This week is my pick and I’m super excited about it! Watch this episode to listen to me staunchly defend the YA industry against my fellow Bibliomancers. Was this book perfect? No. But I will stand up for deserving YA debuts until I die, and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is one of them. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH DEAR FRIENDS!
I am the worst. Why? I apparently never got this post up when we actually DID this episode last week. Like you, I guess the fact that we were starting SEASON THREE of Bibliomancy for Beginners snuck up on me.
What is Bibliomancy for Beginners, you ask? Well, if you’re new around here, it’s the book club I run with two of my college friends. This season we’re doing a lot of fun, new stuff that front-runner Michaela has lovingly detailed in this here blog post, but I would like to quote her on one of the most exciting things:
“The next change is that we will be following a theme this summer. The internet has blown up with the need for #diversebooks and we want to promote that as well. We hope to read books that will cover a variety of genres, languages, genders, sexualities, and ethnicities. We all benefit from more and varied stories so let’s show our support for the authors who break the parade of dead white men!”
Are you excited? Be excited. In the bottom of this post is the video for our first episode, 2AM in the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino. Don’t forget to tune in with us on June 23rd for MY PICK, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir! For more info:
And now, the video!
I started out this blog talking about the two different parts of me, and how they work together. I’m going to end it by talking about how they stand apart. Granted, I’m going to be focusing more on my Writing major, just because the Poetics is a Writing Department class, but trust me when I say that the point I’m about to make is applicable to my English major too.
Yes, this post is required as a final project. Yes, there are question guidelines. I’m about to do a very odd thing and copy them out for you (sorry Professor. I swear there’s a reason for this):
- What do you make and is it similar in any way to the art practices we’ve read and/or talked about in class?
- Why do you make it, and do you see your ideas aligning with or being similar to the “why” of anyone we have read and/or talked about in class?
- What is the relationship of language to what you make, and is this relationship in any way similar to anyone we have read and/or talked about in class?
Using your digital archive and ideas, address
- What are your influences and how have they influenced what you have made up to this point? Who or what do you admire in your field, and why? (Use videos, images, other archives, etc.)
- What do you aspire to create, and what have you learned or encountered in class (if anything) that may affect your processes going forward? (Note: this can be a negative effect. That is, “Now that I’ve seen how horribly wrong thing XYZ can go, I want to avoid that route…)
- What was the most influential/important reading and/or concept to your own processes of making?
You know what I’m absolutely sick of? Realizing there are two ways I want to answer these questions. Then realizing that one of them is just another story I’m afraid to tell.
“What I mean is that within the University there could exist a relationship with word, language, thought, tradition, and power that might run counter to the relationship a poet might want to have with word, language, thought, tradition and power.” – Sarah Vap, End of The Sentimental Journey
Recently, in my Renaissance Literature class, the professor asked us what we were going to be reading over the summer. My answer would have been Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses. But I didn’t answer, because people starting saying “Milton” or “Absalom, Absalom.” My answer didn’t seem like it fit.
So, today, when I answer these questions, I’m not going to do any of us the disservice of lying or telling you half-truths. I’m going to tell you BOTH truths. I’m going to answer you from the
and from the
Bear with me.
This isn’t actually a quote from the direct reading this week, which was selections from Genocide of the Mind, but its the one that connects most directly to what I want to talk about, so here we go!
I’ve discussed before that I’m a grandchild of immigrant grandparents. They came from Germany after World War II. They had two daughters at the time, but my dad was born after they landed in New Jersey. He grew up speaking German, but he didn’t live in the country himself. I’m told his New Jersey-German accent was something to behold, though. (He sadly doesn’t have that anymore. Now he just can’t say “Mississippi” right.)
My mom’s family was also of German descent, but a way long time ago. She was still super into the culture, though, and I’m pretty sure she’s actually the reason me and my brothers have such super German names and also were put into a Waldorf school to, among other things, learn German.
I grew up being babysat by my Omi and Opa, and as a result my German teachers would tell me I didn’t have an American accent. I had started saying the guttural German sounds so young that they came naturally and I didn’t have to reshape my mouth for them. I spoke German pretty okay for a while, but then I had to switch schools and got put into Spanish–and stopped learning German. I lost a lot of the ability I had learned to string together my own sentences. I had the sounds but not the speech.
Now, right here this story could take an uplifting turn where I say, “And in order to honor my Omi (read: make her stop yelling at me about forgetting my heritage), I picked up German again and am now fluent,” but it doesn’t. But the important thing is that it COULD. The fact that I don’t speak German is self-inflicted, not societally inflicted.
That is what struck me so strongly about the Genocide of the Mind readings. It’s never comfortable to be reminded of your own privilege, but it’s a damn good thing. My Omi is still with me, but when she isn’t, German won’t be lost to be. It will be there, accessible to me, in as many different forms as I want it. I can watch German films, listen to German music, read German books. I CAN.
