404 Matching Annotations
  1. Jul 2020
    1. The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.

      What's ZNH getting at here? What claim is she making about whiteness and the problems of "possessing" it, in the words of George Lipsitz

  2. Mar 2019
    1. The narrator’s underground appropriation of a “Monopolated Light & Power” enacts his dissent from their totalizing control. By avoiding having to pay for the 1,369 lightbulbs that illuminate his hole, the invisible man seeks an independent source of insight.
      1. Explain the contrast Eversley draws here between a "monopolated" way of seeing and the IMs "dissent" from it. What does the IM (and his readers who are paying attention) see that the "monopolated" perspective misses? [style points for massaging a reference to R. W. Emerson in your answer]
    2. In 1953, one year after the publication of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Hugh Hefner launched his men’s magazine, Playboy. The magazine’s centerfold featured a nude Marilyn Monroe posed against a striking red velvet curtain. The photograph was taken in 1949 as Ellison was working diligently on the novel, and it became a quintessential example of American femininity, an icon of American cultural history. As a photographer, art student, and collector of painting and portraiture, Ellison understood the power of visual images. He liked to look at pictures. In his novel, Ellison describes a nude woman that seems to invoke the Playboy image: “the red robe swept aside like a veil, and I went breathless at the petite and generously curved nude, framed delicate and firm in the glass.”(1) This nameless woman, “acting a symbolic role of life and feminine fertility” (Invisible 409), has a sexual affair with the protagonist and she appears in the novel just as invisible man confronts “The Woman Question.” Ellison’s artful description of the woman’s symbolic role, like Monroe’s pose, suggests complicity in a well-known and longstanding iconography of female difference and sexual objectification that critics have argued amounts to nothing more than a literary pinup. Ellison also describes the woman as framed by “a life-sized painting, a nude, a pink Renoir,” and the narrator sees her nakedness haunted by a shadow. The painting emphasizes the very constructedness of gender difference. As a double, it offers a visual and life-sized reference to the history of female objectification so that Ellison’s readers can look at the woman and see the “mirrors of hard, distorting glass” (3) that distort her humanity. The scene provokes in invisible man the sense of “a poignancy,” something that forces him to question his reality – “[i]t was like a dream interval” – and most importantly, to question his assumption that invisibility is exclusive to black men (416-17). Here, both the narrator and the woman appear as nameless types. Their mutual and their individual challenge is to achieve an identity, one independent of the stereotypical images that conceal the truth.
      1. One might accuse Ellison of having his own Woman Question, of using women in his novel as inert objects of desire for a masculine gaze. In fact, several students made this argument over the course of our seminar. What does Eversley do with this argument? How does she characterize Ellison's representation of women at the top of the essay?
    3. Invisible man’s encounter with Sybil signals the penultimate moment of revelation that not only drives the protagonist underground, but also prompts his desire to articulate the double-consciousness that emerges from epistemological blindness. The two participate in a flirtation that depends on their symbolic statuses – “just the type of misunderstood married woman” and “Brother Taboo-with-whom-all-things-are possible” (515, 517). Plotting revenge on the Brotherhood, the narrator intends to seduce the lonely woman in order to secure restricted information to which her husband, George, has access. At the same time, Sybil encourages the encounter so that she can confirm her fantasy of a black rapist. In their interaction invisible man finally sees a symbolic and “a very revolting ritual” and he asks whether Sybil’s face displays “horror” or “innocence,” an ambivalence that emerges from the “obscene scheme of the evening” (517). His question reveals his desire for answers, not sex. Now, near the end of his journey, he sees a woman with whom he communicates; or, at least, she communicates something to him. Her articulation of the contours and the logic of negation prompts the protagonist to think; his next step requires action.
      1. Eversley starts the essay with an image of Monroe for Playboy, an image that says, in effect: I exist to be seen by you, for your consumption. Later in the essay, she explores depictions of women who express, to the IM and to us readers, something different. Looking at Mary Rambo or Sibil or the "huge woman in a gingham pinafore" at the riot, explain Eversley's argument: what do these "opaque" or "enigmatic" women teach us about seeing and knowing?
    4. At the Battle Royal and in his “blind terror” (21), a metaphor of proliferating invisibility, invisible man sees only the image of a “magnificent blonde,” her image constructed in the social imaginary. While he has not yet developed insight, he begins to learn its lessons. In this scene that frames the entire novel, the woman – also nameless and “stark naked” – stands before the protagonist, the fearful black boys, and the town’s most respected white men. The novel’s description frames her visually, and her subjectivity first appears through the male eyes that look at her body. Her humanity seems to disappear as her body submits to the voyeuristic gaze that renders her a pornographic sex object. She is invisible. Her manipulated image presents stereotypes of truth and social authority that rationalize domination over women and black people. For the narrator, however, this woman prompts him to see and feel ambivalence: “I wanted at one and the same time to caress her and destroy her, to love her and murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed on her belly her thighs formed a capital V” (19). Even as the woman’s presence provokes a visceral response, the protagonist’s engagement calls attention to her visual and revelatory significance. For instance, the V of the woman’s thighs juxtaposed with the American flag signals democratic victory. As Ellison began writing Invisible Man at the end of World War II, the United States had defeated totalitarian threats against global humanity. This victory not only positioned the nation as the world’s leading democracy, it also promised integration, an honest racial equality that would finally realize the most sacred principles of American freedom. Yet, at the same time, the V between the woman’s thighs also represents her gender difference and it reminds the protagonist of women’s unequal status. Looking past the symbolic surface of the “magnificent blonde,” Invisible Man begins to realize that no victory has been won. Neither the woman nor the man can rely on the national symbols that should, in actuality, indicate their freedoms.
      1. The performer at the Battle Royal is what psychoanalysis calls an "overdetermined" object, an object that is overstuffed with meanings in ways that are contradictory and overwhelming to the subject looking at it. Unpack this object, explaining how a) the men at the "smoker" regard her; b) the IM himself regards her; and b) how Eversley regards her. What do these three divergent interpretations of the same thing tell us about Ellison's novel?
    1. NOTES

      General question: what are some fields of knowledge that Anderson needed to know in order to write this piece? What do his readers need to know in order to read his work? What are some of the different kinds of sources did he marshal to make his argument?

    2. If the tragicomic blues spirit of collective affirmation he identified with a music born in his youth was less frequently heard with the passing of time, Ellison worked all the more to commemorate the “romantic lyricism” of a receding world. Thus he offered the following dedication to his never-published second novel: “To That Vanished Tribe Into Which I Was Born: The American Negroes.”

      What is Anderson's evaluation of Ellison's legacy, in the end? What does he affirm about Ellison, and what does he criticize? Do you think Anderson gives a fair assessment?

    3. Putting his blues modernism to work on a nationalist project, Ellison transforms the embrace of the remainder into a new dialectic and an American jeremiad in an African-American idiom. Here he sides with the ideal of an unbuilt and prospective America. Rejecting one dialectical model of history but identifying with all that is left out of that model, the narrator brilliantly uses these very residues to fuel another dialectic of history.

      Unpack this very dense passage. What is "blues modernity"? What does Ellison preserve from the Brotherhood, and what does he revise or add to it?

    4. In order to move with fidelity toward the distant new world of an idealized pluralistic and post-racist America, an older segregated African-American world, with its joys and its restrictions, had to give way. Ellison could at least maintain fidelity to that past world through his home-made stereo and private archive that sonically reproduced the beautiful world of his youth as he imagined it.

      How does the phonograph--which appears in the novel as well--mediate for Anderson the conflict between Ellison's old-school tastes in music and the newer forms that are arising in the 1950s and 60s? What are some of the implications of this reading, in which the old and new co-exist in the same cultural moment?

