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"Novel Vision": Towards Day 11 (Tues, 2/24/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
* initial reactions to The Hungry Tide?

Caleb: the mysterious Sunderbans…are alien…but I think our closer contact with it will come soon enough [!]

Maddie and Amala offered a couple of aids:
provided visuals from another of her favorite PBS documentaries,
Earth: The New Wild, about “an ecology of fear” in the Sunderbans [could be a paper topic?]
Amala made connections between the novel, her experiences of traveling (as a foreigner) in India,
and E.M. Forster’s representations of the same (also a paper topic: comparing Adele and Piya—and you?)

for class on Thursday, read to the end of Part I of the novel
(1/2 of  you posted last night, the rest of you should post tomorrow night,
in order to help me guide our discussion to topics that interest you...)

I also linked on the homepage to several essays by Ghosh,
and about current conditions in the Sundabarans:
not required reading, but recommended/of interest/incite postings?

The essay I put up for Thursday, A Crocodile in the Swamplands, makes it clear
that the Sunderbans are a focus for Ghosh’s environmental activism; in that essay, he opposes a
proposal to develop a luxury resort on the islands, as a human and ecological disaster.

* before break, pay one more visit to your site sit,
or to another's site if you haven't done that yet..
This week, instead of reporting back here on the patterns I'm seeing among your site sits,
I've left little notes in respond to your postings—calling out themes I see
emerging in the sequence each of you is each creating…

Nkechi made her site sit a 'webby post' this week (which she wasn't supposed to do,
but now I'm thinking that the site sits should become 'webby,' linked to one another....?)

Michael Maniates didn't make it to the symposium on Saturday, and/but/so I went to see
Zoe Strauss's Sea Change @ Cantor Fitzgerald--
images of the aftermath of Katrina, Deepwater Horizon and Sandy (and on not seeing what we are seeing):
"Although I've made photographs in communities contending with environmental issues, I never consciously addressed climate change in my work. I didn't look to document it, and I didn't identify it when editing or sequencing my photos. I didn't see it. Climate change was abstract. Environmental disasters were concrete. Of course, that's not true. I didn't want to admit that we're already living with envirionmental crises connected to climate change. I'ts painful to acknowledge, but I can see it now. I can see it in those photographs."

hoping that returning to your site sits will help you see what you couldn't see @ first...

II. spent too much time last Thursday (were also interrupted several times!)
talking about HOW Haraway wrote--and WHY she might have
given us such a tangled patch of prose. Good ideas emerged:
Maddie on Haraways' refusal to demonstrate "control" of/in a text about handing it over;
though this made it hard for some of us to follow what Haraway was saying, her loose,
associative style also demonstrated how "interpenetrated" her ideas are by others--
she's in conversation with all those she quotes...

In this connection, Caleb mentioned Jonathan Letham's great essay on “The Ecstasy of Influence” –
which asks us to forget about policing plagiarism and instead acknowledge--even celebrate!--
that everything we say is a quotation from others. Of course Haraway takes this a step further —
everything we “are” is a quotation from other species, of microorganisms that are then no longer"other"…
Caleb wrote, “we are also artifacts, recycled” and asked,
“Is this a call to a new kind of humility, emerging with that curious foreignness?
How do I even begin to comprehend that there is very little biologically that defines “me” in “my” body?
I think the idea of coshaping can majorly derail our concept of self-structured identity…"

How did this work for others? Did you feel threatened by Haraway's insistance on our being
interpenetrated by "others"? Anyone delight in that phenomenon, as she did? -->
"I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of the cells
that occupy the mundane space I call my body" (p.3).

Abby really upped the ante on these questions:
"Haraway is intentionally rambling, and sometimes appears [like Elizabeth Costello] to have 'lost her thread'
[…and yet! she] appears to also share a distrust of language… Haraway’s “contact zone” is intrinsically
a place of little language….In her relationship to her dog, they transcend language…

the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality cannot exist without those words. If we had less signifiers and
more simply facing and navigating realities, would we create less damaging dichotomies?  [in which ]
… we …delineate… separate… preserve, as Ariel puts it, our human significance?

perhaps literature in itself is a type of ‘contact zone.’ The text becomes in relation to the reader,
the reader becomes in relation to the text…. ironically … an attempt to create this zone using language,
the main tool we have for consistently dividing and categorizing the world?  

Would the right interface between reader and text—the right contact zone—be able to [again, in Ariel’s words!]
“simplify complex entities that intersect in surprising (and sometimes inexplicable ways)”?

Reactions from others to these reflections about both the dangers of language
(simplying the world, creating damaging dicotomies) and its
possibilities (creating a contact zone where we can become-with a text?!)

We were just beginning to share some of our own experiences in "contact zones" when time ran out...
and Liz told a story that had to do with meeting others across a language barrier
(if you have fallen behind on your postings, one way to catch up would be post what you wrote in class).

The space of negotiation and translation that is the contact zone is an important idea
we'll come back to in discussing The Hungry Tide
[Marian did a lot with this, in her posting on the novel],but first...

3 other topics in Haraway's text that we didn't get to--
important enough to take some time with:
animal rights, play and queerness.

