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QIR: Revising Culture's Stories Forum

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Revising Culture's Stories
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-09 22:38:28
Link to this Comment: 11480

We enter now the fourth section of this course on Telling and Re-telling Stories, turning our attention to that space 'inbetween' individual stories and science's (" culturally transcendent?") stories: the space where culture tells tales about itself. For this week you'll be reading two different accounts of how storytelling operates, one by Leslie Silko and another by Clifford Geertz. We'll be talking in class about the degree to which their definitions of story and their visions of the aims of storytelling are congruent or not: why are stories told, according to each of them? how culturally bound and limited are those stories? How large are the audiences they construct for their stories? And how generative of newness and revision is each?

So: be thinking about those questions...come w/ some thoughts. In the meantime, as a warm-up for next week's writing project (when you'll be telling the story of some aspect of culture with which you are familiar, but doing so "as an anthropologist"--stepping back from it, "making it strange" and then telling the tale): tell us here what the topic of your paper may be. What culture, and what aspect of that culture, will you be telling/re-telling in the weeks ahead?

Looking forward to hearing your tales--

Provincetown Carnival!
Name: Kat
Date: 2004-11-10 21:06:09
Link to this Comment: 11495

As I believe many of you already know, I "was" a lesbian from age 19-27. I was very surprised when I fell in love with my husband.
Post-puberty/before age 20, I identified as bisexual, and I guess that's what I'd call myself now, if anyone asked. People don't ask because married=straight to most folks. While I don't find these labels terribly descriptive, meanigful or interesting (I, for one, would be far more interested in learning what a person LIKES sexually, as opposed to who they like to do it with).
Queer culture was and is extremely important to me. I am observer rather than a participant these days, and it pains me terribly.
I lived in Provincetown, MA for 6 years. I dropped out of college at age 20 so that I could move there with my girlfriend. It is the only place that has ever felt like home to me.
Have any of you ever been to Ptown? It's like it exists in another dimension. Timeless but electric. Pure magic. Everywhere. Whimsy. Passion. Politics. Hope. Family.
I still have family and many, many friends there. I long for it physically, like the way you long to hold a baby that you love and haven't seen for awhile. I miss the light. It's like good champagne. Also, I still get to be a part of queer culture/community there, which makes it feel even more like home.

I will be writing about Provincetown's annual Carnival parade. There is nothing else like it on earth, I assure you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Perhaps I can even dig up some pictures!

forgot something
Name: Kat
Date: 2004-11-10 21:08:51
Link to this Comment: 11496

I forgot to mention...for those who don't know...besides San Fransico, Provincetown is the "gayest" place in America. It may even be "gayer" than SF...

It's not like "ordinary" amerikkka.

subcultures of NYC
Name: Nuyorican
Date: 2004-11-10 22:08:55
Link to this Comment: 11499

Hey Meow, I beg to differ, New York City's Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Park Slope, these are the gayest places in America :)

I spoke w/ Angela earlier about the different cultures I've been a part of and how I feel away and far from so many of them...

I too will be talking a bit about the subculture of queer life in New York City, that is one inhabited by people of color/latinos specifically.

I am thinking specifically of a relationship I had with a chef, a Colombian woman, and the experiences I had in the witching hours traveling through Queens and Manhattan where doorways in alleyways gave way to bars and the secret lives of queer immigrant latinos. The early 90's in New York City, queer life was booming, and yet, these places far away from the gay ghettos subsisted to be a safe haven, if not a meeting place, for those who felt being an immigrant and gay was too hard.

Culture (or lack thereof) in San Diego
Name: angela joy
Date: 2004-11-11 07:31:45
Link to this Comment: 11504

San Diego is where I lived for 28 years and although I will probably never live there again, sometimes I ache for the place. It gets called a lot of things- "beautiful" is what I usually hear, and usually it's in reference to the weather. This is most certainly true. Is it a shallow beauty, though? I felt personally wounded one time when a European visitor told me it was pretty but "had no soul." It made me wonder. The "culture" of San Diego actually does have a transient aspect to it. For one thing, there's little sense of "roots." It's unusual to meet a San Diego adult who was actually born there. It is also very easy to sort of "get lost" there... not in a literal sense, as its freeways are wonderfully efficient... what I mean is, you could meet someone at Seaport Village or the Zoo, and unless you make plans to stay in touch, the odds are you will never run into that person again. I believe it is a tourist culture, really. All my favorite hangouts were basically tourist traps. I worked at three of them.

