Reviewing the Journey We're Taking Together:
Where Have We Been? What Have We Learned?
Where Are We Going? Have We Wrecked?
(If So, Can We Recover? How?)

Orah: maybe being on this road is just what it means to be human. two roads do not diverge. there's only one. and that's what we're all on....and i come back to myself on the cliff.

Ro: I'm imagining standing with Orah on edge of her cliff, looking directly down onto a tall spiral. All that I can see is one closed circle, but from any other angle --any fresh angle will do--I can see the coil rising, loop over loop, closing never being an option, only up, up, and up.

Stepping back twelve weeks...
this was the invitation each of you accepted:

We will experiment, in this course, with two interrelated and reciprocal inquiries: whether the biological concept of evolution is a useful one in understanding the phenomena of literature (in particular: the generation of new stories), and whether literature contributes to a deeper understanding of evolution. We will begin with an exploration of the basis for the "story" of evolution as developed by biologists, move on to a consideration of the relevance of the concept of evolution for making sense of other bodies of information and observations, and then turn to a consideration of one literary story growing out of another. We will ask repeatedly: Where do stories (scientific and literary) come from? Why do new ones emerge? What causes them to change? Why do (must?) some of them disappear? We will consider the parallels between diversity of stories and diversity of living organisms, and think about what new insights into evolution and literature emerge from such considerations.

So: how have we answered these questions?
I became convinced that evolution is a story,
constructed by biologists to make sense of their observations.
I became convinced that stories evolve out of one another,
are (in Una's terms),

houses, dear readers....platforms to lift you up....
Walk above your house, and the heavens are open to you.
Let what might seem like roof for your head become floor for your feet.

and in Paul's terms, that

I came to think that Naslund (for instance) is having great fun with Ahab's monomania, and offering us an alternative means of coping with loss and tragedy. I think she is also having great fun with the sort of literary analysis that Culler described to us when we made the "turn" to the literary portion of the course. Yes, she offers us "the possibility of fictionally exceeding what has previously been thought and written" (Culler, 40); I think she agrees that "the story...depends upon...the reader's 'horizon of expectations'...interpreting is a social practice" (63); but I think she strongly selects the latter of the two alternatives (poetics and hermeneutics) that Culler offers:

there is a basic distinction...in literary studies, between two kinds of projects: one, modeled on linguistics, takes meanings as what have to accounted for and tries to work out how they are possible. The other, by contrast, starts with forms and seeks to interpret them, to tell us what they really mean...this is a contrast between poetics and hermeneutics. ...Taking meanings or effects as the point of departure (poetics) is fundamentally different from seeking to discover meaning (hermeneutics)....A poetics describing literary competence would focus on the conventions that make possible literary structure and meaning: what are the codes or systems of convention that enable readers to...pursue...symbolic interpretation....the 'hyper-protected cooperative principle' is a basic convention that makes possible the interpretation of literature: the assumption that difficulties...and irrelevancies have a relevant function at some level. (Culler, 61-62)

Naslund clearly indicates her choice in Una's bizarre encounter in the forest
w/ "Hawthorne," who wears an "odd black veil over his face":

"I have tried to understand not just what[ poetry] means but how it achieves it meaning...Your sentence gleams like poetry"....I wanted to speak of the sounds in the sentence..."what a nice phrase 'Susan and myself' is. Because there's an s right in the middle of Susan and in the middle of myself, the two seemed linked, a sort of internal congeniality. And then Susan is so s-rich in herself, and the last phrase, 'setting,' et cetera, starts with an s and the last world ends in s-bones. Then there's the middle phrase, 'made a gateway in the form of a Gothic Arch.' The m of made I tied back to the m of myself that ends the first phrase....And made and gateway both have long a's in them, and gateway and Gothic both start with g, and the o-sound in Gothic ties it back to the o-sound in cottage. And so it's all knit together, the three phrases, so well. Oh, that b-sound is built right at the beginning and the b-sound in bones at the very end--I suspect that helps to contain the whole utterance."...he took me by the wrist...All amusement left me. (492-493)

Naslund is dis-assembling the Etymology of Moby- Dick
(as well as two of Hawthorne 's Twice-Told Tales, "The Minister's Black Veil" and "The Village Uncle").
She is re-building, from those materials, a story that takes a very different shape than the originals.
From destruction comes birth, as in her striking dream:

