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Notes Towards Day 26 (Tues, Dec. 6): Who Speaks? Who Acts?


I. Coursekeeping
* two tasks today: the second one is attending to Little Bee & co!
* the first one is preparing for Thursday's class
, when we will
skype w/ Parkway, process all that's been happening, & complete
the College's end-of-semester evaluation forms

in preparation for Skyping w/ Parkway: let's take some time to
write together (something we will read to them on Thursday):
what gifts have we received from our collaboration?
what are we taking away from our partnership? (11:25-11:45)

your postings, in response to their poll, were AMAZING--
so we would begin by thinking them for inviting us to be so frank w/ one another,
in giving such revealing accounts of the demands of the first semester...
loss of purpose, homesickness, loneliness, "racial clumping" (w/ a particular focus
on the divide between U.S.- and international students), learning self-reliance vs.
realizing that "no one walks alone," multiple intellectual challenges....

Rae: For me the hardest part has been trying to remember why I am here. Once you reach the goal of getting to college, you are suddenly free-falling-- with no direction. In every class I am asking myself, is it worth it? Why am I here? I should be out "living my life" instead sitting in a class I don't even want to be in.

j.nahig: The greatest challenge I have had in transitioning to college has been having to face the fact that while going through the college process I lost the sense of purpose and passion, and that I no longer have a goal on the horizon to steer towards.

liljia: I did have a hard time to make the transition to college as an international student….At the very beginning of the semester… honestly, sometimes I think about that I am the unfortunate person there since this is not the country I grow up.

meggiekate: once I got here I discovered that my brain was very smushy. It was like starting to physically exercise after not exercising for a year …. making new relationships was also difficult…  those who have known you for a long time can be grounding and comforting. It’s been very difficult being so far away from everything familiar …. The newness of everything gives me some discomfort and has made me doubt myself….

MVW1993: I know that this experience is really good for me. I feel like I have, in fact, become more self-reliant and I definitely feel that I have asserted my independence. Being so far away, though difficult, has allowed me to explore myself more and to get a better sense of who I am.

snatarajan: I feel like I've, in a way, become part of the Bryn Mawr bubble to the point of being so detached from the rest of my family. At the same time, though, I have come across so many moments when I wish I could just return home and help fix whatever is broken.

jrschwartz15: this semester I have been in and out of friends/groups of friends and some friendships from home have faded without the everyday contact.

lissiem: my decision was almost made for me, based on something I was positive I wanted, to be independent and get away from home a little bit.

gfeliz: to stay down South for college … is what I really wanted …. but something just wasn’t right. I knew that ultimately I wanted academically rigorous institution and the schools that I was looking at down south didn’t fit all my expectations; I wanted to be challenged and I wanted to be on my own and make decisions for myself.

melel: I stepped into a new world which I only have myself to rely on—I must make decisions and cope with everything by myself …. a strong sense of dislocation took over me …. before I really came to the States,… I never knew the taste of homesickness…. I determined … to get some fresh air and to explore the world.  But now… I finally realize how much my home means to me.

LittleItaly: I'm a perfectionest as well as a procrastinator. I make projects aesthetically rich but behind the glitter the depth … is always last-minute and fast.  It got me several awards from back home, it got me friends, it got me to Bryn Mawr, but I believe later on I will find out I can't talk my way out of everything. I think that is my biggest challenge...ending old habits.

kganihoanova: being at college is … different however in that, I must work around people's decidely busy schedules whereas back home there's not really much to do so everyone's free all the time.

JHarmon: it's hard to realize the hopeful vision of coming to college to simply discover myself and my passions. For me, being career oriented isn't something that can wait—it has to be a factor in every decision I make here.

Freckles93: one of the greatest appeals of college to me was escaping from high school ….However, in my haste to run away … I neglected to realize how much of an effect leaving home would have on me. In high school, home was my safety zone.

Chandrea Peng: When I went home for Thanksgiving break, it felt like I was a guest in the house…. It's also difficult to manage your finances while you're in college ….There's something really nice about getting paid from a hard week's' worth of work.

