Thursday, November 20, 2003

Abstract of "'Indians': Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History" by Jane Tompkins

In her essay "'Indians': Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History", Jane Tompkins discusses the problems she encountered while doing historical research about Indians. Frustrated by overwhelmingly biased accounts, Tompkins initially concluded that because the perspective of historians were tainted by their cultural upbringing, it was virtually impossible to reconstruct a factual account of what truly transpired between Native Americans and the European settlers. Eventually, Tompkins decided that a historian should be aware of the problems surrounding perspectivism, however, a good historian should make their own assessment, find textual evidence to back it up and make the inevitable judgment of the "facts" that is ultimately dictated by their own current position in history. Tompkins does make the interesting observation that while "you can show that what someone else asserts to be a fact is false...it does not mean that you can't argue that someone else's facts are not facts because they are only the product of a perspective, since this will be true of the facts that you perceive as well" (733).
I found Tompkins observations to be interesting although they covered a topic which I have often pondered myself. This piece made me realize that expository writing does not have to be about some ground-breaking new academic discovery, a revelation that was comforting given the fact that I am about to enter graduate school in a field that is saturated beyond belief with theories and interpretations. My own conclusion to what Tompkins calls "perspectivism" is that history is personal - meaning, people tell their version of what happened based on their own, self-interested position. If someone believes they are the victim, they will present their story from that perspective. Similarly, if they feel they are victorious and righteous, the same story takes on a new dimension. The American Revolution is the classic example I always revert to. In British accounts the American colonists are presented as rebellious and unruly teenagers whom their pestered mother was more than happy to be rid of. This contradicts the glorified version told in the American history books, in which the oppressed colonists were victorious in demanding their freedom and obtaining their deserved inalienable rights. But when you subtract the propaganda and simply examine the facts, there are truths which both sides report. That there was a rebellion, that the Boston Massacre occurred (although there were only four killed, a fact that is overshadowed by the events notorious name, undeniably American in origin), and that the Americans eventually were successful in seceding from the British Empire are all facts that can be found in almost every historical account - but the opinion of who was right or wrong? That judgment clearly depends on you.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Abstract of Scratch Sides: Poetry, Documentation, and Image-Text Projects by Kristin Prevallet

In Scratch Sides, Kristin Prevallet compiles poetry, documentation and image-text prjoects which present the reader with work that is not only verbally charged but also visually stimulating. In "Lead, Glass, and Poppy" Prevallet takes an approach similar to that of Susan Griffin in "Our Secret", juxtaposing different ideas with actual articles that initially appear unrelated. Once they are examined collectively the reader is able to establish a connection that goes beyond coincidence - establishing what, Prevallet explains, is a focus on the sun, burning, and the destruction of culture. Prevallet takes a similar approach in "Lyric Infiltration" finding what she calls "a form for rambling poetic notes." However, Prevallet does not limit herself to verbal experimentation alone. In "The Reading Index (Texte Indice)", "The Catalogue of Lost Glimpses", "Key Food" and "The People Database", Prevallet incorporates visual images to her words, thus engaging traditionally left-brain modes of thinking with that of the right-brain as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of Prevalet's work. Her clever, satirical use of visual imagery in her "Key Food" piece was particularly enjoyable. The fact that she provides an explanation of her works was also appreciated as it curbed my internal desire to interpret things that aren't really there in a lot of academic readings. Some may argue that the work should speak for itself and not require explanation, but I emphatically disagree. Especially when dealing with experimental art forms, it is important, not just for the artist but for their audience as well, that the underlying message is understood. By providing a detailed account of what she was trying to accomplish, Prevallet has opened the door for people to comment and say, "oh, I get it now!" as well as, "You know, even after you explained it I still don't see that in your work" or "nope, still don't get it." In my opinion, this kind of feedback allows the artist to see how effective their work is, and the good constructive criticism it receives may lead to even more effective work until eventually there is no need for explanation.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Expressions of Stephen Vincent

