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Towards Day 14 (Th, 10/23): Re-creating

Anne Dalke's picture

Emily selected the classroom as the site of our education today

I. coursekeeping:
your seventh paper (a rough draft of your eighth) is due on Friday
your eighth short posting, on Monday, will actually be TWO postings,
responding to both your partners' rough drafts, with
* three ideas you find interesting, and
* what you think the claim might be

finish All Over Creation for Tuesday's class,
when we will meet again in the same small groups we're going to use now,
to keep on helping one another towards paper #8;
we're doing this on Tuesday rather than Thursday next week,
in response to complaints, in your mid-semester evals,
about feeling too rushed with these papers...

II. start w/ small group work on your papers
Karen Tei Yamashita (another eco-novelist whose work we considered for this class),
says in an interview called The Latitude of a Fiction Writer: A Dialogue,
that her project is about "discovering a new map behind the old map":
"I think that for fiction writers, there is this latitude that is special - you don't have to follow
any narrow line of thought. You don't have to prove something that is already often obvious.
The presentation in fiction is very free, and you can play with or examine different ideas that
you might not be able to if you have to focus or narrow your investigation."
This is certainly Ruth Ozeki's mode, too.

But your job is both to narrow and to focus your investigation,
to the relationship between identity and environment;
how are you going to do this?
might any of the other texts we've read give you a hand up here?
spend 1/2 hour now helping one another brainstorm
where you might go w/ the quotations you've selected...

here are the working groups:
Rachel, Haddiyah, Weilla
Rosa, Allie
Grace, Majorie, Meghna
Sherry, Sydney, Virushi
Farida, Emily, Umika
Rina, Boyang, Selena
Rose, Alisha, Bre
Nathalia, Anisha, Nayanthi

12:00: before we break into sections--let's check in w/ one another about the 10-week project:
where are you/what are you doing/what are you learning/where are you going?

III. break into sections
--Grace to select our site for Tuesday
--Rina and Marjorie: need to re-schedule our confs next week
(am meeting w/ the president about student health...):
Thursday morning or afternoon? check in after class...
--on the technicalities of paper-writing,

after 6 papers and 6 sets of corrections:
I’m expecting you to review @ least your last paper
before submitting your newest one; and to review that one, too,
to be sure that you have  paginated,
followed the format for headers (name, paper # and date, single spaced),
catchy title (not underlined, bolded, quoted or in different fonts);
ditto for the works cited, using standard formatting
(alphabetize the cites, taken from the syllabus)
there's also a trick about "getting into a quotation"--
telling me where it came from, why you are using it,
not just "dropping it into the paper like a meteor,"
but walking me up to it...

--mid-semester evals...
from Anne's class:
we seem to be doing very well--lots of pleasure and satisfaction in our postings, conversations, class notes (and being outside)!
some suggestions about fiddling with the webby post format (probably not til after the semester ends....)
two of you thought the acting exercises were not useful,
two of you said that the reading load was too heavy,
and there were lots of complaints about the timing of the papers--
which seem crunched each week (we're making adjustments)
two other notes to consider....
"I am still not clear on the grading system since I have no clue how I am doing so far."
"I feel that the assignments are sometimes not very clear...
For me it is easier to have a clear idea of what I have to do than to kind of discover it as I take the journey."

IV. Parts IV-V, All Over Creation (pp. 169-309)
possible talking points:

look @ the way Ozeki plays with puns, making so many words do double duty/swing both ways.
think about how this links up with "hybrid vegies and mixed-race kids":
on the linguistic level, it's about the refusal of purity, of simplicity,
the insistance on multiple meanings ("all over creation"? "activism/getting action"? "squash"?)