* Maddie: "interested by comment about whether people prefer predictable sheep or spontaneous ones…
If I am making a livelihood off of them, I would prefer if my income was as stable as possible. 
How this relates to animal rights, I am not really sure yet.…"

* related to laptops and lapdogs—and us as their environment?

Celeste: the likeness between the lapdogs and the laptops in this pun is that, from the human perspective,
they both occupy space on one’s lap….it suggests a sort of combative coexistence… that we don’t connect in a cohesive way
Tosin: I really liked how Abby pointed out that it was indeed "possible to balance both a lapcat and a laptop at the same time."

pun as playing with likeness and difference...

* play (and its relationship to "training"? and "education"? and "academic writing"?)
turn to your neighbor and tell her a story about your experience
of the relationship between play and learning (for you as a child),
--then: between play and academic work (as a college student).

combine into larger groups
to tell each other what Haraway's description is, of ditto.
What does her agility training with Cayenne have to do with her academic/intellectual investments?
What does it teach us about our own?

re-turn to whole group: what emerged?

Haraway: Games have rules….Play breaks rules to make something else happen.
Play needs rules but is not rule-defined…making mistakes interesting is what makes the world new (238).

Play can occur only among those willing to risk letting go of the literal (239). bows and feints usher us over the threshold into the world of meanings that
do not mean what they seem to mean…loosed from their functions…
not reproducing the sacred image of the same, this game is nonmimetic and full of difference (240)

play encompasses “all motor activity performed postnatally that appears to be purposeless”….
But play also requires…joy in the sheer doing…Play makes an opening. Play proposes (240).

”meaning cannot be elucidated right away…you need some
slowing down and learning….to play with strangers” (243).

the open beckons…the world is not finished; the mind-body is…a risk in play…
becoming is always a becoming with—in a contact zone where the outcome…is at stake (244).

From Brian Sutton-Smith's classic 1997 book, The Ambiguity of Play:
play is..."the best way for a young animal to gain a more diverse and responsive behavioral repertory....I think of play as training for the’s really important to be able to change your behavior in a changing environment....Play…leads to mental suppleness and a broader behavioral vocabulary, which in turn helps the animal achieve success in the ways that matter: group dominance, mate selection, avoiding capture and finding food…..

Playing might serve a different evolutionary function too, he suggests: it helps us face our existential dread. The individual most likely to prevail is the one who believes in possibilities — an optimist, a creative thinker, a person who has a sense of power and control. Imaginative play...creates such a person. ‘‘The adaptive advantage has often gone to those who ventured upon their possibility with cries of exultant commitment,’’ Sutton-Smith wrote. ‘‘What is adaptive about play, therefore, may be not only the skills that are a part of it but also the willful belief in acting out one’s own capacity for the future.’’

V. Shifting now to The Hungry Tide--
Turning now to the complex genre of the novel. Teju Cole said, 
"I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing
a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think.
A good novel shouldn't have a point."

want to start our discussion with a passage that
Celeste called our attention to, and Marian picked up on, in their postings,
the section on pp. 28-29 when Piya shows her display cards to the
first boat owner she hires, Mej-da.

turn to your neighbor and tell her what you see here...

what's emerging in these conversations?

(read pp.  28-29:) "In one of her backpacks [Piya] had a display card she had chosen especially for this survey. It pictured the two species of river dolphin known to inhabit these waters...In the past, on other rivers, display cards like these had sometimes been of great help in gathering information....when there was no one to translate she would hold up the cards and wait for a rsespone. This often worked; they would recognize the animal and point her to places where they were commonly was not unusual for the cards to elicit unexpected reactions--but never before had this illustration provoked a response as strange as the one she got from Mej-da. First he turned the card around and looked at the picture upside down. Then pointing to the illustration of the Gangetic dolphin he asked if it was a bird...Piya was so startled that she loked at the picture again, with fresh eyes, wondering what he might be thinking of. The mystery was resolved when he stabbed a finger at the  animal's long snout with its twin rows of needle-like teeth. Like an optical illusion, the picture seemed to change shape as she looked at it; she had the feeling that she was looking at it through his eyes."

Celeste read this as emblematic of the way the characters in the novel learn;
the book is
(in part) about “backtracking,” about changing our  perspectives on what we think we understand:

I think it is important to take into account the evident theme of discovery that compliments the foreign elements within each of their journeys…they seem to unfold in a way that I would call…backtracking. The character will make an assumption: “X is this.” However, after an event or series of events, the character will realize: “X is actually that, surprisingly.” …How is it that we as humans can perceive the same feature in nature differently?

these thoughts are related to those Teresa posted, on the “mindset” of learning to perform, on being helped by the belief that ability is learnable

Marian was also drawn to this scene, and read it as a contact zone, on several levels; they she kept seeing contact zones pop up all through the book:

"First of all, this exchange was a contact zone between Piya and Mej-da, who clearly live in different worlds, speak different languages, and have different goals…Mej-da's perspective…draws another contact zone for us - one between the creatures of the water and the creatures of the sky…dolphins are birds of the sea…creatures that live at the intersection of water and sky. They move and live in the water, yet breath in life from the sky….these dolphins embody a contact zone of sorts."