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"The Erotic Poetics of Existence": Towards Day 26 (Thurs, 4/23/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

On this chilly day, Rosa is taking us to the hillside behind Rhoads...

* take time to start to plan our final "teach-in":
small groups, then a big one? or vice versa?
(in 15 minutes, I need a schedule so I can figure out
how best to structure next week's classes...)

* over the weekend, you should review your portfolio:
@ the top of the page with our on-line conversation on it,
you'll see "E-portfolios"--> click on that, and then on your name.
If you do not have 12 "outside" postings (marked "site sits"),
plus 10 "inside" ones (on the readings),
this weekend your chance to catch up,
while we can still draw on these postings, use them to frame class;
after that, they won't be contributing to our on-going conversation,
and I'll have no interest any any "catch-up" work...

* Teresa will pick our gathering space for Tuesday,
(and she will need guidance from you all: where do you need/want to be?).
For Tuesday, please look through the instructions for the
Final Portfolio and Checklist (which are listed in the Group Links
in the lefthand column of our homepage); I'll review
all your final requirements,
sign you up for your last writing conferences with me,
& finish up today's discussion, if need be...

II. You had said you would talk through some possibilities
for the teach-in on Serendip.
This hadn’t happened by the
last time I checked, @ 11:30 this morning. So we’ll take 10-15
minutes to do that now.

Butt I think there’s something we need to talk through first—
which may well affect what you do after.

Maddie was the only one who addressed this assignment.
In part as push-back to my telling her that it’s selfish for her
not to talk in class, she proposed doing something to
illustrate the value of interactions outside of talking:
creating a song of animal noises, or something else
that involves communicating without words, or
communicating differently, without facial expressions--
maybe talking while we lie on our backs with our eyes closed? 

Maddie also wrote, quite profoundly, that
“Thinking ecologically expands way more than
just talking about recycling and I have come to think
of it as collaboration and interactive and less
about the actual environment.”

This feels to me very related to Joni’s post, about
how annoyed she was when we turned off the Christmas lights
in Merion Common Room on Tuesday: “I do want everyone to
feel comfortable [and safe] in all of the spaces we share….
i think it's important for every member of a community to be heard.
so i'm also uncomfortable with a majority giving in to the wishes
of a minority. every voice is not heard and respected in that
situation either. consensus based decision making seems
impossible on the scale of this entire campus, and too
time consuming for our classroom, but i wonder if we
can make a little more space for it in our lives.” 

It is time-consuming, and we’re not ever going to get to the end
of that process (& it’s ecological to acknowledge the unendingness here!)
So let’s get up, get together, see if consensus-making is
where we have come out in the class, whether that’s what
the teach-in should model or enact or actually DO….?

checking in: where are we on planning the teach-in?
do we want to take both classes next week?

III. On Tuesday, our focus was determined
by Caleb's "earthquake aftermath" -->
which led us into a wide-ranging discussion of the relationship
between the material world and your experience of liberal arts education,
between acting and thinking,
between being part of a capitalist system and being educated.

There was a long discussion of "accessibility"--
a shared sense of outrage @ texts/scholars

who don't make themselves accessible,
which I want to weigh in on now...

I will start by acknowledging that a lot of inaccessible texts
are just showing off, and intentionally exclusionary;
there's lots of performance going on, lots of career-managing,
lots of folks positioning themselves in a capitalist system,
moving up through a hierarchy.
And/but...I do NOT think that accessibility is an obvious,

or universal, value; this is actually a profoundly ecological
claim about the complexity of the system we inhabit.

So: w
ho has read Toni Morrison's later fiction?

How accessible is it? Why is it not accessible?
[Representing the experiences of black women in this country; others are
welcome to listen in, but they are not the intended, or primary, audience;
a lot of what she writes about is almost impossible to take in, whatever your positionality.]

And who among us has been following the recent kerfluffle about
Ben Affleck asking Henry Louis Gates not to report on his slave-
owning ancestor in the PBS genealogy show Finding Your Roots?
Carol Anderson, who teaches African American Studies at Emory,
said that "'we conflate what a PBS special is with academic work.
We have to understand that so much of what we see there is
packaged for a non-academic audience that wants the
picture of really deep, intellectual discussion, but is not
quite ready for what that means.' Gates encourages
anyone consuming his product on PBS to deal with the
problem of slavery in a disposable fashion, one that
ignores the systemic legacy of that torturous bondage."

