Claudia Rankine: “‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

Lots of you have probably heard of/read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Recently, Rankine earned a MacArthur genius grant. Here, Steven W. Thrasher interviews the artist about her plans and about the need to study whiteness, “its paranoia, its violence, its rage.” The conversation carries echoes of the ways Jazz deploys “The Thunder, Perfect Mind” and attends to “the Beast.”

GOLD / GRAY

“Golden” as copied, pasted, and defined from Wiktionary.com:

Please note that all of the blue words can be clicked on and take you to a more detailed and specific definition of that particular word.

Adjective

golden ‎(comparative more golden or goldener, superlative most golden or goldenest)

  1. Made of, or relating to, gold.
    She wore a golden crown.
  2. Having a colour or other richness suggestive of gold.
    Under a golden sun.
  3. Marked by prosperity, creativity etc.
    The Renaissance was a golden era.
    the Golden Horseshoe
  4. Advantageous or very favourable.  [quotations ▼]
    This is a golden opportunity
  5. Relating to a fiftieth anniversary.
    It’s not long until our golden wedding.
  6. Relating to the elderly or retired.
    After retiring, Bob and Judy moved to Arizona to live out their golden years.
  7. (Britain, slang) Fine, without problem

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Idea of “Choice” in Jazz

Something I’ve noticed come up in the assigned readings thus far is the emphasis Violet and Joe both place on choice. What’s ironic is that Violet talks about choosing Joe, while Joe talks about choosing Dorcas. It gave me an image in my head of a sort of circle– as Violet pursues Joe, Joe pursues Dorcas. It also brought me back to the whole concept of churning that happens in Toni Morrison’s novels.

The first mention of choosing that caught my attention was when Violet was describing the funeral and attempting to explain why she did what she did. On page 95 she says, “That’s why it took so much wrestling to get me down, keep me down and out of that coffin where she was the heifer who took what was mine, what I chose, picked out and determined to have and hold on to. . . ” (Morrison). I’ve bolded all the words here that I believe have relevance to this concept of choice. Initially I thought this language was bizarre. Nowhere does Violet use the word “love.” Instead, all of her language points to possessiveness.

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Preliminary thoughts on “The Devil in Silver”

If this post has a thesis, it’s this:  I have thoughts about Victor LaValle’s novel, “The Devil in Silver.”  There isn’t much sophistication yet.   I’m 170 pages into the novel (412 pages total), so a lot of my contemplations regarding the novel examine recurring themes and motifs that I’m waiting to see play out over the course of the novel.  For this post, my goals are multifold.  First, I want this post to be a progress point for my work on “The Devil in Silver;” I want to articulate my ideas about the novel so I have a clear record of the ideas I’m working with, and so I can add, revise, and re-articulate these ideas as I get farther into the novel.  I think one of the most challenging aspects of my research thus far has been reinforcing to myself the fact that it’s okay to create posts that don’t articulate fully developed ideas.  I haven’t been open to making posts that demonstrate what I’m thinking at this point—which is the very purpose of this semester’s research.  As a result, the information on my blog in no way represents the volume of research I’ve performed this semester.  In this vein, I hope this post will be a stepping point in the right direction—explaining what I’m thinking, even if my thoughts aren’t complete.  I’m also trying to do a better job of thinking through the novels without my lens of biopolitics and neoliberalism—I don’t want to miss useful information because I’m so focused on one aspect of the story.  Consequently, this post will deal with ideas in which the connection to biopolitics isn’t yet made explicit.

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A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde

As an African American male raised in Harlem, the bustling, culturally diverse environment that Morrison has painted in Jazz is easy for me to visualize despite the large gap in time. A troubling truth that Morrison grapples with–and this connects to her mission to write for black people–is the intraracial war happening between men and women of color. In response to physical and emotional abuse from their male counterparts, the women take matters into their own hands–this, in a way, manifests itself into the form of Violet’s knife; the same knife she shoved into Dorcas instead of Joe Trace. I think it’s quite important for us to realize and acknowledge that Jazz is perhaps the closest we’ve ever been to truly experiencing a text about/for black people this semester. In much the same vein, prolific writers James Baldwin and Audre Lorde sat together in 1984, to talk about the very issues that run rampant in this novel. The interview still haunts me to this day; what does it mean when men and women within a single ethnic group commit acts of violence against each other? I don’t know the answer; and I argue that Morrison, Baldwin, and Lorde are just as troubled and dumbstruck by the situation. But I also think that all three are working towards understanding the problem before they can ultimately solve it, as best they can. Here is the interview. Enjoy and, hopefully, as I was, be enlightened.

