Collaboration as a Tool for Interpreting Justice and Ourselves

The eagle of divine Justice is a constellation creating of words from Canto 18, “Diligite Justitiam” (91) which means to cherish justice. Although the message is to cherish divine justice, Dante’s inquires make it clear that the term is open for interpretation. In Paradiso Canto 18, Dante equates the eyes, more specifically Beatrice’s eyes, as an image into Paradise: “Turn to him and listen—for / not only in my eyes is Paradise” (lines 20-21). Paradise can also be interpreted differently according to the eyes of the beholder as readers see in Morrison’s Paradise and the community’s different interpretations of what Ruby is supposed to stand for. In Paradise, the different generations within Ruby argue whether the inscription on the oven is “Beware the Furrow of His Brow? [or] Be the Furrow of His Brow?” (93). This debate can trace itself back to Paradiso and whether the souls that make up the eagle’s eye should be the goal or the warning. One of the souls on the eagle’s brow is Constantine who, according to Dante, went against Heaven when he moved the capital of the Roman empire from the West to the East which is in direct disagreement with the cosmos. However, even though Constantine went against Heaven, his soul can be found among the stars because it was his intentions that were good and that is what he was judged on. In Canto 19 of Paradiso, the eagle of justice claims that justice is beyond our comprehension because we are unable to see it in its full capacity: “vision that your world receives / can penetrate into Eternal Justice / no more than eye can penetrate the sea” (58-60).The different interpretations of what the words on the oven continue throughout the novel with the different interpretations of justice. This is especially prevalent when the community in Paradise justifies the massacre of the woman of the Covent and whether these actions were truly just. This raises even more questions on if their intentions were for the good or a reaction out of fear and the disappearing of the bodies may hint that the souls of the fallen were redeemed. 

           Paradise tells the story of a community called Ruby from the stories of various other characters. The novel itself is actually a collective whole made up of different parts similarly to the makeup of both the oven within the novel and Dante’s eagle. While Dante’s eagle is created star by star to create a constellation, the oven is constructed brick by brick. Both the eagle and the oven both represent something larger than themselves as well and have been created by souls preceding those whom the readers see the story unfold in front of. These messages, however, are subjected to different interpretations. The eagle calls into question what justice is and if the true justice that allows souls to move to heaven are judged by the actions or intentions. However, although the question of justice is brought into play with the massacre of the women of the Covent in Paradise, the oven’s message can be directly tied to the brow of the eagle. The debate between generations on whether the inscription on the oven is “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” or “Be the Furrow of His Brow” or even “We are the Furrow of His Brow” (298). The true meaning was lost long ago, yet each generation that rebuilds it, brick by brick, creates their own meaning for it. Similarly, justice cannot be viewed as a whole by people, but only glimpses are caught, and people create their own definitions from those moments of limited understanding. Even the title Paradise allows for different interpretations of the town Ruby and if this community built is paradise or in fact, it holds the opposite. When the oven is center of the community, the heart, but its usefulness has died out and yet the community continues to persist with it. This interpretation extends to the readers as well as fellow peer Katherine Johnson remind me: “The oven is subject to the perception of people based on their background and experiences, as is the eagle. However, the eagle has a key of sorts, which directs people to perceive it in a certain way, and the oven does not.” Dante guides the readers through his journey and through his perspective while the citizens of Ruby are left with a deteriorating structure to guide their varying interpretations. 

           The residents’ interpretations of the writing on the oven’s lip seems to differ from generation as the closeness and experiences of those who build the oven increase in distance over time. As beautifully pointed out by my classmate Cal Hoag: “After arriving at Ruby the oven had to be reassembled, but like the town itself there’s no telling if the assembled product is the same as what was there to begin with. The oven was no longer the town’s uniting force and its function had become purely symbolic…” Although the writing has worn to the point of ineligibility, there is a clash between what has been traditionally understood as the motto by the older generation versus what the younger generation believes the inscription should represent about the town: “Beware the Furrow of His Brow? [or] Be the Furrow of His Brow?” (93). The only difference in the words themselves is the ‘ware’ after Be, but these four letters change the meaning completely. The former serves as a warning while the latter offers itself as a guide for the community. Although Ruby as a community has shared beginnings and experiences, how the individuals perceive these experiences as well as going through their own has resulted in different understandings from the same piece of iron. In the end, both parties respect their ancestors and want the significance of the oven to continue as a connection between Him and the inhabitants of Ruby. The older generation views the relationship between themselves and God as his children, meant to obey the commands while all the power rests within Himself, an understanding. However, the younger generation’s interpretation falls under the definition of a performance of the ideas of Him and they believe in order to obey Him, they must become His vessel. These two groups of people literally fall under different interpretations of the word interpretation

