Our final readings examine the larger picture of postcolonialism. What was the initial drive to colonize? Capitalism, of course. While some may say that colonialism is in the past, capitalism is certainly still present and that means the drive for resources and labor still exists. It has just taken a different form in our modern world. Dirlik outlines how the embrace of postcolonial studies masks instead of confronts the capitalistic world:

“The complicity of postcolonial in hegemony lies in postcolonialism’s diversion of attention from contemporary problems of social, political, and cultural domination, and in its obfuscation of its own relationship to what is but a condition of its emergence, that is, to a global capitalism that, however, fragmented in appearance, serve as the structure principle of global relations” (563).

As postcolonialism is embraced by universities, it is then used to create one voice of studies that are naturally diverse and complicated. As Dirlik notes, there is a “contradiction between an insistence on heterogeneity, difference, and historicity, and a tendency to generalize from the local to the global while denying that there are global forces at work that may condition the local in the first place” (571). Ignoring the global force of capitalism, all while participating in the capitalist institution that many universities have become, is indeed problematic.

Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin succinctly explain Wallerstein’s World System Theory as “the capitalist system [that] has been the world economic system since the sixteenth century” and that “one cannot talk about economies in terms of the nation-state, nor of ‘society’ in the abstract, nor of ‘stages’ of development, because each society is affected by, indeed is a part of, the capitalist world economy” (223). There isn’t a clear linear path for the development of a nation because many marginalized nations are purposely kept in a state of dependency in order to benefit dominant nations. This is a crucial point, as some would use “undeveloped” states as examples of inferiority when in actuality these nations are purposely made dependent in order not to challenge the dominant states.

rushdieThe other part of our assignment this week was focused on Rushdie’s collection, East and West. Though I have approximately one thousand pages to write in the next week (hyperbole?) and a new curriculum coming, I became hooked on this work and read all of the stories instead of two. I think this is called “academic procrastination”—avoiding work with optional work. I loved all of them, but the two I’m going to focus on in this post are “The Prophet’s Hair” and “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers.” I selected these two works because I believe they are the best examples of magic realism in East and West. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin state that in texts with magic realism “the rational, linear world of Western realist fiction is place against alter/native narrative modes that expose the hidden and naturalized cultural formations on which Western narratives are based” (119). There is obviously an inclusion of mythic or magical elements in these stories as well. In “The Prophet’s Hair,” the curse of the hair is not given a logical explanation. It is truly a curse that is consistent and effective. The characters do not outsmart it and there is no scientific reason or allowance that the events may have been a coincidence. Hashim retains the hair, as he says, for its worth as a collectible rather than a religious relic:

“So, by keeping this hair from its distracted devotees, I perform—do I not?—a finer service than I would by returning it! Naturally, I don’t want it for religious value…I’m a man of the world, of this world. I see it purely as a secular object of great rarity and blinding beauty. In short, it’s the silver vial I desire, more than the hair” (Rushdie 44).

Hashim becomes oppressively religious after gaining the hair, giving credit to its power and the curse.

The second story I selected, “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,” combines so many of the themes of this week’s reading (and the entire course in general). The slippers symbolize home and safety:

“ ‘Home’ has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails. There is so much to yearn for. There are so few rainbows any more. How hard can we expect even a pair of magic shoes to work? They promised to take us home, but are metaphors of homeliness comprehensible to them, are abstractions permissible? Are they literalists, or will they permit us to redefine the blessed word? Are we asking, hoping for, too much?” (93).

In this story we have magic realism, the quest for home (or at least the feeling of being at home), the yearning for identity, the combination of various cultures, and, of course, money: “It is to the Auctioneers we go to establish the value of our pasts, of our futures, of our lives” (101).

I loved this story. It’s beautifully written and encompasses so much of what we have studied this semester. On a related note, I did receive word that I will be transferred to a history position next year—most likely 11th grade World History—so I’ve been working on a unit plan on magic realism across different geographic locations for my final project. I double majored in undergrad in English and History and have always believed that the study of history and culture is essential to the understanding of a novel–and the study of novels is essential to understanding history. I’m looking forward to designing a hybrid course that ties these two fields together. It appears that with the ever-increasing focus on standardized test scores and the dreaded PVAAS, Social Studies is one of the few remaining areas that a teacher can be creative and independent. Our English classrooms are receiving curriculum and texts that are fairly scripted and do not allow for much deviation, and so I’m thankful to still have the opportunity to create in the classroom.

Course Reflection:

I was grateful to have the opportunity to take this course. I’m not trying to knock my undergraduate education–because I did have some excellent professors–but DeSales wasn’t too keen on including non-Western courses. I don’t think I had a single course that was dedicated to the study of the history or literature of a non-Western area. There was a course on literature of immigrants, but many of these works were still featuring Western immigrants. It was a pretty big deal to read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Knowing the marginalization of non-Western literature will help me to be aware and inclusive as I design my own courses in the future. I also appreciated the emphasis on theory because that’s another one of my weaker areas…I like to read novels, but I’m not disciplined enough to read theory for fun. The format of the course was more engaging and more of a community than I experienced in my online M.Ed. After I completed that program, I had sworn off online classes because I thought I was just doing busy work. After taking this course–and Dr. DeLong’s Victorian Prose last year–I think that online classes can definitely be challenging and engaging when the work is meaningful. This is my last group class before I graduate in the fall and I’m already a bit sad at how quickly the semester went! Thank you all for a great course.

