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"Fugitives and Wanderers": Notes Towards Day 13 (Tues, Oct. 20)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Welcome back!

II. 2:25-2:45 Silence via Riley

(Shirah, going to bump you on Thursday;
Jess Libow, a HC student who is studying ASL,
will join us, and has a plan for "communicating
in silence" as our opening exercise;
reminder to Madison, Meera & Julia to post...)

II. 2:45-2:55:
* I posted my responses to your second set of "silence" essays;
am happy to continue talking about them in-person
or on-line (as Shira and I are doing...);
encourage you to read one another's, some really profound

* no posting due tomorrow night;
instead: Antigone @ the Wilma, 7:30
there is NO LATE SEATING (!).
Here are your train tickets:
be on the 6:22 -->Suburban 6:50,
maybe even the 5:55, getting in 6:22?  
walk from Suburban Station to Wilma
(across City Hall plaza, down Broad Street)
is 1/2 mile, will take about 15 min...
we'll pick up theater tickets @ the box office
(J, J, me there to do this and distribute...)

also! three (possibly four) actors will meet with us after the performance;
the potential fourth actor has done some interesting "theater in prisons"
projects (Sarah Theobald reports), so we're really hoping he'll be able to come....

* for Thursday, please read
Benjamin Bahan, “Upon the Formation of a Visual Variety of the Human Race.” Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking. Ed. H-Dirksen L. Bauman. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. ProQuest Ebrary. Web. 14 October 2015 (in our password protected file).

Flying Words Project, “Poetry,” performed by Peter Cook, voiced by Kenny Lerner
Clayton Valli's Poem, “Deaf World,” rendered by Jed Galimore
Clayton Valli's Poem, “Hands,” rendered by Claudia Jimenez

In SLOPE: American Sign Language Poetry Special Edition (2004),
go to "Index of Poets and Editors,"
and select Flying Words, "Untitled,"
Ella Mae Lentz, "Eye Music," and
Clayton Valli, "Mushroom."

Brenda Jo Brueggeman. "Words Another Way: Of Presence, Vision, Silence, and Politics in Sign Language Poetry." Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. 201-236 (in our password protected file).

Judy Lieff. Deaf Jam. New Day Films, 2011. (Streaming Online: Kanopy.) 71 minutes.

Christine Sun Kim. Is Unlearning Sound Etiquette, Face Opera, and "Partial Thesis Statement" (in our password protected file).

III. 2:55-3:10: your postings about your research projects-->

how to use our shared classtime next week?
Sula, Rhett, Joie are eliminating containers, could use class time to meet
Sula: rights of incarcerated transgender prisoners
Joie: reproductive rights of trans people in prison
Rhett: gender and imprisonment

Shirah, Julia, Abby, Han could also meet as a group
Shirah: combination of visual and dramatic arts representing different narratives
and perspectives (from victims, prison guards, released prisoners, families...)
Abby: studying the effect of the "criminal" label on individuals (and communities?)
Han: making a poster of inmates' poems and  visualizations
Julia: wanting classtime to comb through resources

[is this a group that wants to work together?]
Farida: correlation between the school to prison pipeline, the war
on drugs and the rate of mass incarceration of African American youth
Madison: racial prejudice of War on Drugs?
: wants class time to develop project--on
maintenance of white supremacy and the purpose of prisons?

Tong: infographic on American Asian and Chinese incarceration?
Meera: infographic cf. treatment of Native Americans in boarding schools and prisons?

Kieres: 2-D representation of feedback loop of ideas about education and prison education

Rosa: request to meet weekly and so build a relationship with an inmate

Riley: role of abolition movement in prison reform?

added essays about Quakerism, silence and penitence to Research Project page

IV. 3:10-3:45: astonishing class Thursday before break,
starting w/ Julia's post about hypocrisy (critical of prison industrial complex,
realizing she wanted/needed prisons to feel safe...), continuing through
a discussion of humanizing prisoners and victims
(does this have to be a zero-sum game? remember the two "Healing Walls" ?);
whether our analysis of prisons has been damage-based
(whether individuals, communities AND institutional structures
could be analyzed differently, as desire-based?);
we discussed how Amanda's crime had been handled by the NYTimes reporter-->
what does it mean to own/control your own story?
Joie: "we are the product of every moment of our lives.
But some of those moments are longer than others.
And who gets to choose which moments count the most?"
We also asked what we really know/can we know about the women inside:
could we acknowledge the possibility of Amanda's crime without focusing on it,
without making it define her, demonize her, make her "other" as the NYTimes journalist did....?
might also use this as an occasion to think about our own potential to commit atrocity....?

return now to Wideman, picking up on this discussion
about the need for/effects of imprisonment;
drawing on John's representation of
his relationship with Robby to get clearer both
about our relationships with the women inside-->
the role prisons serve in our society.

