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"It's Hard to See the Forest When You're a Tree"

Notes towards Day 6 of Critical Feminist Studies
"It's Hard to See the Forest When You're a Tree"

A Self-Adjusting Search Tree


I. Coursekeeping
final call for $$$
next week's readings, by Spivak and Cixous, are challenging
next Friday, 9/28, your first 2-pp. paper is due on-line
(create a blog where you will post your papers):
one month into the semester,
what feminist issues seem most critical to you?
Who addresses them most cogently?
What else would you like to know, and how can you find out?
(think of this as a "slice of your 'state of mind' address....)

II. What was useful for your thinking,
in our discussion of Kauffman's thinking?

Quite the richness "going against the grain"
in the forum area this week!

  • Jessy: I read this text as an aspiring academic...I was the intended audience....Kauffman's thesis is...about the perils of using personal testimony in an academic context...Let the silt sink to the bottom....And let me speak to you, student to student: you don't win the class by disagreeing with that day's reading....we're all trying to be Sosnoski's Magister Implicatus already, and because of this sometimes we miss the point entirely.

III. She and Paula Gunn Allen come out of very different experiences/backgrounds ("the quality of one's background
will largely determine the quality of one's life's

What similarities and differences do you see
between their points of view?

(For instance: what HAPPENS to "pov" in the work of both??)
  • Rhapsodica: I do not think that we have to necessarily abandon our own personal journeys in order to effect large-scale change.
  • Nora: I think we should trust ourselves, to know that our ideas can change...

offers us a way of reading she calls "tribal-feminism
or feminist-tribalism....

Often what appears to be a misinterpretation caused by racial differences is a distortion based on sexual politics."

  • Yoo Jim: Allen's essay definitely struck a chord with me...she showed how we really are a product of the societies we are raised in...I have alway sfelt that dealing with my own issues of race was enough on my plate without getting into the whole issue of feminism...I'm not sure I have "room" for it in my life right now. It's ajuggling act and not a very fun one.
  • Hannah: I don't understand the need of these two scholars to isolate parts of themselves from the rest....Allen...attempts to divide herself into manageable characteristics. Feminist, tribal, tribal-feminist...WHY SEPARATE THEM? really doesn't do anyone any good to separate the personal testimony from the intellectual, the feminist from the race/ethnicity/class etc.
  • Alexander: it was nice to be able to watch someone compartmentalize their life....We she her as a feminist, in touch with her "tribality"
  • Mary Belle: the few references to race have put me to thinking about my own 'races', and then about class. I am not so sure this is the proper forum for those topics, but now that I am caught up with the reading I may take up the challenge.
  • Steph: I am pretty sure that I am living proof that Allen's statement makes a claim without any support
"The cultural bias of the translator will inevitably shape his or her perception of the short, it's hard to see the forest when you're a tree."
  • Mary Belle '57: Allen makes me realize that I have been looking for a...linear, chronological, 'masculine', left-brain construct with myself in the foreground....All the bits and pieces of my life are rearranging themselves in a great 3-dimensional patchwork.
  • Elizabeth319: I should really start looking into the background of the forest that I am a part of....I prefer to look at life as a balancing act and a neverending challenge to put together a multi dimensional puzzle that cannot be completed in this world.


What's the forest? What's the tree?

"Language embodies the unspoken assumptions and orientations
of the culture it belongs to..."

"The world resists language as the grain of a tree resists the saw, and saws take the form they do partly because wood is what it is. We sense the presence of things through this resistance....." (Robert Scholes)

Three Interpretations of the Yellow Woman Story
(as translated by Allen's mother's great-uncle)

"I am Kochinnenako"

    a narrative version of a ceremony related to the planting of corn, transfering focus of power, with assumptions...of balance and harmony...sense of rightness, or propriety...fundamental principle of proper order...ritual agency in conflict-phobic culture

    use of passive female figure as pawn in male bid for power...
    useful in instructing women in their obligation in revolutionary struggle
    (assumes that conflict is basic to human experience and that
    women are essentially powerless)


What are the Political Implications of this Narrative Structure?
  • tribal habit of mind toward equilibrium of all factors
  • even distribution of value among all elements in a field
  • no single element heroes, no villains
  • no chorus, no "setting" minor characters...
  • foreground slips along from one focal point to another until all the pertinent elements in the ritual conversation have had their say...
  • focus of the action shifts...there is no "point of view"....
  • Cf. Kathryn: How does this relate to Sosnoski's idea about falsificity, and the need to rid our minds of the duality of correct versus incorrect...What gives Allen the authority to say that Gunn's translation is incorrect?
  • Cf. Emily: I had the feeling...of having all authority taken away through Allen's description....I lost all authority on every subject she brought up.
  • Cf. Tamarinda: "A feminist is someone who would die to have equal rights between men and women"....What significance does individuality/the personal testimony hold when every documented uprising involves a call for unity-for sameness?
  • Cf. Sarah: Kauffman is being an outsider to the outsider's society.
  • Cf. Ingrid: Why do we have to just have enough?...if we want to be equal...we shall never stop the seeking...this is the war I want to fight.

"Perceptual modes..are more resemblant of open-field perception than of foreground-background perceptions....Traditional peoples perceive their world in a unified-field fashion that is far from the single-focus perception that generally characterizes Western masculinist monotheistic modes of perception."
How do you/we decide what's foreground/what's background?
Is it even possible for us to look using unified- or open-field perception?
"The Human Condition"
    Further exercises and examples:
    some ambiguous figures...

"Women's traditional occupations...more often circular than linear, more synchronistic than chronological, and more dependent upon harmonious relationships of all elements within a field of perception..."

"The patchwork quilt is the best material example...
of the plot and process of a traditional tribal narrative...."

"to be and to create of ultimate importance..."
Go and be backgrounds!


Discussion continues in the Course Forum Area....
go there and add your thoughts!