Queer Theory in Poco Studies

There is no greater example of the difficulty that is the single story than our readings this week. I chose Altman’s “Rupture or Continuity? The Internationalization of Gay Identities” and the selections from Glave’s Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles. After reading both, I downloaded and printed the other two selections. While I don’t have time right now to read them over, I know this is yet another area that additional reading is necessary in order to see the different experiences and perspectives in a complicated field.

Identity can be a process for anyone. My students struggle with their identities as they grow up to be independent of their family units. Our society considers this to be natural—even for students who ultimately wind up identifying with what is considered the “norm.” Finding identity in a colonized state, as we have seen in Nervous Conditions, is a deeply complicated issue. This week, we’ve added the multifaceted concept of sexuality to the mix. As Altman notes, “we need to understand sexuality as involving the complex and varied ways in which biological possibilities are shaped by social, economic, political, and cultural structures” (79). This means that the identity of one’s sexuality and that identity’s relationship with its society are both going to be different depending on the location of this process. What is the history of sexuality in the location? How has that culture been interrupted or influenced by colonizing forces? These are issues that are going to be different in each and every geographic area.

Altman explores the idea of a globalized lesbian/gay identity modeled after the identity process of the Western world’s modern homosexuality. This homosexuality is characterized by Altman in three ways:

“(1) a differentiation between sexual and gender transgression; (2) an emphasis on emotional as much as on sexual relationships; and (3) the development of public homosexual worlds” (83).

Altman does question if this new modern identity could function as a limiting force on the identities of other cultures.

Ultimately, Altman outlines the various points of consideration when examining new or modern homosexualities, including acknowledgement of previous organizations of sexuality; examining the experience from a female perspective; how class or caste divides change the identity; the familial organization and its impact on identity; how diaspora and changes of geographic locations impact the identity; and how these nations interact with neighboring nations. These considerations show the truly complicated nature of the Poco and Queer theory.

After reading Altman’s work, I chose to focus on the anthology complied by Glave. His introduction—the need for stories—again reminded me of Cavarero. My favorite piece in this work was Wekker’s “Mati-ism and Black Lesbianism: Two Idealtypical Expressions of Female Homosexuality in Black Communities of the Diaspora.” What I loved most about this piece was the conversation between Astrid Roemer and Audre Lorde regarding why they choose to identify or not identity themselves.

RoemerRoemer states, ‘I do not call myself ‘lesbian’ and I do not want to be called ‘lesbian’ either. Life is too complex for us to give names not derived from us—dirty, conditioned worlds—to the deepest feelings within me” (327). She is not so much concerned with the political movement and does not feel the need to champion an identity. As Weeker notes, the mati world is different from the world of the black lesbian. The class culture and connection to African elements are different in these two worlds, with the mati practice characterized as being more inclusive and fluid.

LordeLorde’s focus on the label and identity of lesbian is more political. She says, “It makes me aware of my own strength and shows my vulnerability too. In the sixties we could do anything we wanted to as long as we did not talk about it. If you speak your name, you represent a threat to the powers that be, the patriarchate” (376). On one hand, we have Roemer, who operates outside of the patriarchy. She is fine existing separately. On the other, we have Lorde, who openly wants to challenge and change the dynamic. It was interesting to read their interaction and definitions (or lack thereof) of their identities. Though they fundamentally disagreed on some central issues, their conversation was a respectful exchange of their perspectives—something that seems increasingly difficult to do in our society.

Osama

Osama, as many of us have already stated, was a difficult movie to watch. We know that there is no happy ending possible for our protagonist. I braced myself for her to be inevitably caught and killed. She saw so much of the forbidden male world that I believed she would not be permitted to live. I was wrong about this and I think it was because I failed to consider her worth as a commodity in a colonized world.

osama 2003 movie.jpg

Colonizers benefit from their rule in many ways. One benefit is the natural resources of the land they control. Another benefit is the use of the people. Osama focuses on the manipulation and use of the colonized people. This is seen in every area. Men are used for fighting. Their deaths leave widows and children hungry, as they have few options for work. Boys are trained for war. They are rounded up and marched to school together. Osama’s journey into the boys’ education shows that it is solely for religious practice and preparation for war. The boys roughhouse and play around weapons upon their arrival. They snicker during their bathing lesson. However lightly they are taking their experiences, they will ultimately conform to the expectations of the Taliban. Our only example who seems to deviate is Osama’s friend. He walks away as everyone else chases her and it seems he will struggle to fit into his society—a struggle that could kill him in such a world.

osama jail.jpegWhile not used for war, women are also commodities in this colonized world. Women are meant to be wives. They serve their husbands and produce children, who grow to fill the established roles dictated by the colonizers. We know that Osama’s parents loved each other. It pains her mother to rip up her photos. However, this is not a marriage that the colonizers would condone. Our view of Taliban marriage appears at the end of Osama’s journey. The women share their stories with Osama. One was arrested and given to her husband. Another was taken on her wedding day. They are locked in together under the domination of their husband. This is not a society where women are marrying for love. In fact, the one marriage celebration we see must be promptly shut down as the Taliban approaches. They pretend to be mourning at a funeral. Women cannot celebrate together, but they are permitted to suffer together.

