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Anne's Discussion Notes


Anne Dalke's picture


so i want to pick up on your saying that "it would be too simplistic to say “women @ BMC don’t speak their mind because of privilege”—even though I do think that is a very VALID explanation.  I literally ask myself this question all the time, but I do think that many people here do not speak their mind because of fear and/or a lack of clarity with themselves."

i'd like to talk some more about "clarity" as a value, and a possibility--AND its relationship to a politics of difference. maybe these two essays--Orwell, Didion and Prose Like a Windowpane, and Joan Didion's Why I Write-- plus what we read together last semester, those excepts from Doris Sommer's Proceed with Caution--would give us a starting place?

looking forward to tomorrow morning--

Anne Dalke's picture

Between the Lines

This video features a conversation between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith. One spot that caught me--that I think is relevant to your project, Kelly--is when Smith says that's quite unusual in American fiction for women to speak their mind--while in Adichie's fiction, they do. She also says that "there are no minor characters in her book." Adichie replied that she "imagined vast lives for each of her characters"--and that she was interested in questions of class: she wanted to make a point about who owns stories.

So: why don't women @ BMC speak their mind?
How to get them to?
Not to be "minor characters..."?
To "own their stories"?

There was a funny exchange about the presumptions and stereotypes of being Jamaican and being Nigerian. Adichie says that it was only when she came to the U.S. that she began to think about race, and Smith related to her stories about being a "non-American black," about the whole "construction of blackness thing." Adichie talked about all the assumptions made about being black and not able to achieve. She was expected to "play the good black," because she was not African-American. "Black" is not an identity, she said, that many non-American blacks are willing to take on. Smith said there is no strong black identity in the U.K, whereas here she has come to feel joy in being Black. Adichie asks how--given the history of this country-- "white people can not get it?" She finds race "absurd," wanting to take away all the baggage that accompanies "visualiness."

In response to questions, Adichie said that America tells itself the narrative that all immigrants should be grateful to be there--when some would prefer to go home. She doesn't think people have to be "one thing" (American or Nigerian), that Americanah is largely about the relationship between Africans and African-Americans, and that Black women's hair is a "big thing." They had a related interesting exchange about fashion magazines--Adichie thinks it's progress that Black women are appearing now in such venues, while Smith thinks that the bodies portrayed there are unhealthy, and that people looking @ such images are unhappy--so why celebrate Black bodies joining that line-up? Why not have your own aesthetic?

So: what interested you in this exchange?

kwilkinson's picture

What is Clarity?

There were so many parts to this conversation that I want to touch on, but I want to start with the beginning of their conversation about Adichie’s writing style.  Here are some of the lines that stuck out to me when I was transcribing:

ZS: The psychological acuity.  I think everybody reads you, is amazed by how real these people seem.  I don’t know how you feel about this?  But it goes quite beyond the typical fiction these days where... I genuienely feel that these people are real.  (13:01-13:15)

ZS: The clear… the clarity of the prose.  It feels like there’s nothing in between the reader and these people.  And anybody who has ever written knows how unbelievably difficult that is to achieve.  And I was wondering how you came about to that style? Was it natural to you? Or even know what I mean by that? Lots of laughs J (13:20-13:50)

CNA: When I’m sitting there writing I’m not thinking about style. (14:06-14:10) 

CNA: There’s that moment when something magic happens.  Do you know, when you... So you have moments when nothing is happening—it’s not going well—and then there’s this moment when you become transported and you really forget how much time has passed.  I don’t know if you know, but I do. (14:20-14:37)

CNA:  I enjoy reading fiction that is clear.  Yeah I mean it is easy to confuse, something that is badly written as some how “deep”? (15:00-15:20)

I found this conversation interesting for many reasons.  Although I have not read Adichie, I am curious to know if her writing is clear to the majority of her audience.  What is the difference between Adichie’s and Smith’s clarity?  I guess I am very fascinated by this because Adichie is a Nigerian woman, and I know that historically many women of color have been chastised on not making their writing clear for white folks.  It seems that the act of not providing clarity is a form of rebellion/revolution, the choice to write for Black women and not for a greater audience is in my opinion active resistance.

