In her comments on one of my earlier blog posts, “The History of Zombies”, Dr. Beth mentioned: “Note your use of the verb “consume”–can you make something of this, go deeper in a subsequent post?” I spent a lot of time wondering and thinkING about how I could make a blog post out of a word that is used so unreservedly and is so flexible in its definition—and it is very flexible in its definition. Merriam-Webster has a total of five definitions listed for “consume”: to do away with completely, to spend wastefully (or to use up), to eat or drink especially in great quantity (or to enjoy avidly), to utilize as a customer, and to engage fully. In the way that I used “consume” in my previously mentioned blog post, I feel as though it best fits the definition of “to engage fully”.
But in thinkING and looking at these definitions, I can see how they apply to and connect to so much of what we have done in Literature, Medicine, and Racism this semester.
One of the first things I remember doing in this course was reading Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson aloud in class. So much of this work from Nelson stuck out to me—from the actual story of Fortune being told to the individual words she used to tell the story, there was so much to pay attention to. The combination of these two factors came into play in so many cases, including, “Fortune’s legacy was his inheritance: the hopeless hope of a people valued for their labor, not for their ability to watch and dream as vees of geese define fall evening skies” (Nelson, 13). As an outsider of Fortune’s life, this line from Nelson is a demonstration to me of how Fortune’s life and legacy were consumed by doing work and the value of this work that he had no say in doing. For many today, we look at legacies as who someone was and what they accomplished in their lifetime. However, when someone doesn’t get a say in what their life consisted of, this is completely unfair to do. This is a large part of why I find that, in Fortune’s case, I think the word consume can be used to describe the way his life and legacy were spent and used up on things he didn’t get to choose.
However, on the flip side of Fortune’s Bones, there were many who found themselves consumed by Fortune’s story. In the “Afterword” of Fortune’s Bones, Marie Galbraith, the Executive Director of the Mattatuck Museum, describes how there was a process lasting three years to restore and uncover the history behind Fortune and his bones. Galbraith goes on to discuss how many people were involved in this process—the Mattatuck Museum’s staff, a team of anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, and researchers—and describes the process as being a “community-based project from its beginning” (Nelson, 31). I find it so incredible that so many people would be willingly consumed with the story of a man whose life and legacy were both consumed by a story he didn’t get to choose.
In seeing how the word “consume” could be used to describe so much of what happened in Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones, I also have thought back on other works we have read and thought about how “consume” can apply to them too.
In Toni Morrison’s Home, Frank Money was consumed with anxiety about what had happened to his sister. In Zulus by Percival Everett, the primary government of the people was consumed with the desire (and, depending on who you ask, the need) to control their population. Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark shows what could be the outcome of a community being consumed by a mind and body controlling microorganism. Zone One by Colson Whitehead shows a human population being consumed (in several definitions of the word) by a population of former humans who were now skeles.
With the way all of these works of literature connect back to the word “consume” in some way and to various extremes, I’m beginning to see how important the flexibility of language is. My classmate Rachel Cohen wrote a blog post called “Words”, where she discusses a different aspect of the complexities of language—how where we are from can alter the way in which we say certain words. These complexities and those like them are things I have never (or almost never) thought about before. However, in taking this class, I have discovered so much more about how it is the complexities we see in language that make it so interesting. The way we view and interpret these complexities will ultimately affect how we see the stories told through the literature we read for this class. Make sure that when you encounter these complexities, you let them consume your thoughts for a moment and let that consumption give you a new understanding of what you’re working with.