All of this brings me to my original mistake. Osama will not be killed for her crime, as unheard of and appalling it must be to the Taliban. She still has worth to them. The older woman, accused of sharing pornography, is executed without a witness to her crime because she no longer serves a purpose. She could have rebelled in some way or proven herself difficult to control. Osama, on the other hand, is young. She has just started to menstruate (which, of course, is how she is discovered—her body was a ticking time bomb). Her punishment is a different sort of death. It is a death of her spirit, leaving her body to be used as needed.

Abstracts and Education

This week’s assignment had an incredible amount of options. The criticism section of Things Fall Apart is quite hefty and takes up much more space in the Norton edition than the actual novel.

In our first reading, we learn the complexities of the word chi. Achebe explains that the word can either serve for a “god, guardian, angel, personal spirit, soul, spirit double” or as “those transitional periods between day and night or night and day” (159). Throughout the rest of this work, Achebe emphasizes the dual nature of both the word and the concept. He elucidates the nature of duality in Igbo culture: “Wherever Something stands, Something Else will stand beside it. Nothing is absolute” (160). Man’s relationship with his chi is a relationship built on discourse instead of decree. This relationship of discourse and debate carries into the role man plays within his community. He has his own will and power, but he must negotiate and bargain with his community as well.

In the second and last assigned reading, Achebe tackles the treatment of Africa by its colonists. The idea that Africa was a blank slate awaiting civilization is one that was created by colonists to aid their own agenda. Achebe notes earlier interactions between African and European groups to have different relationships with greater dialogue. When it became politically and socially convenient, European colonists changed the dialogue to decree: “This tradition has invented an Africa where nothing good happens or ever happened, an Africa that has not been discovered yet and is waiting for the first European visit to explore it and explain it and straighten it up” (214). One of Achebe’s most prominent examples of this treatment is found in his examination of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s work is one that is inescapable. I was assigned in in my AP Literature course and then again in undergrad. Achebe notes that Conrad greatly looked up to David Livingstone, a man who, despite his time and contemporaries, had a much more inclusive view of humanity than Conrad’s hierarchy of souls. One of my favorite lines of Achebe’s work in this area is his statement: “Without doubt the times in which we live influence our behavior, but the best, or merely the better, among us, like Livingstone, are never held hostage by their times” (217).

Abstract I:

Palmer, Eustace. “Character and Society in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart. Ed. Francis Abiola Irele. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. 410-22. Print.

Palmer’s work challenges earlier criticisms regarding the role of Achebe’s Okonkwo within his society. The previous critics argue that Okonkwo deviates from the values and expectations of his society by being too harsh towards others. Palmer rejects this argument and details Okonkwo’s embodiment of Umuofian values. Palmer notes that there is a distinction between public and private attitudes. Though Okonkwo personally may conflict with his society on occasion, he acquiesces to its dictations in all manners. The first example utilized by Palmer is Okonkwo’s attitude towards his father. Okonkwo does conflict with his society’s general reverence of elders. However, Umuofian society places a greater degree of respect on productivity. Okonkwo’s disdain for his father is then tacitly permitted within his community since his own productivity is so esteemed. Palmer provides a second lens for his argument by exploring the killing of Ikemefuna. Though Okonkwo is advised not to participate, he does so because, as Palmer states, “the majority of masculine opinion in Umuofia expects Okonkwo to be a part of the delegation” (418). The final example examines Okonkwo’s submission to the will of his society when he errs. In both situations when Okonsko commits a major infraction he accepts his punishment as a matter of course. Palmer takes the concluding stance that Okonkwo’s downfall is not because he has violated his community standards. It is because he has rigidly upheld them and become inflexible. Though his community must now change, Okonkwo is not able to alter himself because of his strict adherence to its values.

Cobham, Rhonda. “Problems of Gender and History in the Teaching of Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart. Ed. Francis Abiola Irele. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. 510-21. Print.

Cobham acknowledges and explores the problematic nature of teaching Achebe’s work. Though the initial reaction of many is to label the novel as sexist, to do so unfairly misses the larger mission of the work, as “Okonkwo’s petty viciousness remains a more vivid travesty of human rights than the action of the District Commissioner in the novel” (512). Cobham probes the defining characteristics of masculinity embraced by Okonkwo: courage, physical strength, and dominance. She also analyzes the three areas of what she calls the “selective incorporation of supposedly Western/Christian values into the celebration of the traditional way of life” (516). These include the parallel between Ikemefuna’s death and Isaac, the concept of marriage as depicted by Okonkwo and Ekwefi’s relationship, and the limited inclusion of women’s public roles. It is important to note what Achebe leaves out when describing the roles of women. For example, he does not detail how the umuada controlled the markets or had greater influence on the behavior of men. Achebe nods to the umuada, but implies their power to be less than the judgment of men when Uzowulu refuses to listen to them. The omission of the degree of power women possessed is even more noteworthy when considering the Women’s War in Aba in 1929, which served as one of the most challenging uprisings to colonial authority. Though the presentation of women is not wholly accurate, Cobham’s final point is that, with so many aspects of traditional life to include, it is perhaps impossible to consolidate everything into a perfect piece of historical literature.

