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Ghosting and Unghosting: Notes Towards Day 7 (Tues, Sept. 20)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
* foregoing discussion in "Race-ing Ed"?
(re: Marxism and Unghosting Labor History?)

* finishing up on conferences:
Hannah after class; Alliyah 9:30 on Thursday morning

* For Thursday, we'll turn our attention to a new text;
please read the first 90 pp (sections 1-3) of Thomas King's collection,
The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. King is Canadian-American,
has Greek and Cherokee ancestry; writes fiction and film scripts about
First Nations' issues. [Anyone studied Native American lit w/ Bethany Schneider...?]
King uses oral storytelling structures; in one of his novels, he argues w/
his characters; in this book he will address you as if in a conversation;
I think you'll find him very readable.

Avery Gordon, whose essay about "haunting" we read for today,
gives us one explanation of the move we're making from Morrison to King,
which is historical: The year Beloved begins, 1873, was the year when the first
"competitive surveying expeditions" were sponsored by the US gov't
in the Black Hills of South Dakota; this marked a crossroads in the
ongoing continuation of the Civil War, as a Western war on Native tribes.
Gordan enfolds Morrison's story in a larger "expansionist, militaristic
and subjugating" narrative, in which the appropriation of Indian Territory
enabled the Reconstruction of the U.S. as a "modern racial capitalist enterprise."

Four of us did an "Ecological Imaginings" course together a few years ago;
the keynote of that class was that everything is connected to everything else,
that every action has unanticipated repercussions. (Thought about this
when we were analyzing the "just weather" passage @ the end of Beloved:
now that weather has become so extreme, Morrison's using that phrase
to evoke everyday life has become much more dire....)

More pointedly, I'm using Gordon as a bridge to help us see how
the end of chattel slavery was linked to the extermination of
western Indian tribes, how all the racial fictions and realities
of this country are intertwined....

and to get us to dig more into the text of the novel itself, which
several of you told me in conference is what you want-and-need...

II. But before we turn to Gordon's essay--
any comments/further reflections on Professor Beard's visit,
our discussion arising therefrom....? if you're interested,
could ask her to return during our last few weeks, when
discussing Americanah: her speciality is African Literature
(finishing a book now on Bessie Head; often assigned to
teach AfAm literature because of her own identity; pushed
to think alot about overlaps/many differences)--and the
point of that novel, in this syllabus, is to get a view on
American race relations from beyond this nation-state...

III. (2:40) Why I assigned "Beloved" chapter
from Gordon's book on Ghostly Matters:
* she's a California sociologist, a white woman who focuses
on various forms of dispossession and how to eliminate them

* this particular text focuses on "the lingering inheritance of racial slavery...[for] all of us,"
and I offer it in part in response to a question on the board last week, "Are the ghosts real?"
Gordon say yes, the ghost is "a phenomenological reality....There is no question that
haunting is real....and that it "is nothing without you." Her argument is that the ghost
shows us what is working (unseen/unacknowledged) in the here and now, and that
its desires call us to do something about this.

* Gordon fills in the historical background of the novel, esp. the story of
the hearings held to decide whether Margaret Garner was a person--and so
able to be charged w/ murder--or whether she was property, denied even
the subjectivity of a criminal. Judge decided the latter; she was sent down river,
sold in the New Orleans slave market, disappeared from public record; and so
Morrison determined to "write her another story."

* It's a thick essay; I want to name coupla other points
imp't to me, before we "disperse" into a silent conversation:

--the ghost that is haunting Sethe's family "is haunted herself:" she speaks both of/for Sethe's
dead child, and for "an unnamed African girl lost at sea," who never became African-American
(and that girl also haunted in turn--there is always "more," no end to the tale-telling)

--Morrison's novel itself is also haunted:
by the genre of the slave narrative
(a week ago, we started to compare the style of these 2 forms,
the different sort of experience that reading each one evoked).
Gordon's comparison focuses on the constraints of the slave narratives,
which "had to sound truthful"; to keep their "factual-moral value," they stayed
away from any literary self-consciousness, any gesture toward the "fictional."

