According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, to “notice” means to become aware of something; to “learn” means to “gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience”. In order to gain knowledge or understanding, one needs to learn new information or look at information in a new way. In other words, one needs to become aware of something new. Our course epigraph, “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” is therefore fundamentally related to learning. The speaker’s job is to learn, and to learn that other people can learn. There is a clear relation between the course epigraph and what we’ve been hearing about in some classes at SUNY Geneseo about the growth mindset, which asserts that we can learn and develop ourselves, that we are not immutable stone. The literature we’ve read in class, particularly Medical Apartheid, has been useful for my own noticing (or: learning) as I was almost wholly unaware of the lengthy abuse of blacks by the medical system—it was also something I had never considered or come close to thinking about, beyond many of the United States’ Founding Fathers owning slaves. Likewise, Dr. McCoy’s conscientiousness about the use of the language has encouraged me to pay more attention to my and other people’s use of speech and the subtle unintentional meanings that might hide within that speech. One example that has stood out in my mind was the distinction made between “slave” and “enslaved person”—“slave” sounding more like an ontological claim that the essence of the person who is a slave is that of a slave, rather than it being an action being done to them. Curiously, in spite of my absolute agreement with “enslaved person” being preferable to “slave”, I feel a little disgust at the notion of changing one’s usage of “slave” to “enslaved person”. Why this is, and why I can’t see myself using the terminology I agree more with, I cannot say, but it’s been on my mind for a while now. (Incidentally, I feel the same disgust whenever I see someone tell someone else that they should say something like “African American” instead of “black”, or “Caucasian” instead of “white”).

                                                               The structure of the class itself has also taught me much—I had much difficulty and frustration being required to write ten essays with the almost sole guideline being that they relate to the course themes, which are so broad that the blog posts gave what feltlike an overwhelming amount of possibilities of things to say, to such a  degree that I couldn’t say anything at all. There is much to be said about racism, medicine, and racism and medicine, but clear guidance on more focused writing topics might have been something that I could have engaged with more. The daily mention of “you can get a blog post out of that” or “there are about 50 blogposts in what you’ve all just said” has been a recurring source of frustration writing even one blog post was so difficult. Another source of frustration was the occasional encouragement to not worry about grades in a class that still requires grades and ultimately results in either a passing or a failing grade. While I completely agree with the spirit of Dr. McCoy’s emphasis on learning (or: noticing) rather than working for the sake of a grade without learning and understanding something new, it seems unfair to encourage laxity towards something essential to the progression of college students. While I strongly believe that none of these things, the openness in the course (in the sense of being given so much freedom in writing about what interests you, so long that it relates to the course), the encouragement that we (the students) have been openly discussing things which can be expanded upon (or “unpacked”), and the encouragement to not worry much about grades are by no means bad in themselves; rather, it seems that many, if not most other students have profited much from this style of class, judging by the excitement that many people have brought to the discussions involving the entire class and the seemingly high levels of engagement with material outside of the course (that is, things found on their own initiative that relate to the course, e.g. reading articles about zombies and medical history and so on). It just didn’t seem to work for me, at least not yet.

                                                              Another thing I’d like to add is about the group discussions. The discussions in which the whole class participated, and everyone is free to agree, disagree, or add whatever they’d like, often seemed to be very useful, while the smaller group discussions of 3-5 people seemed to be qualitatively far worse, with nothing insightful being shared, and the creation of little islands in the classroom seemed to encourage people to not sincerely engage with the material or each other at all; and then when the time comes to share what has been discussed, someone very graciously volunteers to spew off half-baked thoughts for a minute until everyone is satisfied. Maybe my view of the group discussions is overly cynical, but my experience in other classes seems to support it: the smaller groups accomplished very little while the whole class discussions encouraged everybody to think critically about the matter at hand, and gave everybody equal opportunity to interject where they see fit.

                                                               Lastly, I’ve learned, or rather noticed again, that it’s extremely difficult and unsatisfying to engage with any kind of schoolwork when you are very concerned and gloomy about something completely different, when all interest in these things disappears and there remains a need to pass the course so as to move on, and not to have spent in vain time of which there is never enough of. This is obviously not a fault of the course, but just a general observation from someone reflecting on things.

