Course Blog

Ways to Get Your Research Flowing

Hi all!  A few of you have emailed me feeling a bit “stuck” in your work these weeks before classes begin.  It can be hard to work by yourself!  I empathize.  So I put together a short list of “prompts.”  These can be done in an order.  And there is no pressure to complete all (or any!) of them.

Finally, if you are doing some pre-writing, don’t forget to safely collect all your pieces of writing in one place—if that is a folder or a notebook (virtual or analog), it doesn’t matter.  Just don’t lose them!

  • Reread your proposal and my comments. After that, set a time an do a 15-20 min freewrite about what you think your next steps should be.
  • Pick one text you think you would like to work with (doesn’t matter if you are revisiting it or coming to it for the first time). Spend some time with it and then set a timer for 15-20 mins and do a freewrite.  Work on answering the questions: What (specifically) about this text is interesting to me?  Why?  Possibly spend some time close reading a scene or a moment.
  • Gather 2 or 3 of your texts and set a time for 15-20 mins. This time, freewrite about similarity in difference or difference in similarity.  If the texts are mostly similar, state why you think that, then look for an interesting difference and explore it.  If the texts are mostly different, state why and how, then look for a compelling similarity and explore it.
  • Spend 10 or so minutes brainstorming themes, motifs, questions, or repetitions you have seen in your texts so far. When you have a list of 25 or most things, go back and denote which ones feel most interesting to you.  Then, set a time and do a freewrite about one or two.  Really try to site specific moments from some of your texts.
  • Go back to our blog post prompts from the term. Read over the various prompts and pick one.  If the prompt requires outside research, then spend a set amount of time on that (1-2 hours, perhaps).  Then, do a low-stake s freewrite for 20 mins answering the prompt with what you know.
  • Anxious? Make a list of all the things about which you are anxious when it comes to this project or the term itself. Only do this for a set amount of time (10 mins, perhaps).  Once you have a list, go back and start to write next to each anxiety a specific person or place or action that might help you if this anxiety becomes real.  (For example: anxiety—I don’t know enough about WWI. Possible solutions—make an appointment with Prof X or Prof Y; read that book about WWI history I have been procrastinating; watch a documentary about the time period to bolster my knowledge, etc.  OR anxiety—I cannot access all  the texts I need.  Possible solutions—make a list of all the texts I think I need, then star the ones I have access too now.  Begin reading though and note how I might be able to get the other texts when the term starts (ask a librarian, see a prof with a specialty in that area, etc)

 

I could go on and on.  Do these offer a good starting place for you?  Let me know what you think and feel free to email or leave a comment.

Links To Lift Spirits (off-topic post)

I know the blog post section of this class has passed. Thanksgiving has come and gone; 2017 is drawing to a close. Seeing as class presentations are here, finals are imminent, and something called a “thesis” is coming next year, I thought you all might enjoy a morale boost of blog links. This morale boost is a mandatory portion of the class. Open blog links and laugh heartily to earn full credit.

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/faq-the-snake-fight-portion-of-your-thesis-defense

https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html
This one has a part two if you’ve got time (of course you do, you procrastinator).
https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.html

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy

 

Occasional Criticism: Elizabeth Gaskell, Edward Said, and some William Cohen

I have been drawn to Victorian literature even before I knew how to classify this genre.  Upon thinking about my interests in this period of time, I have come to the conclusion that I am attracted to Victorian literature as much of it raises questions about identity and the human experience. Of the novels I have read, most if not all have raised questions about gender, sexuality, race, and class. Furthermore, they explore how these elements of identity can intersect with one another to effect one’s experience within a society. The Victorian Era is situated against the backdrop of numerous social anxieties in response to political, economic, and social shifts. These include the rise of colonialism, industrialization, and overall fears towards acts considered immoral. For the purpose of my project, I plan to focus my scholarship on the intersections of race, gender, and class while paying close attention to the cultural and political backdrop (colonialism, industrialization, etc.,)

Ultimately, the occasion that I am looking at is the Victorian Era, largely due to the “coded” language used in many pieces of literature produced during this time. This coded language, as described by William Cohen in his book, Sex, Scandal, and the Novel, was used in many pieces of Victorian literature to have conversations that were deemed inappropriate to have within the public sphere. In fact, Cohen says “Sexual unspeakability…affords [Victorian writers] abundant opportunities to develop an elaborate discourse- richly ambiguous, subtly coded, prolix and polyvalent- that we now recognize and designate by the very term literary.”  I plan to use Cohen’s analysis of language within Victorian literature as means of performing my own analysis on sexuality within my primary texts. Although this chapter focuses on the Victorian novel, I argue that the same pattern emerges amongst short stories. When performing a close-reading, I pay close attention to the coded language Cohen addresses, using it as a means of uncovering deeper meanings on sex and sexuality in my short stories.