There's something about a tourist culture, I think, that gives people a curious sense of freedom- specifically, less accountability for their manners. People really seem to know somehow (tacitly? ARRRgh!!) that they probably WON'T ever see the person ahead of them on the road again, so they go ahead and give vent to their road rage. I noticed, however, that some of the rudest behavior I'd ever seen happened at the "tourist traps" where I worked- places where people were supposedly going to relax and have fun. I'd like to explore the possible reasons for that in my paper, I think.

What happens to a people when their cultural has b
Name: Patricia W
Date: 2004-11-11 07:42:52
Link to this Comment: 11505

During this semester I have vacillated between anthropology and sociology as a course of study. Both study cultures, it's their perspectives that differ. After reading Geertz and Silko, I'm clear I can't make a choice and will have to do them both.

Silko's pointed to a very important issue when she explains why the Laguna Pueblo culture retained its stories because they (Laguna Pueblo)people had not been forced off their land. Silko points out how important the geography is to the stories they tell. It explains the people and their relationship to their environment. It becomes an ancestor whose has history and purpose. Its a relationship that is necessary for the cultural health of its people.

Which makes me think on the issues that plague the African-American community. Silko points out how we loss this connection. We were shamed into accepted a foreign language and stripped of our stories.

Then Geertz gives me hope in his pieces as he notes how the Balinese implant their cultural mores within cock fighting. I'm no sure I agree with his tidy analogy, but I can see the possibility. I understand his scientific approach, but it felt as though he had missed the heart of the people. Where Silko had not.

I'm really looking forward to our discussion this morning!

Culture's stories
Name: Andrylyn P
Date: 2004-11-11 08:55:00
Link to this Comment: 11506

I read both pieces and even though I found both interesting I identified more with the Silko piece. She mentions at the end that there are many parallels between the experience of pueblo experiences and those of Caribbean and African people, and I am interested in "how" the stories that my culture tells of itself are presented.
Reading "Home Story" I was unprepared for how easy it was for me to read the story. The frequent punctuations of the story-tellers immediate thought did not seem strange to me , for that is how stories were told to me. It is a kind of interaction between the story-teller and the audience the story-teller answering the un-asked questiones such as "what were you thinking then" while telling the story, at the same time filling the story with recipes, directions, snippets of family tree information etc. It would seem as though while telling me a story which was totally unrelated to taking care of your body my Grandmother was also telling me why cerasssie was good as an antioxident or how to make curry powder if you couldn't buy it in the store, or so many other "little" things that I thought that I had ignored for the juicier parts of the story, until they would "appear" much later when she was already dead and I had already migrated. In fact there are many times when I ask my mother for an herbal remedy for something and she says "well mama used to tell you, I don't rememeber" implying that my grandmother used to sit me down and give me lists of herbs and their uses, when in fact all I ever remember is stories.
Which brings me to my next point there are so many stories that have been told to me within the Jamaican culture of story-telling that are invaluable I feel because they present a cetain amount of continuity -the past with the present that I have not gotten anywhere else, where sometimes the importance of tradition, remembering ancestry etc are sometimes more implied than directly stated. Stories that are now fighting with other stories, for a claim to validity, because they are spoken in "patois." I am interested in somehow tying the two together.
As a sidebar there was a story that explained why the noise that a mosquito makes is so annoying- it is because the mosquito won an bet or something of the sort against the ear and so it is his way of reminding the ear of that fact each time he passes. i could not rememeber the whole story and so I called about 5 people who claimed that they had never heard the story. After calling them fake Jamaicans :) i tried to find it . I did but it seemed different- why? Because it had none of that commentary by the story-teller.

cultural stories
Name: Rock Rock
Date: 2004-11-11 09:39:16
Link to this Comment: 11507

This morning I woke up with a dream still lingering...I had been thinking about this rocket ship that used to be in a lot on the way to my home in Rockaway. There used to be a fabulous (well fabulous to my child mind) amusement park called Playland only three blocks away from my home.

This digression into memory has made me remember stories my parents would tell about their childhood in Puerto Rico. That culture, the poverty, the "simplicity" of their life was so different than mine here on the Mainland. I feel that cultural experiencce lost to me, and it's one I've tried to reclaim in different ways. In thinking back to my original post last night, I wonder if I should think more of the culture of the Nuyorican (for those who don't know this term, it stands for New York Puerto Rican) and how I have participated in it (or not) and why...

