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“I just can’t get the poetry of the trees”

froggies315's picture

As was visible from class on Wednesday, I was pretty frustrated with the Bohm reading and our conversation about it.  I interrupted a bunch which is immature.  I am sorry.  I thought about Wednesday’s class when I was at my sit spot yesterday evening and into today.  I think I’ve figured out two causes of my frustration:

1. The Bohm reading irritated me.   I didn’t need Solnit to convince me that it is impossible to wholly represent the world, but if I did, she would have.  I’ve accepted that I can’t do it, and I’ve moved on to what I see as the most important kind of environmental work: being a part of community.  I think Bohm should move on too.  Our inability to explain things the way they actually are is not a deficit.  This is what makes our representations precious.  It’s why we need other people and the trees and the birds and it's especially why we need the scary Daddy Longlegs.  It’s why we need community.  It’s impressive that Bohm divined a new way to use language.  It’s grossly offensive and amusingly pitiful that he thinks the rheomode offers a complete/accurate way to represent the world.  Personally, I can’t get past feeling offended, so it is hard for me to see value in his work.  I’m sure it’s there.  Help me?  

2. Having class outside is not working for me.  At first, I was excited to have class outside.  I love being outside!  I’m realizing now that I should not mix school and outside.  Even though we’re physically outside of the classroom, the standards for our performance in discussions haven’t changed.  I spent a lot of time on Wednesday in class wondering what the blue jay was squawking about, and what the red tailed hawk was hunting for, and why it got so quiet in the last 15 minutes of class.  There were times when I had to look at my hands to keep them from picking at the grass and building log cabins with the twigs on the ground.  All the while, I felt guilty for not paying attention the way I am supposed in class.  If we’re expecting the same kind of attention to discussion as we do in other classes, then I think we should move inside.  If we’re expecting something different from discussion in this class, then I think we need to go over the rules.

the title of this post is taken from p. 40 of one of my favorite books Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. 



hirakismail's picture

"Rheomode" AKA Causality?

So to add to this continued discussion about the rheomode, I am taking an Intro to African Literature Class in which we are reading the book below. Amos Tutuola is a Nigerian author who has been praised for bringing the rich oral-story-telling tradition to text. His book has been praised for telling the story in a way that local Nigerians would recognize, rather than in a "higher," "more formal" whatever-you-call-it type of English. That brings me back to the discussion we were having in class on Wednesday, where you @froggies315 asked why on earth anyone would want to write in an unclear manner. So what Tutuola is doing is trying to write the way the average Nigerian would speak. This makes the words recognizable and easy to read, but also does something even more important: bring an Nigerian way of speaking and of using language to non-Nigerian cultures.

So the Nigerian native language, Yoruba, emphasized time and causality. This is especially apparent in the oral-story telling, in which stories were memorized and passed down. These elements of the Yoruba language were TRANSFERRED into the way Nigerians speak English and thus, the way Tutuola writes English in his book.

Get this: Tutuola does, to a LARGE extent, what all of us were struggling to do in class, and what Bohm was theorizing in his essay about the rheomode...for an entire book!

His characters are continuously trying to show that several things are going on at once, and trying to iterate the same through their sentences. He's attempting, very valiantly, to do what I was having a hard time with in my observation at Rhoads Pond: to portray the many different things that are going on simultaneously. His sentences and language acknowledge, like Bohm does, that life is not linear, and Tutuola goes on to try to show this through language.

Some examples: Page 205; "But one day, the lady attempted to escape from the hole, and at the same time that the Skull who was watching her whistle to therest of the Skulls that were in the back-yard, the whole of them rushed out to the place where the lady sat on the bull-frog, so they caught her, but as all of them were rushing out, they were rolling on the ground as if a thousand petrol drums were pushing along a hard road."

Page 240; "After the attendants took us to the king, but as we were inside the palace, thousands of them were waiting for us at the gate of the palace, some of them held clubs, knives, cutlasses and other fighting weapons and all their children held stones."

Especially in the 2nd example, what he's basically saying is that "While we were on the way to the thing, thousands of people were waiting with weapons to threaten us." But the way Tutuola writes it instead is VERY Rheomodic; it captures the idea that there were many factors and just things going on at once. He takes his events out of the linear world and instead tries to surpass time.

When I first started reading this book, I had a hard time understanding what was going on, because of this double emphasis on time, this effort to suspend the characters in time. But it was upon reading this example that I saw that someone in an entirely different continent, and not necessarily acquainted with Bohm's work (Tutuola was a janitor at the time of writing, and later was given a place as writer-in-residence in a prominent Nigerian University) was putting in practice what Bohm is aiming for. I think this happens largely because his English is influenced by another language. Like @eetong said, it is after studying Spanish that she more deeply understood English grammar. The same way, Yoruba aspects in the English lead to an evolved understanding of English.

Tutuola's editor (or the average English teacher) wanted to "correct" his English, make it "proper". But the truth is, English has gone beyond just it's European/Western origins. It is by seeing how English is interpreted and used in other countries, by examining what lenses English is seen through (in this case Yoruba) that an evolved understanding may occur.

In making some edits, but compromising "proper" English, the editor allowed the readers to see what Tutuola was doing: representing Nigerian/Yoruban English--which happens to be doing what Bohm wants writers to do here. Perhaps then, by examining English through the lens of other languages (like srucara was starting to do in class with Telugu), we can manage to discover lots of different aspects of language? To see it in a different way, to create new case "studies" as eetong mentions?

Amos Tutuola "The Palm-Wine Drinker" and "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts"

sara.gladwin's picture

Hi your post really grabbed

Hi your post really grabbed my attention so I wanted to say a couple things in response too!


