Finding Destination Through Infinity

Iterations Final Reflection Essay

Forever repeating, neverending, without a true destination. The concept of infinity has come up in my own personal experience in my class with Beth McCoy, African American Literature, as well as in some of our course topics such as African Fractals by Ron Eglash, and The Water Cure by Percival Everett. African Fractals is a topic we focused on throughout the course, our cornerstone, applying it to each concept. Fractals can be described as patterns that repeat itself, onto itself. This pattern is never-ending, and decreases in scale infinitely. According to Eglash, “African visualizations for infinity are snail shells”(Eglash, 148). This represents their symbol for infinity because of “the scaling properties of their logarithmic spirals; one can clearly see the potential for the spiral to continue without end despite it’s containment in finite space- indeed, it is only because of its containment in a finite space that there is a sense of having gained access to or grasped at the infinite”(Eglash, 148). It is easier to understand the concept of infinity when you can visualize it. This is why discovering infinity in The Water Cure is less concrete. The novel is a satiric comedy/horror novel about the experiences and thought processes of an Ishmael Kidder, who may or may not have a man in his basement who may or may not be the culprit of his daughter’s rape and death. The concept of infinity is used in a more metaphorical way, to describe his desires, and the idea of wanting to achieve something that he can’t quite reach, making that motion towards his desires one of infinite movement. I have had a similar experience when reflecting on my own writing this semester. Approaching the concept of infinity from African Fractals is something that involves discussing my personal experience, and connecting this to events in other course topics such as The Water Cure by Percival Everett.

When discussing my experience in this course, this idea of infinity comes up relatively frequently, especially when it comes to finding a destination and purpose when writing. For example, when I first started this class, I already had experience with my professor, Dr. Beth McCoy. In my previous class with her, she gave me feedback on one of my essays, advising me to slow down. It was at this point in my education career that when getting this guidance, I interpreted it as a way to solely improve my writing and product. I thought of it as a tool to allow me to get my essays done in a more efficient manner, that will help me to achieve a better grade or attain more positive reinforcement from professors. However, through this class I have realized that this feedback from Beth has so much more significance and purpose behind it. 

The importance of slowing down lies in the benefits and growth that you receive from taking time to unpack your thoughts and ideas. Unpacking results in more clarity within myself, as well as increased understanding in the reader, as they can more fully understand my thought processes. My motive should be less about the grade I receive, and more about the purpose of the essay I write. This is emphasized further in group collaborations during this semester, in talking with each other and discussing sensitive topics. Without slowing down, or finding your essay’s destination, your essay goes on infinitely, without true motion, without purpose. For this reason, I have learned to slow down, giving my essay a place to land, giving my thoughts the chance to fully form. With this in mind, I have found the concept of infinity not just in my own experiences, but in specific ideas throughout this course, such as The Water Cure and African Fractals.

When Ishmael Kidder in The Water Cure talks about the supposed man in his basement, the concept of infinity is brought up several times. For example, he uses infinity to describe torture he experiences, torture he inflicts onto the supposed man in his basement, as well as his love for his daughter. When inflicting infinite torture, Kidder places mirrors all around his culprit, and discusses the idea that there is infinite space between the man in the basement and the mirrors surrounding him, forever reflecting his own image. He describes that he “wanted him to have the company of infinite incidence and refraction, unending repetition, the forever drip drip drip of his own image”(Everett, 129). This idea leads me back to African Fractals, as Kidder uses mirrors to visualize infinity, compared to the African symbol of snail shells. Kidder also frequently refers to the theories and work of Zeno, a philosopher who talks about the concept of Dichotomy. The Dichotomy Paradox, as provided to us by Beth, is the idea that to get somewhere, you have to travel half of that distance, and then half of that half, and so on, continuing to infinity. Each step taken, task completed, built off of the one before. This idea is also similar to that of African Fractals, as their patterns are always building off of each other.The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in describing the paradox, describes the problem that traveling infinitely “must take an infinite time, which is to say it is never completed. And since the argument does not depend on the distance or who or what the mover is, it follows that no finite distance can ever be traveled, which is to say that all motion is impossible”(Huggett, 2024). Kidder applies this Dichotomy Paradox to his approach to torturing the man in his basement, as well as his love for his deceased daughter. When applying this paradox to the man in his basement, he attributes the idea, again, to the mirrors that he has placed around him, and describes that he only experiences the betweens of the mirrors. There is infinite space between him and the mirrors, that he can only infinitely interact with his reflections. He describes this to him, saying “there you are again and again and again and in order for you to appear you have to dissociate yourself from everything around you, but you can’t do that, can you”(Everett, 59)? Kidder is using the infinite images that the man in his basement is seeing of himself to torture him, as well as to hide himself. Furthermore, Kidder uses the Dichotomy Paradox to emphasize his love for his daughter, as well as his guilt and yearning to no longer exist. 