Date: 2004-11-11 10:47:48
Link to this Comment: 11510

I found the piece on Pueblo stories irritating. I'm irritated by this nativism, these reactions to marginalisation that always compare themselves to the marginalising culture, "Don't write us off because we're just the same as you. Really we are. You have books, we have oral tales. And really, they're just as valuable as yours are. Really." I think it's a bit pathetic frankly.
The stories that I've found myself more and more interested in recently are nationalistic stories. So many people are persuaded to believe them and fight for them and die for them when in fact they are so improbable and so often untrue. But you can't tell too many people that. People are so invested in their myths, they don't want their blinkers taken off and they don't want those truths questioned, and if you insist on doing so, they'll fight you for it. As long as the same people are in power or the same kind of person, these stories are rarely revisable. The story of Kenya has been reduced to the story of one old, decrepit and thouroughly unsavoury old man who was actually a bit of a dandy, ne'er do well, womaniser and conman. I thought every one by this point in time knew that until I almost had a physical fight with a large man two months ago who swore by the old crook. Frankly I can't understand it.

revising our national story
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-11 13:10:35
Link to this Comment: 11514

As a contribution to revising the post-election story we are writing about ourselves, see and

revising culture's stories, part II
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-17 10:43:35
Link to this Comment: 11624

This week's contributions to "Revising Culture's Stories" include McDermott and Vareene's "Culture as Disability," Varenne's follow-up essay (written especially for Serendip!) On the Inevitability of Cultural Disabilities; two New York Times Magazine articles by Harriet McBryde Johnson, including her Day as a Token Cripple--and a website arising from the disability movement, which calls into question the valorization of the Neurologically Typical.

Thoughts? Feelings? Reactions? Re-reactions...?

what is disability?
Name: Samantha
Date: 2004-11-17 20:47:52
Link to this Comment: 11635

I realized I have in fact read the Culture as Disability piece for my crit issues in education class. A good read nonetheless, because it made me think about the ways our culture/society makes people "disabled". It made me think of times in my life where due to some "difference" about me as a person made people think I was somehow unable to do something. Like assumptions about my ability to speak standard English...

I can't say that I have read from the perspective of a differently-abled person before, and I was struck by the piece by Harriet McBryde Johnson "Unspeakable Conversations." I had not heard about Peter Singer, and throughout the piece I also felt an angst about her speaking with him and defending her life as a disabled person. But it also made me feel like perhaps I should not feel sorry for the person I meet in a wheelchair. My favorite line of hers: "the rule is that if you're not prepared to shoot on sight, you have to be prepared to shake hands."

back to the Culture as Disability piece: I think it is extremely radical to say "disabilities are approached best as a cultural fabrication." What are the implications of that to people who have considered themselves "disabled" in some way b/c that's how they were labeled as a child? Are disabilities all about society's inability to deal with or incorporate or tolerate (i dislike this work) difference?

Name: angela joy
Date: 2004-11-18 06:55:15
Link to this Comment: 11643

Harriet McBryde Johnson is obviously an amazing person and I'd love to know more about her.

I struggled to find the best way to write that. Before I wrote it I was thinking, "Is that going to sound condescending at all?" I get a little tongue-tied when it comes to "disabled" people sometimes because I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing. That's kind of condescending in itself, isn't it? Some part of me might feel somehow...hmm... maybe not superior actually... but luckier? More blessed? Like they might resent me because I can walk, see, hear, talk, whatever, with less difficulty than they? That's pretty arrogant of me, isn't it? Looks like at some level I buy into Peter Singer's ideas. I don't want to, though.

Well, it's true, I DO want to learn more about Attorney Johnson. I want more history. What was elementary school like for her? When/how did she become an atheist? I don't want to assume she was angry at God for making her "disabled," that's too easy and maybe too arrogant of me.

I want to know more!

