“Subverting” and Repurposing Dante

A question I have had early on in our class is why Toni Morrison chose Dante’s trilogy to frame and play with in at least three of her novels. I read Dante in HUM I like everyone else. I thought the text was fascinating and rich, and I can see the value of studying it, and I have a great respect for the scholarship surrounding it. Yet, the moral, and perhaps anachronistic, implications of the poem are troubling for me. What struck me most, in the negative way, was how Dante put his father figure/teacher/mentor Brunetto Latini in a relatively deep level of hell for being a “sodomite.  Continue reading ““Subverting” and Repurposing Dante”

Foucault’s “Panopticism” and Morrison’s Individuals

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I have been unable to shake a connection I made between the Foucauldian reading of the Panopticon and the ways in which Morrison, through internal character dialogue, examines systems of power and domination, which from my readings so far are overt and important themes across Morrison’s work; each novel explores in different times and places that various ideologies that perpetuated and continue to perpetuate anti-blackness and other forms of relegating oppressed groups.  I am not the first to make this connection, but I still think there is some potential insight to be discovered from more close reading with this theoretical perspective in mind.  Continue reading “Foucault’s “Panopticism” and Morrison’s Individuals”

“The Songs are Free”: Black Oral Tradition and the Classroom

I was especially moved by Bernice Johnson Reagon’s articulations about the oral tradition within Black churches and Civil Rights movements and later our unique dynamic in the classroom. Bill Moyers jokingly comments that his experience with the Southern Christian (white) churches is vastly different from Bernice’s. He jokes that “This Little Light of Mine” was taught to him via the church as a song about humility and submissiveness to god. Conversely, Bernice Johnson Reagon emphasizes that the song in the black oral tradition emphasizes the exact opposite and that the usage of the song, in Civil Rights movements and elsewhere, is actively undoing the oppressive expectation for black people to be silent and unseen.  Continue reading ““The Songs are Free”: Black Oral Tradition and the Classroom”

“Phantom” Assumptions and Expectations

Dr. Beth invoked an excellent metaphor for the outside forces that affect our responses to cultural productions like Morrison’s A Mercy. The idea is that we as products of various cultural and other forces bring expectations and assumptions into the space of the classroom, and if we do not try to root our responses in the text themselves, we are often possessed by these thoughts and “scripts” that may have nothing to do with the text. As someone that considers themselves as very conscious of these forces (from other English classes and my personal life), and as someone that has negatively been shaped and centered in the culture by them in various ways (primarily as a queer individual), I was very surprised to find myself “possessed” by these scripts while reading A Mercy. Continue reading ““Phantom” Assumptions and Expectations”