Gluttony and The Terror of the Great Outdoors in Lelah’s Eviction

As I traced Lelah’s story of eviction and homelessness throughout the five weeks of Spring 2008 in The Turner House, my mind kept returning to an excerpt we read in the beginning of class from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  In it, Morrison attests that:

“Outdoors, we knew, was the real terror of life. The threat of being outsiders surface frequently in those days. Every possibility of excess was curtailed with it. […] There is a difference between being put out and being put outdoors. If you are put out, you go somewhere else; if you are put outdoors, there is no place to go.”

Morrison’s excerpt is particularly harrowing in light of the story of Lelah: who, after being evicted from her apartment, spends much of the novel building upon lies to hide her homelessness while squatting in the Turner house as a buffer to avoid the terror of being put outdoors. The part, however, of Morrison’s analysis that interested me most in connection to Lelah was her description of outdoors as a curtailing of excess. In The Turner House, Flournoy dedicates much of the first chapter novel to narrating Lelah’s humiliating and painful eviction, in which she has two hours to pack her belongings into her car under the watchful eye of two bailiffs. Flournoy writes, “Mostly, all Lelah did was put her hands on the things she owned, think about them for a second, and decide against carrying them to her Pontiac.” Ironically, rather than trying to cram as much of her possession as possible into her Pontiac, Lelah chooses to leave the bulk of her belongings behind. Flournoy clarifies that “Furniture was too bulk, food from the fridge would expire in her car, and the smaller things–a blender boxes of full costume jewelry, a toaster–felt too ridiculous to take along.” Here, the restriction Lelah places onto herself harkens back to Morrison’s intriguing observation that being “put outdoors” means to curtail every possibility of excess. Lelah’s possessions–the sum of years of accumulating “ridiculous,” but surely meaningful, artifacts–become reduced to triviality through the act of eviction.

The relationship between Lelah’s eviction and the curtailing of excess, of course, reminds me of a point made by Roach that we’ve returned to multiple times throughout the semester–his insight that “violence is the performance of waste.” It is not coincidental that when Lelah is evicted, the sum of her possessions that she can’t take in her Pontiac (her furniture and countless objects she trivializes as ridiculous, among others) will be disposed of in a dumpster. Her eviction, then, effectively performs waste: as the collected material value of the objects in her apartment aren’t going to be recycled or repurposed into further use, but are instead reduced to trash. The eviction also performs violence onto Lelah–a point that Morrison exemplifies in her excerpt exploring the terror and fear of being put outdoors. There’s a lot more to say on this subject, but for now, both Roach and Morrison have informed my own previous reading of Lelah’s eviction and prompted me to think about the ripple effect eviction causes in both paradoxically promoting violence and restricting the gluttony of material excess.

A House Analogy Related To The Turner House

While thinking about progression in The Turner House last class, I remembered an analogy that I had stumbled upon before even starting the class. I found this analogy in a horror game called “ANATOMY.” At $3, the game is a surprisingly eerie and tense interactive story, revolving around finding and listening to cassette tapes in an old and dimly lit low-fi house, which teach you about, as described by the indie developer Kitty Horrorshow, “the physiology of domestic architecture.”

Continue reading “A House Analogy Related To The Turner House”

Why 13 Siblings in the Turner House?

As I was reading the turner house, something that I wondered was why Angela Flournoy decides to include 13 Turner siblings in the novel, when only about 3 of them are heavily focused on and given a POV. Why have a family composed of so many siblings when some aren’t even accounted for?  Did Flournoy just want to show the dynamics of a big family, or was she trying to get at something deeper?  When I tried to answer this question in class, I said that perhaps Flournoy was trying to show that when you have such a large family, with so many stories to be told, some are “naturally” left out.  Beth compared this to picking up a large pile of leaves, where some leaves are naturally going to fall out of ones grasp.  However, my assertion that leaving out most of the siblings stories was a natural process was questioned.  Someone in class (sorry I am forgetting who!) pointed out that this is not really natural at all but very intentional.  This made me question my initial assertion, and look deeper into the stories that are not being told in this novel. Continue reading “Why 13 Siblings in the Turner House?”

