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Towards Day 7 (Wed, Feb. 12): Backgrounding

Anne Dalke's picture

I.  A TON OF COURSEKEEPING--let's be clear and/but efficient!
* Field trip to Mill Grove, 10-2 on Friday (the eco-system willing!)

--usual arrangements: Betsy and Lisa pick up vans and lunches;
Sophia is bringing binoculars; some of you want to get sound equipment?

--discussion of expectation
re: art work
(varied investment/inspiration/worth it…?
outcome is unpredictable)

--no other homework
, when creative projects are due,
in the class where the critique is being held


will not be a huge add'l amt of work, but a re-working
(perhaps an expansion of, perhaps just a selection from)
these first 4 "documentations" (of Camden, Tinicum, Mill Grove, Camden redux)--

* sign up for conferences with Ava (tomorrow in CC: 12-4:30, again on Tues, Feb. 25)

* sign up for conferences with Anne next week, Mon-Thurs,
to talk about your writing generally, about the first essay you did for me,
and about the next one, due on Sun, Feb. 23. You have a very vague prompt--
one of my principles is that you need to learn to generate your own topics--
decide what's important for you to pursue, not what I think you should focus on...

basically: what question do you have, as we finish this first unit, which has
interrogated questions of being @ home, being exiled, being porous,
being figure/ground, inside/outside...and how can you work your way
towards an answer, or a better understanding of it? what do you need
to do/read/see/think about? come w/ a proposal (that you're not too attached to!)
(sign up for these now-->pick a time when you can be prepared...)

* future field trips
on Feb. 28, March 21 (designated make-up days-->
but we have confirmed w/ the Dean that we have priority: any make-up classes
canNOT conflict with our previously scheduled field trips; your other profs
have to work around what's already on the books)

* questions!?

II. Monday's class, "Vaster than Empires..." was designed to bring the importance of plants
into your consciousness--our total dependence on them--along with some questions about
our fear of plant life/of the wilderness, which does not care about us
(very striking nexus of dependence on plants/anxiety about their independence of us,
when we are lost in the woods...)

and also to get you thinking about genre: to prod you to reflect on
the kinds of writing that are part of being eco-literate/
that might be most helpful in conveying environmental ideas (remembering here
aphorisnt's enthusiasm about Wall*E, "the sugary sweet trash compacting robot
who got the world interested in ecology for at least a few months"-->
"I had tried to tell people for years to pay attention...
But maybe I went about explaning everything the wrong way")

maybe art/literature/short stories/films--which are oblique, not so direct,
perhaps, as Lisa noted, a little inaccessible-- can "get under the skin" more
effectively than directness, diatribe, sermons...?

relevant quote I was looking for/couldn't find on Monday is buried in Part III of syllabus;
it's from a book on The Feminist Difference, by Barbara Johnson, who says,
"literature is important…as the place where impasses can be kept and opened for examination,
questions can be guarded and not forced into a premature validation of the available paradigms.
Literature is…a mode of cultural work, the work of giving-to-read those impossible contradictions
that cannot yet be spoken..."

we began to get @ some of that complexity in our discussion, on Monday,
of the interconnection of man and plant--and the dangers of being so empathetic, so responsive--
the suggestion that maybe we need some boundaries, some interruption of the feedback loop....?
but it's a story, the holding of a question, not the statement of a position/an argument.

any after thoughts about that story/our discussion of it?

III. today we turn our attention to a very different story,
in a very different genre, which arose in a very different cultural context,
and which can be read in a number of different ways.

I want to get in to it through something that Agatha posted last weekend. She said,

It seems to me that I grew up with a perspective of myself in the singular, that lived in the ocean of everyone else. That there was me, and then there was everybody else.  I visualised ... vector-like lines going from my eyes and connecting with the eyes of everyone else... I would be a center point with ... rays extending outwards. With myself as the center point...

But then I realised that every single person is their own center point...[with] rays sticking out to every other single person, including me...which means we are all center points....A pattern of points, each creating a porous texture of perspectives. It's relieving. Lets in more light...a cleaner, clearer, lego-like image of humanity...Stacy Alaimo...:"There is no 'over here' that’s isolated from over there."

cf. Simona on Camille Seaman: “I approach photographing these
icebergs as if I'm making portraits of my ancestors."

very interesting framing for Paula Gun Allen, who invites us
not to be centers (not to make the icebergs our ancestors = backgrounds)
but rather “to go and be backgrounds” ourselves!....
so let’s dig into her text…

Arguing that language embodies the unspoken assumptions
and orientations of the culture it belongs to," and that
"the cultural bias of the translator will inevitably shape her perception
of the short, it's hard to see the forest when you're a tree,"
Allen offers us a way of reading she calls "tribal feminism or "feminist tribalism."

Read aloud (sentence by sentence, or collectively?) the "direct translation" on pp. 231-232.

Count off by 4s, to create three groups, and figure out what's the forest/what's the tree:

Three Interpretations of the Yellow Woman Story
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"....
"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 this way,
using unified- or open-field perception?

"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..."

IV. How could we re-write LeGuin's story, from an Indian-feminist perspective?
How could we bring the background forward, make the foreground background?

V. Exercises and examples: some ambiguous figures....