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riders, common goals and animating the inanimate/ephemeral

Flora's picture

I spent the last month of my summer in Argentina on tour with a puppeteer and his crew. I grew up doing this sort of stuff, but this summer was my first real exposure to life in the big-time. Tandem Otter Productions signs contracts with riders! My family had pretty basic riders, but things were different with Basil because his showis so big. They bought us a fire house, gave us 2-3 assistants on-call, provided juice, dried fruit and nuts backstage, ensured everything would be grounded, etc. I knew, of course, these sorts of practices existed (who hasn't made an M&M joke!), but actually experiencing it firsthand spoiled me a bit. Now I fantasize about having riders in unspoken contracts of all facets of my life, but especially in class.

Johnson's discussion of Brooks' poem made me want riders. My personal rider, that I decided before class, before this theoretical discussion of literature is that we cannot use this one literary text and this one critique alone to discuss the politics of abortion. Period. If the discussion veered away from the text into political ramifications, my contract would be broken. I could talk about other disciplines of evidence. The activist part of me was scared that this limited discourse would be a fellow student's only exposure to abortion politics in a classroom setting at Bryn Mawr. I wanted what I've learned over 3 years to be represented. Legal ramifications would take the forefront of my concerns. I was and am hugely frustrated by the decision to include one single article that discusses abortion on a syllabus week without additional content to frame or interrogate these ideas. Since political concerns were not thoroughly addressed in the readings, I felt on guard throughout the class. I did not give myself permission to think too critically about literary concerns. My head was too full of political arguments. I fiercely believe that women's experiences of their bodies in any capacity must be included in responsible feminisms. But those experiences must be mediated with others and with herstory. The personal, the legal, the literary, the artistic: all can be political. I generally try to create a superficial separation of the academic from the political in my coursework so that I have enough energy to pursue readings without emotional distractions. But I find the necessity of this separation a flaw in my college education. And I just couldn't do keep it up on this particular discourse.

In Contested Lives, anthropologist Faye Ginsburg studied the lives of several pro-life and pro-choice activists in late twentienth century Fargo. Some of these women formed a group called "Pro-dialogue"; in which pro-life and pro-choice women met together to discuss their shared goals, most of which revolved around preventing unwanted pregnancies. Both activists and members of the academy, I think, would benefit from an examination of their shared goals. What is our shared goal in this class? And why should I trust a classmate will help me achieve it?

I do want to think more about language animating the inanimate. I do know that language and art can give a kind of life to most anything. I am sorry if my saying that Brooks' poem did not give actual life to the potential children was confusing. I cherish this power of language and the arts. Puppetry does this most obviously. Sandy Spieler, artistic director of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater, said that "...puppet theatre is, in its very nature, in its very form, it contains the mystery of life and death. You have an object that you lift to life and you fill it with this silly life for the moments that you play it and then you lay it back down again. In its simplicity of just that action you are enacting the whole of creation, you know, rising to life." I know that this act is exceedingly powerful (I want to spend my life doing it). But the difference between enacting/animating and creating life is extremely important. I find the former much more interesting in virtually all respects. And I do not want to confuse them.