    5. Moreover, the lurid tableau of Parker’s plunge into self-degrading performance before a “ravenous, sensation-starved” white audience closely follows a fictional precedent from Invisible Man: Tod Clifton’s final appearance as a vacant-eyed street performer indistinguishable from the paper Sambo doll he manipulates for small change. “Who wants Sambo, the dancing, prancing? . . . There’s no license for little Sambo, the joy spreader. You can’t tax joy, so speak up, ladies and gentlemen” (433). Here was the full price of vertiginous plunging.

      How does Anderson link Parker (well, Ellison's depiction of Parker) to Ellison's novel? How does the comparison of Parker to Tod Clifton work? Do you buy this reading?

    6. Ellison’s preferred mode of lyricism in African-American music belonged to what struck him as a comparatively optimistic pre-bebop music of social romance.

      How do Ellison's tastes in music link up with broader narratives in music history (swing to bebop)? How does Anderson explain Ellison's "lagging" taste, preferring the older swing of Basie and Ellison to the new 'bop of Parker and Miles Davis? Why does this issue of what kind of music Ellison prefers matter so much?

    7. Only in holding themselves close to their native community and its rituals of socialization were these men able to cultivate the deepest level of individuality and artistry. Mastering musical form in the swinging guises of jazz and the blues committed these musicians to what we might call a centripetal ethos of lyrical transition even as they enacted “from performance to performance” a more centrifugal and decentering process of what Kimberley Benston calls “multiplication and substitution.”(16)

      Two questions: a) is Rinehart the hero of Ellison's novel? Why or why not? and b) how does the long discussion of Rinehart relate to the encompassing discussion of Ellison and music? Playing music is about the only thing that Rinehart doesn't do!

    8. anomic


    9. vertiginous


    10. While “the Negro” functioned as a guilt-inducing and thus repressed or demonized presence within white American culture, a psychoanalytically informed post-war modernism might point to more sober possibilities for working through the nation’s racial pathologies. Here was another reason for Ellison’s blues aesthetic to eschew the romanticization of unmediated expression or naturalness in favor of a nearly classicist stress on restraint and self-control. The latter provided the firmest stabilizing equipment for the existential plunge into the “seething vortex” of modernity.

      What's the problem with the "primitive" for African American artists, according to Anderson? What other examples from IM can you think of that carry out this implicit critique of celebrating black "primitivity"?

    11. frisson


    12. jouissance


    13. Such limit-case experiences of racial identification cause a kind of psychological and epistemological vertigo.

      We saw something like this in Hurston's essay, when she hears the jazz band in a Harlem cabaret.

    14. He once noted that as an eleven-year-old he had dipped into Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1905).

      Didn't we all go through a phase of reading Freud's unabridged work in 5th grade?

    15. In such a case Ellison redescribed the African-American blues as a raft, if not a generating motor, for moving closer to the “democratic ideal.” At least on some occasions the blues came to the aid of his anti-racist dialectic of democratic national becoming.

      Unpack Ellison's figure linking the blues and the novel as a "raft" of sorts. How does this figure help us to see a kinship between the blues and the novel as cultural forms? What are the implications of seeing both as "rafts" rather than the kind of structures that grow out of "blueprints"?

    16. Ultimately, the narrator will summon Armstrong’s “beam of lyrical sound” as a heroic model for transforming slips, breaks, and plunges into opportunities to master “the swift and imperceptible flowing of time.” A dawning transvaluation of slips and plunges derived from the African-American blues, one of Armstrong’s chief idiomatic sources, will also enrich the narrator.

      How is musical form an analogue or aspirational model for writing fiction for Ellison? What's the logic of this connection? What can listening to Armstrong teach the novelist?

    17. At these points, the improvising soloist (usually singular) fills the otherwise empty sonic space with dramatic solo obligatti

      To get a sense of what Anderson is talking about sonically, check out Louis Armstrong's sublime set of breaks on "Potato Head Blues" (1927) with the Hot Seven. Go listen to like two hours of the classic Hot Fives and Sevens. If you just want to catch the breaks and have other priorities (sigh), here's a link that skips to the breaks.

    18. Armstrong may have been a representative of an African-American “underworld of sound” but his musical revolution was on intimate terms with the white mainstream of American popular music. The critic Nathaniel Mackey has recently elaborated a theoretical understanding of intimacy and discrepancy through a distinction between “musical othering” and “social othering” that is relevant to this discussion of invisibility’s ironic benefits.

      Anderson's argument gets a bit hard to follow here, for me at least. Is that a mistake on his part? Why might that be? What does this opacity tell us about his style and, perhaps, his method in this piece?

      Is it clear by the end of this section why Anderson took us on this seeming detour through his theoretical analysis of "invisibility"? What is the connection?

    19. On the level of vernacular culture (if not elsewhere), an invisible but irrepressible “underworld of sound” had already quietly taken over the mainstream. This, too, Ellison heard in Armstrong’s popular music. But how was the United States to pass from the sonic and cultural pluralism Ellison discovered to the post-racist social and political revolution of which it offered some kind of foretaste?

      What is the relationship between Ellison's writing and the pre-existing tradition of African American vernacular music in this passage? Also, note how Anderson uses a rhetorical question here: why? What's the benefit of pulling out this question at this point in the argument?

    20. especially the chapter on the “sorrow songs” in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903).

      I TOLD y'all that book was important!

    21. Thus, musical othering can submit dominant “fixed equations” and aesthetic norms to what Mackey dubs a “dislocating tilt.”(10)

      What is the relationship between "musical othering" and "social othering"? How might this relationship reflect back on Ellison's novel?

    22. An extraordinary philosophical faith in the translatability, if not transparency, of meaning across artistic media shone through Ellison’s joint account of racial invisibility and musical technique.

      What is Ellison's implied disagreement with his mentors at Tuskeegee (remember: the model for the campus life depicted in IM)? What counter-model does he offer for thinking about "folk" materials?

    23. doxa


    24. Musical occasions, that is, play no role in Ellison’s writing by figuring as sites of untranslatable otherness or estrangement. He regularly displayed a Malrauxian fervor for ritual interpretation in his explorations of southern and southwestern African-American music and folkways. Especially in Ellison’s early postwar work, a sense of modernization as an abrupt and volcanic process of cultural upheaval hovered over these explorations. What was happening to African-Americans’ “traditional” cultural tools – what Ellison’s friend Kenneth Burke called “equipment for living” – in the seemingly chaotic context of northern migration and urban proletarianization?(6) Ellison adapted the work of Malraux and other theorists to style his own response to the processes of disruption, survival, and transformation in African-American modernity.

      We get into the deep water here in Anderson's argument. How, according to Anderson, does Ellison think about music? How does his approach differ from other music critics? What were some of his models in developing this perspective, and how do they help him link African American music to other cultural objects? Also, note how Anderson starts with a pretty simple, clear intro and starts to tamp down on it here into something denser.

    25. metonym


    26. A closer look at his skeptical commentaries on Parker’s prominent role in the stylistic innovations of the 1940s jazz modernists reveals Ellison’s fascinating and rarely discussed inhabitation of the posture of a musical revanchist committed to the musical superiority of certain pre-World War II idioms.

      What's the "intervention" Anderson wants to make with this piece? What does he have to say that hasn't been said, especially in a critical conversation that (as Blair points out) is already very crowded? More broadly, what can we learn here about how to create some "elbow room" for our own arguments in oft-discussed texts?

    27. revanchist


    28. the scene operated as a regulative norm for the mature Ellison.

      What does Anderson mean by a "regulative norm"? What is the "delicate balance" Ellison describes here? Why does jazz matter so much to Ellison, becoming more that mere entertainment?

    29. Within the first pages of the 1952 novel Invisible Man Ralph Ellison’s narrator relates Louis Armstrong’s music to his own desires and self-conceptions.

      What are the big questions Anderson asks the text of Invisible Man? What does he want to discover about the text in his reading? What kinds of sources or methods will he need to use to answer his question/s?

