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Towards Day 27 (Wed, Apr. 30): Reconsidering the Closing Scene as a Starting Point...

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
I've updated the checklist and portfolio instructions--
Jody has a fuller question for you to answer,
than she did in the draft I gave you Monday;
I made the changes you suggested in the checklist;
and also verified with Ann Dixon, Serendip's webmaster,
that if you put up a new banner, it will replace the old one--because the
portfolio is meant to be evolving;
she and I will talk about having more options for next year, but in the interim,
I can review the technicalities with return users (Agatha, Jessica, Jo) during conferences,
and we can figure out a way to archive your older banner image, if you'd like...

Remember to schedule a writing conference w/ me,
when you're ready to think about your last paper
(I had a practice one w/ Agatha y'day,
so now I know how I want to do these:
I want you to look over all 3 of the papers you've written for me so far, and my comments,
and come ready to talk w/ me about your writing overall, so we can figure out
together what direction would be best for you to take for your last project;
I will take notes on our conversation and post those,
both as a comment on your last paper and a map for the one upcoming.

I verified that senior work is due @ 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 10
(it would be really be GREAT if your papers (Simona, Jo, Lisa, Jenna)
for me came in earlier....;) I'm really going to be crunched over Mother's Day!

Any more questions about any of this/the review process as a whole?

Friday we will need to leave from Pem Arch @ 10 SHARP for our last trip to Camden:
(our last work trip started much later than planned, because folks weren't there on time)
David? Lisa? driving? lunch pick-up? $5 for tolls?
plan to return by 3 okay w/ all?

next Tuesday @ noon, we will gather as a group for the final time @ Ava's installation,
w/ food, song, movement...what else? (some piece of your follow-up....?
is there any way that we can use this time/space to let people know
more about what we've been learning/help them learn too?/do some more 360 outreach...?
I changed the food order to box lunches from Wyndham, rather than the dining hall...
plus cookies and fruit for any who stop by to see what we are up to...

II. we had a great conversation on Monday about poetry vs. prose
(everyday life vs. revolution, Kolkata vs. the tide country...)
Jo continued to work that division in a post last night:
does poetry carry more contradiction than prose?

We did not talk so much about religious vs. scientific ways of knowing, and
we didn't talk @ all about the humanist/environmentalist debate,
which really structures the final 1/4 of the novel--

I was really surprised: I was sure that you would focus, in your postings last night,
on the question of the conflict between the needs of humans and the needs of animals--
the horrific backstory of the novel: that 1000s of people were displaced from their homes,
to make room for a nature preserve; that Piya is heartbroken @ the murder of the tiger,
who has killed several villagers; and that the novel actually fails to solve (even to address)
the complicated question of balancing the need for a safe habitat for the tigers with
the need for a safe habitat for humans. It ends instead with an optimistic tribute to Piya's idealism,
by focusing attention on the study of dolphins she will conduct--and thereby really
blinks on the larger question it has raised, about the conflict between humanitarian and
environmental concerns (though I did read one critique that said we just
need to reconsider the the closing scene of the novel as a starting point….
the rhythmic patterning of the whole challenges us to resist the urge for closure….).

Anyhow! until 8 this morning (when I finally had enough postings from you all to
scaffold this discussion!) that's what I thought we'd be talking about today.
Instead (and of course surprises like this are the delight of my teaching life)
you focused on something else entirely: our biases in reading others and the world,
and, more than that, the ultimate limitations on our perceptions, our incapacity to
"translate" the world and those within it.

III. Here's what I extracted from what you said, re-shaped into a call and response:
Jenna first identified the theme of your conversation last night:
As I continue reading The Hungry Tide I find more instances of perception. Each character sees the world in a different way…there always is some sort of bias….How do we decide what's important and what stories to share?

Sara called out the “bias” in the language of the title of Jessica’s post, “nature strikes back”: there seems to be an implication of vengence, as though nature is purposeful in targeting human beings. I'm reminded of Paula Allen Gunn's revelation that conflict driven plot was a narrative constructed from a patriarchial society... does the narrative which depicts humans' relationships with nature always have to be framed in the language of conflict?... 'man verses nature' is an attitude that permeates our daily lives- like thinking of our struggle to get to the Shonibare Exhibit as 'nature' trying to tell us something/prevent us from getting where we need to go, rather than thinking that what we may actually be up against our own human stubbornness, not nature's 'wrath.'

Simona re-named this bias “reading the world”—and re-focused the conversation on the question of how well we can really read “others”: I found myself really struck the other day about our conversation of Kanai and Piya reading the world versus reading the word…I found myself wondering where Fokir fits into this not-binary but interconnected spectrum…Is he the world… truly untranslatable…? [As Rilke says,] the animals/‘already know by instinct/we’re not comfortably at home/in our translated world’

Jo also questioned the limits of our “translations”:  for us humans the 'natural world' must be translated in order for us to inhabit it. We need to modify it, to build and develop and control other species in order for it to be inhabitable….the tide country has a way of resisting translation, refusing to accomodate humanity….one of the few places where humans fail to leave lasting marks, or even scars….I was intrigued by how differently Jessica framed the intense conflict between humans and nature: "The value of death and life are constant with the value of nature....What keeps us alive, can also end us”…humans create for themselves an existence that both relies heavily on and is extremely threatened by their environment….

