In “Rhetorical Spaces in Memorial Places: The Cemetery as a Rhetorical Memory Place / Space” Elizabethda A. Wright explores the concept of cemeteries functioning as rhetorical spaces. Specifically, she focuses her criticism on the region of Portsmouth, NH, which had been constructing an urban renewal project over a previously unidentified African American gravesite, and, needless to say, certain implications and concerns arise with these findings. Furthermore, Wright draws her attention toward the historical facts which point to how women and men and women of color are barely, if ever, given rhetorical spaces in public (such as construction of monuments or statues) other than through grave stones. It seems that, much more frequently than not, history has taken pride in representing women though abstractions – such as with lady liberty, and aggressively tried to limit the rhetorical spaces of people of color to gravesites. She also addresses the notion of gravesites functioning as a place of utopia, if ironically, to demonstrate how gravesites rely on the silence of their citizens to function properly.
Wright writes, “While numerous ethnic, religious, and interest groups have sought to create and have succeeded in creating memorials in order to have such a rhetorical memory space, women’s groups have been far less successful. There are few public memory spaces created before the twentieth century where women are remembered” (55). She is undoubtedly correct. Even when I begin to think of monuments I have seen throughout my life, very few are of women or African Americans. Even more disturbing is that history has even attempted to silence people of color after their deaths by taking away their rhetorical spaces in the graveyard. Is seems, though, that giving African Americans the rhetorical spaces of a graveyard were not a positive gesture of any sort. Wright believes that the bodies of African Americans were included in cemeteries that also held whites “not necessarily because white citizens wanted to remember their darker contemporaries, but because something had to be done with their physical bodies” (64). This only points to the notion that burying African Americans this way was not an attempt to recognize their humanity.
Interestingly enough, Wright discusses how the city of Portsmouth did not exactly welcome the discovery of the remains. The city even limited the amount of time archeologists were allowed to dig in the area. The banks were especially eager to prohibit the length of time the archeologists had, citing monetary issues with the project.
Wright, near the end of her article, addresses how remains of Native Americans were turned into museum artifacts – something I was particularly interested in while reading this article. While museums, in general, are fountains of knowledge than house artifacts that span across time, they are also a place that could potentially be defined as a heterotopia. The artifacts are put on display in an emotionless environment (a place of otherness, even), and detached from the natural surroundings they originally belonged to. When we view an item in a museum, we essentially visually consume it and move on. It’s a thought that has been increasingly unsettling.
I really enjoyed Wrights piece, Memorial Places. She connects memory, space, and rhetoric through the use of cemeteries. She says that memory and cemeteries survive through rediscovery. I like what she says on page 55, that, saved memory can be interpreted differently. Although she is discussing death, this is so true and is done by us all. Sometimes we make a memory feel/appear better than it really was, and other times we make things seem worse than it was. Either way, the memory isn’t real and can be interpreted differently, especially depending on our current mindset. I love the quote she includes by Wordsworth, “only the sun reads the epitaphs on gravestones.” This is beautiful but terribly heartbreaking. It also connects to the notion she presents at the beginning of her article, where she says that cemeteries survive through their possible (though not definite) rediscovery. Wright also says that cemeteries are for the living; I could not agree more. I always found it ridiculous that it’s expensive to die. Your family has to pay for what happens to your body after you pass away, usually following whatever request you make. Even if I were to say burn my body, just get rid of it, they would still have to pay for that to happen; you can’t just leave. In death, I’ll be a financial burden and I hate that… Maybe that’s what they get out of it, a memory and place to rediscover me every time they visit. I was really disturbed by the treatment of the African burial grounds. For a society that appears spiritual and thinks of the existence of the afterlife, why would they want to build houses and pave over cemeteries of any race? Wouldn’t they be creeped the F out? Sounds like bad karma to me. Anyway, the conversation about how these rhetorical spaces can be rediscovered (or not) it’s all up to chance is pretty cool. The language Wright uses to discuss this is really quite beautiful. She says that these spaces have waited to speak, and they wait for when it could be remembered, when the changing world is ready for it, and the memory is more acceptable. Basically, it’s fated to be rediscovered. I consider myself an optimistic realist, or a hopeful pessimist, whichever you prefer, but I do, however, believe in fate. Also, while discussing the lack of respect to Native Americans, I couldn’t help think of field trips we went on in school. We would look artifacts from burial grounds and are told to be thankful we have them there to view. After reading this article it kind of pisses me off that in museums there are an overload of these types of artifacts from various cultures. We are never taught that we are disrupting these spaces but we are fortunate enough to have the artifacts (I.e., sarcophaguses).
