we find that
the majority of language professors are women. It is a domain
in which the drive towards communion, unification and mutual
understanding is of great value. And this drive is, of course,
characteristic of the feminine. Although Soler-Espiauba does
not indicate how this characteristic could be used to facilitate
cultural unification, it is still clear that in her novel, women
appear as a "denuncia" voice, the voice that speaks
for the cultural realm of the European Union.
The focus of Kieslowski's movie is the personal growth and
transcendence of differences within the subjective, individual
quadrant. Although the movie does not directly deal with the
socio-political and cultural issues, it reflects the partial
character of these realms indirectly by showing the lack of individual
fulfillment within the European cultural and political reality.
During the 80's Kieslowski described his impressions of the chaotic
situation in Poland and the world in general as follows: "During
the martial law, I realized that politics aren't really important.
In a way, of course, they define where we are and what we're
allowed or aren't allowed to do, but they don't solve the really
important human questions" (Stok 144). It is obvious that
Kieslowski is concerned with the problem of freedom, but in his
opinion this freedom is related more to the internal conditions
of human being than to the exterior situation. He says:
I believe we're just as much prisoners of our own passions,
our own physiology, and certainly our own biology, as we were
thousands of years ago. Prisoners of rather complicated, and
very frequently relative, division between what is better and
what is a bit better and that which is a bit better still, and
what is a little bit worse. We're always going to find a way
out. But we're constantly imprisoned by our passions and feelings.
In Soler-Espiauba's work we see the cultural conflicts and
differences that need to be transcended and integrated for true
cultural unification to take place. Kieslowski, on the other
hand, shows similar conflicts and differences that have to be
addressed and resolved within the individual, subjective realm.
In a way, he transfers the structure of political and cultural
conflicts to the personal level by presenting a womanís
internal conflicts. The movie's main character is a woman, Julie.
The principal conflict of the film is related to the deaths of
Julie's husband and daughter, and to the infidelity of her late
husband, discovered only after his death, and her feelings towards
all these facts. At the end we see that Julie is able to achieve
a new level of personal freedom only by transcending the self-centered
feeling of separation and extending her love towards her late
husbandís mistress and their expected child. Dave Kehr
comments about Kieslowski's trilogy:
The trilogy charts a movement from a deep sense of solitude
to an understanding and acceptance of community, to a sense of
shared values and mutual interdependence. "Three Colors"
is an epic of reconciliation, in which fragmented parts come
together to make a whole, just as the three colors of the title
create the French flag. (13)
Kieslowski's movie, Blue, belongs to a film trilogy
of three colors that are the colors of the French flag, blue
being the symbol freedom. The allusion to the French flag is
a way to make a connection with the French Revolution, arguably
the most dramatic attempt in search of human freedom in the history
of civilization. It is worthwhile mentioning that the individual
and cultural/social aspects are connected in the film by the
character of husband, a very important music composer who dies
while he is finishing a composition in honor of the European
Union. This reference to the European Union, combined with the
major theme of individual freedom, illustrates Kieslowski's concerns
about the relationship between the socio-cultural realm and individual
human problems. It seems that Kieslowski is proposing that the
transcendence to the new level of human freedom cannot happen
via political transformation only, but that is necessary to establish
a connection among the social, cultural and individual quadrants,
and that the transformation needs to take place in all of them.
The European Union's political structure is supposed to facilitate
social, cultural and individual freedom, and to an extend it
does. However, Kieslowski, through Blue, says that human being
and its individual self-centered attitude are a main obstacle
to this freedom, since, as Kieslowski said, "human being
is a prisoner of his own passions and feelings" (Stok 150).
It is very important to observe that only after Julie transcends
her individual alienation, is she able to come back to and participate
in the cultural realm by finishing her late husband's composition.
It is interesting to analyze the difference between the initial,
in our opinion mechanical, freedom that Julie is given by the
external circumstances (the deaths of her husband and daughter)
at the beginning of the movie, and the kind of freedom she achieves
at the end of it. Dave Kehr refers to the tragic aspect associated
with the initial freedom: "In Blue, liberty becomes
a tragic notion. Julie is free because she has been violently
separated from her past and from her family. With no emotional
ties, and wealthy enough to do what she wants, she steps off
into a void" (15). Julie, to avoid pain, tries to sever
any connection with the world, and with her emotional past. This
initial reaction, and the lonely freedom that is associated with
it, turn out to be unsatisfactory, and Julie slowly develops
new connections with her surroundings and in this way achieves
a true communion and freedom. Julie is able to arrive to this
communion by transcending her personal, self-centered suffering.
This pilgrimage from individual solitude to communion is illustrated
in the movie by music. The music works in the movie as the cement
between past and present, solitude and communion, and individual
and cultural. As Gareth Rees comments:
She is unable to escape her husband's music. Just before his
death, he was working on a commission for a grand symphonic chorus
that would be played at a festival of European Unity. Whenever
she is reminded of her husband, poignant extracts of this unfinished
chorus appear to haunt her. She visits the archives and destroys
the manuscript, but still the ethereal music follows her.
Through these connections Kieslowski seems to say that the
present and the past, agency and communion, and individual and
cultural, are all interrelated and it is not possible to clearly
separate them. The music, which symbolizes in the movie both
cultural and communal aspects, as Bryant Frazer comments, pursues
Julie "until she confronts [it]... as well as her own devastated
psyche." And only when she does it, is her psyche healed
by developing communal connections with her surroundings, which
in turn allows her again to participate in the cultural world.
