Cycling Backwards and Moving Forwards with The Tempest

In a class and a semester that has been full of reflection, I thought it would be fitting to note that I first read The Tempest in my first literature class here at Geneseo, ENGL 203: Reading Transnationally with Dr. Lima (for the rest of the post I’ll refer to her as Maria, not out of informality, but because it is how she prefers to be addressed). It seems like some Shakespearean work of fate (or perhaps someone’s magical ability) that I would also end my literature career at Geneseo reading the same play.

While I think now I am a better close reader and a better critical thinker than I was as a freshman, there are definitely aspects of my first reading of The Tempest that are relevant to our reading in this class. I won’t spoil the exact words since we didn’t read them in class on Friday, but I invite you to be on the lookout for what Caliban says when Prospero states that if not for Prospero’s generosity, Caliban never would’ve learned language. It is my favorite line in the play, which is why I volunteered to read for Caliban.

In connection with this specific line of Caliban’s, Maria referred us to a quotation from Audre Lorde:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Caliban is taught Prospero’s language, so can he really express his true thoughts if the only language he knows was given to him by another? It took me a long time to understand what Lorde meant because I couldn’t really think of an example of how we could change that. I only know the language I’ve been taught, so how can I speak or express myself outside of that?

Enter ENGL 432: Metropolis / Hurricanes

This class has begun to make me question what counts as a language? Is it one that the government decides is “official,” is it a dialect that’s spoken only in a family home, can it be a both / and situation? To answer all those questions simply, I think the answer is yes.

We spoke about the FEMA symbols a while back, so I’ll post the link to the reading to refresh your memories. When trying to decipher meaning, Beth told us that it was like we were learning a new language. Through looking at multiple pictures and reading some literature, we were able to practice this skill until we understood what the different symbols meant (Mike spoke interestingly about these X-codes too).

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’m going to call these FEMA symbols “the master’s language” because they came from an official agency and was impressed about the natives of New Orleans often without their consent.

Hopefully you can see where I’m going here, but next we looked at the veve and how people in New Orleans painted over the FEMA symbols to make them look like symbols of the veve. I would argue that this is an example of “dismantling the master’s house” because the tools have changed. These tools belong to the people of New Orleans and they were able to at least somewhat successfully, eliminate the stark presence of these X-codes and the “master’s language” that was not warranted.

When I was a freshman, Lorde’s words felt constraining and had a touch of futility to them, but now I can see how we can incite change just by “changing the language.” While we read continue The Tempest on Monday, I’ll be sure to think especially about the position Caliban is conscripted into and I hope you will too.

Since this is my tenth blog post, I figured I’d add a quick note on the subject of the blog itself.  I’ve written on here for multiple classes (including the Morrison class that birthed this particular URL) and it really has been a space where I’ve been able to express my thoughts and learn from the thoughts of others, and I’m thankful for everyone else’s posts.

With graduation rapidly approaching, I guess this counts as my official “sign-off” from the blog. It’s been a blast!

-Erin

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