The Importance of Noticing

Over the course of this semester, I have referred back to the course epigraph in order to strengthen my own ability to notice both inside and outside of class. By strengthening my ability to notice, I have modified my way of thinking about how the novels we have read for this course connect to the course epigraph. This has allowed me to relate to some of the characters introduced in these texts. The epigraph for this course has also helped me to improve my perception of accountability, a core theme for this course and others. For one of our first essays, I wrote that my goal for this course was to “…take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions.” Strengthening my ability to notice has helped me to overcome my hesitancy to voice my ideas and to contribute meaningful responses to group discussions about the novels that we have analyzed. 

Dionne Brand writes, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This course epigraph has contributed to my understanding of the novels that we have read over the duration of this semester. It has allowed me to make connections between the novels that we have read in order to expand my ways of thinking. Discussing the texts in class has illustrated the different ways that we can each deconstruct Brand’s statement. The epigraph provides a through line for the literature and ideas that we have engaged in this semester. By noticing, or not noticing, the characters in these novels have illustrated the importance of accountability. I believe that this idea is best illustrated in Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One and Octavia Butler’s alternate American novel, Clay’s Ark. In these novels, Whitehead and Butler depict the importance of a character both noticing and taking accountability for their actions. 

In Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One, accountability is an important practice depicted early on in the novel. Zone One follows the main character, Mark Spitz, and his journey through the post-apocalyptic world as a sweeper. As a sweeper, Mark Spitz is tasked with eliminating the skels that remain alive and wander throughout the buildings of New York City. Whitehead depicts the idea of accountability early on in the novel when Mark Spitz refers to himself as an “Angel of Death” (Whitehead, 19). By calling himself an “Angel of Death,” Mark Spitz holds himself accountable for helping to rid the remaining people of the horrible fate that they suffered in becoming a skel. Mark Spitz often personalizes the skels by comparing the characteristics to those of someone he knew in the pre-apocalyptic world. This provides the reader with insight into Mark Spitz’s thoughts about how he views himself and the skels before he ultimately kills them. 

In Octavia Butler’s alternate American novel, Clay’s Ark, the practice of accountability is an important aspect throughout the entirety of the novel as well. A character that depicts this practice frequently in the novel is Eli. Eli was a geologist on the starship, Clay’s Ark, when he and fourteen other crew members were infected with a diseased organism from the second planet. This organism that infected the crew members “…changed, adapted and chemically encouraged its host (a human body) to adapt” (Butler, 50). Eli takes accountability for stopping the spread of the disease to human civilization by establishing his own community. However, he still worries about causing death to innocent people by spreading the disease, stating: “Sooner or later, somehow, it will happen. And ultimately, I’ll be responsible” (Butler, 205). This allows the reader to be more understanding about his reluctance to let the Maslin family escape their captivity. 

In both Zone One and Clay’s Ark, Whitehead and Butler observe the importance of accountability for the sake of humanity’s survival. They further this practice by allowing the characters to ameliorate their ability to notice. This is illustrated in Zone One, when Mark Spitz is asked to identify the skels that he eliminated in the Human Resources office. Mark Spitz passes up this task because it forces him to glimpse into the life they once had prior to being infected.  His actions of eliminating the skels are illustrated to be taken in good faith, showing Mark Spitz’s ability to notice the life that once existed before the disease took over. The ability to notice is also illustrated in Clay’s Ark, when Eli decides that it is best to create a community for the family that he created with Meda. Eli does this to protect those infected with the organism and, more importantly, to protect others from becoming infected. By creating his own isolated community, Eli demonstrates that he notices the harm that he can place on mankind by spreading the organism and in good faith, tries to prevent that from happening.  

This past year has challenged students’ abilities to reflect upon changes that have occurred in learning and that have impacted their outlook over time. In relation to the course epigraph, this time of adjustment has compelled students to spend more time noticing. Personally, I have spent more time this semester focusing on improving my ability to voice my thoughts during group or class discussions. This has allowed me to notice that, oftentimes, my peers have similar opinions about the texts that we have been reading. This has encouraged me to continue contributing to group discussions in this course as well as my other courses. The ability to notice matters in regards to learning and forming an outlook because it challenges a person to improve their way of thinking in order to refine their future. 

When discussing Zone One and Clay’s Ark in regards to both noticing and taking accountability, I realized that I have altered my own perception of these two practices since the first essay that we produced for this course. In the goal setting essay, I was determined to “…take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions.” As this course progressed, I began connecting more to the characters in these two novels and how they illustrated the importance of accountability. I was more eager to participate in class discussions after paying more attention to how our current reading connected to a past reading. Noticing details like this made it easier to contribute a more meaningful response and demonstrate my improvement from the beginning of the semester. I believe that this has contributed to my ability to reflect upon the changes in learning that have occurred this semester as well as my own outlook. The year began with many new challenges and adjustments but I have practiced converting these uncertainties into learning experiences that have helped shape me into the student I have become this semester.

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