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Gaining Access: Notes Towards Day 19 (Tues, Nov. 10)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 2:25-2:45: silence by Han
* Farida & Tong are on for Thursday
* I'm disappointed that folks aren't archiving what they have done...a loss
(Julia, Riley, Sula, Meera, Shira&Joie, Sylvia...pretty soon a majority of you!)

II. 2:45-3:00, 360 check-in:
you've had time to talk
about your experiences in prison last week (with Joel),
and time to plan for our final event and exhibit (with Jody);
my piece of the 360-wide work this week is telling you about
the conference that Jody and I attended in Pittsburgh this weekend:

III. 3-3:10: coursekeeping
we're going to focus for the next month on "gendered silences in literature";
I'd like you to do a posting tomorrow night w/ your first set of reflections
on this topic, a short response to what we've read and talked about,
today and Thursday; I'll ask for the same thing next Wed;

the Wed after  (just before we leave for Thanksgiving),
I'll ask for a proposal for a 5-pp. paper, in which I want you to carefully
and closely read one literary text in which silence is gendered.

Models for this sort of critical practice include
Doris Sommer's reading of I, Rigoberta  Menchu;
Grandjeat's reading of Brothers and Keepers, and
Sweeney's reading of Eva's Man, which we'll be looking @ along the way;

the Wed after Thanksgiving (on Dec. 2), I'll be expecting the paper itself.
I know that only Meera is an English major, so we'll do this step by step.
It's fun!

I'm giving you lots of different sorts of readings; we won't have time
to work through them all, but they will offer you a range of choices--
possibilities and ideas--for your paper.

for Thursday, I've assigned
two stories from Maxine Hong Kingston's memoir,
Woman Warrior: Memoirs of A Girlhood Among Ghosts;
bring back the material from today, which we'll be using
to access those stories...

IV. 3:10-3:30: today, I want us to warm up for this sort
of close reading, what I'm calling "getting access..."
I'd asked you to look @
Jason Stanley's NYTimes article on "The Ways of Silencing,"
two chapters of Tillie Olsen's book on Silences, as well as
Alexandra Juhasz 's 5 Short Videos about Women and Prison.

The pieces created by Olsen and Juhasz could both be subjects for your papers:
Juhasz uses a range of formats, varied visual and oral qualities;
it could be interesting to think about how the pieces fit together into a whole.

Olsen offers a catalogue of the difference between "natural" and "unnatural" silence,
compares silence that is "hidden" with "censorship" & "foreground" silence;
she also identifies "political" silence (which is really what interests Stanley).
What interests me in each of these categories is the "dance" between
being imposed and chosen: the polarity that engages both positions.

But by far the most complicated piece I asked you to read for today is
Michelle Balaev's essay about "Trends in Literary Trauma Theory."
To get into it, we're going to try out an exercise called "thinkaloud"-->
this involves reading a text and giving all the "movies of your mind" as you do so:
saying out loudwhat you like/don't understand/talking back/to/with/against....

So: count off to 8, re-organize yourselves into pairs.
Each pair will work their way through four paragraphs
(do the counting); when you finish that assignment,
look together @ the last four paragraphs of the essay.

Here are the instructions:
the basic idea is that reading is a conversation, a transaction, a back-and-forthing;
it involves listening, and talking-back-to; figuring out what words you need to look up,
comparing what they mean w/ what you know, and w/ what others have said...

It exemplifies a particular kind of practice called "reader response theory,"
which says that the text doesn't "happen" until it is taken up by the reader
(like a tree falling in the forest w/out an ear to hear...;)

To do this,
look @ your first paragraph, try to state its claim,
then try to "believe" what Baleav says--
think of reasons to support that claim;
then play the "doubting" game-->
what are the limits of her approach?
what hasn't she seen/foregrounded?
how does her account of literary trauma theory intersect w/
what you know experientially, and/or from other readings?

V. 3:30-3:45: bringing it back to the large group:
* what did you learn from one another, about reading as a practice?
* what is the argument of this essay? what is Balaev saying?
what do you believe? what do you doubt?
* how might you use this theory in reading/analyzing a text?

Reading/Viewing Notes
ALEX JUHASZ's 5 films:

"we need treatment centers more than we need prisons….
everyone who has been in prison will need therapy…."

"prison is designed to break a person's spirit, to deprive them of any
degree of autonomy, to make them unfit to live in the world…"

A Gram O' Pussy (activist video feel)
("I was in possession of a  gram of pussy w/ an intent to sell.")
"Incarceration does not rehabilitate…it creates resentment…
"How can I turn myself around?…I am the substructure of a system."