S. Yeager: It's very dfficult to admit that many of my friends were not supportive of my decision and, when I first began to understand this, I was very sad.  However …. I ended up with a much greater appreciation for those who are still there for me, and for the new friends I have made.  

nbnguyen: Some people are just indifferent and reckless with my heart for no reason. Sometimes at Bryn Mawr, I have the feeling of exclusion.

melal: I totally understand how you feel being excluded about surrounded by a bunch of Chinese girls and listening them talk in a language that you completely don’t understand—it’s exactly what I feel when I surrounded by American girls and listen to them talk extremely fast about TV shows.

nbnguyen:  The struggle to be equal shouldn't come from one side. No one can be successful by being walking alone. The unprivileged shouldn't blame everything for their responsibility.The rich shouldn't ask the poor to be responsible for their poverty.

LJ: I believe it's human tendency to hang out with individuals that are like you; it just makes life more comfortable and less complicated. However, as Bryn Mawr women I think we are all capable of being a little uncomfortable in order to be friends with someone who has a different culture than our own.

Utitofon: The racial clumping is glaring … why we gotta make this discussion a feature of customs week ....
We can pass it off as instinctive to hang out with our fellow country men; Americans with Americans;Africans with Africans;Chinese with Chinese or based on our economic backgrounds, but that seemingly natural behavior is really reflexive of class bias - racial or economic. If we are truly convinced that 'all men are created equal' and if this class has had any positive effect on us, then our circle of friends(people we eat with, hang out with, go shopping or touring with) should consist of people from all races and backgrounds.

Little Italy: are there anyways the College could do something? … Maybe more icebreakers … to promote relationships between international and non-internation, transfers, and McBrides, would help take down the divides …

lynnhypan: I have an extra challange, I study and live in a new country …. I found that it's really hard there if there's no one who can really understand you from your point of view… you will feel isolate and lonely sometimes. The feeling is like you've losted your root/essence …. Also I've noticed some Americans does not like to become friends with international students …. certain culture differences always exist between international students and domestic students, so the friends range become even smaller.

Utitofon: was afraid of becoming insignificant here. I knew I would have to make a conscious effort to cultivate and maintain new friendships.

msolson: I have realized that just because we don't have a long-standing relationship doesn't mean we can't start one now.

thamid: I put a standard up. I was trying to find a group of people that replicated my friends back home….

[having written our "thanks" to Parkway....peeling off again....]

5 p.m. FRIDAY (Dec. 9):
writing assignment # 11,  3 pp. (or equivalent)--
"de-classifying" your writing for this class, going beyond the weekly
3-pp. academic papers you've been writing. What do you want to say
to the world about issues of class and education? What format would
be most effective for saying these things? Publish this on Serendip -->
you can do this by going to the course forum, and posting your
thoughts there, as usual, w/ ONE ADDITIONAL STEP: be sure to tag it
"Student webpaper -->InClass/OutClassed" (in the box above the body).
This should make it show up on our course web paper page; check to be
sure that's happened.
Think here, too, about audience; for example,
no one is likely to want to read a paper entitled "web paper #11...."

Our request for a description of the "classed" dimensions of academic writing
led to some pretty scathing critiques of our shared writing work this semester!...
(we'll work our way through that set of postings on Thursday; just noting,
in the interim,
your sense of feeling oppressed both by academic
discourse AND by the invitation to be free of it....)

* 7-9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11 we'll meet in the English House Lecture Hall
for pizza and your presentations/performances/teachings/teach-in...
we have 8 groups, w/ 10 minutes apiece for each to share

questions about any of this "concluding" material (partnership
w/ Parkway; writing assignments; performances; portfolios.... ??

