In high school my band played The Divine Comedy composed by Robert W. Smith. Robert W. Smith composed the three different parts of the Divine Comedy; Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso as all separate movements. He told Dante’s story through music, and for me it really brings Dante’s story to life. Listening to Inferno you can almost imagine yourself entering Hell. The lone oboe solo in the beginning may represent Dante’s long journey into Hell. The loud percussion and brass throughout the movement really have a way of making you feel scared, and vulnerable. As Dante keeps making his way into the depths of Hell, Robert W. Smith adds human moans of agony and whipping sounds. This interpretation that Robert W Smith allows the listener to really understand the pain and harshness of Hell and the way Dante was feeling as he encountered it.
Here is Robert W. Smiths Divine Comedy I.- The Inferno
This is my first blog post for my English senior honors thesis: Biopolitics and the Neoliberal Subject. For my project, I explore illness narratives and the construction of the ill-body in contemporary African-American literature, and the critical conversations surrounding these narratives. More specifically, my thesis seeks to answer this critical question: In contemporary African-American literature, how does the construction of illness and the construction of the ill-body destabilize and ultimately counteract the biopolitical agenda of the neoliberal regime? Currently, this question acts as a guiding force for my research; the wording of the question may evolve as I conduct my research, but this critical question keeps me grounded in what I am seeking to discover.
Continue reading “Biopolitics and the Neoliberal Subject: an introduction”
Names in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy play an interesting role. We have already discussed in class and on the blog the name Patrician, the absence of a name for the Blacksmith, and the name Messalina/Lina. I’ve grown to enjoy finding etymologies for words, and if an author pays attention to names, as Morrison clearly does, then looking for meanings behind names can be equally fun, if not insightful.
A few disclaimers though, well, more like a disclaimer, a personal rule, and an acknowledgment. First, if I mention something that someone in our class has already pointed out and I don’t attribute it to that person then please let me know so I can promptly fix the offense. Second, I didn’t use any online or textual A Mercy guides or articles for this blog post. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using someone else’s research if you acknowledge it, but this removes some of the fun and it may be limiting if you don’t search beyond it. Lastly, sometimes the name game can be taken “too far” and the interpretations can begin to become less insightful and less pertinent. Our class is full of English majors, so I’m sure this gray area of interpretation is not too strange to any of you, but it seems particularly common in the name game. Anyway… Continue reading “The Name Game”
In class this week we discussed the interpretations made by characters within the text. While working in small groups on Wednesday, we tried to find instances wherein these interpretations were either supported or unsettled by the conclusion of the novel. As I was considering the implications of interpretation and misinterpretation, my thoughts began to steer towards the role that the structure of the novel plays in the unfolding of the readers’ own interpretations of the text. As Julie mentioned in her post, the novel is divided into chapters which belong to different characters. This division of chapters only lets the reader understand one slice of the story at a time. These glimpses into different characters’ perspectives reveals how each character understands their position and the position of others. By imposing blinders on readers, Morrison is compelling them to come to terms with their misinterpretations at the end of the novel. Continue reading “On Structure and Interpretation”
Last semester I chose to research in depth about the issue of how lesbian and bisexual women were treated in television shows. I chose this topic because of the frequency of deaths or unhappy exits those characters faced that spring. I noted the issue because my Tumblr dash and Twitter time line were flooded with angry posts from viewers of various shows. Upon research I found out that this unsettling occurrence was a trope and has been consistent in media productions. It is called “Bury your Gays”. According to tvtropes.com, “gay characters just aren’t allowed happy endings. Even if they do end up having some kind of relationship, at least one half of the couple…has to die at the end”. These include characters that are coded as LGB (many being villains), not just ones that expressly say they are interested in the same sex. It is the frequency and degree to which these characters are killed that really leaves a toll on viewers. Their narratives are removed thus excluding knowledge of their experience besides stereotypes. Continue reading “#LetLesbiansLive”
Emily’s blog post noted a quote from Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. The quote, “Slavery is Indeed an American institution” is something that I haven’t stopped turning over in my head. At first the statement may seem a little shortsighted when you realize that other European countries, including Britain, had been participating in the slave trade. However, when you look at the definition of the word “institution,” the truth of the statement becomes more evident. The online O.E.D has multiple definitions for “institution,” but the one I’d like to draw attention to is, “An established official organization having an important role in the life of a country, such as a bank, church, or legislature.” This seems important to me, especially the phrase, “important role in the life of a country.” When looked at in the context of slavery, this definition has a special, contemporary pertinence. Continue reading ““It is always now””
Almost immediately after today’s class concluded, Rachel asked me what I thought it meant that Jacob was never able to finish his house on the hills and what possible implications that this may have forged for the rest of the characters in the novel. I did not have a fully formulated answer for her right then and there, but this was something I wanted to explore on a deeper level and delve back into on this forum. Continue reading “Jacob’s Unfinished Business”
A question that Beth posed in class this week asked us to understand what Toni Morrison means when she stated that her literature is intended for black folks. In this blog post, I’d like to dive into what I believe that she meant, with a special mention to a quote from the PBS film, Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery, that stated indignantly that “slavery is indeed an institution that is American.”
Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery noted the contextual history of Morrison’s novel, A Mercy, by placing us in the time leading up to slavery – the movement that occurred during the Middle Passage and then the buying and selling of black bodies. In A Mercy, a work of historical American fiction, the quote “slavery is indeed an institution that is American,” should be noted in categorizing the novel as a work of “historical American fiction.” Among the many statements mentioned throughout the film, each able to shake the roots of what Joan Dayan recalls as “the sorcery of law… hidden at the heart of the modern state,” and which Beth sites in her “The Archive of the Archive of the Archive,” stating that slavery is an institution that is still present in our American ways and that its history will continue to haunt black lives is what brings Morrison’s work to life today. I inferred that this is what the producers of the film want us to learn from saying that. The statement is supported by reference to how the Declaration of Independence, the doctrine that asserts our nation’s foundation, was not made with consideration for black lives. The plethora of these kinds of dismissals present in our history continues to subjugate and dehumanize black people in the United States. It highlights a modern slavery that is a relic of what was never dealt with during Reconstruction.
Moreover, I think that stating that “slavery is indeed an institution that is American” brings currency to what we study in class. Saying that slavery is American includes its history and all of its implications in our present day society. It denies the perspective that some Americans have of “colorblindness” and elucidates Morrison’s assertion that her literature is meant for black people. It is meant to empower black people and to remember black history. It includes black lives, and the history of these black lives, and contextualizes this history to our present day society, giving a voice to the #BlackLivesMatter movement today.
For all these reasons, I applaud the showing of Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery because now, we know in brevity what we are working with. We know that what Morrison is teaching us is a delicate balance of our American history, including what has been erased and what we are yearning to learn.
On the second day of class (my first day since I joined late) I remember discussing Jacob and his apparent distaste for slavery. We spoke specifically about the line, “Jacob winced. Flesh was not his commodity.” Without context because I hadn’t starting reading the book yet, my initial reaction was a torn one. While on the surface one might think, “Oh wow, Jacob is so virtuous he rejects slavery!” the fact he still refers to the slaves as “flesh,” dehumanizing them, shows he is not so far removed from the idea of slavery.
However, I do think there’s something to be said for society and culture at this time; I believe it accurate to say it would be difficult to find any white person who flat out rejects slavery in all forms (in fact I’m taking a history course about working in America during this time period, and my professor repeatedly says we must remember what the time period was like.)
So, for the time period, I would agree Jacob is against slavery in comparison to someone like D’Ortega. The next argument we brought up in class is whether Jacob’s ideas toward slavery stem from religion or his belief in a self-efficient work ethic, and whether this matters when putting it into terms of morality.
To this I bring up an entirely different point: perhaps it is not the question of religion vs. work ethic, but a combination of both. When Lina is first rescued she goes to live with Presbyterian’s who say, “God hated idleness most of all.” To me, this sounds like a combination of religious belief with Jacob’s work ethic. I wonder if that is where Jacob’s obsession with working hard, doing things for yourself, not being lazy, etc. comes from. Perhaps at some point Jacob was exposed to this Presbyterian thinking. If so, one could argue his rejection of slavery is not only because he thinks it “cheating,” in a way, to accept slave labor instead of working yourself, but also somehow rooted in religion and God. However, this is all just speculation.
I do not think it matters the reason, when it comes down to it, I see Jacob as a man of morals and virtue.
After having watched the documentary today in class that Sarah had previously mentioned, Dr.McCoy gave us about ten minutes to reflect on any significant connections that we could see between the documentary and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. While Sarah had already started this discussion with her post, I think it is only appropriate to continue this discussion. Continue reading “A Response to “A Terrible Transformation, Africans in America””