Anne, I honestly am not sure how to answer the questions you posed regarding Bryn Mawr students, and their unwillingness to speak.  As you know I struggled with this A LOT last semester, however I believe that it would be too simplistic to say “women @ BMC don’t speak their mind because of privilege”—even though I do think that is a very VALID explanation.  I literally ask myself this question all the time, but I do think that many people here do not speak their mind because of fear and/or a lack of clarity with themselves.  I say this because I am always dumbfounded when I am in class and people are so unaware about macro-level institutional disparities that directly impact them.  Of course this can be due to ignorance, lived experience or exposure, but in order to be honest and have clarity with others—it seems that one would have to do that with their self, first. 

How do we get people to own their experience?  I think the first step is talking about these experiences, both minor and major, in order to begin a dialogue embedded in honesty and realness—which I believe equates to clarity.

Anne Dalke's picture

cultural autobiographies

there are now a batch of "cultural autobiographies" up in the on-line forum for Multicultural Education that might be interesting for-and-relevant-to your project (some are private, so be sure to log in...)

Anne Dalke's picture

getting started

*starting with the ideal of the cosmopolitan canopy:
is this what you want to create?!?
a “neutral” setting of “civility”?
a place to “collect evidence” that can reinforce stereotypes?
“they feel a sense of community….and then they move on”
“doing their own folk ethnography”
(breaks down on public transportation, particularly around black men)
“exposed to an unknown other….growing social sophistication”?

interrogating this ideal?
cf. Iris Marion Young, "The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference," in Feminism/Postmodernism, Ed. Linda Nicholson.

“racism, ethnic chauvinism, and class devaluation...grow from a desire for community…from the desire to understand others as they understand themselves, and from the desire to be understood, as I understand myself. Practically speaking, such mutual understanding can be approximated only within a homogenous group that defines itself by common attributes….
The striving for mutual identification and shared understanding…has led to denying or suppressing differences….A more acceptable politics would acknowledge that members of an organization do not understand one another as they understand themselves and would accept this distance without closing it into exclusion…
The ideal of immediate presence of subjects to one another…is a metaphysical illusion….
radical politics must begin from the existence of modern urban life….the temporal and spatial differentiation that mark the physical environment of the city produce an experience of aesthetic inexhaustibility….Dwelling in the city means always having a sense of beyond…I can never grasp the city as a whole….City life is the “being-together” of strangers….openness to unassimilatable otherness….

cf. also Doris Sommer. "Advertencia/Warning" and "No Secrets for Rigoberta." Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. ix-xv, 115-137 /exchange/system/files/private/Sommer.pdf
So simple a lesson and so fundamental: it is to acknowledge modestly that difference exists...this defends us from harboring any illusions of complete or stable knowledge"

" inhospitality…merits a pause long enough to learn new expectations."

“Empathy is hardly an ethical feeling...readers' projections of intimacy...disregard the text's...performance of keeping us at a politically safe distance....”

"Why is so much attention being called to our insufficiency as readers? Does it mean that the knowledge is impossible or that it is forbidden? Is she saying that we are incapable of knowing, or that we ought not to know?"

Is she "withholding her secrets because we are empirically different and would understand them only imperfectly; or must we not know them for ethical reasons, because our knowledge would lead to power over her community?"

“our access is limited...but sentimental readers miss the point... prefer the illusion of immediacy...."

"Secrets can cordon off curious and controling readers...Secrecy is a safeguard to freedom."

second keynote is the “mantrafesto”à
Alex Juhasz’s  counter-impulse (not to question, but) to "manifest."

Unlike questions, which (presumably) "keep things open,"
the Italian word manifesto is derived from the
Latin manifestum, meaning clear or conspicuous (= "making manifest").

In her "mantrafesto," Alex melds "manifesto" with "mantra":
a chanted/sung incantation/prayer;
a repeated word, formula, phrase, often a truism ("less is more").

what elements of this practice do you want to incorporate?

another possible reading is Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights

also what about Monsoon Bissell’s performance/workshop as a resource?
(in Identity Matters file…)

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