I dreamt Giles Bonebright falling, and from his shoulder sprouted long hawk wings, mottled brown and tipped with white, the feathers deconstructing and scattering for their own soft fall....In each small, curved feather--they must have been breast feathers--yowled a tiny, inch-long babe. A hundred of them afloat....Foam, white as milk, lapped into the cradles, nourishing the babies.... (501)

Paul just used Ishmael's response
(when Una asks, "Do you mind if we write the same book?")
to describe this process:

"Think of ...the Cathedral of Chartres. Think of its two towers. They do not match at all. Built perhaps a century apart, or more; but without both spires our Chartres would not be Chartres....Small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the finishing to posterity. My whole book is but a draft--nay, but the draft of a draft." I said I felt the same about my book. (663)

But what's been happening on this journey is
far less simple, far less binary, far more interactive and unpredictable
than either Ishmael's image of two stand-alone towers or Paul's of a branching tree might suggest.
It might be described the way Ahab described Chartres:

"not a complex maze but a single path with no hidden corners or dead-ends"

On the floor...twists a pattern of a labyrinthine path, like entrails....It is a shrine that acknowledges it is a dungeon...[That night Una dreamed] of stony, time-gnawed Chartres; I was inside the vault, crawling on bloody knees, but no window and no light pierced those lofty white-dark ribs. (478-479)
We are also given, at the end of Moby-Dick, the image of Ishmael circling endlessly:

Round and Round, then, and ever contracting towards the
button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle,
like another Ixion I did revolve.

Given what I now know of Ixion, I don't ascribe to Paul's description of that final scene as "zen-like":

Ixion is chiefly known as the first human to shed kindred blood....Because this was a crime new to the human race, nobody could purify Ixion and he wandered an exile. Zeus took pity on him and decided ...to invite him to Olympus as a guest....Zeus did not believe that Ixion would be so disrespectful as to have designs upon the wife of his host....To punish him, Zeus bound Ixion to a winged (sometimes flaming) wheel, which revolved in the air in all directions...forced to call out continuously call out: "You should show gratitude to your benefactor." Ixion became one of the more famous sinners on display on Tartarus.

So: have we, liked Ixion, just circled 'round and 'round in the same place?
(Ro: All that I can see is one closed circle...)
Has our circling "purified" us as it was intended to purify Ixion?
Have we been acted upon and acted, as Ahab longed
to be moved by, and move, the intensely colored windows of Chartres?

"...the stone walls are pierced with light shining through thick glass of unnatural, intense saturations of red and blue. This was a man-god-stained light...that made me gnash my teeth--so much did I want to act upon it and for it to act upon me." (478)

Have we built towers that do not match?
Can we be happy that they do not?
(I do think we have engaged in intense, and very productive, "niche displacement"
in our charged discussions about what it means to be an "intellectual woman." )

Following the lead of Maria Mitchell,
I've found an alternative way to describe what's been going on in this class, provided by Joanna Russ,"Aesthetics"
(rpt. Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism,
ed. Robyn Warhol & Diane Price Herndl, Rutgers U Press, 1997):

There used to be an odd, popular, and erroneous idea that the sun revolved around the earth. This has been replaced by an even odder, equally popular, and equally erroneous idea that the earth goes around the sun. In fact, the moon and the earth revolve around a common center, and this commonly-centered pair revolves w/ the sun around another common center, except that you must figure in all the solar planets here, so things get complicated. Then there is the motion of the solar system w/ regard to a great many other objects, e.g., the galaxy, and if at this point you ask what does the motion of the earth really look like from the center of the entire universe, say (and where are the Glotolog?), the only answer is:
that is doesn't,
Because there isn't.

According to Katherine Hayles, Chaos Bound:
Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science

(Cornell U Press, 1990),
there's a name for this "problem" (=possibility?):

Image from Chaos in the 3-body problem: the final state of a scattering encounter between a binary star system and another star depends on the initial phase (horizontal axis) of the binary and the impact parameter (vertical axis) of the incomer....Note the alternating regions of regular (smooth) and irregular (chaotic, resonant) behavior.

