Tuesday, March 16, 2010
ADVENTURE most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be;
Attended by a Single Hound—
Its own Identity.
It is with this epigraph that I chose to begin my American Literature blog. Both seem to on a very liminal plain establish my plans and goals for both the blog and the quarter: an adventure in itself during the course of studying a defiant, persistent people and their words and stories, a “Single Hound” of the American pulse, searching for and trying to create its own “Identity,” it’s own oral tradition of story telling and writing, it’s own literature.
I find myself struggling in an attempt to tie all loose ends up; I’ve seen first hand the collective of an entire people struggling adjacent themselves, their gods, their demons and devils, and opposing forces and identities. They marched against indigenous beings, did genocide, almost fell to religious fanaticism, bore great guilt for their fathers, were held captive, conquered gender identity, became introspective and philosophical, survived slavery and redefined freedom, became lost at sea and survivors, wrote of fear and love. This is the essence of adventure for a quarter’s wroth of text. I begin to trace a thematic between the numerous works and find a single resolve: each of our readings is trying to retell a chapter of the American origin story, the “Single Hound” of an entire nation.
I can still remember our first reading, and how striking it was after discussion. Cotton Mather’s “On Witchcraft,” a devious dictionary of how to’s and what if’s should the God-Fearing Puritan find or encounter a witch. Of course, on first read, the document to me at least read as a religious nut’s propaganda away from the altar sermon, that kept those God fearing Puritans fearing God; after all the warning signs of witches were similar characteristics to that of a free thinker, and the open wilderness. Let’s think for a second, what are the inhabitants of the new world surrounded with? Wilderness and free thought! It was all starting to seem like a scam…from the prospective of a modern thinker. Luckily, discussion brought us back to the times of Cotton Mather, and we were able to embrace the terror, the real and genuine fear that the Puritan mind was faced with: true evil, Lucifer himself could come out of the untamed wild of the American continent. Thus begins an epic battle of good versus evil, and the people of New England are God’s frontline soldiers. This adds to a rich tradition of literary history: the beginnings of a motif of survival and self defense against insurmountable odds and evil. With “On Witchcraft,” which sets the standard for colonial thought, we are invited to take a glimpse at the original American survival story.
To follow, we read “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This text adds a new sensitivity to the feelings of American Literature: guilt. Hawthorne’s parable is deep with meaning and satire as he says my Puritan heritage is great within. However, he does not celebrate; he damns. He locates the distrust and fanaticism that comes out of the Witch trials he witnessed. Hawthorne is unique in having the opportunity to write about a generation of Americans as a newer breed; he is closer to a definite evolution of this new “America,” and its brand of writing. “Goodman Brown” is a cleverly written piece that begins a new chapter in the American story, a sort of build on the survival story comes an element of manliness and its struggle against evil. The pieces come together even further.
The next bit of American glory comes at an awful cost. We read a little further into our past from the eyes of the first Colonists to see an American war. It is not, however, the Revolution; but the genocidal betrayal of the Natives. In the context of both a moving documentary and “Woman’s Indian Captivity Narratives,” we witness the harm done to our land. Where the Natives are fighting to preserve their own oral tradition, we pave over it, forcing our culture in while desecrating theirs. Ultimately, the American Indian is irradiated, as is their culture. This conquest begins its own theme in the American origin story: a conquest, a power, an ultimate strength motif that never seems to disappear.
This is where I stop and consider: does this mean that in order to be “American,” I must bear the guilt of such atrocities done by the European settlers? I look at what is left of the Native culture: small reservations which are for the most part regarded as lawless and dangerous, dirty places. I have no real solution for what this means for us, just something I’ve been considering as the class ties together. Are these circumstances too grave to excuse with, ‘we learn from our mistakes?’
We move on throughout the year, and encounter a new kind of text: “The Conquest of New Spain.” Paired with an interesting and deep view of (a whole other brand of pure American entertainment) Wresting, the Conquest motif in the American story becomes all too prevalent, as does the importance of gender roles. Not only do we see this literature beginning to trace what an American is (powerful, conquistador, strong) but we begin to see what an American MAN is. Where the man is ignored, enter Eliza Wharton’s “Coquette,” which although does a poor job moving me as a reader, does an excellent job establishing the freethinking woman in both American literature and history. This important distinction will shape the rest of the class, as we no longer neglect gender roles in literature and culture.
Another interesting factor in “New Spain,” is the horrific gore and violence that we will later return too with “In The Heart of the Sea.” Our attraction to this is bizarre. On one side, you’ve got the butch American man and his need to do violence to assert his dominance, and on the other you’ve got a peevish sense of curiosity to try and understand the violence; particularly where it is embellished, exaggerated and loaded with hyperbolic symbolism. One must ask himself, how necessary is this gore? Hugely, if you want a piece of the American pie, apparently. Our story is soaked with blood and gore, and if you’ve seen the Patriot, you’d know that its heroic blood and gore. We celebrate a history of independence that was made of betrayal, genocide and a revolution. We nurture a history of violence, so it is natural to see the gore stories resurfacing and being retold in Americana.