Do that via your postings from before break:
Shira Kraus:
My thoughts spring back to my Jewish education …. “a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be in the earth,” God says [to Cain] …. Robby is a fugitive, a wanderer, running, living in fear, without peace—like Cain ….  John is also Cain…”running away from Pittsburgh, from poverty, from blackness” …. I think this plural title invites the reader to see themselves as both brother and keeper. We are runners, fugitives, people who have acted in jealousy and made mistakes. We are also vulnerable, scared, victims of hate and violence…

smalina: the freedom to leave at the end of the visit … is exactly the distinctive quality which marks the visitor's privileged position …. [the] identification between Wideman and his brother brought me back to Sommer …Wideman … read to me as a perfect example of … an empathy that lacked understanding of [his] own standpoint and privilege.

han yu:
can human beings define freedom for other species while we cannot really comprehend their world?… Wideman said that “The hardest habit to break, since it was the habit of a lifetime, would be listening to myself listen to [Robby]. That habit would destroy any chance of seeing my brother on his terms”. 

Joie (on the two college shootings you heard about, enroute home from the jail, exhaustedly, the Friday before break):
There is so much history in our sigh, the countless shootings that have directly or indirectly affected each of us, the pain that each and every new bulletin brings, pain both sharpened and dulled by the regularity of its presence and continued re-inflammation sparked by the hope obliterated over and over again, that each time will be the last. There will never be a last, and so I am brought back to the question that was raised last time; how do you end what has no end? Is it hope? Even when each call for change is a call bred from another fracture of that vital hope, and even when every shooting breeds new need but also breeds new despair?
These are the thoughts that rattled through my mind while driving home from the prison yesterday. Driving home from a place where we make connections with intelligent, complex, and stimulating people. Some of whom have perhaps done heinous things. How do I marry my rage at those who wield guns ruthlessly and carelessly, with the humanization I assign to each of the people in our Friday group? How do I cope with my fervent desire for change through rehabilitation and my disgust at the inextricable link that rehabilitation has to ‘re-socialization’? Where is the middle ground, if there is any, and who am I to impose rehabilitation on people instead of punishment in an effort to clear my conscious of the knowledge that at some very deep level, I feel safer with prisons in our social structure?

it is understandable that prisons need to exist for the sake of our safety. That they are individuals who have committed heinous [acts] and should be kept away from society, but what about the individuals who are incarcerated for minor crimes? What is the purpose of keeping them away from society?

Given the events of the day and the fear that loomed over many students and others in the Philadelphia area, I wasn't emotionally or mentally prepared to hear someone [at the Socrates Cafe quote the second Amendment, and] express the need or right to carry a gun as their definition of Freedom …. someone else explained that … that if someone wants to create a bomb, they should be free to do so .… Considering that many of us were, and to some degree still are, frightened by the threat that loomed over us, it didn't seem to right to associate freedom and gun and bombs … Americans … will not support gun control.

tong: Th
e Socrate’s Café was very uncomfortable…The very first uncomfortable feeling came from the … American context … the facilitator used … examples of “totalitarian” countries where “no freedoms exist” …. I was waiting, waiting for him to name my country …. but it’s not like what people imagined. I grew up in China, I had and still have freedom to do things I want to, and I AM FINE …. I was questioning is America more free if the freedom of some jeopardized the freedom of others. I felt not free at all during Monday as I did not even know if my life would end that day.

Take a few minutes, find a quote from Wideman that speaks to these linked issues:
about our relationships with the women inside-->
the role prisons serve in our society?

Share in pairs, then open discussion.
Only rule: lead with a quote!