Lisa was similarly struck by the ways in which humans and nature are intertwined throughout The Hungry Tide…how much nature determined individual courses of action…and how individuals' skills valued in their social world do not translate to the natural world.

Sophia circled the discussion back again to the limits of translation, the question of how much we can really know of others: sara’s "bear with me as I seem to go in circles" brought me to the relationship between Piya and Fokir, and the full-circledness of their time together….I can't help but feel a bit cheated…the language barrier kept me from ever seeing and understanding Fokir….I try to reach for understanding of Fokir's side of the story, but I find myself going back in circles through the stories of other people. I will never know, but it is all I want to know!...we will never understand what it is like to be Fokir, or to see what his relationship with Piya was to him….

Let’s take 5 minutes to gather our thoughts around this question of the limits of our understanding, our fundamental in/capacity to translate both the world and others within it. As further guide to these reflections, I I call up again Paulo Friere, who in “The Importance of the Act of Reading” says that “reading the word never entailed a break with reading the world.” Friere tells the story of the house where he was born, encircled by trees, which were like persons to him: he terms this “a growing awareness of the world as a kind of reading through which the self learns and changes.” The next step in our development, he argues, is “understanding how human practice transforms the world.” This involves performing a “more critical reading of the prior less critical reading of the world.” This is an instrument of counter-hegemony,” of “critical perception, interpretation and re-writing what is read”—and so “transforming the world.” Reading is thus both creative act and political practice.

What do you think?
Start sharing w/ those who didn't post: Agatha, aphorisnt, Shamial

IV. Reading Notes from Ghosh:
In “A Crocodile in the Swamplands,” Ghosh attacks the Sahara Group’s use of the narrative of empty lands…the inhabitants of the islands are…figured as a threat to the environment….the exclusivist approach to conservation: it assumes the existence of populations that are too poor, and too disempowered to adequately articulate their own interests”

the repletion of this narrative of empty lands operates to silence local knowledge and history…..thousands of human inhabitants were evicted and killed in 1979, because the government refused to let refugees settle on land that was designated as reserved for forests and tigers….

decisions about land use must confront ways that race, gender, class, and caste hierarchies have affected access to the land and shaped understandings of the nonhuman world….

form shifts between third-person narration, first-person journal entries, translations of Indian legends and European poetry….such paratactical sequences make the reader an active participant…releasing the past from the dialectical and linear relationship to which it is constrained by historical narrative”…

Piya relates to the rivers in ways that conform to scientific stereotypes of visual overseeing….Fokir’s knowledge of the river is…intricately tied to his body…,Fokier’s embodied knowledge of the river becomes a map on a GPS monitor, literally transforming his vision…into scientific ‘data’….

In “Wild Fictions”….he argues that fiction is the necessary first step that enables responsible decisions….”if nature is to be re-imagined in such a way as to restore the human presence with it…science cannot be the final arbiter in the matter of our relationship with Nature, for the very good reason that its procedures and methods cannot acknowledge or address questions of meaning, intention and lived history. The seriousness of this limitation does not become obvious until we consider the field of public policy. Since the conditions of scientific inquiry are such as to require a radical separation between the inquirer and the field of study, it is surely no coincidence that the scientific experts' responses to conservation challenges so often consists of attempts to recreate these conditions on the ground – primarily through the expulsion of people. It is as though they were seeking to create the conditions of a laboratory within inhabited landscapes, an endeavour that can only be futile and in the end, self-defeating….the limitation of the sciences in relation to the natural world is that they cannot address its single most important determinant, which is human action and subjectivity. These last are properly and necessarily the domain of politics. But the limitation of political action, in turn, is that it cannot generate the imaginative resources that are necessary to a re-thinking of the human relationship with nature. And yet, the truth is that new policies will be impossible without such a re-thinking. The relationship between human beings and their surroundings constitutes as vast a spectrum of experience as the human mind is capable of conceiving… It is my belief that only fiction can provide a canvas broad enough to address this relationship in all its dimensions; only in fiction can a reconciliation be affected ... between the quest of a scientist determined to prevent the disappearance of a species and the needs of a fisherman who must hunt in order to live. It follows then that if nature is to be re-imagined in such a way as to restore the human presence within it – not as predator but partner – then this too must first be told as a story. In India we are fortunate in that our literary traditions, powerfully influenced though they are by the West, have never wholly succumbed to the romantic imagining of Nature as a 'pristine', uninhabited temple.