The cemeteries and artifacts bring meaning and life to the memory, which connects to Carole Blair’s Memorial Sites in which the “symbol is the material”. Blair discusses rhetoric and how it isn’t rhetoric until it is uttered, written, or otherwise manifested or given presence. I also found it interesting that she says we shouldn’t look at a text’s meaning but rather what a text does. She says we have to focus on what it is supposed to do. I find this a bit questionable because how can we determine what it is supposed to do? It’s like the other article, in which memories are open for interpretation. If the writer isn’t there to tell us what the text was supposed to do, what gives us the right to determine that? I hate when I interpret old texts or poems and I’m told that I’m wrong because this poet or writer lived in this time, had that background, and had experienced a, b, and c. So, just because they fit into certain boxes does not mean that they thought the same as everyone else that did, or maybe they had an imagination or thoughts and experiences that weren’t apparent to other people. Sorry, I digress, per usual. I enjoyed the discussion on monuments and how Blair makes us look deeper into them; what they stand for, the architecture, the text, their significance, their purpose etc. It all makes me want to go on a field trip solely to look at monuments and re-look at ones I have already seen.
“Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics” was fun to read. I had had a busy day of errands despite persistent rain, and I wanted nothing more than to put on my pajamas and read a novel on the couch in the living room with a mug of coffee and some cookies. I was delighted to realize this was written as a play and basically fit the bill for what I was in the mood to read anyway.
I was intrigued by the authors’ explanation behind their choice of the play format “as a way to emphasize the fluid and shifting nature of this thing we're calling cultural rhetorics, and the necessity of deliberately reflexive practice that such a methodology requires” (2). They were careful to clarify what they meant by culture, drawing on De Certeau to argue that “rhetoric is always cultural and culture is persistently rhetorical” (5). I liked how the play structure and the conversation between the writers/characters offered metacognitive insights into their process. When they justified their choice to draw upon the works of someone not traditionally considered a rhetorician, I thought of an analogy Ezekiel Kimball, a guest speaker in my section of The Teacher as Researcher, offered for the joy available in conducting interdisciplinary research: playing in a sandbox. It seems there are many connections between streams of inquiry across disciplines that are underexplored, and these authors explicitly make that a part of their groundbreaking work. The vision of cultural rhetorics they offer is an amalgam of many contributions and ultimately constructive; they state that “critique is not the end of the process of decolonization—it's the beginning” (11). The idea to use participants’ real names as a measure of accountability when working with them and their stories is something I would like to consider as a possible future researcher. The last few sentences of the epilogue were great. The authors essentially say that the reader can interact with the play in any number of ways, “But don't ever say that you would've practiced your scholarship differently if only you'd heard these stories. You've heard them now” (23).
The chapter by Carole Blair that focused on memorial sites is relevant to a discussion I had with my boyfriend a few days ago about the 9/11 memorial in New York City, particularly in our thinking about the message the rhetor intends versus audience interpretations and what effects the creation of a physical memorial space has on the way people remember lives and events. Both the 9/11 memorial and those included in Blair’s discussion remind me of the song “525, 600 Minutes” from RENT and a line that asks whether one’s life should be measured “in truths that she learned or in times that he cried/in bridges he burned or the way that she died”. In the memorial in Salem, the means of execution of all the accused witches are explicitly included. In the 9/11 memorial, the people that died are at least implicitly linked by where they happened to be on that date. I think it is important to honor their memories, and while their families may share a bond of having lost someone in the events of that day, I wonder to what extent I would want to be remembered by how I happened to die instead of by the relationships I had during my lifetime. It also scares me to think about how our intentions may be positive but that someone’s memory may be exploited for political power, as when 9/11 became a tool for garnering public support for U.S. military action or when many people rallied around the idea of #BostonStrong and were willing to give up the values espoused in the Fifth Amendment when the Bill of Rights is apparently one of the greatest achievements of the shared culture many felt had been attacked.
