The Choice to Notice

The mindset I had when approaching this class this semester was that I had a solid understanding of how to connect texts. I had worked on essays in other classes where I had to draw connections between differing subject material, and while this task was not always simple, I was relatively confident in my knowledge of noticing these connections. And though I think that this confidence was well justified to some extent, much of this course has expanded my understanding of how I go about making connections between different works, how to notice more minute details in books through more directed reading, and how to work alongside others better when it comes to dissecting reading material. For one thing, the course epigraph is something that I’ve found myself coming back to time and time again throughout most of this semester: “My job is to notice, and to notice that you notice.” As someone who spends a lot of time trying to understand a book when I read it, I’ve done my best to notice as much of a book as I can as I read it. However, in many of the books we read this semester, it was somewhat of a challenge to notice the connections between them, particularly towards the latter half of the semester. While the earlier books we read, such as Fortune’s Bones and Home seemed more obviously connected, some of the later works were a bit harder to compare in the same sort of way. A big connecting factor that I have found throughout most of the course works, in fact, connects directly to how I feel I’ve grown this semester, and it is the fact that many of these stories revolve around what characters choose and don’t choose to notice. 

         The text that I felt that had the biggest impact on me as I read was Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marylin Nelson. This book is both a series of poems as well as a collection of information about the life and death of a man named Fortune. He is described in the text as being “… a husband, a father, a baptized Christian, and a slave.” (12) However, after his death, his remains were kept around by the man who had owned him in life, Dr. Preserved Porter, and his family. Initially preserved for the study of human anatomy, Fortune’s remains were treated like an heirloom, being hidden away in an attic, and even displayed in a museum, the name of Fortune now being replaced by the name Larry. And though this treatment of one’s remains is already reprehensible enough, what’s even more unfair to the man they belonged to is that people refused to notice that Fortune had been a person once. Rather than face the reality that the bones they were looking at had belonged to someone, most people who saw Fortune’s remains ignored their history for the sake of preserving a sugarcoated reality. It is this lack of noticing that caused Fortune’s history to remain lost for so many years and caused the remains to be viewed simply as an attraction at a museum. This ties in closely with the course epigraph, displaying how by choosing not to notice the truth to an obvious reality, one makes things easier for themselves by avoiding their job of ‘noticing’. And I feel that this particular text has helped me personally grow in my ability to notice. Though I had read the course epigraph prior, I hadn’t really made a connection between the two, and had assumed that the text associated more so with the course itself. However, thanks to working alongside my group mates for the first collaborative essay, I was able to make this connection between the two. I feel that I’ve gotten better at getting past my initial impressions and interpretations of texts, such as how I at first interpreted the poem “Not My Bones” on page 25 as Fortune’s freedom from slavery but later saw that it could also be seen as Fortune separating who he was from the character people have created out of his remains. By expanding my understanding of how the texts connected through the help of my group mates, I’ve noticed that my reading and understanding in later texts in this course has been a bit easier, though the connections between course texts haven’t always been obvious to me.

         One of the texts I greatly enjoyed but was at first unsure of how to connect to the other course texts was Zone One, which tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic America that has been overrun by a virus that turns people into zombies, though the characters and author do not refer to them as such. The audience sees the story through the eyes of Mark Spitz, a member of a civilian sweeper unit whose job it is to clear out Manhattan of ‘skels’, the name used to refer to zombies. When Mark Spitz first encounters a group of these skels, though, he immediately assigns them titles based on their physical appearance, such as calling one of them a ‘Marge’ based on her hairstyle. By referring to these skels in this way, Mark limits how much of the details and humanity of the skels enemies he will notice. By doing so simplifies the ordeal of killing them without remorse. This was an idea that my group discussed in length while we worked on the second reflective essay; the idea that limiting your perception of another human being can often make it easier for one to treat them unfairly. Zone One’s case this is a bit more extreme than the examples we found in other texts, such as the unchanging perception of Alice Achitophel in Zulus by Percival Everett. However, the same sort of voluntary ignorance of the humanity of another still applies, as Mark Spitz attempts to separate the skels from the living humans they once were to ease the burden on himself of killing them. This ignorance is semi-justified, as any moment of hesitation may lead to his demise at the hands of the skels, but that does not make his refusal to notice any less apparent. I feel that this trait he has taken on ties in well both to the course epigraph as well as the other texts. Mark makes the choice to not notice aspects of the skels, limiting his perception for the sake of a goal. He avoids his job of noticing, much like the way the people at the museum did not acknowledge the fact that the remains on display had once belonged to a living, breathing person. As the story progresses, though, Mark Spitz inevitably starts connecting the skels with people from his past. He is at points forced to remember the humanity that the skels had once held before eventually succumbing to the virus, and falters to both defend himself and put the skels out of their misery. While the scales are by no means the same, I noticed that there is also a connection between this and my journey with the course epigraph. Through this course, I’ve been made aware of all sorts of different ways to connect literature. While this wasn’t forced upon me by life-or-death circumstances, I still had to notice things about these texts in the same way that Mark Spitz noticed the similarities between skels and his past relationships. Both my job and his is to notice, and whether we chose to acknowledge it or not. 

         Between these two texts, alongside all the other texts we read this semester, I’ve learned a lot of different ways to make connections between literature. I’ve had to search both on my own as well as with a group, noticing similar aspects that I wouldn’t think to have checked otherwise. It was my assumption at first that this skill would only help me in the classroom, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that this wasn’t exactly the case. I’ve been trying to notice more about my perception of the people around me as well, not limiting myself to first impressions and instead trying to notice more minute details about them. It’s due to this course that I’ve noticed these sorts of details. And by adhering to the course epigraph even after the end of this course, I will endeavor to continue my job; of both noticing, and to notice what others notice. 

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