Emily VanLeuvan-Reflections on Readings for July 14, 2014
Out of the four articles we were assigned, Renato Rosaldo’s piece from Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis resonated with me the most. In the introduction, Rosaldo cites a specific case involving an “old boys’ room”. In the “old boys room”, conversation often reflected vulgar and offensive attitudes towards the treatment of women. When the women entered the room, “The men had shockingly strong reactions. They felt uncomfortable, some said they were being silenced” (xii). Rosaldo summarizes by noting, “My hypothetical case depicts the dynamics of political correctness. The story conveys the psychic reality that political correctness creates for people who report that who report that they feel afraid to say the wrong things” (xiii). The author connects the case to the classroom experience in the next paragraph by remarking that diversity in the classroom creates an environment where, “Even those teachers who do nothing to revise their yellowed sheets of lecture notes know that their words have taken on new meanings” (xiii). Rosaldo’s sentiments on the relationship between diversity in the classroom and one’s word choice triggered memories of the insecurities I was faced with when I first started teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Those who are familiar with Mark Twain’s novel know that pejorative language is used throughout the text, to a degree that would certainly make a modern reader uncomfortable. When I first taught the book, I was a new teacher in a class full of twenty-five Caucasian students and one African American student. While Twain’s purpose in including controversial language so frequently is to raise an awareness of the realities of racism, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to properly convey this idea to my students and they would be uncomfortable. I also worried about the one African American student in the classroom. Would he feel alienated by my class? The unit ended going well and my worries were unwarranted, but the student’s presence in my classroom certainly increased my sensitivity to Twain’s diction. I found Rosaldo’s comment that “We are all equal partners in a shared project of renegotiating the sense of belonging, inclusion, and full enfranchisement in our major institutions” (xvii) to be inspiring. The idea that the responsibility for making all members of humanity feel respected and valued for their diversity is one that is shared truly resonates with me.
Victor Villanueva’s article “On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism” makes some interesting arguments concerning the presence of racism in intellectual discourse, and how famous intellectuals such as Kant and Hegel contributed to “The legacy of racism”. While the examples from both philosophers certainly depict close-minded attitudes, the influence of “the colonial discourse that binds us all” referenced by Villanueva serves as a reminder to me of how easily any human is impacted by texts and the media. What type of message do images of photo-shopped celebrities send to young girls? How do these pictures influence the cultural climate of our country? I also enjoyed reading the poems that are dispersed throughout this article. I found that the poems allowed the article to be more organic and served to enforce the relevance of the issues discussed.
I had some difficulty connecting with “ A Survey of Research in Asian Rhetoric”. While I found the author’s argument to be thought-provoking, that “researchers must challenge the fundamental assumptions about rhetoric embedded in classical Western rhetorical theories to start a conversation between East and West” (171), I found the material discussed in the interviews to be vague and difficult to contextualize. For example, when asked, “How has the research being done in Asian rhetoric changed the Western perspective of the argument?” (177), Vernon Jensen replies, “…it seems apparent that Western perspectives of argumentation have broadened as a result of research in Asian rhetoric” (177). However, Jensen does not provide examples of specific instances in fields of rhetoric where this occurs. Since I am not well versed in Asian rhetoric, or really rhetoric in general, my ability to understand the author’s thesis would be strengthened with specific examples.
Victoria Villaneuva’s “On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism” points particularly stuck out to me as they directly connect/expand on examples within the classroom. Villaneuva explains a scenario in which a South Asian woman stands up at a meeting of grad students and department faculty, after a Halloween party in which a person show up in blackface, and explains how “the difference between speaking and being heard, that if one is constantly speaking but is never heard, never truly heard, there is, in effect, silence, a silencing.” I completely agree that there is a huge difference between speaking and being heard. I am tired of the battle existing between English teachers and students at my school. Yes, many of the novels read in our high school curriculum deal with racism, but we as teachers do not have control over this; however, we do have control over how it is taught. Books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men (the curriculum list surrounding this issue goes on and on) all deal with racism, but there are also many other concepts that the novels hold. However, all the students do is complain about how every book we read deals with racism—I feel as if this is the only thing they take from the curriculum (I realize I am exaggerating a bit, but I just get frustrated). Each year I am faced with this complaint. First off, I deal with the issue of racism the best that I can, but I do not feel that I am doing it justice; I was never taught, as I feel many teachers were not, how to deal with and teach such a controversial subject; I’m learning too. Sometimes I think I am doing more harm than good. As the South Asian woman also mentions, “racism seems to be an appendage to a classroom curriculum, something loosely attached to a course but not quite integral, even when race is the issue.” This leads to my second point. Since much of the curriculum deals with this this controversial issue, for students and their complaining, they are reading it but not truly “hearing” it. My question is how can I teach this issue effectively to make students hear and understand it instead of listening to them complain about it? I try my best, but I feel as if the issue is never fully addressed/heard in the way I wish and know I could.
