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

You are here

On Finding the Language: Towards Day 7 (Tues, 2/10/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
put on the board

Marjorie Garber (the literary critic)
Peter Singer (the philosopher)
Wendy Doniger (the religious scholar)
Barbara Smuts (the primatologist)
sign up--3 people apiece--to "be" and "speak as"
(will get to this in a bit...)

final name tests
: Rosa, Tosin, Nkechi

take another day w/ Coetzee on Thursday--
then a week w/ Donna Haraway,
then long novel, A Hungry Tide (start on it now...)
talk on "Race, Class and Power in the Climate Justice Movement" is NOT tonight but next Tuesday;
2nd Annual Global Change Research Symposium is all day Thursday

talking about your web events: experience of publishing on-line? reading one another?

your site sits
had one keynote: it was COLD, and most of you complained alot about this--
though Ariel, Teresa and Liz did some skating across the ice, only Liz enjoyed this;
Tosin said that "snow and fresh ground are just too predictable--ice gives me a nice rush!"

Abby had some Morton-like questions about the fragments of rock the ground didn't want to yield up to her:
"what is a natural state?  Those pieces of rock, fragments of formations, had been broken and scattered so far
from their original locations,  that the line between original and removed was far beyond blurry...
is that displacement more or less natural"?
She also made up a word to describe the creation of a conglomerate pebble: "pebble-ception."

Several others experimented with similes and metaphors to describe your experience--
Amala said that being on her balcony--distant from and close to others--
was "like both looking through a magnifying glass and a microscope";
Caleb imagined that he was "at the bottom of an ocean, looking up, listening to waves of wind";
Joni thought that the tiny circles radiating from where the branches meet the trunk of the tree
were "like ripples in a pond or the skin on an elephant's knees";
the "dead, curled leaves on the trees" reminded Marian "little bats."

Marian identified the challenge I've given you: "how do I appreciate my time outside beyond words and language,
and then somehow translate that experience back into words here?" (Can you really get outside language,
if you have to bring that experience into language....? Does having to be reflective limit--or enhance--the experience?)

II. we had some good questions @ the end of Thursday's class I want to turn to now:
Abby asked, what is Coetzee's position?
let's see if we can locate that:
who tells the story?
what do we know about him?
what is the story he tells?
what is his take on that story?
who else has a take on what's happening?
what range of views do we get?
what is the punchline of his story?
what is the punchline of "the" story?
why does Coetzee have EC's son tell the tale?
where is Coetzee in all of this?

two answers, one general, one specific:
"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" (Karen Tei Yamashita, The Latitude of a Fiction Writer: A Dialogue).

“...literature is important…as the place where impasses can be kept and opened for examination, questions can be guarded and not forced into a premature validation of the available paradigms. Literature is…a mode of cultural work, the work of giving-to-read those impossible contradictions that cannot yet be spoken" (Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race and Gender, 1998).

Coetzee, a writer who grew up as Afrikaner in South Africa under apartheid (descended from early Dutch settlers), and then was denied U.S. citizenship as an adult (because of his involvement in anti-Vietnam War protests) has a particular investment in the exploratory, open-endedness of literature:
"... my subject steers clear of the right. As a child ... he has seen enough of the Afrikaner right, enough of its rant, to last him a lifetime...he has perhaps seen more of cruelty and violence than should have been allowed to a child. So as a student he moves on the fringes of the left without being part of the left. Sympathetic to the human concerns of the left, he is alienated, when the crunch comes, by its language – by all political language, in fact" (Coetzee, Doubling the Point).

III. all this brings us to Celeste's observation that different readers will have different perspectives
(like what we learned from our first set of readings: all reactions to the environment will be
raced/classed/gendered/encultured--so, too, will all our reactions to literary texts):
these are Rorschach tests that "read us"--> what we foreground, what we pay attention to,
what we neglect and push to the background, reveals us: you could even say that the "text reads us"
remembering Rosa's own perspective, as a Jew, from a family who was targeted during the Holocaust.

This is, however, a negotiation that goes both ways: you can't just say anything about a text
(@ least not in Anne Dalke's English class!); if you said Coetzee's novel is a critique of the Jews,
I'd say: show me where, show me the portion of the text that suggests this--and then we'd talk.

IV. With me so far? Okay, with this new level of awareness of what you are doing when you are reading,
split now into 4 groups, 3 each, to re-present each speaker:
Marjorie Garber (the literary critic)
Peter Singer (the philosopher)
Wendy Doniger (the religious scholar)
Barbara Smuts (the primatologist)

Confer, come back to the group ready to explain
to the rest of us what "your" function is in this text:
What dimensions do you add to it?
(Why are you needed, in this "ecosystem"? What is your role?)

Then we'll talk about the function of the reflective responses as a whole:
What do they accomplish, that is not already accomplished
within the story itself? Why do we need four more views?
And what are your views on these views??

V. Provocative quotations (if needed!)
* from Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, p. 213: the entirety of human society and moral progress represents an explicit transcendence of what’s ‘natural’”

*from Rena Fraden's Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated Women: “Jones finds theatrical ways to interrogate the personal, surrounding the contemporary with the mythical, providing more texts, and thus context, for these women, so that each individual’s story is not isolated but always seen in relation to others…autobiography alone neither guarantees new insights nor changes behavior. As Joan Scott has argued, experience is not transparent but is ‘at once always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted’ (p. 21). "Storytelling can be a con game, a trick used against one’s foes.  It can also be the beginning of a different drama—a way to imagine, if not live out, a new life" (p. 48).

* what possibilities does the book offer to hosting "difficult conversations" among people who differ?
Can people w/ decidedly opposed views actually enter into dialogue? Or are the divisions so deep that
common academic training, common culture, or even familial ties can not bridge the gap?