1. I think something else that really that helped me appreciate Bohm a little better now is the distinction between him saying that the English language does not accurately reflect the world as it exists and him saying that the scientific rhetoric does not accurately represent the world as physicists understand it. The latter applied to the world of science more specifically rather than the world at large and I felt more comfortable with that as a statement. I was originally feeling very defensive (especially as an English major) of the English language. I love our language, including its inadequacies. I feel as an English Major part of my job as a student is negotiating the negative space in our language; not only attempting to perceive what is there but also what has been obscured. While I was reading Bohm’s essay I had the constant feeling that he was attempting to rid the English language of the very essence why I love words themselves. I had a difficult time as well in seeing past my own frustration with what I felt was being taken away from me and still do not feel like I can fully articulate why the gaps in language are so significant to me.


Based on your interest in community, I think the other thing that might help you find some value in his article is some of the idea behind it. I think he was trying to create an alternative mode of language that reflected the ways in which things, including people, connect to one another. Part of his argument is that our language distances us; it assumes that each subject, action and object in a sentence is a separate entity. This was the part of his argument that I was interested in. How can we speak in a way that also acknowledges how people are interconnected and reflects a more community-based outlook than an individual one? I do not think his alternative is necessarily the solution however, because in the process of highlighting the ways in which things connect, he obscures the individual. I think it would be interesting to explore whether or not speech could ever accurately reflect the relationship between individual desires and a community.


2. I think this is really interesting, especially because I recognize that until now, I have not wanted to admit how distracting having class outdoors is for me. I think I’ve romanticized an outside class experience. I have just come to the point where I do not think a traditional class room is working for me and I think part of it is the way we have conceptualized the indoors class as one with set rules and expectations.  I feel like this can be a limited way to learn, especially in the sense that it undervalues personal experience in the classroom and does not always leave space for this experience in curriculum. Your point about tackling the daddy long legs seemed to highlight tension between analyzing academic work and analyzing personal experience in a class. I really wanted to use this course as an opportunity to explore a classroom with no walls; one in which the “rule” of the classroom could be re-negotiated in a more inclusive way. However, I think I underestimated my own struggle with being outside, which is pretty distracting, especially auditorily. A lot of times I am fighting to hear other student voices over the sounds of cars, traffic and rustling around us. While I love really exploring what it means to be in a class that is attempting to redefine how we learn, I also realize as someone with quite a few learning differences that the outdoors places me a quite a disadvantage. I think my need to break down the walls of the classroom really go back to a recognition that the rules of a traditional classroom obscure different kinds of learners, voices, cultures and experiences. I have been struggling adequately reconcile all these differences within one classroom.

I would definately be interesting in discussing the daddy long legs further in class, especially because I am one of those terrified students you are talking about.

froggies315's picture

1. Thanks, that is helpful.

1. Thanks, that is helpful.  I do think I can learn from thinking about how my words shape/limit my awareness of the world.  

2. more thoughts on rules/daddy long legs/what we’re paying attention to/the point of the class:  I work at a summer camp, and one afternoon during training a few summers ago, a few of my friends and I were mucking around in the lake.  At one point, someone scooped up a crayfish.  I had never seen a crayfish before, so I asked whether or not it hurt when they pinched.  A friend said that it didn’t, and then he held out the crayfish so that I could feel for myself.  I was scared.  So scared that flood of irrational “what ifs” came pouring out of my mouth.  I remember feeling the tension in my face.  My mouth was contorted and my eyes were open so wide that there were wrinkles on my forehead.  I looked at that crayfish for a long time before I had enough courage to stick out my finger and let it pinch me.  As soon as I felt the pressure of the crayfish’s pinchers around my pinky, everything relaxed.  

I’ve noticed that some people in class are scared of daddy long legs. I’m not scared of daddy longlegs, but I do know what it is like to be scared.  For the record, daddy long legs, just like crayfish, cannot hurt us.  This doesn’t mean that it’s stupid to be afraid of them, but it is stupid for us to ignore the fact that we’re afraid when we are afraid.  How will we ever work though our fears if we don’t acknowledge them?  I’ve never been in a class at college where I’ve seen people jump with fear.  Why are ignoring this?  

Maybe we’re ignoring it because we don’t expect classes in school to help us get over our fears.  Maybe we’re ignoring it because the readings are more interesting than the daddy long legs.  I’m not sure.  For me, this class is tricky because it’s outside.  When I’m outside, I expect to push myself in a summer campy kind of way.  The summer camp approach to the daddy long legs would be 1) talk about being afraid of daddy long legs, 2) let them crawl on us, and 3) talk about what the whole experience was like.  But if we do this in class on Monday, then there will be less time to talk about green grammar.  Which is more important?  Which one will help us achieve the goals of the class?

et502's picture


You've voiced a lot of the frustration that I felt from this article - so thanks for putting it into words! To respond specifically to your question at the end of section 1, I think the value I got from his methods is a better awareness of my habits of language.  Trying out a new way of speaking is a way to defamiliarize your own speaking habits. For example, I think I learned more about English grammar when I took Spanish than anywhere else. So I'm (slightly) more concious of how I'm choosing to represent things, now that I've tried out a different way to represent. Does that make sense? 

So I basically took the Bohm as a case study for the act of incorporating new ways of speaking, not as a guide for how to change my own practices.

Still thinking about #2 - I'd also be interested in talking more about the "rules" for discussion. We never really set up anything specific about interruptions, we just said no hand raising, if we can avoid it.