In comparison with the Salem memorial Blair discussed, it was interesting to read about Louisa Maria Wells, whose memorial focused on her life’s work as a weaver, in Wright’s article. This was my first exposure to Foucault’s term heterotopia, which is useful for making sense of contradicting associations with a place.
In “The Things They Carried”, Tim O’Brien humanizes people who serve as soldiers. He intersperses military jargon with details of individuals’ personalities as shown, in part, through their possessions. He conveys the senselessness of war and the variety of ways of attempting to cope and survive. I keep thinking of the dance honoring veterans at the powwow on Sunday. At one point, I turned to look at my mom and noticed she was crying before I realized I was, too. I am not sure if it was the drumming, sharing a smile with a dancer who resembled my grandfather, or sitting next to someone who smelled faintly of the pipe tobacco he used to smoke that triggered such an emotional reaction, but I felt like I was sitting back in his living room playing cribb
James F. Blandino, 11/18/14 Cultural Rhetoric
Elizabethada A. Wright, in her examination of a once lost and forgotten African American burial ground in New Hampshire and the grave of Louisa Maria Wells (the Mill Girl Monument) in Lowell, Massachusetts, points out the powerful rhetoric found in memorial spaces. This rhetoric of the cemetery is not limited to the traditionally white male voice. The bodies and monuments of the disenfranchised and alienated people are allowed space in the cemetery, both physical and sacred, and this space is used to persuade the living; therefore, it is necessarily a rhetorical space.
The cemetery is a paradoxical place. Our burial sites are a space for the living and for the dead. Burial is a very popular means of treating dead bodies; hence, the cemetery is a “usual” sacred space. We find cemeteries in every community, yet the rhetoric found in such a space is often conflicting. I have never come across the word “heterotopian” before reading this essay. I will use this paragraph to help myself better understand the term. Wright describes it as a real and unreal place. She writes, “Like the magician who adds to our befuddlement when we think the mirror’s reflections are real, the heterotopian cemetery constantly confuses space- and place-ness, confuses what is and is not. The cemetery is . . . a material site. At the same time it is, as Foucault terms it, espace: it is the creation of practices that Foucault describes.” This paradox of the physical and the symbolic in one space allow the cemetery to bring forward the rhetoric of marginalized voices because it is perceived as “not really existing”. This is certainly the case with the forgotten African American burial plot in New Hampshire. This space was always there but did not “exist” until the bodies were discovered during a public works project that required excavation. In addition, the cemetery is paradoxical in that it seems to supply “moral lessons’ in its structure and the epithets on graves, yet the cemetery has always been associated with the clandestine meeting spot for thieves, bootleggers or as “favored trysting places”.
I must admit that my first sexual experience(s) took place in a graveyard. It is a great place to hide when you have no privacy. It was also the place we went as young teenagers to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or do recreational drugs. It never bothered us that the space we were in was physically designed to instill a rhetoric of orderliness and piousness. Wright agrees that, “one important goal of these cemeteries was for visitors to go and contemplate life and death, to see the beauty of order, and to emulate this order.” Not always, but in a religious sense, the graves of the dead are supposed to remind us to live a life that will take us to heaven. The neat rows of the graves promote a follow the leader type of attitude, yet the graveyard is also a place for society’s rebels and outlaws to meet without the prying eyes of the authorities.