I’d like to end my post by sharing something that happened at my workplace this week. Our world geography teacher received complaints from parents about a lesson on the five pillars of Islam. She was accused of “indoctrinating” the children (She’s a Christian), smeared on social media, and had to meet with the parents to discuss the issue. Part of the world geography curriculum is culture. Religion is part of culture. It was outlined in the course documents which were also approved by administration and our board. Parents complained that their children weren’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas” so they shouldn’t be exposed to other religions (and this is false because we had at least ten Christmas trees in our school). The things they were saying were just completely and totally out of this world. It started to sound like a mash-up of Fox News and Breitbart’s “War on Christmas” articles over the years. One mentioned that the kids aren’t permitted to say the pledge each morning (also false…I run the student television studio that does the morning announcements. We do the pledge every day. We also have a moment of silence. I’ve attended district events where they lead an actual prayer at the start). As a public educator, I’m pissed that a classroom teacher had to defend board approved curriculum. As a human being, I’m pissed that this level of ignorance and absurdity is even entertained. Worst of all, I have colleagues in public education who agree with these parents. Education is one only ways to make positive change. Why are these people even in public education if they don’t care about an inclusive world?

Our Maps are Inaccurate

I am absolutely guilty of previously thinking of Africa as a monolith. We do not study Africa—or more specifically, its nations and cultures–very much in school. I think in all 12 years of primary and secondary education I had maybe one brief unit on African geography and culture. I had an entire course on the Revolutionary War and my students have years on American history from the years 1700-1950. This focus in our education creates the impression that nothing worth studying is or has happened in the continent of Africa. We give European history much more credit—years are dedicated to those studies. There is an AP United States history course and an AP European history course, but all other nations and cultures are placed in AP World history. That course also isn’t as widely available as the other two.

Even our world map undervalues the existence of Africa. Its true size isn’t reflected in our understanding of the world. How could a landmass of that size hold one essential population? It can’t. Just realistically thinking of our own nation—which is about a third the size of Africa—can we say that we have one identity? Current events and politics would instantly prove that statement incorrect. So why do we not realize that since we aren’t one cohesive population then perhaps other continents, nations, and groups also have diverse and rich perspectives?

true-size-of-africa
Source

 

Achebe tells a story that shows Africa was not just a blob of landmass or a blank slate waiting for the institutions of the white man so that they could finally come into existence. We are reading one story here, and as we know, his one story isn’t the only story of Africa. However, Achebe’s work pushes back against the idea by giving a detailed overview of the clan before the advent of the missionaries. I’m going to focus my example on marriage. There was a tradition and a system to marriage in the clan. The groom’s family traveled to the bride’s family and brought pots of wine. The women wear their best attire. It is a social fathering for both sides of the family. The marriage is a contract between the families. Structures are in place that dictate the rules of the event.

“I hope our in-laws will bring many pots of wine. Although they come from a village that is known for being close-fisted, they ought to know that Akueke is the bride for a king.”

“They dare not bring fewer than thirty pots,” said Okonkwo. (69)

Anyone who has met their significant other’s family for the first time can relate to these expectations. You dress your best and you bring something good to the event.

The arrival of the second Christian missionary changes the peaceful, though skeptical, relationships between the colonists and the clan: “Mr. Brown’s successor was the Reverend James Smith, and he was a different kind of man. He condemned openly Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation. He saw things as black and white. And black was evil” (104). The traditions and religious practices of the clan are seen in an increasingly negative light. This tension works itself into a pitch when Enoch rips off the mask of the masked spirit. Enoch’s actions are akin to someone ripping the robes or hat of a Catholic priest. There would be outrage over that happening. However, since the Christian missionaries and government do not respect the systems and traditions of the clan, they crush the clan’s quest for retribution and deliver retribution of their own. This is a power that cannot be fought, as Okonkwo realizes.

The introduction of religion allows the colonizers to chip away at the traditions and systems of the clan. It is introduced in a way that Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin would classify as the the “white man’s burden” of “racial improvement [that] concurred with the ‘civilizating mission’ of imperial ideology, which encouraged colonial powers to…raise up the conditions of the inferior races who were idealized as child-like and malleable” (183). The colonizers, relying on their own creation of racial distinctions, employed religion to insert their own ideology into the areas they sought to conquer. The replacement of prior religions and systems with the religions and systems of the colonizer was a purposeful move that was really more about benefiting the colonizer than the native population.

She’s so gentle

In this week’s assignment blog Dr. Clemens relates that many students have had strong impressions of Woman at Point Zero. They consider it to be the most depressing book they have read. As a teacher, I hear this remark constantly. My students have noted the sad plots or depressing endings of every novel we have read (and we’re talking about The Giver, The Outsiders, The Red Pony, and Flowers for Algernon here…)

My normal response is to ask if it is the writer’s job to leave them feeling happy and content. Shouldn’t they be challenged to grow a little when reading? Shouldn’t they be forced to find the power in the story? If they believe that every story is owed a happy ending, students are going to be woefully unprepared for the “real” world. As my evaluators tell me, my responsibility is to prepare these kids for that place.

