Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 17 (Tues, Nov. 6): Gaining Access

Anne Dalke's picture

Owl will structure our silence
Sasha & Esty are up for Thursday
(we've lost our day @ the labyrinth, unless
someone wants to re-schedule that....)

post tonight your second thoughts about our final activist projects;
supper together here, EH Lecture Hall, @ 6 on Wednesday night, w/ pizza, to discuss....

for Thursday, read the first and last chapters of Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrier

II. Jody used our on-line conversation** to create a fishbowl about the fishbowl,
about how (in our engagement) we silence on another

III. I want us to focus on the question of access (and learning practices of reading that create access):
Chandrea channeling Gloria Steinem: "Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful. It becomes aerialised."
(anything else to report from hearing her? you, Sarah, Hummingbird, anyone else?)

Dan: So...where do we go/what do we do when not everyone understood a text? Do those who delved deeply into that text have to silence themselves? And if so -- how will they learn?

Chandrea: if I care enough to explore why it's so hard for me to understand what the author is saying, I will take the time to really try to understand it.

HSBurke: So much of my learning...revolved around making the inaccessible accessible...not understanding can act as a positive force as it pushes us to think deeper and in other directions.

Erin: I enjoy the uncertainty in my reading experiences. I respect the complex level which writers are trying o create....Every exposure of new ideas will leave some marks in mind and eventually those dots can be connected in a surprising way. We just can’t realize the meanings of something we encountered at the time.

Uninhibited: I still wonder what of those that don't have access, time, or resources to close these gaps?... I do want to recognize that appreciating and working to close gaps is a privilege that we all enjoy as students in this college.

sdane, channeling bell hooks' essay on "Postmodern Blackness": "…the desire to promote the creation of products that will attract the widest audience limits in a crippling and stifling way the kind of work many black folks feel we can do ….the creative writing I do.…is abstract, fragmented, non-linear narrative...does not conform….ruptures, surfaces, contextuality, and a host of other happenings create gaps that make space for oppositional practices…no longer...confined by narrow separate spheres…"

this feels very important to me: the recognition that " shutting down" can happen in both directions:
we can feel shut out by a text that has words we don't understand/draws on cultural capital we don't share;
and we can/must recognize the cost of doing the work of trying to understand....but if we insist that others/authors speak in our terms/ways we understand, we can also limit/shut down the range of their expression--so there's a cost there, too....

IV. so, today, I want us to practice reading, getting access...
and to do that w/ the most complicated piece I asked you to read for today,
Michelle Balaev's essay about "Trends in Literary Trauma Theory";
if we have time, we'll repeat this exercise w/ Olsen's "Silences";
if not, we'll repeat it on Thursday w/ her text and Kingston's...

We're going to try out an exercise called "thinkaloud"-->
reading a text and giving all the "movies of your mind" as you do so:
what you like/don't understand/talking back/to/with/against....

the basic idea here is that reading is a conversation, a transaction, a back-and-forthing;
it involves listening, and talking-back-to; figuring out what works you need to look up,
and also comparing what they mean w/ what you know, and w/ what others have said...

I like a particular kind of practice called "reader response theory,"
which says that the text doesn't "happen" until it is taken up by the reader....

so: count off to 9, and re-organize yourselves into pairs to practice doing this w/ 4 paragraphs each...

V. bringing it back to the large group:
what did you learn from one another, about reading as a practice?
what is the argument of this essay? what is Balaev saying? in paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4....?
try to "believe" it (think of reasons to support her claims);
then play the "doubting" game--what are the limits of her approach?
(what hasn't she seen/foregrounded?)
how does her tale intersect w/ what you know experientially, and/or from other readings?

VI. I also promised that we would come back to

Released: 5 Short Videos about Women and Prison
(pass out sheets again, read and discuss?);
we will cycle back to that....

VII. there was other new material for today:
two chapters of Tillie Olsen's Silences, and
Jason Stanley's NYTimes article on "The Ways of Silencing."
These pieces may need less translation:
Olsen offers a catalogue of the difference between "natural" and "unnatural" silence,
compares "hidden" silence, "censorship" silence, and "foreground" silence,
and also identifies "political" silence (which is what interests Stanley).
What interests me in each of these categories is the "dance" between
being imposed and chosen: the polarity that engages both positions.

Reading Notes
"Silences" (about why women don't write):
Literary history and the present are dark with silences...
These are not natural silences....
hidden silences; work aborted, deferred, denied...
Censorship silences..."the knife of the perfectionist attitude"....
other claims, other responsibilities....
the absence of creativity where it once had been...
the foreground silences, before the achievement....
the silences where the lives never came to writing....
Where the claims of creation cannot be primary, the results are atrophy...
women's silence of centuries....
of the women whose achievements endure...most did not marry or...
have been childless...all had household help....
Where the gifted...have remained is because
of circumstances...which oppose the needs of creation....
women traditionally trained to place others' needs first...
making it possible for others to use their abilities....
it took family deaths to free women writers into their own development...
in intelligent passionate motherhood there is...almost certain death to creation....
the circumstances for sustained creation have been almost impossible.
The need cannot be first. It can have...only part self, part time....
Work interrupted, deferred, relinquished, makes blockage....
no part-time, part-self persons--have created enduring literature....
"Evil is whatever distracts"....