While I plan to use feminist and queer theory as lenses when analyzing my occasion, my intersectional analysis remains at the basis of my project. This means I must incorporate numerous lenses when writing about Victorian short stories. To account for the intense social anxieties that existed during this period, it is necessary for me to employ critical race theory to my project as well. Combining these seemingly separate lenses will allow me to perform an intersectional analysis on texts that will in-turn reveal dominant narratives, author biases, or even acts of resistance that manifest within the texts themselves.

To use critical race theory successfully, I must understand the discourse surrounding race during this period. Contrary to the dominant narrative of race within 19th century United States, conversations related to racial identity were grounded in colonial thought. The rise of colonialism during the Victorian era resulted in intense fear of and fascination with the exotic. In his book, Orientalism, Edward Said explains that studying European literature can expose certain patterns amongst discourses surrounding the geographic locations of “Africa, India, parts of the Far East, Australia, and the Caribbean,” (pg. 11). Said outlines the stereotypes and rhetorical figures used in European, which are based upon sentiments of ““the mysterious East”” and “the notions about bringing civilization to primitive or barbaric people,” (pg. 11). Furthermore, Said claims that anxieties towards the foreign man spread as a means of justifying colonialism. He explains that white men often argued that colonialism was a means of not only protecting European women, but women of the East as well.

These attitudes and anxieties contribute to an othering of those who are non-white, as seen in Elizabeth Gaskell’s,“The Great Cranford Panic.” The dynamic between the high society white women and the non-European foreign male exemplify the anxieties Said explores in his own book. The story expertly sets up a dynamic in which the white women are depicted as shallow, interested only in fashion and the social scene. Ironically, their fashion is inspired by the turban which originated in the Middle-East. This is a clear mode of mockery employed by the author who allows her characters to simultaneously exclude someone marked as other while borrowing foreign items of clothing and claiming these articles as high fashion. In this case, Elizabeth Gaskell’s text uses different elements of identity including gender, race, and class to explore racial tension within high-brown Victorian society. She appears to be poking fun and even critiquing the white, upper-class women for their quick judgments and shallow interests.

My scholarly research hinges upon intersectionality. I will use lenses such as gender and queer theory, feminist criticism, and critical race theory to explore my chosen occasion (19th-century British literature.) This analysis will expose the ways in which certain Victorian short stories may play into a dominant narrative or act as a resistant to it. As I continue my research, this dominant narrative will become more explicate. Furthermore, my continued reading of my primary texts will further illuminate what exactly I am looking for and what my intersectional lens can expose.

 

Citations:

Cohen, William A. “‘Sex, Scandal, and the Novel.’” Sex, Scandal, and the Novel, The Victorian Web, 4 Dec. 2003.

Denisoff, Dennis. “The Great Cranford Panic.” The Broadview Anthology of Victorian Short Stories. Broadview, 2004.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York : Pantheon Books, [1978], 1978.

Tucker, Herbert F. A New Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture. Hoboken : Wiley, 2014., 2014. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture.

 

Javier Zamora: In Life, Poems, and Publications

This post examines how a biographical understanding of Javier Zamora’s life illuminates both the content and publication history of his poetry. Born in El Salvador, Zamora migrated to the United States at nine years old; his recently published and first full-length poetry collection, Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press 2017) describes the Salvadoran Civil War’s impact on his family, as well as his experiences with border crossings. It is evident that Zamora’s identity and experiences as a Salvadoran immigrant living in the U.S. are central to the stories he tells within his poems, on top of being crucial to his politicized motivation to write and share these stories in the first place. In addition to holding a BA from UC Berkeley and an MFA from New York University, Zamora has won numerous prestigious fellowships. Currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Zamora is arguably the most institutionally well-recognized contemporary Salvadoran writer.

With poems that appear in literary spaces as prestigious as The New York Times, Poetry, and Granta, among many others, Zamora’s work has reached a prominent status by mainstream literary standards. Of the list of contemporary Salvadoran poets actively writing in the U.S. that I have identified in the last few months of research, Zamora is one of three to be featured on the Poetry Foundation website. The other two Salvadoran poets recognized by the Poetry Foundation are Christopher Soto and William Archila; although Soto and Archila’s biographies are highlighted by the Poetry Foundation, individual poems are not. On the contrary, Poetry has featured seven of Zamora’s poems and a blog post reflecting on one of his poems published by the magazine. Several of these poems, as well as others that were published elsewhere in literary journals ranging from the American Poetry Review to Huizache and Ploughshares, reappear in Zamora’s Unaccompanied.

