Big Books of American Literature: Alchemies of Mind
Day 12: Thursday, February 23, 2006
Uncle Tom's Cabin (second quarter)

*For next Tuesday, read through Chapter 32 (p. 303)

*About that next paper: moved from the Friday-before to the Monday-after break (ouch!)?
shall we push it back a little further...? (to Friday, 3/17?)
will you promise to start reading The Scarlet Letter in the meantime...?
*3 reminders, before you leave for break: make an appointment for a writing conference with me
check that you have posted both your papers
and posted on-line @ least four other times
*Talking about our talking
on letting it pass
on holding up your hand (forever)
on being 'transactional'
on taking it to the forum
Jorge: I just wanted to make clear my standing on the issue....I don't believe however that because a novel/book is popular it should be accepted as valuable or as literature.

Next week (thanks to Jillian, who said) If Stowe's objective in writing Uncle Tom's Cabin was to "awaken sympathy and feeling", she's done it...part of it may have to do with the associations I've made...with The King and I, and how Tuptin's experience mirrors Eliza's....

we'll view a clip from The King and I: for a different "branch" --or is it?--

of the evolutionary tree climbed by Uncle Tom's Children.

And we'll work some work with this question about the "usefulness" of crying, which so many of you wrote so thoughtfully about in the forum:

Darwin famously said, "Crying is a puzzler." (I.e.: he couldn't figure out what evolutionary work crying does...) And if the point of studying the world is to change it..well? What is the use-value of crying? See, for instance, Mrs. Shelby's visit to Uncle Tom's cabin cabin on the eve of his departure: "for a few moments they all wept in company. And in those tears they all shed together, the high and the lowly, melted away al the heart-burnings and anger of the oppressed. O, ye who visit the distressed, do ye know that everything your money can not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy?" (Ch. 10, "The Property is Carried Off," p. 84).

Lauren: crying is useful....crying makes me feel better...physically, and also allows me to arrange my thoughts more clearly. ...crying must release some kind of chemical in my brain that calms me down....

Erin: I agree...that crying acts as a physical relief of tension that helps you to refocus and address whatever - life - with a clearer head.... that they all cry together could be a signifier/proof that they are truly moved....but I think we also have to consider that they don't do anything - Tom ...cries but the emotion doesn't lead him to action. On the contrary, earlier in the is Mr. Bird, who stiffled his tears, that thinks of the plan. Also...Eliza - who has taken so much action already in running away and leaping across the frozen river - is described as "gone to a place where tears are dry" (73). What can this mean then? Maybe tears move us action, but in order to really act, to take the first step, they must finish and dry up?

Margaret: Crying...I think it serves quite a valuable purpose...crying helps us get what we want....Crying can be a relief, but it can also be painful and move you to act...Crying is...featured alot in the book. Is this because she wants the reader convinced that the slaves are humans with emotions just the same as they themselves are?

Laura O: No tears yet, but I am getting close....I can't help feeling a bit offended that Stowe was depending on the 'emotionality' of women to propel her cause....I am moved by this book, but I have many accompanying attitudes when reading.

Jillian:passionate belief in the wrongness of hatred and bigotry that made the Civil Rights Movement successful, is at work today in the Gay Rights Movement..."Feeling right" leads us to "right action" as we understand it.

Marie:tears outwardly and strongly display an emotion. It makes you feel's a release...

But we have to do something else first!

Pin Things Down with Concrete Nouns

"he hadn't really seen enough specimens to generalize"

"He had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views."
(description of the way Tom, a slave, understands the suffering caused by slavery, p. 113)

"General rules will bear hard on particular cases."
(maxim of St. Clare's father, the slaveowner, showing how he understands the suffering caused by slavery, p. 197)

We're going to think together today about the particular and the general
(how constructing a generality will leave out multiple particularities, and...? but...?
enable us to see what--bound by particularities--we might not otherwise see??)

For example: the game of "Barometer" is
far too 1-dimensional--needs way more axes!
And yet...?

Marina: I just wanted to say I really liked what we did in class today with the 4 chairs and the small discussion; it was a lot of fun. It also was interesting to watch and listen.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science

Another exercise:
"Type" yourself
Pass to the right
Characterize the "type"
Pass to the left
Characterize the "type"
Pass 'em in...

What did you notice?
How congruent was your own "typing" w/ that of your neighbor?
Do you accept/reject/struggle with/embrace the way your neighbor read your "type"? (A reminder: this was a type you assigned yourself...!)