No, I’m not saying anything that isn’t common sense. I know that. But that’s also why I consistently am staggered by comments like Carol Snow Moon Bachofner being told that her Native American recuperation attempts is her “little Native American project” (146). It well and truly is a “cultural genocide” that not many people see besides those that are being gutted from the inside out (146). It will not be seen until someone realizes some profit is being lost unless things are radically changed.
They need to be changed.
This week we read two really awesome things, and I had so many things to say about both of them. First we read excerpts from Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley, and then we read an essay by Jerome Rothenberg from The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy. My initial reaction was, “Oh yeah totally doing something from Bradley because the only thing that Rothenberg’s got going is A REALLY ANNOYING USE OF THE AMPERSAND AGAIN AND AGAIN” but actually … I was wrong.
“The hypothesis would be: I see through language. And its corollary: without language, I am blind” (13).
Now, the quote that I instantly connected to before this one was “‘a new language must be found’ … not only for the sake of speaking but of seeing, knowing” and I was like “YEAH THAT SOUNDS AWESOME” (12). Then the one in block quotes came around a few sentences later and then I was like, “Hang on. What?”
At first, I took a step back and said, “Uh, no.” Because what sense does seeing with language make outside of reading? (I should probably have explained that a lot of Rothenberg’s focus is on “‘wordless’ oral poetries” .) My immediate reaction is that when I see a red flower, it doesn’t matter if the person next to me can communicate our shared vision or not because we’re both looking at the same red flower. (Also, I am aware I am working under the assumption we are both in possession of our sight. That is not a slight against those with blindness but rather I simply relating my own thought process given my privileged of having my sight mostly intact.)
Now let me back up a little bit. You may or may not know that I was abroad last year. Though I lived in London, I traveled in Europe a lot. The favorite question for people to ask when I came back is which place I went was my favorite. I always hedged this question by replying that I loved everywhere I went, but I was just more comfortable in places where I could adequately communicate, like Ireland and Scotland. When I traveled to Paris, Barcelona and Italy, I always had at least one travel buddy who spoke the language we needed. It is this experience that I drew on to refine this “hypothesis and corollary” in my own mind.
See, when traveling to new country where you don’t speak the language, the inability to communicate does feel like a type of blindness and a sense of invisibility all at the same time. Especially on public transportation, you feel removed from reality in a sense. There is all this chatter happening around you, but you can’t understand a word of it. You can’t overhear a funny story someone is telling or engage with a shopkeeper about buying a silly souvenir. Sure, you can get by with pointing and playing charades, but it is the most physical feeling of living in an alternate reality that I have ever had.
This is especially potent when someone you’re traveling with DOES speak the language. They end up ordering for the group at dinner or getting directions or navigating the public transportation. This isn’t a bad thing; I’m forever thankful for my friends for this. I might have died from anxiety otherwise. But when someone else can jump into a dialogue before you can, the muzzling effect is deafening. Perhaps this is just me, being someone who is not accustomed to taking a backseat for extended periods of time–and really wanting to be in complete control of every situation–but that is the deepest truth I can admit about traveling in those countries.
Again, I don’t regret those travels. They were some of the most amazing experiences of my life. But this was also certainly a part of my experience. It just wasn’t something I connected with the act of seeing until Rothenberg said it. I think of the five senses as five separates. But the truth is, as with much of the human experience, nothing is separate. Everything we do or don’t do feeds into something else with simple cause and effect.
Let me back up here. For class this week we read an article by Susan Stewart about “Graffiti as Crime and Art” and also this fabulous documentary called Style Wars. (You can watch it on YouTube here.) These are both fabulous–especially Style Wars–and deserve more than I’m going to give them, but hey. I haven’t collapsed once this semester (unlike last spring) and I’d like to keep it that way. Anyways. Here’s the quote from Steward that interested me for this blog post:
“…we should note that the function of individuation, stylization, and uniqueness would also seem to be served by the appropriation of the metaphor of the robot in both graffiti and it’s sister art, break dancing.”
Stewart here makes reference to the “freeze-frame stopping found in break dancing” and the “mixture of body movement and the imitation of mechanical action.”
The former dancer that I am, I departed entirely from the focus on graffiti (whoops) to the mentions of break dancing in both the article and the documentary. When I presented on this homework in class (for forty five effing minutes, why did no one stop me) I may or may not have used videos from the Step Up movie franchise to illustrate the relationship of body movement and machinery, as well as the commercialization of hip hop culture. In particular, I used this dance from Step Up All In:
I also, however, showed the final dance from the original Step Up movie in comparison, and was shocked at the stark contrast between the way that the two of them looked. I began to look at other dances from throughout the five movies, and realized that the more commercial the movies got, the more obvious the connection to machinery and robotics. More fascinatingly, a lot of this connection ceased to show up specifically in the dancing. Like a lot of other representations of hip hop cultures in the movies, the connection was bastardized and linked to something other than body movement–something Aristotle would call “spectacle.” It really strikes me sometimes, in the later movies, the emphasis really isn’t on dancing in these so-called dance movies at all.