Importantly, Zamora has not only been recognized for his individual poems or even more broadly, for his poetic prowess, but rather, it seems many major media organizations are also invested in how his presence and process as a writer is shaping current literary cultures. Featured in an article by The New York Times titled, “The Rooms Where Writers Work,” Zamora is highlighted alongside writers Camille Bordas and Danzy Senna. He is depicted via photograph in his San Rafael home, and the article features Zamora’s description his daily life, ranging from the music that inspires his work, his reading habits, to details about his writing process. This is significant because of the infrequency with which writers of color are allowed the space to discuss fundamental elements of craft and process.

In many of the interviews published online, Zamora has spoken often of his journey as a poet in constantly revising his work as he revisits the trauma of the narratives he recounts. In the aforementioned interview with The New York Times, Zamora said: “Some of the poems in my new book were the first ones I ever wrote, and I worked on them, especially the one about crossing the border, ‘‘Let Me Try Again,’’ for almost nine years.” The poem appears in the July/August 2016 edition of The Kenyon Review, in an earlier draft of the one published in Unaccompanied. Zamora’s formal changes are evident, as the poem moves from a controlled couplet structure to become a poem that is far more jarring in its scattered composition.

A poetry collection that also builds upon his 2011 chapbook Nueve Años Inmigrantes, Unaccompanied has recently received  much attention and acclaim since its publication in September this year. Most notably is The New Yorker’s feature of his work, an article called “An Immigrant Who Crossed the Border as a Child Retraces His Journey, In Poems.” The title of the piece already evokes certain expectations for Zamora’s writing—in terms of why it matters and through what lens it should be read. Zamora’s identity as immigrant is prioritized before his identity as poet, indicating a politicized reading of his poems. This is especially interesting in considering The New Yorker as a reputable, high-caliber magazine with an audience that might generally be described as particularly invested in notions of ‘literary prestige.’ Questions that this raises for my research are: how does Zamora’s existence in prestigious literary spaces inform or complicate the way we might understand his work and, specifically, his work in the broader contexts of Salvadoran and U.S. Latinx writing? What does it mean, politically speaking, for his poetry to be recognized in the way that it has—especially in the present-day United States, under a presidency that has continued to publicly threaten Central American teenagers, in particular, with deportation?

Bibliography:
Blitzer, Jonathan. “An Immigrant Who Crossed the Border as a Child Retraces His Journey, In Poems.” The New Yorker. 19 September 2017.

Guadagnino, Kate. “The Room Where Writers Work.” The New York Times. 16 Aug. 2017 

Paredez, Deborah. “Unaccompanied: An Interview with Javier Zamora.” Poets.org. 2 October 2017. 

Zamora, Javier. Nueve Anños Inmigrantes. Organic Weapon Arts, 2011.

Zamora, Javier. Unaccompanied. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2017. Print.

Reflection Paper: What Led Me To Apocalypse Fiction With Cory Doctorow’s New Novel

When I first had set out to write about Apocalyptic fiction, it was on the heels of reading author and blogger Cory Doctorow’s Wired.com article “Disaster’s Don’t Have to End In Dystopias.” With his new book Walkaway, Doctorow discusses how civilizations respond to disaster, in that they either try to formulate order or fall into disarray. He argues that, “The difference between utopia and dystopia isn’t how well everything runs. It’s about what happens when everything fails.” (Doctorow) I found this a delightful but confusingly complex realm to explore. It left me with many open ended questions about what it means to fail as a society. It seemed paradoxical that a utopia could fail. As Doctorow views it, the perfect state is a “daydream,” one which does not account for new and unknown hazards. This reminds me of the theory of “risk societies” brought up by Ulrich Beck, and how each fictional world is one imagining of a society fallen victim to a threat it has not anticipated.  Doctorow continues by adding that the problem in Walkaway has become society itself. He argues that many dystopia disasters feature “prepper instincts,” as in instincts of survival of the fittest pitting man against man. But what if man controlled this instinct, and became self-aware of the violence started by scarcity? This is the beginning of the weirdness in Walkaway. I warn you, this will become a bit difficult to process without having read the novel.

 

Doctorow defines Walkaway as a utopia, despite the evidence of a world falling apart around his characters. In Walkaway, Doctorow imagines a world in which much of the world has exiled-itself from the brutally efficient society of the ultra-rich. The exiles, or “walkaways”, attempt to create a post-scarcity civilization while being slaughtered by the zillionaires who fear their radical ideology. To elaborate, they have achieved post-scarcity by sharing resources in a perfected form of socialism. All members of the community have equal means to create what is necessary to survive using various future-technology appliances. Their ultimate goal is to perfect the digitization of the human brain, making themselves immortal. Ultimately, the novel balances dystopian and post-apocalypse and transhuman motifs. As you can guess, this novel has been the newest, most complex, and most problematic book on my list.