           It feels as though the conflict with the oven is an underlying problem of the community as a whole and Morrison seems to be suggesting that when differences in interpretations are present, effective collaboration can make a difference. There was an attempt to collaborate when gathering the town to discuss the oven’s inscription. However, the older generation stubbornly held onto the past and rejected what the younger generation had to say about change. Although Reverend Misner attempted to mediate, both parties were set on their interpretation. The oven has long lost its functionality, yet the community continues to value it as though it hadn’t and even rebuild it by sacrificing other necessities. What the oven represents appears to be much more valuable than the object itself which is why the motto inscribed matters to the people while the words have little effect on the object itself. A key to successfully collaborating involves respecting the opinion of others even in disagreement and this lack of respect is clear during the public discussion from both parties. However, this conflict within Ruby only leads to a crumbling foundation and the readers eventually see signs of the younger generation persisting with the graffitied “We Are the Furrow of His Brow” (298) on the hood of the oven.

           An important revelation I had about Paradise and the current circumstances came about through a post made by fellow peer Ashley Daddona: “The process in which the readers of the Oven interpret, agree/disagree and collaborate, though not flawless, is still a process moving forward.” Although the collaboration within Paradise appears fruitless at first, it’s important to acknowledge and value that talking is the first step forward and any step forward, despite how small, is still progress. Paradise puts the both/and questions on a smaller and more realistic scale for the readers and although the questions raised in Paradise are far from simple, they may be more manageable to most than those in Paradiso. The conversation around interpretation brings me back to the conversation surrounding intention as well. I keep wondering if good intentions can justify bad actions and learning how to still seek and respect interpretations even though I don’t agree with them. This justification. In Paradiso, interpretation, especially on justice, is taken to a larger scale with the readers exploring qualifications in entering heaven. In the grand scheme, Dante ponders whether good intentions triumph bad actions or even a lack of religion. These questions become easier to relate to when exploring Ruby in Paradise and the readers question whether the actions of the residents are justifiable as well and the destructive force of inefficient collaboration on differing interpretations. Although interpretation and collaboration appeal to me as an English major, I’m more drawn to the connection with my Education major and hopefully a career. Collaboration may seem more obvious, but it’s importance in education and the transference into life outside academics as well cannot be overstated. However, interpretation has taken me years to fully appreciate for myself let alone realize its importance to teach within the classroom. Students, especially in high school, often feel as though the teacher’s answer is the right or the only answer. However, students should feel that their interpretation is valuable and that the thinking that got them there is just as important. Collaboration can serve as a tool to respect and value other’s interpretation of course material and these skills can be transferred to life outside of school. I was always worried during class to participate and say the wrong thing because maybe I didn’t understand the material the way I was supposed to or as well as I thought I did. The lack of participation increased my lack of self-confidence and the vicious cycle continued until college. I would become more likely to participate in class when I felt as though I was close to the professor and the students in my class so sharing potentially stupid thoughts was still safer. This class is among the several classes at SUNY Geneseo where I enjoy the class because I can participate in small and class sized discussions surrounded by those I trust and these classes also increase my self-confidence with every contribution. The common thread between these classes is that I was able to collaborate with my peers, even if it was just discussions in small groups, and my professors respected my interpretation of the material. However, unfortunately, it’s the lack of effective collaboration due to a difference in interpretations have resulted in more chaos during this time of uncertainty. I hope that soon, the majority of people will be able to reach an agreement for the betterment of people’s lives and successfully collaborate on the solution rather than remain divided. However, I now have hope that despite appearance, society is moving forward and that the process may take longer than it should, but it will eventually meet its end goal.