The Gap is Required
Name: Annabella
Date: 2004-11-18 07:16:54
Link to this Comment: 11644

I found the reading of great interest. Seldom do I see my own thoughts reflected in academia. The comment that if students test too well, the test is made harder to assure that a certain number of students fail.
I find this true in all facets of life. Financially speaking, no matter how much money everyone has, there will always be the poor, because it is a relative measurement. Here in the US, the standard of living for our poor is higher than that of some country's elite, if measured in "things".
But because of the way our society is set up we consider those with less as "less fortunate". How interesting is that? How can we know they are less fortunate? Do we really believe our "fortune" is tied up with how much we have, can see, can hear...?
The only way to close the gap in this society is to consider everyone as equally fortunate even though we live differently from each other. Everyone as equally important, and living a life as precious and valuable as everyone else.
Young children who haven't learned that they are less fortunate have a wonderful outlook on themselves and life until someone points out to them their position in society. Then the pain starts, for all pain is caused by wanting something to be different than it is.
This is the process that forms and then maintains the gap, and therefore this society.

Where have all the disabled gone?
Name: Patricia W
Date: 2004-11-18 08:07:22
Link to this Comment: 11646

These pieces invoke a deeper reflection. Often I have wondered when looking at the adjustments made to city corners to allow access for those in wheelchairs, how odd it all seems. These new curbs were just put in place a couple of years ago . . . so what did people in wheelchairs do before? It occurs to me how "invisible" the disabled are in our society. McDermott and Varenne bring into focus how the culture and society are identifying who are the disabled by a system designed to label.

By limiting access to the world in general, society reinforces stereotypes, phobias and fear. The disabled are labeled "special" and the title suggests an inability to function adequately. I love Johnson's term of "functionaries" when speaking of the normal folk.

That fact that in 2003 there were 1.7 million lost in according to Johnson, "America's disability gulag" brings me back to my opening reflection as to where ARE the disabled? According to Johnson, they are cloistered and isolated, kept imprisoned for the good of society. Really?!

Are we functioning in a "Country of the Blind"? Restricting ourselves from those that make us feel uncomfortable or guilty. Why aren't they given access to the world at large. Allowed to contribute? Encouraged to participate in world's conversation?

Non lo so . . . i don't know, and yet these thoughts have always haunted me. When I see someone blind, or in a wheelchair, I work hard at NOT seeing their "disability", thereby blinding myself to seeing the whole person. I would love to have that happen without work. That is, I see a person, who happens to be in a wheelchair, or who uses braille to read or their hands to speak.

Enough already . . . I'm done

interesting stuff
Name: Kathleen
Date: 2004-11-18 10:06:26
Link to this Comment: 11647

I found myself alternately agreeing and disagreeing with the writers of Culture as Disability. They pointed out several things that I take to be self-evident truths, but also seemed to make assumptions that seemed a bit...dangerous to me. Certainly cultures construct what is abling/disabling, but defining things apophatically... making sense of things by use of binaries...well, these things seem to me to be built into language, maybe even built into neural hardwiring. Many things work by virtue of polarity- electricity, magnetism, sexual reproduction, etc. The problem, to me at least, lies in attaching value judgements or assumptions of human worth and dignity to these distinctions. Also, I do think that literacy is "good" for individuals in the 21st century...maybe not "good" for society, but good for individuals. The activity of reading itself, after all, has become a solitary, private act.

I loved both pieces by Harriet Johnson and hope that we might discuss them today.

I am happy to read Samantha using the term "differently abled". I first became familiar with this term when I was at Goddard College, and it seems to me the best descriptive label to use when talking about those who are, well, differently abled.

There is some phenomenal writing by lesbian deaf activists who describe their deafness as an enabling feauture of their personhood.

Since getting "sober" ( I use this term loosely), I have felt that my alcoholism and drug addiction were far from disabling; rather, my ability to recover from them have enabled my to grow in my compassion, empathy, listening skills, etc. It has contributed immensely to the fullness of my person.

beyond dis-abling....??
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-29 09:58:37
Link to this Comment: 11783

Welcome back from Thanksgiving.

We're foregoing the final draft of Paper #4 this week to concentrate on Motherless Brooklyn. Before class on Tuesday, post here your thoughts about the novel, in relationship to the culture you've been writing about for the past few weeks:

What is abling, what dis-abling, about the world Lethem portrays? What different forms of abling and dis-abling might Lionel contend with in your culture? Drawing both on the novel and your earlier account of your culture, begin to explore here how we might go beyond abling and dis-abling--which is where we'll try going together in class.