Words are very labile and associative, both in their evolution and in their "distribution" in our brains. For instance, etymologists say that the English word "beauty" comes from the Latin word bellus; how far removed in the metonymic landscapes that are our brains is bellus (pretty, lovely) from the Latin bellum (quarrelsome, bellicose), or the Middle English bely (belly, leather bag, bellows)? Does the echo of similar sound tell us anything useful about the contingent meaning of these words? Does it suggest that the use of a single word/single sound never (for a humanist, anyhow) signals a single meaning?

puns demonstrate the inherent instability of the meanings of words, and so challenge the conventional understanding of language as a structure of relationships in which each word is identified by its difference from others. The distinction between words isn't at all that clear; the "category" that each occupies is very porous. (In other words, they make linguists very nervous!)

See, for example, Catherine Bates. "The Point of Puns." Modern Philology 96, 14 (May 1999), p. 42 on "pun's perfidious status as an aberrant element within the linguistic structure....Puns play with meaning....they give the wrong names to the wrong things--and they disturb the proper flow of confusing sense and sound...normal rules governing etymology and lexicography are temporarily suspended while speculation and fancy roam free.... puns...subvert the one-to-one relation between signifier and signified...fracture the sign....the word can mean two or more things. It is because it ambiguates meaning that the pun disturbs the system of communication by which meaning is conveyed....the interpretative process...ultimately restores priority to the serious business of making sense, to showing what a pun finally means....a freak coincidence...becomes a causal and motivated presented as lexically appropriate...Once limited to a certain point, the pun becomes masterable and pleasurable."

Jonathan Culler, in On Puns: The Foundation of Letters (1987, pp. 1-16), suggests that punning frequently seems...a structural, connecting offer the mind a sense and an experience of an order that it does not master or comprehend....we are urged to conceive an order.....Insofar as this is the goal or achievement of art, the pun seems an exemplary agent....

Culler asks us to "....note above all the complexity and diversity of literature...the possibility of fictionally exceeding what has previously been thought and written....Literature is a paradoxical institution because to create literature is to write according to existing formulas....but it is also to flout those conventions, to go beyond institution that lives by exposing and criticizing its own limits.... 'cultural capital'...But literature cannot be reduced to this conservative social function...literature is the noise of culture as well as its information. It is an entropic force." (Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, 1997; pp. 40-41).

in the interview with Ozeki that I referenced when we first started the novel, she says,
"my first two novels...are very concerned with the interconnected nature of our lives and the world.
In Buddhism, we call this dependent co-arising, or 'interbeing'....Nothing exists independently of
anything else. Novels...are a beautiful way to investigate...the way we inter-are."

The way she cuts back and forth from "The Seeds of Resistance"
to the Fuller's farm, from Yumi's past to her present, illustrates this "inter-being"
[do you find this confusing? her not keeping the foreground/background/
main and back-up characters in line...?]

But Ozeki also says, perhaps in countering this idea of "oneness" (?), that "novels are time-based
and need to move through was in the editing room where I really started to learn the
fundamentals of storytelling….I didn’t know how to move a character across a room, never
mind across months or years or a lifetime. Editing film and video teaches you how to do
exactly this…working in film and video has taught me to 'see' novels in cinematic terms.
I think about things like frame size, and focal length, and I use filmic techniques like visual
description, rhythm, and montage when I write…"

So let's make some movies!
Take a few moments to look through the novel:
1) are their any scenes (or sequences) that seem particularly "cinematic" to you?

2) How would you open a film based on this novel?
Sketch or draw that scene. Where is it set?
What filmic techniques would bring it alive?
If you finish that before the rest of us do, imagine the ending:
how would you conclude the film?

Anne's scenes:
pp. 3-4: It starts with the earth. How can it not? Imagine the planet...
On one small section of that crust...there streched a  vast tract of land...
Imagine that you are a seed, spit from the lips of one of Lloyd's crossbred grandchildren...
And then imagine the triumphant moment when you crack the crumbly crust...
how vast Lloyd Fuller's acreage must look to you now...
[how to play, visually, with perspective--zooming out/then in?]

p. 226: "I like the feeling that this is just the thinnest of crusts, covering the earth...
In can walk right out onto an active lava flow...
if you take a wrong step..your foot wil go right through and that'll be the end of it.
Burn your foot to a crisp.. A charred stump. That's all you'd be left with.
Maybe I'll take you there sometime."
[how to handle the desire for violence?]