"Night Music" by Stephen Vincent is a short prose poem that beautifully captures the speaker in an intimate moment in which he(/she) is awakened by the sounds of lovemaking coming from the apartment below. The unintentional intrusion permitted the reader into this unknown couple's moment of passion is made beautiful and reassuring through the speaker's own perception of the "music" they are creating. This act of love goes beyond these two people as well as beyond the speaker and his(/her) own partner lying next to him(/her) - it is an act of nature, the beauty of experience as well as procreation, the continual rebirth of the universe.
What I enjoyed most about this piece was the use of descriptive language. What could have been seen as an embarassing or unpleasant moment is made comfortable by Vincent's rhythmic depiction of what the speaker overhears. The comparison of the sounds to music is complemented by sing-song adjectives such as "gutteral hum" and "trill trembles". Reading this poem gave me the sense that I, too, was privy to the audible sounds of passion - and it was beautiful and reassuring and natural, regardless of who the lovers truly are.

refer to: http://stephenvincent.durationpress.com (Oct.28,2003)

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Abstract of "Barbed Wire" by Reviel Netz

In "Barbed Wire", Reviel Netz discusses the progressive development of barbed wire from the glorified means of containing and taming the American West to a weapon used as a means of suppressing people en masse during the Holocaust (among other military uses). Interestingly enough, he seems to point out (unintentionally perhaps) that the perception of barbed wire as a tool for good or a tool for evil seems to depend on which side of the wire you are on. For the farmers who relied upon it to support their lifestyle it was "a hero whose strength and ingenuity [were] to be admired", but for those confined and restrained by it it is "a pure symbol of repression". Netz proceeds to argue that it is not items such as barbed wire that are destructive, but rather the people behind the wire that determine its use who are responsible. He points out that a small piece of barbed wire on its own is harmless and it is only when it is arranged for miles that it becomes a "weapon of control".
I found this essay to be extremely interesting in terms of style and presentation. At first glance I did not think it would contain such controversial material and found myself startled when it veered from the containment of cattle to the confinement of people. This sudden realization that this essay was a cry against inhumanity, both towards cows and people, had a powerful affect on me and I found I had to re-read it several times to digest the information provided. I agree that the use of barbed wire in Germany was atrocious, but at the same time I can see justification for the good uses it provided for ranchers and farmers in the States. This leaves me unsettled because if you deem barbed wire as simply a device for repression the question remains where do you stop? What about saddles? or dog kennels? or even zoos? What about guns? razor blades? fire? Inevitably, there will always be new inventions and ideas being developed and embellished on, but ultimately, it is the responsibility of individuals to decide what is and is not inhumane...now if we could just come to an agreement on that.....

Abstract of "Panopticism" by Michel Foucault

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Abstract of "Hunger as Ideology" by Susan Bordo

In "Hunger as Ideology", Susan Bordo discusses the negatively charged messages subtly conveyed in contemporary advertisements with particular regards to women and food. She is angered by the exploitation of female eating disorders and the contradictory expectations placed on the eating habits of men. Bordo points out that women are often depicted as the nurturing servers of food, while it is the men who are allowed not only to enjoy it, but to literally dive right in unquestioned. Though she does observe that current standards of physical fitness are now being applied to men more frequently, she is most concerned with the psychological implications towards women and the fact that the advertisements encourage the pressure women feel to indulge in calorie-counting, figure conscious anxiety and guilt when it comes to food.
Being female and raised on magazines such as "Seventeen" and "Young and Modern", I found it very easy to relate to the arguments posed by Bordo. Big boned and muscular by nature, I always thought I was "fat" compared to my size zero friends in highschool, when I, myself, was only a size 8. Miserable and convinced that controlling my eating was a waste of time and effort, I decided not to worry about it and found comfort and solace in food. It wasn't until I could no longer fit into my size 16 jeans that I realized I had developed a problem in my emotional connection with food. I have recently lost over 60 lbs. and am almost back to a healthy size 8 thanks to a newfound love - the love of myself and my health. I'm not sure if advertising had much to do with my own issues with eating, but when Bordo discussed the emotional desire to be loved and understood, and the fact that the advertisors took advantage of the romantic voids felt by many women, it actually made me a bit angry myself. The advertising companies have keyed in on what has become the social norm; the expectation of physical beauty represented by slender, attractive models (who constitute less than 5% of the total population) with little or no regard to inner beauty or emotional as well as physical well-being - because the sad truth is guilt and peer pressure are more effective selling tools than honest concern will ever be.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Abstract of "Of the Meaning of Progress", "Of the Wings of Atalanta" and "Of the Training of Black Men" by W.E.B. Du Bois

