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Notes Towards Day 20 (Thurs, Nov. 15): Imprisoned in Others' Misreadings

Anne Dalke's picture

I.  coursekeeping
Hummingbird will structure our silence
Sasha and couldntthink..are up again for next Tuesday
when we will continue/finish discussing Eva's Man

* tonight @ 7, in Dalton 300, Howard Zehr: "Whose Voice? Whose Vision? Reflections on Photography and Justice"

* breakfast w/ Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
@ 9 tomorrow morning:
in the Campus Center w/ scones, fruit and coffee, to discuss Staring:
How We Look

* By 11 a.m. on Sun,
a 360-wide assignment: each group (Perry House should now be several groups!) should post a 1-paragraph proposal outlining your intentions for your final project: your current plans, the resources you've identified, the dilemmas and questions you'd like feedback on --and your names!

* By 5 p.m. on Sun, the usual assignment for "silence alone" (yeah, yeah...):
1/2 of you (chandrea, couldntthinkof, Dan, Erin, HSBurke, Hummingbird, ishin, jhunter) have postings due --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.

* 5:30 Mon, 11/19 in the DVR: required prison de-briefing (over dinner!)

II. on our on-line forum, two Rich lovers weighed in since we last met,
about a long-and-wonderful poem of hers called "Diving into the Wreck":

Julia: I consider Adrienne Rich to be my favorite poet and perhaps even writer of all time....when reading "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying"...the phrase that grabs me the most is, "by cowardice or courage"....I wonder how important the distinction [is]... Is one always lying and the other always honesty?...

We all have many truths and many lies...I am unsure how many truths I have to share to be a honorable woman.  Does one truth make up for many lies?  Does my silence, my absence of truth (or what Rich considers to be a lie), devalue the many truths I may have shared?...I don't think the absence of truth is always a lie.  The calculation of a woman's honor seems too complex to ever state with any authority....

I don't think there is any end to truth, and I know, by both the truths I share and those I don't, that my silence about certain truths does not make them any less real or make me a liar....I don't think I should force any woman to speak a truth that she is not ready to share ...Honor is complicated, and once many of us arrive in the wreck about which Rich writes, cowardice and courage are no longer separate entities.

sara.gladwin: This is my favorite poem. I never fail to discover something new about it....her Journey begins: "First having read the book of myths"...truth and lies become almost indistinguishable in mythical stories, as the myth is staged as a variable possibility between reality and the impossible....

Rich's notes about "silence and lies" ...seemed to emphasize the complexity of truth but not necessarily fully address the complexity of lies....I've never been fully convinced that all lies are bad...Does our assessment of whether or not people or stories are good only rely on whether or not they are true?

pretty great setting-up/seque-way to Eva's Man!

III. Gayl Jones' biography: her fiction anticipating life?
NYTimes version of her story is filled w/ her silences:

b. 1949 in segregated Lexington, Ky;
one of few black students attending the white school:
"Painfully shy to the point of muteness, Gayl seemed almost invisible to other students, although several teachers took note of her."
attended Connecticut College on a scholarship in the '60s,
"while other African-American students were demonstrating for more minority admissions and an all-black dormitory, she remained on the periphery, quiet and withdrawn."
accepted in 1971 to Brown University's graduate writing program:
"While the faculty and students were in awe of her talent, many were struck by her silence."

signed a book contract w/ Toni Morrison, published her first novel, about a blues singer, @ 26;
Eva's Man was her second novel; she got a job, then tenure, @ UMichigan, where she met Bob Higgins,
an activist w/ a "volcanic temperament," who had had some police encounters and psychiatric treatment;
when he was arrested for assault, they fled to Paris for 5 years of exile;
returned to Lexington to care for her mother; when the swat team arrived to arrest him,
he killed himself; since then, she has lived alone in her mother's house, writing, publishing...

IV. In Reading Is My Window, Megan Sweeney describes Eva's Man
as a "highly symbolic and temporally disorienting account of a
woman who defies familiar categories of victim and agent"

Sweeney gives an account of women prisoners' readings of the novel,
(and quarrels w/ Wendy Brown for championing silence, not politicizing trauma,
or developing accounts of solidarity....)

Jones herself said several things about her writing which you might find helpful:
* "One of the things I was consciously concerned with was the technique from the oral storytelling tradition that could be used in writing....The book has layers of storytelling. Perceptions of time are important in the oral storytelling tradition in the sense that you can make rapid transitions between one period and the next, sort of direct transitions."

* "I was and continue to be interested in contradictory emotions that coexist . . . I think people can hold two different emotions simultaneously."

* Responding to June Jordan's criticism, that the novel gives "sinister misinformation about ...young black girls forced to deal with the sexual, molesting violations of their minds and bodies by their fathers, their mothers' boyfriends, their cousins and uncles....perpetuate "crazy whore"/"castrating bitch" images that long have defamed black women in our literature,"

* Jones responded, "I put those images in the story to show how myths or ways in which men perceive women actually define women's characters....Right now I'm not sure how to reconcile the things that interest me with 'positive race images'...For instance, how would one reconcile ... neurosis or insanity with positive race image?"

* I generally think of Eva's Man as a kind of dream or nightmare, something that comes to you, and you write it down."

V. I would like you to get into groups of three (count to 6) to "read" Eva's Man.

A. Spend some time, to start, telling each other HOW YOU READ IT...
what did you do when the story shifted in place or time?
when the pronoun references weren't clear?
how did you make sense of what was happening? (or give up the search?)
What were your reading tactics and strategies?
Help one another out here...

B. Illustrate this by picking a passage and "reading" it to one another, explaining how you "handled" it
(a repeat of the "thinkaloud" exercise, not necessarily describing
what it means, but rather what you thought/"did" with it....)

C. then, re-read it together, using this tactic/strategy:
focusing on it through the lens of one of the other texts

we've been considering in this "engendering silence" section:
Adrienne Rich on the need to speak,
& Wendy Brown on the dangers of doing so
are closest to hand...
and/or there's earlier material:
"Released," Michelle Balaev on the trauma novel,
Jason Stanley on political silences,
stories on silence by Tillie Olsen and Maxine Hong Kingston...
even further back, there's Doris Sommer on "respecting" silence,
and/or Elizabeth Ellsworth on the impossibility of dialogue...

VI. come back together: what emerged?
ways of reading? and/or readings?

Reading notes from Sweeney:

"no experience is pretheoretical"
"right to complex personhood"
narratives of victimization always encompass elements of agency and resistence
Brown champions a politics of silence as a means to prevent subjects from
becoming wedded to their pain, to "refuse complicity in injurious interpellations"

Eva's profound sense of imprisonment in others' misreadings and misprisions...
their refusal to hear and concomitant demands that she speak --> maintains silence
those who demand she speak could never really hear her,
would merely fit her story into reductive, ready-made interpretive frameworks

but Brown's privileging silence precludes possibilities for addressing pain;
she offers only 2 options: incessant speech or "silent pond,"
but politicizing trauma is possible, through dialogue, developing solidarity
relation between self-silencing and cultural silencing? (chosen or forced silencing?)

"the abuse excuse" thwarts attempts to account for victimization AND agency/responsibility
cf. Eva's Man: portrait of sexual victimization w/ an emphasis on female sexual desire;
resists easy categorization as both victim and criminal

moving back and forth between past and present: what happened years ago remains
U.S. justice system leaves little room for complex, partial notions of agency, responsibility, guilt
need more narratives of resistance--> but how to "fight back" against those closest to you?