The (Re)Birth of a Nation

I’m not sure if anyone has posted about a certain film that premiered during this semester and carries massive cultural implications in our current, racially charged climate. Since we’ve somehow not mentioned it in class, I’ll post here.

The Birth of a Nation is considered the movie that invented modern cinema.  The filming techniques it pioneered revolutionized the way films were produced.  Its huge release and marketing made it the first blockbuster film.  The Birth of a Nation is also famous for being horrifically racist, a fact that film experts have to dodge around when discussing the film, much to the delight of those who support racism.  For those who don’t know, the plot centers around two families who fought on opposite sides of the civil war uniting to end reconstruction in their corner of the south, by killing black people and preventing them from voting on election day.  The film features horrific racist caricatures, and portrays the violence perpetrated on freed slaves in the south, including lynching, as heroic actions.

This movie I want to showcase is The Birth of a Nation 2016.  Written, produced, directed, and starring Nat Parker as Nat Turner, the black priest who led the most violent slave revolt in the US, preaching a vision of ending slavery.  The birth of the nation was made with the goal of re-appropriation.  That is, taking a piece of pop-culture and stealing it back from the signification of racism.  The idea is to replace the image of the classic Birth of a Nation and the white supremacy it stands for with that of Nat Turner leading an uprising with the fury of a people locked in chains for two-hundred years by the old order.  Doing so will re-appropriate the cultural meaning of the image, and by doing so, alter American culture to a more tolerant standard.

War and Paradise

As I was astounded by how little work has been done regarding Morrison’s Paradise, I looked up my thesis regarding the women’s scenes in “Save-Marie”, and eventually landed on an article discussing some quotes from Morrison herself, regarding the novel’s conception.

As it turns out, Paradise was not the original title- “Paradise just hit bookstores, but Morrison wanted to call it War. It begins with a six-shot staccato sentence: ‘They kill the white girl first.’ Explains Morrison, ‘I wanted to open with somebody’s finger on the trigger, to close when it was pulled, and to have the whole novel exist in that moment of the decision to kill or not.’ Knopf feared the title War might turn off Morrison fans. ‘I’m still not convinced they were right,’ she says.”

Additionally, Morrison was interested in why “Paradise necessitates exclusion.” This, coupled with her interest in naming the novel War, seems to me particularly interesting given the militant clothing and possessions of the women in the end of the novel. Morrison possibly was pointing to the human desperation to get into an exclusionary paradise, and the idea of such a place in and of itself creates violence. This violence appears to be done by those who disagree with one another on who exactly is to be excluded. Thus, the men kill the convent women because they deem them “other,” and redefine Hell based on what they believe is undesireable traits; this violence seems to foreshadow future violence as the women come back prepared to “shoulder the burden,” down in “paradise”.

I think the main idea is that Morrison explores the violence associated with the idea of exclusion.

The short article can be found here:

Morrison and Unlearning Women’s Bodies

While discussing threads/patterns/images/etc. in Toni Morrison’s Paradise and Dante’s Paradiso this week, Emily brought up the idea of working to “unlearn.” Our group applied this to multiple facets of the society we live in today, including our ideas of race and gender. After class, I started to think about unlearning in relation to the way we look at women’s bodies and how that gaze affects the individual woman. The more I thought about it, I came to realize that this is something Morrison also addresses in her novel The Bluest Eye. Continue reading “Morrison and Unlearning Women’s Bodies”

Jericho Brown Talks Paradise/Paradiso

I honestly don’t know what it is, but I keep finding connections between the stuff that we talk about in class and the things that I’m reading on the side. To be more specific, I’m currently reading a book of poetry called The New Testament by Jericho Brown, a well-known contemporary poet who talks about race.

Continue reading “Jericho Brown Talks Paradise/Paradiso”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reparations

I just read “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates… it’s such a well-written, informative piece about what our next steps should be as Americans. It goes deep into our history and highlights specific examples of how we have neglected rights that our Constitution grants. The reading isn’t tough. It moves back and forth through time often, but it feels more like sitting on a rocking chair and being swayed.

I’ve pasted some quotes that shook me. Give the article a read, please. It’s long, but powerful. I must warn you that some images and statements are triggering. Tread thoughtfully.

Continue reading “Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reparations”

Comedy – Isn’t that funny?

We have been working diligently, putting our creative minds to work in drawing connections between Dante’s Paradiso and Morrison’s Paradise. In our most recent class days working on the final project, the word “comedy” came up a few times, and bounced around my head for a while. Of course it was partially because we were working with the Divine Comedy, but the word continued to bounce around when we were drawing connections to Paradise and African-American writing, so I figured there must be a connection. There was.

The word “comedy” Continue reading “Comedy – Isn’t that funny?”

Revising the Paradisaical Fall

In reading Linda Krumholz’s essay “Reading and Insight in Toni Morrison’s Paradise” on Wednesday, I was struck by her connection of the Ruby residents in Toni Morrison’s Paradise and the biblical Adam and Eve during the Fall from Eden. A concept that has been percolating in my mind since taking an African American Literature class with Dr. Beth in the spring is “repetition and revision.” Krumholz states that in Paradise, Morrison “considers what the danger of repetition without difference might be” (21). While I can see what Krumholz is saying here, I also see repetition with revision in Paradise. Morrison subverts the gender norms of equating male with God and female with sin through the men of Ruby and the women of the Convent. These two interpretations depend on which perspective the reader taps into. Continue reading “Revising the Paradisaical Fall”

We Are Dazzled, Not Destroyed

To begin this post, I want to draw attention to Frank’s post “Just Make It Go Away,” which highlights the way that Morrison and Dante both use blindness as a way to describe some of their major characters. The article that Frank brings into his post, “On the Hideous Whiteness of Brexit,” points specifically to the distorting lens that having white privilege has on people. The article’s author, Akwugo Emejulu, pays particular attention to how this whiteness is not an excuse for being blind, which is exactly what Morrison does in her novel, Paradise.

Part of my thought project focuses on how Dante’s perceived image of Beatrice distracts him from seeing what was truly important: his own personal development on his journey to heaven. Dante writes “Dazzled, not destroyed” when characterizing the type of blindness that he experiences. This not destroyed part — it’s really important! It draws attention to how we can repair it. Hurting is not an excuse to give up. Emejulu mentions it in his article, “Bexit shows us how whiteness, as a power relation, operates in ways to cast itself as both a ‘victim’ and an ‘innocent’ simultaneously,” amplifying how we mustn’t fall into the narratives that often plague people who have suffered. Continue reading “We Are Dazzled, Not Destroyed”

Women, Men, and the Kitchen in Morrison’s Paradise.

Now that I’ve begun re-circling through Morrison’s Paradise to search for connections to Dante, I’ve encountered certain through-lines that I hadn’t noticed in my first reading. One of the most significant is the reoccurrence of the Kitchen as a thematic element; important to both the Convent and to the town of Ruby.

In Musa’s introduction to The Divine Comedy Volume 3: Paradise, he states that Canto 1 serves as a representation of all of the encompassing “themes, movements, structures, images, and symbols” that Dante will address, as they “appear in some way or another in the opening canto”(x). I believe that Morrison’s first chapter, Ruby, serves a similar function to Dante’s first Canto. Morrison drops the reader into a scene where significant aspects are quickly given and then pulled out of focus– only to resurface later on in the novel.

With this connection in mind, the value of every choice of detail in the first chapter should not be overlooked. I observed that one specific occurrence in Ruby lays the groundwork for the the common thread of “the kitchen”. This unravelling begins when the men raiding the convent Continue reading “Women, Men, and the Kitchen in Morrison’s Paradise.”