Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Towards Day 21 (Wed, Apr 9): On Being Magpies

Anne Dalke's picture

can we meet outside?!? and pay attention to what difference that makes?!?

I. coursekeeping

"To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
(Life of Pi, via Sara)

Sophia on Toni Morrison's talk @ Swarthmore on Monday?
Kelsey on Kenyon Farrow's talk @ BMC last night?
Anybody on the town hall about race?
(or: any further thoughts about dialogue/difficult conversations--
vs. selected/directed narration, "pacification," vs. 
Teju Cole's critique of "policed language" and "enforced civility"?)
more on this soon...

On Friday, we're taking a field trip to Laurel Hill Cemetery
we agreed: leave here @ 10 (David driving van, Lisa the campus car--and getting lunches?);
when we get to Laurel Hill, you can wander 10:30-12(:30)?, with whatever guidance you want.
We'll gather then for lunch and reflection.

I called/checked out details re: the audio tour:
Visitors to Laurel Hill can bring their cell phones and tune into an audio tour that highlights the oldest section of the Cemetery. The only cost associated with this tour is the minutes for your specific cell phone plan. An introductory exhibit, kiosk with maps, directions for dialing in, and the first stop are all located at the main entrance. We invite you to visit as many stops in whatever order you please to hear some of the stories of those now resting peacefully at the Cemetery. (There are also t-shirts, caps, posters, books and "death mints"...)

Fine not to look @ any material before you go, but for
Monday's further class discussion of (the implications of) our experience,
please review four short texts:
History of Laurel Hill.
Rebecca Greenfield. Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries. The Atlantic. March 16, 2011.
Thomas Laqueur. Spaces of the Dead. Ideas from the National Humanities Center. 8, 2 (2001).

Susan Chumsky. The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals: Baby Boomers Are Drawn to Green and Eco-Friendly Funerals.
The New York Times. March 12, 2014.

Come to class with some thoughts both about your experiences of and impressions @ Laurel Hill,
and, much more generally, about the creation of green spaces,
the maintenance of green spaces, and what that has to do with our bodies,
once we no longer inhabit them...
think of these as environmental questions, with ecological answers;
and/or as religious questions, withmaterial answers....?
I don't want to overwork these questions (maybe we already handled
them adequately in David's class on Monday), so may take us on
a field trip to visit Ava, or get us going w/ the first chapter of
The Hungry Tide...

I'll be in touch about this over the weekend...
but you SHOULD start reading The Hungry Tide....

II. And! you have a paper due on on Sunday @ 5,
about "how much latitude we can allow," exploring any still-
unanswered question that arose for you in this last section of the course.
That's your posting for Sunday night; no others due.

Let's break now into small groups to brainstorm those projects;
I thought we'd keep the same groups as last time,
since you already have a sense of each others' interests and writing:
, Lisa// Kelsey, aphorisnt, smilewithsh// Jo, Agatha, Sophia// Sara, Jessica, Jenna:
describe your idea, listen to your partners' thoughts/responses/suggestions...

Return to large groups--any general questions/illuminations?
Encourage you to get your head around the notion
that you are posting to world-wide, not just local audiences:
think about graphics, subheadings, bullet points...
this is not just about "dumping" a word doc onto Serendip!

III. for today, I asked you to recall
SueEllen Campbell's essays,
Magpie and The Land and Language of Desire,
Tim Burke's Last Collection Speech, and
Teju Cole's essay on The White-Savior Industrial Complex.
These are essays, lectures, newspaper articles, each w/ a straightforward punchline
(increasingly straightforward, if you read them in that order);
though differing from one another, they all are alike in comprising  a very different,
more direct/directive genre than the complex, layered, indecisive storytelling of J.M. Coetzee--

Take five minutes to review all of them, and write out
one quotation, one statement, or one question
(could be in response to one essay, or the result
of "rubbing them up" against one another):
Think about what each one of them is telling us to do;
and also about how they intersect/interrupt/reinforce one another;
what questions they provoke;
what you are left thinking you should do....

Go 'round and read these responses....
we'll use these to structure our discussion.

Campbell, “Magpie”:
“magpies make good role-models for critics, teachers and students:
they embody the advantages of being inquisitive, of foraging,
of building something new out of apparently unrelated scraps.
They may make particularly good models for ecological writers and critics….
we too might well thrive on an eclectic and improvisatory appetite.
Magpies…ask lot of questions....they forage further....
keep their peripheral vision sharp, since it's usually the
glint of what I'm not looking for that raises the best questions…
I guard my status as amateur and sampler...."

She then performs a wide-ranging reading of Edward Abbey's book, Desert Solitaire,
that lands on the realization that "environmental partly by
shutting out social and cultural complexities....Is there any room in Abbey's country for community,
for eological and human networks, for people living together...a vision not of separation but of connection?"

In "The Land and Language of Desire,” Campbell goes further in developing this idea of connections.
She argues that the “systems of meaning that matter are ecosystems.”
Neither language, texts, or human beings, are “coherent and self-contained”;
all are parts of a network of relationships, of “intertextual” meaning;
we are all “knots in a field of intrinsic relations.”

She ends that essay by describing our sense that we have lost our unity with that world,
and our desire to be part of it again. Theory helps us step back from ourselves,
to think about desire, while nature writing immerses us in it:
“the human is a participant…in the ancient continuum of bears and forests….
we are part of texts written by larger and stronger forces…
I recognize the shape and force of my own desire to be at home on the earth.”

What would she say to Tim Burke, who in his
Last Collection Speech advises Swarthmore students
NOT to try and do good and change the world for the better?
Faculty "domesticate knowledge," but
"You are now going into the jungle, where knowledge roams wild and dangerous.
Changing the world or doing good seemed..invariably to be accompanied by
an invisible set of rules and directives to ignore some things and refuse to see others.
If you set out to change the are like an agronomy student setting off
to practice  your best cow-milking technique on a's the wrong attitude.
What you are qualified to bear witness...
to see the world as it is, to observe it meticuloulsy...
to tell the truth, with rigor and disciplne...
to open yourselves as fully as you can

to the richness and mystery of the human condition.
We diminish ourselves when we try to stage-manage knowledge....
We want too much to quickly domesticate the event, to resolve away the painful mystery ...
doing frequently not a matter of commitment to causes or fidelity to ideologies...
Most injustice is systematic, and really does require systematic attention from organized groups
of people fighting for what's right...The change the world..will arise from within
the conditoons of your journey through the world rather than from hubris or fierce neediness....
Keeping a sense of wonder alive, an open-minded appreciation for the unpredictable and unknown.

What would Tim say to Teju Cole, who writes,
in his essay on "the White-Savior Industrial Complex," that
the banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality
this is not about justice; it is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege
"I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to

leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point."
cumulative effect of policed language/enforced civility:
speaking plainly is seen as unduly provocative.
Jason Russell is "tonally similar" to Nicholas Kristof:
"HIs good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally.
He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated "disasters"...
he sees no need to reason out the need for the need."
more to doing good work than "making a difference":do no harm/consult w/ those being helped
Cole writes from "multiple positions": as an African, American, novelist, story-writer,
resisting the song of Africa as backdrop for white fantasies,
acknowledging the genuine hurt of the continent,
naming its problems as both intricate and intensely local?
American "help" begins with some humility...
respect for the agency of people in their own lives
If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should
consider evaluating American foreign policy...
before they impose themselves on Africa itself....
"American interests"...have a bearing on our notions of our right to "help."...
begin our activism with the money-driven villainy @ the heart of American foreign policy.
If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.

V. "A singer may be innocent; never the song"--what does this mean??