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"Am I My Brother's Keeper?": Notes Towards Day 11 (Tues, Oct. 6)

Anne Dalke's picture

these are suggestions for ways to organize/things to talk about,
and/but today you'll conduct class today "alone"
(i.e. without Anne or a 'substitute')

"what would it mean to refuse...'the call to order'? And what would it refuse to call others to order...?....when we enter a classroom and we refuse to call it to order, we are allowing study to that precedes our call and will continue after we have left the room....when we refuse the call to order--the teacher picking up the book....we refuse order as the distinction between...chatter and knowledge..." (Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons)

I. 2:25-2:45 Silence via Madison, Meera and Rhett
Julia is up for Thursday
remember to post about these exercises

* By 5 p.m. tomorrow:
post your afterthoughts about the Socrates Cafe, Wideman's memoir, and/or their intersections
* by classtime on Thursday: finish the memoir; also read Wideman's New Yorker letter to his son

III. 2:45-3:15 count off by 5 (to create discussion groups of 3)
1) start with the title:

In Genesis 4:9, after Cain had murdered his brother Abel,
God asked him where his brother was. Cain answered,
“I know not; am I my brother's keeper?” In the
'religions of the book' (Islam, Judaism, Christianity)
Cain's words usually symbolize our unwillingness to
accept responsibility for the welfare of others.

Is John his brother's "keeper"?
What might that mean?
Why is the title plural?

Cf. John's application of the term "keepers"
to prison guards later in the book:
p. 188: "Every day hundreds of prisoners experience
a ... transition into a condition of nonexistence.
Strangely, we have yet to name this declaration of
civil death, this ritual that absolves us from
responsibility for the prisoner's fate .... In the
vacuum society creates when it exiles the
prisoner, step the keepers .... Keepers ...
create an ... environment that secures
the prisoners ... keepers constrict space
and limit freedom ....

Cf. Robby's observations about his own early (failure to take) responsibility--
p. 3 (opening page of the book): "I wanted things to be easy...I ducked hard things"
-- as well as his reflections on society's desire for punishment:
p. 243 (final page of the book): "Big time, no rehabilitation, lock em up like animals...
Shit don't make no sense but the people cry for punishment"

Where do you feel-or-think "keeping" (blame/responsibility/intervention/
punishment?)  is most usefully located?  (individually, structurally, and/yes...?)

Where does John locate it?

2) how would you describe John and Robby's relationship?
pp. 25-26:"When I think back, I have plenty of recollections of
you as a kid...Baby-sitting you...Needing you much more than
you needed me....Afer you turned begin to get
separate....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...."

p. 18: "I continued to feel caged by my bewilderment, by my
inability to see clearly, accurately...the whole long skein of
our lives together and apart. So this book. This attempt to
break out, to knock down the walls."

3) how does John (and how do you?!) understand
the relationship of the visitors to the prisoners?
pp. 47-48: "A brother behind bars, my own flesh and blood,
raised in the same houses by the same mother and father;
a brother confined in prison has to be a mistake, a
malfunctioning of the system. Any other explanation is
too incriminating. The fact that a few twists and turns
of fate could land you here with the bad guys becomes
a stark message about my own vulnerabiility."

p. 52: "The visitor is forced to become an inmate. Subjected
to the same sorts of humiliation and depersonalization. Made
to feel powerless, intimidated...treated like both children and ancient,
incorrigible sinners. We experience a crash course that teaches us...
just how low a prisoner is in the institution's estimation. We also
learn how rapidly we can descend to the same depth.
Our pretensions to dignity, to difference are quickly dispelled.....
We are in fact their prisoners until they release us."

p. 182: "Visitors must take leave of the certainties
underpinning their everyday lives."

4) how does John (and how do you?) understand
the relationship of the writer to his subject?

p. 77: "the hardest habit to break... would be listening to myself listen to him.
That habit would destroy any chance of seeing my brother on his terms...
the whole point of learning his story....However numerous and comforting
the similarities, we were different....Start fresh, clear the pipes, resist too
facile an identification...but wouldn't there be a point at which I'd
have to take over the telling....
Wasn't writing about people a way of exploiting them?"

p. 199-200: "Since I was writing the book, one way or another I'd be on center stage....
to pull together many loose material had to surface and be resolved...
though I never intended to steal his story, to appropriate it or exploit it,
that 's what would happen once the book was published."

5) where does this story itself "start"?
how determinate is this beginning?

p. 19: "You never know exactly when something begins...."
p. 66: "It all started with Gar dying...."
p. 91: "Seems like I should start the story back in Shadyside...
Nothing but white kids around. Them little white kids had everything...."
p. 111: "Edgar must of taked pity on me. He seen I got myself in too far to back away...
Anyway that's part of the beginning...he let me slide that day"
p. 148: "My brother slows down...He's the one telling but he's looking too.
I think of somebody fumbling through a drawer, trying to find something important...
he's started over again, looking where he's looked before...
My brother is searching in a place no one else will ever see,
for an answer no one else would ever understand..."
[Cain and Abel...?]

IV. 3:15-3:45: return to large group, share and continue