                                                              Throughout the semester I was frequently comparing this class to another class I was taking, African Lit. Criticism. In that class, there were extended readings on some fictional literature, particularly the novel Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, and weekly readings of non-fictional, theoretical pieces that provided a new dimension to the text by re-contextualizing what had been read, and by providing another means to understand what would be read later in the novel. For example, in one week we would read short theoretical pieces by someone like W.E.B. Du Bois, whose concept of double-consciousness could help us better understand the actions and views of some of the characters in the story; how the maltreatment they receive at the hands of other (whiter) folk makes it necessary for them to be ever-aware of their blackness. In another week we would read pieces about African Feminism, again challenging our past and present and future readings of the text. After each reading we would write a short essay drawing connections between the theoretical works and the fictional works, applying theory to fiction, and deepening our understanding of the literature. Through the more rigid structure (writing about a book and its relations to the recently read short theoretical pieces), I was able to develop a deeper understanding of the works and draw connections between them. The more closed nature of the course, where what is expected of you is more clearly defined, seemed to have worked better for me, and was at least far less frustrating. It was interesting to observe throughout the semester that two courses that are very much in conversation with each other can differ in their approach to the material so much, and still seem to yield very positive results among students.

                                                              The course for me, therefore, has been a great noticing experience. It’s taught me much about my own learning style, has exposed me to something brand new in the poor treatment of blacks within the medical system, and has made me more conscientious about language in general. Regardless of my many frustrations, I’m still very glad to have had the opportunity to take part and to notice something new, which is always an upbuilding experience.

The Bodies Exhibitions

Within much of the literature we’ve read has been emphasis or at least mention of people’s bodies being on display. We find it in Zulus with Alice Acitophel, Fortune’s Bones, Medical Apartheid, and Zone One. We find the body on display outside of literature too, as for example in the Body Worlds exhibit which shows off preserved corpses for the sake of education. In all of these cases, there has been a clear lack of consent—Alice did not consent to having her body displayed by the rebels, Fortune did not consent to being placed in a museum, those whose bodies were used in Medical Apartheid often did so without consent and especially without informed consent, and the stragglers’ bodies were used by the uninfected for entertainment (102), and body parts were also displayed for entertainment (6).

Outside of the literature, the Body Worlds exhibit, like its competitor BODIES… The Exhibition uses bodies of people who had not consented to be used in this way. Many of the bodies used by Body Worlds are thought to have been from the remains of (non-consenting) “homeless people, prisoners and indigent hospital patients.” BODIES… The Exhibition outright admits to using bodies that came from non-willing donors. When we see a clear connection between the present use of unwilling bodies in the two educational exhibitions, and the non-consensual treatment of black bodies in Medical Apartheid, we can be safe in assuming that it isn’t an accident that the black authors of Zulus, Fortune’s Bones, and Zone One all include bodies being forcefully placed on display. This common theme throughout the works invites some difficult questions, especially this: Even if bodies are placed on display for educational purposes as in Body Worlds and BODIES… The Exhibition, is there more lost through the exploitation of unwilling bodies than what is gained through public education?  

External Things Defining the Internal (Part 1 of 12 ¾)

“Zulus”, “Clays Ark”, “Zone One,” and “Medical Apartheid” all share a similar theme of the conflict that comes with being externally rather than internally defined. That is, being told what you are rather than willing your self to be itself. In “Zulus,” we can see this clearly from people’s attitudes towards Alice Acitophel; she’s fat and judged very negatively as a result; she’s fat in a context where being fat is far from the norm and implies wrongdoing—eating too much food in a food-starved world. She is further defined later as a cow, as an animal to be milked for the benefits that others will partake in at Alice’s expense. In “Clay’s Ark”, Eli and the other infected individuals meet with the negative knee-jerk reactions of Rane and her father Blake, who look with disgust and self-interested worry at the infected. Even more powerfully, Eli has to wrestle internal with defining himself as an external force enters Eli’s body and begins affecting his inward definition of himself. In Eli’s case, it is not merely himself against an external thing—like another person’s judgment—rather, it is Eli against an external thing (the organism) that has entered him and has begun changing him from within. In “Zone One”, as with “Clay’s Ark”, the infected, as far as can be seen in the story, are exclusively defined from without by the uninfected survivors of the plague. So it is with the history in “Medical Apartheid”, where blacks are frequently defined from without, typically by whites and typically by whites that possess a great degree of power, e.g. doctors, and value is placed upon these external judgments of the victim’s worth. In other words, external forces define an other’s worth.