    1. Fig. 2 Lisette Model, Reflection, New York, c. 1939-45
    2. “Reflections, New York,”
    3. Fig. 1 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Untitled (Rouen, 1929)
    4. (“Budapest,” 1931).
    5. hortatory


    6. auratic


    7. In this episode, documentary is transformed from a method of exposure – a technique applied to the hapless, the forgotten, the marginal and unself-conscious – into a powerful exercise, at once aesthetic and political, of self-knowledge.

      How does Blair's argument respond to the idea that documentary work reduces its subjects, exploits its subjects, sticks them to a board on a pin and scrawls labels under them?

    8. sui generis


    9. Photographs Miscellaneous Invisible Men.”(24) At one point, the binder appears to have included a stack of images;

      What are some implications of Ellison's having a folder with images of "invisible men"? How does this archival discovery link to her broader argument?

    10. the tenements and alleys and basements; “the gin mills and the barber shops and the juke joints and the churches” where, as Ellison’s narrator argues, a “whole unrecorded history is spoken” (471).

      Unpack this moment in Blair's argument: how does this passage, which is not about photography at all, nevertheless link up with Blair's argument about documentary modes of representation and the camera?

    11. Yet if this desire impelled any number of writers and intellectuals of Ellison’s generation, it had a particular power, and particular novelistic uses, for him.

      What are some of the pitfalls and potentialities of engaging photography for Ellison, as a writer of color in the 1930s and 40s? What have prior critics said about this relation, and what does Blair want to add that's new?

    12. Putting the camera back in his hand,

      Blair ends the article with a riff on what happens when we "put the camera back in Ellison's hand." What does happen? Is looking at Ellison's relationship to photography something she's added to an evaluation of his novel, or does it force us to think about the novel in new ways?

    13. Ahead of me the body hung, white, naked, and horribly feminine from a lamppost.

      How does Blair read this surreal image on p. 556 of the hanged mannequins? What does it add to our reading of Ellison's novel to read this image alongside other depictions of mannequins from contemporary photographers like Cartier-Bresson? What does this interpretive move tell us about Blair's methodology?

    14. No wonder, then, that black writers and intellectuals were so fascinated by the evolving history and artifacts of documentary photography.

      How does Blair link Ellison to the broader context of "documentary" work in the 1930s and beyond? What does it mean for an African American artist to do "documentary" work? How does Blair link Ellison to broader themes in African American and American culture through this exploration of documentary?

    15. Even the somewhat random, as-yet uncatalogued, photographs housed with Ellison’s archived papers suggest a certain rehearsal on his part of the menu of representational possibilities: formalist, socially conscious, reportial, intimate.

      Blair takes rather seriously the idea that Ellison is a photographer, not just a writer who snaps photos. As such, how does his work fit into the landscape of postwar art photography? How does she massage him into the broader story of the history of photography? How does Ellison's place in this history relate to his examination of "invisibility" in the novel?

    16. he habitually posed for photographs and self-portraits with camera in hand

      What happens when Blair shifts from Ellison as photography to Ellison as subject of photography? How does she read his performances, so to speak, in front of the camera?

    17. the materials preserved in his archive

      What does Blair find in Ellison's archive and how does she put it to use? What strikes you about her methodology here? What significance does she find in materials that one might ordinarily find, well, insignificant?

    18. the young Ellison serendipitously finds “a large photographic lens”

      What does Blair do with this seemingly minor anecdote in one of Ellison's memoirish essays, about finding a camera lens? Why is this such a big deal? What can we learn from Blair about writing criticism from this move, digging up this anecdote and applying it in this way?

    19. reified


    20. apercu


    21. Ellison was to some extent merely one of his generation

      How does Blair "historicize" Ellison's work? To the implied question, "how did Ellison's work, including his fascination with photography, link up with broader cultural historical currents?," what kinds of answers does she give? How does Ellison's race fit into this broader narrative?

    22. But Ellison’s negotiations of racial history and experience in Invisible Man owe an as-yet unacknowledged debt to another cultural form with which he purposively experimented: photography.

      Okay, bold claim, but how does Blair set out to convince us of this argument? What will be her "methodology"? What have prior critics missed in their readings of Ellison's novel?

    23. “Ralph Ellison, Photographer.”

      What are the implications of this object Blair has pulled from the archives? Why does it matter what's written on Ellison's old memoranda sheets? What's a memoranda sheet, anyway? Why was photography so important to Ellison, and how do we know?

    24. General note: this is the first piece of criticism we're reading for the course (I'm leaving out the theoretical pieces by Emerson, Du Bois, etc., which did not analyze a particular literary text). Here, I want to pose some questions in the margins that call attention to the craft of criticism: what moves critics make, what methodologies they employ, what assumptions they make about what their readers know and don't know, what questions they ask of the text, implicitly or explicitly. We'll keep developing these skills throughout the term, and you'll develop more independence as you go. For now, you'll be sort of reading over my shoulder. For those who have read Dante, I'll be the Virgil to your Dante!

    25. Among readers of Ellison, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the benchmark for his aesthetics and novelistic style is jazz.

      Note the "here's how everyone else reads this text" opening move. What are the advantages of starting this way? How does Blair develop this theme of a critical consensus, and how does she wedge herself in the discussion?

  3. Feb 2019
    1. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.

      Surprising echo of Emerson's "Nature" here, no?

    2. Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.

      Pathological whiteness. There's a hilarious moment in Kiese Laymon's recent Heavy, in which Laymon's college friend, noticing his being depressed, counsels him not to take antidepressants. He tells Laymon that he took them and "felt like a white dude" until he quit.

    3. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

      Spoiler alert, but we'll see Claudia Rankine chew on this line later in the term.

    4. Slavery is sixty years in the past.

      Now that chattel slavery is about 150 years in the past, how does this passage read? Where does this idea place Hurston in political terms?

    5. I do not be long to the sobbing school of Negrohood

      How is Hurston positioning herself in cultural terms here? What does she mean by the "sobbing school"? Can you think of an example?

    6. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown–warranted not to rub nor run.

      What does she mean that she "was not Zora" in Jacksonville? How does this relate to her claims of being "owned" by Eatonville in the prior paragraph?

    7. I remember the very day that I became colored.

      Compare to Du Bois's parallel but very different account.

    8. got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village.

      Very different perspective on the gaze v look problem Du Bois wrestles with.

  4. Jan 2019
    1. merge his double self into a better and truer self.

      What would be involved in the act of "merging" that Du Bois fantasizes about?

    2. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others

      What is "peculiar" about Du Bois's mode of perception? How does his "double consciousness" compare to Emerson's experience of the "bare earth" in "Nature"? Why doesn't Du Bois just head out for the "perfect sweetness of solitude"?

    3. the revelation first bursts upon one

      What is the "revelation" that bursts up on Du Bois in childhood? What choices does it leave Du Bois as he attempts to work through it?

    4. How does it feel to be a problem?

      What does it mean to be a problem? Why is this such a strange-sounding construction and what are some of its implications?

    5. Between

      What's the first word of the first chapter? Why is betweenness such a crucial term in Du Bois's discourse? How does this opening compare to Emerson's?

    6. need I add that I who speak

      What is the rhetorical effect of this line? What would it mean for him to "add" or not "add" the fact of his blackness? What do you make of his dramatic understatement, his "need I add," that doesn't quite add or subtract his racial identity?

    7. Gentle Reader

      Who is this "gentle reader"? How does Du Bois situate reader and writer in this piece from the beginning? What is "hidden," and from whom?

    1. Standing on the bare ground

      What happens to Emerson as he stands on this "bare ground"? What does he gain and what does he lose in this moment? What are some of the anxieties that lurk in this passage beneath the celebratory tone?

    2. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

      Who owns the landscape, according to Emerson? How does this ownership work, and how does it differ from traditional ideas of property and ownership?

    3. Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with the same things, as in a house, a canal, a statue, a picture. But his operations taken together are so insignificant, a little chipping, baking, patching, and washing, that in an impression so grand as that of the world on the human mind, they do not vary the result.

      How does Emerson define "nature" and how does his definition differ from traditional definitions?

    4. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design.