Cemeteries are seen as very ordinary spaces because they allow all to enter, they are everywhere, and they are for private citizens, not the community at large. The monuments in cemeteries differ greatly from public monuments. Wright notes that, “the private need is more quickly forgotten than is the need shared by the community. This lack of seems evident when looking at these cemeteries long over grown and forgotten, and many of these forgotten cemeteries are lost to parking lots and fast food restaurants.” However, this lack of power has a converse side. The bodies and monuments of alienated groups are allowed a space for powerful rhetoric. The voices silenced in life by a white male dominated authority, are given new volume after death. The body and the monuments that remember the body are highly rhetorical after death, even if they belong to a marginalized person. The cemetery is both private and public. It is a space for private citizens, yet anyone can walk the grounds. This paradox gives the cemetery its rhetorical power. Wright describes it as, “a kind of postmodern history, a true bricolage. And in this bricolage, women’s voices find their way to audiences that might otherwise never hear them.” This is certainly true of the “Mill Girl Monument” in Lowell. A memorial to a common working woman would never be erected as a public monument under our current power structure, but in the graveyard it is not only erected for a private citizen, it is viewed by the public and given respect as a rhetorical monument.
Sandra Couto HW#
“Rhetorical Spaces in Memorial Places: The Cemetery as a Rhetorical Memory Place/Space”
In this article, the author Elizabethada A. Wright, is using grave as a significant keeper of memory, space and rhetoric. Her theory is that our memories are connected to the individual who has passed and in turn, when we visit their burial ground, the grave itself represents and holds all of our memories for us. This meant that grave itself symbolized the memory/essence of any and every memory related to the individual that passed. The concept that burial grounds, specifically the grave, “is no longer a material space,(but) it has social significance” encouraged me to reconsider how significant memorial settings are (70). For me, a memorial place is important because it allows those left behind to recall and appreciate the time they had with an individual who has passed on. Overall, an interesting article.
“Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics”
The approach for this reading selection differed, in that it was written in dramatic format, which I enjoyed. My favorite line in the article was “that bodies are always in relation to the world around them, to the other bodies, and that, there is no good or bad body”(21). I agree that we are all interconnected as part of the whole race, the human one. Overall, it is not only about how each individual is connected to one another, but how one is both a visible and physical part of the community.
“Contemporary U.S. Memorial Sites as Exemplars of Rhetoric’s Materiality”
In this article, the author Carole Blair believes memorial site consists of the material elements of rhetoric. For example, rhetoric is used to “accomplish goals” and Blair examines the changing context in text and how the goal changes. This article explored the not the meaning of “text” but rhetorical way it is used, what it actually does, and what we do with it. Overall, I found at times that the article was not explaining, as much as it was repeating its initial idea.
Elizabethada A. Wright’s piece “Rhetorical Spaces in Memorial Places: The Cemetery as a Rhetorical Memory Place/Space” uses Foucault's’ idea of the heterotopia to show how these places of burial becomes the sites where forgotten memory can be remembered. In particular, she focuses on how the exclusion of women and African Americans from the public sphere, were able to have their stories and experiences remembered through the cemetery. Foucault’s definition of the heterotopia is one that “juxtaposes(s), in a single space, several spaces ‘that are in themselves incompatible’” (54). In addition, Foucault explains how in the heterotopia, “all other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted” (54). The key word here is inverted, throughout the essay Wright explains how women and African Americans were excluded from the public sphere, as that space was seen as belonging to the white men. I found the remarks made about how to honor one’s history while simultaneously having to acknowledge that the history was built upon the backs of slavery.
The cemetery became the space in which those who were previously left out of the discourse and or narrative can, in a sense, have their say. It is strange to think that the “voice” has to come after one has passed, though. One particular quote stood out to me: “there are thousands upon thousands of voices clamoring to be heard, a cacophony of remembrances are calling out” (60). For so long there has been, and still is, an oppression of those who fall outside of the perceived mainstream. Attempts have been made, most of which have been successful, at silencing those voices. Through the space of the cemetery, these voices are able to, in a sense, have their stories heard.
