Saartjie Baartman: The Story of the Many Sides of Autonomy

(Trigger Warning: this blog post contains discussions of racialized sexual violence against black women.)

A figure who has come up A LOT in my scholarship this semester is Saartjie Baartman.  Baartman, or the “original booty queen,” was “the most famous black woman in 19th-century Europe.” (In lieu of perma-linking the same article over and over again, I’m indicating now that the first permalink is the only source I’ll be quoting.)  She was a native of South Africa and worked as a servant until she and her employer hatched a plan.  They decided that they would go to Europe and “make [Saartjie] a star in the human freak show circuit.”  Due to her large buttocks, she and her employers figured she’d become a hit in the eyes of western europeans who had never seen women like Saartjie up close, they’d only heard rumors which focused on the “exoticism” of eroticized body parts (read: longer labia and larger buttocks). Continue reading “Saartjie Baartman: The Story of the Many Sides of Autonomy”

Jordan Peele’s Us Shocks and Reads its Viewers (for filth)

Over spring break I had the privilege of seeing the latest production of Jordan Peele, Us. After Get Out I was expecting to be impressed.  Us generated $70 million in sales during its opening weekend.  I think a lot of people were expecting similar themes compared to Get Out, myself included and after Get Out’s success, it only makes sense that people showed up in troves to support Peele’s second film.  If you haven’t yet seen Get Out, and obviously if you haven’t seen Us, this blog post isn’t for you as it will contain spoilers from here on out. Continue reading “Jordan Peele’s Us Shocks and Reads its Viewers (for filth)”

Sustainability: The Problems that Arise when We Neglect to Notice Invisible Labor

Group Members: Rosa Mesbahi, Jenna Doolan, Elana Evenden, Sarah Holsberg,   Mikhayla Graham, Emily Pomainville, Cameron Rustay

MOVE ONE. We’d like to start with a simple definition of sustainability synthesized from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website and the official website of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). According to the EPA, “sustainability is based on a simple principle: everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations” (it’s also important to note the political bias of the current head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler. Wheeler has been described as a climate denier). The EPA statement gives a good picture of the ways in which sustainability pertains to the environment, especially considering this is where our group discussion began, but it neglects to consider all the pillars of sustainability. The UCLA Sustainability Committee defines sustainability as: “the physical development and institutional operating practices that meet the needs of present users without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, particularly with regard to use and waste of natural resources. Sustainable practices support ecological, human, and economic health and vitality.” This definition acknowledges the remaining two pillars of sustainability as well: the economic and social. Continue reading “Sustainability: The Problems that Arise when We Neglect to Notice Invisible Labor”

W.B. Yeats and Carl Phillips in Conversation

I was thumbing through Angles of Ascent over the weekend and noticed a single dogeared page.  Page 379, I had annotated a poem by Carl Phillips “Leda, After the Swan.”  In the small group discussion a few weeks ago we were asked to discuss our favorite poems, this wasn’t mine, but we discussed it in length and after our conversation I found myself interested in the origins and the poem is it based off of.

“Leda and the Swan” was published in the mid 20s, by W.B. Yeats about the myth of the rape of Leda by Zeus who took the form of a Swan.  In our group we discussed the controversy surrounding the poem. Yeats focuses on the act itself and alludes to the Trojan War as well.  In the rape, Leda becomes impregnated with who will become Helen of Troy. Yeats posits that the rape of Leda leads to the Trojan War and thus the end of Greek civilization. When “Leda and the Swan” was published it stirred up controversy due to its explicit nature.  More recently however, it has upset feminist activists because of the way in which Yeats chooses to show the rape of Leda by Zeus, or the swan. The poem remains Yeats’ most commonly anthologized poems. Continue reading “W.B. Yeats and Carl Phillips in Conversation”

How D’Aguiar Breathes Life into His Protagonists

When I went to the D’Aguiar reading, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  At previous poetry readings I’ve been the audience to mainly women, who were mainly white, who were reading poems about love and heartbreak and growing up in small towns.  This isn’t to talk down on these poets, because by many of them I’ve been brought to tears, but rather it shows that my own background has informed the readings that I’ve been able to attend.  I grew up in a small town in upstate New York and my, mostly white, high school would have Java Jive, a poetry and live music event, yearly. Most of my experiences listening to poetry read aloud have occurred in that unilateral arena.  

I’d like to approach D’Aguiar’s reading of Bullet, an excerpt from a piece he’s working on now about the Virginia Tech Massacre which he has a close connection too, using a course epigraph: “Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life.”   Continue reading “How D’Aguiar Breathes Life into His Protagonists”

bell hooks in Conversation with Thomas Jefferson

In the spirit of recursion, I’d like to go back to a text we covered in class on February 11th, “Notes on the State of Virginia.”  When we encountered this text, it was in reference to fugitive slave narratives.  We discussed the ways in which Thomas Jefferson compared the aesthetics, literary, cultural and physical, of African, European, and Indigenous peoples.  With a focus on the literature, we critiqued the way that Jefferson claimed that Africans were only able to “mimic” while Europeans represented original and refined works.  Borrowing these ideas of mimicry and originality, I’d like to shift the focus to the portrayal of African Americans in popular culture.

In my Feminism and Pornography class, we are finally starting to explore porn as it relates to different identities.  With the first half of the course focusing purely on white heterosexual pornography, we’ve now started to look at the intersections of race as it relates to porn.  As a Women’s and Gender Studies and English Literature double major, I’ve come to expect overlap in coursework.   Continue reading “bell hooks in Conversation with Thomas Jefferson”

The Omnipresence of the “Unasked Question”

“In Louis Althusser’s notion of interpellation, it is the police who initiate the call or address by which a subject becomes socially constituted.  There is a policeman, the one not only who represents the law but whose address “Hey you!” has the effect of binding the law to the one who is hailedThe call is formative… precisely because it initiates the individual into the subjected status of the subject.” (Judith Butler, “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion, 381, emphasis added)

Judith Butler is making the argument that the police, and potentially other empowered groups, have the power to place or put the law on those whom they choose to address.  The police are inherently empowered by the virtue of their position and by the law itself. The person whom they have made a “subject” however is at the disposal of the power of the law and thus at the disposal of the power of the policeman.   Continue reading “The Omnipresence of the “Unasked Question””

Resonance and Recursion

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.– Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

I read this epigraph to mean that people and groups of people aren’t necessarily forgotten when they die.  The language and the culture that we engage with and contribute to when we’re alive effectively measures our lives and makes us memorable.

Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke, studied and sang about the way in which music can help people to reclaim space.  She spoke of music as a way to bond and ground a culture.  Music and the language within music effectively grounds a culture and reclaims space taken from African Americans in pre civil war times.  In and through black music, black people have been able to live through and past their deaths, reclaiming their spaces, as others have continued to sing and spread their songs.

There is a certain resonance communicated in this epigraph that is similarly found in the African American community.  Reagon herself wrote her own music in response to historical events as a way to pay homage to those who came before her.  There is a clear recursive element to this epigraph as well as to African American culture and music.  The recursion is found in the music in the way in which events seem to be recalled through music.  Reagon references history effectively bringing people and events back to the forefront of culture.  This style of song writing and historical representation is indicative of the Call and Response theme present in African American culture.