James Baldwin's critique of Uncle Tom's Cabin was centered on its use of "types," which "bind," which "deny"--"in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real."

Jane Tompkins' celebration of the novel took precisely the opposite perspective: she also read all the characters as types, but affirmed Stowe for enlarging the scope of from (insignificant?) individual particularity to the universal-and-archetypal:

Allison talking on Tuesday about on the reductive simplification of the novel,
and Marie on its simple truth. Cf. also

Marina: I feel like it is...a story I have heard a hundred times before....I...think some parts of the book are hypocritical. ...unrealistic....Maybe...because...books are classics...many authors write books similar to these so they end up sounding trite...It just can get old at times.

Alice: this feels a little like the image of slavery that I learned about in elementary school history class...even though I'm not shedding any honest tears over it, I want to know what happens...for which I'm glad.

Emily: I likewise feel that Uncle Tom's Cabin presents a very sugar-coated view of slavery...I feel like it would be much more realistic if bad masters were included, or at least if the voice of a southerner was heard who supported slavery.... I can only guess Stowe was trying to avoid going into the mindset of the slavery supporter because she wanted to portray them as morally evil, with no room for empathy....She truly presents a good vs. evil scenario. I guess by making it so flat-sided, it is very clear...which side to take.

Laura O: St. Clare's wife, so absolutely and ridiculously over the top that it pops out like an old, overdone joke. I hate it.

Marie: it seems as though Stowe really exaggerates her characters and what they stand for/symbolize. Like St. Clare seems so relaxed and easy going, and... Marie is completely unchristian, self-involved and hypocritical....little Eva...possesses a kind of divine innocence....Tom represents all optimism and goodness, and the Quakers true 'christianness'....

Tompkins:the power of a sentimental novel to move its audience depends upon the audience's being in possession of the conceptual categories that constitute character and event. That storehouse of assumptions includes...above all, a set of religious beliefs that organize and sustain the rest....all human events are organized, clarified, and made meaningful by the existence of spiritual realities....this novel rewrites the Bible as the story of a Negro slave....human history is a continual reenactment of the sacred drama of redemption....its distinguishing features...are...those of typological narrative. Its characters, like the figures in an allegory, do not change or develop but reveal themselves in response to the demands of a situation. They are not defined...psychologically--but soteriologically, according to whether they are saved or damned. The keeping with the logic of a preordained design...the figure of Christ is the common term that unites all of the novel's good characters....the true goal of Stowe's rhetorical undertaking is nothing less than the institution of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Baldwin was arguing that typologies are reductions, Tompkins that they are enlargements, of individual experience. Let's think through, together, these alternative ways of conceptualizing the action of "typing."

Jarald Peterson, "Stereotype for Dinner"

What's a stereotype?

"Archetype," Orion Works, Digital Art

What's an archetype?

From Typology: The Symbolism of Scripture

What's a type?

What's the relation between a stereotype, an archetype and a type?

(from Wikipedia:)
Stereotypes are a group concept, held by one social group about another...often used in a negative or prejudicial sense...frequently used to justify certain discriminatory behaviours. Stereotype production is based on simplification, exaggeration or distortion, generalization, presentation of cultural attributes as being 'natural'.

An archetype is an idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated.

Typology in theology is the allegorical relationships of people and stories between the New and Old Testaments. A Biblical type is something which foreshadows things to come. Medieval allegory began as an early Christian method for synthesizing the discrepancies between the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Christian Bible (New Testament). While both testaments were studied and seen as equally divinely inspired by God, the Old Testament contained discontinuities for Christians -- for example the Jewish kosher laws. The Old Testament was therefore seen in places not as a literal account, but as an allegory, or prediction, of the events of the New Testament, in particular how the events of the Old Testament related to the events of Christ's life. The events of the Old Testament were seen as part of the story, a prefiguration, with the events of Christ's life. The technical name for seeing the New Testament in the Old Testament is called typology. One example of typology is the story of Jonah and the whale from the Old Testament. Medieval allegorical interpretation of this story is that it prefigures Christ's burial, the stomach of the whale as Christ's tomb: Jonah was freed from the whale after three days, so did Christ rise from his tomb after three days.

Barry Moser, "Jonah and the Whale"

So: what do these distinctions matter?

Do you find them 'accurate'? useful'? 'productive of survival'?