However, this trend will take a moment to relax itself as we move into transcendental philosophy; the first time in our literature and history we find importance in embracing both our surrounding nature (instead of damning it, Cotton Mather…) and our own human nature as well. Emerson and HDT work leaps and bounds for the American mind; they alter our story from one of violence, conquest and rebellion to one of intellectual rebellion, mental conquest, verbal violence (in HDT’s case). They attempt to rewrite the myth of American man and woman, and although they fail to alter this tradition, they do create their own school of thought which warrants forever future students to read and study. They give academics a reason to examine the American Dream, and ask perhaps the most important question in the course:
What part of the American Dream is mine for the taking?
As we begin to watch everything fall into its right place, I sort of step back from pigeon holing my course work and ponder. How does it all relate? The struggles of a young American define what it is to be an American today. That is why we must study “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” because we have to be held accountable for our disastrous decisions, and we must make our own of what freedom is for us. We must invent our own form of hero story, one where oppression (be it sexual or political) is conquered and heroic blood is spilt on a virgin canvas. All of these stories and texts wrap together a ‘here’s what happened and here’s what’s next’ for America. And then we get Emily Dickinson.
She is the perfect way to conclude the class. She is in all ways an American woman. She, like Eliza has her own liaisons. She, like the conquistadors takes complete control over her life and is able to vanquish such things as being slave to the social conventions. She is wary of social convention. She is liberated. Perhaps she is engaged in a homo-erotic relationship with her best friend and sister in law. She is a poet, she is an American poet.
I look at ‘The Single Hound” again. How isn’t she talking about our nation? I can so easily see this stalking dog as a symbol for our nation. At birth, we are weak and feeble, afraid of oppressive forces, unknown cultures or demonic terrors. Then as we grow, we begin to scrap with other dogs, bearing our teeth and showing our dominance. Then we begin to age and lead a rich life, developing our own culture.
The nature of America is adventure, and this soul is forever ‘condemned’ to the wanderings of a “Single Hound,” an independent beast who at any time can survive, can bark at the moon and run and chase from adventure to adventure.
But above all, this creature has its own identity.
From this self aware, identity, the soul can flood with a self reliant pride: for it is aware of the culture it represents. American Literature is pure art; a collective of minds and thinkers that are all grasping at sweet repose, soothed by sleep and entertained by the idea of an American dream. She is a brave, curious mind to have such radical, revolutionary thoughts at time, yet timid to be so fair and just.
They say to let sleeping dogs lie, but I assure you, it is impossible to cripple her sense of adventure, most unto itself.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
What a sad, awful, depressing time to be a member of the Fox News dubbed: "White America." I feel a lot of what our good old buddy Nate Hawthorne must of felt after seeing what a few generations earlier had done to innocent, free people. A lot of present day folks are willing to ignore, forget and even overlook the events of the late 1700s and 1800s in America, you know, when slavery was legal. Unbelievable. So there's the guilt in that, but then we pick up Harriet Jacob's book and boom. Look at what an American, who is TOLD SHE IS LESS THAN A NORMAL AMERICAN, does with and to get her hands on a piece of American freedom.
This book is a survival story and a tale of epic scale American freedom. I can see pretty easily how it fits in with the rest of the course: Harriet is a woman, put down by men and bigots, and must emancipate herself from detestable conditions and try to scrape together some sense of self in a big bad world.
Sounds like the original colonists escaping from England. It's too bad we didn't figure out we would do the same thing again (and no, I haven't forgotten the Indians.)
What I find fascinating, is that today "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," along with other texts of the era (Like Fredrick Douglass' "Narrative") have sense innovated their own genre and place in literary history. Unbeknownst to her, Harriet Jacob's created a subtheme in the greater scale of American Literature: African American Lit.
The most important collection of this text is without a doubt the Norton academic anthology. Said of this collection: "Andrews added that English and literature departments where faculty have not taught African American literature can no longer make the claim that no adequate anthologies exist." The question I pose is, why has there for so long been an excuse to teach this literature?
As if to answer my question, Roach's article continues: ""It took twice as long as we thought it would," McKay said. "It was exhilarating at times. But, on the other hand, it could be depressing."" And it is, we should be examining authors like Jacobs, not hiding them.
SO this thought prompted more research into African American lit, and I found a whole new version of the American story in an interesting text pitting a Haitian refuge intellectual and a Harlem working class man and war deserter. Together, their dialague creates a sort of independt study on what it means to be a man in Jacobs' version of America, more then the diluted and upper class White America we are most often faced with.
"Nonetheless, the friendship that evolves between Ray and Jake transforms both of them, as they each must confront the mutual prejudice--based on national and class differences--that makes their comradeship so unlikely."
This unlikely friendship is something more like what an honest, loving country (like America) would have meet Harriet in New York, instead of what she did...
"Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own."
She is independent, cannot stress enough how American this is....
"Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage. I and my children are now free! We are as free from the power of slave holders as are the white people of the north; and though that, according to my ideas, is not saying a great deal, it is a vast improvement in my condition."
Without touching on the gender freedom lodged in this quotation, I just pity the world that would force a woman to define freedom with the bigoted world Jacob's lived in.
Lowney, J. "Haiti and Black Transnationalism: Remapping the Migrant Geography of Home to Harlem" African American Review, Fall, 2000.
Roach, R. "Powerful pages: Unprecedented Public Impact of W.W. Norton and Co's Norton Anthology of African American Literature". Black Issues in Higher Education, September 18, 1997.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
American Woman – Lenny Kravitz Music Code
Okay, I'll say it, the Coquette wasn't exactly my cup of tea. I mean, I get it; epistolary format aside, the language created a serious barrier for me, the subject matter wasn't exactly interesting (which is bizarre, apparently this story was like, tabloid scandal in its time) so I usually don't make this conclusion, but I did not like the Coquette. However, I love a revolution story, and the Coquette was just that.
Friday, January 29, 2010
The White Stripes - 'Conquest,' from 'Icky Thump'
So, what a week; we talked about some exciting things: pro-wrestling, conquistadors, violence, the conventional sexual and physical abuse of women by stereotypical 'manly' men, you know, the good stuff. So, enjoy a little White Stripes, and I'll break it down as follows.
I have been to Tucson, Arizona.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
Forget it, I can't be fickle, obviously Mather and specifically "On Witchcraft" has something going for it, albeit an old school spin on a really scary story. The book, one of over three hundred other published works from Cotton Mather, is an account of devils, demons and Satan himself in New England. Almost an "Idiots Guide to Outing Witches."
"On Witchcraft," the product of Mather's response to the witch hysteria in and around Boston and Salem, was published in 1692. His career as a theologian and pastor at the Old North Church makes this response all the more valuable and credible to the fearful and pious Christians of the Early American Colonies. Included in the (difficult to read) text includes methods to prevent temptation and the devil's vile ways, detect who is a witch, methods to avoid temptation and how to remain a faithful Christian during the tring times of the Witch outbreak, and ultimately, the Salem Trials.
I want to take a moment to sort of move away from the text of "On Witchcraft," and pose a question: did this hysteria ever cease?
"A particularly harrowing scene from Paranormal Activity in which the Demon visits Mica and Katie"
Of the top grossing films of this year, it was the horror genre that led the charts. Films like "Drag Me To Hell," "The Haunting in Connecticut," "Underworld," "The Unborn," and "Paranormal Activity," we see a new means of entertainment media focusing on those unfortunate occupants of hell, devils, witches, and demons. Although a little different then the cautionary text of "On Witchcraft," you can still easilly see a parallel between perhaps a voyeristic desire to read up on the Salem witches in 1692, to today's wide movie going audience looking for a scare.
Now, follow me here, becuase I know groups of New Englanders aren't quite looking to burn each other at the stake anymore, but what cause for films like these is there other then a curiosity for some netherworldly force?
It's not much more then a head scratcher, but for a second I'll suspend my disbelief of the undead and assume the Salem Witch Trials actually did punish the devil incarnate in Puritan men and women. Fast forward to 2009's "Paranormal Activity," which for the record is completely fiction. Still. The movie's villian, a demon who seems to jump from female to female buring down homes and killing idiot boyfriends before leaving the host woman to ruin a few other lives, is supposedly out there. Yikes!
"a Popish Curate having ineffectually try'd many Charms to Eject the Devil out of a Damsel there possessed, he passionately bid the Devil come out of her into himself," (17) writes Mather of a particularly harmful encounter with the demon; does anybody remember this EXACT SCENE from "The Exceroist"?
This is scary stuff friends: demons posessing people, maliciously entering the willing bodies of the clergey, the townsfolk of Salem, Boston, all over New England have found themselves engaged in an epic battle between the forces of good and God against the very filth of hell. Sounds like one hell of a movie. The catch is, Mather believes what he's writing, the people believe what they are reading, this stuff, in the world of seventeenth century America, is freakin real. Again, YIKES!
How to conclude? The point I'm trying to get across is I think a simple one, "On Witchcraft," although difficult to read and true, embodies one of the first archetypal "lore" of Amerciana pop culture. Put Mather in a movie theater today and something like this text would be the result of his screening of "Paranormal Activity" perhaps. Furthermore, the book makes a benchmark for the beginnings of both American pulp writing (remember, Mather had over three hundred works published) AND literature in general, not to mention evangelical preaching.
I liked "On Witchcraft," it was so hard to read, almost old English seeming at times; the narrative is horrific in the same ways that any scare flick would be these days, difference being, there aren't clever special effects behind what Salem witnessed. Just faith, and that itself is pretty cool.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
|Part Five: The Single Hound|
|ADVENTURE most unto itself|
|The Soul condemned to be;|
|Attended by a Single Hound—|
|Its own Identity.|
And on the lighter side, I present the seemingly collective guilty pleasure,