Anne's Talking Notes:
on the indeterminacy of beginnings

( = why the book is structured to loop back again/again/again)

and on the openness of endings:
p. 194: "I realized no apotheosis of Robby's character could occur
in the final section...the only denouement that might make
sense of his story would be his release from prison"

cf. John Wideman's "Father Stories": "it was a world unfinished,
because not all the stories had been told....The fullness of time....
a space capacious enough to contain your coming into and
going out of the many lives, and each different,
each unknowable....we must speak these stories to one another."

p. 69, on his mother's approach to life:
"Most of the time...
she held judgment in abeyance. Events, personalities always
deserved a second, slower appraisal, an evaluation outside
the sphere of everyday hassles and vexations. You gave
people the benefit of the doubt...acknowledged the
limitations of your individual view of things...You tried
on the other person's point of view"

p. 237, on how he came to understand Robby:
"Silences troubled me...until I learned to accept
the quiet interludes as breathing spaces, necessary
reminders of...limits"

How might some of the other authors we've read
help us to make sense of Wideman's memoir? How
might they read it?

p. 202: "Maybe I'm inside West Pen to warm myself by his fire, to steal it."

cf. Doris Sommers: "what draws the reader to the the hope of warming his
shivering life with a death he reads about'...testimonios promise [a lot of] warmth."

Sommers, again: "Secrecy is a safeguard to freedom."

Delpit, quoting Ellsworth,
p. 40: " impossible...because...
power relations between raced, classed, and gendered [people]
are unjust....all voices...cannot carry equal legitimacy"

Price, p. 40: Nor do all rhetors bring an...equivalent sense of ...
what are "rational" and "appropriate" ways to voice ideas.

school to prison pipeline:
p. 116: "Turned school into a prison...They fixed us good...We had a black history class, but wasn't nobody eligible to take it."
p. 104: "Call prison the House of Knowledge cause you learns how to be a sure nuff criminal. Come in lame you leave knowing all kinds of evil shit. You learn quick or they eats you up."
p. 235: "Well, this is the place of knowledge. By the time a dude gets out of here, most likely he's a stone criminal...They got professors and Ph.D.'s in crime giving crime lessons in here."

from Wideman's introduction to The Souls of Black Folks:
"to the powerful and privileged Du Bois's messages was simple: you are not alone. Those whom you have ... treated as ... another species ... those creatures have souls and inevitably you must encounter them, and the encounter will be on their terms as well as yours because the globe is shrinking and races and cultures will collide.

is the color line one more measure of the limits of our collective imagination, our cultural graveyard of either/or terminal distinctions....? Is it possible to imagine ourselves other than we are, better?

What's at stake, Du Bois reminds us, always, in the American experiment is ... maintaining spiritual health ... solutions abound. What's missing is the will to implement solutions, the courage to look inside ourselves, where any fundamental change must begin.

Slave narratives were customarily framed by testimony from white editors ... whose presence authenticated the slave's witness. The frame was ironically a sign of both independence and dependence. De Bois recapitulates and revises this cusom by framing his essays with double epigraphs, one from black oral tradition, one from the literate, one a culturally marginal voice, one from mainstream Western literature .... The frame is reinterpreted and rendered as a sign of cultural parity, interpenetration of the black voice asserting equality....

We're being taught ... to imagine the multiple perspectives any thoughtful vision must include...

Nothing has changed, and perhaps never will .... Anger fades into fear .... I'm left with little hope .... a wish conveying more longing than conviction: "In Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight."

some context:
John played basketball @ Penn, was a Rhodes scholar and graduated from Oxford;
has since published 10 novels, 5 short story collections, 4 memoirs,
won numerous writing awards, as well as the McArthur "genius" grant,
and taught @ many universities (now @ Brown)
1966: John graduated from Oxford
1973: had published 3 novels
1975: Robby present @ the commission of murder and was sentenced to life
1984: Brothers and Keepers was published
1986: @ the age of 16, John's middle child, Jacob,
killed his roommate and was sentenced to 25 years
1993: Robby's son, Omar, was shot @ his home in Pittsburgh after a bar fight
2011: Jacob was denied parole
2012: on-line petition circulating, to free Robert: