Monthly Archives: February 2008

Dentro del vergel

Dentro del vergel
moriré
dentro del rosal
matar me han.
Yo me iba, mi madre,
las rosas coger,
hallara la muerte
dentro del vergel.
Yo me iba, madre,
las rosas cortar,
hallara la muerte
dentro del rosal.
Dentro del vergel
moriré,
dentro del rosal
matar me han.

In the garden
I will die
In the roses
they will kill me.
I was going, Mother,
to pick roses,
I found death
in the garden.
I was going, Mother,
to cut roses,
and I found death
all in the petals.
In the garden
I will die,
in the roses
I shall be killed.

In Search of Duende

Axé.

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A Serious Question for Everyone

One of my classes is dominated by conservative Christians and I am unsure how to handle their reactions to 19th and 20th century poets. On the one hand, one wants them to read the texts in some sort of accurate way. On the other, one does not want to alienate them. Here is an example from their free writing:

This writer describes poetry as the form in which God communicates with the world. He also believes there are connections between the human and the divine. He needs to reevaluate his life because he clearly has many problems.

What do you suggest?

Axé.

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A Death Notice

JIMMY JACKSON, #316558 (Black), 65, was serving a five year sentence for cocaine distribution in Lincoln Parish. Jackson was terminally ill when he arrived at Angola in early March, just two weeks prior to his death. Because of his medical condition, which did not allow for a “knowing and intelligent decision,” he was unable to enter the hospice program as required by policy, but was attended to just the same by volunteer caregivers and medical staff. Jimmy Jackson died at the R.E. Barrow Treatment Center on March 23, 2007. Burial arrangements were made by his family members.” –The Angolite 32:2 (March/April 2007): 11.

Two weeks from death and still sent up; so ill that he was not coherent enough to discover and apply to the hospice program. Ce n’est pas bon.

I am particularly irritated at this issue of the Angolite (yes, it is from last year, but they are behind on their publication schedule), formerly an excellent publication and still containing good journalism but now also a propaganda organ for Burl Cain, because an article on Christian spring breakers who spent time there implies that the reform of the situation there was effected through religion (and the current warden) and not the strike, the tendon-cutting, and the consent decree.

I note for instance, how terribly smug, superior, judgmental and in sum, not at all Christlike the students appear to be – or to have been upon arrival at Angola.  For instance, they say they expected the prisoners to be “tough guys in need of ministry,” and to be able to deliver that in a week.

Axé, Jimmy.

Axé.

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Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: On Words

“Words are the waters which power the hydro-electricity of nations. Words are the chemicals that H20 human intercourse. Words are the rain of votes which made the harvest possible. Words are the thunderstorm when a nation is divided. Words are the water in a shattering glass when friends break into argument. Words are the acronym of a nuclear test site. Every single minute the world is deluged by boulders of words crushing down upon us over the cliff of the TV, the telephone, the telex, the post, the satellite, the radio, the advertisement, the billposter, the traffic sign, graffiti, etc. Everywhere you go, some shit word will collide with you on the wrong side of the road. You can’t even hide in yourself because your thoughts think of themselves in the words you have been taught to read and write. Even if you flee home and ountry, sanity and feeling, the priest and mourners, if any, will be muttering words over your coffin; the people you leave behind will be imagining you in their minds with words and signs. And there will be no silence in the cemetery because always there are burials and more burials of people asphyxiated by words. No wonder it is said,

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God.
And the Word was God,
All things were made by him;
And without him not any thing made
That was made.

“No wonder too it was said,

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the dust descend;
Dust into dust, and under dust, to lie
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and -
sans end!

“Suddenly the other side of the world is only an alphabet away. Existence itself becomes a description, our lives a mere pattern in the massive universal web of words. Fictions become more documentary than actual documentaries. The only certain thing about these world descriptions is the damage they do, the devastation they bring to the minds of men and children. You do not become a man by studying the species but his language. The winds of change have cooled our porridge and now we can take up our spoons and eat it. Go, good countrymen, have yourselves a ball.”

–Dambudzo Marechera, The Black Insider (1992; Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1999) 35-36.

I have added Everything Is Illuminated to my I-want-to-read list. I am tired of most Holocaust related “art” because I think it is created to assure Americans that they are virtuous and safe and that “evil” and “danger” were in the past. I make an exception for this because it is an entirely different kind of narrative with hilarious diction (or, “premium diction,” as the narrator, who speaks English as a third language, would surely say).

Axé.

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On Thesis Statements

Now I am grading. I am at a loss to explain to one of my students why it is that she needs to complicate her thesis. With the one she has, she could not get out enough material to meet the length requirement for this essay. She does not see that the problem is the simplicity or overbroadness of her thesis. I have not been able to explain effectively so far. Let’s see.

She starts out: This story by [famous feminist author], centering on the struggles of a female protagonist, appears to be about poverty, but really it is about the oppression of women. I say it is uncontroversial that it is about the oppression of women – that is on the surface of the story, as is the question of poverty. And in fact this beginning leads the writer in her paper to summarize the plot and little more. She does not give herself an opening to explore, for instance, what kind of analysis of women’s oppression the story makes, or what sort of perspectives upon it the story opens up.

What can I suggest: the story interlaces exposition and critique of the oppression that is poverty and the oppression of women, but in its development it emphasizes womens’ oppression insofar as it explores the relationships of this woman with two poor men, her father and her prospective employer. As the story progresses these dynamics are increasingly foregrounded and, especially through the use of imagery and the framing of the scenes through the use of both inner and outer perspective, the uneven power relationships between the protagonist, her employer, and her father are emphasized to great dramatic effect.

At the beginning of the story, for instance, the protagonist dominates the room, and then the street; her imagination stretches out to a future. By the end it is her father’s shape which fills the room and obliterates the view to the street. His words have reinterpreted her reality, and the truth she originally knew can be remembered – by her alone – as a kind of blurry dream, but can no longer be spoken or acted upon. It upon this power relationship that the story shines its strongest light.

Much more could be said about this story. I keep thinking I should be able by now to formulate paper topics which will necessarily guide students right into the texts, but it does not always work.

Axé.

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Savagery

I see ever more clearly what the mechanism of Reeducation was. The a priori assumptions were that one could not know what one felt or what was real, and that one should not do or think anything which could be construed as taking control. The resultant degree of doubt was overwhelming. Since no perception or sensation could be trusted, there was no information to be had. This gave the sensation of drowning, or of paralysis, or of being in free fall. I pointed out how problematic this was and was told it was not – I should be able to function well in this state, and if not, I should not think that not functioning well would have any consequences.

Initially my Reeducators were concerned because I could make so many different decisions and judgment calls in a day without vacillating. I explained that if you worked in a profession, went to college on the quarter system, or managed a farm – to cite three examples – you had to be that way. Decisions on grades for 25 essays, on which abstracts to accept for the conference, on which candidates to interview at the MLA, and on several other matters might well all be required within the space of a few hours.

To make those decisions, you had to choose and apply criteria. This meant trusting perceptions and exerting control. The Reeducators did not agree, although they did concede I ought to maintain control of cars when driving them. To experiment with their principles, however, meant renouncing agency and being. And that meant losing leisure and creative time.

I

Writing, as we know, is pleasurable but hard. This little paper I have finally finished drove me up the walls and down. When I began it I had more Reeducation dust in me than I do now, and I speculated on all of the possible tenebrous reasons why I found the paper so difficult. Now at last I have officially finished it and sent it, not because it was particularly good or could not have used more work, but because I was tired of it.

One thing I have always found to facilitate solutions in difficult situations is to name the difficulties accurately. This is what Reeducation did not allow. In the case of this paper, for instance I could not have said “I do not like what I am working on,” because that was the attitude of a spoiled person. One had to practice self-abnegation and say something like “I fear my reviewers,” “I do not manage time well,” or “I fear success” – whether or not any of these things actually were or felt true.

Since I am no longer Reeducated, but Savage, I can say what I think, and not assume that what I think is different from what I feel. So I will say this paper drove me up the walls and down because:

1) It had to be written in a language other than the one it seemed to want to be written in. This made it really hard, although my Spanish came out lapidary and beautiful in the end.

2) It had to foreground one author and back up with another, whereas it would have greatly preferred to be about the second author, with the first remaining in the margins at most. This, however, was not the point, and it would have required an impractical amount of new research, which would have had its own problems. So the paper was in an interesting bind about its topic, and so was I.

3) I am much, and I do mean much more interested in the theoretical work I brought to bear on these writers than in them, but requirements for this piece were that I focus more on art and craft than on theory itself. This forced me to read the primary texts in a way I did not wish to, which was in itself a good thing, but which took too much time relative to the importance of this piece in my general research program.

4) It was an invited piece to an edited volume, so that changing its priorities as I could have done had I been writing it unasked, was not really an option.

5) I had not planned enough time for this piece in the first place, and trying to hurry only made me slower (as is very often the case).

II

To list my actual, practical problems as opposed to consider possible or putative problems with the piece puts me in control of the writing situation. I do not have to wonder what deep flaw in me kept that piece Enchanted like the Sleeping Beauty, immobilized in a Glass Cage. I get to exert professional judgment. I get to say that there was much I disliked about the parameters in which I wrote this piece without being called arrogant. For Reeducation insisted it was bad to take control of a situation, or to be sure of one’s views. But I am no longer Reeducated, I am a Savage.