 

The book follows Hubert, Natalie, and Seth, three early adults seeking a new like in the walkaway community. Walkways live in areas of the country abandoned by environmental disaster and decay. They recycle abandoned material and land, using advanced 3D-printers to suit their needs. Traditional society, called “default”, rejects them for various reasons. They could not find work. They were thrown out by their family. One character even cites her non-binary transgender identity as a factor for not agreeing with “default”.  The walkaway community replaces this with absolute freedom. On paper, this sounds ridiculous. Somehow, Doctorow makes a logical pattern out of this “better nation” community in Walkaway.

 

Jason Sheehan wrote an NPR review that shares many of my views on Walkaway, especially on the matter that it is too strange to articulate certain aspects into words. I enjoyed how he called the novel “what comes after the slow burn apocalypse” in that like the Genesis story of Noah’s Ark, Walkaway discusses how “After the flood, this is how we rebuilt…” (Sheehan). This perhaps links well back into Doctorow’s Wired article on Walkaway, in that he mentions in passing how 2017 itself was full of disasters. Whether the disasters of this year will lead to a rebuilt utopia or a downward dystopia is for us to decide. After the flood, how will we rebuild?

 

I had originally turned-away from discussing this novel and article. I struggled to deal with the “digital singularity” aspect of this novel. Digital consciousness became a kind of “cop-out” to me, in that the characters “escape” the crumbling physical world for a digital landscape. Likewise, the social-political argument of class warfare between the ultra-rich and ultra-poor seemed like a thesis in itself. So I moth-balled this article, yet left Walkaway on my reading list.

 

As it is my tradition, I shine the house lights on you, dear reader, and ask:

 

What does or does not make sense about Walkaway to you? Are you more inclined to read some of Doctorow’s work? If you were me, what aspects of Doctorow would you include, if any?

 

Works Cited:

Doctorow, Cory. “Disasters Don’t Have to End in Dystopias.” Wired, Conde Nast, 2 June 2017, www.wired.com/2017/04/cory-doctorow-walkaway/.

Doctorow, Cory. Walkaway: a Novel. Head of Zeus, Tor Books, 2017.

Sheehan, Jason. “In ‘Walkaway,’ A Blueprint For A New, Weird (But Better) World.” National Public Radio, 27 Apr. 2017, www.npr.org/2017/04/27/523587179/in-walkaway-a-blueprint-for-a-new-weird-but-better-world.

A Passing Fancy in my Study and Thesis

 

I first encountered Passing in Professor Seiler’s Celtic revival course during my first year at Dickinson, and in that context, the novel and Larsen exemplified the women not typically associated with the Harlem Renaissance canon. I initially found the text captivating for its approach to identity and racial constructs, and I was intrigued by Larsen as a figure of the movement. Her appeal for me was tied to the unclear narrative of her exclusion from its canon and the difference between themes in her and her peers’ work. Passing includes identity confusion, intersectionality, and women’s disenfranchisement in heterosexual relationships. That power imbalance leaves them in a position where passing’s benefits might be necessary, whereas men are more likely to assert themselves independently and critique alternate means of gaining power.

I revisited Passing this year in Professor Harris’ class on secrets in African American culture and literature where we spent more time with the text and focused on its sexual implications and contemporary critiques of the novel more. After reading Cheryl A. Wall and Judith Butler’s pieces on sexuality and identity in the novel, I was prompted to explore that aspect of it more deeply in my thesis. Comparing it to the passing narratives we read alongside it heightened my interest. Black No More and The Biography of an Ex-Colored Man are both written by men, and their focus is much more similar to the other male authored Harlem Renaissance texts. This made it clear to me that the themes I noticed in Larsen’s and Fauset’s work are not passing-related but woman and queer related.

The power dynamic in heterosexual marriages runs throughout the text and Irene and Clare’s experiences. One passage in which Irene struggles with her powerlessness takes place midway through the novel. Brian, her husband expresses his violent dislike of everything about his life as he does repeatedly, and Irene silently processes it next to him in their car. This is the pattern their relationship adopts in the text—Brian lets his emotions out as he feels them, and Irene is silent as she desperately tries to negate her own. After his explosion, the narrator tells the reader that, “Irene, watching him, was thinking: ‘It isn’t fair, it isn’t fair.’ After all these years to still blame her like this. Hadn’t his success proved that she’d been right in insisting that he stick to his procession fight there in New York?… Was she ever to be free of it, that fear which crouched, always, deep down within her, stealing away the sense of security, the feeling of permanence, from the life which she had so admirably arranged for them all, and desired so ardently to have remain as it was?… how it frightened her, and—yes, angered her!” (57).