In “Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis” by Renato Rosaldo, another connection to my school is made. Rosaldo states “The general goal is to achieve diversity in all rooms, decision-making rooms, classrooms, faculty rooms, rooms of all kinds, shapes and sizes” (xi). While I realize this is focused on the college setting as the way to begin this change, in my district, while there are socioeconomic differences, there is hardly any diversity amongst cultures. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, district-wide, amongst the student population, 0.4% of students are African American, 0.8% Asian, 2.0% Hispanic, 0.2% Native American, 95.4% White, 0.0% Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and 1.1% Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic. For staffing of teachers in my school 160.7 (all teachers) are White (side note: not sure how you can have .7 for this). With all of this said, college is really the first time students from this district experience a culturally diverse society and I feel that many students are not aware of other cultures or exhibit the cultural-respect that is needed in order to “break from the colonial discourse that binds us all” (Villanueva). How this change can be met in the school system, I’m not sure. Our curriculum has been described to me as trying to expose the students to other cultures, but this leads back into my point of how do teachers know how to adequately do this to make the students truly “hear”?
The subsection “Introduction: Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage” truly captured the emotional force of death. I appreciate how the author writes “Only after being repositioned through a devastating loss of my own could I better grasp that Ilongot older men mean precisely what they say when they describe the anger in bereavement as the source of their desire to cut off human heads” (3). People grieve differently, and who’s to say what way of grieving is the correct way? While the aspect of cutting of human heads is something beyond my understanding, all people grieve differently. The adjustment that the Ilongot men had to go through once head-hunting celebrations became illegal, captures their anxiety. Think of how we would all cope if it became illegal to have wakes/funerals and other modes signifying the passing of life. Wednesday night I had an encounter and reading this article could not have come up at a more appropriate time. I was at a restaurant when a man had a stroke. I watched as paramedics tried to sit him up and make him conscious, but he was in no way al
This week’s reading seemed to deal with the difficult task of defining rhetoric(s) from other cultures. Do the scholars of these rhetorics compare them to Western classical rhetoric in order to be understood by others who are grounded in Western tradition? Would this comparison take something away from the rhetorics of different cultures? Bo Wang’s “A Survey of Research in Asian Rhetoric” addressed this issue. Wang asked experts in the field of Asian Rhetoric about the use of the Chinese word bian (argument) to describe rhetoric. Xiao Ming Li agreed that it “helps build conceptual links” between Asian and Western rhetoric, but worried that such a link might hinder the understanding of Asian rhetoric in its own right (175). I think it’s a predicament that many scholars face when presenting new ideas.
“Encounters in the New World: A History of Documents” by Jill Lepore very clearly and succinctly detailed the way primary documents should be viewed from a historical and anthropological perspective. This is an essay that I would certainly share with my students; I think it offered some really interesting and relevant questions for the study of all primary documents. Lepore’s example of the line from Columbus’ letter really emphasized why deep and thoughtful questioning is so important in the study of primary documents. “At the time of my departure,” Columbus writes, “I will take six of them from here to your highnesses in order that they may learn to speak” (18). Aside from the obvious question this bring up, like how do these native people feel about being transported away from their homeland, it also bring up the issue of silencing that is discussed in Villanueva’s piece and many others. Did the native people really not make a sound? That’s doubtful; then why did Columbus write that they would be taught to “speak?” He doesn’t write “speak Spanish” or “speak our language.” That he appears to assume the native people don’t “speak” highlights his imagined superiority.