I also remind my students that I have a set list of novels to choose from and, if they would like, I can select The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Sorry to the Mark Twain fans out there, but he doesn’t go over well with 14-year-olds.

Twain

 

Here is one of perhaps three accurate Mark Twain memes. It’s timely because I’ve been obsessed with what is going on in Congress this week. I’m personally relieved that the ACA wasn’t repealed, but that doesn’t mean I’m praising the Freedom Caucus right now.

 

Woman at Point Zero isn’t an uplifting story on the surface level. Firdaus will be executed. There’s no last minute reprieve coming. No one is coming in to save her. If anyone would, that person would take away from Firdaus’s own power that has been established throughout the novel—and she is powerful. There is no denying that.

There is a circular nature to Firdaus’s story. It’s not the same circle as discussed in Elif Shafak’s TED talk, but the idea of the circle being present in both was of note to me. My thesis been really focused on the role of storytelling, so seeing the concept of the circle in both was interesting. In Woman at Point Zero, I saw a circular plot structure. Firdaus meets people who have the opportunity to help her. Time after time, these people disappoint her. They may appear benevolent, but they always use or abandon her in the end. I saw it as an ascending circular plot because the tension in these relationships builds and builds to her breaking point with Marzouk. As Firdaus navigates these relationships, she realizes that she has power. She can value herself and others will see that value. She can refuse men: “A prostitute always says yes, and then names her price. If she says no she ceases to be a prostitute. I was not a prostitute in the full sense of the word, so from time to time I saw no. As a result my price kept going up.” (97). The value that Firdaus places on herself allows her to capitalize on others and live a comfortable life.

Firdaus even has power when she tells her story. She denies her story to many people and her narrative, when finally accessed, has power as well. Her tale begins with “Let me speak. Do not interrupt me. I have no time to listen to you” (9). In addition, she only uses Marzouk’s name one time, I believe. The rest of the time he is simply referred to as a pimp, or with the general pronoun “he.”

When cornered and deprived of all the power she has gained, Firdaus is not out of options. Marzouk thinks that she has been conquered because he, like many others, does not see that she has the power to kill if needed. By breaking the illusion that women are too gentle to kill, Firdaus becomes a fearsome enemy to the patriarchy. She ends her story by highlighting her dangerous role: “When I killed I did it with truth not with a knife. That is why they are afraid and in a hurry to execute me. They do not fear my knife. It is my truth which frightens them. This fearful truth gives me great strength” (112).

At this point, I have to go back to the idea of the circular plot structure. Firdaus repeatedly saw and felt the gaze of eyes upon her. She is the subject of the gaze. It is not until much later in her story that she begins to gaze upon others. For much of her life, Firdaus operates under the rule and construct of others. She doesn’t even have a concept of her own physical being until after her childhood. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin note the larger issues of subjectivity in their post-structuralism section: “for if the subject is produced by ideology, discourse, or language, is it trapped in this subjectivity beyond the power of choice, recognition or resistance?” (206). I argue that Firdaus breaks free of the trap by no longer allowing herself to feel the negative social implications of her choices. She doesn’t allow herself to be coerced into submission in the end. Instead, she commits a form of resistance unfathomable by her society.

Truly, what other forms of resistance did Firdaus have in her disposal? Our critical work this week, “Colonizing Bodies and Minds,” shows the economic difficulties faced by women in colonized societies. In some areas, women had much more political and economic opportunities before colonization. Many times, the British rule created the distinction between male and female and prioritized opportunity for the male subjects. Oyewumi notes, “this gender distinction was lead to the perception of men as workers and women as nonworkers and therefore appendages of men” (353). Firdaus’s story occurs in a different geographic location and culture than Oyewumi, but it shares the similarity that there was no trade, even with an education, that Firdaus could enter and gain a living, independent wage. In the one instance that she attempts this feat, her living condition is strikingly reduced. In the end, Firdaus gains her strength by casting off the social constraints and their ability to influence her personal identity.

Our readings this week highlight two issues for consideration. The first is found in Spivak’s and Mohanty’s works and focuses on the study and representation of the subaltern/”Third World Woman.” I really appreciated Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin’s definition of “subaltern.” It was helpful to have in the back of my mind as I read Spivak. After addressing Foucault, Derrida, and Marx (giving the most approval to Derrida for acknowledging the European use of the “Other” in order to define itself), Spivak turns the attention to the representation of the subaltern—specifically the women in colonized states. Here I’m going to try my hand at merging the two parts of Spivak’s study: How people (the signified) are represented (through signifiers) matters, and the people truly cannot be combined into one “signified” body to be described. It’s just not possible, and to even try to do so unfairly (and dangerously) limits the portrayal of the study.

In Spivak’s discussion of Sati, she notes the different interpretations of the religion and practice fixated upon by the British colonists. Her interpretation of their fixation, “White men are saving brown women from brown men,” reminded me of Ahmed’s points in “The Discourse of the Veil” (296). Spivak states the danger of this practice:

“This exemplifies the race-class-gender over determinations of the situation. It can perhaps be caught even when it is flattened out: white men, seeking to save brown women from brown men, impose upon those women a greater ideological constriction by absolutely identifying, within discursive practice, good-wifehood with self-immolation on the husband’s pyre” (305).

