Inappropriate behaviour.

Women on a women-only carriage in Japan

Crowded commuter trains have become a hotbed of inappropriate behaviour.  When you crush people into tight space, and they are deprived of an armory of normal body language signals, it causes all sorts of difficulties.  Scan the newspapers and you will find multiple reports of subway fiends armed with smart phones sneakily upskirting girls.

Upskirting is a word that is newly invented.  Goosing is another, where passengers (mostly men) press their groin up against another passenger, facilitated by the crowding.  Women are regularly groped and felt up on public transport.  It has become so bad that the Japanese have introduced women only carriages.  Expect the trend to spread.

According the the British Transport Police 70% of their reported offences are sexual assaults on women.  About another 25% of reported offences involve exposure and masturbation.  Those are only the reported ones.  Most incidents go unreported.

Much of this behaviour is coming from men who see an opportunity, take what they want and don’t think about the consequences.  Lock them up I say.

BUT (big but) a small number of these situations are caused by that crowding confusing the normal signals of body language.  In a relatively open space, such as at a bar, if a girl physically turns away from a man it is a clear sign of rejection.  In the confused world of the commuter train the signal can be misread by a man as an invitation to spoon up.  If he does and the woman does not immediately, and loudly, reject the contact, he may think there is permission or even an attraction.

Cultural pressures on women “not to cause a fuss” play into this confusion.  Women find themselves on hellish journeys, pinned by a man and not confident enough to identify this as a sexual assault and to call him out.

An even smaller number of cases involve a mutual affirmation of presence.  A recognition of the situation and a moment of stolen pleasure.  Exactly as decribed in “On the Metro” the poem by Williams below.  C.K. Willams was born on November 4th, 1936 in Newark, New Jersey.  A multi-award winning poet he writes of single, extended moments, intimately observed, with a short-story like quality to his poetry.  He presents people who are exposed and vulnerable which makes him such a good commentator to understand a crowded subway train.

Note:  Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish writer whose works were strongly rooted in psychological analysis.  The interesting part for me is how he analyses the creation of identity through interactions with others.  This flows from the works of neo-freudians like Lacan and Sartre and became encoded as transactional analysis with the publication in 1964 of Games People Play by Eric Berne.

 

On the Metro; by C.K. Williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

Remembrance

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À la recherche du temps perdu is a novel by Marcel Proust, often translated as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, or more literally ‘Searching for lost time’.  It is famous for the exploration of the theme of involuntary memory.  When the author dips a Madeleine in tea and eats it, he is transported psychologically to the time of his childhood, when he shared the same food with his aunt.  In the process his mind unlocks memories that were long forgotten.

The memory of the taste of Madeleine dipped in tea is a trigger to the memories stored when he was familiar with the taste.
Proust was contemporaneous with Freud, but there is no evidence that one read the other.  Each, in his own way, was exploring the power of the unconscious and pre-conscious mind.  Each was examining triggers to unlock suppressed or hidden memories.

My own work in Market Research has made frequent forays into the realms of pre-conscious thought.  I have worked with a clinical psychologist who is a proponent of the work of Jacques Lacan.  Lacan is a revisionist Freudian who explored language as a seat of meaning.  In the modern, consumerist, paradigm language as a seat of meaning has extended to brands, logos and products.  Product consumption constellations are a blueprint for understanding self-identity.

The point of this post, if any of my blog posts have a point, is to comment on self-identity and remembrance in the context of Remembrance Day, which is tomorrow.  The WW1 armistice  on the 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month gives us the anniversary upon which we remember those who fell in battle.

For us here in Ireland the wearing of the poppy is a foreign and rejected symbol.  It celebrated those who fell defending Great Britain.  After the Easter Rising in 1916 those Irish fighting in France found themselves on the wrong side.  They wore the Khaki of the British Imperialist oppressor rather than the Green of the Irish Volunteers.  Sadly, they were ‘unremembered’ by Ireland for 100 years.  Now, at last, we begin to recognise their right to remembrance.

An important step on this journey was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland.  She laid a poppy wreath in the war memorial garden in Islandbridge.  For many Irish people it was the first time that they were aware that we even had a monument dedicated to the Irish soldiers who fell in WW1.

However, I do not think the poppy will ever gain widespread acceptance in Ireland.  Already in England there is increasing rejection of the symbol.  For many it is increasingly seen as a celebration of military violence rather than a memoir of heroic sacrifice.

Conscientious objectors who choose not to wear the symbol are vilified by the bully boy tactics of proponents of the poppy.  This further reinforces the aggressive nature of the symbol.  Tune into British TV at this time of year and you quickly draw the conclusion that someone in the wings is pinning the things on everyone, regardless of their sympathies.

Two of my father’s grand-uncles wore Khaki in Gallipoli.  My grandfather wore the Green in the War of Independence.  If I choose to remember them it will be with the far older symbol of a sprig of Rosemary.  Like Proust’s tea-dipped Madeleine, the Greeks believed that the Rosemary herb improved memory.  So it became a symbol of remembrance.  Ophelia calls it such in Hamlet.  Poppies as symbols of remembrance are far more recent, and are accredited to the John McCrae poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.