The pain that comes along with this—with the self being defined from without—can be clearly seen in the aforementioned works, as well as in other literature such as Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” and Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” One is, according to Du Bois, and borne out by some studies, placed behind a great veil in which they are separated from another world through no action of their own. Rather, an external force has deemed, consciously or implicitly, that separate spheres must, and therefore do, exist. From behind this veil one becomes ever aware of one’s twoness; that one is both who they will to be internal, and who they are determined to be by external things. One is conscious of himself as he defines himself, but is also conscious of how other define him, and he must always navigate these two worlds. There comes to be a lack of concord in one’s heart: I am that I am, but the world sees and treats me differently from how I am internally. With Alice Acitophel, we can see that she possesses a naturally kind heart (albeit she is very naïve), yet she is treated poorly by others on account of her physical appearance, which they have deemed to be a serious crime. Shen she becomes thin, however, she becomes more like the perfect Lucinda Knotes and is generally treated better by the people she subsequently meets. Eli in “Clay’s Ark” has to cope with the natural internal problem of defining oneself, a natural external defining him (i.e. other people’s perceptions of him), and an external that enters him and changes him from within. The individuals in Medical Apartheid, likewise, are defined from without in contradiction with their presumed internal definitions of themselves. (No one wills to be victim of non-consensual medical exploitation that leads to so much suffering.) The common theme of being defined externally found in these works is clearly displayed as a source of significant trauma and suffering in the victims’ lives.


The introductions of literary works typically serve to convey a theme or themes and general sense of tone that will be seen throughout the work. Perhaps most bluntly, we are told immediately by Homer what the Iliad will be about: the rage of Achilles and the fulfilling of Zeus’ will. These themes lie at the center of the work and even with Achilles’ scant appearances in the first half of the story, he is frequently referenced by the other characters and one wonders when he’ll emerge from his tent and what he’ll do when he does. The anticipation of Achilles’ appearance throbs like a heartbeat, always beneath the action of the story and the characters’ feelings. Likewise, in Everett’s Zulus, Butler’s Clay’s Ark, and Morrison’s Home, we are very quickly introduced to the sort of worlds the authors place their characters, and each clearly seek to create this sense of a constant presence that may either be very apparent, as in the Iliad, Zulus, and Clay’s Ark¸ or less apparent as in Home.

Butler’s Clay’s Ark can be read as having two introductions. The very first chapter takes place in the past, while the following chapter takes place in the present, with the book shifting between past and present often. Both the past and the present’s first chapters places within our minds the idea of this world that Butler has created being dangerous. In the first chapter, Past 1, the very first sentence: ”The ship had been destroyed five days before” outright suggests violence, that is, destruction. We’re told a brief history of a man we follow, who was unsure of how the ship had been destroyed, how he’d been alone, how he “walked and climbed automatically”, and how he’s only moved by hunger and thirst. He’d hidden himself for five days, with “no goal but food, water, and human companionship.” And he killed animals “with his bare hands or with stones” which he “ate raw, splashing their blood over his ragged coverall, drinking as much of it as he could.” As in the Iliad, we’re told what will figure heavily in this story—instincts and killing. The next chapter, Present 2, further reinforces and adds to the world built in Past 1; we’re briefly introduced to three of the main characters, who are promptly kidnapped—at threat of violence—by another main character. By page 16 and before the next chapter, we’re already well aware that this story will be about violence, and this violence and the threat of this violence is constantly shown throughout later parts of the book in more or less obvious ways. Less obvious ways can be seen in the forceful transmission of a potentially fatal and invariably life-altering disease, in that there is inherently a violence done against a person when they don’t give informed consent but are experimented on anyway. More obvious ways can be seen in the overt physical violence that comes from shootouts, rapes, and a decapitation. The first half of Clay’s Ark focuses mostly on covert violence (in the form of transmitting the disease and kidnapping) and the threat of violence, while the latter half focuses on the more overt violence mentioned before.

