My Voice Betrays Me

Vanda Juknaitė
My Voice Betrays Me
Published:
2015
ISBN:
9789986392422
Number of pages:
256
Dimensions:
13 mm x 20 mm
Publisher:
Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla

In this non-fiction book, the writer narrates her experience in the summer camp for homeless children organized by a group of her colleagues sharing the same sympathy for underprivileged children. The rapport that she established with the children developed into a lasting relationship, yet the fate of many of the inmates took on a dramatic turn. The book also contains numerous short essays and conversation pieces with the most diverse personalities, ranging from a ten-year-old boy to a professor and a convict on death row. The characters Juknaitė chooses to talk with find themselves struggling with terrible diseases, living in exile or prison – places where all usual habits, cultural codes, and ready answers cease their meanings. The situation of these people is painful, it scares and causes frustration, but, when everything seems to be lost, the inner voice starts to talk. The mode of Juknaitė’s writing is both subjective and passionate, it is intellectually probing as well as committed in a very special feminine way. Her writing is characterized by a detailed naturalistic language, emotionally truthful storytelling in the realist tradition of Lithuanian realist storytelling, and introspection, characteristic of heightened impressionist prose, that looks inward to the pain refined by hopelessness.

Excerpt

Between Two Tubes

Having taken it upon myself to decipher the world and to introduce order, my rational and instrumental brain caused my thinking and my actions to become more systematic, as is formed by tests and experiments that are based on methods of thought that guarantee clear and trustworthy conclusions. However, today it is already clear that even the most efficiently proven truths can always be reviewed or dismissed and replaced with new ideas and discoveries, on the basis of additional arguments. Such a situation makes all discovery relative. In actual situations we may talk about the illogical and mistaken nature of thought.
Despite all this, the belief in the rational continues to be the most attractive, the most comforting, and the least doubtful of all human religions. For this reason, to examine not only the clichés of certain modes of thinking, but also what affects behavior, would be somewhat risky. All the more, those thoughts have caused hundreds of years of intense di
...

