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Walking Away?: Notes Towards Day 4 (Thurs, 9/8)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping
* How are we doing on learning one another's names....?
neumonics? (animals? avatars?)

*Your second paper is due tomorrow @ 5.
If you can't meet that deadline, write me by 5
and tell me when you will submit it--NOT OKAY
to miss a deadline without some acknowledgement/report.

Your assignment is to analyze the  story you told in your first paper, in light of ONE of the three texts we are discussing this week.  Use LeGuin, Butler OR  Pratt to re-read your account of your own experience: how would one of these writers read your story (for example, in light of power relations)? Alternatively, you could consider  how your experience might expand or revise our understanding of one of these texts.

* Some technical bits about your paper-submissions:
tag as "Dalke Course Notes" (untagged Cathy, Toni)
do tag as "Web Paper"
do send to me as word doc named "Name2"
(consider my desktop; need unique names!)
do begin using a Works Cited format,
listing your source(s) and including p. #s
w/in the text whenever you include a quote
i will return the paper to you w/ edits after your conference
(or if we're not meeting, by midweek)--
everyone got back Paper #1?

* For class on Tuesday, we're going to learn more about
the history of the "contact zone" that is Bryn Mawr.
 Please read
"Slipping," Chapter 8 of Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound,
book manuscript by Anne Dalke and Jody Cohen, forthcoming with punctum press, 2017.
It's available both in an in-process website version, and as a pdf from our protected reading file;
(the website has some comments from students in last year's ESem, who read an earlier draft of the chapter).
by Monday @ 5, please post a comment about the chapter ON SERENDIP--we want your feedback!
You can mark a spot that has "heat" for you, or identify the argument,
or share how this essay intersects with (argues against? confirms? complicates?)
what you know experientially...."talk back" to us! 

* Also, over the weekend, please take an hour/take a friend/
take the "Black at Bryn Mawr" Digital Tour--

you might visit the servant corridors under Thomas, the Deanery Garden, the hallway
in the fourth floor of Merion (originally the maids' quarters), and the Harriton
Family Cemetery behind English House. Although not included in the digital tour,
a good final stop would be the Enid Cook Center.

*Also, Irene: conference on Tuesday before class, @ 10:30

II. revisiting Mary Louise Pratt's "arts of the contact zone,"
which contrasts ideas of community as coherent and homogenous with
a concept of "social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple
with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power."
She uses Guzman Poma's New Chronicle as her primary example of a text
in which a member of a marginalized group appropriated the idiom of
the conquerer to speak to him.

We stopped just as I was pushing you to think-and-talk about the
application of this concept the classroom, which is where Pratt
takes it in the end: to the game of "pupiling" in which
(rather than having their world unified by a monologue,
delivered by a lecturer), students process information in
radically heterogeneous, unprescribed ways,
where "no one is excluded, and no one is safe." In this crossroads,
the pedagogical art of cultural mediation takes place.
The power differences she describes are not just between
the prof and the students, but among the students.

Let's pause to think some more about how well this describes us.
Write down a few notes:
In what ways are you included in this space? ("own" it?)
In what ways are you not safe? (feel "outside"?)
What "arts of cultural mediation" do you practice/
want others to practice??
Go 'round...?

How can we make this space more inclusive,
a real "contact zone," where we are translating
to/for one another? (computer usage, leaving class,
raising hands, calling on one another....?)

III. two short stories for today:
Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Ormelas"
AND Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild."

count off into four groups of 3-4
1/2 to work on LeGuin, 1/2 on Butler:
talk first:
what sense did you make of your story? where were you stuck?
what puzzles did it offer you? what point does it seem to make...?
then: work together to create a "tableux" that represents this main idea....

perform them--and then discuss:
what is the relation between these two representations?
how do the stories intersect/argue w/ one another?
imagining the impossibility of empathy? or the necessity of it?
Josh's question: where did they walk away to? 
our question was about empathy:  why was it crucial that the people
in this town feel this way about the child/why was their reaction
necessary to keep the town the 'wonderful' place that Le Guin describes?

"The central idea of this psychomyth, the scapegoat", writes Le Guin,
"turns up in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and several people
have asked me, rather suspiciously, why I gave the credit to William James.
The fact is, I haven't been able to re-read Dostoyevsky, much as I loved him,
since I was twenty-five, and I'd simply forgotten he used the idea.
But when I met it in James's 'The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,'
it was with a shock of recognition."

The quote from William James is: "[I]f the hypothesis were offered us
of a world in which ... millions kept permanently happy on the one
simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things
should lead a life of lonely torture, . . . [would we not] immediately feel,
even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered,
how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted
as the fruit of such a bargain?"

Le Guin hit upon the name of the town on seeing a road sign for Salem, Oregon,
in a car mirror. "[… People ask me] 'Where do you get your ideas from, Ms. Le Guin?'
From forgetting Dostoyevsky and reading road signs backwards, naturally. Where else?"

Years ago, I picked "Bloodchild" to anchor a session on diversity (and recommended it several years before that, to the deans planning the pluralism workshop for first-year students), because I thought it might be a way of getting us beyond the by-now so-predictable menu of race/class/ethnicity/sexual orientation/religion/physical/mental ability, particularly the difference of race, and most particularly the binary of black-white . . . all of which I hoped would be preparatory to looping back to such matters.

In her commentary on The Left Hand of Darkness, "Is Gender Necessary?" Ursula LeGuin talks about science fiction as a heuristic device, a thought-experiment: "The experiment is performed, the question is asked, in the mind . . . . [Science fiction is] simply a way of thinking. One of the essential functions of science fiction is question-asking: a reversal of habitual ways of thinking, metaphors for what our language has no words for as yet, experiments in imagination."

To me, the subject of Butler's experiment in "Bloodchild" looks something like this: because of our lifelong social conditioning, because of some genetic equipment we/I don't understand very well yet (structures built into the unconscious that incline us to take note of difference, to put others into categories that have an ideal, a norm, AND probably to prefer what is the same, familiar, known...) it's hard for us to see clearly both how USEFUL our differences can be to one another--and how bound up those usefulnesses are with the costs/dangers. I thought that re-figuring this dynamic with two alien species (one of which plants eggs inside the bodies of the others, where they grow into worms, then children, and where the host species is, in return, cared for, given a home) might help us break out of the habitual ways of talking about the costs and value of diversity on THIS planet/this campus...

In her "Afterword" to "Bloodchild," Butler calls it

  • a love story between two very different beings
  • a coming-of-age story in which a boy uses disturbing information to make a decision
  • her "pregnant man" story, in which a man becomes pregnant
    --not out of misplaced competition (to show he can do what women do),
    --not because he was forced, not even out of curiosity, but
    --as an act of love and
  • (most importantly for our purposes) as "a story about paying the rent": "about an isolated colony of human beings on an inhabited, extrasolar world . . . [who] have to make some kind of accomodation with their . . . hosts."

I thought the relevant question here is Butler's asking what WE have that we could "trade for a liveable space on a world not our own?" Or, as the August 15, 2003 Chronicle article, "Ten Questions College Officials Should Ask About Diversity," asks, "When will this be my campus, instead of someone else's campus that is trying to be a welcoming place for me?" What does each of us have to do (what do we have to contribute AND what accommodations do we have to make) to make this planet--that is, this campus--our own home, our liveable space?