      What is implied about how we know what we know here? What might be some problems with this argument?

    5. OUR age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?

      What is the contrast in generations RWE sets up here? What is the problem with his generation in the middle of the 19th century?

  5. Oct 2018
    1. In summary then, IVANHOE can be used in a variety of ways as a competitive, game-like environment, as a collaborative study and research situation, or as a context in which players strive to achieve their own individual goals. In a classroom setting, IVANHOE could encourage students to improve bibliographical and research skills in one round and critical-reading skills in the next. Individual students could decide which of several interpretive skills they wish to improve in a round of play, or they could consult with a teacher to set these goals. For more mature players, various competitive or collaborative situations might be imagined to promote specific types of critical reflection and scholarly research. IVANHOE can be played in a game mode with points, scoring, and competitive interactions. It can also be used for non-competitive collaborative work within a community of scholars or in classroom activities.

      Like the focus on the flexibility of the instrument. But how would you keep score?

    2. The test runs also suggested two other useful ways in which to explore the tool's design possibilities: first, to deploy IVANHOE as both a pedagogical and a scholarly research tool; second, to launch its functions in a born-digital database of materials. IVANHOE's interpretational capacities were conceived to have wide range and flexibility across every sort of informational material in the humanities and the social sciences

      Note emphasis on empirical language: they ran "tests" or "experiments" based on hunches and the desire to test out the technology's limits and blind spots. Emphasis on collective investigation, iterative exploration.

    1. One might, for example, speak to a microphone, in the manner described in connection with the speech controlled typewriter, and thus make his selections. It would certainly beat the usual file clerk.

      The note of technocratic celebration is so striking here in the age of Alexa and Siri. Now that we're all thinking about "weapons of math destruction" and the asymmetries that characterize the relationship between ordinary citizens and Big Data in so many contexts, it's strange to hear this sunny celebration of frictionless data in the hands of, well, everyone.

    1. critic executes the work

      Barthes is not thinking about this valence, but the phrase makes me think of the three permissions levels that structure access to texts in UNIX: read/write/execute. Readers of the "work" have read-only access: they consume it without inscribing it. Execute permission allows changes to the operating system itself: the energy of the passage points us towards hacking texts at this root level...

    2. the 'interpreter', who is called on to be in some sort the co-author of the score, completing it rather than giving it 'expression'. The Text is very much a score of this new kind: it asks of the reader a practical collaboration.

      This could be the slogan for our course! Doing things with novels means engaging them in a "practical collaboration," not only with the text but with other writer/readers.

    3. to abolish (or at the very least to diminish) the distance between writing and reading

      I hope y'all can feel the force of using hypothes.is on this text in particular: we are engaging in precisely the kind of work/play that RB assigns to the world of the "text."

    4. It is not that the Author may not 'come back' in the Text, in his text, but he then does so as a 'guest'. If he is a novelist, he is inscribed in the novel like one of his characters, figured in the carpet; no longer privileged, paternal, aletheological, his inscription is ludic.

      I love this passage. Once you publish something, it ceases to be yours, or at least exclusively yours. If you return to it, you are just another reader or critic. Think of all the readings you've been to when someone from the peanut gallery disagrees with the author's take on the motives of a character or the after-life of the plot! In a few weeks, we will literalize this idea via the Ivanhoe concept, having Melville visit Billy Budd as a "guest" among its characters, narrator, critics, editors, etc.

    5. the stereographic plurality of its weave of signifiers (etymologically, the text is a tissue, a woven fabric).

      Man, the metaphors are thick on the ground here! The stereograph is a 19thC cultural technology that shows the viewer two images in an apparatus they look through to create the illusion of depth. RBs point here is that the coherence of the "text," such as it is, is constantly drawn back into the "plurality" of the "weave" that creates it.

    6. the sign. The work closes on a signified

      Note that this section is really obscure if you haven't read the work of Ferdinand de Sassure, a Swiss linguist who basically created "semiotics," the systematic study of sign-systems, and whose influence on Barthes is enormous. RBs basic point is that, following Saussure, the "sign" in a symbolic system (say, language) is composed of two components: a "signifier," which is the material inscribed word or aural sound, and a "siginified," which is the meaning conventionally associated with that sound or combination of letters. The "work," for RB, gives up its "signified," its meaning or interpretation, after the critical labor of exegesis (THE ODYSSEY shows the emergence of "civilization," in all its discontents, from the spontaneity of kinship-based cultures), whereas the "text" remains in the field of the signifier in a field of "play" that resists reduction to a meaning (Gertrude Stein, "a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose...").

    7. its constitutive movement is that of cutting across (in particular, it can cut across the work, several works).  

      Reminiscent of the roughly contemporary statement by Derrida that "there is nothing outside the text" (il n'y a pas de hors-texte: really "there is no outside-text"). In other words, textuality is a web that can't be contained within the hermetic walls of a book's covers; all textuality bleeds over into other texts. RBs reading does not go quite so far, in that he emphasizes the position of texts that pretend, as it were, to be "works" that are hermetic and separable.

    8. it is the work that is the imaginary tail of the Text

      That is a super cute metaphor and encapsulates the entire set of oppositions RB develops here: a) the priority of text over work; b) text as living process v. work as epiphenomenal thing.

    1. what preconceptions students have about your course material

      Not a "first five minutes" thing necessarily, but polling is a good way of activating prior knowledge. Prior to the first meeting, I often poll students (using Google Forms or PollEv) on what they've read.

    2. If students’ prior knowledge is faulty

      Could get sticky with colleagues. "Foucault WHAT?! Who told you THAT?!..."

    3. That way, every student has the opportunity to answer the question, practice memory retrieval from the previous session, or surface their prior knowledge — and not just the students most likely to raise their hands in class.

      I've seen folks do this with index cards: I think the small form factor and disposability emphasizes the spontaneity and makes students more likely to overcome anxiety. I would also add that this exercise is particularly good for introverted and/or insecure students: I think it feels easier to read something than to speak it, for many students.

    4. But instead of offering a capsule review to students, why not ask them to offer one back to you?

      Twofer, I like it: a) cognitive psyche-based emphasis on repetition after an interval to cement the memory and b) emphasis on student-centered ethos, on the student becoming the master of what goes down in class.

    5. At the end, he returns to the questions so that students can both see some potential answers and understand that they have learned something that day.

      I like that, especially since the students will have forgotten about the questions by the end in many cases. But will I remember to bring them back?!

    6. the first five minutes of a college class often get frittered away with logistical tasks

      I think my teaching notes template actually says "fritter away five minutes" on the first bullet point under the heading.

  6. Sep 2018
    1. It will be just the sort of seamless decision we make every day when we decide whether we will place a phone call, send an e-mail message or text message or photo or video, handwrite a note, or make a personal visit.

      This discussion feels like a relic already. I for one also grossly underestimated the conservatism of media and genres in a way: newspapers still look a lot like newspapers and novels like novels. The rise of radically disruptive hybrid forms always seems to be in the future, outside of an experimental fringe. I even skip over all the amazing video content on the NYTimes: don't you?

    2. Audiobooks also impose a certain discipline. I think of this as real-time reading: The author and narrator control your pace, and it is impractical to skim ahead or thumb back to another section.

      You might read this differently, along Frankfurt School lines as "subjection."

    3. Impossible to imagine that any of these newfangled devices could last nearly 40 years.

      Cute point, but also serious: print has proved remarkable durable, and the annotations that come with it equally so. Where will your Kindle notes be in twenty years? Can you even access them now? It's really hard to get them off the Kindle platform and into other, open formats...

    4. it taught me a great deal about my reading habits

      Yeah, this is what I hope our readings of Melville do: make the act of reading, in all its materiality, move to the foreground.

    5. I decided to read Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone.

      Okay, so the piece shows its age a bit here, but the broad point about the "liquid text" that can be poured into different formats/containers is still quite relevant. I note, though, that the author slips between medium and material support here. An audiobook is a medium that can be materialized various ways (as we discussed last week, wax cylinder, LP, cassette, smartphone), whereas the Kindle is a piece of plastic, a "material support" in the book history lingo.

  7. May 2018
    1. The use of images in Citizen is meant in part to destabilize the text so both image and text would always have possibilities, both realized and unimagined by me, beyond my curating powers. Consequently, I wanted to create an aesthetic form for myself, where the text was trembling and doubling and wandering in its negotiation and renegotiation of the image, a form where the text’s stated claims and interests would reverberate off the included visuals.

      Lovely quote on the supplementary relationship between image/text.

    2. Plus, it takes forever to get to know someone and, even then, we are often surprised—by ourselves, by each other. Claudia and I have built a friendship through consultation about whether our tones are crazy, wrong, off, or right; about whether or not our observations show something, and what.

      Preamble establishes, from LBs perspective, something like the photographic negative of the negative interactions CR catalogs in her text. I found myself asking, "what does a good friend/colleague look like across the Veil?" and I think this is an attempt to sketch it.

    3. Keep moving even when we’re still. Find stillness when we’re jolted.

      Great description of the critical faculty in general.

    4. The photographer Jeff Wall writes about moving into moments of eroding freedoms. He describes racism as “determined by social totality” that “has to come out of an individual body.”

      Elegant description of what CR is doing by staging the way ideologies of race speak through the "you" in the text.

    5. There’s not a lot of laughter in Citizen. No doubt, that sense motivates your use of the word maneuver—it means, etymologically, “to work with one’s hands,” but it’s usually a way of talking about unsticking something, getting around an impasse or an obstacle course, or dealing with touchy subjects.

      Yes: might push harder on this absence. What does it signify about the role of "wit and the unconscious"?

    1. The image forces things to stop for a moment. It forces the reader to reinvent breathing so that the eyes can again focus.

      Nice reading, since the text often thematizes flow, fast motion, aggressions occuring before the mind has time to process.

    2. They were placed in the text where I thought silence was needed, but I wasn’t interested in making the silence feel empty or effortless the way a blank page would. In your Sex, or the Unbearable, you say the experience of “any non-knowledge is not usually a blockage or limit but is actually the experience of the multiplication of knowledges that have an awkward relation to each other, crowd each other out, and create intensities that require management.”

      Connects with theme in CITIZEN of disrupting everyday interactions with questions, with pauses, with glitching of usual smooth recognition.

  8. Mar 2018
    1. He was not always so,

      Extraordinary moment when John actually considers deeply (for him) what kind of subjectivity Julius possesses. He reads Julius very crudely, but not in ways that elicit comedy: we see here the real gap between a subjectivity organized around white supremacy and the possibility of recognizing blackness in its otherness as part of "America" as Du Bois urges his readers to do.

    2. I went to execute the commission. When I pulled the handkerchief out of her pocket, something else came with it and fell on the floor. I picked up the object and looked at it. It was Julius’s rabbit’s foot.

      Maybe a bit corny, but the story does open enough space to imagine, not "local color" that's fun to dip into, but a more fundamental epistemological fissure, where we're not sure whether Enlightenment rationalism or "premodern" magic is the controlling factor. Allegorically this points to the issue of narrative authority: that Julius might be "master" of the narrative.

    3. “Aun’ Peggy look’ at de head-hankercher, en run her han’ ober it, en sez she:—

      The emphasis on gift exchange--Aunt Peggy never conjures for free--rhymes with the way Julius uses his tales to "buy" himself things from John/Annie, even if the latter don't always realize it.

    4. “Oh, yes,” she answered, “I forgot to tell you. He was hanging round the place all the morning, and looking so down in the mouth, that I told him that if he would try to do better, we would give him one more chance. He seems so grateful, and so really in earnest in his promises of amendment, that I’m sure you’ll not regret taking him back.”

      Annie as "sentimental" reader, once again!

    5. “I hope you didn’t let the old rascal have it,” I returned, with some warmth. I had just received a bill for the new lumber I had bought.

      What do you make of this recurrent twist? Is Julius just a hustler, or is there a game behind the game? How might readers have responded to these twists around 1900?

    6. W’en Mars Marrabo ‘skiver’ dat Sandy wuz gone, he ‘lowed Sandy had runned away

      Not to beat a dead horse, but note that selling slaves, breaking up families, and fugitive slaves are not staples of the tradition CC is writing in, to say the least!

    7. our colored coachman

      Important shift to "our" Julius. Also note that he has a job title!

  9. Feb 2018
    1. I found, when I bought the vineyard, that Uncle Julius had occupied a cabin on the place for many years, and derived a respectable revenue from the product of the neglected grapevines. This, doubtless, accounted for his advice to me not to buy the vineyard, though whether it inspired the goopher story I am unable to state. I believe, however, that the wages I paid him for his services as coachman, for I gave him employment in that capacity, were more than an equivalent for anything he lost by the sale of the vineyard.

      Comedy of manners here, as the Yankee demystification of the "conjure" comes along with an engagement in the trickery that's such a big part of the story. As in the dominant plantation tradition, note of compromise between North/South (here, master/slave) that sutures together the historical wound of the War.

    2. “Nex’ spring, w’en de sap ris en Henry’s ha’r commence’ ter sprout, Mars Dugal’ sole ‘im ag’in, down in Robeson County dis time; en he kep’ dat sellin’ business up fer five year er mo’. Henry nebber say nuffin ’bout de goopher ter his noo marsters, ‘caze he know he gwine ter be tuk good keer uv de nex’ winter, w’en Mars Dugal’ buy him back. En Mars Dugal’ made ’nuff money off’n Henry ter buy anudder plantation ober on Beaver Crick.

      Complex set of interactions here: (super)natural role of the grapes/goopher, which align Henry with natural cycles; exploitation of abstract labor-power of capitalism (Henry is like a "cyclical" stock that rises/falls relatively predictably); question of how both master/slave are gaming the system for advantage, though obviously in asymmetrical ways.

    3. “Now it happen dat one er de niggers on de nex’ plantation, one er ole Mars Henry Brayboy’s niggers, had runned away de day befo’, en tuk ter de swamp, en ole Mars Dugal’ en some er de yuther nabor w’ite folks had gone out wid dere guns en dere dogs fer ter he’p ’em hunt fer de nigger; en de han’s on our own plantation wuz all so flusterated

      To put it mildly, references to fugitive slaves are unusual in the "moonlight and magnolias" tradition of "plantation fiction" that CC is writing into.

    4. Mars Dugal’ foun’ he had made fifteen hund’ed gallon er wine; en one er de niggers hearn him laffin’ wid de oberseah fit ter kill, en sayin’ dem fifteen hund’ed gallon er wine wuz monst’us good intrus’ on de ten dollars he laid out on de vimya’d.

      Note how Julius inserts a bit of "Yankee" calculation of ROI here, calibrated to appeal to the narrator.

    5. “Now, ef dey’s an’thing a nigger lub, nex’ ter ‘possum, en chick’n, en watermillyums, it’s scuppernon’s. Dey ain’ nuffin dat kin stan’ up side’n de scuppernon’ fer sweetness; sugar ain’t a suckumstance ter scuppernon’. W’en de season is nigh ’bout ober, en de grapes begin ter swivel up des a little wid de wrinkles er ole age,—w’en de skin git sof’ en brown,—den de scuppernon’ make you smack yo’ lip en roll yo’ eye en wush fer mo’; so I reckon it ain’ very ‘stonishin’ dat niggers lub scuppernon’.

      Julius/CC laying it on pretty thick here, eh? Hard to believe that reviewers criticized CC (as Sussman points out) for being a mere transcriber of reality!

    6. As he became more and more absorbed in the narrative, his eyes assumed a dreamy expression, and he seemed to lose sight of his auditors, and to be living over again in monologue his life on the old plantation.

      How are the temporalities of the "Yankee" auditors and the Southern teller different? Is there daylight between how the narrator interprets this difference and how we readers do? What does it mean that the narrator feels that Julius "lose(s) sight" of himself and his wife?

