"Freedom is a Feeling": Continuing Uncle Tom's Cabin

Day 13 of Emerging Genres

"Freedom is a Feeling":
Continuing Uncle Tom's Cabin



I. mopping up/going on...

Al this week's archivist

reading your papers: the usefulness of biology in
thinking about literature (and vice versa):
Christina on autism as a failure to generalize,
Megan on limits of genre "speciation" (ability to reproduce, etc)...

ongoing conversations about questions you raised for me
(with Ingrid, Claire, Christina): on- or off-line is fine
(think about what might be useful for others....)


British Sign Language Poetry:
Jessy? Hannah:
offers possibilities for expression that poetry in spoken or written languages can’t offer—
for example, the use of space and symmetry and visual rhymes and rhythms

NPR Program on human suffering from bibical perspective, incl. discussion of Book of Job, characterized as written by at least two different people using two different genres ....
"narrative, story" at beginning and at end, "poetry" in the middle,
the former giving a clear meaning for suffering, the latter not...

reading third 1/4 of Uncle Tom's Cabin for Thursday....
writing about what's working, what's not...
also: figuring out how to handle next selection of theoretical texts:
Frye '57, Opacki '63, Jauss '70, Colie '73 & Jameson '75 (from Modern Genre Theory)

II. Contemporary responses to/residues of Uncle Tom's Cabin:

Alexandra: I have never gotten so much attention for reading in public on Bryn Mawr's campus before....I had no clue that people were so upset just by the mere thought of someone reading this book. It really makes you think about weight of the topic and how much racial issues are still present in our society today.

Louisa on Vampire Weekend: Should we be uncomfortable that four wealthy Columbia graduates, none of whom have any African or Caribbean heritage, are so blatantly using this as part of their music?...it is clear that there is not meant to be any echo of a minstrel show, unlike when reading slave speech written by Stowe. However, there is still something I can't quite put my finger on that makes me feel that this should make me slightly uncomfortable.

Jessy, Is the writer in the room? Beecher Stowe isn't playing like Melville is...the way Beecher Stowe shows us her characters, the way she introduces us to them. She won't shut up and let us get to know each other in our own ways and in our own times, she's frantic that her readers draw the conclusions she means for us to draw. Overt authorial intent is never a pretty thing. There's characters I'd like if they were handled differently...away from Beecher Stowe's busybody interference.

I'm not interested in the use-value of crying. But utterly obsessed with the functions of humor.

Let's go on, then, looking @ Stowe's use of Blackface:

"The wall over the fireplace was adorned with...a portrait of General Washington, drawn and colored in a manner which would certainly have astonished that hero, if ever he had happened to meet with its like" (Ch. 4, "An Evening in Uncle Tom's Cabin," p. 18).

George Washington by Gilbert Stewart

By far the most stunning aspect of Stowe's description of Uncle Tom's cabin is her account of...a portrait of George Washington in blackface...With the image of a "colored" George Washington, Stowe enters into a parody of origins...presumed to be at the center of all social contracts....Stowe herself participates in a kind of "blackface" production with her novel.... Black Sam...embodies the subversive possibilities of blackface released by the portrait of George Washington....the explosive imperative of marginality becomes explicit whenever a character like Sam takes "control" of the narrative....His humor distinguishes him from Tom, whose sobriety and "dignity" become the tools of his destruction....the entire text works the confluence of slave and women as they are reified by the culture."Gals" who, like Sam, first ironize and then utilize their knowledge of this process are precisely the figures who will escape its final control. The radical nature of Stowe's feminism resides in the fact that its "character" need not be restricted by gender or color. Black Sam is nearly the perfect embodiment of Stowe's feminism since he is such a thorough construct of the social codes through which he travels and maneuvers....Sam exploits and revises our preconceptions about the stereotype of the Sambo in the same way that he exploits Haley's preconceptions about women as contrary--by being contrary....
Tina Zwarg, "Fathering and
Blackface in Uncle Tom's Cabin,
Novel
(1989)
...Let's read aloud Ch 6, p.42, re "bobservation," and
Ch. 8, p. 66, re "collusitating the great principles of persistence"...