p. 245-6: a fairly modern landscape, formed by volcanic eruptions...Imagine all the infernal popping and spluttering, the ozzing and seeping, as the magma welled and the lava flowed!...with rich depostis of volanic ash that proved to be ideally suited to the growing of potatoes...
p. 124: the pea gives off oxygen, creating a platform to support the life of other organisms,
like bacteria, or us. In a sense we’re just by-products of that program…
pp. 245: The irrigators walk the earth in summer. Like huge aluminum insects, they inch across the contours of the land...Rainbirds, they're called. Robotic and prehistoric, mechanical yet seeming so alive, they span the fields and stretch to the horizon. Emitters..spray a mix of water and chemicals..which catch the light and create row upon row of primatic iridescence, like an assembly line of rainbows...
pp. 416-7: "it's a class war, Tibet, and we're fighting for the planet...Daddy's going to save the world."
[lens isn't big enough here? reduction to the human dimension?...
wouldn't end on this note...too sentimental...]

III. These are literary/filmic techniques.
re-reading the book from some other p.o.v.s will highlight other dimensions of the book:

economics [and its presumptions of scarcity?]-->
p. 172: Adjunct teachers are the professorial equivalent of the migrant Mexican farm laborers hired during harvest. If you can score a good contract at the same farm every year, where the farmer pays on time and
doesn't cheat or abuse you, then it's in your best interest to show up consistently from year to year....The nontenured faculty form a downtrodden, transient underclass, inferior in everyway to the landed professorial gentry.
p. 221: "but most farmers settled. Guys around here operate on pretty tight margins. Can't afford to go up
against a corporation...and they're not worth suing, not for damages anyway--they're so far in debt a
court case would bankrupt them. The idea is to slap 'em back down but keep 'em in business. It's just maintenance."
p. 270: The fact was, some things had to die so that others could live, and the idea was to try to
maximize your chances of staying on the living side for as long as you could.
p. 327: "Love is not free, Elliot. It costs. And you're just a fucking stingy bastard who's too cheap to pay."

Education [and its presumptions of capaciousness/possibility?]--> 
(function of Frankie's "cluelessness"--> capacity for learning/"saving the world"?!)

Relation/negotation between the two?

Think about a time when you
1) changed your mind/"had" your mind changed
2) took action--what motivated/prompted you?

Cf. Andrew H. Wallis, "Toward a Global Eco-Consciousness in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats." Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 20.4 (Autumn 2013). 837-854:
postcolonialists tend to focus on hybridity displacement, cosmopolitanism, and uncovering history, while…eco/environmental critics foreground purity, place, nationalism, and transcending human history/time.

the environmental movement [language of conservation and sustainability] has some of its roots
firmly planted in the logic of natural and cultural domination….
the “deep ecology” movement has been at times woefully oblivious to human suffering…

Nature and environmental writing is justifiably replete with …the “poignancy of the local”
paeans to a river, a mountain range, or a small town, or writing that attacks...
the de-naturing and abstraction of a place and space. Such approaches can…seem
insufficient in an ecologically, economically, and culturally interconnected world….
present circumstances…seem to be calling for “bigger” narratives
and are seen by some
as a lynchpin of the ecocritical enterprise…”challenging assumptions about border and scale”….

examining the local-global dialectic requires a framework for understanding space not merely as a physical/material object
and set of relations, but as a heuristic concept that shapes and is shaped by an imagination informed by geography, cartography,
financial networks, shipping lands, free-trade zones, and dumping grounds….

Ozeki’s plurivocal, palimpsestual logic of engagement….uses the “cosmopolitan” and the “vagabond”
to tie the regional to the global while providing a critique bound up within the class implications of a ‘cosmopolitan” intellectual “elite”

“the tension between displacement and an ethics of place needs to be situated in terms of
cosmopolitanism and bioregionalism”…recast “placeness” within a global consciousness