Movement and Narration in Morrison and Dante

By: Cal Hoag, Ashley Daddona, Jenna Doolan, Margaret Pigliacelli, Kat Johnson, Micayah Ambriz, Ellie Walker

Movement, transition, and togetherness are major components of the lives of the characters in Toni Morrison’s Jazz as well as in the spiritual improvement of the sinners found in Dante’s version of purgatory in Purgatorio. Movement within the minds of sinners as they re-evaluate and repent for their actions on Earth is manifested in physical movement up and down Mount Purgatory. Canto IV describes the mount: “This Mount is not like others: at the start / it is most difficult to climb, but then, / the more one climbs the easier it becomes” (88-90). This journey appears to be a simple movement from bottom to top, yet the path is not so linear as it circles around and around the mountain as it comes to the precipice. 

Morrison’s novel follows this same roadmap laid out by Dante as a casual, seemingly omniscient narrator describes a fraught, loveless marriage between characters Joe—who had just murdered his young teenage lover, Dorcas—and Joe’s wife Violet—who assaulted Dorcas’ body in a rage as it was presented at her funeral. The start of the couple’s journey is difficult and full of pain as they attempt to rebuild and reconcile their relationship, yet as they move up their personal purgatorial mountains the journey gets easier because of the way they simultaneously move backward in time. 

With memory as a basis of time, movement of the characters and Jazz’s narrator is no longer progressively forward (or upward) based, mirroring the inconsistent rise and descent of a soul, or Dante and his guide Virgil, through purgatory. The specific movement of the forward into Paradise in which the original guides leave their pilgrims so that another will take their place is similar in both works. At the end of Dante’s Purgatorio, Virgil is suddenly replaced with Beatrice who will lead Dante through Paradise. At the end of Jazz, the narrator leaves Joe and Violet when Felice appears. The etymology behind the name Felice is ‘happiness’ and ‘luck’ which could symbolize Joe and Violet’s movement into Paradise hence the change in guides. This movement could also refer to their spiritual happiness and paradise as well. 

In Paradiso, Beatrice berates Dante for his previous physical love of her as he was only infatuated with her outside appearance and this isn’t true love. It is the spiritual love beyond the face that allows people to reach true happiness and become closer to God. In Jazz, Joe has moved from his excessive love of the flesh into a state closer to spiritual love which allows him to be happy with Violet and not seek out Felice the same way he did Dorcas. Dorcas was the object of his infatuation with the physical appearance and it took his movement through his own purgatory to reach this spiritual awakening.

The passage of time to the characters almost becomes irrelevant, as their versions of reality become rooted in the past, making it difficult for readers to identify how time passes and nearly impossible to trust the characters’ judgment or acknowledgment of time because it is strongly based on memory. The same could be said for grief: there is no linear path from start to finish, but instead, an individual must constantly return to the past in order to proceed further still. Our group had a similar experience while completing this project. Similar to Virgil being replaced by Beatrice, our guide was also replaced as we were exiled from campus. Our circumstances while doing this project are so different from what we did for the first collaborative essay that, separated from each other by long distances and from our memory of Jazz by time and stress, we needed to come together to remember what it was like not only to be a student but to be a person working with other people. In this way, we were also walking a recursive, complex path with no clear beginning or end.

The Expulsion of Ignorance

Throughout the works we’ve read in this course, there have been many people expelled from their homes for a variety of reasons. However, an underlying force behind the majority of these expulsions can be tied to a lack of knowledge held from a person or group of people and this lack of awareness can affect how we interpret what we do have. Ignorance, willful or otherwise, is a major force in expulsion and one that A Mercy perpetuates through the relationship between the characters and the relationship between the readers and the characters as well. 