Brian holds all the power over Irene’s access to money, her children, her mobility, and her identity as a “real” black woman despite the biases associated with those who can pass. Their position in the car, which he is driving, is a physical representation of Brian’s control of her body, its location, and even her safety. She must prioritize her survival over her happiness, but in order to claim contentment, she must equate material success with quality of life. Her happiness is a symbolic ideal she has been trained to aspire to and struggle to maintain for “all these years.” Without her husband and black children, she would be like Clare, a traitor to her race, or a completely powerless black woman once single. The association between asserting herself and being a traitor to her husband and, implicitly, the black community as a whole.

After reading Passing through a racial and sexuality and gender lens, I can approach it more intersectionally in my thesis, for which it has been one of my inspirations. I see a parallel between my and the literary world’s evolving understanding of the book based on race initially and later understanding more of its approach to gender and sexuality. Larsen describes the frustration felt without the full empowerment of men in the fight for racial equality. Until recently, her critics perceived that as disregard for the racial struggle. Just as the fight for racial equality is remembered as the work of black men, so is the originally established Harlem Renaissance canon. I want to identify the aspects of black womanhood and queerness which I find so compelling and that were threatening to those who excluded her and others from immediate acclaim.

Larsen, Nella. Passing. Penguin, 2003.

‘Cultural Citations’

Occasion: Our contemporary culture political discourse

Relation to my Thesis: Less of a stretch than it may seem

Request: Not to respond to the politics of the people featured here because that would be both totally besides the point and more than a little ironic

 

I’m not sure about the legality of doing this, but I’m going to lift excerpts from a Facebook argument between someone I went to high school with and one of our teachers. In using this example, I don’t mean to suggest that the arguments taking place in Facebook comments represent the height of our political conversation –pretty much all political exchanges on social media are entirely pointless glorified shouting matches (I only know about this particular example because my friends from high school were making fun of it in a group chat) — but they do represent the average political conversation. More than anything, it’s just an easy example to use and it conveniently demonstrates the more universal points I need to make.

The conversation started when the person I went to school with, let’s call him (she’s actually a “she,” but I’m pretty attached to the pseudonym) Louis Guzman, made a post about the New York terror attack and “open borders” or whatever the fuck. This wasn’t the first time Mr. Guzman had seen it fitting to espouse his beliefs on the social media platform and so very loudly voiced ideological sympathies had been well known to all his Facebook friends for quite some time. Apparently, this latest post so “disheartened” (her words) a former teacher of ours, who we’ll call Liza Minnelli, that she saw it fit to respond to her one-time student, writing a long comment which included the following,

“Since Trump has been in office there have been more deaths due to acts of terror committed by white American men with no ties to Islam than by Muslim extremists. Of course ISIS inspired attacks are terrifying and need to be taken seriously and prevented, but completely shutting down borders or banning people based on their religion is not only unacceptable, its also not a solution. Primarily, because we would still suffer from regular acts of domestic terrorism by white American men, but also because we live in a global world. The NYC attacker was not radicalized until long after he had been in the US and he planned his attack information he got from ISIS online while in America” [sic]

and was capped off with a link to a Vox article in support of her first statement.

Mr. Guzman, not one to be uprooted in his own terrain, responded to Mrs. Minnelli with a comment that featured the following selection of prose,

“However having open borders and lottery visas today without proper vetting can only lead to more attacks that kill not only innocent Americans but innocent humans. It’s not rocket science why Poland and Hungary, European countries with the strongest border control (I believe Hungary even put up a wall) are the SAFEST.. and countries with open borders are suffering the consequences, and even now making their laws stricter. The radical Muslim mantra is to kill any and all in their way. It is preached and imbedded from a young age” [sic — to like the entire quote].

This exchange is so typical as to be almost unsubstantial to the uninvolved reader. To my friends and I, it was worthwhile only as a case study in the political interaction of our peers and I mean to analyse it in a similar regard here. Because, the fact that this sort of thing — people foisting their opinions on one another from across generational, social, and (of course) ideological divides — is so typical is exactly what’s worth noting about it. A sort of conversational complacency has taken place, where the means by which to change the minds of others have become so close at hand that we’ve forgotten why we use them in the first place.

My thesis is about the use of citations in literary criticism and using them to examine the notion that we understand the papers and arguments we read. Part of what really stuck out to me about that topic is the appeal to authority that’s evident in the use of citation. There’s a similar effect at play in the kinds of conversations I’m discussing now, but instead of acting to aid in the argument being made, it generally only functions in those readers who have already accepted the arguments conclusion.