What additional lenses might understanding them
give you for reading Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Marie: I don't see how looking at the book with purely literary goals in mind is useful. I think the most important part about the book is how it makes you feel, and what those feelings will turn into....I don't at all feel that it is hard to is a really powerful work.

Returning to the stand-off between Baldwin and Tompkins:
might understanding Tom as a "type" of Christ
both deny his particularity AND enlarge his meaning?

How difficult is it for us, as 21st century intellectuals, to think typologically?

"Jonah in the Whale," from Sprott's Fractal Gallery,
Physics Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Robert Scholes, "The Left Hand of Difference," Textual Power:
we divide the world into classes of things that need not be divided up that way

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things:
these are arbitary/pragmatic/political acts

the most basic differentiation is the one Stowe uses assiduously:
the division of world into binaries (=two opposed units)

AlfredSt. Clare

Why do we do this?
As a way of managing difference--and conflict.

Marina:how St. Clare didn't believe in slavery, yet he owned slaves. How does that work in his mind?

Lauren: St. the character that many of us most easily relate to. It's just like what we were talking about with the war in Iraq--a lot of us are opposed to it, but what are we doing about it? We're still paying our taxes aren't we? We're maintaining the status quo. We're still perpetuating the system that we ideaologically reject. Just like St. Clare. It's what he's used to, he personally is comfortable, so why change? It's the same thing.

The problem w/ a binary classificatory schema:
there's no space in between
(no hermaphrodite, no androgyne; no mixed race or class).
The "difference" is always a clear difference.
(A physicist or mathematician would say that
"the system is binary rather than continuous.")

In such a world, what is the role of characters of ambiguous gender,
such as Tom and St. Clare?
Of biracial characters like George and Eliza?

Out of experiences like Rebecca Walker's
(or out of a list like the one above)
one of several intellectual operations can arise.

Categories start to seem limited/don't work/things don't fit/need new ones.

(For example, there's a switch in New Orleans:
the "womanish sentimentalist" St. Clare is contrasted
with the first "unfeeling" woman, his wife Marie, p. 201)

A particular way to get new categories is via the Hegalien dialectic:
binaries generate new ideas in between (thesis/antithesis/synthesis).

Let's play with this.
Out of Baldwin's denunciation of religious thought as limiting,
and Tompkins' conception of it as freeing--
can we come up with an alternative understanding religious life?
(As continuing revelation? Ongoing search?
(Was Jesus an existentialist?)

From Hi-ReS! Feed

Working with several key passages regarding religious understanding:
It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live? To poor Tom, there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head (p. 125).

She thought with great strength within certain narrow limits. Her theological tenets were all made up, labelled in most positive and distinct forms, and put by, like the bundles in her patch trunk; there were just so many of them, and there were never to be any more (Miss Ophelia, p. 137).

"If this world were all...thee might, indeed, ask, where is the Lord? But it is often those who have least of all in this life whom he chooseth for the kingdom....Put thy trust in him and...he will make all right hereafter" (the Quaker Simeon, to George, p. 166).

"Talk to the Hand," @ Hi-ReS! Feed

From Bladematrix-Medieval Weapons

Paul Lauter's Reconstructing American Literature Project takes on the modernist catechism of literature as "discourse with no design on the world," as representing and creating without trying to change." He claims that to focus on the original use of language (as a complex, detached, aesthetic form) trains us to disassociate the "ways it is put together from what it is about, how it affects us, and how we might USE it."

"We attend to the shape, sinew, texture of a hand,
not whether it offers us peace or a sword."

Does Uncle Tom's Cabin offer peace or a sword?
How is it realized in contemporary culture?

What residue do you see in Native Son, dir. Jerrold Freedman (1986)?

James Baldwin, "Everybody's Protest Novel," continued...:
In Native Son, Bigger Thomas stands on a Chicago street corner watching airplanes flown by white men racing against the sun and 'Goddamn" he says, the bitterness bubbling up like blood...all of Bigger's life is controlled, fed by his hatred and his fear....Below the surface of this novel there lies...a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy. Bigger is Uncle Tom's descent, flesh of his flesh, so exactly opposite a portrait that, when the books are placed together, it seems that the contemporary Negro novelist and the dead New England woman are locked together in deadly, timeless battle; the one uttering merciless exhortations, the other shouting curses....for Bigger's tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal critera...But our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only do what is infinitely more difficut, that is, accept it. The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended."

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