Ahmed remarks that the Western incorrect marking of the veil was later detrimental to the progress of women. She states,

“colonialism’s use of feminism to promote the culture of the colonizers and undermine native culture has ever since imparted to feminism in non-Western societies the taint of having served as an instrument of colonial domination, rendering it suspect in Arab eyes and vulnerable to the charge of being an ally of colonial interests. That taint has undoubtedly hindered the feminist struggle within Muslim societies” (335).

Feminism can be a problematic term in post-colonial studies. In fact, it can be a problematic term anywhere—including our own society and time period. There is a trend to create an idea of “woman” and to believe that it is a unifying concept. However, as Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin define feminism from a post-colonial perspective, the term “woman” may not be the most immediate issue in a woman’s experience. For example, they note the ” ‘double colonization’ ” that occurred with women in a colonized state: “women were subject both to general discrimination as colonial subjects and specific discrimination as women” (95). Mohanty further describes the creation of a homogeneous woman as difficult, as it “assumes an ahistorical, universal unity between women based on a generalized notion of their subordination” (12). In addition, Mohanty explores the distinction created between first/third world women in Western feminism. This distinction (and creation of an essential third world female experience) seems to only serve to define first world feminists as more liberated than they truly are. As Mohanty notes:

“Universal images of ‘the third world woman’…are predicated upon assumptions about Western women as secular, liberated, and having control over their own lives. This is not to suggest that Western women are secular, liberated and have control over their own lives. I am referring to a discursive self-presentation, not necessarily to material reality. If this were a material reality there would be no need for political movements in the West—a ridiculous contention” (21).

On a side note, I thought Mohanty’s comment about the “urgent political necessity (especially in the age of Reagen)” to be quite (and unfortunately) timely in our current situation. There is a call for women to unite, but that call is complicated by the fact that diverse voices have not always been welcome to feminism, nor have their needs been acknowledged or prioritized.

If one of the central themes of this week was to be aware of diversity in both post-colonial studies and feminism, Gyasi’s “Inscape” captured that theme. Gifty and her mother are very different. Gifty has lost her religion (but perhaps not her desire for the feeling it gave her), whereas her mother is devout. Gifty’s girlfriend, Anne, remarks, “You talk all the time, but she doesn’t know anything about you” (10). In a way, Anne is absolutely correct. Very little is spoken directly between Gifty and her mother. However, just because things are not explicitly stated does not mean that Gifty and her mother do not find understanding and connection. Her mother “softly” observes: “You miss that woman” (11). It is even more important to see that connection because of their differences. Gifty’s mother repeats throughout the story that “We are not alone.” This comes from her religious devotion. For Gifty, this source is no longer present, but she does find companionship with her mother. As unrelated as they seem on many fronts, they still have each other and a kinship that Gifty finds important. I might be stretching here, but it made me think of the diverse experiences we have read about over the semester. Taken individually, every woman seems separate (and yes, her experience is valid and important), but if we acknowledge the individuality of each woman’s experience, we may be able to find that common ground needed to be cohesive—embracing differences like Gifty embraces her mother’s writing.

I had a couple of moments while writing this post where I thought about how difficult it was to synthesize each of these pieces into one coherent post while still paying each the attention and care it deserved—which, as I finish up writing, I could argue is the entire point of the reading this week.

Week 6

This week’s reading helped me with a conversation I overheard between several students. A few girls in my school have requested to have a women’s issues group. Originally, they wanted it to focus on women’s rights, but they were told by one of my colleagues that such a name could raise problems. There’s an element present within our society that women have reached equality and should now be quiet—an idea that demonstrates equality still hasn’t really been achieved. In any case, a male student overheard the conversation and questioned why male students didn’t have a men’s issues group then. I try not to talk about political issues with my students. I’m at a very conservative school district. If I’m going to interact with them on these issues, I’m usually going to do so only if I’ve been approached to be an ally for them. As I’ve said, I’m not incredibly vocal but they can figure out my stances pretty easily. In any case, I piped up that he was free to start one. However, we live in a society that is predominantly led by men. We haven’t had a women president yet. Even Ivanka Trump raised issues about the need for women to have access to affordable child care (To clarify, I find Ivanka Trump’s feminism to be utter bullshit. Her child care plan only benefits the wealthy. Her introduction of the topic only serves as an attempt to humanize Donald Trump. It’s all bullshit, but I cited it to try to emphasize that it is a non-partisan issue.)

Here is an example of Ivanka Trump’s bullshit feminism.