In the example of discourse I’ve referenced, there is one genuine use of citation, but much more prevalent in both posts are what I’ll call “cultural citations.” To demonstrate, I’ll pull out the claims in both Mr. Guzman’s and Mrs. Minnelli’s quoted work,

 

1: but completely shutting down borders or banning people based on their religion is not only unacceptable …

2: .. it[‘]s also not a solution

3: Primarily, because we would still suffer from regular acts of domestic terrorism by white American men …

4: … but also because we live in a global world. The NYC attacker was not radicalized until long after he had been in the US and he planned his attack information he got from ISIS online while in America

5: having open borders and lottery visas today without proper vetting can only lead to more attacks that kill not only innocent Americans but innocent humans.

6: Poland and Hungary, European countries with the strongest border control …

7: … I believe Hungary even put up a wall …

8: … are the SAFEST …

9: … and even now making their laws stricter

10: The radical Muslim mantra is to kill any and all in their way.

11: It is preached and [e]mbedded from a young age

 

While at a glance it may appear that the arguments being made are just assemblages of sentiments, they both feature a great deal of claims with seemingly no support. Here is where the “cultural citations” tie in. Each of those claims is tethered to some Vox or Breitbart article that the authors read at some point in the past and the information gathered therein lodged in their brains as a ‘fact’ (this claim — the one that I just made — functions in the same way. I’m making it based on my own experience doing the same damn thing and then halfheartedly condemning myself for doing so and ascribing the practice to people engaging in hastily-made arguments, assuming that you’ll have done the same and so identify the claim as being universally true).

However, when you do this, there’s a high chance that anyone who identifies your claim as a fact already agrees with your conclusion because they’ve frequented the same sources as you and so likely share your specific political stance.

Furthermore, since someone who doesn’t agree with you will be dubious of your sources, they’ll likely dismiss any claims they don’t identify as being grounded in “proof” and if they do know the source you’re assuming is understood, they’ll likely dismiss it as disreputable (ex: I know exactly what Liza is talking about in all her claims because I’ve made those arguments before, while I have no clue whether or not Hungary “built a wall” because that’s never been a talking point in my circle).

Normally, citations are an author’s way of saying, “you can look this up if you really want to, but trust me, I did my research,” while in the case of “cultural citations,” the author is appealing to some piece of rhetoric they believe their “side” of the debate has already shown to be true — they’re appealing to the authority of arguments they see themselves as already having won.

Just think about how ludicrously pointless that is. In both of the comments quoted above, the author is arguing that they’re right because their claims are all correct.

I bring up “cultural citations” not only to try to improve the ways in which we engage in political discourse, but to examine literary citations via the example. Normally, citations are universally understood to accurately reflect knowledge before being convinced of the argument’s conclusion, but with inherently ‘understood’ “cultural citations,” anyone unconvinced of the argument will immediately dismiss the claims being made due to an ignorance of and/or distrust in their sources. That just leads me to wonder what the experience of reading a piece of literary criticism would be like if I distrusted every citation.

And then I can segue into an example of exactly that.

Through the Feminist Lens

The perception of gender and what gender entails in multiple aspects is a debate brought up in Judith Butler’s article titled, Gender Trouble. As I will be focusing my research through a feminist lens, Butler’s interpretations and ideas lend a helpful hand to my analysis of East Asian feminine literature. Although Butler presents her argument as gender being a form of construction, her research points out some interesting points on what society deems to be feminine actions and masculine actions. Consequently, it is the outward appearance and the way one puts oneself into society and how one wish to be perceived that ultimately defines gender and each individual.

I will continue to use Yoko Ogawa’s collection of Novellas, The Diving Pool, as my link to my research as I have mentioned it in previous blog posts, and it is the literature that originally inspired by thesis. Femininity, if we are talking about it in the sense of the heterosexual norm, is presented with the idea of having the ability to perform sexual actions with a male partner and presumably be attracted to males. According to Butler, this heterosexual norm is the socially accepted portrayal of the female body and the male body, in terms of outward appearances and presentation to the public. In Butler’s words, one of the “dimensions” of gender identity is “anatomical sex,” which can refer to either the act of sex, or the physical parameters that make up the male and female sexes. Either way, the defining terms of being female and/or male is determined almost completely by the physical and aesthetic.