Similarly, Everett’s Zulus begins with a violent scene. The protagonist is raped by page 11, and is then abandoned by the rapist who is never to be seen again. Though the rapist’s disappearing from the story makes it possible, even easy, to forget about this opening scene, it nevertheless follows us throughout the entirety of the story, as the plot hinges upon this opening scene having occurred, because it leads the protagonist to believe that she’s pregnant, which serves as motivation for her and almost every other character’s actions. After this initial violence, there are hardly any overtly violent actions committed in the rest of the story. For the most part, the story is quiet with only a threat of violence bubbling beneath. There is a threat of kidnapping, of experimentation, of death. The opening scene portraying extreme violence, therefore, can be interpreted as showing the reader an example of the kind of violences that can be inflicted upon someone in this world, as well as the extremity of that violence. The book doesn’t open with someone being slapped—it opens with someone being betrayed by a guest and raped on the floor. There is a seriousness in this initial action that lends itself to encouraging the reader to take seriously the threats of violence found within.

Similar to Zulus, Morrison’s Home opens with a violent scene that plants its roots within the rest of the story. Two of the main characters, in a past day when they were children, witness horses fighting and the burial of a person’s corpse. Unlike Clay’s Ark, this sort of violence does not find repetition over and over; rather, like Zulus, Home is quiet (barring one major scene) and the threat of violence is more pervasive. Contrary to either of the other two stories, however, the characters of Home, particularly Cee, are blind to much of the danger that surrounds them. Danger which in one important case seems to be wholly unclear without background information that can’t be found within the book. Cee’s time spent aiding the doctor she’s with seems to have no dramatic interest on its own whatsoever, and relies upon knowledge of the history of experimentation on blacks and on women to be used by the reader to project one’s own warnings of the potential danger to Cee onto Cee’s psychology, which is a psychology of naiveté. Regardless of whether or not this is a clever trick by the author or a failure in the novel, it’s clear by the opening scene and later scenes that the characters inhabit a violent and potentially still yet violent world.

The introductions of the three novels can be read with Washington’s Medical Apartheid in mind. The introduction of Medical Apartheid makes the aims of drawing attention to, and awareness of, the historical and contemporary exploitations of blacks and their relationship with medicine and medical communities. Iatrophobia, the fear of doctors or of going to the doctor, informs the rest of the text by providing a solid anchor point from which one can understand the relation of subsequent material. Through this idea of iatrophobia as anchor point, and through the subsequent material, one can see how the three novels relate to Medical Apartheid’s concerns of consent as a broad human right and of consent as a specific medical right. In Zulus the protagonist is raped and afraid that she’ll be experimented upon and that her child will be taken away; in Home we have Cee’s relationship with the doctor subtly suggesting imminent danger; and in Clay’s Ark we have kidnappings, murders, non-consensual transmission of diseases, and so on. The general themes of Medical Apartheid, so clearly laid out in the introduction of that book, therefore provide a useful framework for the reading of the novels, and helps orient the reader to a consistent understanding of the relationships between the various works.

The Use of Names in Zulus

“Race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content.”

So it is with a name. Names carry with them enormous power though, like race, they don’t possess any substantive content. A name like “Julius Caesar” carries with it a host of different associations: Rome, Italy, Europe, war, barbarians, Egypt, and so on, but none of these things are representative of the name “Julius Caesar.” There is nothing in the essence of the person we know as Julius Caesar that suggests that this person is named “Julius Caesar”; rather, it’s the name he was given upon birth and has been passed down to us through history. Likewise, when we see the name of someone we know, we immediately conjure in our minds many things that we associate with that person, their voice, body, some history with them, and so on. So names are both not real and have a dramatic and obvious effect on the world, just as race does.