The discussions pertaining to cemeteries invoked within me, thoughts and memories about my own time walking through cemeteries. When I was at Oxford during the month of July, I was able to indulge in one of my favorite activity: walking. One day, still fairly early in my trip, I and a few of my friends decided to take an exploratory stroll through the streets of Oxford. During this walk we came across a corner by a church. Curiosity soon took over and we peeked our heads around the corner to discover a graveyard. There was something about walking through that graveyard and looking at all the grave makers, many of which had dates on them that were older than the establishment of the United States. I’m still not sure I know what that something is when I think back about my time in the graveyard. Thinking about all of this, I am reminded of Wright’s comments about cemeteries as being “structured for people to walk through, look at and internalize. One important goal of these cemeteries was for visitors to go and contemplate life and death, to see the beauty of order, and to emulate this order” (59). Did the cemetery of Honeywell cause me to think about life and death? Upon returning to the University for the night, we told our professors about our discovery. This caused me to remark that we were “beings towards death”
Carole Blair, in Contemporary U.S. Memorial Sties, asks people to rethink rhetoric as material, as something tangible, with “flesh and bones”. She defends that, unlike writing or speech that sometimes can be “put aside”, memorials are always present and “accessible”. For a text to become rhetoric it must be written, it must have a “presence”, and memorials have a presence, which bears meaning and is material. “Rhetoric is not rhetoric until it is uttered, written, or otherwise manifested or given presence.” (18). Usually, for something to be considered as rhetoric, only its symbolic feature is taken into account, even though that symbolic characteristic may last only for a short period of time. Cemetery as a Rhetorical Memory by Elizabethada Wright is an “exhibit” of something finite (body) as something perennial (through memory). A Cemetery is both an “unusual and usual” place for memory, since some people see it only as a place to “store” bodies, while others see it as a place to go anytime they want to remember their loved ones. The symbolism and materiality of the grave turn the cemetery into a peculiar place to recall those who have been forgotten because their bodies have disappeared physically and mentally from the memory of their community. Elizabethada sees the connection between rhetoric, memory, and place. The place is seen as the physical part of this rhetoric (the cemetery) while the space is the rhetoric’s mental property, the content of the memories is triggers, which means that the place and space can be see respectively as tangible and intangible. The ties between memory and space are important. In the nineteenth century the domestic spaces (such as the kitchen) where supposed to represent the place where women were supposed to be, showing their roles as wives and mothers. “Women were allocated a domestic rhetorical space, men all other.” (p. 53). The word cemetery may be scary for most people, which instead of a rhetorical location may be considered as spooky one instead, but it is a sacred place that contains memory. When somebody dies, the body is taken somewhere; Sometimes because you have buried someone you may think it means they “left” this world, that they no longer exist or they are “unreal”, but they do “exist”. “The cemetery’s very real graves leaves the possibility of being rediscovered even after they are forgotten.” (p. 55). The rediscovery of the place (material) allows the space (not a physical reality) to survive. “A memory can be saved.” (p. 55). Cemeteries are places where all people are meant to be remembered, but women in the nineteenth century were deprived of this right. It may seem that because of cremation the cemeteries can be obsolete and have no use to society, but with the cremation people have only decided to take the “place” somewhere else, but the representation of that body or its “space” is still there.
Roberts’ piece, Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts: Perspectives on Folk/Traditional Art was really interesting. I honestly had not given folk art much thought before reading this so it was all new information for me. I love the idea proposed, that, folk art is the art of everyone. When discussing folk art, Roberts explains that it isn’t the outcome of the art that it is important but it is the process of making the art that is. In our world today, most people don’t enjoy the processes of what they do but revel in the outcomes, never letting us fully experience the process. From my understanding, folk art helps the act of being and experiencing survives. I love the line, “One may not hold the belief that the image represents but one cannot deny that the belief is represented.” I think that’s so cool. It seems to me that folk art isn’t passive aggressive in what it is trying to present but is clear and honest in what it is (which makes sense it my mind). The discussion of folk art facing intercultural challenge was pretty cool to read. Beadwork has always fascinated me and I liked reading about the unique ways that the Blackfeet did their beadwork. It was empowering to read that they continued their symbolic beadwork despite the negative responses from colonial powers. The argument of this lives through the art and not the discourse which I find to be amazing.