"Sheltered" (video art style)
"Christine never has anywhere to go..."
"what would a sheltered girl from the country have to hide from?"
"What else could be out there? It has to be something better than what we've seen so far..."

"Unyielding Conditioning" (music video)
Angela Davis: "I happen to be an abolitionist."
decriminialization of drugs is the first step
corporations are deeply implicated in the expansion of the prison industry
"you put your life in somebody else's hands...someone else is dictating how your life plays out...
the worse thing is the emotional learn to show no fear... it's hard to be vulnerable"

"Breathe" (animation)
"The inside and outside of prison are not strictly confined."

"Making the Invisible Invincible" (video-diary feel)
the poor women behind prison walls are the most invisible
"prison becomes a place for love"
"stranger babies"

"Silences" (about why women don't write):
Literary history and the present are dark with silences...
These are not natural silences....
hidden silences; work aborted, deferred, denied...
Censorship silences..."the knife of the perfectionist attitude"....
other claims, other responsibilities....
the absence of creativity where it once had been...
the foreground silences, before the achievement....
the silences where the lives never came to writing....
Where the claims of creation cannot be primary, the results are atrophy...
women's silence of centuries....
of the women whose achievements endure...most did not marry or...
have been childless...all had household help....
Where the gifted...have remained is because
of circumstances...which oppose the needs of creation....
women traditionally trained to place others' needs first...
making it possible for others to use their abilities....
it took family deaths to free women writers into their own development...
in intelligent passionate motherhood there is...almost certain death to creation....
the circumstances for sustained creation have been almost impossible.
The need cannot be first. It can have...only part self, part time....
Work interrupted, deferred, relinquished, makes blockage....
no part-time, part-self persons--have created enduring literature....
"Evil is whatever distracts"....

Silences--Its Varieties:
Censorship Silences
Political Silences
"The knife of the perfectionist attitude in art and life"
"The sacrifice of talent, in pieces, to preserve its essential value"
Absences that are a Kind of Silence
Virulent Destroyers: Premature Silencers
Foreground Silences
Silences Where the Lives Never Come to Writing

Stanley's "The Ways of Silencing" [in our political discourse]:
linguistic strategies for stealing the voices of others-->
representing them as insincere, undermining public trust;
denying access to vocabulary to express their claims (propaganda);
silencing =removing the ability to communicate, by manipulating language

Balaev's  "Trends in Literary Trauma Theory":
central claim of contemporary literary trauma theory:
it creates a speechless fright that divides/destroys identity,
produces a "temporal gap" and self dissolution;
so remembering trauma is always going to be approximate;
it's the "shattering trope" that (in the prevalent view)
stands outside representation altogether-->

its very nature is unassimilated: the brain can't properly encode/process the event,
so it's forever unknown and unintegrated (while ever-present, intrusive, repetitive).

What follows is a long description of the "contagion theory,"
the production of a "post-traumatic culture" passed across generational gaps,
as the experience is recreated (abreacted) for those who were not present
(ex: learned cultural shame of slavery;
collective dissociation of over-whelming experience;
symbolic capital of transhistorical trauma).

[abreaction: Freud's concept of reliving a repressed experience, through emotional,
verbal discharge in
the presence of a therapist -->  "away from reaction"]

"trick" of trauma fiction: protagonist has unique experience, yet represents the group;
individual experience is the result of/shaped by larger cultural forces;
"unspeakability" of trauma is not epistemological or neurobiological but cultural
exs: Morrison, Jacobs-->silence a strategy to
maintain agency, authorship, control, increase suspense, repulsion
used rhetorically to underscore torture and emphasize resiliency
(traumatized and well-functioning)
place, as a site w/ value, locates experience and organizes its meaning
trauma challenges fundamental assumptions about social relationships

reconsider claim that trauma is unspeakable: it restructures perception,
is a rhetorical strategy, not evidence for an epistemological void;
meaning changes each time protagonist recalls the trauma;
must reorganize self in relation to new view of reality
reorganized self is fluid, relational, connected to a place of meaning-->
multiple responses, forms of consciousness...
trauma disrupts previous formulations of self, world-->
leading to adaptive reordering of perception
memory is active, revisionary;
some healing not tied to language
lurches into profound inquisitive state, w/meaning meticulously evaluated....