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"Imprisoned in Others' Misreadings": Notes Towards Day 22 (Thurs, Nov. 19)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 2:25-2:45: silence by Farida
Sylvia & Han on for next Tuesday,
when I ask you to have finished
Eva's Man

II. invitation from Lucy Greysteen, a former student of
mine, now working for Philadelphia FIGHT, who is looking
for interns to work on one of their publications, Prison Health News,
to translate it into Spanish, and to answer 10-15 letters/day,
from folks on the inside, who are asking health and
reentry-related questions.

II. 2:45-3:00:
Gayl Jones' biography: her fiction anticipating life?
NYTimes version of her story is filled w/ her silences:

b. 1949 in segregated Lexington, Ky;
one of few black students attending the white school:
"Painfully shy to the point of muteness, Gayl seemed almost
invisible to other students, although several teachers took note of her."
attended Connecticut College on a scholarship in the '60s,
"while other African-American students were demonstrating
for more minority admissions and an all-black dormitory,
she remained on the periphery, quiet and withdrawn."
accepted in 1971 to Brown University's graduate writing program:
"While the faculty and students were in awe of her talent,
many were struck by her silence."

signed a book contract w/ Toni Morrison,
published her first novel, about a blues singer, @ 26;
Eva's Man was her second novel; she got a job, then tenure,
@ UMichigan, where she met Bob Higgins,
an activist w/ a "volcanic temperament,"
who had had some police encounters and psychiatric treatment;
when he was arrested for assault, they fled to Paris for 5 years of exile;
returned to Lexington to care for her mother; when the SWAT team arrived to arrest him,
he killed himself; since then, she has lived alone in her mother's house, writing, publishing...

III. In Reading Is My Window, Megan Sweeney describes Eva's Man
as a "highly symbolic and temporally disorienting account of a
woman who defies familiar categories of victim and agent"
Sweeney gives an account of women prisoners' readings of the novel,
(and quarrels w/ Wendy Brown for championing silence, not politicizing trauma,
or developing accounts of solidarity....); we'll work our way through those
responses after Thanksgiving.

Today, I'd like to start with our own experiences of the book,
and then work towards some re-readings through the lenses
offered by other writers.

From your postings (to set the scene):
Sula: Rich writes of "deceitful" position into which women have historically been forced -- they have been required to silence parts of themselves …. Rich deems this silencing "lying," failing to tell the truth through omission. She demands that women strive for more "honorable" relationships among themselves, that they support one another by being truthful always and asking the same of each other .… For her, an individual's suffering as a result of telling the truth is a risk worth taking, and certainly nothing compared to the world we might achieve if we were all honest, all the time …. I'm struggling with this, and it seems just a little bit too harsh for me.

Tong: I see myself when I'm about to say something and I hesitate, when I change my words to avoid argument, when I pretend that I agree just to stop the conversation, and when I stay silent and enjoy the result of other people's hard work. As I read through Rich's articles, her words hurt me, but it is also the hurtful feeling that makes her an alive person to me. She is not silenced, even I can't hear her voice, but I hear her.

Meera: I feel like every time I read a female character in a novel, especially a classic, she is deemed powerful because of her ability to conceal,  to keep secrets. I think of Rigoberta Menchú…characters in classic literature like Jo March from Little Women…

Anne: Does Eva fit into this framework? Do her silences make her powerful?

Shirah: As I began reading Eva's Man … the jumping from place to place confused me. There is silence in not knowing, not understanding, not responding…. I keep thinking about … ignoring consent, overpowering by numbers and masculinity …. Fear itself is silence … a suppression of the self, a dark corner, loneliness.
I have never paid so much attention to what isn't said or written, to silence, in my reading … It is interesting and important to look not only at the words that are said, the voices that cry out, but also the words that are hidden, the voices that cry quietly to themselves.

IV. 3:00-3:30: Please count to 5/get into groups
of three to "read" the silences of Eva's Man:

A. Spend some time, to start, telling each other HOW YOU READ IT...
what did you do when the story shifted in place or time?
when the pronoun references weren't clear?
how did you make sense of what was happening? (or give up the search?)
What were your reading tactics and strategies?
Help one another out here...

B. Illustrate this by picking one passage and "reading"
it to one another, explaining how you "handled" it

(a repeat of the "think-aloud" exercise from last week:
not describing what it means, but rather what you thought/
"did" with it....)

C. then, re-read it together, using this tactic/strategy:
focusing on it through the lens of one of the other texts

we've been considering in this "engendering silence" section:
Adrienne Rich on the need to speak, & Wendy Brown on
the dangers of doing so are closest to hand...

and/or there's earlier material:
Juhasz's films, "Released,"
Michelle Balaev on the trauma novel,
Jason Stanley on political silences,
stories on silence by Tillie Olsen and Maxine Hong Kingston...
even further back, there's Doris Sommer on "respecting" silence...

IV. 3:30: come back together: what emerged?
ways of reading? and/or readings?

Jones herself said several things about her writing which you might find helpful:
* "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?"

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