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Notes Towards Day 10 (Thurs, Oct. 4): "Enabling Silences"

Anne Dalke's picture

Sophie Bottomley, To Escape from Silence

I. Silence via Chandrea; Julia is up for next Tuesday

* confirming those
writing conferences (ishin, Sharaai?)

* 1/2 of you  (jo, Michaela, Owl, sara, Sarah, Sasha, sdane, Sharaai & Uninhibited) have postings due by Sunday @ 5 --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5

* 7 of you still need (please!) to post your account of "what you/we need to flourish here...."

* reading for next week is John Edgar Wideman's memoir, Brothers and Keepers, about his relationship w/ his brother Robby, who is in jail for murder; as w/ Rigoberta's memoir, it would be great if you could read the whole thing by Tuesday, because it's so hard to discuss 1/2-a-book; so much of its meaning is brought home by the ending....

* here, too,
is a New Yorker article by Wideman, addressed as a letter to his son, who is also in jail for murder (not required, but of interest; and hard to print off, so I made you copies)

* one item re: more long-term planning (from Barb, Jody, Shannon and me...):
A number of possible venues for activism have been emerging from our conversations (giving feedback to the Mural Arts Program, and/or offering an alternative form of art-making in some of the neighborhoods we visited on our tour? working with YASP on a door-to-door campaign? advocating for the future of Perry House? what other activism is likely to emerge during the next 6 weeks, as we spend time inside The Cannery?).

We would like you to 1) structure your final work in this 360°around one of these actions and also 2) find some way to present those projects to the larger bi-co community (or beyond it). A number of these will need advance work (especially if we are to co-ordinate w/ others outside the bi-co), so we'd like to begin brainstorming together the directions in which we might go, both individually and collectively.

By 5 p.m. Sun, Oct. 21 (the day we return from break): please post on-line a short description of the sort of activism which interests you, and any ideas you have about what particular form this action might take.

We will then begin having shared conversations about when and how to move forward ….

* want to remind you that I always put my "notes toward class"
up the weekend before we meet (and then fiddle w/-and-revise 'em the night before); they always include my imagined "script" for what we will do; and they usually also include my "reading notes" @ the bottom--a list of what I think the main ideas are from the assigned essays

I've mentioned these before, but because I'm usually not projecting them, some of you might not realize that they are still quite predictably there as a resource--they will always offer a guide for unpacking the reading; if you want a preview of the (projected!) shape of the plan for the day, look @ them before you come to class; and of course, this is a way to keep up/review what we've covered, both when you have to miss class and when you haven't (but when you think you've missing "something")--it's a helpful structure, a way to access the "code"

* I realize that Margaret Price and Doris Sommers have been particularly challenging, because each one was speaking w/in a particular discourse--one of rhetoricians, one of philosophers--that made some of us feel left out, and made all of us slow down to re-think what we thought we knew...

here's a little more about Sommers (Prof. of Romance Languages @ Harvard):

"My favorite pastime during a New York childhood that began after our small refugee family arrived from the displaced persons camp in Germany was to try out different languages and foreign accents in English, playing at "passing" for a range of Americans. The country that hailed me was a cluster of accents, not a single soundscape. In Brooklyn, where I grew up, only children spoke English with an American accent, so the occasional adult who spoke that way (say, a teacher) seemed to lack the historico-cultural density that made our Italian, Hispanic, Chinese, Jewish parents so admirably adult - and so embarrassingly out of place.

Mistakes and feeling misplaced are common among bilinguals. But those very difficulties can be advantages - cognitive, aesthetic, philosophical, and political. Now that mass migrations take home languages to host settings, the sound of alternative languages interrupts the single standard, even in countries where that existed. Today, the risk and thrill of speaking or writing anything can sting, every time language fails us. But knowing how language can fail makes communication a small miracle. Over the years, I've become a risk-taker and a believer in miracles."

III. when our carousel "stopped" on Tuesday,
I had just ventriloquized Doris Sommers saying, "So simple a lesson and so fundamental: it is to acknowledge modestly that difference exists...this defends us from harboring any illusions of complete or stable knowledge" ...and Estie had said, "That's dangerous!"