           A Mercy is written through a series of narratives from different characters, each chapter telling a story while giving the readers an insight on a situation or person from another perspective. There are several relationships between the characters that have led to expulsion and the root cause being ignorance. One of these relationships is the guardian like relationship between Lina and Florens. “When Lina tried to enlighten her, saying, ‘You are one leaf on his tree,’ Florens shook her head, closed her eyes and replied, ‘No. I am his tree’” (71). From Lina’s point of view, there is a trust in her life experience and her precautions against the Blacksmith seem reasonable coming from a caring guardian. Florens looks to Lina in times of need yet refuses to believe anything that goes against how she feels about the Blacksmith. Florens lacks the tools of experience and maturity that are needed to show restraint against infatuated impulses and cannot see her love for the Blacksmith as possibly destructive. Florens is still naive in many ways and places her freedom in a person, the Blacksmith becomes her world: “There is only you. Nothing outside of you” (44). However, this tunnel vision that Florens has that doesn’t allow her to see beyond the Blacksmith ends up hurting her in the end when she gets jealous of the child. Florens’s presumed abandonment by her mother has almost given her the wrong tools of interpretation. Her childhood doesn’t allow her to see past his love for the child rather than love for a woman and becomes, like a child, jealous of the attention shown to Malaik. This causes her to respond roughly to Malaik and the Blacksmith reprimands Florens for lack of awareness saying, “Your head is empty and your body is wild” (166). The Blacksmith then expels Florens and throughout this course, we’ve seen this type of expulsion from lack of knowledge many times. The Big Short was structured similarly with different chapters containing an aspect of the story through a different person’s eyes. Although they are real people and not character, we see how harmful ignorance can be in The Big Short as no one making the important decisions seem to know not only what they are doing but what the consequences will be as well. Both intentional and unintentional ignorance ends up expelling hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. In King Lear, we built our argument on this lack of awareness on trust. For example, Edgar’s trust for Edmund leads to his expulsion, but he trusts Edmund because he is unaware of Edmund’s true motives. Edgar knows of his illegitimate brother’s status and how this will affect Edmund’s future, but Edgar is unable to see Edmund’s greed or jealousy and is, therefore, able to trust him. In A Mercy, however, Morrison continues to demonstrate how a lack of knowledge and the tools to understand what knowledge is given through the relationship when builds between the characters and the readers.

           The readers gain knowledge and tools they are fortunate to see from the different perspectives of the characters, but some of these tools of interpretation to understand what is being read is only given near the end of the novel. The readers are led to interpret the knowledge gained from chapters of Lina’s perspective that Sorrow is a bad person. It isn’t until further along in the novel that Morrison gives the readers Sorrow’s perspective and in seeing both sides, the readers learn the truth. This lack of Sorrow’s truth, however, allows Lina to successfully expel her until then. The most prominent example from the novel, however, of lack of knowledge between the reader and character’s relationship resulting in expulsion is that between Florens and her mother. Both the readers and Florens, through Florens’s perspective, interpret the knowledge the readers are given as abandonment. This abandonment is the driving force behind Florens’s negative feelings that lead to her expulsion from the Blacksmith. She frequently sees her mother in her mind, appearing as if to want to talk to her: “A minha mãe leans at the door holding her little boy’s hand…As always she is trying to tell me something” (161). At first, the readers may interpret this as Florens missing her mother and the imagery of seeing her with her son only increases the feeling of betrayal. Unfortunately, only the readers are given the knowledge that allows for the correct interpretation of what happened. The last chapter is dedicated to Florens’s mother and the truth behind her giving up Florens. The readers are then given the tools, the truth, and when Florens sees her mother trying to tell her something, the readers know that she is trying to tell her the truth: “In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you” (195). Florens doesn’t and may never have the tools to interpret her mother’s abandonment of her as a mercy.

           Ignorance is never truly bliss; it is a limitation on the achievement of happiness. People are often tempted to be content with their current situation in life, and I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong in that. It is, however, important to not limit ourselves in learning so that we may not be willingly ignorant. It’s easy to believe the first thing said on the news or the first post on a social media account, but it’s an active decision whether or not to educate ourselves further on the authenticity of these things or to accept them point-blank. If people remain in a bubble concerning the surrounding environment then they end up expelling themselves from that environment, shelter like Florens from the truth. I hope that people continue to strive for knowledge concerning themselves and the world around them. I truly believe what Florens’s mother says is true, “there is magic in learning” (191).

Motives Behind Madness

                       As humans, we are faced with infinite choices and it’s natural for us to judge the choices of others especially when they don’t align with what we believe to be best.  The Turner House sheds light on the true motives behind what drives our choices as people whereas The Big Short revealed the motives behind those who pursued justice or the truth. Even though both works read like novels, we shouldn’t mistake that life reads the same way. Better understanding the motives behind people’s choices, good or bad, can bring us closer to better understanding our own humanity and that of others whom we have otherwise dismissed as just “bad people.” After all, humans are born with the ability to make choices, not with the ability to make only good choices. 