The male student still seemed skeptical, so I asked the female students if they felt that it was widely believed that boys were better at math and science than girls. They nodded vigorously. I asked them if that was an irritating belief. They nodded again. Then, I brought up the idea that girls were better readers than boys. The male student immediately disagreed that such an idea could be true. This lead to a conversation about essentialism, as defined by Ashcroft , Griffiths, and Tiffin as “the assumption that groups, categories or classes of objects have one or several defining features exclusive to all members of that category (73). We talked about teenagers being deemed entitled, poor people as lazy, and other commonly heard statements. Essentialism is prevalent in our society, and we’ve all done it consciously or unconsciously. I know that I’ve struggled, especially after the election, with my views of the Republicans in my life. The basic outcome that I hoped to get out of this conversation is that we should be more aware of when essentialism happens in our society and, hopefully, catch ourselves as we are unconsciously doing it in our day to day life.

In this week’s other reading, we see essentialism on a large scale. Said discusses Orientalism as being a Western construction.

He states that it “can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient (73).

Because of Orientalism is a creation of the West, its forms can tell us more about the West than of the East itself. It functions as an “other” that the West can use to create its own identity. We see this in the way that America portrayed Afghanistan after 9/11. Dr. Clemens points to speeches by Rumsfeld and Laura Bush as examples. Their words set up a contrast between the Americans as saviors of freedom and democracy and the “other” as uncivilized and in need of our interference. This was a comparison developed to support the United States’ involvement in war. By claiming “humanitarian” interest, our leaders hoped to justify the war to the American people–and we all know how successful their efforts were in the end.

Week Five

I finished reading Nervous Conditions last Sunday. Over the week, I would have little moments when I would make a connection between Tambu’s life and my own. I have to start this post off with the disclaimer that I do not equate my experiences with Tambu’s.  I only bring these connections up for discussion because I believe that Dangarembga’s story has universal elements that can apply to people all over the world. And I only have to say that obvious statement because Dangarembga’s work would be classified as “World Literature” and taught as an elective in most cases, if it was taught at all.

history

There is still a sense that post colonial literature is the “other.” I don’t think I read a single work by a non-Western author in undergrad. I know that my options teaching in public school are limited to Western authors—and so, I thought that by looking at the extent that hybridity appears even in our own nation, I could make the case that this isn’t “other” literature. It is simply literature. We all can define literature in different ways and include different forms. We can call it Literature or literature. The simple definition I use is that L/literature is a form of communication, typically in writing, that deals with the issues of humanity—an issue that impacts a single person, a group of people, a nation, or humanity as a universal group.

But then I went back and questioned myself on connecting Tambu’s much more serious struggle to my own experiences. This book doesn’t need my defense. My experiences with cultural hybridity in America are, frankly, first world problems. I have students from other countries who are going through a very difficult transition as they enter the American public school system and adjust to a new culture. However, in the end, I allowed myself the connection to Dangarembga’s work because I believe that the more people read from experiences of those who are different, the more likely those readers will be able to find a connection or common ground. The more that we find common ground and empathy for others, the less “othering” will be present in our society. If literature truly has the power to change society, it is done so through sharing experiences and creating a more empathetic society. I try to teach my students this by helping them connect to characters and plot elements as they read. To not allow myself to do that as well seemed absurd. The more I connected to the work, the more I loved it. I talked to my students about it. I loaned it to one student and more are putting it on their reading lists. If forming a connection allows for this work to be spread and its message to be heard, then I’m happy with the ties I made.

In order to save time and to get to the other materials, I’m going to pick one moment when I connected with Tambu’s story the most. This was actually during last week’s reading when she entered her uncle’s house and was awed by its furnishings. She remarks that it is fortunate she arrived through the kitchen and was able to view the rooms in increasing opulence:

“Had I entered from the driveway, through the verandah and the front door, as visitors whom it was necessary to impress would enter, the taste and the muted elegance of that room would have taken my breath away” (Dangarembga 69).

I make no claims to have come from a background like Tambu’s, but I have also had moments where the lives of other people have astounded me. My parents both went straight from high school to factory work. Most of my family lived in trailers and my parents were one of the first to own their own modest home. No one went to college. Drug and alcohol abuse were prevalent and many of my female cousins had their first child before graduating. I saw education as a path to a more secure future with more opportunities and I poured all my efforts into my schoolwork. In high school, when we were separated into leveled classes, I found myself in AP classes with students who had doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, and judges as parents. They were highly educated. They went to summer camps at universities. They traveled abroad. When I went to a study session at one of their houses, I was astounded. It was probably an upper middle class house, and the thing that surprised me the most was that they had a pantry filled with food. We never had a surplus of food at my house. The fridge was never more than a quarter full. The few cabinets we had were mostly empty as well. The idea that someone could have a room just for backup food—all brand name, all different kinds of food—blew me away. At first, I honestly thought they were survivalists or bunker people who had overstocked for Y2K—but they all had them. To me, the pantry became a symbol of someone who was comfortable. They didn’t go without things. They had excess ready for when they used what they had. I had never seen or experienced such a thing before entering that circle. I also knew then that I wasn’t going to be holding study sessions at my house.