Silences--Its Varieties:
Censorship Silences
Political Silences
"The knife of the perfectionist attitude in art and life"
"The sacrifice of talent, in pieces, to preserve its essential value"
Absences that are a Kind of Silence
Virulent Destroyers: Premature Silencers
Foreground Silences
Silences Where the Lives Never Come to Writing

Stanley's "The Ways of Silencing" [in our political discourse]:
linguistic strategies for stealing the voices of others-->
representing them as insincere, undermining public trust;
denying access to vocabulary to express their claims (propaganda);
silencing =removing the ability to communicate, by manipulating language

Balaev's  "Trends in Literary Trauma Theory":
central claim of contemporary literary trauma theory:
it creates a speechless fright that divides/destroys identity,
produces a "temporal gap" and self dissolution;
so remembering trauma is always going to be approximate;
it's the "shattering trope" that (in the prevalent view)
stands outside representation altogether-->

its very nature is unassimilated: the brain can't properly encode/process the event,
so it's forever unknown and unintegrated (while ever-present, intrusive, repetitive).

What follows is a long description of the "contagion theory,"
the production of a "post-traumatic culture' passed across generational gaps,
as the experience is recreated (abreacted) for those who were not present
(ex: learned cultural shame of slavery; collective dissociation of over-whelming experience;
symbolic capital of transhistorical trauma).

"trick" of trauma fiction: protagonist has unique experience, yet represents the group;
individual experience is the result of/shaped by larger cultural forces, and
"unspeakability" of trauma is not epistemological or neurobiological but cultural
exs: Morrison, Jacobs-->silence a strategy to
maintain agency, authorship, control, increase suspense, repulsion
used rhetorically to underscore torture and emphasize resiliency
(traumatized and well-functioning)
place, as a site w/ value, locates experience and organizes its meaning
trauma challenges fundamental assumptions about social relationships

reconsider claim that trauma is unspeakable: it restructures perception,
is a rhetorical strategy, not evidence for an epistemological void;
meaning changes each time protagonist recalls the trauma;
must reorganize self in relation to new view of reality
reorganized self is fluid, relational, connected to a place of meaning-->
multiple responses, forms of consciousness...
trauma disrupts previous formulations of self, world-->
leading to adaptive reordering of perception
memory is active, revisionary;
some healing not tied to language
lurches into profound inquisitive state, w/meaning meticulously evaluated....

**Notes from our on-line conversation:
ishin: I think we need to remind ourselves that we need to shut up and listen to each other....I don't think we necessarily need more silence in our conversation. Just more awareness: more awareness of how other people are feeling, more awareness of when people need help, and of where we personally are standing in relation to another....we have to keep our eyes peeled/be willing to listen to how each other are doing, and allow ourselves to be susceptible for criticism, and be a little forgiving when the time is right.

HSBurke:  I, for one, would have appreciated more gaps...I felt like we were all quick to attack today.... I saw people get shot down and overridden in both Anne and Jody's class.

Chandrea: I felt shut down and dismissed during that conversation....I felt kinda vulnerable because I was conscious that I didn't completely think through what I wanted to say, but I also knew that what I was going to say was probably an unpopular opinion....I just feel like if we want to have a productive conversation, then we need to think realistically....When you're so used to being at the bottom, you can't help but feel like you constantly have to fight for something you think you deserve.

jccohen: leading with ‘voice’ took us to a heated place that can be uncomfortable and/but also an intense learning space.

sdane: I deeply apologize...when I pounce on any of you with a question or a rebutting idea, it is an invitation for you to cross examine me right back, not a sign that I think your opinion isn’t important or I’m not listening to you.  Of course your ideas are important – I wouldn’t be taking the time to discuss them with you if they weren’t.... I do appreciate people who take a strong stance, even if I don’t entirely agree with them...because I think it forces all of us to...calibrate where we individually stand....Clearly, some of us shut down in these kinds of discussions, and some of us thrive during them, so there needs to be a conversation about how to accommodate different learning styles.  But I think that dismissing this kind of debate as unilaterally stifling would be very sad.

Jo: the fishbowl excercise...had a hand in the way our discussion went and maybe even in the way people felt shut-down....Maybe it had to do with the hot-seat, a way you could enter the conversation simply to talk, leave your opinion, and exit the conversation, simultaneously giving you less accountability and less chance to offer a response to any rebuttles.

couldntthink: I saw nothing wrong with how our fishbowl went....Seeing how this was the most exciting, non-academic conversation we have had now I am wondering if our normal routine...helps to maintain our walls, instead of breaking them down....I see a little "impoliteness" as growth...