Want to see what I’m talking about? WAIT NO MORE.
1. When the most technical thing in the movie was the fact that the music was supplied by a pit orchestra AND synthesizers and people actually danced: Step Up
2. Look! They used technology to record DANCING: Step Up 2: The Streets
3. THE MOVIE IN WHICH TECHNOLOGY F*CKED UP EVERYTHING (by which I mean they made this one in 3D and everything is 3D vision fodder but specifically check out those suits at 8:45): Step Up 3D
4. The movie that did this awesome thing by using robotic dance styles to characterize the corporate world but also like totally copped out in its finale dance by using cheap contraptions with trampolines and harnesses for wow effect: Step Up 4 Revolution
5. The movie that had earlier dances as non-dancy as the first one I showed and yet also had this steam-punk themed ending with some dancing but also crazy effects, fire and other nonsense: Step Up 5 All In
Personally, in movie quality, I felt like it’s all downhill from 1-3 and then 4 and 5 make an attempt to be better. It directly correlates to what I’ve just laid out about the dances. Coincidence? Perhaps. But only if you believe in such a thing.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post brain break. I did!
So, I’m usually not a fan of big block quotes. They’re clunky, take up space and it’s REALLY HARD to dissect them properly. For this week’s post, however, I might have to make an exception. This is potentially just what happens when you’re quoting Toni Morrison. The following is from her book on literary criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination—
“Writers are among the most sensitive, the most intellectually anarchic, most representative, most probing of artists. The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. The languages they use and the social and historical context in which these languages signify are indirect and direct revelations of that power and its limitations” (15).
Morrison herself is speaking specifically about why she is looking at white literature to discover the effect of the constructed idea of African-Americans on the world at the time. If you’ve been following these blog posts, you might already see where I’m going with this post … in which case I hope you stick around to read this for my sheer sparkling personality.
First off, look at that. Writers with power. Just look at how she describes writers. Isn’t that beautiful? Okay, so Morrison herself is a writer and that might make her biased, but I don’t think that makes it any less true. (I am also a writer and I admit my own bias.) But just think about it. Why do we read at all? It isn’t to read the same story again and again (unless you have fallen into guilty love with some YA trend). We read to find some exciting story that at once captures our imaginations and yet also catches our heart. To be exciting, it must be new, but to capture our hearts it must be filled with some kind of emotion we recognize. Otherwise we’d just be confused.
Secondly, look at what she wants us to look at: languages used and social and historical context. This is SO IMPORTANT. Anyone who says that they can look at just the text and only the text and get the full meaning is a liar. Looking at just the text gives you ONE meaning–also, a one dimensional reading. If you remember back to my post about Whorf, I went on and on about how we understand our world and also how we construct it. These constructions don’t just exist in our lives. A writer constructs worlds, but no matter how fantastical they always reach back to something they know or at least believe in.
Morrison has some really great examples in her book about how white writers were writing about African-Americans and what it says–more about the writer than the actual constructed character. Ernest Hemingway makes such an effort to deny the black sailor in To Have and Have Not agency or speech that he writes this grammatically disastrous line: “I looked and saw [the black sailor] had seen a patch of flying fish burst out ahead” (qtd 72).
Love him or hate him, you cannot tell me that Hemingway looked at that line in editing and thought, “Yes, this makes grammatical sense.” He made the choice to leave it there, instead of allowing the black sailor to even shout a few words.
Does this mean Hemingway is a racist? No. It’s one quote from one novel and conclusions drawn from that would be factually inaccurate. But what it DOES say is that Hemingway felt that he had to write the scene and the character that way. It could be his choice, it could not be. After all, you can’t tell me that every YA author believes that every story should have a love triangle shoehorned in. But there they are, because they believe that’s what people want to read. (Hint, they are not but for some reason they sell.)
Yes, that’s a shallow example to compare to all the centuries of silenced African-American characters and writers, but my point here is not to enter into race politics. My point is that we can look at the way certain things are written and extrapolate massive amounts of information in the way that language is shaped and what it says about writing in the social and historical context of the writer. The difficulty of writing is that it must be both exciting and familiar, and people must also want to read it. Even in the most fantastical of settings, the human experience must resemble the majority of the readership or no one will read it, love it or understand it.
As a final note, if you’re ever looking for enjoyable, interesting and easy-to-read literary criticism, go pick up Morrison’s book. You won’t be disappointed.