Rochester: A City of Quality & Poverty (thoughts on contradiction)

In class today we spent some time discussing contradictions and dichotomies, and how the concept of “both/and” subverts the concept of “either/or.” The short film, “Rochester: A City of Quality” that Professor McCoy showed us in class today was filled with contradictions. Here are the links to the specific ones I noticed in the short film:

An artist glacier / volatile glacier

Tough / gentle surgery

Controlled abundance

Tough / tender

I also wanted to share this parody video I found called “Rochester: A City of Poverty” which serves to contradict the original short film created in 1963.

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Women and Mental Illness

In class today, I brought up the dichotomy of two forms of protection utilized by the women in Morrison’s works- those with mental walls, and those wielding physical weapons. It seems to be the case that the “strong Woman”, even Hillary Clinton, has been subject to adjectives like cold, and crazy. Those who have put up these psychological walls are looked upon poorly, the feminist movement taking the brunt of this blame. On the opposite side is those who choose to wield weapons like knives, guns, and pepper spray to protect themselves. This takes little to no blame (aside from gun control advocation as a whole) as people understand women to be physically disadvantaged, and in need of such protection. And so it follows, that society thinks that women do not need to protect their minds and autonomy, and become defensive of their right to exist mentally equal to men; but they should protect their physical vulnerability. And this could easily carry into a discussion of rape and the vile concept of women “asking for it” based on clothing choice, but that is a lengthy and heated discussion for a different post. I found this interesting because it is 2016, and women still need to put up these walls, to carry these weapons; if society has not grown past the gender inequality that transcends race, religion, nationality, etc, how can it hope to make it past the plethora of other instances of inequality as well?

In addition to this, I found an article discussing the differences in the instances of mental illness in men and women, written by Jason and Daniel Freemen. They cite the Center for Disease Control in stating that women are far more likely to suffer from illnesses like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and insomnia than men. Whereas their male counterparts more often suffer from alcoholism, violent tendencies, and anti-social personality disorder, which are markedly more prone to displays of their issues. They cite stigma (like that of the “crazy woman” persona), lower pay, higher body expectations, and difference in home life responsibilities as reasons why women may tend to keep their illnesses to themselves, whereas men may have more freedom to express themselves without as great a cause for worry. Think about it, what sounds more like an illness: Alcoholism, or Bipolar Depression? Each is a serious mental illness that requires extensive treatment, but one carries more of a “sickness” label than the other. This is not to say that men can’t have depression and women can’t be alcoholics, but the instance of each illness is more prone to the opposite gender.

In a research study by the US National Library of Medicine, Medical professionals discuss specifically African American Women’s beliefs concerning mental health, it stated that “They believed that an individual develops depression due to having a “weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.” These women also identified stigma as a significant barrier to seeking mental health services.” This attitude is a learned behavior, meaning that it is likely rooted in cultural beliefs and child-rearing practices, which have taught much of the African-American population, like all women but African American women specifically here, that the only way to survive in a world that they are born into pre-stigmatized, is to build walls and remain strong, even when in truth they should be seeking help. And such is the ultimate stigma to mental health, regardless of gender or race- people are terrified that once they allow themselves to be labelled ill, they become less of a person. And this is an especially painful concept to Women around the world, and the African American community, and by no means should be this way. Mental illness deserves recognition and kindness, just like any other physical illness. Its like considering someone to be less than who they are, just because they have fought and survived cancer.