Good Writing and Trust

As Dr. McCoy pointed out a couple classes ago, we all started to read The Turner House with expectations. For me, a lot of my expectations for the novel were framed by the fact that we’re reading this in a college course and plenty of news outlets had named it the best book of the year. However, pretty much all of my expectations were thwarted, and, sadly, not in a good way. Continue reading “Good Writing and Trust”

Birth Order and The Turner House

Birth order has always been a very intriguing topic to me, mainly because I see myself fitting very nicely in the trope of “oldest child.” In my youth, and still today, like to keep myself busy by being involved in a myriad of activities and clubs, I’m loud, bossy, and like to be the center of attention. My younger sister, the middle child, fits her prescribed path as well: she often feels as though she is “forgotten” and is much quieter and more reserved (my mother says this is because I did all the talking for her). As for my brother, the stereotypical “youngest child,” he is just as free-willed and spoiled as you might imagine.   Continue reading “Birth Order and The Turner House”

Alpha’s Question (Delayed)

**I mis-entered my password too many times, so the blog locked me out.. but I’m back!

Blog Post:

“Although our learnings in this course have given us further insight into wall street ventures that most of us were not aware of in the past, crooked dealings by the 1% that have a huge trickling effect on the ‘real economy’ have always been hinted towards (very frequently by Bernie Sanders). With that being said, why did it take a required reading for us to finally dive into these issues? What was holding us back?”

 

So I’ve watched a lot of Scandal recently. Yes, the ABC network drama in it’s sixth season, that Scandal.  For those of you who have not yet religiously binge watched dozens of episodes, it’s a show starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a high powered woman who knows all the Washington D.C. insider secrets, and uses them to “fix problems.” She takes on high profile clients, and helps them work around the legal system of the U.S. and work the media outlets, sometimes taking advantage of those who don’t know as much so that justice, or at least her interpretation of justice, can prevail.

When I was thinking about Alpha’s questions, I thought about it in two ways: 1. Why didn’t society as a whole dive into the issues of the financial world? 2. Why didn’t I, as an individual look into these issues? (Thank you to Jes during our group discussion in class for putting what I was vaguely thinking into concrete words).  My reasoning for both interpretations of the question stem from the same place. We aren’t concerned about things that don’t involve us on an individual level; we place a certain amount of faith in those who are making the decisions and setting the rules when it comes to things we don’t entirely understand. Prior to the stock market crash of 2009, not many people were affected by the actions of “the 1%.”   Continue reading “Alpha’s Question (Delayed)”

Skunk Spray: Racial Injustice and Complacency in The Turner House

Racial tension, though not the central story line of The Turner House, is ever-present in Angela Flournoy’s rendition of the Turners’ lives. The 12th Street Riot, which serves as the backdrop for a single flashback scene, demonstrates the cultures of both racism and resistance within the city of Detroit. Interested in the historical significance of the riot, I did some research and found that when the riot occurred in the summer of 1967, it was one of the most destructive in this country’s history with 43 deaths, 342 serious injuries, and 7,000 arrests. These severe casualties were the result of building tension between the predominantly white Detroit Police Department and black members of the community who were being fed rumors of police brutality. On July 23, the first day that shots were fired, the police department had conducted a raid of an illegal club hosting a celebration for recently returned veterans. Those in attendance, a mainly black group, resisted police orders to exit the club leading to the arrest of 85 patrons. As the arrestees waited in the streets to be taken away by police, hundreds more gathered in the streets and protested the aggression they were witnessing. It escalated into a historical riot that left Detroit bloodstained (12th Street Riot).

I was further drawn to Flournoy’s poignant glimpse of this horrific event through the experience of the eldest Turner child, Cha-Cha. “Afterward, a burning house became an olfactory norm akin to skunk spray; as long as the source of the odor wasn’t too close, you eventually ignored it” (page 89). Though the use of odor in this context was literal, it could be interpreted figuratively as anything repulsive and upsetting to the senses. Based on that interpretation, this quotation states that with time the repulsive becomes familiar, dulling our senses. Humans will become complacent in any situation if only given the time to do so. In one scene of The Turner House, Cha-Cha confronts issues of childhood and Francey tells him to be grateful it was not worse. He could have been much closer to the odor. “Slavery. Did there ever exist a more annoying way to try to make a modern-day black man feel like his troubles were insignificant, that he should be satisfied with the sorry hand society dealt him?” (page 82) Though Cha-Cha was the Turner child to observe the curious skunk spray phenomena, here he rejects its validity in terms of social justice. Yes, of course it was worse to be bound to the fields by someone who treated you as subhuman, but he would not adjust to the repulsive odor of injustice as it continued to invade his modern life.