    7. “Lawd bless you, suh, I knows all about it. Dey ain’ na’er a man in dis settlement w’at won’ tell you ole Julius McAdoo ‘uz bawn en raise’ on dis yer same plantation. Is you de Norv’n gemman w’at’s gwine ter buy de ole vimya’d?”

      We'll talk a lot about the issue of the synthetic dialect via Sussman's work and ideas about "stenography" in the 19thC--that is, translating oral discourse "directly" into written form, as it were--but for now, note the strangeness of an African American writer employing this minstrel-tinged practice.

    8. He resumed his seat with somewhat of embarrassment. While he had been standing, I had observed that he was a tall man, and, though slightly bowed by the weight of years, apparently quite vigorous. He was not entirely black, and this fact, together with the quality of his hair, which was about six inches long and very bushy, except on the top of his head, where he was quite bald, suggested a slight strain of other than negro blood. There was a shrewdness in his eyes, too, which was not altogether African, and which, as we afterwards learned from experience, was indicative of a corresponding shrewdness in his character. He went on eating the grapes, but did not seem to enjoy himself quite so well as he had apparently done before he became aware of our presence.

      Who is Julius? What is the narrator's assessment? How might we revise this assessment, by the time we've read more deeply into the collection?

    9. “Don’t let us disturb you,” I said. “There is plenty of room for us all.”

      A resonant line: how does this gesture frame the entire narrative?

    10. We drove between a pair of decayed gateposts—the gate itself had long since disappeared—and up a straight sandy lane, between two lines of rotting rail fence, partly concealed by jimson-weeds and briers, to the open space where a dwelling-house had once stood, evidently a spacious mansion, if we might judge from the ruined chimneys that were still standing, and the brick pillars on which the sills rested. The house itself, we had been informed, had fallen a victim to the fortunes of war.

      How is the recent past "written" on the landscape, and how does the narrator "read" this text?

    11. though I learned later on that underneath its somnolent exterior the deeper currents of life—love and hatred, joy and despair, ambition and avarice, faith and friendship—flowed not less steadily than in livelier latitudes.

      Note that the year of publication--1899--comes some 20 years after the collapse of Reconstruction. In the interim: the Jim Crow system has been built, brick by brick, with Southern states creating new constitutions designed to (among other things) disfranchise African Americans; lynching has emerged as a form of extralegal discipline (roughly 1k/year in this time period, nationwide); and Plessy v Ferguson instantiates "separate but equal" in 1897, two years prior. So it's very much a matter of perspective that "things have become somewhat settled" in the South...

    12. I was engaged at the time in grape-culture in northern Ohio, and, as I liked the business and had given it much study, I decided to look for some other locality suitable for carrying it on.

      Who is the narrator? What "lenses" does he use to view the world around him? What is his frame of reference?

    1. The manufactured authenticity of his dialect writing suggests that, while it may be informed by the same ear for speech that made him a successful stenographer, it did not conform to any original speech act; while there may be no speaking subject whose voice Chesnutt “transcribes” in his fiction, he nevertheless captures and encodes an image of American Blackness that he did not possess but could represent to white audiences who thought it authentic.

      Yeah: a painstaking imitation of an imitation (or really synthesis).

    2. English pronounced as an ignorant old Southern Negro would be supposed to speak it, and at the same time to preserve a sufficient approximation to the correct spelling to make it easy reading. (“ To ” 105)

      Sophisticated claim by CC about the accomodation of the "phonographic" speech to the norms of written language and the frame of reference of the reading public

    3. All writing, but especially one fraught with the political necessity of fidelity to experience that Chesnutt saw in realism, is always already stenographic in nature. 11

      The footnote points to Derrida on "Freud's mystic writing pad": useful point of reference in linking technologies to "deep," "inner" processes.

    4. In other words, Kealing worries that the demands of the market are turning students into mere writing machines and leaving them without the “basal culture” that will allow them to understand and interpret what they type—they will become a generation of amanuenses, vessels for knowledge and culture without the tools to recognize the richness of the language and history passing through their fingertips and unable to recognize error when they encounter it.

      Ahh: structural determinants in ed system of the "natural" mimicry and lack of imagination of blacks

    5. If what makes a good realist is a facility for mimetic representation—that is, imitation—what makes a “bad” or at least minor realist is a facility for mimicking the facility for mimetic representation. The former mimesis takes place as a kind of translation of the world into the linguistic codes of realistic representation while the latter is portrayed as a knowledge of only linguistic codes. 9

      Pithy restatement of above point.

    6. What seems bizarre about Simmons’s analysis, although also correct, is that Chesnutt is damned to the status of imitator both by those who want to include him in the realist camp and those who do not.

      Wow: CC is read only as successful or unsuccessful imitator of "real" realists by critics such as McElrath or Simmons.

    7. I am not arguing that The Conjure Woman stories are “more realist” than they are usually given credit for but that the orthographic fidelity they simulate locates the “real” of the literary text in a material register (grammar, spelling, and syntax) rather than the conceptual register (the assumed relation of a fictional narrative to the reality it purports to reproduce).

      Displacement of "real"/"realism" from theme to form, to the phonographic representation of black speech.

    8. The rejection of “Rena Walden” may have suggested to Chesnutt that an editor such as Gilder, who was sympathetic to realist literature, was not so interested in the phrase and carriage of everyday life if the days and lives described bore no relation to his or his readers’ own.

      Important point that perhaps doesn't come through strongly enough: that realism depends upon a bourgeois POV, that its readers construct its reality as much as its authors.

    9. The very ways in which we find Chesnutt, in his day and ours, excluded from the realist canon suggests that the limits of the genre have more to do with the relationship between racial politics and epistemic difference than they do with the mimetic fidelity of descriptive language

      Ahh: provocative point that we still use the logic of racial mimicry to construct literary realism on some level.

    10. The reader is left to infer that an essentially “imitative” people in a cultural arrangement that actually encourages the dangerous imitation of unsuitably civilized morals and norms is in a tough spot indeed. 6

      This basic claim that imitativeness, the dangerous supplement that threatens originality, is itself original/natural to blacks, is kind of hilarious.

    11. Consequently, Jim Crow became not only a legal regime but a mode of thinking that haunted the postbellum nineteenth century’s imagination, one that persists to this day

      Broader claim: Jim Crow as "mode of thinking" rather than mere legal structure. But is this so surprising? Don't all legal regimes depend on "modes of thinking" to endure?

    12. Distinctions between mimesis, realism, and imitation may at first seem too fine to merit consideration, but their very ability to substitute for each other occasioned not exactly definitional confusion between them but the terms of access through which the logic of racial politics could come to resemble those of literary politics, through which the Howellsian trope of fidelity could also become a prized form of technological functionality.

      Keywords for Ss analysis: mimesis, realism, imitation. Cognate but subtly different terms in contrast.

    13. Yet the suggestion that, through the manipulation of orthographic convention or a narrative verisimilitude inspired by Chesnutt’s own experiences with the color line, fiction might hew too close to transcription automatically ejects the work from the aesthetic realm and into that of reportage, from art to “just telling things.”

      Fascinating that dialect fiction was critiqued along the same lines as documentary art!

    14. His exploitation of the “transcribed” feeling of dialect writing, the sense that it was drawn from a present and actually experienced scene of speaking, suggests that subversive political energies lay dormant in instrumentally transcriptive writing practices such as stenography.

      Tricky pivot to argue that dialect and steno are parallel processes, and that the written "copy" of speech contains a latent subversiveness.

    15. “The Goophered Grapevine” suggests, both in the linguistic codes and the plot elements it deploys, that misdirection, subterfuge, and epistemic legerdemain subtend the aura of simplistic straight talk implied by the use of dialect.

      So dialect is not a deficit--a failed attempt to speak "correctly"--but a skillful manipulation of linguistic codes to write one's ticket, as it were.