The first novella in Ogawa’s novel is titled the same as the book as a whole, The Diving Pool, which takes the perspective of a young Japanese High School girl who has an obsessive crush on a boy who is part of the diving team. The protagonist, who is unnamed, fits into the heterosexual female normative as the duration of the novella is engulfed by her intense obsession over this boy. She sits alone in the bleachers during his practice and watches his body and continues to describe it to the reader in detail. The fact that the protagonist is adhering to the norm and as well as putting too much emphasis on physical/outer identity and appearance embeds her in a firm feminist reading and also fits her into the category of anatomical sex in both terms explained above. She is both interested in sexual acts with this boy and sees him as beautiful because of his masculine body.

What is interesting about Ogawa’s first novella is the use of words and imagery that evoke the womb and the woman’s body, further exemplifying the idea of the female body as a sexual object and one that is defined by appearance. When a woman is pregnant, that is also indicative of a sexual act with the opposite sex, and also a clear aesthetic indicator that this individual is, in fact, a female. The beginning of the novella begins with the protagonist explaining the feeling of the pool room as she waits for the boy, “it’s always warm here: I feel as though I’ve been swallowed by a huge animal. After a few minutes, my hair, my eyelashes, even the blouse of my school uniform are damp from the heat and humidity, and I am bathed in a moist film that smells vaguely of chlorine.” (p.3). As the protagonist describes her body parts, we picture each with the idea of femininity in mind, and this will shape her for the rest of the story. Her description of the heat and moisture that stick to her skin remind the reader and seem reminiscent of a womb, and perhaps even the process of giving birth with sweet and bodily fluids making a body feel moist.

Although Ogawa conforms to the identity that Butler is trying to break down, it is an important perspective to look at the diving pool because of the way it is deeply ingrained in telling stories from a protagonist that is also deeply feminine. Ogawa also tends to draw on the aesthetic and how thing, people and situations look and feel, and all come from protagonists that are very alike when looked at through this feminist lens.

Blog 6, Occasional Criticism: The Culture of Britain After the Emancipation of Colonial Slaves & its Relation to Wuthering Heights

When crafting a list of primary resources for my thesis, I hesitated to include Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights due to the fact that Heathcliff, the character whom I considered to be the primary “monster” figure in this novel, is not the conventional type of monster like those depicted in the works of Frankenstein or Dracula; He is undoubtedly a human, develops and maintains a lifelong (albeit twisted) relationship with Catherine, earns the affection of women, and even manages to somewhat assimilate into Victorian society by becoming a gentleman. On the other hand, however, I felt that Heathcliff’s constant status as a “savage” outsider with unknown origins and “a bloodline [that] is unambiguously tainted by color” might enable me to better achieve my goal of viewing the concept and construction of monstrosity through a postcolonial, imperialistic lens (Sneiden 172). For this reason, in order to solidify the value of this novel for my thesis, I determined that it would be in my best interest to gain an understanding of the significance that race had in the development of societal relations and perceptions during the time period in which Heathcliff inhabited England. It is through engaging in an analysis of the culture of England surrounding foreigners, as well as a brief history of slavery in England, that I will be able to truly assess whether or not Healthcliff can be considered a “monster” figure due to his racial otherness, as well as gain a better sense of how I will define a “monster” within my thesis.

As described by Sneidern in her “Wuthering Heights and the Slave Trade,” the people of England in the late 18th and early 19th century had grown accustomed to placing a large societal emphasis on the success of the country’s slave trade and colonial endeavors. Despite the fact that the legal subjection of those of other races ended in Britain upon the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the emancipation of colonial slaves in 1834, the country’s historical focus on the conquering of peoples of other nations led to the development of a sentiment of racial superiority amongst Englishmen in which “blacks, browns, yellows, reds and non-English speaking Celts were excluded” (Sneidern 173-174). This sense of hierarchy among the English not only placed their own countrymen and race at the pinnacle of society, however, but also undermined the humanity and societal value that Englishmen associated with those of a different race. Often times, the inhabitants of nations that were colonized by England were referred to as “animals” and “savages” that required the civilizing of English intervention in order to be enlightened about the correct way of living (Brantlinger 65). Because these conquered people were almost always of a different race than that of the people of England, the predominately white population of England learned to associate a darker skin tone with a poor, bestial character and an inherent mediocrity. In this way, England’s imperial expansion and colonization of foreign nations served as the catalysts for the people of England to have “a more racist consciousness” and a sense of racial superiority over those of a darker skin color even when the “imperial mission of educating and civilizing colonial subjects in the literature and thought of England” had been achieved (Thompson 186; Viswanathan 2). Ultimately, the civilizing mission of English colonialism not only influenced Englishmen’s relationships and interactions with those of different races, but also caused those persons of different races that inhabited England to be deemed as inferiors regardless of their efforts to assimilate into British culture.