Titles like “Mr.,” and “Mrs.,” are also names which carry a great deal of meaning behind them, as they denote social status. We can be sure that a “Mr. Johnson” is a male whose surname is Johnson, that a “Mrs. Kim” is certainly a married woman whose surname is Kim. One’s social status is even more clearly displayed when honorific titles like “Sir” or “Lord” are used; both conveying a sense of elevation. Other titles, such as the epithets commonly attached to names in the Iliad and Odyssey, e.g. “resourceful Odysseus” and “swift-footed Achilles” largely exist for the sake of metre, but they nevertheless remind us of basic characteristics of who they’re attached to. In Zulus we also see such epithets used; Alice Acitophel is typically “fat”, Theodore Theodore is “tiny”, and Lucinda Knotes is “perfect.” Due to the nature of the novel not following any kind of metre to necessitate these epithets, it stands to reason that they have been put in to serve some other sort of purpose.

What then is the use of epithets and names in Zulus? The answer is: it isn’t at all clear. Lucinda Knotes’ name, for example, invites the reader to “note” something, or to think that Lucinda is the one “noting” something, but what exactly is being noted or by whom isn’t clear at all. Is the reader supposed to “note” Lucinda, in that we ought to pay careful attention to her, as she’s gradually revealed to be far in character away from her epithet “perfect”? Or is there something else? Why is Theodore Theodore’s name the way it is; what does the repetition imply in the context of the novel? In Fortune’s Bones we see a repetition in Fortune being named and re-named as his true name is forgotten and lost, and a clear connection is made between the loss of individual enslaved persons’ histories and Fortune’s name being lost, but in Zulus the connections are far less obvious and, unfortunately, rarely elaborated on. Perhaps the only place in the novel where names are given any kind of overt importance is in Alice’s debate with herself over the ethics of taking on the dead Esther’s name, but this is brief and seems to lack relation with the rest of the book. Even an overt reference to a name, like “June Imhotep” lacks clear relation to the rest of the story. Imhotep was a doctor; Alice was intended to be sterilized by the state, and to be taken advantage of by doctors by the rebels; June Imhotep herself was a patient in a hospital. “Imhotep” means “I come in peace” and, even if we allow the pun that Alice met June through her job collecting and carrying pee, what greater meaning does it have, if any?

Horace’s quotation in the book, “mutate nomine”—fully, “change only the name and the story is about you”—might be thought to provide some clue as to the use of names in Zulus, but it isn’t clear if that is at all the case. Rather, the use of the quotation in the book seems most closely linked to the theme of self-determination shown by Alice. Her quest to find meaning in her life is something that everyone can relate to, and the many obvious metaphors of entering and exiting caves and vaginal canals and of giving birth to herself make this clear. At the very least, we can understand Alice’s surname, “Achitophel” as a Biblical relation to the wise man who advised David, and we might imagine that Alice is “wise” because she is so bent on defining herself rather than letting those around her act upon her in that way, again echoing the main theme of the book. Theodore Theodore’s name, meaning “God’s gift,” might reflect Alice’s initial attitude towards him in the book as someone who is practically a saint to her, and one whom she falls in love with very quickly. Lucinda, meaning “light”, and relating to the roman goddess of childbirth Lucene, might suggest that Lucinda will be (or will try to be) responsible for the birth of Alice’s supposed daughter. Thus, perhaps, we’re supposed to “note” her first name and are given some foreshadowing for her later efforts to forcefully take Alice back to the camp to be used as a cow. But all of this is very unclear and I’m not sure, which is probably playing right into Everett’s hands with the amount of misdirection and teasing he does in Zulus.

Cruelty & Beauty Together

“Their raised hooves crashing and striking, their manes tossing back from wild white eyes. They bit each other like dogs but when they stood, reared up on their hind legs, their forelegs around the withers of the other, we held our breath in wonder. . . . The neighs were not as frightening as the silence following a kick of hind legs into the lifted lips of the opponent. Then it stopped. . . . One dropped his head and pawed the ground while the winner loped off in an arc, nudging the mares before him. . . . They were so beautiful. So brutal.” So begins Toni Morrison’s short novel Home, and with it comes an important question: How can something be beautiful if it’s so brutal?

