Recursion within Progress

The class discussions over the past few days have been exceedingly interesting to me. I find myself thinking over the same things over and over again (hooray for recursion!) and somewhat making headway (a score for the linear progress camp!) towards a somewhat meaningful conclusion. While I don’t have a host of knowledge of the texts we will be encountering in the course, I’m excited to add more context to my current level of iteration, to borrow language from Dr. Ron Eglash, used both in his book African Fractals as well as his TED Talk, The fractals at the heart of African designs. As the course progresses, I hope to build a better base of textual knowledge to apply to my current thoughts about how all of these things become interconnected.

The course epigraph that is pulling at my thoughts the most at this moment is the one attributed to Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” I think this short and sweet epigraph has a lot to tease out when it comes to what we have discussed thus far. In using this epigraph as a through-line for the course so far, I am led to think about the concept from the enlightenment era thought about “In every way and every day, we get better and better and better” (McCoy, class),  as being inaccurate when it comes to the human experience.  I’m especially thinking back to Walker’s “Everyday Use” and imagining how the eldest daughter, Dee/Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, believes that she is moving forward by going to college. This inherently conceptualizes her home life in the rural setting as behind her, which could be unpacked in a scope that exceeds this blog post.  Building on to the class discussion on Friday, 2/8, specifically about progress and recursion being a both/and, we had some personal stories about our progression forward in our lives at college met with our realization that we should recognize where we came from in a recursive manner.  The justification for exactly why it is important to be recursive and progressive is a bit foggy at this point, but I hope that a few more iterations of class and reading the text will clear it up for me.

When I think about the texts at hand through the aforementioned epigraph, I am led down a path that includes reference to scholarly work and humility. Working in the humanities has a great deal of noticing things that happen, finding the patterns and gleaning valuable insight to culture, the human experience, or any number of fields.  In regards to African-American Literature, the title of the course, writers like W.E.B. DuBois famously coined the term “double-consciousness” after much study (both in texts and personal experience) of black individuals in America who experience a double identity of sorts. Black Americans, for DuBois, would experience their home life and heritage and have to contend with their inextricably linked public life among the predominantly white America, with their calculated approaches and stereotypes to avoid. Noticing things in an organized manner is what we (the collective we) do best, to put it rather bluntly. I think it is an oversimplification at best, but it works well enough for keeping the “notice” language of the epigraph. The next step (or iteration) is to notice that we can notice. This is a meta-cognitive step and I’m both confused and excited at the potential to see this as a through-line for the course as we add more texts that converse with each other. Noticing that we notice trends, patterns, Koch curves, iterations within them, etc. can be difficult, challenging, rewarding, and also important work. However, it can be dangerous to believe that you yourself are the one doing the most important work. That is where the humility comes in to play, and it is certainly something that I am working on maintaining my awareness of. Yes, we have unique insights, but it is also important to notice that others have unique insights as well, as referenced in class on 2/8 when Michee shared a story of the time that they were working on an original idea only to find out that someone else had also worked through the same idea and finished it! Aside from that being unlucky, a blow to self esteem, and other feelings of inadequacy, it serves as a reminder that in noticing that we ourselves notice things, that also means that others can notice things. When we all notice the same things, it is not unlikely that there is the potential to draw the same conclusions. Great minds do, in fact, think alike, and that is okay and why we should be humble.

The concept of “straddling” taken from Bernice Johnson Reagon’s essay, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See,” paired with the pivoting concept from Elsa Barkley Brown’s “African-American Women’s Quilting” also encourage thought on noticing that we can notice. For Reagon, straddling is viewed as a skill that an African-American who is pushed out of the place of birth and into the white metropolis develops as a sense of a third place of hybridity. The balance needed to maintain true to ones roots and yet dominate a white business park takes an acute awareness of ones self in relation to the outer world: thus noticing that the self can notice while acknowledging that others are noticing them and their actions, both from a black and white perspective. For Brown, the idea of pivoting the center allows her to teach a class that is seemingly disorganized yet allows for co-dependability and a journey for knowledge like no other. In designing the class like a quilt, Brown allows students to make what they like of the readings–they pivot their own experiences from their center, presumably a white and middle class way of thinking, but Brown has chosen the readings, which gives the students a place to pivot towards. This is in contrast to a method of thought that encourages immersion into a “new” culture or field of study. For Brown, this does little justice for both thought methodologies (and would leave the student in a place similar to Dee in “Everyday Use” if the student thinks they are authentic because of their deep dive into other cultures). Brown’s encouragement on working with ones own thoughts in conjunction with new texts and ideas is potentially intellectually irresponsible, as by her giving her power (I feel weird using the word power…perhaps her capital ‘K’ Knowledge? Her thought processes? Her authority? A blend of all of these I think is best) away to the students to decide what to make of the material could render the class a center of cultural appropriation, but pivoting the center is at least a step in a direction away from unearned authenticity, which has to count for something. Brown is aware of what she is doing for sure–enough that she wrote a whole article about it. She notices that other people notice what is going on in different intellectual communities. What she does by writing this article is she tells the world that she is aware of what she is doing, and wants others to notice her noticing that she has made a new kind of intellectual quilt–and it’s working.

I think that these essays are a great introduction to the concept of recursion within progress paired with noticing that they noticed the dichotomies that they each dove deeper into. That sentence was extremely wordy I admit, but this is just a first iteration, right? I’m not all too sure what to make of these thoughts yet, and perhaps two weeks in is far too early to draw any educated conclusions (which is my main goal for the course) but having epigraphs and concepts like seed shapes to attach these thoughts to in my mind is helping keep me grounded amidst all of the information flying around attempting to avoid telling just one story of African American Literature.

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