Amply Abled with Turrets
Name: Annabella
Date: 2004-11-29 20:57:07
Link to this Comment: 11792

Lionel was actually given some advantages because of his turrets in the book "Motherless Brooklyn". For one thing, his turrets gave him extraordinary powers of focus. He could focus on things and see them at a depth unfamiliar to the rest of us. Sometimes this was a disability, sometimes it was an advantage. It worked to his advantage, for example, at the very end of the story, on the lighthouse. His powers of focus let him know ahead of time what the lady's intentions were, and he could anticipate her actions.
Another way he was abled by Turrets was that he was assumed to be stupid. This allowed him access where someone thought to be more intelligent would be shunned. He overheard conversations that would have been kept from him had the speakers thought him any kind of danger.
Additionally, his turrets kept him out of the loop of the small time hoods, so he didn't know enough to have to be killed. This is a distinct advantage, though easily overlooked.
Of course, there are the obvious drawbacks to such a disease, but I don't think they need to be highlighted in this paragraph.
Everything can be a blessing or a curse, depending only on the perspective of the one making the judgement.

more on motherless brooklyn and...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-12-01 09:33:09
Link to this Comment: 11826

I got to follow "my" agenda for discussing Motherless Brooklyn yesterday, in terms of thinking about getting beyond ability and disability (it was a rich discussion; thank you all).

Post here, please, before class tomorrow, what (other) aspects of Lethem's novel you've been chewing over yourself, and would like to have us join in on....

Name: Samantha
Date: 2004-12-01 14:25:08
Link to this Comment: 11832

I was skimming through this book again as I had read it some time ago and now that I am paying attention to Lionel's tics as a "disabling" or "abling" aspect of this character I realize what in fact amazed me about his words, his inner thoughts that rambled out in crazy exaltations...I don't have a sense that I know the inner workings of men the way I was able to see it through the retelling of this character through his outbursts. And this is the abling aspect I see of Lionel's Tourette's for me as the reader, a way to see into the inner workings of a man. I do not feel like men in this society are allowed to be so vociferous about what troubles them, to show weakness by not being able to control what you say?! I mean, it's not something I see men doing. And in this sense I see Lionel as extraordinary.

Name: Kathleen
Date: 2004-12-02 08:11:00
Link to this Comment: 11844

Although I enjoyed reading Lionel's verbal eruptions initially, after a bit I was so eager to find out what was happening next that I began glossing right over them, in a hurry to find out whodunit and why. I tend to read detective fiction and mysteries this way, which is probably not very helpful for literary discusssion. His Tourette's became less and less interesting an noticeable (?) to me as I read. Because I was reading about him, not in his company, I could just hit the metaphorical mute button and get on with the plot. It just seemed like...his personality, an eccentricity, not the (baritone voice) MANIFESTATION OF A DISEASE. It seemed a part of his character just how some characters have a particular sense of humor, or style, or tendency to notice certain things. I would like to read the book again, paying better attention to the substance of his tics, now that my curiosity has been slaked.

What's it all about . . .
Name: Patricia W
Date: 2004-12-02 10:51:09
Link to this Comment: 11845

I have been plagued with questions. I can't help but wonder why our culture strives so hard to remove any traces of what makes us human. Itís something to do with this perfectionism I guess. It still disturbs me that we participate within a culture that seeks to remove all disability. And this can be seen in many forms. It becomes part of every group. Finding those who are like one another, careful to remove those who are different. This need to be the same is seen in every facet of our professional and social environments. We covet to ourselves those who will reinforce our beliefs or our intellectual levels and those who are not similar are left with feelings of being inadequate. Our society thrives on it. We pride ourselves on our melting pot culture, where those who are different at allowed to exist with others like themselves. Why are we threatened by the fallibility of being human? What makes us seek perfection, even within our own beliefs?

Name: andia
Date: 2004-12-02 11:00:26
Link to this Comment: 11846

one of the problems of new nations, especially the kind that came up in the third world in the 60's is how they privileged the formation of nations and national identity and national cutlture almost to the exclusion of everything else. there was no room for divergent ideas and all other nationalisms and cultures were marginalised if not altogether discouraged. the nation was paramount. women's struggles, the struggles of other minorities were postponed to a later date when the work of nation building would have been done. only now are people beginning to realise that all these things need to be done simultaneously. the suspension of civil liberties, even for the purpose of some supposedly higher good is dangerous as we have all subsequently found out.
but as far as disability goes, most african societies deal with it bery badly. it is considered a curse, a sort of punishment for some amorphous sin. thus they are either killed, or "allowed to die" which basically amounts to the same thing. more recently, people deal with the disabled by hiding them away from the public out of shame. only now is disability beginning to lose some of its stigma.

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