My next paper is one I invented and it did not, like the last one, start out as a an interesting but off-the-cuff piece for a conference panel I was invited to be on. I, not an interested editor kindly contacting me, will decide what it fits with and where I send it. It will also require some new research. I will not drift in seas of metaphor, pure writing and interpretation, as I did for this last one.

In Reeducation it would have been heretical to say these things, as they reveal a desire, always inappropriate in Reeducands, to be the writer of my own writing and thus, of my own life. It would have been most heretical to name as a source of present difficulty any objective, current situation external to me, rather than some internal or past mystery. But I am less Reeducated every day. I am savage. And being savage feels strangely similar to being grown up.

III

As we know, my worst academic errors have been to accept too many invitations, and to follow urgent advice from people who sound very serious but are really just talking. Now I get a great deal of advice from “my” Death Row prisoner (the one whose case I am watching). He is entertaining but rather directive. He wants me to do all sorts of things to my house. The neighbor pointed out that he has to make these suggestions because since he is locked in a cell, to give advice is one main way he can participate in a conversation. I will remember this.

Axé.

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Calling All Historians

Curious students want to know: why was Latin America so thoroughly colonized before Africa was, given that there was European penetration in Africa even before America was discovered? I am stumped.

One layperson’s hypothesis (invented by me, but I am really just guessing and I have no serious knowledge to base this on): the Treaty of Tordesillas and the nature of the colonial enterprise of Spain. They developed major institutions, they did not just have outposts. But the Treaty of Tordesillas gave Africa to Portugal, which had a different colonial policy (see how comparatively little Brazil was developed compared to, say, Mexico). So Africa didn’t become a big-time colony until the French and British, and a few others, got in in the 19th century.

What say you? I am fascinated and stumped. This is far out of my field, but I ought to have some inkling of what an informed person would say on this matter.

Axé.

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On Lynching

This documentary looks fascinating, but commentary on it is only one small part of WoC PhD‘s very informative post.

Axé.

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El 4 de marzo en Texas

I am an honorary Mexican, so I get to like this video especially. In the black felt hat Obama looks like a Louisiana man. Check out further selections from the diverse selection of beats at the brilliant Obama Jukebox – from the middle aged white couple tangoing for Obama to the Mighty Sparrow who has written him a calypso.

Update: in additional Obama lore, it appears he is a Myers-Briggs ENFP. I am, too, so maybe this is why I like him, but if we are going to use these sorts of metrics, I am more interested in his astrological chart. As a Capricorn, I am a good manager despite being a non-controlling ENFP. Obama seems to be a 9th house Leo with a 7th house Gemini moon. We need to erect his birth chart (August 4, 1961, in Hawaii, but I need the exact place and time) and learn predictive astrology (not an easy subject).

Axé.

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Dimanche

I am supposed to be at a dance to help raise money for a probably dying colleague who does not have supplemental health insurance, but I am at work. I may make the dance yet; if not I can still donate to the cause. The following came from a comments thread:

Comment: This point about the Clintons’ claims to be supporting the working class and the poor and their actual record during Bill’s administration is really central for me. I have never gotten why she allegedly awakens such significant sympathies among blue collar workers. One of the things that bothers me about her is how she and her husband built their records at the expense of people who had no chance of defending themselves. Because as we all know, welfare recipients don’t vote (and if they try, are often stymied by registration requirements if their housing situation does not meet the high standards of registration committees).

Z, the Wicked, quickly realizing this needs to be a post of its own: I actually do not have the faintest idea why they are supposed to be poor-friendly. Now the Houston Chronicle and the Cleveland Plain Dealer have endorsed Obama. I dislike the Hillary campaign intensely for its:

* sense of entitlement;
* condescension;
* insistence that disagreement with her on any point is sexism;
* claim that Bill’s achievements are half hers, coupled with the…
* …concurrent claim that if you do not like his achievements and say so, then you are unfairly conflating the two of them.

Meanwhile, Amiri Baraka notes that Obama won’t have much of a Black agenda unless there is a movement pushing for it. What amazes me is that he has to point that out. The reason I am for Obama is not that I think he will Fix Everything but that I think he could actually be moved by such a movement. Bill Clinton showed from the beginning of his first Presidency on that he could most effectively be moved by and to the right.

And Sylvia says this et c’est bien beau, and Carmen says that, and they are women of color not toeing the Clinton line, and I can just hear those Clintons saying, if the pressure rises, like the character Howard in In the Company of Men when turned down by a woman (“But you are handicapped. You don’t get to choose.”): “You are not white. You do not understand the terrible struggles, the sufferings, of privileged white women. You do not get to choose.”

Axé.

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