Joseph Addison, in the opening paragraph of his essay Pleasures of the Imagination, discusses the “pleasures of the imagination which arise from the actual view and survey of outward objects; and these, I think, all proceed from the sight of what is great, uncommon, or beautiful.” He asserts that regardless of whatever “horror or loathsomeness” an object may bear, there can still exist a “mixture of delight in the very disgust it gives us.” He goes on to elaborate on his use of greatness, by which is not meant “the bulk of any single object, but the largeness of a whole view, considered as one entire piece.” He provides examples from nature, such as “huge heaps of mountains” and “a wide expanse of water.” Finally, as far as this paper is concerned, he states: “Our imagination loves to be filled with an object, or to grasp at anything that is too big for its capacity.”

 While Addison is surely correct in his assessment of physically great things in the mind—as testified by poets, who have been inspired by sunsets and sunrises, oceans and great mountains for thousands of years—, far more interesting is his idea of considering something “as one entire piece.” If we consider something in that way the actual size of the object becomes wholly irrelevant, and we can fill our minds with small things that nonetheless feel great in size. For example, a beautiful woman “considered as one entire piece” can enthrall one’s heart and imagination insofar as every part of that woman would be magnified in the mind many times, in spite of her actual relative lack of size compared to the Sahara or the Alps.

 “The most beautiful time is the first period of falling in love, when, from every encounter, every glance, one fetches home something new to rejoice over.”* Regardless of any feelings of love for this beautiful woman, one can “fetch home something new to rejoice over,” from any part of her, from her eyes, lips, fingers, laugh, or a common mannerism that appears great because she’s doing it. In other words, the actual size of the object isn’t responsible for its being great or not. Rather, its absorption and magnification within the mind makes it great. In this sense, the mind very much “is its own place” and it can be understood how even wholly abstract ideas, such as those found in religion, philosophy, or poetry, can be so beautiful.

In Homer’s Iliad it can easily be seen how an admixture of “delight” with “horror or loathsomeness” can exist within the mind, as similes are very frequently used to contrast the violent world within the war, and the more peaceful world outside, creating a very broad view of the world. In the following passage, Homer compares the violent killing of a soldier with a flower:

“The archer loosed a fresh shaft from the bowstring

straight for Hector, his spirit longing to hit him—

but he missed and cut Gorgythion down instead,

a well-bred son of Priam, a handsome prince,

and the arrow pierced his chest, Gorgythion

whom Priam’s bride from Aesyme bore one day,

lovely Castianira lithe as a deathless goddess . . .

As a garden poppy, burst into red bloom, bends,

drooping its head to one side, weighed down

by its full seeds and a sudden spring shower,

so Gorgythion’s head fell limp over one shoulder,

weighed down by his helmet.”

When taken as an entire piece, the simile demonstrates that the beautiful can exist together with “horror or loathsomeness” or with butchery; the peaceful, idyllic outside world in which a blooming garden poppy can droop after a spring shower is contrasted with the slaughter of the war; the greatness of the contrast, between extreme violence and extreme peace, is enough to fill the mind, because the mind can easily become populated with the things that exist between those two states.

Another wonderful and similar comparison can be found in Crime and Punishment, which, in my own experience, created an enormous contrast between everything I’d ever heard or considered about “eternity” (or, as I considered when reading the passage, Heaven), with something opposite:

“We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is?”

The beginning of Morrison’s Home follows the same principles. The young protagonist saw the contrast between these (to his eyes) physically imposing creatures, normally thought of as highly docile and even majestic, and their violence against one another. Within the paragraph there’s an obvious contrast created between winner and loser of the duel, with the winner boasting to the women: “[loping] off in an arc, nudging the mares before him” and the loser having “dropped his head and pawed the ground”—imagery that very much seems to evoke a plaintive suppliant or sulking child. 

There are countless examples of beauty found alongside cruelty within and without literature (e.g. in film, music, visual art). Toni Morrison’s opening to Home is but one small example, and it succeeds very well in introducing the reader to the beauty and cruelty to be found within the story; beauty in the sacrifices characters are willing to make and the pain they’re willing to suffer, and cruelty in the way they’re often treated by the outside world. Even in that cruelty beauty can be found, the very fact that such cruelty is possible can, itself, be a very beautiful thought.

*Spoken by the pseudonymous author A in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.