Sam's oratory parodies even as it follows the play of Emerson's well-known essay "Self-Reliance...a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"...through Sam, Stowe...explicates the appeal of blackface...the extraordinary and dangerous reading of white culture from which it derives....Stowe pitches the powerful entertainment value of blackface against its racist consumption by superimposing upon it the figurative "appeal" of Emerson's work. With this bizarre caricature, turning the father of American literature into a "sambo," while simutaneously painting him in blackface, Stowe shows how the appeal of Emerson's writing emerged from the complex cultural "reading" it supplied...a "sort of patriarch" more interested in shaking and displacing those foundations....a complex maneuver..that goes a long way toward explaining the extraordinary appeal of her novel...
Extraordinary Appeal?...
Of Humor? Of Tears?


Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe at Home

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Darwin famously said, "Crying is a puzzler." (I.e.: he couldn't figure out the adaptive use value of crying...) And if the point of studying the world is to change it, and/or the point of representing the world is to change it....well? What is the use-value of crying?

See, for a local illustration, Mrs. Shelby's visit to Uncle Tom's cabin on the eve of his departure: "for a few moments they all wept in company. And in those tears they all shed together, the high and the lowly, melted away all the heart-burnings and anger of the oppressed. O, ye who visit the distressed, do ye know that everything your money can buy...is not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy?" (Ch. 10, "The Property is Carried Off," p. 84).

What's the worth of those tears? On the basis of what sort of calibration?


Tom Learns of his Sale


Second Big Question of the Day:
What is the use-value of generalizing?




Pin Things Down with Concrete Nouns
"he hadn't really seen enough
specimens to generalize"

"He had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views."
(description of the way Tom, a slave,
understands the suffering caused by slavery, p. 113)

"General rules will bear hard on particular cases."
(maxim of St. Clare's father, the slaveowner, showing how he
understands the suffering caused by slavery, p. 197)


Let's think together some more today about the particular and the general
(how constructing a generality will leave out multiple particularities, and...? but...?
enable us to see what--bound by particularities--we might not otherwise see??)





The Wagner Free Institute of Science

An exercise:
"Type" yourself
Pass to the right
Characterize the "type"
Pass to the left
Characterize the "type"
Pass it back...


What did you notice?
How congruent was your own "typing" w/ that of your neighbor?
Do you accept/reject/struggle with/embrace the way your
neighbor read the "type" you assigned yourself...?




James Baldwin's critique of Uncle Tom's Cabin was centered on its use of "types," which "bind," which "deny"--"in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real."


Jane Tompkins' celebration of the novel took precisely the opposite perspective: she also read all the characters as types, but affirmed Stowe for enlarging the scope of from (insignificant?) individual particularity to the universal-and-archetypal:

Tompkins: the power of a sentimental novel to move its audience depends upon the audience's being in possession of the conceptual categories that constitute character and event. That storehouse of assumptions includes...above all, a set of religious beliefs that organize and sustain the rest....all human events are organized, clarified, and made meaningful by the existence of spiritual realities....this novel rewrites the Bible as the story of a Negro slave....human history is a continual reenactment of the sacred drama of redemption....its distinguishing features...are...those of typological narrative. Its characters, like the figures in an allegory, do not change or develop but reveal themselves in response to the demands of a situation. They are not defined...psychologically--but soteriologically, according to whether they are saved or damned. The plot...unfolds...in keeping with the logic of a preordained design...the figure of Christ is the common term that unites all of the novel's good characters....the true goal of Stowe's rhetorical undertaking is nothing less than the institution of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Baldwin was arguing that typologies are reductions, Tompkins that they are enlargements, of individual experience. Let's think through, together, these alternative ways of conceptualizing the action of "typing."

What's a stereotype?



Jarald Peterson, "Stereotype for Dinner"

What's an archetype?



From Typology: The Symbolism of Scripture

What's a type?

What's the relation between a stereotype, an archetype and a type?


Stereotypes are a group concept, held by one social group about another...often used in a negative or prejudicial sense...frequently used to justify certain discriminatory behaviours. Stereotype production is based on simplification, exaggeration or distortion, generalization, presentation of cultural attributes as being 'natural'.

An archetype is an idealized model of a person, object, or concept
from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated.