Afterwards, Chandrea said on-line, "This whole conversation about empathy shook me up a little because I feel like the best way I learn is by trying to relate the texts to my own life. I try to find connections that I can make to others...."; and sdane posted a quote from Nikki Giovanni: "Writers don't write from experience...Writers write from empathy."

HSBurke also replaced the question of what we "'deserve to know' about our classmates" w/ a question about "what we deserve to share....what I would really appreciate if others knew more about me.

[Then we learned that she's a first generation college student; that sdane dropped out of h.s. and got a GED; that SY spent a weekend in prison; that ishin is head of the honor board and needs to maintain some "conscientious gaps"; it also sounds as though a "get-to-know-you" dinner is in the works: not about wanting others to divulge, but about wanting to share....]

Do we want to go on w/ this a bit-->
the danger of presuming to know/thinking that we "deserve" to know...
set against the danger of not being empathetic, of not trying to find common ground....?

Other questions we still have, generated by reading Rigoberta Menchu's memoir,
before turning to the work of John Edgar Wideman?

IV. for today, I asked you to read a short piece by Wideman
"in praise of silence," and another one about the silences in his text

Get out a piece of paper (which you will pass).
Write down a single sentenc, either from Wideman's text,
or from the literary analysis of his text-->
something you find provocative/key/challenging.
Silently pass this to your right.
Write a single sentence in response to (your neighbor's selection of) Wideman.
Silently pass this to your right.
Now: speak aloud what you might like to add to this "dialogue".....
Remember to pause betwixt speakings....

Reading Notes
Wideman, "In Praise of Silence": affirming vital presence...a dreaming space...a reservoir of hope...the sanctuary inside your skull...

when you utter the first word of a new tongue, are you also violating your identity and dignity? When you break your silence, are you surrendering, acknowledging the strangers' power to ...rule you?...silence in this context is a measure of resistance and tension. A drastic expression of difference....

That was yesterday. Yet much has not changed....Some of us choose to speak very, very little or not at all...Lots of us refuse to change speech habits....Plenty of us...always wear the mask...

Silence indicates who is accorded respect....a species of argument...emotionally persuading, heightening what's at stake...

the silence I an illusion. If we hear only means we aren't listening hard enough....The total absence of sound is never a possibility....So silence is a metaphor. A way of thinking....a way of imagining...a moment outside time, imagining the posisbility of pausing...proof that the decision to listen or not is ours. Proof that we are called to pay attention.

Grandjeat, "These Strange Dizzy Pauses":
Wideman's fiction expands the meaning/value of silence, while praising the virtures of free speech
silent gaps in his texts question conventional readings of African-American literature,
which equate speech and freedom
fiction rooted in giving voice: blasting walls that confine his brother
(=slave narratives that leave things unsaid/horrendous events beyond words/shelter in not saying)
but in Wideman, silence marks both (unspeakable) barbarity and a creative space, beckoning the Infinite
silence is the "joint" that links One and the Other: a medium of change, sharing
freedom as much in silence as in speech: one mind can not grasp the mystery of another
unbridgeable gap an opening/gift: it ensures my inability to yoke the other to the will of my speech (p. 687)
OTOH, a trad'l duty to tell; OTOH, let other voices displace your own, let the switching operate
utmost importance: that the narrative be two-voiced, and that both voices have equal status/impact
Robby has significant portions of the narrative, & is given the last word...BUT!
the book is signed w/ one name (JEW) and the author's note claims "full responsibility for the final mix"-->
writer's limited ability to actually let go of the control of his text reproduces white abolitionists vis-a-vis slaves,
serves a power relationship, guided by quest for profit, a will to control, manipulate?
one brother colonized/annexed by the other? narrative must guard against forcing speech
John's method similar to ethnographer (cf. Burgos w/ Menchu): imperialist ploy of "pulling together loose ends"
how make the space truly polyphonic? restless shifting, splitting, weaving of voices-->
heteroglossia sign of authorial omnipotence/expansion of authority?
only one way to circumvent this obstacle: turn advent of the Other into author's dimmed vision, faltering voice
brother's presence a disruptive attack on author's command:
the "boundless, incarcerating black hole of another person,"
a negative, chaotic intrusion that breaks the self apart, rips the text into silence that lets the Other in
silent split: a common ground, where communication can be let loose
King-Kok Cheung: "language can liberate but it can also coerce, distort, and regulate...
there are enabling silences"