Tambu’s introduction to her uncle’s house is only one step of her journey into a foreign way of life. The culture she enters at Sacred Heart is entirely white and wealthy. She describes her initial experience as “all so heady and affluent and new that I was sure I was on the path of progress. I did not want to be left behind, so I threw myself into everything” (199). While Tambu is immersed in this society, her cousin Nyasha, who has already been immersed in English culture, is struggling with her own hybridity. She laments that she cannot find a place to belong: “I know that I should not complain, but I very much would like to belong, Tambu, but I find I do not” (201). Nyasha’s difficulties manifest themselves in her eating disorder. Tambu hears her mother’s declaration of the “Englishness” that has destroyed her cousins and wonders “Am I being careful enough?” (207). We can infer in the end that Tambu will encounter her own challenges with hybridity. If her environment is defined in binary terms, she will not belong back with her family, nor will she belong at Sacred Heart. She cannot completely erase the traces of her life before entering the educational system. As Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin note in their definition of palimpsest “there are always traces of previous inscriptions that have been ‘overwritten’” (158). If Tambu’s identity is to be truly created, she will have to acknowledge both parts of her life. However, to do so means that she will fit into neither.

So, how does one try to make sense of experiencing two different cultures? How much is the identity shaped from one or the other? How much of identity is uniquely created instead of mimicked or as a reaction to another force? Walcott explores some of these issues in his work. His phrase “everything is mere repetition” made me try to think of something in my identity that was uniquely “me” and not a reaction to something or someone else (260). That wasn’t a fun path to explore. As someone who is a hybrid of two different class systems within the same society, I sometimes question my place and identity. Those who are trying to make sense from a hybridity of more disparate cultures in a binary system have an unenviable challenge to their existence.

On an unrelated/related note, this article from the New York Times highlights the income discrepancies of students in higher education. Many private schools have more students from the top one percent than the bottom sixty. Our system is not equitable, and I wonder how the experiences of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds differ from those of the upper classes—what their comfort level is like, how they meet people and connect, and what opportunities are available to them upon graduation.

 

 

 

 

 

Week 4

This week’s reading reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri’s work concentrated on the relationship and experiences of the immigrant generation and their children. Like Dangarembga’s work, Lahiri’s collection notes the tension between these generations. In both cases, the second generation embraces a greater degree of hybridity. From this, there is a disconnect created between the two generations. However, even the younger, more immersed generation struggles between the two cultures present within their lives. I loved that book.

In a small degree, tension between generations occurs in all families. I experienced it with my family and my students experience it in their lives as well. Dangarembga’s work shows the complexity of this conflict when multiple cultures are present within the dynamic. Tambu’s own feelings of alienation within her family are frustrating enough for her when she has only lived within that world. From her observations of Nyasha, Tambu is aware that she is entering into a confusing world—one which she could easily lose herself. As she approaches her uncle’s house, Tambu realizes the complexity and potential danger of her situation:

“My finely tuned survival system set off its alarm at once, warning me to avoid that trap, but I was lost. I could see no path of escape except the one that led back to the homestead. But that, I knew, would do me no good because I was burning up with wanting to escape from there” (Dangarembga 65).

Tambu has seen the transformations of Nhamo and Nyasha. She is aware of the influence she is about to experience.

The school itself is a host of transculturation. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin cite Pratt’s concept of contact zones as “social spaces where ‘disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of dominance and subordination—like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today’” (213). Babamukuru’s school is one of these contact zones, as it places the English educational and cultural systems as the ideal. However, even as Babamukuru consistently praises and values this system, he struggles with its effect on his daughter. He lectures Tambu that, though she is “an intelligent girl” she must also “develop into a good women” (Dangarembga 89). Tambu tactfully notes that Babamukuru is “stressing both qualities equally and not seeing any contradiction in this” (89). There is a natural conflict that results from these traits, as seen by the character of Nyasha. Babamukuru and Maiguru are consistently irritated and perplexed by Nyasha. Babamukuru laments,

“’I don’t know what’s wrong with her…But there’s something wrong with her, something very wrong. A good child doesn’t behave like that. I tell you, Ma’Chido, sometimes I don’t sleep, thing about the way that daughter of mine has turned out’” (85).

The irony of this statement is clear. Nyasha has turned out exactly as Babamukuru has wanted. She has become so Westernized that she feels out of place when returning to visit Tambu’s family. She has embraced the culture that Babamukuru so highly values.

Nyasha sees this issue clearly. She explains to Tambu:

“’We shouldn’t have gone…The parents ought to have packed us off home. They should have, you know. Lots of people did that. Maybe that would have been best. For them at least, because now they’re stuck with hybrids for children. And they don’t like it. They don’t like it at all. It offends them. They think we do it on purpose, so it offends them. And I Don’t know what to do about it, Tambu, really I don’t. I can’t help having been there and grown into the me that has been there. But it offends them—I offend them. Really, it’s very difficult’” (79).

Babamukuru’s mimicry of British values allows him to attain a measure of success for his family. However, it is evident that this is not without conflict. It also makes me wonder how he was treated as a student in England. As we know from reading Bhabha, mimicry is not complete equality. Bhabha notes its impact: “For in ‘normalizing’ the colonial state or subject, the dream of post-Enlightenment civility alienates its own language of liberty and produces another knowledge of its norms” (266). Babamukuru has become quite separate from his family and culture even as he strives to help them, but chances are he is not completely accepted in the culture he has chosen to emulate.

On a concluding note, I was so thankful for the “Mimicry and Hybridity in Plain English” article by Amardeep Singh. That was certainly helpful!