Just like the concept of movement when traveling half of a distance infinitely, Kidder wishes he could punish himself for surviving rather than his daughter, but he describes his problem, saying “you never cut a thing down to nothing. There is never a final cut. Daily, I slice away at my love for my daughter, at my guilt for surviving, at my resolve for revenge and slice away at merely myself, and it remains painfully obvious that I’m all still here, always big enough to be cut a million more times”(Everett, 164). Kidder wants to be with his daughter, but the anger of not being able to do so drives him to commit violence toward himself, the man in his basement, and even the love he has for his daughter. Earlier in the novel, however, Kidder describes his love for his daughter as “this desire for infinite words”(Everett, 18). He elaborates on this statement by saying “you cannot have the desire unless you love infinitely.(Everett, 18)” Again leading back to African Fractals, Kidder again uses another symbol to represent infinity compared to snail shells; words. Kidder loves his daughter infinitely, and wishes to speak to her infinitely. He further describes this love by imagining her daughter at a word shop, possibly with the desire for infinite words but having to purchase them. With only a dollar, she buys a box with four words, and after opening the box and finding it empty, “she marched back into the wordshop and said, ‘THIS BOX IS EMPTY!”(Everett, 121) using her four words. After doing this a second time, she is left with empty boxes, without words. This emphasizes the idea that Kidder wants the infinite ability to speak to his daughter, but any words he speaks to her have no true destination, and travel both endlessly, and with static movement. He imagines that his daughter is having the same struggle. This love that Kidder has for his daughter turns into one of infinite desire, torture, and movement towards an illusory destination. 

The concept of infinity based on African Fractals is one that can be applied to my experiences in this course, African American Literature, and our last topic, The Water Cure. Finding a destination with this essay involved circling back to past experiences, noticing changes in my writing, and applying that to my life as well as The Water Cure, connecting these two concepts through African Fractals. Throughout writing this essay, I have learned that my writing has purpose beyond a grade, and that this class shouldn’t end here, but concepts learned in this environment should stretch to finding connections throughout our lives and in others as well. 

Seed Shape Essay

Fractals are mathematical structures that take a seed shape, or a base shape, and build more of that shape onto itself. Fractals can be used by algorithms to create things or, in culture, it can be used in day to day life. For instance, in African culture, fractals are used in architecture to separate sacred structures from everyday ones. In his book “African Fractals,” Ron Eglash talks about how the more sacred areas or pieces of architecture are placed at the center, and are the seed shape, while everything around it builds off of its structure, the sacredness of the areas decreasing with each layer. However, the idea of fractals can be applied to other aspects of life, such as literature. Literature can be connected through the use of fractals. Key concepts can be applied to several other texts, connecting them through one “seed shape” that is found in these similar texts. This course, African American Literature, involves topics that continually build off of each other, are connecting one to the other, and relate back to the beginning. For this reason, the course works similarly to that of fractals. Whereas in fractals shapes are used to build off of each other to create something, in this course, our texts and writings are connected to each other by, and are built on, key concepts. These key concepts, therefore, become our seed shape.

When approaching literature, it is important for people to read with an open mind, and be aware of what is being laid out for them. People can turn a reading into something it’s not, by being unaware of the author’s intentions. Furthermore, people can glance over important details that the author strategically places for the readers. For this reason, it takes close reading skills to be fully aware of what is being laid out for you in the text. This is also why it was so important to use close reading when approaching texts such as “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave” by Fredrick Douglass, and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. These readings are made up of sensitive text, and therefore it is important to have awareness of what you are reading, and understand how to interpret it. 

Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” is a science fiction story about humans on another planet, where a family is owned by a bug-like creature called T’Gatoi. Although there are many different ideas for why the story was written or what its underlying meaning is, there are a few parts of this story that some people may think could hint towards the story being about slavery. For example, the T’Gatoi has ownership of the family. If they ask something of someone in the family, they do it with no questions asked. Furthermore, the older brother in this text attempts to run away, but fails to do so because there is nowhere left to go. Lastly, the T’Gatoi withholds essential information about the future of the main character’s life involving pregnancy and the contents of becoming pregnant. These three components of this story correlate with many stories about slavery, and for this reason it may be easy for some to assume that it is about slavery. However, this story is followed by the afterword, in which the author explains their intentions for writing the story, and what the main idea is versus what it is not. And Butler explains that this story is not, in fact, about slavery. In her afterword, Butler says “It amazes me that some people have seen “Bloodchild” as a story of slavery. It isn’t. It’s a number of other things, though”(Butler, 30). There are those who would read “Bloodchild” and interpret it as a story about slavery, but because they would not take advantage of the information available and laid out to them, they interpret the text incorrectly. This is just one example underlying the importance of being aware of the information provided to you.

Another example of this key concept is in the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave” by Fredrick Douglass. In this text, Douglas shares his experiences when he was a slave. In his text, Douglass claims to keep information from his readers about how he escaped from slavery, specifically the path he took. The readers, myself included, may have been disappointed in this withholding of information, despite his efforts to make sure people could still use that route to escape by keeping the route a secret. However, Douglass does, in fact, provide this information for his readers. “I will take to the water. This very bay shall yet bear me into freedom. The steamboats steered in a northeast course from North Point. I will do the same; and when I get to the head of the bay, I will turn my canoe adrift, and walk straight through Delaware into Pennsylvania. When I get there, I shall not be required to have a pass; I can travel without being disturbed”(Call and Response, 299). The readers may pass over this text, as he is describing what he would do if he were to escape, but in reality he is explaining the route he took when he escaped. Douglass provided this information to the reader, hiding it in his text. This is another example of why it is important to pay attention to the text, and be aware of what the author is providing in their text.