So: I pose Gates' packaged entertainment against what Morrison offers, and
ask you why you presume that you are entitled to understand everything,
as you approach a text. I would ask you why distance shouldn't be marked,
why you shouldn't feel "the slap of refused intimacy from uncooperative books"
as a signal to slow you down, to read more carefully, to look up words you don't know,
to acknowledge all that you don't know, in this complex, interconnected world--
and all that you need to learn about?

In my course on silence, and sometimes in my courses on feminism,
I use a book by Doris Sommer called Proceed with Caution,
When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas.
Sommer reads texts like the testimonio of Rigoberta Menchu,
an Indian activist in Guatemala, to argue that "inhospitality toward the reader
...merits a pause long enough to learn new expectations,"
releases us "from the exorbitant and unethical, but usually
unspoken assumption that you should--and can--know the Other well."

Sommer says that educated readers "usually expect to enter into
collaborative language games with a range of stories that become ours,"
but cautions us that "differences coexist and do not reduce to moments
in a universal history of understanding." "Access is limited, but
sentimental readers miss this point: they prefer the illusion of immediacy,"
and they are reluctant "to question their own motives for requiring intimacy."

Maybe we should give more regard to a text's "performance of keeping us
at a politically safe distance." "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 controling readers. Secrecy is a safeguard to freedom."

Sommer is not reading academic texts, but a lot of
what she has to say about "marking frontiers" and "limiting access,"
about acknowledging "the alterity of the other," about allowing
"a particular kind of distance akin to respect" speaks directly to your all's rants,
on Tuesday, about texts that keep you out, that demand you do some work
to understand them: "So simple a lesson and so fundamental," Sommer says,
"to acknowledge modestly that difference exists...this defends us
from harboring any illusions of complete or stable knowledge."

[end of rant/lecture...responses...?]

IV. For Tuesday, I had asked you to to read
two chapters by Naomi Klein,
a review of her book by Elizabeth Kolbert, and an interview
with the historian-turned-sci fi writer, Naomi Oreskes.
Your reactions to this material were varied:
Maddie: "tell me something I don't already know"
Theresa learned something she hadn't known,
about the correlation between emissions and the economy;
Abby asked about the relation between focusing on the personal
(what Klein calls "merely placating") and the need for large scale change;
Caleb thought we needed regeneration, "a big reawakening to what makes life worth living,"
and Amala said that, "for most, the situation isn't 'real' enough...
where we stand is a fictional story --like it's part of a story book...
it isn't necessary for it to be on their mind when the book isn't open."
This gave me the idea that we should write an open book!

In her Intro and Conclusion to This Changes Everything:
Capitalism vs. The Climate,
Naomi Klein says we must stop
deflecting our fear of what is happening; she offers the "wild idea"
of challenging the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism;
in her review of the book, Elizabeth Kolbert says that Klein
"ends up telling a fable she hopes will do some good,"
and in an interview, Naomi Oreskes says that--
after getting lots of pushback for documenting
"The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change"--
she turned to the genre of sci-fi, which gave her the freedom
to look back on the present, by extrapolating into the future.

This is what I want us to step off from. Klein says that
""what gets me most are...the books I read to my two-year-old...
he might never see a moose...Will he ever see a bat?...
maybe it's better if he never sees a starfish..."
Now I try to feel [the fear]..."

I want us to break into small groups, to begin imagining

a children's story that speaks to these concerns...
how might we teach children what the world is?
and how might we invite them to get to know that world?
to love it? to intervene to "save" it? or @ least not to
damage it further...?

But first let's expand the framing of this story

with the several essays I asked you to read for today:
two chapters from Joanna Macy's book, World as Lover,
World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal;
Zadie Smith's "Elegy for a Country's Seasons, a lament for what is lost;
and Freyda Mathews's “On Desiring Nature," an invocation of
a mutual relationship w/ a world that matters, has meaning.

Among other forms of "invocation," Mathews writes about
making music with birds. And so I want to call our attention
to these texts with a rather remarkable video about
"beatboxing birdsong."

