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

Notes Towards Day 24 (Tues, Dec. 4 ): "Naming the Silence"

Anne Dalke's picture

ishin is structuring our silence

I.  coursekeeping

* Carmen Papalia's blind field shuttle will be held here tomorrow, Wed, 1-2:30; also @ HC @ 4:15 (sign up on-line)

* For Thursday's class
, Sister Linda-Susan Beard will join us; please read
Sister Linda Susan Beard. Silence is the Winter Name of God. August 28, 2002.
Sister Joan Chittister. Seeking the Interior Life. Program #4806. Good November 7, 2004.
James Kullander. Be Not Silent: Sister Joan Chittister Speaks Out On War, Feminism, And The Catholic Church. The Sun Magazine. Issue 308. June 2007.

* I am in the midst of reading your papers (4/day...through Thursday), and commenting on-line

* any questions
about end-of-semester projects/planning/portfolio work?
(meeting after class w/ Danielle and Sophia? after them w/ Erin? w/ ishin @ 2:45 tomorrow?)

* I had not planned anything for our final week of classes;
Jody and I have agreed to devote both classes, on Tuesday of that last week,
to small group work on your final projects (Barb will join us then);
what about Thursday? more of the same? or something else?
something undone? what about structuring a few, more extensive, silences?

II. on-line discussion....
Anne kicked off a thread about the relationship between privilege and "play":
resisting "looking glass rehabilitation," insisting on the space of freedom to resist/not accomodate
HSBurke: there is a large group [of marginalized people] forced not to play by their fear of falling (or rather "being pushed"....)
Dan: I believe that play can and should exist in a space that is beyond interpellation... but how can that happen outside of privilege? ...and could it be taught in rehabilitation? Does it require some kind of empowerment?
Sarah: you need to know the codes in the first place to assert them and to go against them. I feel you must have received outside encouragment to take that leap.
ishin: this article implies that oppressed people...must only legitimize the codes they are trying to learn before moving forward in life....I think talk about "play" not being accessible is well, wrong....I'm getting worried our revelation of assisting people to learn the right codes of life is starting to mask the fact that we still need to give people agency in other ways....people are multi-dimensional, resilient, and will always always always surprise us.
Anne again: on being "recruited" by the institution, while "occupying" that space, and figuring out how to revise what is expected of us.
HSBurke: I realize now how much more weight every action/word of yours has and the risks that you take that others shy away from.
Hummingbird: ...this means that push-back from a tenured faculty might hold less weight because their position is more secure? Does ones voice matter less if one has less to lose by speaking?
Erin: Who has the right to say whatever she wants and don’t have to think about the any potential consequences later on?  Probably very a few can say might get more agency with strategic compromise....we surely can use the rules to gain more agency in the long-term.

about prayer:
Michaela: "Tattoo Parlor"...correlates more fully to my ideal of silence--one in which you spend time actively listening ...not so much focused just on not talking...I appreciate that we are moving beyond the notion that everyone must refrain from speaking for it to be a "real" silent activity.
Uninhibited: I find it very interesting that the Quakers sit in silence and wonder what such spiritual experience would feel like, to be in charge of making your own connection with God
Owl: I found myself pushing back on the silence....constantly wanting to analyze and critically think....Can the self manipulate his/her environment in order to fuel her silence in a positive way? if so, what is necessary for this to happen? 
couldntthinkof: I would much rather spend the whole class in silence contemplating who God is to me than feeling like I have be in a religion to love God and to recognize the good in myself and others
Sharaii: praying has always seemed a little weird and uncomfortable for me...the idea of talking to something/someone unknown feels like a silly activity.
sara: Prayer had always been accompanied by a sense of impatience....I equated it with complacency. However, regarding prayer as a kind of mediation helped me see it differently... I believe in feeling like I am connected to something larger. I appreciated the group silence, and the opportunity to listen to everyone else’s silence.