My last example of this key concept is in “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. This story is from a mother’s perspective when her eldest daughter comes home to visit her mother and sister. However, when she returns, she is different. She is dressed differently, and she changed her name, saying she doesn’t want to be “named after the people who oppress me”(Call and Response, 1799). She asks for her grandmother’s quilts that were supposed to be given to her younger sister to use for what they were made for, but she wants to hang them up in her house. In this text, the older sister is depicted as being ungrateful, and wanting to escape her biological culture. However, what the text doesn’t show is the struggles of a Black American woman trying to assimilate to the culture around her, as well as remain true to Black culture. The readers are provided with only the mother’s perspective, and she is an unreliable narrator. For this reason, it is important to be aware of who is telling the story that you are reading, and whether or not that narrator is reliable. This is once again an example of the importance of being aware of what is available and given to you, and to make your own conclusions about the text instead of relying on the original narration. 

This key concept matters because it can apply to future texts, as well as other aspects in life. Though it is very important to be aware of the information given to you in texts, whether that means taking advantage of what the author is giving you or being aware of who is narrating a story, it is just as important to apply this concept to everyday life. It is also important to be aware of what people say, where you get your information, who is giving information, etc. Not everyone is reliable, and at the same time, it is important to look closely at and pay close attention to what people say. Therefore, the idea of being aware of what is laid out for you is an important key concept when reading as well as in real life.

“Fortune was born; he died.”

When we first started talking about the quotation used in this first line of Fortune’s Bones Preface, I was curious as to why we were spending so much of our class time on such minute detail. There was so much more to the preface, why spend so much time on punctuation? That was until we dove deeper into the meaning behind the punctuation, and what the author was conveying. The semicolon, in this context, was the author’s way of summarizing someone’s life in a sentence. The author summarizes Fortune’s life by saying the beginning and end of his life, the semicolon symbolizing everything in between. His life being summarized into a punctuation was the author’s way of showing that Fortune’s life, or the life of a slave, wasn’t important enough to elaborate on, and wasn’t worth talking about. That he was simply someone that lived and died. This exemplifies how all slaves were seen at that time, people who simply lived, died, and didn’t have any true essence. They were seen as objects, not people. Later in the preface, the author asks questions about what Fortune must have been like. For example, Marilyn Nelson says “Was Fortune bitter? Was he good or bad? Did he sometimes throw his head back and laugh?”(Nelson, 11) But all that was left of him was his bones, and no one remembered his life or his name. “His bones say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh.” This topic of discussion has made me think about how valuable life is, as well as made me appreciate my life on a greater scale. My understanding of the value of life increased because of how easily someone reduced someone else’s life into nothing. This also increased my appreciation of my own life because my life is valued to its fullness. Furthermore, it’s a reminder to make sure that you don’t reduce others to something less than who they are. Another discussion in class that has had me thinking throughout my day to day life is the idea of bad faith versus good faith. I am constantly thinking of whether my actions are within good or bad faith. In relation to this, I make sure that the motives of my good faith actions aren’t corrupt. I think about why I do something, and if it is for the betterment or detriment of the other person. I have yet to experience a moment since that discussion where I acted in bad faith. However, I am positive that if I do find myself acting in bad faith, I will think back to that discussion and make myself aware of the fact that I acted in the wrong. Something else that I have been thinkING about from class is how reading aloud can help us understand a passage more clearly. I have been using this in my other classes, in addition to this one, and it is more helpful than I had anticipated it would be. When I read a passage over and I don’t understand what I’m reading, I think back to that discussion in earlier classes, and I apply that to difficult readings. For example, in my poetry reading and text class, our readings are by authors using old English, and though I have a general understanding of what they say, reading out loud has helped me tremendously when it comes to fully understanding the text. I think reading out loud during class is important for me to begin doing during class as well. This is because it will help me not only understand the text more clearly, but also increase my confidence in public speaking. Developing the confidence to raise my hand during class to read is something I am working on currently. I usually don’t have a problem with raising my hand to answer a question, however, it’s when I have to read out loud where my confidence falters. I realize that this is because I have a fear of embarrassment and failure in class, so I have trouble volunteering to read during class in case I pronounce something incorrectly. Lastly, my senior year of high school I had a project on the Tuskegee Syphilis study. A lot of what we are learning in this class is about racism and medical studies, which is what my project was on. Therefore, I am curious as to if I will be able to make connections to what I learned while making the project. I also watched the movie on Henrietta Lacks in senior year. I know that we are reading the book that the movie is about, and I am curious what else I have left to learn about it. I’ve been curious about what the book is actually like as well, since the movie is about the interviews from Henrietta’s daughter. I am curious to see how I have developed as a reader, writer, and person by the end of this course. 

Nelson, Marilyn. 2004. Fortune’s Bones. Front Street, Asheville, North Carolina.