I found “Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis” by Renato Rosaldo both interesting and hard to read. I thought his analysis of grief and bereavement as removed from simply the study of rituals surrounding death was poignant. His Ilongot friend described the man who lost seven children and his conversion to Christianity. “What the man in fact sought in the new religion was not the denial of our inevitable deaths but as a means of coping with his grief” (5). Here religion becomes more than a ritual; it becomes a means to survive in the face of incredible loss. However, it was hard for me to imagine living with a group of people who practiced head hunting. Rosaldo describes the rage that leads to head hunting, the desire of the youth to behead someone, and the peoples’ grief at the loss of this ritual. What I wanted to know was how the people felt when their loved one was beheaded. A child dying of pneumonia is undeniably terrible, but someone beheaded, at random, just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, how did they make sense of this? How did a family who lost a son or father to this practice feel? Did they take the rage at the beheading and go behead someone else? I think the idea of ritualized murder is almost too horrible to ponder. How did he spend so much time with murderers? Did they see themselves as murderers? Did he?
In “On Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism” Victor Villanueva’s specific examples of racism and how it affects academia helped me to understand what rhetoricians of different ethnicities must face. The silencing of the South Asian student in the meeting to address blackface made me think of an experience I had with a student. On the first day of class, a young girl from Puerto Rico, an ELL student, said, “My friend had you as a teacher last year. I’m glad I have you. She said you like the Spanish kids.” I thanked her, but I was struck by the fact that, if I “liked” the ELL students, they must be under the impression that some other teachers did not. Throughout the year, I heard from students who said that some teachers never talked to them. I know it can be hard bridging a cultural and language gap, but it’s our duty as teachers and as humans. No students should ever feel like they’re not heard.
Victor Villanueva raises a valid argument regarding racism in On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism. He writes, “Racism continues to be among the most compelling problems we face. Part of the reason why this is so is because we’re still unclear about what we’re dealing with, so we must thereby be unclear about how to deal with it” (4-5). Villanueva is correct. If everyone were educated in a variety of ethnicities and cultures, we would all understand and respect one another much better. These educational opportunities need to be provided to every child as early as possible so that the ability to accept and embrace diverse ideas, cultural aspects, and people is instilled within them very early on. If this were to occur, everyone would know and understand what they’re “dealing with” and would respect these diverse ideas, cultural aspects, and persons much more copiously.
Additionally, I found Villanueva’s decision to end with Sandra Maria Esteves’ poem “Here” quite suiting. The last two lines of this poem read “…here, it must be changed/we must change it” (11-12). Throughout this piece, Villanueva focuses on the need to overcome racism. He wants change. He wants equality. Villanueva himself is already making progress toward change by expressing his concerns through writing (and in turn, influencing others), however, others need to take action as well. We need to start working together and accepting each individual for who they are so that we can bring about a positive and effective change. Ending with Esteves’ poem is a clever way to appeal to the audience. Moreover, as it directly connects to his topic and argument, it is quite fitting.
Bo Wang’s A Survey of Research in Asian Rhetoric is comprised of numerous, noteworthy scholarly opinions. I don’t know much about Asian rhetoric, however, I found scholar, Mary Garret’s response to one of Wang’s survey questions quite interesting. When asked how she feels about the present state of research in Asian rhetoric, Garret replies, “I would say it is desultory. There is not yet a critical mass of scholars devoting themselves to this field” (174). I found myself wondering why this is so. In order for others to fully understand Asian culture (or any culture for that matter), it is necessary to conduct as much research as possible. I am quite curious as to why it is not already transpiring. It is incredibly disheartening to discover this lack of interest. More scholars need to devote themselves to researching and studying Asian rhetoric as well as a variety of other cultural rhetoric.