II. (12:00-12: 45)
At the close of class last Tuesday
, I was reading you this passage from an interview w/
Chris Cleave, The True Story Behind My New Novel:
The novel came out of a sense of my own complicity in some of the evils of the world.
I’d moved on from considering myself as an outraged – and blameless – observer ...
I realised that people like me are often part of the problem. I began to think about my life,
and how it is relatively easy, and how it is therefore relatively easy to ignore the suffering
of others. And since suffering is the rule rather than the exception in the world, it’s not an
easy moral question to duck as a writer. So I decided to address it directly, by imagining
the most striking example of someone who is dispossessed – Little Bee – coming to ask
for a help from someone – Sarah – who is a little bit more like me. I never plot my work
in advance, so I was very interested to discover how the moral ambiguities would play out....

After nearly two years with this project I realised that the strongest perspective would be
a dual one
. This is a story of two worlds: the developed and the developing, and of the
mutual incomprehension that sometimes dooms them to antagonism. So by taking one woman
from each side of the divide, and investing each with a compulsion to understand the other, I was
able to let the story unpack itself in the mind of the reader. This was a huge breakthrough for me.
One shouldn’t underestimate the role of the reader in this novel. I wanted to write a story that was
never made fully explicit; which relied on the reader’s interpretation of the characters’ dialogue.
Once you trust the reader with the story, the writing is really fun to do.

What Cleve wrote strongly echoed Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights:
"Since subject position is everything in my analysis of law .... I will try to write ... in a way that
bridges the traditional gap between theory and praxis .... I hope that the result will be a text
that is multilayered -- that encompasses the straightforwardness of real life and reveals
complexity of meaning .... I am interested in the way in which legal language flattens and
confines in absolutes the complexity of meaning inherent in any given problem; I am trying
to challenge the usual limits of commercial discourse by using an intentionally double-voiced
and relational, rather than a traditionally legal black-letter, vocabulary" (p. 3, p. 6).

"What is 'impersonal' writing but denial of self?... denial of one's authority ... is ruse ....
And the object of such ruse is to empower ... beyond the self, by appealing to neutral,
shared, even universal understandings .... But the cost of such exclusive forms of discourse
is ... at  the expense of one's relation to others; empowerment without communion (pp. 92-93).

What we were realizing, as we stopped talking, was that the perspective of the novel is not dual, but multiple. So: today's class is structured around what might happen if we re-conceive the novel through the
eyes of characters other than those who have the major speaking roles, Sarah and Little Bee....

What might be highlighted/foregrounded if we re-consider the novel from these other points of view?
What might we learn about these characters' pasts and futures, if we attend more carefully to them?

Get in pairs to focus on "pairs" of characters:
Ellen & Hayley: Little Bee and the village girls
Jess & Jacqueline: Sarah and Clarissa
Jillian & Jordan: Batman and the daughter of the girl w/ no name
Kamila & Meg: Andrew and the sari girl
Mfon, Nancy and Serena: Lawrence and the "man w/ the wound in his neck"
Shannon & Tanya: Yvette and the "gang"

read over the quotes and commentary we generated about your characters last week
spend some more time w/ these figures: what more can you learn about them?
do you feel that you can understand them? what more do they have to teach you?

let's warm up now for our performances, by doing this as as a performance-->
move to the chair in the middle to answer the questions,
speaking as that character...

What do these characters have to say to us?
What might they ask us to do?
How might we respond?

What are we doing here? Treating these lives as if they are important, in the end, primarily for what they might teach us/what use we could make of them/what action we could take? In an 1988 essay, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Gayatri Spivak asks us to attend to the silence of the subaltern, a person without agency because of social status:

"The subaltern 'occupies the space cut off from the lines of mobility in a colonized country ... there is something of the non-speakingness in the very notion of the subaltern.' If she were able to make herself heard, she would cease to be the subaltern .... But such speaking is NOT brought about by intellectual attempts to represent the oppressed, or by pretending to let them speak for themselves..." Spivak cautions against "welcoming selective inhabitants of the margin in order to better exclude the margin."

Is this the welcome we are offering…?

how might this be related to the problem we identified a few weeks ago of
our inviting people (esp. housekeepers) to “represent” their group?

how might it be related to the issue of "racial clumping" we named @ the beginning of class,
of national groups selecting "against" one another?