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

You are here

Haunting Redux: Notes Towards Day 10 (Thurs, Sept. 29)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. pull back tables, gather into writing groups,
mixing up usual patterns of clustering:
Abby, Alliyah, Kamara, Swati
HannahS, Joni, Olivia
Amaka, Nkechi, Sula
Beatrice, Gabby, Nyasa
Creighton, Franny, HannahC, Rosa

Am happy to be asked questions,
called over/asked questions/think along with....
otherwise, won't join groups:
(messes up the dynamic)

I'd like you to spend up to 1/2 an hour on this:
please give each person in the group 7-10 serious, attentive minutes
(the "listening bowl" from Identity Matters 360:
Gabby: "Imagine that the words coming out of your mouth are filling a bowl.
In order for to  receive these words well, your partners must 'clear their bowls.'
Simply name all the things that may hinder you from listening."
Sula: "Take a moment and think about the space you offer up
when you agree to listen to someone. We all have a variety of bowls
(shallow, deep, tall, wide), and we are offering up our biggest bowl
when we are most ready to listen."

Show your partners what you have written--
let them actually see the words.
Give your notes to the person on your right,
then pass. Maybe explain a bit what you’re thinking:
what’s your starting point?
What question do you want to think about/
what idea you want to understand better/
why you want to work w/ a particular text?

Here's a hint/guideline:
Kris Graves said that he'd been inspired by photojournalists
to tell stories in an image, with no text; when Jody and I
went to hear Teju Cole speak @ Penn the week before last
(Nigerian immigrant/American citizen/photojournalist/
photographer critic; author of "The White Savior Industrial Complex"),
he said something similar about taking the time to really look/
take in photographs, trusting that in a careful description
of a work of art, something begins to happen:
"very patient description can be the door...
once we know what we are looking @,
interpretation can be a small grace note after that."

We've been making lots of quick assumptions in this class,
thinking we know what ppl mean when they speak,
going to stereotypes...don't do this w/ your texts,
don't jump too quickly to claims, conclusions--
listen to them as I'm asking you to listen to one another.

Also think about style--HOW  you will write this?
How are you going to focus/organize the project?
Remember Thomas King:
what strategy will you choose for telling your story/
arguing your theory, what values will that strategy suggest?
What sort of picture are you drawing, of yourself as an academic?
What sort of map for living are you drawing, for yourself, rest of us?

Here's an example: Alliyah posted on Tuesday night
that she wants to work with the concept of womanism for this paper.
I responded by asking what particular literary text she'll read through this lens,
nudging her to let both that text and concept push against one another:
for ex, if Vice versa, how might
the novel help Alliyah re-think/expand/challenge the
limits of the concept of womanism? Every idea, like every
metaphor, has its limits--look for these...

II. 2:55: circle up
* reflections/observations about process/
questions for me re: further process and/or product?
(can also check in w/ me via e-mail or, as Alliyah did,
on Serendip...or @ the museum in D.C. tomorrow!)

Tuck and Ree--"ceremony is the only resolution"--
making class more ceremonial today
(the listening bowl; soon, a text rendering...)
but first: the ceremony of my coursekeeping :)

*This paper is due on Monday @ 5.
If you can't meet that deadline,
write me and tell me what new deadline you are setting for yourself.
Don't ask my permission; just tell me when I can expect the paper.
I am worried that if you don't get it in on time, it will bump up against
the story/theory paper Jody's assigned for next Thursday, so we
may need to negotiate. I can negotiate; what I cannot stand is
not hearing from you. Deal??

* Next Tuesday, we'll start to prepare for the visit to campus, after break,
of Suzan-Lori Parks, who will be here as the ESem speaker; she'll be having
a conversation with interested upper-classpeople in the English House
Lecture Hall @ 4 p.m. on Thurs, Oct. 20; I'm expecting all of us
will join that conversation. This is 3 weeks away, giving you a heads-up
now (since you have jobs/other commitments you may need/
be able to negotiate).