    16. Dialect fiction, an ostensibly mimetic writing form that portrays human speech as the locus of racial authenticity, ironically materializes and substantializes what Chesnutt elsewhere strove to demonstrate was insubstantial. For Chesnutt, then, writing was the sole arena in which the paradoxes of race thinking could take shape; to write race was, in some sense, and perhaps only for Chesnutt, to literally bring race into being.

      Nice move: S points out the proto-Butlerian judo move CC pulls on race discourse in C19. Racists say that to be black is to mimic, copy, reiterate; CC replies that all race is a fiction enacted by performative repetition and proves it via his fiction, which thematizes "phonography" as writing down speech.

    17. The connection of writing to stenography and stenography to writing, far from being limited to the singular professional development of Chesnutt (the first major black American novelist), reflects some of the shared anxieties and contradictions of the racial and literary imaginations of the nineteenth century. Stenography, as a writing system that claims to record and preserve the inflections of human speech, and literary realism, a form of writing that claims to register the vicissitudes of human experience, both participate in a form of mimesis that was, by the end of the nineteenth century, the primary site of critical discord surrounding American fiction.

      Thesis, one that plugs into Gittleman's argument about the Edison era. Note the fact that CC supported self via a) freelance steno; b) fiction writing; and c) own steno business (following Gittelman, seems like steno was a means of building a multivalent business platform in C19).

    1. I asked William Whipper, of Pennsylvania, the gentleman alluded to above, whether he thought Mr. Douglass’s power inherited from the Negroid, or from what is called the Caucasian side of his make up? After some reflection, he frankly answered, “I must admit, although sorry to do so, that the Caucasian predominates.” At that time, I almost agreed with him; but, facts narrated in the first part of this work, throw a different light on this interesting question.

      Note how "ethnological" theories of race and racial heritage are unavoidable in this time period, no matter how committed a given writer is to abolition or antiracist politics.

    2. Heaven lends me ability, to use my voice, my pen, or my vote, to advocate the great and primary work of the universal and unconditional emancipation of my entire race.

      Closes with linkage of these different expressive modalities: what are the differences between these ways of translating will into communications? What are the channels? Who is the author of each and who are the readers?

    3. But for the responsibility of conducting a public journal, and the necessity imposed upon me of meeting opposite views from abolitionists in this state, I should in all probability have remained as firm in my disunion views as any other disciple of William Lloyd Garrison.

      The social relationships necessitated by the production of the news changes FD: so print is not just the passive expression of inner "ideas" and "character" but a network, in which the production changes the producers even as the producers shape the production.

    4. a slavish adoration

      If you read carefully, FD is kind of hilarious.

    5. I found them very earnestly opposed to the idea of my starting a paper, and for several reasons. First, the paper was not needed; secondly, it would interfere with my usefulness as a lecturer; thirdly, I was better fitted to speak than to write; fourthly, the paper could not succeed.

      Whole set of thorny questions here: relative political value of speaking, editing, and writing compared (with subcomparisons between the relatively prestigious and durable publishing of books like the one we're reading v. the more ephemeral but wider-reaching publication in the periodical press). The question of financial capital: how to start up a publication written/edited/read by African Americans when that population is starved of capital?

    6. On their own motion, without any solicitation from me (Mrs. Henry Richardson, a clever lady, remarkable for her devotion to every good work, taking the lead), they raised a fund sufficient to purchase my freedom, and actually paid it over, and placed the papers 8 of my manumission in my hands, before [291] they would tolerate the idea of my returning to this, my native country. To this commercial transaction I owe my exemption from the democratic operation of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850. But for this, I might at any time become a victim of this most cruel and scandalous enactment, and be doomed to end my life, as I began it, a slave. The sum paid for my freedom was one hundred and fifty pounds sterling.

      Remarkable example of bodily inscription, in that FD must reckon with what his body means, how it reads in public as a "free" body v. as an "enslaved" body. Moreover, he must think about how much he is worth, literally and figuratively, in these different states.

    7. in the language of the LAW, “held, taken, reputed, and adjudged to be a chattel in the hands of my owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.” (Brev. Digest, 224).

      Classic example of bodily inscription, as we've seen in Kafka and Foucault.

    8. An end was put to the melee, by the captain’s calling the ship’s company to put the salt water mobocrats in irons. At this determined order, the gentlemen of the lash scampered, and for the rest of the voyage conducted themselves very decorously.

      Note how the ship becomes part of what Paul Guilroy famously called the "Black Atlantic," an indeterminate space between national boundaries in which identities and ideas of legality and social propriety get renegotiated.


      Smith has a fascinating biography himself: here's a thumbnail sketch.

    10. If, as has been stated, his intellection is slow, when unexcited, it is most prompt and rapid when he is thoroughly aroused.[17]

      The clinical tone regarding FDs capacities speaks eloquently to how much pressure black writers are under, in ways that anticipate Du Bois's arguments from 50 years later, to account for themselves, both their "outsides" and their "insides," so to speak.

    11. twelve thousand dollars of his own hard earned money,

      That's a lot of money in the 1850s. Underscores the way cultural capital and financial capital intersect, when you think about the challenges of building a black press (and a black cultural infrastructure more broadly).

    12. Yet, these gentlemen, although proud of Frederick Douglass, failed to fathom, and bring out to the light of day, the highest qualities of his mind; the force of their own education stood in their own way: they did not delve into the mind of a colored man for capacities which the pride of race led them to believe to be restricted to their own Saxon blood. Bitter and vindictive sarcasm, irresistible mimicry, and a pathetic narrative of his own experiences of slavery, were the intellectual manifestations which they encouraged him to exhibit on the platform or in the lecture desk.

      Note the gesture to fissures within the abolitionist movement which, in the 1850s, was splintering into a) a hard-core wing, bent on nothing short of total, federal abolition; b) a nascent Republican party growing out of the "free soil" movement to allow slavery in the South but keep all new territory free; and c) a colonization movement that wanted to repatriate enslaved people in Africa.

    13. The reader is, therefore, assured, with all due promptitude, that his attention is not invited to a work of ART, but to a work of FACTS—Facts, terrible and almost incredible, it may be yet FACTS, nevertheless

      Important tension, as with the 1845 LIFE: how to respect Douglass as a writer without losing focus on the documentary aspect, the facticity and typicality of the experiences related here.


      Smith was a notable abolitionist and filthy rich real estate mogul who supported Douglass in various ways: perhaps most relevantly in the founding of Douglass's newspaper, the North Star. Learn more here and there if you're interested.

    1. copying the following portrait of the religion of the south

      Again, I think of Foucault's "genealogical" history, which is "effective" insofar as it "cuts" at the pretensions of consensus narratives via parody and other forms of ironization.

    2. I, however, finally became a subscriber to it. The paper came, and I read it from week to week with such feelings as it would be quite idle for me to attempt to describe. The paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds—its scathing denunciations of slaveholders—its faithful exposures of slavery—and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution—sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!

      Douglass is thus not just a reader, but a subscriber: he's joined to a large, lateral body of readers linked by the periodical press to broader political issues/beliefs/feelings.

    3. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the “Lady of the Lake,” and at once suggested that my name be “Douglass.” From that time until now I have been called “Frederick Douglass;” and as I am more widely known by that name than by either of the others, I shall continue to use it as my own.

      Author himself becomes a blank, erasable/inscribable surface: no patronym, no stable name, name taken from literary tradition. The name comes from a poem by Walter Scott) that's drenched with nostalgia for an idealized Scottish past and (in a deep irony) gave rise to the KKKs tradition of burning crosses.

    4. But I remained firm, and, according to my resolution, on the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. How I did so,—what means I adopted,—what direction I travelled, and by what mode of conveyance,—I must leave unexplained, for the reasons before mentioned.

      Complex dialectic linking the freedom of the writer before the blank page with the enslavement sanctioned by the law: the latter writes, as it were, a void into the former in this space.