 

~Here are some articles discussing mental illness, women, and stigma:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/10/19/the-stigma-of-mental-illness-and-women-s-health.html

http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/

~This last one addresses specifically African American Women’s views on mental health:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854624/

Violet’s Parrot

In my reading of Jazz up until the requirements for today’s class, I have been trying to unpack a reoccurring instance that has caught my attention, Violet’s Parrot. I began with a rather obvious initial question– Why a parrot? In an attempt to better understand Morrison’s intent in including the bird in the text, I began my search with a reading of a New York Times Review “My Parrot, My Self: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/books/review/Gottlieb-t.html

From the article, it is clear that the author believes that the allure of parrots exists in both the literary world and the “real” world. The author speaks of the BBC covering dozens of stories about parrots, almost every one “prefigured in a folk tale, novel, or poem.” The author specifically focuses on “Speke Parrot”, a poem written in the early 1520’s by Henry VIII’s poet laureate, John Skelton. In this poem, the parrot uses many different languages, and comes to serve as a complication to the argument that the general difference between humans and animals is the acquisition of language. This aspect, layered with the mention of birds in Dante’s inferno in the ring of the lustful, suggests that the Parrot’s inclusion in Morrison’s text highlights the animalistic nature of submitting to lust. Further, this relates to our class discussion about what actually defines the “pure and impure”. As a class, we concluded that Morrison creates many dichotomies when dealing with purity. Thus, the Parrot contributes the muddying of “innocence” when referring to sexuality and virginity within the text.

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Dante and Florence

While researching Dante and the Paradiso (I’m also taking Poetry and Cosmology, which employs Paradiso,) I stumbled upon some very amusing historical information that might give context to Toni Morrison’s relation to the text when writing her own paradise trilogy.  Dante isn’t buried in his home city of Florence, much to the agony of the Florentines.  Florence possesses a great shrine containing the likes of Florentine legends Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.  There is a tomb for Dante, and despite the assurances of the tour guides, the tomb is empty.  Dante is buried where he died in Ravenna.  In 1302, Dante was exiled from Florence by the reigning Black Guelf party and their patron Pope Boniface.  Dante became a political party of one, alone against the papacy and the city of Florence.   Without any legal authority, he had to rely on his writing to forment various trouble for the black Guelfs, including convincing the monarch Henry VII of France to sack Florence and install a new governing political power.  I can’t help but think of the classic saying ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ when I read of the troubles Dante caused for the Guelfs.  Mere political warfare wasn’t enough for Dante, he stabbed at the Guelf’s and papacy’s base of moral authority.  When Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, he threw many Guelfs and former popes into the depths of the Inferno for their various crimes.  Dante gave the politically maneuvering Boniface up the honor of being an icon of sin, destined to be thrown into hell upon his death.  During canto XIX, the previous pope Nicholas III mistakes Dante for Boniface and calls him out for his greed, rape, and foul tongue;

I stood as does the friar who confesses

the foul assassin who, fixed fast, head down,

calls back the friar, and so delays his death;

and he cried out: “Are you already standing,

already standing there, o Boniface?

The book has lied to me by several years.

Are you so quickly sated with the riches

for which you did not fear to take by guile

the Lovely Lady, then to violate her?”

And I became like those who stand as if

they have been mocked, who cannot understand

what has been said to them and can’t respond. (Inf. XIX, 49-60).

Given that Dante is considered the greatest poet of all time, and his depiction of hell is the foundation of all subsequent depictions, I have to think that his immortal writing skills won out over the fleeting power of his enemies.

Dante eventually was invited to Ravenna, where he finished his Divine Comedy, and died in 1321.  After realizing their lost son was the greatest poet in human history and the founder of modern Italian, Florence demanded Ravenna give his body back.  When Ravenna refused, Florence received Papal authority to retrieve Dante’s body.  They received a coffin filled with rocks.  True to Dante’s last wishes and sentiments of ‘screw Florence and the Pope,’ Ravenna had refused, and his body was eventually enshrined in a small church in Ravenna.  I have it on good authority to not remind the Florentines, or you won’t leave Florence in one piece.

That was the historical background of Dante; he was a writer who suffered severe wrongs in his life.  He was ruined by the dominant political and moral forces of his time and homeland.  When he resisted, all he had to fight against their overwhelming military and political power was his pen and paper.  I was wondering if anyone could draw a philosophical, or metaphorical connection in the conversation between Toni Morrison and Dante.