Julie's transcending and unifying behavior seems to be catalyzed
by the drastic and involuntary break with the past, which in
turn enables her to break with social restrictions and limitations,
thus giving her a freedom that in other situation would be very
difficult to have. It is because of her newly-found detachment
from moral judgment that she does not want support expelling
the prostitute who is living in her building, even though the
majority of the neighbors want the prostitute to leave. In fact,
Julie becomes one of her best friends, since for Julie such divisional
moral values do not longer exist. The emptiness she found herself
in allowed her to look at others without the culturally conditioned
righteousness which creates social and moral divisions. The same
is true when she meets her husbandís lover and finds out
about her pregnancy. Instead of rejecting her she transcends
her suffering and feelings and gives her and her expected child
the house where she used to live with her husband, thus unifying
present with past, and transcending the "moral" right
and wrong. For Kieslowski, the division between right and wrong,
good and evil, is an arbitrary convention which in practice limits
human being's freedom (Stok 150-151). This is why, for Kieslowski,
"freedom lies within" (Stok 150), in the resolution
of everybodyís internal conflicts, and in the balance
between the agency and communion.
For Kieslowski, the feminine affinity towards communion is a
urgently desired characteristic that facilitates achieving a
balance between the action-oriented economic and political realms
and the individual/subjective life. That's precisely why he chooses
a woman to personify the idea of unification, freedom and understanding
in the realm of individual. And it is due to this affinity that
Julie is able to transcend her husbandís infidelity and
the initial rejection towards his lover that accompanies it.
In his films an apparently contradictory combination between
tragedy and understanding, differentiation and transcendence,
pain and peace, is always present. This contradiction is, Kieslowski
seems to say, what seems to constitute human being's progression
in life. Dave Kehr has alluded to the fact that tragedy produces
a rebirth: "In each of the three films of the trilogy, a
betrayal leads to a sense of larger understanding. In Blue, Julie's
discovery of her husband's infidelity allows her to forgive him
and recover him, in the form of Sandrine's child [her husband's
lover's child]" (18). The liberation of human beings seems
to be related to the ability to transcend the feelings which
hold us hostage, and in Kieslowski's movie this transcendence
is made possible by the feminine affinity towards communion.
In this respect we could conclude that Kieslowski sees feminine
values as a crucial component of the human growth process, a
continuous process of liberation and unification.
Both works have chosen women to explore the subjective quadrants,
individual and cultural, of the European reality. Soler-Espiauba's
perception of the role of women in the European Union is associated
with the aspect of cultural unification and the discriminatory
attitudes that this Institution has created towards the cultural
realm. Her message, which in nutshell says that a true European
unification has to include the cultural realm, is more of a "denuncia"
of the partial character of the process of socio-economic and
political integration, than a solution to the problem of holistic
unification, although this "denouncia" is quite radical
in its expression.
One major difference between Kieslowski's and Soler-Espiauba's
works is timing. Soler-Espiauba wrote her work in the 80's when
the major focus of attention was the cultural realm, and its
relationships to social structures and conditions. In the 90's,
however, the focus has shifted to the individual, showing how
important the internal life of human being is in the process
of humankind evolution. Even though Kieslowski's movie only indirectly
refers to the political reality of the European Union, it is
clear, however, that he is concerned with the relationships between
the European politics of unification and human being's freedom.
His message seems to be that in a true unification, individual
freedom is important, and this one is achieved not only through
economic and political changes and measures, but by a combination
of those with internal growth. His work, even though it was filmed
in France, and refers to the Europe of unification, has a wider,
perhaps universal scope. It is in this wider context that we
see the importance of his movie's message, that the liberation
of human being is conditioned on our ability to transcend the
feelings that hold us hostage, and this transcendence is facilitated
by the feminine affinity towards communion.
1. These realms are analyzed in depth by Ken Wilber in Sex,
Ecology, Spirituality, The Spirit of Evolution (Boston &
London: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1995) and The Eye of
Spiriti (Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc.,
2. This reference was translated by F. Zomeño from the
original. In subsequent cases "my translation" will
appear following the translated text in parenthesis.
3. Juan Gelpi refers to such members as "deceived children"
in Literatura y paternalismo en Puerto Rico (San Juan:
Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993) 2.
Frazer, Bryant. Rev. of "Blue," by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Deep Focus. Internet. n.d.
Gelpi, Juan. Literatura y paternalismo en Puerto Rico.
San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993.
Kehr, Dave. "To Save The World. Kieslowski's Three Colors
Trilogy." Film Comment 30 (Nov/Dec. 1994): 10-13
Macnab, Geoffrey. "Trois Couleurs: Bleu." Sight
and Sound (Nov. 93): 54-55.
Michalski, Milena. "Trois Couleurs: Bleu." The Slavonic
and East European Review 72 (Oct. 94): 790-1.
Rees, Gareth. Rev. of Three Colours: Blue by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
1993. Home Film
Reviews. Internet. n.d.
Sanchez Bardon, Luis. "El futuro de la Europa social. El
precio del euro." Tiempo (30junio 1997): 26-36.
Soler-Espiauba, Dolores. Los canardos. Badajoz: Universitas
Talleres Gráficos, 1989.
Stock, Danusia, ed. Kieslowski on Kieslowski. London & Boston:
Faber and Faber, 1993.
Wilber, Ken. The Eye of Spirit. Boston & London: Shambhala
Publications, Inc., 1997.
- - -. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The Spirit of Evolution.
Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1995.
Zomeño, Fuencisla. Personal interview with Dolores Soler-Espiauba.
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