Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

"Proceed with Caution": Notes Towards Day 9 (Tues, Sept. 29)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Joie "shapes" the silence; Kieres up for Thursday
(reminder to Madison to put up notes about what you did last week)

*By 5 p.m. tomorrow (Wed, Sept. 30), your web event #2 is due:
3 pp. extending your first essay, asking what there might be from our texts, which could offer a helpful perspective on the issues you've raised in your story. What are the broader implications and issues of your narrative?

* assigned reading for Thursday's class is two essays:
the first one was recommended to me by Linda-Susan Beard, a Benedictine nun, friend and colleague who teaches Africana Studies in the English Department; it's a very short essay by John Edgar Wideman called "In Praise of Silence"; I'd also like you to read a longer essay by a French critic about "Silence as Common Ground in J.E. Wideman's Texts"-- you can skip the last 3 pp of this (pp. 690-693), which  are about other texts than the one we'll read--as long as you read the last paragraph!

* we are prepping for Wideman's book-length memoir, Brothers and Keepers
(which we'll discuss next week): Wideman is a professor @ Brown;
he graduated from Penn, where he also taught for many years,
and started the African American Studies Program there; he also
received the McArthur Foundation "genius" grant; his book is about
his relationship w/ his brother Robby, who is in jail for murder
(next week I will assign another short essay, about his son, who is also in jail for murder)

* you might note that last week, I had you read Rigoberta Menchu's testimonio
BEFORE you read Doris Sommers' analysis of it; this week, I'm asking you to read
the analysis of J.E. Wideman's text BEFORE you read the text itself...
among other things, I'd like us to figure out which order is more "silencing" of the
text, and of your own reading of you like some "framing," some "structure,"
or do you prefer to encounter a text directly, "unmediated"?

II. Today we're going to try another form of conversation, a carousel
listen to a passage I'm reading aloud, from Sommers,
occasionally interspersed with your postings;
discuss in pairs for a few minutes,
then I'll invite larger group discussion, then we'll repeat

before we begin: did we understand the contrast Sommers
makes between "universalist" and "particularist" writing?

[From Sommer:]

"books can sting readers who feel entitled to know everything as they approach a text...the slap of refused intimacy from uncooperative books can slow readers down"

"Why should distance be marked? Shouldn't limits be overcome through empathy and learning?

"Absences can...interfere with comprehension...release readers from the exorbitant (and unethical) but usually unspoken assumption that we should know the Other well..."

"Without setting limits, can ethnically marked, 'minority' writers hope really to engage an authoritative reader?"

"Is inhospitality toward the reader...surprising? It merits a pause long enough to learn new expectations."

"Educated readers usually expect to enter into collaborative language games with a range of stories that become ours...."

"Differences coexist and do not reduce to moments in a universal history of understanding."

"Why should she make so much of keeping secrets instead of just keeping quiet?"

Why do "her techniques include maintaining secrets that keep readers from knowing her too well"?

"Parties to productive alliances respect cultural distances among members."

"the recorded voice was synthesized and processed....our access is limited...but sentimental readers miss the point... prefer the illusion of immediacy...."

"Sympathetic readers...are question their own motives for requiring intimacy."

"'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."

"Its collective denunciatory tone distinguishes testimony from the personal development narrative of standard autobiography, and it tends to erase the elitist author who mediates the narrative."

"Empathy is hardly an ethical feeling...readers' projections of intimacy...disregard the text's...performance of keeping us at a politically safe distance."

"To close in on Rigoberta would threaten her authority and leadership."

"Why should we assume that our interest in the 'Other' is reciprocated?...Could we consider that sympathy is not bilateral in an asymmetrical world?"

"Secrets can cordon off curious and controlling readers...Secrecy is a safeguard to freedom."

"Menchu's audible silences and her wordy refusals to talk are incite our curiosity, so that we feel distanced."

"This document is a screen, in the double sense...something that shows and that also covers up."

"Why is so much attention being called to our insufficiency as readers? Does it mean that the knowlege is impossible or that it is forbidden? Is she saying that we are incapable of knowing, or that we ought not to know?"

Is she "withholding her secrets because we are empirically different and would understand them only imperfectly; or must we not know them for ethical reasons, because our knowledge would lead to power over her community?"

"Our cultural difference would make her secrets incomprehensible...we would inevitably force her secrets into our framework."

"marking frontiers, limiting access...liberation means reconstituting the alterity of the other..."

"Rigoberta excuses us from her circle of intimates...we are intellectually or ethically unfit for Rigoberta's produces a particular kind of distance akin to respect...."

"So simple a lesson and so fundamental: it is to acknowledge modestly that difference exists...this defends us from harboring any illusions of complete or stable knowledge" (cf. Ellsworth!)

"the testimonial I in these books doesn't invite us to identify with it....We are too foreign, and there is no pretense here of universal or essential human experience."

"For Rigoberta there are literally no ideal readers....The Maya Quiche who ideally understand her are no readers at all..."

"Consciously working in a translated, borrowed language, those who testify ... understand that none of these codes is sufficient to their revolutionary situation...."

"distance can be read as the condition for success of coalitional politics....It is similar to learning that respect is the condition for lasting love."

[from your Sunday postings:]
resistance5: in our first discussion of Citizen, someone said that they found that they could not dissociate themselves enough from the text to annotate it.…Rankine’s words pierce the veil W.E.B DuBois refers to in The Souls of Black Folks, and allow people from outside of the veil to understand the people inside of it…. it felt as if our analysis brought the veil back up. It felt as if we had removed ourselves from these lived experiences…I felt the detachment, and it left me feeling uncomfortable.

rb.richx: i began thinking about … a common transformative experience of women who attend women’s colleges….‘come to a women’s college to find your voice. a woman surrounded by women here will go though “an almost miraculous transformation from a girl who sucked her thumb to a young woman who… spoke her mind”.... performativity … changes us...who is a “real me”?

i’m also thinking of what our tour guide said when we visited eastern state penitentiary …that the original goal of the penitentiary was to rehabilitate, but …to what? there was little space for individuality in the rehabilitation process. how to consciously rehabilitate without suppressing or erasing a part of an identity?