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Towards Day 22 (Mon, Apr 14): "A singer may be innocent; never the song"

Anne Dalke's picture

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

I. coursekeeping

on getting to your web-papers...
on visiting Ava in Arncliffe (in Jody's class, a week from Wednesday)
like to substitute one of my class periods for some work time this weekend
(she'd like one person every two  hours, 10-6 this Friday, 11-2 on Saturday)
and for those who can't do it this weekend, during the week before May 5,
when she will be finalizing the installation; in return, we will cancel next
Monday's class

on Wednesday, we will begin The Hungry Tide...
spend some time w/ the map; we'll talk about that,
and cf. those visuals with the verbal representation
of the first two chapters, just to p. 13
(for the next class, I'll expect you to have read  the first 1/2, to p. 145)

II. Our field trip:

as you know, I very much enjoyed our trip to Laurel Hill Cemetery,
and our thoughtful go-around 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:
we were asking environmental questions, with ecological answers;
and religious questions, with material answers....

I'd asked Agatha and Betsy, who couldn't join us, to visit the family cemetery
here in Morris Woods, so they will have had a very different experience...

did the material I asked you to read about the history of the creation
of memorial parks change any of your thinking/feeling?
give you a sense of historical shifts in attitudes towards death...?
(take a minute to look over this material....
write down a thought or two, or a quote or two, to go 'round, read aloud...)

History of Laurel Hill:
with urbanization, simultaneous development of crafted,
suburban sanctuaries of nature and retreat beyond the city's limits:
"a place apart,"
an estate garden, amphitehatre-like, bucolic retreat

Rebecca Greenfield. Our First Public Parks:
family plots--> rural cemeteries--> memorial parks
liminality: joining 2 different states/intensification of knowledge, emotion
containing the dead: keeping them out of the realm of the living: complex, alternate cities
old church burial grounds filled up-> memorial parks w/ less emphasis on death
green burial a return to first practices; cemeteries rich, provocative, reflective places
cremation violent; beome food for something, be connected to a place for a generation or 2..

Thomas Laqueur. Spaces of the Dead:
segregated "asylums of the dead"; sorrows soothed by well-kept garden
secular, explicitly landscaped precise invention of late 18th c:
geographically distant cities of the dead
radical innovation in spatial geography of the dead in relation to the living;
triumph of the bourgeoisie;
always fluid status of the dead as part of larger community
no "strangers": anyone would gain entry to these self-consciously planned landscapes:
freehold property anyone could buy; hodgepodge of commercially available art
2 distinct features of managing death:
now metaphysically meaningless body
became unbearably repulsive in material decay

bourgeoisie imagined new community of clear, sweet-smelling,
wholly novel real and symbolic geography of the dead
leveling distinctions: new democracy of the dead
language of public health = new, secular conception of the dead body:
why dead body now understood as "out of place"?
why corruption became pollution? burial grounds had long been full up
dead bodies do not cause disease; the corpse became secular,
death lost its metaphyical centrality
ideal of a "congregation of the dead" held enormous appeal on eve of its destruction
fear of death: of never having mattered, being forgotten
undreamed-of elaboration of personal commemoration
in essence public, w/ peculair aesthetic incoherence
something uneasy-making about the bourgeois way of putting the dead to rest:
a strong reaction to decay, displaced onto public health
fabulous elaboration of "only sleep"
didn't work to substitute progress for religion!

Susan Chumsky.
The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals:
"her real superpower is empathy and elicitation...and really listening"
"we have to do things differently...from in the past"
how might we do things differently from in the past?
Laqueur traces the changes in religious belief in the late 18th/early 19th centuries...
are we in the midst of another shift in belief about our role in the universe?

III. as we said @ Laurel Hill, some of the questions raised in the cemetery
--making our "mark," leaving our "scar"--seem very connected to the material
we were discussing last Wednesday:
SueEllen Campbell's essays, Magpie and The Land and Language of Desire,
Tim Burke's Last Collection Speech, Teju Cole's essay on The White-Savior Industrial Complex--
in conversation with your discussions of empathy in Jody's class.
So the main thing I want to do today is link up this conversation...

Get out some paper; I'm going to read you some passages,
and ask you to write in response...then we'll talk.

Let's re-gather ourselves w/ this quote, which Teju Cole lifts from John Berger:
"A singer may be innocent; never the song"
What do you think this means??
Or, at least: what does this make you think?

(Write for a few minutes...)

In "The Land and Language of Desire,” SueEllen Campbell argues that
the “systems of meaning that matter are ecosystems.”
Neither language, texts, or human beings, are “coherent and self-contained”;
but all parts of a network of relationships, of “intertextual” meaning,
“knots in a field of intrinsic relations,” "part of texts written by larger and stronger forces."
How then can the singer [who is part of the song, yes?] be innocent?
(Write for a few minutes more...)

In his Last Collection Speech, Tim Burke draws a sharp line
(as smilewithsh noted) between the world of school (where
knowledge has been "stage-managed" and "domesticated" for you),
and the "jungle" outside, "where knowledge roams wild and dangerous."
If you set off to change the world, he says,
You are like an agronomy student setting off to practice  your
best cow-milking technique on a jaguar," guided by "an invisible
set of rules and directives to ignore some things and refuse to see others."
What you should do instead is "bear witness," "observe the world meticulously,"
"open yourselves as fully as you can" to the "painful mystery" of life.
"Keep alive an open-minded appreciation for the unpredictable and unknown."
Though I think that the bottom line of Tim's talk--to stay open to new possibilities,
not to be too certain that you know what is right (action)--is good advice, his tonality,
as we said, is patronizing, over-certain, itself "domesticating" and "stage-managed."
What would an eco-critic say back to him? How to respond "eco-literately"
to this statement about the inadequacy of your
"domesticated" education for work in the "jungle"?

(Write for a few minutes more...)

Teju Cole doesn't direct his essay explicitly to Swat students, but he shares
Tim's basic orientation, in cautioning U.S. citizens to be more thoughtful,
to have more humility before we act. He warns us against
the "banality of sentimentality," which he says "is not about justice,"
but "about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege."
He tells us to not let our "good hearts" keep us from "thinking constellationally,"
to see the patterns of power behind the isolated "disasters,"
"to reason out the need for the need," to "first do no harm,"
to begin with some respect for the agency of people in their own lives,
to consult w/ those being helped.

What would an eco-critic say back to Teju Cole's cautions about
interfering in the lives of others? Is there an "eco-literate" response
to his call for "a little due diligence," as a "minium requirement"
for "making a difference"?
(Write for a few minutes more...)

How do you make sense of his dismissal of the "banality of sentimentality,"
in the context of your discussion, in ed, about the limits of empathy?
(Write for a few minutes more...)

And (to bring it all back): how does all this link up with your own thoughts about cemeteries,
the disposal of bodies generally, of those of your family, friends, yourself...?
(Write for a few minutes more...)

So now let's talk...what emerged as you wrote?