Between Two Tubes

Having taken it upon myself to decipher the world and to introduce order, my rational and instrumental brain caused my thinking and my actions to become more systematic, as is formed by tests and experiments that are based on methods of thought that guarantee clear and trustworthy conclusions. However, today it is already clear that even the most efficiently proven truths can always be reviewed or dismissed and replaced with new ideas and discoveries, on the basis of additional arguments. Such a situation makes all discovery relative. In actual situations we may talk about the illogical and mistaken nature of thought.
Despite all this, the belief in the rational continues to be the most attractive, the most comforting, and the least doubtful of all human religions. For this reason, to examine not only the clichés of certain modes of thinking, but also what affects behavior, would be somewhat risky. All the more, those thoughts have caused hundreds of years of intense discussions or even a real war of ideas. I am speaking of Western culture’s formula: woman means body equals nature, while man plus language equals culture. The singularity of this statement has long ago been discussed thoroughly by feminists. They have called attention to the fact that one demon in this thesis has been granted a higher status. A higher status is given to the male devil, because he possesses everything that separates humans from nature: language and culture. By culture, I mean everything that is dependent on the efforts of humans, and does not come naturally to them.
According to this formula, the woman is left with all that is alive and carries no human status. As we know, the women’s movement won this right long ago, and has shown convincingly that both men and women are capable of playing equal roles in the development of culture.
After all, feminism plays, and continues to play, according to a given formula, and does not even attempt to question its basis. Feminists, like men, believe that it is only possible for them to be human according to a given model: namely, by creating culture. What more? Nature that has been so defiled by men has become a source of hatred for feminists. In the beginning, men alone were against this earthly state; but now they stand against it together. One feminist, Sherry Ortner I believe, was prepared to have her breasts removed so that her body would become like that of a man’s and be better prepared for creating culture.
However, this formula does not hold up to criticism, not only because according to the theory men have become the creators of both culture and laws. It is created from an uneven method of logical division.
According to this formula, man does not have a body and there is no nature. By bringing back a logical balance to this thesis, this is what we come up with: woman equals body, nature, language, culture; and man equals language, culture, nature, body. It is acceptable to talk about woman in terms of nature’s function to bear children. Meanwhile, we hear nothing about a man’s natural function. When earthy women, inspired by men’s thinking, win the right to a higher cultural status, as though combining nature and culture in one entity, the man continues to remain an uncertain cultural abstraction. Not having a body and not being nature, masculinity remains above what was and its dominating position is preserved. Hidden behind culture, it remains almost impossible to catch, impossible to name, and blameless. Nonetheless, if we want to discern what man as body and nature would be, then we must change our attitude towards man himself. To begin with, so that we do not go into a state of shock, we must arm ourselves with a lot of humor, and at least a little irony. So, what would man as nature and body be like.
If woman’s natural function as the bearer of children is derided, then man as nature would be viewed as man’s honorable reproductive functions. I say ‘honorable’ without any irony intended. I know what tests nature puts out for those who take it upon themselves to continue the species. In all manners, nature trains him, and forces him to acquire newer and newer characteristics for the purposes of procreation. Nature, it appears, not only does not protect him, but seems to work against him. Everyone knows that among all of nature’s creatures, including humans, the male gender is less likely to reach maturity. In certain populations, this difference is jarring. What is more, with so many species, the male ceases to exist once he has fertilised the female. There are species of spiders where once the female has laid her eggs, she devours the male. There are species of fish where the male dies as soon as he releases his sperm.
What am I trying to say here? For so many hundreds of years, we have perceived the male as a bodiless abstraction. We could not even imagine how strong, how unimaginably strong, men’s insecurities are. In order to understand this, we cannot avoid drastic parallels. Though I do feel a little shy making such assertions and in such a tone, about a human being, or, more accurately, about a man. Yet, at the same time, regarding woman as a primitive agent of nature does not seem to have shocked anyone.
We could begin with an anecdotal incident. One summer at a camp where I worked with orphaned children, three girls who were friends with my elder son came to visit. Each one was prettier than the next.
It seemed that all three were interested in him. While we were sitting at the lunch table, I said something to my son, and he suddenly blew up, shouted something rude at me, threw down his spoon, and stormed off. I know exactly what Freud would have made of this situation. However, our day-to-day relationship, which had been tested by many difficult trials, was friendly and stress-free. I had never ever before seen him behave in this hot-headed manner. Basically, he compromised his reputation in front of those three lovely girls. It was clear to me that he lost his head because of them.
We were working beside a wooden church. After lunch, not wanting to get in the way of the natural course of nature, I stepped inside the church to hear Mass. Up on a hillock our old stallion was grazing in the fields. The church doors were open. Mass was interrupted by the ceiling-raising sound of that old horse neighing. Because the noise was so loud, and because it interrupted Mass, I went outside to see what was going on. As it turned out, one of the villagers had ridden to the church on a mare and had left her tied up outside the church. The mare stood there, patiently waiting, tied to where her master had left her. Meanwhile, our old plow horse was galloping around the field in a frenzy. I suggested that I lead our horse to a neighboring field. But the owner of the mare, an old farmer with a lot of experience with horses, told me not to bother. ‘As long as my mare is around, he will not calm down,’ he said.