I didn’t exactly love Schreffler’s piece, Vespucci Rediscovers America: The Pictorial Rhetoric of Cannibalism in Early Modern Culture, but it was interesting to say the least. I really don’t understand why America is continuously depicted as a woman who is naked or using her sexuality to tempt or destroy others… it really grinds my gears. I can’t believe (well, I can, but it is ridiculous) that there are journals, letters and chronicles of European explorers who talk about cannibalism being a “standard practice” of New World societies. They basically said that Native Americans eat other humans with no evidence to support it. I looked at the picture in figure 1.7 and I did not notice that cannibalism was depicted in the background until I read it in the piece. I feel like an idiot because I’ve probably seen pictures depicting Native Americans as being cannibals but didn’t pay close enough attention. The European texts show that cannibalism was suspected but it was never proven, so why would they portray it in art as though it were factual? What is the point of lying about something like that… was it to make people feel better about taking over a land and the people that lived there? It’s the only logical explanation for it... it’s easier to be ruthless towards people that you dehumanize. While discussing the representations of Europe and America, Schreffler identifies that Europe is depicted as “totality and wholeness” while America is cast as “parts and fragmentation,” which is ironic, because before Europes interference, America was more whole than Europe. It also makes accompanying text more comedic because Europe is seen as the influences that correct/be the solution to what is wrong with America. These people were seriously disillusioned. I did like the section of countering cannibalism (of course). I like that the poems and commentary accompanied the images because it negates any false interpretation and guides the viewers to actually see and understand what is being displayed.
Roberts studies Blackfeet beadwork from a forty-year period (1895-1835) in order to look at folk art as a visual argument. Using the criteria proposed by Birdsell and Groarke, she claims that folk art, and the Blackfeet beadwork in particular, can carry a visual argument because it communicates messages, has deeper meaning in context, and may be seen as representing identity (152). She defines what she means by folk art and explains the tension the artist works with in order to display one’s skill within the constraints of the genre (153). In order to appreciate folk art, one must understand the importance of the traditional knowledge of how to create objects of a particular type and not look only at the objects themselves as artifacts separate from the process by which the artists have created them. In folk art, aesthetics shared by the community are more important than an individual’s ingenuity (154).
Roberts states that in order to be considered a true argument, visual work such as folk art must be contested, and this happens most often across cultures rather than within them (155). This segues into her discussion of changes in Blackfeet beadwork following contact with Anglo missionaries. She points out that “the use of floral designs was a form of cultural colonization: The Blackfeet women were to cease their traditional designs and adopt a European cultural form”, but then she goes on to say “this colonization certainly was not violent. Blackfeet artists readily adopted the floral motifs, as did nearly all the Plains groups” (158). This struck me as strange because I do not understand how cultural colonization is ever nonviolent, even when the colonizer does not employ physical force. She provides several images to show that “comparison of visual forms suggests that the Blackfeet continued to develop their own style despite these influences”, such as a “triangularity” even to their interpretation of the Anglo designs that is reminiscent of the lodge motif (159). She wraps up the section by concluding that “Although folk art by definition eschews verbal clarity, the Blackfeet seem to have been arguing for a continued assertion of their nationhood and sacred beliefs, particularly as these pertained to the sacred space of the lodge” (161). Considering that this resistance to the suppression of their beliefs is necessary, it makes no sense to say the colonization was nonviolent.
Schreffler’s piece shows how artwork produced by European colonial powers positions indigenous people in the Americas as different from Europeans in ways that would make it easier for Europeans to justify their conquests. Suggestions of cannibalism come up repeatedly and frequently seem to involve depictions of a woman with a bow and arrow either holding or standing above a decapitated man’s head with one of her arrows coming through it. What I found especially interesting about this was how Columbus wrote in his journal that he had heard of a group of people who eat other people and did not actually see this practice himself, but this quickly became a common topic in the writings of the European explorers (299). I imagine it was very different to write for an audience unlikely to ever see for themselves than it is for travelers today to write about what they see because access to photographs and the Internet demand some level of accountability for what one reports.