    5. Of course, it was impossible to get any white man to volunteer his testimony in my behalf, and against the white young men

      Issue of race and testimony resonates throughout the book: whose testimony carries what authority in what contexts?

    6. wrote several protections, one for each of us.

      What is writing for? Within the acts of framing the text as credible, as typical, as the product of a "prodigy," and so on, the notion that writing is also forgery, deception, masking up.

    7. I kept up my school nearly the whole year I lived with Mr. Freeland; and, beside my Sabbath school, I devoted three evenings in the week, during the winter, to teaching the slaves at home. And I have the happiness to know, that several of those who came to Sabbath school learned how to read; and that one, at least, is now free through my agency.

      Literacy, as before, depicted as a social activity: just as the scrappy Baltimore lads help FD gain literacy, here he aids in the viral spread of reading within the slave community.

    8. This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.

      Almost fable-like feeling here. A literalization of Hegel's narrative of the master-slave dialectic, whereby FD gets recognition as an equal via his physical conquest of the master

    9. I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. I then commenced and continued copying the Italics in Webster’s Spelling Book, until I could make them all without looking on the book. By this time, my little Master Thomas had gone to school, and learned how to write, and had written over a number of copy-books. These had been brought home, and shown to some of our near neighbors, and then laid aside. My mistress used to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meetinghouse every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

      Moving focus on the material side of writing: scarcity of writing materials, including "white space," in which to develop expressive potential.

    10. The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended.

      We think of "literacy" as being a unitary thing, and indeed most of us are fortunate enough to learn to speak/read/write simultaneously via an articulated curriculum. But note the distinctness with which the receptive/expressive dimensions of language are confronted here. For a long time, FD can consume texts but not produce them. And we realize that each of these practical skills has its inner "spiritual" dimension, impinging on the development and functioning of the subject in different ways.

    11. a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.”

      Here it is. This is the first time FD has found his life reflected, in some sense, in print.

    12. These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.

      Political economy of the slave system cracks a bit here to allow space for a counter-economy, one based on gift exchanges: FD gives bread to poor whites; they give language and sympathy.

    13. She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.

      You could cut the irony with a knife here. Elegant comment on the idea that education "ruins" the enslaved.

    14. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

      This moment resonates broadly throughout the text: reading, among the most basic preconditions of bringing enslaved experience into print, is illegal, making it a very tight bottleneck to pass through.

    15. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read

      As Foucault puts it, "wherever there is power, there is resistance": here, the very prohibition on reading elevates the drive to learn it in FDs mind.

    16. My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying

      We feel the pressure of the norms of 19thC sentiment here: FD has the burden of explaining why he must narrate this leave-taking without the customary tears.

    17. I had no bed. I must have perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and feet out. My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes.

      Surreal image of the pen of the author being laid in the cracked feet of the enslaved boy he once was. This poetic images makes us ask, "what are the material conditions for getting experience into print?" And "what kind of discourse issues from cracked, whipped, damaged bodies?"

    18. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because “there is no flesh in his obdurate heart.”

      Strange space-time of writing: the Sorrow Songs, Douglass's tears at remembering them, and the dispersed set of readers' imaginations are all present, in some sense, in the synthetic space of print.

    19. This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.

      Crucial passage: note the elements of what Mikhael Baktihn calls "polyphony": different discourses joining together in the same discursive space. Here, we have the meaningful but opaque song of the slaves, Douglass's own narration, and the overseer's barbaric curses, curses that disorient the white supremacist hierarchies of "proper" and "improper" English.

    20. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.

      Interplay of material/spiritual, literal/metaphorical: the sight "strikes" with traumatic force, the traces of the beating are too vicious to be captured in the traces of words.

    21. I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night.

      Think about Foucault's arguments about "progressive" narratives from origins v. "effective" history that's written by "cutting." FD narrates the absence of origins and the parody his life makes of bourgeois narratives of "Bildung" or "development."

    22. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.

      FD establishes himself as writing himself into existence right from the start!

    23. He was such an impressive orator that numerous persons doubted if he had ever been a slave, so he wrote Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass.

      Note the paradox of being an enslaved writer: the very fact of eloquence/articulateness casts doubt on the authenticity of the expression. We'll have to unpack this!

    24. You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with danger compassing you around. In all the broad lands which the Constitution of the United States overshadows, there is no single spot,—however narrow or desolate,—where a fugitive slave can plant himself and say, “I am safe.” The whole armory of Northern Law has no shield for you. I am free to say that, in your place, I should throw the MS. into the fire.

      Metacomment on the various meanings of translating slavery into writing. Among other things, it's a magnet for the Law.

    25. I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the most neglected of God’s children waken to a sense of their rights, and of the injustice done them. Experience is a keen teacher; and long before you had mastered your A B C, or knew where the “white sails” of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I see, to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by his hunger and want, not by his lashes and toil, but by the cruel and blighting death which gathers over his soul.

      Interesting use of 2nd person here: intimate mode of address

    26. his case may be regarded as a very fair specimen of the treatment of slaves in Maryland

      Again, the question of typicality v. extraordinariness.

    27. There stood one, in physical proportion and stature commanding and exact—in intellect richly endowed—in natural eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly “created but a little lower than the angels”—yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,—trembling for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on the American soil, a single white person could be found who would befriend him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity!

      What does it mean that FD is so extraordinary? How would circumstances be different if he were just a "meh" speaker/specimen/writer, a bit lower than the angels?

    28. his first speech

      We might track the relationship between the spontaneity of speech and the belatedness of writing here: Garrison emphasizes the particular feelings that flow from feeling FDs live presence. How does this relate to the written text that follows?

    29. PREFACE

      Need to think about what the very existence of this preface means, in this slave narrative and many others. What are the unstated assumptions baked into the act of prefacing Douglass's works within this act of framing? How does this paratext to Douglass's narrative interact with Du Bois's argument?

    1. General question: the guiding metaphor here is visual. Du Bois claims the "Negro" has "second sight," lives behind a "veil," and so on. What are moments in which writing impinges on this metaphor and makes things more complicated? How does Du Bois raise questions of access to writing, inscription, publication throughout this piece?

    2. the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,

      Why "gift"? Du Bois would seem to lay out a model of victimhood here, with the "Negro" being split and nearly torn. So is he being ironic here?

    3. How does it feel to be a problem?

      It's a strange question. What would be the usual way of wording this? What position does this question put Du Bois (and by extension, minority subjects in general) in?

    4. Between me and the other world

      Canny readers will hear this phrase echoing through African American writing, from Douglass, as we'll see, to Wright's poem "Between the World and Me," to Coates's recent book, which takes its title from the Wright poem.

    1. Now he stood there naked.

      Why naked? How do you read this little ritual of disrobing? What might it have to do with the comedy that happens in the preceding paragraph?

  10. Jan 2018
    1. Then the Traveler heard a cry of rage from the Officer.

      How does affect work in this tale? What kinds of feelings are evoked in whom by what kinds of stimuli? What do these eruptions of feeling tell us about the unspoken value system that undergirds this society?

    2. That gave rise to certain technical difficulties with fastening the needles securely, but after several attempts we were successful. We didn’t spare any efforts. And now, as the inscription is made on the body, everyone can see through the glass. Don’t you want to come closer and see the needles for yourself.”

      Why glass? Given that the Apparatus is a mere tool, an agent of "justice," why such pains to make its workings visible? Why talk about it so much?

    3. The Traveler wanted to raise various questions, but after looking at the Condemned Man he merely asked, “Does he know his sentence?” “No,” said the Officer. He wished to get on with his explanation right away, but the Traveler interrupted him: “He doesn’t know his own sentence?” “No,” said the Officer once more. He then paused for a moment, as if he was asking the Traveler for a more detailed reason for his question, and said, “It would be useless to give him that information. He experiences it on his own body.”

      How you you read this crucial moment? Who knows what in this story, and how does Kafka exploit the lack of symmetry between Commandant, Officer, Traveler, Condemned, and so on?