In preparation for her visit, please read
2 essays by James Baldwin,
"Everybody's Protest Novel" and "Letter to My Nephew," along with
four short essays by Suzan-Lori Parks (all linked to from our web page).
They are all about writing for the theater (this morning I noticed Franny's post
about the inaccessibility of that art form, its "perceptual barriors"--
you could read that, too: a good seque-way in Parks' work!)
Next Thursday we will also start on her novel, so if you have time,
inclination, could also get going on that...which we'll continue the
week after break....

Baldwin needs no introduction--or does he?

He's already shown up a coupla
times in our on-line conversation:
last week, Amaka quoted him saying,
"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented
in the history of the world, but then you read"
--calling us to the labor of reading beyond ourselves.

this week, Creighton also quoted Baldwin:
"I'd be a fool to think that there was someplace I could go
where I wouldn't carry myself with me"--reminding us
that we are also always--of course!-- bringing ourselves
to that labor of reading beyond...

[if intro's needed: an African-American novelist, essayist,
playwright, poet, and social critic who lived from 1924-1987, and wrote about the
pressures thwarting the equitable integration both of blacks, and of gay and bisexual men.
In an attempt to distance himself from American prejudice, and to write beyond an
African-American context, he left the United States at 24 and settled in Paris. He
lived in the south of France for most of the rest of his life, though he returned to
the U.S. in the sixties to write about the civil rights movement. At the same time
he was being subjected to illegal surveillance by the government (the FBI
collected almost 2000 pp of documents on him)
he was deeply involved in
the civil rights movement, which was hostile to homosexuals. [Getting into the
territory Gabby and Franny named for us last week, re: intersectionality.] MLKing,
for example, treated homosexuality (as many people did @ the time] as a mental
illness that an individual could overcome.

Baldwin called the civil rights movement "the latest slave rebellion," but he
rejected the label "civil rights activist" for himself, agreeing with Malcolm X
that citizens should not have to fight for their civil rights.

He had a profound effect on many writers, including Suzan-Lori Parks,
who took a writing class with him @ Hampshire College (which established
the James Baldwin Scholars program, an urban outreach initiative, in his honor).

Parks herself when to Holyoke, and I'll tell you more about her background on Tuesday;
she was the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and
is a MacArthur Fellow (these are the infamous "genius" grants). She's also a self-described
"ham." I'm expecting that it will be a marvel to talk with her/hear her perform.]

By pairing Parks w/ Baldwin, I'm asking you to re-think the notions of canon
and syllabus-building in terms of "haunting." In the same way we saw
Lemonade haunted by Beloved,
Beloved haunted by Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,
that slave narrative haunted by the experiences of displaced Indian tribes...
I'll ask how Parks' writing is haunted by Baldwin's, how she "unghosts" him...
To prepare for this, let's turn now to

III. 3:10: The "Glossary of Haunting"
Take a few minutes to look through the text.
Find a single sentence that has some ‘heat’ for you--
that spoke a truth, touched a sore tooth, excited/bothered you...
then a phrase, then a word. We're going to take a page
from Kamara's experience--turning to poetry--
and make a poem out of this,
so you need to have your lines lined up,
not fumble, not excuse.

Read, listen, allow silence, breathe‚
fine/great if someone else reads your line;
we're looking, in part, for echoes, repetitions,
points of concentrated energy.

What did we hear? (Not: what did you say,
but what did you hear others saying?)
What are we wanting to dig into here?

* Some of your race journals used the images of leaking:
Liv: At least in the real world I have physical separators that
allow me to build memories in spaces; here they are all housed
under the frailest roof known to mankind for four years.

Creighton's friend: "buildings with decades of microaggressions to seep in.
Everywhere all I feel from the walls is the tea of seasons."

* In "Unghosting," Gordon argues that the ghost shows us what
is working (unseen/unacknowledged) in the here and now,  
that its desires call us to do something about this.
Haunting, she says, "must be passed on or through...
To remain haunted is to remain partial to the dead‚
and not to the living." She makes a big point, for example,
of the  collective exorcism @ the end of Beloved.

Tuck & Ree's glossary of haunting goes to a very different place.
There is no exorcism in this account of the theft of land;
their piece is animated by the desire to revenge,
to "wrong the wrongs" of colonialism.
How can we take this up? Where does this call leave us?

