We Do Language

Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our human difference— the way in which we are like no other life.

We die. That may be the meaning of our life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

At the beginning of the semester, I selected the above epigraph by Toni Morrison to ground myself in the course texts for African-American Literature. I was drawn to this epigraph because it seemed to connect many of the earliest sources we encountered, including Call and Response, Big Machine, The Songs are Free, and “The danger of a single story.” Considering these sources in my first blog post, “Occupation of Space,” I indicated that my goal for the semester was to understand the use of space with relation to the course texts in order to better understand how language is a measure of life. I quickly found that if I were to focus exclusively on this goal, I would be missing the depth and breadth of African-American literature. That’s not to say that space was absent or less relevant in certain texts, but rather that observing space could not satisfy my need to examine the many facets of the literature. However, I was able to hold onto my selected course epigraph throughout the semester, and with the accumulation of texts I have developed a greater understanding of and appreciation for Morrison’s words. Continue reading “We Do Language”

Imaginative Freedom in Literature

While reviewing my notes I revisited the introduction of Fredrick Douglass’ text and found the statement that black literary art is a reminder of “imaginative freedom that we can claim within a painful history.” Looking back at the course texts and attempting to unify them in my mind, perhaps I can consider them each an act of imaginative freedom. Certainly authors like Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, and Octavia Butler use their imagination freely to express any number of ideas. The statement is more complicated on the back end though, with the reminder of “painful history.” If we read all black literary art within the context of “painful history,” we are limiting African American authors. Continue reading “Imaginative Freedom in Literature”

Is Big Machine Linear or Cyclic?

Throughout the semester we have considered the function of linear and cyclic interpretations of time. It is particularly fitting this time of year as many seniors prepare for graduation. While I view my path as an accumulation of credits toward the eventual walk across the stage, Beth reminds us all of the incoming class that tours outside Welles every day. My journey toward graduation has been linear, though the college engages in continuous cycles of admitting and graduating its students. Thus, the college experience is both linear and cyclic. Of course, Big Machine is too. Continue reading “Is Big Machine Linear or Cyclic?”

Ricky, Our Narrator

Like Tayler, I was interested by the Big Machine quote, “In case I don’t survive, I want you to know this is my voice. Ricky Rice. Your father” (LaValle, 366). In her post, “Meaning & Measure,” Tayler suggests that Ricky’s story is a measure of his life. I think it’s particularly interesting to consider language as a measure of life in the context of Big Machine, because Ricky is telling his own story. Continue reading “Ricky, Our Narrator”

Content of Their Character

In Ian’s post, “The Theme of Outcasts in African American Literature and Societal Views on Persons with Disabilities,” he addresses the process and impacts of social othering. He uses Big Machine to illustrate some of the forms that “outcast” has taken in our literature, including the homeless man on the bus, the Unlikely Scholars, and those working on behalf of Solomon Clay. The post then transitions to the language surrounding disability and how it functions to other people with disabilities. Then he states, “A good practice to remember to introduce people by their qualities and their relationship to you instead of by what makes them unique.” I believe that people’s qualities and what makes them unique are somewhat interchangeable, but Ian’s intent seems to be asking readers to consider character before aspects of identity. Continue reading “Content of Their Character”


In the last week I have taken two of my teacher certification exams, so Education is the primary current running through me at the moment. As a result, I can’t help but focus my attention on Molly’s character in Suzan-Lori Parks’ Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom. Early in the play, she seems to string together a series of phrases that are unrelated to the situation at hand, such as, “I lie down you lie down he she it lies down,” and, “The-little-lamb-follows-closely-behind-at-Mary’s-heels-as-Mary-boards-the-train.” She questioned the phrases, pointing out the absurdity of a lamb boarding a train (25). Likely, these are phrases that she was taught to memorize during her formal education, and they come to mind as she recalls being thrown out of school.

Of Molly’s words, what stands out most to me is the repetition of, “S-K is /sk/ as in ask.” It’s fairly common for people, especially children, to produce the word “axe” in speech instead of “ask,” as Molly does later on. Based on what she is saying, it appears she was receiving phonics instruction intended to change this tendency. Continue reading ““S-K” IS /SK/ AS IN “AXE””

This Is Not Making Paint

In Sarah-Anne Michel’s blog post, “This Is Not a Post,” for the Art of Steve Prince class, she presents analysis of one of my favorite works of art. “Treachery of Images” is a painting by Rene Magritte in 1928 in which the text seems to contradict the image. While the image is of a pipe, the French text underneath translates to, “This is not a pipe.” Magritte’s rationale for the text is that because the work depicts an image of a pipe, it is not in fact a pipe. I think Sarah-Anne sums up the complexity well with her statement, “words can mean what they say and not say what they mean.” In another context a reader may be presented with a text that faithfully describes the aesthetic of a pine tree. And yet, if the reader interprets, “This is a tree,” they are missing that it is the authors portrayal of a tree. The author’s unstated purpose may be to promote preservation of wildlife, so they may manipulate their portrayal of the pine tree to suit that purpose. It’s up to individual viewers/readers to be vigilant about interpreting how a work may mean more than it says.

Of the texts we have read so far, I think one that most clearly demonstrates the distinction between surface meaning and subtext is Chapter 10 of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Continue reading “This Is Not Making Paint”

Critical Literacy, Library Space, & Unlikely Scholars

Recently I attended a Diversity Summit session titled Culturally Responsive Classrooms through Critical Literacy and Learning presented by Dr. Thea Yurkewecz and Dr. Crystal Simmons. At the session, we discussed the significant underrepresentation and misrepresentation of groups of people in classroom libraries. Critical literacy is a tool for teachers to choose books that are culturally sensitive and help students to study representation in texts. This is a way for teachers to avoid the dangers of the single-story, as presented in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk.

I think the session was highly relevant to ENGL 337 in two ways. Firstly, critical literacy is a lens through which we can examine our course texts. That will not be the focus of my blog post, but I will include the critical literacy guiding questions from the session in case anyone is interested. Secondly, critical literacy addresses the physical and figurative space taken up by African-American literature on bookshelves. Continue reading “Critical Literacy, Library Space, & Unlikely Scholars”

Authors’ Consent

In seeking to better understand the concept, I found a broad definition of consent from Merriam-Webster dictionary that reads, “compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another.” This means that there are at least two parties, a seeker and a provider of consent. The SUNY policy handout from class offers additional details to inform our understanding, including the statement that consent “is clear.” It further explains, “Affirmative consent is a clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement…” If we are considering consent in non-sexual contexts, then the logistics of clear, affirmative consent can be complicated. Should you ask permission every time you want to rant to a friend about your day? Are you responsible for seeking permission to use a project group chat on the weekends? To seek permission for these things would certainly limit the risk of doing harm to others, but it would be impossible to anticipate and prepare for all ways that such harm could occur. Because of this, I can see the “gray area” that Jessica refers to in her most recent blog post. Continue reading “Authors’ Consent”

Occupation of Space

At the outset of ENGL 337, Beth informed the class that the texts and sources that we would encounter throughout the semester would often seem out of harmony, if not contradictory. She explained that the course material was selected intentionally to avoid the hazards of a single-story. The TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie explains this issue  in depth, pointing to her own experiences growing up in Nigeria and then attending school in the United States. She found that her American roommate viewed the continent of Africa as a monolith of poverty and violence, for this was the only narrative to which the roommate had been exposed. In order to be informed on the complexities of a subject such as African-American Literature, we as readers must be exposed to diverse narratives on the subject.

Continue reading “Occupation of Space”