Repetition in Fortune’s Bones

Early on in the course I noticed that Doctor McCoy emphasized something key to pay attention to while reading the course material. That key thing is the reviving of once-dead things, or the refusal to let already dead things remain dead. In other words, the creation of a repetition. The idea of repetition is most clearly shown in Fortune’s Bones, and supported in many parts of the early chapters of Medical Apartheid. In looking at Fortune’s Bones, we can create a timeline of Fortune’s life, death, and afterlife, as given to us by the book.

He and his family lived in the late 1700s, slaves to a Dr. Porter, for whom he worked the land, caring for animals and planting crops. He later died in 1798. Porter “preserved Fortune’s skeleton to further the study of human anatomy,” rather than having him buried. “He had two sons who were also doctors. They could learn from the skeleton, too.” Fortune’s bones were examined by Dr. Porter, who would later die in 1803. The bones would stay with the family; “Porter children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren used it to learn the names of the bones.”

The name “Larry” was written on the skull, and “Fortune’s name was forgotten for nearly a century.” The skeleton was lost, and eventually “discovered by a crew of workers.” After yet more time passed, “in 1993 Sally Porter Law McGlannan gave the bones to the Mattatuck Museum. [Where they were] to be assembled for display.” They were displayed there for decades, and “many stories were invented about the skeleton.” Pages 21 and 23 of Fortune’s Bones share people’s interactions with the bones, in 1800, 1870, 1890, 1907, and 1960. Finally, the book ends with an afterword that briefly discusses the, as of the publishing of the book, ongoing discussion of whether or not to display Fortune’s bones.

From this very brief biography, it is plain to see the many repetitions going on here. At the beginning of one’s life, one is typically given a name, but in Fortune’s case he was born, named, died, re-named, and his true name was forgotten for a century until discovered again. The bones would be studied by Dr. Porter, and then passed on to his children to be studied, or otherwise played with as in the case of the children playing with the skull in the attic. From the other things we’ve read and seen in this class, particularly the idea that many people were needlessly experimented on, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the medical experimentation on Fortune’s bones was probably also a form of play, a morbid satiating of curiosity.

Over time, the skeleton was lost until it was re-discovered, and once again the bones were given from someone to someone else; first from Dr. Porter to his children, and then from one of his children to the Mattatuck Museum. Indeed, Fortune was essentially owned by a great many people; Porter, his family, and the museum, and was never been allowed to be at rest. The bones were placed on display in the museum, once again allowing all who pass by to see Fortune, as if he were really still living in the world.

While the bones were on display in the museum, “many stories were invented about the skeleton.” Again, the repetition is plain. As you continue to act and interact with other people to any degree, a history is created. In Fortune’s case, he made history during his life, and was then forced to have a lengthy history long after his death. Finally, the discussion at the Mattatuck Museum regarding whether or not to display Fortune’s Bones is, at the end of the book, a matter of current debate.

The many repetitions shown in Fortune’s Bones seems to be a common theme found in other texts we’ve read in class, particularly Medical Apartheid. The fifth chapter of Medical Apartheid, The Restless Dead, discusses grave robbing, particularly of blacks. In it, corpses are dug up and forced to be objects of use by those with the power and will to do so. The morbidity of it all is perhaps best exemplified on page 136 of Medical Apartheid: “posing for professional portraits in anatomy laboratories with remains of dissected cadavers became an important professional ritual for medical students. . . Before 1920, the students were nearly always white and the cadavers often black. Images of African Americans who were lynched and dissected were treated alike in several telling ways. The dead bodies were often horribly mutilated: Body parts are excised and missing, and they are burned, castrated, or fresh wounds are visible. The bodies were also posed in undignified attitudes that accentuated whites’ dominance over them: The lynched were shown handcuffed, bound, hanging, gagged, and tied to stakes…” and so on for another half of a paragraph.

The epigraph for this course is “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” When paying attention to the repetitions in the course material it’s difficult not to notice the atrocities committed, or lack of dignity given for other human beings, and it’s difficult not to notice that the authors of these works, such as Fortune’s Bones and Medical Apartheid, believe that other people can notice these things, too.