As we are listening to the This American Life episode “Toxie” during class, and as I’ve asked you to attend to all the literary concepts roiling and churning through the episode, I invite you to read Dr. Valerie Prince’s brief but important essay “Metaphor is Hard Science.”
A key passage:
Rather than standing around with its lip poked out insisting upon its continued relevance in an increasingly diverse and divergent society, the humanities should orient its curriculum around the study of metaphor. After all, metaphor is central to human cognition. The cognitive psychologists know it. So do advertisement agencies. Folks who are working on prosthetic devices, drones, and robotics rely on metaphorical thinking for innovation. Economists, politicians, information technologists— it seems everyone except the ones specializing in language usage appreciate the value of a good metaphor. And when I say “value” here, I’m not merely being metaphorical. Most of us English majors received that old adage, “You don’t study English for the money” as a virtue. There is a lot of virtue in the study of literary artistry. English majors find benefit in decoding messages, articulating meaning, admiring beauty, balancing design. Metaphor is one, albeit significant, literary device studied among many,treated as an ornamental embellishment that helps us use language to demonstrate wit and craft. The rest of the world— those who majored in finance, physics, biotech fields, for instance — see a good metaphor and know how to turn it into profit.
In Paradise, Morrison returns us as readers to tracking and tracing. “Ruby” begins a cascade that attends to the violence of those concepts, but I urge you at the same time also to be alert to how the novel insists once again on the both/and.
As part of that, here’s a link to a searchable (yes) index of the “Lost Friends” column that ran in the New Orleans Southwestern Christian Advocate. The column, according to the site’s homepage, ran for decades after 1877, and was composed of “messages from individuals seeking loved ones lost in slavery.”
Lots of you have probably heard of/read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Recently, Rankine earned a MacArthur genius grant. Here, Steven W. Thrasher interviews the artist about her plans and about the need to study whiteness, “its paranoia, its violence, its rage.” The conversation carries echoes of the ways Jazz deploys “The Thunder, Perfect Mind” and attends to “the Beast.”
Dr. Michael Oberg, Geneseo’s SUNY Distinguished Professor of History, now has a website up in support the forthcoming second edition of his textbook Native America: A History. The site is an amazing resource, and I encourage you to bookmark it and get familiar with it as part of your dedication to lifelong learning.
On Wednesday, I failed to be clear as I struggled to weave together what I wanted us to think about and through “The Thunder, Perfect Mind” as a way into Morrison’s Jazz.
I was trying really hard for reasons I’ll explain when we meet again after break, but the fact is that I failed. Trying again may only lead to my failing (better? worse?), but we’ll loop back, try to make lemonade out of the confusion-lemon.
Here’re photos of some of the first-day questions generated after hearing the first chapter of A Mercy. As I mentioned in class, I think the Morrison/Davis NYPL interview will provide some material for some answers, and maybe the swirl can yield some blog posts!
As the blogging assignment asks you to position your posts explicitly in response to someone/something else, I figured I’d give you something from the get-go to think about and bounce off of: a rich, wide-ranging 2010 video conversation between Angela Davis and Toni Morrison.
So much in here of use throughout the semester! (Read a transcript here)