I appreciated the explanations Schreffler offers throughout article of what the tropes in the pieces he references mean in context because I always misunderstand when left to my own devices. I thought I looked carefully at the first image, but I only saw the suggestions of cannibalism after reading the part where he zooms in and discusses what we are looking at. At first I was confused by the inclusion of the painting of the biblical story of Judith decapitating Holofernes because I did not remember any cannibalism in that story, but it Schreffler includes to show how the painting uses synecdoche in a similar way as the paintings of the Americas from the time period under study do (299).
With this last set of readings, I am finally beginning to understand rhetorical bodies and may overextend the application a bit (à la Alexie’s paragraph epiphany) in my excitement.
In just two pages, “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” vividly illustrates Sherman Alexie’s memories of learning to read and contextualizes his early successes within the culture of the Spokane Indian Reservation on which he grew up. Through vivid descriptions of the same students’ behaviors (and bodies) in multiple settings, he renders with clarity the discrepancy between the high level at which young people engage when among other Indians and their resistance to doing what non-Indian teachers ask, showing that they only “fail” because this is what they believe the teachers expect of them. One example in which the students’ bodies are rhetorical is how “They submissively ducked their heads when confronted by a non-Indian adult but would slug it out with the Indian bully who was 10 years older.”
Alexie’s insider understanding of the pressure to “fail” as well as what Indian students stand to gain from exposure to “poetry, short stories, and novels” by Indian writers offers him the opportunity to reach young people at an earlier stage in the journey he has undertaken. I admire his efforts to help them develop their talents so that they may benefit as he has from writing, summed up by the shift from “trying to save my life” to “trying to save our lives”. However, the way he ends this piece suggests that, while he recognizes the drive in the readers and writers in the class who are “trying to save their lives”, he does not believe he has been successful in reaching the “already defeated Indian kids” because, unlike Superman in the earlier anecdote, he thus far has been unable to break down the doors they have put up. We see their resistance in the way they “sit in the back rows…carry neither pencil nor pen...stare out the window.”
What I love about Sherman Alexie’s writing is that it always leaves me with questions. His writing is confessional but on his terms, which I respect. For example, he describes his father as “one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose” and repeatedly talks about “trying to save my/their/our life/lives”. I can only guess what he might mean by these statements because he withholds elaboration. If someone I knew were telling me these stories, I would be watching his face to gauge whether my inferences were on track and memorizing phrases to ask about later if an appropriate opportunity arose, but certain things are easier to write about than speak about precisely because one will not be interrupted or put on the spot. In one line, he refers to writing about himself in the third-person in order to “dull the pain”, and that is another layer of defense against inviting people to pose questions one does not wish to answer. It is also interesting to think about the creation of a character upon whose imagined body one can cast one’s own pain (e.g. the speaker in Brutal Imagination started as an invention of Susan Smith but also serves as a conduit for the pain real Black men feel living in a racist society).
The selections we read from Walking with Ghosts also employ rhetorical bodies. In “Map of the Americas”, the Native speaker is in love with a White person and reflects on how the lover’s physical presence is possible due to genocide. In the fifth the stanza, the text of the poem itself then takes the shape of the American continents as the speaker’s body, according to the poem, also becomes the American continents. The imagery Qwo-Li Driskill applies to the features of the speaker’s body recalls the beauty of the ancestral land before colonialism. In the poem honoring Marsha P. Johnson, whose death was initially ruled a suicide, s/he includes Johnson among “all of us/who never jumped”, referencing missing and murdered people of color and transgender/two-spirit individuals. When one learns of a hate crime committed solely on the basis of a trait which one shares with the victim, one realizes one’s own vulnerability to violence doled out in this senseless manner: “We choke on…the knowledge that each/death is our own.”
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