That day, at that moment, I understood why woman is considered so dangerous. I understood why she is not wanted in public places, at church, and even why she must wear the burka. I’m not saying this to defend women again. Women are perfectly capable of defending themselves. Woman has not only fought for and won the right to be consecrated as a priest (in the Lutheran and Anglican churches) but has won the right to walk around without undergarments under semi-transparent clothing and then be defended in court if a man cannot control himself and makes sexual advances towards her. No, that’s not all that I am interested in. I am curious to understand how it is that the socialist system managed to push nature out of the picture, and assign completely different roles to men and women. And I am interested in what the result has been on male-female relationships, and on how women perceive their own identity.
What effect did it have on women’s thinking when nature was pushed out of the picture? This quote from the work of the English sociologist Anthony Giddens expresses my thoughts: ‘Now that feminists claim there is not much difference between “men” and “women,” the internal differences between them are more pronounced than what is common between men or what suits women’ (Modernity and Self-Individual).
Therefore, when there are no longer any differences between the stallion and the mare, when they become two genderless abstractions, man and woman, who respectonly force, rationalism, and manipulation, they resolve their argument, an argument that has progressed for thousands of years, in a similarly instrumental manner. I mean instrumental literally, and not metaphorically. At the height of civilisation, at the very forefront of progress, man ends up with his own device, a test tube, that allows him to conceive a child without the assistance of woman.
And woman ends up with her own tube, which allows her to conceive a child without the help of man.
This is the condition of human relationships now. What does it mean?
The thought is that the cloning of human beings is actually the result of men’s need to control processes of nature that belong essentially in the realm of women. This need can be associated with men’s aggression and the instinct to dominate. All of these ideas are hypothetical. However, having returned the body to men, as well as nature’s natural tendencies, this hypothesis is very close to the truth. But after all, why are men forcing their way into a realm that does not belong to them. I’d like to challenge Sigmund Freud’s phallic theory, and state that it is not women who are jealous of men’s sexual function, but men who are jealous of women’s sexual function. Of course, both of these statements are equally absurd. After all, what is a man is looking for in this realm? What is making him behave in this way? Why does man all of a sudden want to control the realm that he has held in contempt for so many centuries? Or perhaps man for so many centuries held this particular female function in contempt precisely because he was jealous of it? If we were to create a culture and civilisation that bent to his will, nature would still not give in to him. Nature, if unwilling, does not even know how to give in. Without a doubt, nature is a fool, precisely because nature will not bend to man’s will. Let us remember Spinoza: women, children, and the insane.
I’d like to begin my argument by reminding the reader that for centuries the natural reproductive processes were described with contempt, and were even marginalised. Reproduction was the most primitive form of nature, and women were practically compared to animals. However, a human being conceived in a test tube is suddenly declared as civilisation’s greatest achievement, practically a miracle. Why, then, was birth considered such a mundane affair for so many thousands of years? There are many instances in which women gave birth while working in the fields and continued their work after the birth was complete. Why was birth not considered a miracle then? You see, in a test tube, one can create not just any old human being, but an infant with certain qualities, made of specific genes. In other words, I don’t want the child that nature has given me, but exactly the type of child I want. This is where the male perception of a child emerges. And now, in our familiar surroundings, a child must earn his or her father’s love while, as always, a mother’s love is ever-present.
If one understands man as a physical body and a force of nature, then it is easier to imagine the source of man’s aggression and his need to dominate. Here, once more, it is important to remember the terrible inner stress that men feel to procreate at any cost, which is put upon them by nature. However, if the birth of a child reveals the secret of life to a woman and calms her, then for a man the birth of a child only increases his inner anxieties. The birth of a child gives a woman a clear sense of existence, while it does nothing of the sort for men. It does nothing to relieve his sense of insecurity. That sense of insecurity does not arise from the fact that a man can never be certain that the child is his. And not because in this arena it is possible to deceive him. The insecurity comes from the nature of the relationship with the child. The mother knows with certainty that the child is hers. The man is left only believing the child is his. In these modern times, we already know what an unbearable burden it is to be left in the position of having no choice but to believe in something without any proof. If one follows this line of thinking, then it is easy to understand why so many hundreds of men deliver their pregnant wives to the maternity wards and go off drinking with their friends, or find themselves a lover that very night their wife is giving birth. However, that is not all. Once the child is born, there is another danger. The man feels no longer necessary. Even if a couple manage the optimum psychological balance, the fact remains that even if a man receives a lot of attention from his wife, once the child is born the man is without doubt pushed aside. Such is the logic of nature. A small infant requires a lot of attention. The woman has to get up often during the night to care for it. She must feed it often. For many years, as the child grows, she cannot leave it alone. It is practically guaranteed that the man will inevitably feel pushed away by the woman. Is it not for this reason that literature has divided women into two categories: woman as lover, and woman as mother? The mother without doubt will be misunderstood. The thinking of a man who gives in to this social order has been named more clearly by feminists: a non-productive orientation.
After all, I would think that the most important factor that creates that sense of insecurity in men and which engenders his need to dominate, is that a man can never experience what a woman experiences, which is a clear sense of existentialism. A clear feeling of existentialism can be felt by an earthy man, most likely, in only two instances: during orgasm or when facing death. Facing death is not meant to be taken as simply a melodramatic statement. It is precisely when facing this situation, when a man is faced with a difficult terminal illness that makes him weak, that he is able to grasp the meaning of life. Then, reaching for that arena that does not belong to him, to life’s secrets, he believes that it will calm him down. All the more because it is in this state in which a man finally realises that his ability to kill and destroy in the eyes of contemporary man becomes questionable again and then the man is left with nothing. When a man’s inner anxiety becomes unbearable, then one can witness these destructive tendencies in art. This is especially apparent in films, where it seems that only two themes can be explored: sex and murder.