The ideas expressed and examples used in Culture & Truth by Renato Rosaldo immediately struck me as powerful and impressive. Rosaldo provides a valuable example of just how necessary it is for everyone in the world to understand as much about other cultures as possible. In regards to an Ilongot man who had recently lost his seventh child, Rosaldo writes, “Through subsequent days and weeks, the man’s grief moved him in a way I had not anticipated. Shortly after the baby’s death, the father converted to evangelical Christianity. Altogether too quick on the reference, I immediately concluded that the man believed that the new religion could somehow prevent further deaths in his family. When I spoke my mind to an Ilongot friend, he snapped at me, say that ‘I had missed the point: what the man in fact sought in the new religion was not the denial of our inevitable deaths but a means of coping with his grief” (5). Rosaldo’s ignorance of the Ilongot culture created an awkward, uncomfortable experience for him and in turn, he insulted the very culture he was studying. If Rosaldo had understood the logic, ideas, and beliefs involved in Ilongot culture, he could have prevented himself from undergoing this uncomfortable experience. Thus, it is imperative to gain as much cultural knowledge as possible.
Overall, I found each of these readings to be exceedingly interesting and informative. Villanueva, Wang, and Rosaldo each contribute something grand to the field of cultural rhetoric through their writing and experiences.
Jodie Nelson Musings on Readings for July 14, 2014
I hesitate to post…
Who will read this? Who is my audience? Will the outcome be different if we ‘inkshred’ the writing of the person to our left or right? Will we sit in the same places around the conjoined tables in the classroom? The identifying of the audience is a dilemma…And what about my ethos in relation to my audience…another dilemma? Consider Rosaldo’s ‘notion of position.’
Blogs, Moodle, Blackboard, Ning, online discussions. Do you read the postings before you post? Do you post first? Do you read the postings at all? Do you wait on destiny, and read only the one arbitrarily assigned by the ‘inkshredding’ activity? The order of the assigned readings is Intentional and meticulously designed, certainly, but what about the order in which the reader reads? Is it serendipitous? The orders in which I approach these readings are not arbitrary, but not designed by knowledge of the content. I choose to read each according to a set of ‘requirements’ forced upon me by life – do I have enough time to get through this one, based on its length, or by the apparent density of the material, which I have deemed by skimming through, flipping through the pages? Will life interrupt me? My printer ran out of ink while printing one of the readings, long after Staples closed for business. I will not be reading that one first.
How I read the articles is another ‘notion of position’ as well. Throughout the stages of my reading these articles, I practice what I preach/teach. I employ the strategies for active reading I model, teach, and instruct, and ultimately require my students to employ. The connections I make are contingent upon the order in which I read the readings. At every turn of the page, I am struck by emergence of concepts, about which I had previously made annotations. I jot down, “This is reminiscent of Anzaldua’s ‘safe houses’, and lo and behold, on the next page of Rosaldo’s Culture and Truth, there is mention of
‘safe houses.” Through this reading I make connections to Clifford’s questions, “Who has the authority to speak for group’s identity or authenticity? What are the essential elements and boundaries of a culture? How do self and other clash and converse in the encounters of ethnography, travel, modern interethnic relations? (p. 8)” As well, I return to his position, “The time is past when privileged authorities could routinely “give voice” (or history) to others without fear of contradiction.” All this begs the question, “What if I read the assigned readings for July 7th according to the course syllabus? What if the email I should have received prior to the first class meeting had not ended up in my junk mail? Would my connections and understandings be different? Consider the “notion of position.
While engaging in the pre-writing practices I ensconce and which, I design time for at every juncture of the reading, writing, and dialectic processes in my units throughout the year, I grapple with the decisions necessary to ‘critically respond’ to the readings in one , single-spaced analysis of writings on a myriad of connected topics each worthy of doctoral theses. The question begs to be answered, “How do I synthesize all of this?” Consider the “notion of position.”
Throughout, I keep returning to Clifford’s mention of the Igbo saying, “You do not stand in one place to watch a masquerade,” and the memory of the cinematography of the masquerade scene in Zeffirelli’s 1968 rendition of Romeo and Juliet- it is all about position, perspective, point of view. Ethnographically speaking, we are all at times, Elsie’s, the “ambiguous person of questionable origin” or the “troubling outsider turning up inside.(Clifford, p.6)”
Do you remember when you moved from the kid’s table to the adult table?
Consider the ‘notion of position.’ I hesitate to post… I should have written about reading objects or rituals, or essentialism, or the role of observers…
This blog is designed for us to share responses to readings and to engage in conversations about Cultural Rhetorics.