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Engendering Silence: Notes Towards Day 23 (Tues, Nov. 24)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 2:25-2:45: silence by Sylvia & Han
next Tuesday, Rhett's on...

before you leave for Thanksgiving break
(by 5 p.m. tomorrow), your 7th short Wed. posting is due:
a proposal for your third web event for me, interpreting
(gendered?) silences in literature.

the paper itself is due a week after that, Wed, Dec. 2,
and I want time to give you some feedback beforehand.

II. for today, I asked you to review the
Checklist and Final Portfolio for our cluster--
what are your questions? how clear is this?

J,J&I would like to have a 1/2-hour group meeting with each of you,
after classes and our final event are over, to review together
all your work in our cluster. We've set aside 11-1, 2-4:30 on Monday, Dec. 14
and 10-12, 1-2 on Tuesday, Dec. 15; we'll meet in the English House Lounge
(walk through the departmental office, across the hall).
Please go to the board and select a time.

for Tuesday after Thanksgiving, we'll discuss Megan Sweeney's Chapter Three:
"Between a Politics of Pain and a Politics of Pain's Disavowal," from
Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons.

[Also please bring back] Wendy Brown. "Chapter 5: Freedom's Silences,"
and come having marked a passage in each Sweeney and Brown
that you'd like to discuss--
could be paired, in conversation [or conversation with Eva's Man], or separate...

7-9 p.m. a week from day, Tues, Dec. 1 in the Ely Room, Wyndham:
Jayne Thompson, "Mercy's 'Richer Fruits': Seeking Justice in a Maximum Security Prison"--about "letters to their younger selves" and memoir pieces written by men in her creative writing class @ Graterford, describing their regretful, haunting decisions, with the hope of encouraging others, especially young people, to consider their choices carefully.

In her posting about missing last Thursday’s class, Joie gave a wonderfully detailed (and of course also, as she said, inadequate & incomplete!) account of what was said in the town hall meeting. She also shared her fear that this might be “A breaking of a silence that will end only with placation…. “

I’ve pulled out from her posting all the references to breaking silence, for us to listen to again:

Student: I apologize for the hurt that I caused but I cannot apologize for speaking out.

Faculty member: Civil rights has never been polite. It has been rowdy and rude and it made change….Civility is a vastly overrated form of political protest and activism and it is so often used as a tool to silence.

Student: We are actively fighting against Bryn Mawr’s institutionalized idea of silence. We have silence surrounding mental health, silence from the honor code, we need to keep listening and talking making effort.

Student: I think this conversation is great in that it is breaking a silence and I just want to urge us to keep moving forward by continuing to break the silence. It is hard to see where something isn’t being said so keep talking.

Student: … just tell me to my face. And be in the room. Let your voice be heard.

we are just trying to be heard … but how do we get heard?  The same list of demands has been put forth since ’88, I’m tired of talking, we need action.

Student: We need to talk about mental health here, we need to stop silencing it.

[Joie, again:] And so this is my fear ... that these discussions ... are yet another placebo. A breaking of a silence that will end only with placation.

Most of us were not there for the town hall meeting, but...I wanted to give some space to talk about this some more if you need/want to...

IV. Turning to Gayle Jones' novel:
lots we could talk about (and have another day to do this):
the men (why is it called “Eva’s Man”?),
her sexuality (for example, what’s happening in the last scene with Elvira…?)

But I’m going to re-focus us on her silence:
whether it's chosen or forced, how she uses it,
or is used by it.

When Meera posted last week about the power
of silent women in fiction, I asked if  Eva
fit that pattern, if her silences make her powerful. 

To see, let's first read aloud some relevant passages;
read one excerpt, then pass/point out the next excerpt
to the student  on your right, for them to read:

In prison on Friday, we wrote, and then read aloud,
poems about “where we are from.”

Meera asked, "aren’t our stories the only things we truly own?"

Joie posted about “How we wrote [the poems] for ourselves
and how our cryptic ambiguity may reveal more about what
we wish we could speak than what we actually say.”

Tong said, "Basically, I only exist because of the disconnection
I have with my past. So the question of 'where I am from'...
is not necessarily digging the memories I can hardly relate to
but embracing that detachment and recognizing that is
where I am from."

Eva is also frequently asked who she is, and where she came from.
She often speaks with the sort of detachment Tong describes:

p. 20: “Who are you? Where did you come from?” he asked playfully,
stretched out beside me…. “Sometimes I wonder myself,” I said.

p. 45: “By the time I get through with you, I want to know you inside out.”

p. 67: “Eva, why won’t you talk about yourself?” I said nothing.

p. 70: “When we was seventeen she stabbed a man. She wouldn’t
talk then either…she wouldn’t even tell why she stabbed him…
You want to talk, Eva?” I said nothing.

p. 73: “I don’t like to talk about myself.’
“Why not?”
“I just don’t.”
“You make a man wonder what’s there.”
“You see me.”
“You make a man wonder what’s there.”
“You see me.”
“Naw, there’s more to you than what I see.”

p. 77: I said nothing.
“Talk to me.”
I wouldn’t.
“You’re going to have to open up sometime, woman,
to somebody. I want to help you.”
I looked at him, still staying nothing….
“They told me you wouldn’t talk. They said I wouldn’t
get one word out of you,” the psychiatrist said…
I don’t want to tell my story.

p. 81: “You know what I think,” the psychiatrist said.
“I think he came to represent all the men you’d known in your life.”
I got something out of you,” he said. He was proud of himself.

p.99: Nobody knew why I knifed him because I didn’t say.

p. 101: “You keep all your secrets, don’t you?’….
Why won’t you talk to me, Eva?”
“There’s nothing to say.”

p. 103: I didn’t talk about my husband.
He was the part of my life I didn’t talk about.

p. 116: “Where are you from?” he asked again….
”You still won’t answer?”

p. 150: “You ain’t much of a talker, are you?”

p. 158: “I wanted to tell him how I was feeling.
But I never would tell him.”

p. 160: I never told him what I liked.

p. 167: Eva? Are you afraid to talk to me?
Why did you kill him?
I was lonely.
That doesn’t make sense does it, Eva?

p. 168: I wouldn’t talk to him. I didn’t talk to no man for a long time.

p. 173: “Don’t explain me. Don’t you explain me. Don’t you explain me.”

V. What words would you use to describe Eva’s silence?
[call these out? put on the board?]

Cf. to Farida's posting: "This Thursday I learned and felt how powerful
silence could really be....[It] allowed for those thoughts that I have
somewhat shared, but have not faced, to form and become real."

And to Kieres': "I don't think my family is as silent as I once thought."

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

* "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?"