“A feather-bed resistance” as Zora Neale Hurston describes in the epigraph of The Turner House is not uproar. It does not appear in the flames and loss of life of the 12th Street Riot. Instead, the feather-bed absorbs discrimination and then functions in spite of injustice. This resembles the philosophy of civil rights leader Booker T. Washington, which was a “strategy of accommodation and emphasis on industrial education.” The opposite approach was taken by W.E.B. Du Bois, who believed that the black community should demand equal treatment, rather than strive to work their way up. He believed that equality was a right inherent to all races that did not need to be earned (W.E.B. Du Bois).

By including Hurston’s work in the epigraph, Flournoy set us up to be thinking about race in our reading of The Turner House. Therefore moving forward we must be aware of the characters’ proximity to the “skunk spray” as well as their complacency or lack thereof.

Edit: This was my first blog post, and I did not realize until later in the semester how exactly I meant to connect this to more overarching themes. Distance from skunk spray is a way to understand space. If a person belongs in a certain place then is met with skunk spray, then while escaping the stench may be in their best interest, it is displacing that person. Maybe you can’t continue life in your neighborhood because of the crime, as on Yarrow Street. In that case, putting distance between yourself and harm is a compromise between autochthonous identity and livable conditions. By simply walking away and seeking better for yourself where you are permitted to, you would be offering a gentle resistance as described above. The reason that people like W.E.B. Du Bois are important is because they defend the right to occupy space that is rightfully deserved. Assertive tactic refuses to let society push some people to the margins or to willingly travel there to escape the stench of injustice. The 12th Street Riot and similar uprisings were by people who refused to be content with a space that was unfit for them.

Recontextualizing Water And Cyclical Rebirth in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”

In class last Friday, we ended our discussion on the language of water metaphors in finance by looking at common symbolic associations of water in literature, including the use of water to evoke symbolism of purity, vitality and renewal. We then touched on texts that aim to recontextualize the symbolic association connecting “water” to “purity,” and I mentioned T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem “The Wasteland” as a central modernist poem that invokes water imagery to highlight the growing accumulation of decay and disintegration in Modernist Europe.

Eliot plays with water imagery throughout the poem, but his most telling use of water imagery occurs in Part III of the poem, ironically titled “The Fire Sermon.” According to the footnote for the phrase “Fire Sermon” in my copy of “The Wasteland,”  “The Buddha preached the Fire Sermon against the fires of lust and other passions that destroy people and prevent their regeneration.” Here, the Bhudda’s cautions of excessive lust and passions that prevent “regeneration” serve as a stark foreshadowing of the remainder of the section, which explores devastation in modern London. Eliot suggests, then, that the West perpetuates a state of crisis in modernity, a commentary reinforced by his evocation of Eastern ideals pitted against Western gluttony. 

Continue reading “Recontextualizing Water And Cyclical Rebirth in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland””

Cha-Cha’s Ghost and the “Big Room”

I thought Alpha’s questions for Monday’s (2/27) discussion were good things to explore. I especially had interest in the idea of Cha-Cha’s concern about the ghost “running him out of the room” because this was something I had subconsciously wondered myself, and I was curious to see where this would go in the conversation. Hearing this question put into words brought my attention back to a seemingly small detail I found interesting. Why is he more worried about being pulled out of the room than of being injured (or perhaps killed)? Continue reading “Cha-Cha’s Ghost and the “Big Room””

The Exclusivity of Language

Google defines “doublespeak” as “deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.” I want to open up with this term because I am well-aware that there is some language used in the real estate business that is not only inaccessible to the people the realty agents sell to, but some of it is very deliberately misleading. There is plenty of discipline-specific terminology used in many varying fields, but not every field has any built-in need to deceive people. Continue reading “The Exclusivity of Language”