By possessing this more in-depth, historical, cultural understanding, I then used this information to further analyze Healthcliff’s position within the text of Wuthering Heights. While I struggled to find an instance in which Healthcliff was ever termed a “monster,” this cultural context encouraged me to view Heathcliff’s status as that of a hybrid: he is inwardly British due to his upbringing within the country, but is racially and physically foreign. Furthermore, even though Healthcliff recognizes himself as a citizen of England and transforms into a “well-formed,” intellectual man, his actions do not allow him to escape the post-slavery culture in Britain, causing people to always suspect that Heathcliff is an “evil beast…waiting for his time to spring and destroy” (Brontë 107). Like the monster in Frankenstein, it is this societal rejection that causes Healthcliff to eventually carry out the cruel acts that society expects of him, such as inflicting physical and emotional abuse onto his wife. In this way, I believe that I can consider Healthcliff to be a monstrous figure within Wuthering Heights by defining a monster as a figure whose carries out evil acts and who possesses an appearance, often on account of being an “other,” that instills fear in the people of England. Moving forward, I hope to utilize Wuthering Heights in tandem with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre due to the fact that both of these novels depict foreign persons in England as “monsters” that are never fully equals.

Works Cited

Brantlinger, Patrick. Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2011. Print.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Ed. Pauline Nestor. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Sneidern, Maja-Lisa Von. “Wuthering Heights and the Liverpool Slave Trade.” ELH 62.1 (1995): 171-96. JSTOR. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

Thompson, Andrew S. The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-nineteenth Century. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2005. Print.

Viswanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. New York: Columbia UP, 1987. Print.

Der Sturmer Poster

 

In the book Nazi Propaganda by Z.A.B. Zeman there is a photo that was taken in Nurnberg Germany, 1935. Nurnberg is located within the southern half of Germany. Looking at this photo (Zeman, 98) I see three German party rally officers walking on the street. Up ahead of them is a trolley and to the left of these three German men are Der Sturmer posters. Der Sturmer was a Nazi propaganda newspaper that ridiculed, mocked, and was anti-Semitic towards Jews. The founder of the Der Sturmer was Julius Streicher who was a member of the Nazi party and did not like the Jews. The Der Sturmer newspaper was up in Germany until the end of the war but at one point the Der Strumer had to be taken down during the 1936 olympics, “All such notices as ‘Jews not admitted’ were taken away from the entrances to hotels and restaurants; Streicher’s newspaper Sturmer could not be bought in the streets” (Zeman, 109). The Der Sturmer was taken down early in the war as they did not want other countries to see the Nazi’s beliefs about other foreign countries.

Moving back to the photo, what makes this picture unique is that these three German officers were just walking by these anti-semitic/offensive posters and for these three men it just seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. This newspaper dehumanized Jews and made Germans perceive them as being inferior to their culture. When viewing this image it is evidently clear to see that anti-semitism and having a hatred towards the Jews was just the cultural norm of Germany during World War 2 (Zeman, 99). The poster itself has two faces on it, one face looks like a skull and in front of the skull face is a man with a serious expression. He also has the same mustache that Hitler had and underneath them is a photo of the newspaper that is written all in German. Additionally, on this newspaper there was a symbol of the Swastika on the poster. The swastika before World War 2 was known as being a symbol of peace but during this war the Nazi’s used the swastika as a symbol of violence and hatred towards other inferior races which specifically targeted the Jews. The swastika became a symbol of Nazi territory so wherever the swastika was located or was in sight, it gave Jews a sense of fear and an unacceptance throughout all of Europe other than Great Britain. While the swastika may have been Hitler and the Nazi’s parties symbol of pride, throughout Europe wherever Jews went to go hide the symbol of the swastika meant Jews should be fearful for their lives.

Not only did this newspaper not like the Jews to begin with, but they also tried to get the German people and the Nazi’s to have more of a hatred towards the Jewish race.  Whenever there was a bunch of interesting or disturbing news that was related to the Jews in the Der Sturmer, this pro-Nazi newspaper would publish it and then send it out to their readers. The Der Sturmer had some, “scandoulous gossip about the Jews also rated high on the priority list-this form of journalism had been introduced by Julius Streicher in Der Sturmer. ‘Ritual murder’, for instance, was hardly perennial; it combined anti-semitism, violence, and sex in equal proportions” (Zeman, 25). Through the Der Sturmer the Nazi’s wanted to brain-wash the German people into believing that all Jews were bad and that murdering other people was just a common and daily habit for the Jewish race.

 

Zeman, Z.A.B. Nazi Propaganda. London; New York : Published in association with the Wiener Library [by] Oxford University Press, 1964., 1964.

 

Lisciotto, Carmelo. “Der Stürmer.” Holocaust Research Project.Org, Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team, 2009.

 

“History of the Swastika.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.