* What would Thomas King say to Tuck & Ree?
If time: the exercise of writing an additional entry
for the glossary: "the truth about stories‚"--
would this unsettle/reify what Tuck&Ree are up to?

* Also: what's the role of humor here?
p. 640: "A glossary ordinarily comes afer a text...
to ensure legibility....In this case, the glossary
appears without its host--perhaps it has gone missing,
or has been buried alive, still being written. Maybe I ate it....."

Cf. King, p. 119: "stories that make me keep me alive."
(@ least) two effects of humor (from a long-ago class on
"Thinking Sex": preservative (defuse situation/preserve status quo),
and/or revolutionary (call up its unstability/unsettle its presumptions).

IV. Oops! Glancy's short stories :(

Reading Notes from "Glossary":
Gertrude Stein: "Act so that there is no use in a center."
Gordon: "Ghosts are never innocent."
p. 640: I care about you understanding, but I care more about concealing parts of myself from you. I don't trust you very much. You are not always aware of how you can be dangerous to me, and this makes me dangerous to you....Yes, I am telling you a  story, but you may be reading another one.
p. 641: because the depth of acknowledged, the hero does not think herself to be innocent, or try to achieve reconciliation or healing, only mercy, often it the form of passing on the debt
p. 642: Colonization is as horrific as humanity gets....Settler horror...comes about as part of..the impossibility of forgiveness, the inescapability of retribution. Haunting, by contrast, is the relentless remembeirng and reminding that will not be appeased...Huanting lies precisely in its refusal to stop...Haunting aims to wrong the wrongs.
p. 643: Haunting is the cost of subjugation...the settler hero has inherited the debts of his forefathers.
I chose to write in the first person singular to double-fold my wisdom and mask my vulnerabilities...My voice is...idiosyncratic, striated, on the brink
p. 644: Revenge requires symmetry with the crime.
p. 645: simple device of the leak expresses the horror of...physical structures made permeable and violated of their...protective boundaries. The roof over our heads suddenly becomes the very source of a profound anxiety.
p. 646: the leak marked the school site as an everyday space of possible horror and dysfunction...this disturbance of certainty into openings for horror and anxiety....
p. 647: "Decolonization is not metaphor"...we're going to have to talk about returning stolen land....decolonizing the mind is the first step...
the ghost..has designs on us....we must...attempt to offer it a hospitable memory out of a concern for justice
Social justice...gets thrown around like some destination, a resolution, a fixing....The promise of social justice...rings another manifest destiny. Like you can get there, but only if you climb over me.
Desire is a refusal to trade in damage...a recognition of suffering, the costs of settler colonialism and capitalism, and how we still thrive in the face of loss anyway
p. 648: Desire is what we know about ourselves, and damage is what is attributed to us by those who wish to contain us.
Mercy is a temporary pause in haunting...a gift only ghosts can grant the living...Even then, the fantasy of relief is deciduous. The gift is an illusion of relief and closure...with some crimes of humanity...there is no putting to rest....Mercy is a tactic....Social justice may...believe in the repair in reparations. Mercy is just a reprieve.
p. 649: Denial is a key component of the plotlines...The promise of heroic resolution is a false assurance....
Mutual implication is evidenced by leaking.
p. 650: my medium might actually be refusal
p. 651: Revenge...can and cannot be tolerated. Not like justice....Who can disagree with justice? Revent on the other necessarily unspeakable to justice...
p. 652: the larger crime of desire...spills outside norms (vengeance)
ceremony is the only resolution
p. 653: leaks...unsettle our sense of unnoticed they can go...water stains dot most of our institutions....the a sort of sign...that we are always in a process of ruin...the scene of ghost-producing violence...the possessed or deluded people wandering...who fail to see its ruinous aspect....
p. 654: Revenge is...a form of double-wronging. You, like me, have been guided/good-girled away from considering revenge as a strategy of justice...there are crimes that are too wrong to right
p. 658: Some say translation is always a kind of betrayal, an excess of meaning which haunts the impossibility of equivalence....