In these three pieces of work, "Of the Meaning of Progress"("Progress"), "Of the Wings of Atalanta" ("Atalanta") and "Of the Training of Black Men" ("Training"), W.E.B. Du Bois strives to give a voice to the plight of Black Americans. In "Pogress", Du Bois describes his early career as a teacher in a small, rural town in Tennessee. He paints a vivid picture of his classroom's shabby inadequacies and the equally run down appearances of his young, all black student body. Though he depicts the plight of the eager black youth, captivatingly embodied in the ambitions of Josie, and the strugges of their families as a whole, it is not until he returns several years later for a visit that we discover the true hardships that black men and women were forced to endure. As Du Bois discovers the fates of his former students, most unfortunate and tragic, we too begin to see into the life of the early 20th century, "free" Black American. Du Bois' overall purpose in writing this anecdotal essay seems to convey a similar message to Paulo Freire's argument against oppressive education. Du Bois stresses the importance of the education of the Black youth, not to a white audience, but rather to the Black community themselves. Like Freire, he is encouraging them to resist a forced state of oppression through advancement of their education - but he is all too aware of the many life obstacles still blocking the way of Progress.
Du Bois expounds on this realization in "Atalanta", in which he names the pursuit of Wealth as being the driving force in the steady decline of Southern ideals, both white and black. He recognizes that "the ferment of [the Black man's] striving toward self-realization is to the strife of the white world like a wheel within a wheel" in which the habit of "interpreting the world in dollars" has caused a change in the Black man's strife from seeking justice and righteousness into seeking money "as the be-all and end-all of life". Du Bois continues to encourage the pursuit of education as a means of overcoming the temptation of wealth and of implementing a broader sense of the need for racial and intellectual tolerance without which, he argues, Progress is impossible.
Similarly, in "Training", Du Bois addresses the problem of how to "train" black men for a life in which they are "free" and yet inferior, as if only half entitled to be men. Education, "by the breadth and broadening of human reason", claims Du Bois, is an important step towards truly freeing the Black man. He points out that the industrial pursuits of the Southern Black man has equipped him with certain physical capabilities, however, has neglected to provide him with a higher, formal "education that encourages aspiration", which had thus far solely been "the privelage of white men". Without such formal training, Black men and women are oppressed; beaten into a submissive state of complacency in which they are forced to be satisfied with a full stomach at the expense of a malnourished mind. Du Bois is arguing for the establishment of a Negro college that will "maintain the standards of popular education,...seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and...help in the solution of problems of race contact and cooperation" that had become so controversial in the years following the Civil War, and continue in the South to this very day.
I am currently enrolled in Literature of the American South and found this piece to be particularly pertinent to the understanding of the overt racial tensions that existed at the turn of the century and beyond. I am fascinated by Du Bois and his amazing accomplishments in such a restricted and biased society. He is responsible for inspiring many Americans, black and white, but more importantly he was living, breathing, walking proof that there was hope to be found for the Black communtiy.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Abstract of "The 'Banking' Concept of Education" by Paulo Freire

In "The 'Banking' Concept of Education", Paulo Freire discusses the use of education as a means of encouraging oppression. He argues that it is important for teachers to communicate with their students instead of merely filling their heads with information that they will simply memorize and repeat without understanding and without the tools necessary to apply what they have learned to their lives. Paulo makes the powerful statement that "projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry" (260). He proceeds to argue that this intentional oppression is used as a means of dominating and maintaing the opressed in a state of adaptable and unquestioned compliance. Paulo encourages the use of problem-posing education in which the students not only learn from the teacher, but through dialogue and inquiry also end up teaching their teacher as well.
Freire seems to be extremely passionate on this issue of education. I agree with many of the points he makes but must state that I feel memorization and repetition are fundamentally important in the early stages of education. Without the basic tools of math or knowledge of the alphabet, children will be limited in such a responsive learning environment that Freire encourages. However, in the secondary and post secondary levels of education, I believe his philosophy encourages the best learning environment for all parties involved. I do think he should have discussed the fact that there are several different personality types who respond best to different educational techniques, thus the true educator will find what approach works best for the individual student. Unforunately, there are very few educators who are versatile enough to recognize and adapt to such demands (for they are human too with their own variation in personality and preferred styles). I realize that this particular argument is not the focus of his essay, but I do think the topic is compatible with his. Freire is encouraging educators to stop participating in the opressive "banking" style of teaching in order to stimulate and cultivate the minds of their students, thus causing the students to be better prepared to contribute to society. I am simply interjecting another concept that, if properly applied, will assist in such an endeavor.

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