Reactions? to this or the texts...?

Break now into small groups to begin imagining a new children's story:
what do you want to say to your nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren...?
(Start brainstorming by asking what Macy, Mathews, Smith might have us say...)

Reading Notes from Macy

Chapter 1, World as Lover, World as Self:
unprecedent signals of distress,  devoid of transcendent meaning
pivotal psychological reality of our time: lsot certainty of other generations to folow
we look away, shut off awareness of real world's plight (or feel desperate urgency)
look @ weltbild: as battlefield, trap, love or self (Net of Indra: as part of world, contain the whole)
Chapter 17, In League with the Beings of the Future
complicity with creation, cosmic collegiality in simultaneity
frightening dreams of warning re: the future
betrayal of hiding our waste, vs. formation of Guardian Sites, centers of reflection, pilgrimage,
inviting beings of the future to join us, with their persepctive and needs
Precautionary Principle, German Vorsorge or forecare, grandmother principle of prevention
voluntarily assume responsibility for one strand in the web of life
make deicisions with regard for seven generations to come
write the protection of the commons into the Constitution
imagine the world we want to ensure, take concrete actions to achieve it
we are our grandparents' dream; we must begin dreaming of our grandchildren
Buddha's teaching of dependent co-arising: inter-prenetration, radical mutuality
Net of Indra: infinite process of reflection, of infinite jewels, in infinite net; mirrored room
radioactive legacy experiential teaching of interplay between past, present, future--
immediate and unseverable connections with future generations: 2-way street
with them @ our side, praying to them to help us be faithful

Mathews, "On Desiring Nature":
Modern socieites will become environmentaly sustainable when they fit into nature
we need to get ourselves into ecological proportion, becoming biologically integrated
we could rein in our desires, or find alternative ways of satisfying them
But nature needs more: active replenishing,
wanting what the biosphere needs us to want
every being in seeking its own good must serve the interests of others
human desire is not bound in this way:
our desires are deeply contrary to waht the biosphere needs us to want
major cultural shift needed; education usually cited as the solution/
as leading to behavior modification, but desire is not an easy thing to educate
science addresses itself to the intellect, is ineffectual in bringing about emotional change
science is dualistic in representing nature as purely materialist,
devoid of self-mattering, self-meaning--people can't engage,
resist the call to 'ecological selfhood'
have to reconceive of life-systems as meaning systems,
imbued with psycho-activity, subject status
what has to happen for us to become emotionally engaged with nature?
patient, unobstrusive, first-hand observation in the field
"loving attention" can lead to emotional investment, but
isn't powerful enough to bring about a transvaluation of desires,
leaves us outside, as spectators, not actors within the system
for synergy, mutally inflected self-meanings (making music with birds, whales)
imagine forms of address conducive to self/world encounter
via invocation: asking larger scheme to manifest its self-meaning to us
poetic narrative, appositeness, to draw aside the veil of the ordinary
private or collective ritual (welcoming back the Sacred Kingfisher), pilgrimage:
experience the poetic responsiveness of place, psychophysical nature of reality
"dreaming": communicative encoutners with a world ready to entwine with us
"background love," like "background radiation" in physics
poetic effulgence will eradicate our consumerism, realign our desires
ontopoetics: practices to engage order of meanings of the world

Smith, "Elegy for a Country's Seasons":
people in mourning use euphemism: "the new normal" (not "abnormal")
what "used to be" is painful to remember;
every country has its own version of this local sadness
hard to keep apocalypse consistently in mind
much of our reaction is emotional:
some deniers are ruthless pragmatists ("I am concerned with myself"),
some are religious (humans placed above things)
but the desire for innocence drives most of us,
we project outward our guilt, self-disguist, "species shame"
sing an elegy for the washed away!
what shall I tell my granddaughter?
what was happening to the weather was an inconvenient truth, financially, politically
we understood the climate as one of the necessary conditions of our lives
we did not think it could change, were not hubristic enough to imagine we would change it
what we have done is a biblical question;
we cannot pull outselves out of the religious cycle of shame, denial, self-flagellation
profound, historical attraction to apocalypse, intimate loss of things we loved...
what can we do?