It all started w/ the moon. If only the earth could have gone round the sun by itself, unperturbed by the complications in its orbit which the moon's gravitational field introduced, Newton's equations of motion would have worked fine. But when the moon entered the picture, the situation became too complex for simple dynamics to handle. The moon attracted the earth, causing perturbations in the earth's orbit which changed the earth's distance from the sun, which in turn altered the moon's orbit around the earth, which meant that the original basis for the calculation had changed and one had to start over from the beginning. The problem was sufficiently complex and interesting to merit a name and a prize of its own. It became known as the three-body problem....

I feel as though I have been participating, here, in the formation of a globular star cluster: a series of unpredictable interactions with 35 other "stars"...

...and so of course am wondering what your experience in the course has been:
whether the journey has felt to you like "progress," or endless circling,
or staying in one place that maddens you with its intensity
--or, as in Una's encounter in Robben's garden, with its blankness:

I felt as though I had entered the labyrinth of Crete,
which held in its center not the Minotaur, but a bull whale...
there was a blankness about the sculpture.

What HAS happened here?
Where HAVE we traveled?

My "final" (yeah, right) thought: Naslund has opened to us worlds beyond the personal-obsessional, beyond the local-personal, as Una begins to realize during her interactions with the astronomer Maria Mitchell:

As we two women stood there, queens of the scene, I blurted, "Your life seems so...successful." "I am doing exactly what I love to do." How blessed, I thought, for a woman to know her path so well. My investments were so much in people....[Later, Usa muses,] I do as I please, I thought, and a lovely thought it was. (464, 489)

"Comets are predictable?"...Some are. Halley's is....This is our only chance to see it"...."An unthinkable distance-1987-in time," I said. "Not at all," she laughed. "Astronomically"....My child would not see such a sight til he was an older man than Ahab was now. And our lives would be gone...."But it's there...whether I look at it or not." (463, 482-483)

We all stared respectfully at the tiny stone skeleton in the rock. "An autograph of time," Maria called it. It pleased me that she looked not only to the heavens but also to the earth....Maria...seemed so preoccupied with the outer world...left inner feelings to take care of themselves....Maria seemed content merely to focus on what she herself wanted to do. Perhaps that was a good an answer as any to the question of the status of women. (465-466)

[Maria observes,] Galileo was almost burned at the stake for saying the face of the moon was blemished with craters....The moon, being a heavenly body, was supposed to be perfect, reflecting the perfection of God's creation. The church would not brook Galileo's observation of irregularity on its surface. The observation of sunspots was also a threat to their system of belief." (532)

[The judge observes to Una that Ahab] divorced and married you on the same spot on the deck of the Pequod where he had earlier married Kit and you...that makes a kind of rightness and order of things...." "In some symbolic but nonessential way." "But consider if it really was the same spot, or a thousand miles off the mark?...You and Kit were married far out to sea. The Pequod moved away from that place, even while you were wed. What is the nature of a spot, a place? Can it remain the same? Is it adequate to give a place only a local definition? Ought it not be global?...While you were away, I spent a good deal of time with the astronomers.... (449)

Laying my my "wierd" idea last night (that Una ceases not only to be a "wife," but also learns not to "be" a cannibal: she gives up both an identity grounded in a single act and the more general desire to "consume" another)

alongside a letter written in the summer of '02 by Anna Moberly, responding to The Physical and the Spiritual: A Conversation About How to Get Through the Veil with Jeanne-Rachel Salomon (a McBride and shamanic practitioner), in which Paul tryed out an idea he called "uninvested embeddedness":

One idea that is floating through my head is fluid investment or fluid attachment (?)--the idea that you are fully committed to a person or set of people, but that how that investment manifests itself is not tied to one approach or one goal. Maybe dynamic investment is better? I'm just really resistant to the static feeling in uninvested embeddedness. Dynamic investment might, for me, capture the responsiveness of both parties in the relationship--that teachers change as their students change. It also helps me keep the focus on the relationship rather than my responsibility being primary.

Thanks again, guys, for all the change you've brought about in me...
So, now:

What are YOU seeing, as you stand on the edge of the cliff? Look down into the canyon?
Up at the stars? Out to sea? Into this book? Into yourself?

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