           In The Turner House, Flournoy explores the lives of the Turner children focused on throughout the novel and how they grew up influenced decisions they make now. The family is a small-scale view, the individual Turners on an even smaller scale, of a financial crisis that in its largest scale affected the world’s economy in some way or another. Even though this novel takes place during the housing crisis, it feels as though it is only an underlying current while we delve deeper into the lives of the individual Turners and what has shaped them. Throughout the novel, we explore the Turners’ motivation to their actions and even though we have special insight as readers we are left wondering what Tina also wonders when hearing about Cha-Cha and Alice: “Can a human being ever truly know another person’s heart?” (Flournoy 290). Cha-Cha’s actions are largely shaped by his haunting father and the fact that due to all of the weight on his shoulders, he doesn’t feel like he’s being listened to. What drives him to pursue a relationship with Alice is that there is someone who he feels finally is listening and validating the good and bad of him. Lelah acknowledges her addiction to gambling as the possibility of victory rather than the possibility of a fortune: “The exact amount wasn’t as important to her while in the thick of the game as much as the feel of her stack of chips” (Flournoy 49). It’s easy to see a person who gambles and question why they would continue with large money at stake rather than look for what they really are getting out of it such as the chance to actually succeed at something. Often the truth behind our actions may not be known to others or even ourselves. As Francis Turner puts it: “It took courage to let a woman in on one’s disappointment, one’s fear” (Flournoy 278). Sometimes it’s difficult to be vulnerable in why we make our choices to other people, so we instead don’t offer an explanation or don’t expect one we’ll receive to justify the judgments we cast on the action.

           In The Big Short, Lewis explores actual people’s lives and while he discloses what went on behind the curtain of those uncovering the crisis from beginning to burst. Lewis focuses on bringing the understanding of the reader from the viewpoint of those working against CDOs. After reading the book, you had very real humans exploring a version of the same side through the lens created by their own lives. It also becomes apparent that money was a big motivator for both sides of the equation, not just those who were screwing people over but also those betting against them. However, we still get their backstory and how their circumstances have shaped who they are. Steve Eisman was known for his blunt personality and we learn that although it may not directly correlate with his financial decisions, his son’s death played a big part in his life thereon after. As Eisman puts it, “’From the point of view of the history of the universe, Max’s death was not a big deal,’ said Eisman. ‘It was just my big deal’” (Lewis 12). Our experiences may not seem to matter in the grand scheme of things, but the ripple they can take on in our own actions unto others are infinite. Burry always believed himself to be defined by his glass eye until he later discovered that he has Asperger’s. Both parts of him were viewed both negatively by himself and others but they are part of what drove him to make important life decisions. With Vinny Daniel, he was motivated to be inclined to see the darker nature of humanity that we tend to overlook because of his experiences: “Maybe it was Queens, maybe it was what had happened to his father, or maybe it was just the way Vincent Daniel was wired, but he viewed his fellow man with the most intense suspicion” (Lewis 10). Lewis gave us these insights into why these people were motivated to look for and/or bet against Wall Street, but his lack of exposing the deeper motivation behind those at Wall Street leads us to just take their unethical choices as purely villainous.

           Although The Turner House is a novel, The Big Short also abides by storytelling elements especially when introducing the “characters.” As mentioned by Sandy in class, The TurnerHouse appears to humanize the villains we see in The Big Short. However, I believe we feel like this because The Turner House works to expose the real human motives behind what we may gauge as bad choices. When telling a story, the “why” is something we search for to explain the characters’ decisions, actions, and words. This was only delved into from the point of view of those working “against” the unethical practices of Wall Street while those in higher positions seemed to only be ruled by ignorance or greed. To me, the people in these positions aren’t painted as not human, but rather they only represent the worst in humanity itself. This is a part of humanity we willingly turn a blind eye to or cast under the label of the classical villain. I am also eager to do so when initially reading The Big Short, however, this part of humanity is very real and needs to be understood if hope to better understand ourselves and the choices we’re inclined to make. Maybe this knowledge will also help us think twice about the why before we carry through with the do.