--Gordon digs into what she calls the double bind of this genre:
testifying to "my transformation into a Slave while I testify to my shared humanity w/ you"--
esp. given my ability to read and write: the possession and the illegality of literacy
was a key troupe in this genre.

--Beloved is fiction, a palimpsest where the remnant of this earlier scripting is still detectable,
where Sethe runs not when she learns to read&write, but when she learns how she will be read/written;
in turn, she reads the institution of slavery and the institution of social science/racial science
(she says to Paul D @ the very end, "He couldn't have done it if I hadn't made the ink").

--Gordon also links Schoolteacher
's study of racial characteristics to that of Dr. Samuel Morton,
the skull collector/measurer whom we encountered in the Race exhibit @ the Penn Museum on Friday;
and she asks us esp. to consider how we, as academics/intellectuals are accountable
for those who do the counting, how the shadows of our own practices are in the novel,
how we are in this story even if we do not want to be...

--Gordon also says that Morrison doesn't try to prove the slaves' humanity
but assumes it, in order to answer the "more authentic question":
"What sort of people were they....and could they be," if their ghosts were exorcised
[she makes a big point of the collective exorcism @ the novel's end,
of the "something that must be done"--which is why I also assigned
the essay and tour of Black @ Bryn Mawr: what might be done here?
Will our exhibition of African artifacts, for example, be an "unghosting"?

IV. (2:50): silent discussion
(with blank sheets in case
you want to start another thread, with another quote)

V. (3: 10): gather into groups to discuss one thread further

VI. (3:30): return to large group


 “…one major theme of the novel is this question: What is too much? What is too much self (pride)….? What is too much to remember….? What is too much violence…? What is too much to tell, to pass on….?....The story is about…the crucial way in which [haunting creates] the possibility of making a life, of becoming something else” (Gordon, 140-142).

“…haunting…[is] animated worldliness… social relations….are not ours for the owning. They are prepared in advance and they linger well beyond our individual time….the trauma of the Middle Passage…links the origin of Slavery…to the origin of modern American freedom, to the paradigmatic and value-laden operations of the capitalist market…a system of social relations that fundamentally objectifies and dominates in a putatively free society” (Gordon, 165-6, 169).

“…the pressing problem of the present is the disjunction between…Emancipation and the remaking of subjects….The relationship between subjection and subjectivity is an old problem….From slave labor to wage labor, what kind of freedom did capitalist freedom produce?...we still live today with the consequences of the great divide between legal right and substantive freedom” (Gordon, 171-173).

“The whole story is always a working fiction…to deliver what cannot possibly be available…. The repetition and displacement of memory…must remain partial…real representations are fictions…[that] exclude….haunting is essential…we need to know that something is missing in order to...look for it ” (Gordon, 174-5).

“Morrison’s resolution of the struggle between Sethe and Beloved helps us to see that haunting….must be passed on or through. (This lesson can be aptly applied to other contemporary version of endless mourning….) To remain haunted is to remain partial to the dead…and not to the living…the ghost must be collectively exorcised…The ghost is…(like Beloved) pregnant with unfulfilled possibility, with the something to be done…, in contrast to sociology and other modern retrieval enterprises, never available as a final solution…its yearning for a something that must be done” (Gordon, 182-4)

“How can we be accountable to people who seemingly have not counted in the historical and public record?...identification with the slaves and their descendants produce a sense of inclusivity…But this…sympathetic identification is a treacherous displays a basic misunderstanding of…the unequivocal need…that people who are subjugated…have to be done with all that….haunting always gets the better of this ‘psychologizing social glue,’  whose logic is the American dream of innocence” (Gordon, 187)

“How are we accountable for the people who do the counting? is our responsibility to recognize just where we are in this story, even if we do not want to be there…we cannot decline to identify….White people are in the story too,…have already been touched and a world of their own making…if we listen carefully…we will hear…how we are in this story, even now, even if we do not want to be. To be haunted is to be tied to historical and social effects” (Gordon, 188-189).