Typology in theology is the allegorical relationships of people and stories between the New and Old Testaments. A Biblical type is something which foreshadows things to come. Medieval allegory began as an early Christian method for synthesizing the discrepancies between the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Christian Bible (New Testament). While both testaments were studied and seen as equally divinely inspired by God, the Old Testament contained discontinuities for Christians -- for example the Jewish kosher laws. The Old Testament was therefore seen in places not as a literal account, but as an allegory, or prediction, of the events of the New Testament, in particular how the events of the Old Testament related to the events of Christ's life. The events of the Old Testament were seen as part of the story, a prefiguration, with the events of Christ's life. The technical name for seeing the New Testament in the Old Testament is called typology. One example of typology is the story of Jonah and the whale from the Old Testament. Medieval allegorical interpretation of this story is that it prefigures Christ's burial, the stomach of the whale as Christ's tomb: Jonah was freed from the whale after three days, so did Christ rise from his tomb after three days.



Barry Moser, "Jonah and the Whale"


So: what do these distinctions matter?

Do you find them 'accurate'? useful'? 'productive of survival'?

What additional lenses might understanding them
give you for reading Uncle Tom's Cabin?


Returning to the stand-off between Baldwin and Tompkins:
might understanding Tom as a "type" of Christ
both deny his particularity AND enlarge his meaning?

How difficult is it for us, as 21st century intellectuals, to think typologically?



"Jonah in the Whale," from Sprott's Fractal Gallery,
Physics Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Robert Scholes, "The Left Hand of Difference," Textual Power:
we divide the world into classes of things that need not be divided up that way

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things:
these are arbitary/pragmatic/political acts

the most basic differentiation is the one Stowe uses assiduously:
the division of world into binaries (=two opposed units)

reason emotion
free enslaved
white black
male female
North South
existential sentimental
doubting believing
skeptical faithful
Alfred St. Clare
Baldwin Tompkins

Why do we do this?
As a way of managing difference--and conflict.


The problem w/ a binary classificatory schema:
there's no space in between
(no hermaphrodite, no androgyne; no mixed race or class).
The "difference" is always a clear difference.
(A physicist or mathematician would say that
"the system is binary rather than continuous.")

In such a world, what is the role of characters of ambiguous gender,
such as Tom and St. Clare?
Of biracial characters like George and Eliza?


Out of experiences like Rebecca Walker's
(or out of a list like the one above)
one of several intellectual operations can arise.

Categories start to seem limited/don't work/things don't fit/need new ones.

(For example, there's a switch in New Orleans:
the "womanish sentimentalist" St. Clare is contrasted
with the first "unfeeling" woman, his wife Marie, p. 201)

A particular way to get new categories is via the Hegalien dialectic:
binaries generate new ideas in between (thesis/antithesis/synthesis).

Let's play with this.
Out of Baldwin's denunciation of religious thought as limiting,
and Tompkins' conception of it as freeing--
can we come up with an alternative understanding religious life?
(As continuing revelation? Ongoing search?
(Was Jesus an existentialist?)


Working with several key passages regarding religious understanding:
It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live? To poor Tom, there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head (p. 125).

She thought with great strength within certain narrow limits. Her theological tenets were all made up, labelled in most positive and distinct forms, and put by, like the bundles in her patch trunk; there were just so many of them, and there were never to be any more (Miss Ophelia, p. 137).

"If this world were all...thee might, indeed, ask, where is the Lord? But it is often those who have least of all in this life whom he chooseth for the kingdom....Put thy trust in him and...he will make all right hereafter" (the Quaker Simeon, to George, p. 166).

"Talk to the Hand," @ Hi-ReS! Feed

Paul Lauter's Reconstructing American Literature Project takes on the modernist catechism of literature as "discourse with no design on the world," as representing and creating without trying to change." He claims that to focus on the original use of language (as a complex, detached, aesthetic form) trains us to disassociate the "ways it is put together from what it is about, how it affects us, and how we might USE it...

We attend to the shape, sinew, texture of a hand,
not whether it offers us peace or a sword."


Does Uncle Tom's Cabin offer peace or a sword?
How is it realized in contemporary culture?



James Baldwin saw a clear residue in Native Son:

(from "Everybody's Protest Novel," continued...):
In Native Son, Bigger Thomas stands on a Chicago street corner watching airplanes flown by white men racing against the sun and 'Goddamn" he says, the bitterness bubbling up like blood...all of Bigger's life is controlled, fed by his hatred and his fear....Below the surface of this novel there lies...a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy. Bigger is Uncle Tom's descent, flesh of his flesh, so exactly opposite a portrait that, when the books are placed together, it seems that the contemporary Negro novelist and the dead New England woman are locked together in deadly, timeless battle; the one uttering merciless exhortations, the other shouting curses....for Bigger's tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal critera...But our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only do what is infinitely more difficut, that is, accept it. The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended."




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