If you are interested in learning more about the intersections of contemplation and education,
see The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society & Michelle Francl, Quantum Theology

about Sor Juana:
Sarah: The thing that struck me most was how she understood devotion to be essential to learning....feeling guilty for her personal love of learning because she feels as though she is being selfish and not giving proper respect to God....It was frustrating to me how down the author was on herself...this is what letters of gratitude were expected to be like?
sdane: I find this piece so fascinating because it really highlights the ways in which religion has historically worked as a force to both severely restrain and facilitate women’s intellectual pursuits....I think that this paradox is still very much true today...many different religious teachings to control women, but religion can also provide a powerful platform for women to become leaders and feminist theology has played an important role in the development of broader feminist theories

III. today's reading, Sor Juana's "La Respuesta/The Response"
Preface: a declaration of the intellectual emancipation of women of the Americas
La Respuesta is not an easy text; Sor Juana's ambiguities are essential to her all religious writers of the period...Sor Juana repeatedly professes her lack of talent and of learning...while she displays an erudite negotiation of the central discourses of power...theology, law, and the forms of classical rhetoric.

learned to exploit the fact that she was catalogued as a prodigy...

in 1668, @ 16, she entered the convent; spent 27 years cloistered, attended by servants and (for 10 years) by a slave, a gift from her mother; she entertained numerous ecclesiastics, scholars, atistocrats (incl. wives of the viceroys of New Spain); wrote commissioned compositions for feast days, etc; plus a lot of poetry, incl. ardent love poems

in 1690 (22 years later, @ 38), she refuted a (40-year-old!) sermon by a famous preacher;
the Bishop of Santa Cruz heard about her refutation, and asked her to write it down;
the Bishop of Puebla wrote a refutation of her refutation, saying that all divine knowledge
should be eschewed by a woman, signed it "Sor Filotea," and delivered it to the press;

the response that we read is
her refutation of his refutation of her refutation of that sermon!

that same year, in 1692, she sold her library and musical and scientific instruments,
and wrote her last set of carols; two years later, she signed a statement of self-condemnation,
and turned to a life of penance: a religious conversation? under compulsion? (Inquisition?)
she died in 1695 (@ 43), victim of an epidemic while caring for her sisters

multiple linguistic codes on display in the letter, structured by counterpoint:
Baroque, with multiple voices and meanings; ambiguous complexity:
nothing can be taken at face value
(elaborate quality of rhetoric makes simple readings insufficient);
carefully choreographed, costumed; sincere and strategic;
style used to cover her derision of stupidity, attack on injustice,
obscured by polite flourishes of formality, conceptual wit, parody;

strategems of staged weakness, innocence:
"What appear to modern and secular eyes as self-deprecation, exaggerated humility, and convoluted politeness are more accurately understood as conventions of the age, standard modes of address among religious women and men, and courtly manners of highly stratified colonial society...formal letter writing was governed by strict rhetorical rules..."

"she displays her intellectual peerlessness while mouthing the expected cliches of the rhetoric of feminine ignorance and tendering the requisite offer of retraction"

"the Answer gives notice of her decision to silence herself. She was intent when writing it, however, on speech: on proving the sanctity of her lifelong pursuit of knowledge...under the rhetoric of humility and obedience we read a refusal to those who would keep her voiceless...."

Passages to read aloud, and ponder:

Why was Sor Juana silenced?

"me han perseguido ...sólo porque he tenido amor a la sabiduría y a las letras/I have been persecuted ... because of my love for learning and letters" (71).

"trájeme a mí conmigo y traje mi mayor enemigo en esta inclinación/I brought myself with me, and brought my greatest enemy in my inclination to study" (51).

"Nada veía sin refleja; nada oía sin consideración, aun en las cosas más menudas y materiales/Nothing could I see without reflecting upon it, nothing could I hear without pondering it, even to the most minute, material things" (73).

"...que ni aun el sueño se libró de este continuo movimiento de mi imaginativa; antes suele obrar en él más libre y desembarazada, confiriendo con mayor claridad y sosiego las especies que ha conservado del día/...not even my sleep has been free of this ceaseless movement of my imagination. Rather, my mind operates in sleep still more freely and unobstructedly, ordering with greater clarity and ease the events it has preserved from the day" (77).

"no sólo no estorban, pero se ayudan dando luz y abriendo camino las unas para las otras, por variaciones y ocultos engarces--que para esta cadena universal les puso la sabiduría de su Autor/...these subjects help one another, shedding light and opening a path from one to the next, by way of divergences and hidden links--for they were set in place so as to form this universal chain by the wisdom of their great Author" (57)

Why does she choose silence?

"que se entienda que el callar no es no haber qué decir, sino no caber en las voces lo mucho que hay que decir/ One must name the silence, so that what it signifies may be understood" (43).

"si no es interviniendo vuestros preceptos, lo que es por mi defensa nunca tomaré la pluma/Unless your instructions intervene, I shall never in my own defense take up the pen again" (97).

"'y que no es sólo para ellas taceant,' sino para todos los que no fueren muy aptos/'Let [them] keep silence' was meant not only for women, but for all those who are not very competent" (83).