           Understanding people’s motives and better understanding our own may help us think twice when passing judgment on the choices of others. It’s easy to pass judgment as if the world was painted like a movie: there are only people driven by greed or desire who seek to hurt others and there is everyone else who either falls under the heels of the former or rises to challenge them. The reality is that the world is grey, and the worst of the best of what makes us human exists in all of us. In the words of Flournoy, “Here is the truth about self-discovery: it is never without cost” (Flournoy 106). We are influenced by our past, our current environment, our desire, our morals, and our experiences. One decision doesn’t dictate who we are, but the motives behind these decisions and how we deal with the consequences can say a lot about us as people. I think, given at a time like this, exploring motives is key especially when shuffling though all the fake/false news we are being faced with. Right now, fear is behind many people’s actions. Fear is driving a lot of media as well whether the information is instigated by fear or meant to spread it. I hope we can all respect each other’s humanity, the good and the bad, even if we disagree with other people’s choices. In retaliation spread facts and kindness rather than hate since we are all human and we are all in this together. 

The Price of Power at the Cost of Love

           The constant expulsion of characters throughout King Lear is the result of the mishandling of power as if it were a liquid or asset to be swapped. The term Liquid as defined by as “a substance that flows freely” and “not fixed or stable” and the term Swap defined by the same source as a “substitute one thing for another” is integrated throughout the play. The swapping of love for power only increases the liquidity of power causing its instability to which a consequence is the expulsion of oneself.  

           Several characters aren’t content with their current arrangements in life and prefer the position of others. These positions are that of power and this strive to obtain or retain power often comes at the cost of love. One of the most notable, yet incomplete swaps of power is between Edmund and Edgar. Edmund manipulates the love and trust he has received despite being illegitimate to assume the power entitled to Edgar’s position as Gloucester’s legitimate son: “Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. / Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund/ As to th’ legitimate” (1.2). This regaining of power appears to only happen since the swap of power and identity between Edmund and Edgar was incomplete and thus this power transfer took on the instable and free-flowing form of liquidity. Edmund risked everything to become more powerful than both Edgar and his father and while he assumed this role, Edgar was unable to forget himself thus unable to completely switch out of his power into the role of Poor Tom. Edgar recognizes his position as false first upon hearing of Lear’s expulsion: “My tears begin to take his part so much / they mar my counterfeiting” (3.6). Edgar, although he did not give away his identity right away, was unable to completely be Poor Tom when coming across his wounded father and because he is unable to forget himself he can expose Edmund’s fraud take back his position and power as Edgar.

           As a liquid, power can flow from one person to another and is open in both directions. Lear transfers his power from himself into Regan and Goneril expecting that he still can retain this power through his title. Cordelia is expelled when Lear’s flow of love and affection stops and is split between the two remaining sisters. This is where power begins to show itself in the form of an unfixable and instable liquid. This love, although conditional, is only given to Regan and Goneril in the form of power. These two sisters to retain this power, cut off the love they falsely flowed to their father. Cordelia refuses to trade her love for power by uttering false flattery and says, “I am sure my love’s/ More ponderous than my tongue” (1.1). Although this leads to her expulsion, we don’t see her suffering through this exile throughout the play as we do with characters such as Lear whose conditional love leads to his and Cordelia’s demise.

           Multiple characters were expelled, however, only three characters both expelled another as well as was expelled themselves. Lear expels Cordelia, by cutting off his supply of power to her and this choice to treat power as though it were a liquid result in his later expulsion by Regan and Goneril. Lear gave his two daughters the necessary means to physically force him out. We see both the expeller and the expelled again in Edmund. Edmund had been expelled from society as being an illegitimate and used his expulsion to fuel his desire to swap places with Edgar and expel him from society as well. Lear and Edmund both exchanged love for power and while Lear is humbled from his expulsion, Edmund is initially motivated by his. Edgar is the only character who was expelled but regains his identity and place through the expulsion of Edmund at the end of the play. He never sought to obtain power through the loss of love, unlike Lear and Edmund. 

           Although King Lear involves fictional characters placed in situations that may appear ridiculous from a modern perspective, the interaction of liquidity and swapping are common occurrences today as well. Love is often seen as a weakness, a liquid that can come and go whereas power is an unyielding force. People can often be blind-sighted by the appeal of power that they may not realize it comes with a price. Love is power or can be argued more powerful than power itself and people who trade love to live a life of only the latter rather than amongst those who choose the former are only expelling themselves in the end.