If this analysis of the reproductive processes and the related dominating tendencies do not seem clear or convincing, then let us return to our discussion of cloning. Cloning does not attempt to simply ‘birth’ a human, but aims to create an improved and more perfect human. The qualities of a human are perfected.
This is not a new idea. These words were expressed by a young man who was powerless, who had no father and who had been deceived by many women. This idea of a super-human, which is the main idea behind cloning, was created by Nietzsche. It is believed that the idea itself is not to blame. It is based on its own ideology, which abuses National Socialism. However, taking a look at the gains of fascism from the standpoint of an ideology achieving a practical goal, we see that concentration camps are the first laboratories of natural selection. As we well know, in the Nazi and Soviet concentration camps, for the first time work was done to perfect and purify the races. Here it is important to note that within two separate ideologies the concentration camp served the same purpose, to ensure principles of selection. By destroying a type completely, as in the case of the Jews, or by destroying the most cultivated members of a society through exile, as was the case in the Baltics, this type of selection ensured the existence of an inferior race. It is worthwhile recalling that the first ‘modified’ or ‘fixed’ human was created once in the German concentration camps using RH gas. Through the use of gas, a docile type of human with lower cognitive abilities was created, a type of person who was only capable of performing menial physical tasks.
Essentially, the cloning program does the same. Only, unlike Fascism, which had the goal of lowering the capabilities of a human being, cloning seeks to create an improved human being. There is already talk that one race will be fitted with certain genes. At this moment I am concerned not so much with the moral implications, but with whether it is even possible. This phrase betrays what it is that I am talking about. It is the very same racism. It is a means of domination. It is that same expression of anxiety and inferiority coming from that same deceived young man. Applying that same instrumentalist approach, it is possible here to come up with a few general conclusions. We have touched upon a problem that touches the very heart of existentialism and flips our understanding and thinking on its head. I have been leading this discussion with the goal of formulating a few questions, and yet my formulations have led me to a thousand other quela, then by ending we might ask ourselves whether really and truly the monopoly of truth belongs to rational and instrumental thought. stions. Let us limit ourselves to one of these questions. If we began with the illogical nature of this formula, then by ending we might ask ourselves whether really and truly the monopoly of truth belongs to rational and instrumental thought.
It is interesting that a human being raised in a test tube first comes on to the scene in the 18th century in literary culture created by men. What comes to mind is Goethe’s Faust’s homunculus. But here it seems that we are hurting instrumental logic by trying to meld two separate discussions. It is universally accepted that fantasies are loose talk, and that the truth belongs in the realm of rational discourse. The example of the homunculus shows that before it was universally accepted that answers come from rational thought, much was discovered through the realm of fantasy. Without the latter, cloning would seem to us to be just one more fantasy. If we were to accept and to internalise this simple truth, then it would follow that we did not come from nowhere, and that in fact we are passed down along the chain of life. It would be apparent to us that we have lived for thousands of years. And if we were to accept the theory of evolution, and to date we have no better theory to offer, then it would be clear to us that each one of us has lived a million years already and that we have all been fish, insects, and even bacteria. This idea is similar to that of Buddhism.
Religions up until this point have been considered fantasies. The most important doctrine of Buddhism is reincarnation, or the ability to live again. Cloning turns this idea into a reality. At this point, you probably have some questions.
But let’s stay with the order we have set up. If the fantasy of the homunculus is a reality today, then that means that Goethe’s Faust’s fantasy of Mephistos is also a reality. Using inductive thinking, this is most likely true. If one fantasy is real, then it follows that other fantasies are real as well. Or, conversely, it might not be true at all. Because there are both real and unreal fantasies, one of these fantasies must not be true. As we can see, the devil’s question is methodological. The basis of scholarly methodology is doubt. When one puts one of these sentences beside the other, then all contradictions and all additional questions fall away.
Translated by Laima Vincė
Vanda Juknaitė

Vanda Juknaitė

Vanda Juknaitė (1949) debuted in 1983. She was not particularly prolific as a fiction writer: one collection of short stories and two novels, and not very long at that. In her fiction, she shows clear signs of an unusual sensitivity to human sadness, pain and misery, and was particularly interested in examining the situation of women at various stages of their lives. However, in the first decade of independence, she took a much more hands-on approach in doing her part for the new state and society, and became a very active worker and organiser of various social projects, first and foremost with street children. This inspired her to write again, but in a different way. Her later books are essays and interviews about the social reality and its various tender spots. However, as they are written by a true writer, they also have literary merit.

Other books by Vanda Juknaitė
Uttered in Dakness


Uttered in Dakness

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Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla

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Lithuanian Writers' Union Publishing House was established in 1990. Currently we publish around 60 books per year and are ranged between 10 biggest Lithuanian publishing houses. The scope of our publications is wide: new books by Lithuanian authors, including prose, poetry, essays, memoirs and critical studies, also the first books by young authors, books from the literary canon and exiled authors as well as translations of elite foreign literature.

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Vanda Juknaitė

Email: vanda.juknaite@gmail.com