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Notes Towards Day 11 (Tues, Oct. 9): On the need for walls (?)

Anne Dalke's picture

[The Magic Garden]

I. Silence via Julia; sdane is up for Thursday,
when we'll finish our discussion of Brothers and Keepers

add'l coursekeeping
* confirming remaining writing conferences

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

Brothers and Keepers--some context:
John played basketball @ Penn, was a Rhodes scholar and graduated from Oxford; has since published 10 novels, 5 short story collections, 4 memoirs, won numerous writing awards, as well as the McArthur "genius" grant, and taught @ many universities (now @ Brown)
1966: John graduated from Oxford
1973: had published 3 novels
1975: Robby present @ the commission of murder and was sentenced to life
1984: Brothers and Keepers was published
1986: @ the age of 16, John's middle child, Jacob, killed his roommate and was sentenced to 25 years
1993: Robby's son, Omar, was shot @ his home in Pittsburgh after a bar fight
2011: Jacob was denied parole
2012: on-line petition circulating, to free Robert

Count off by 6’s (to form discussion groups of 3).
@ least 3 distinct, significant “threads” emerged in your postings;
I've organized our conversation today around those:

1) on the need for "walls" (=silence, distance)
I found it interesting how Wideman used space, time and distance as measures of success …he really reflects on his desire to separate himself not only from his neighborhood and his relationship with brother but also from his own identity… on page 27 he said, "One measure of my success was the distance I'd put between us. Coming home was a kind of bragging...It's sure fucked up around here ain't it? But look at me, I got away”… It seems to me that the distance and the silence can in fact point [not to difference, but to their connection] …awkwardness and guilt would not manifest itself through silence if they were not intrinsically tied. 

Sasha quotes the same passage, of John writing to Robby: "The problem was that in order to be the person I thought I wanted to be, I believed I had to seal myself off from you, construct a wall between us" (26)…."Your words and gestures belonged to a language I was teaching myself to unlearn … I was running away from Pittsburgh, from poverty, from blackness”…His words petrify me … “you all were back home in the ghetto to remind me how lucky I was … acknowledging in myself any traces of the poverty, ignorance and danger I’d find surrounding me when I return to Pittsburgh” … “Fear that I was contaminated and would carry the poison wherever I ran. Fear that the evil would be discovered in me and I’d be shunned like a leper”…. “to succeed in the man’s world you must become like the man and the man sure didn’t claim no bunch of nigger relatives in Pittsburgh”.

Erin: To be honest, I was also intrigued by the sentence that "The problem was that in order to be the person I thought I wanted to be, I believed I had to seal myself off from you, construct a wall between us", but for a different reason.  I have to admit that … I agreed with his choice of putting up the wall.… 

Many years ago… to be able to get out meant that author had to go against everything around him ….the author tried so hard to build the shell to hide all his vulnerabilities and uncertainties … to put on the fake mask is the price to succeed…However, he had to wear the mask for so long, even he got confused about which one is the real self …

Now he is going back … I think that he is not ready to put the guard down and not ready to be honest … the wall is the only way they can communicate …the wall is still necessary for them to hold on to.…There are occasions in my life, I just feel I need the walls, shells or the masks...I decide to keep some of those self-protection tools just in case.

ishin: I cannot get to know you all on an intimate level, I cannot be completely honest with you all when we are together, and I do not want to attempt to completely bridge the gap. 

part of the struggle in presenting your identity is not exactly knowing who I am, an inability to clearly label my socioeconomic class

It’s hard to realize that there is nothing I can do to erase my privilege, and for a long time have felt the burden (opportunity? gift?) of using it to challenge the systems that gave me privilege in the first place.

on choice
The distance and silence between Wideman and his brother allowed him to be hopeful that his brother might reunite with him…another way to understand voice is to look at it as having the choice to create silence ….

However…when some classmates feel the need to silence themselves in order to allow others to speak it makes me feel as though I am 'missing out' on intellectual diversity… how can we balance silence and voice in a way that does not inhibit our intellectual space….? 

jhunter: I'm also intrigued by this confusion and intermingling of the literal and metaphorical definitions of voice and silence…it's difficult to know, in any given context, which one is the "speaker's" intention. Sometimes silence speaks, and other times it never truly exists.…a lot of what I struggled with in reading Wideman last week was my confusion about how literal he was being...but that also opens up a productive space for discussion.

I am really intrigued by your definition of voice as "having the choice to create silence..." So is voice privilege and vice versa?

 "In Praise of Silence,” [Wideman said,] "Silence is proof that the decision to listen or not is ours." So if we hear silence that means we are choosing not to listen (?)…. what I'm getting at here is this idea of choice and how it connects voice and silence.

I've also been thinking a lot about choice in general …a constant question in my mind is, what events or factors led to the vast difference between these two brothers' lives… what role did their own choices and decisions play?

3) on time itself as punishment
Wideman…touched on the notion of life going on "on the outside" while incarcerated people seem to be removed from the passing of time….This reminds me of the discussion that we had in Barb's class about time and boredom as a means of punishment….a horribly cruel one….

IV. Can Price, Delpit, Sommers, Grandjeat, even Wideman himself (?) help us make sense of Wideman's memoir?

Delpit: we need to teach all students explicit and implicit rules of power as steps toward more just society;
w/out explicit information about the rules, it feels that there are secrets being kept,
there's a strong sense of being cheated/denied access to necessary knowledge;
to act as if power doesn't exist ensures that the status quo remains
honesty preferred: explain the games and their rules

Nor do all rhetors bring an...equivalent sense of what concerns are "reasonable,"
what are "rational" and "appropriate" ways to voice ideas (p. 40).

" impossible...because...power relations between raced, classed, and gendered
[people] are unjust....all voices...cannot carry equal legitimacy" (Ellsworth, qted. p. 40).

This argument "requires a disorienting shift away from presumptions of tragedy, courage, or brokenness" (p. 4).

"the recorded voice was synthesized and processed....our access is limited..."
"Secrecy is a safeguard to freedom."
"Consciously working in a translated, borrowed langauge, those who testify...
understand that none of these codes is sufficient to their revolutionary situation...."

"one mind can not grasp the mystery of another...this unbridgeable gap ...
ensures my inability to yoke the other to the will of my speech" (p. 687)