Welcome to the Promised Land!

Day 15 of Emerging Genres:
Welcome to the Promised Land!

(with Jessy taking notes....)





From Mt. Nebo, from Biblical Study Tour


From Erzsebet Korb, The Promised Land, c. 1922

"Reality...can only be changed by conversion in the spirit because it is the spirit alone that is finally real." (Jane Tompkins, Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, in her essay on "Sentimental Power")

"I must be thar, Miss Feely; for when that ar blessed child goes into the kingdom, they'll open the door so wide, we'll all get a look in at the glory" (Uncle Tom, p. 255).

"I looks like gwine to heaven...an't thar where white folks is gwine? Suppose they'd have me thar? I'd rather go to torment, and get away from maw'r and missis" (the old rusk-woman, p. 189).

"'Don't call me poor fellow!...I'm right in the door, going into glory!..I've got the victory....He an't done me no real harm,--only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that's all!'" (Uncle Tom, 362-363)

Today's topic: what is the meaning of the kingdom of heaven?
Where and how is it found?

I. but first: welcome back from break
--relevant stories? generic encounters?
"When Girls Will Be Boys" (NYTimes Magazine, 3/16/08)
--read Frye and Jameson for Thursday:
think about religion as a sub-genre in the "genre" of romance: wish-fulfillment
cf. M, "Religion is Not My Friend": the increasing role of religion as the book goes on...
makes the novel that much more tedious to me.
think also about Jameson's critique of the a-historical representation of romance
--read Derrida and Eagleton for next Tuesday
--second paper due week from tomorrow:

W, Mar. 26: 4 pp. of blogging about thinking "generically,"
or about the generic qualities of
Uncle Tom's Cabin in particular:
or whatever you have been thinking about over the past month
happy to do conferences ahead of time; not required

II. mid-term evaluations generally positive,
(mostly!) appreciative of on-line and in-class dimensions

regarding our interactions:
--I think a lot of what I like about the class has to do with the people in it. Having a mix of science and humanities majors adds a lot to the conversation.
--I would really like to see more involved discussion. I want to know what everyone is thinking....
--I would prefer more dialog b/t and among students IN THE BLOG.

(easy enough to fix? a redress for the feeling that
--"sometimes I have nothing new/else to say"....?)

perhaps harder to "fix": our resistence to theory--
--Probably what I'm missing is how the theory related to our other readings--I'd like to take a closer look @ that.
--I still feel like we're sort of floating in a sea of genre--choosing willy-nilly what to study...I can't draw immense conclusions or extrapolate about genre too much...mabye I just want a "foundational" story instead of the emerging one.
--I hate theory. It seems over my head and is always written seemingly for an audience with more intense knowledge about the subject.

Marina's posting about how useless I feel theory is to learning about literature

Cf. Jonathan Culler, "What Is Theory?" Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (1997):

  • Theory as genre:
    --speculation
    ---a pugnacious critique of common-sense notions
    --
    the unsettling of anything that might have been taken for granted
  • Derrida on writing
    instead of thinking of life as something to which signs and texts are added to represent it, we should conceive of life itself as suffused with signs, made what it is by processes of signification....There is no outside-of-text': when you think you are getting...to 'reality itself', what you find is more text, more signs, chains or supplements.
  • So what is theory?
    • Theory is interdisciplinary - discourse with effects outside an original discipline.
    • Theory is analytical and speculative - an attempt to work out what is involved in what we call sex or language or writing or meaning or the subject.
    • Theory is a critique of common sense, of concepts taken as natural.
    • Theory is reflexive, thinking about thinking, enquiry into the categories we use in making sense of things, in literature and in other discursive practices.
    As a result, theory is intimidating. One of the most dismaying features of theory today is that it is endless....an unbounded corpus of writings...thus a source of intimidation, a resource for constant upstagings...a diabolical sentence condemning you to hard reading in unfamiliar fields, where even the completion of one task will bring not respite but further difficult assignments....
  • The unmasterability of theory is a major cause of resistance to it....A good deal of the hostility to theory no doubt comes from the fact that to admit the importance of theory is to make an open-ended commitment, to leave yourself in a position where there are always important things you don't know. But this is the condition of life itself.
  • Theory makes you desire mastery: you hope that theoretical reading will give you the concepts to organize and understand the phenomena that concern you. But theory makes mastery impossible...because theory is itself the questioning of presumed results and the assumptions on which they are based. The nature of theory is to undo, through a contesting of premisses and postulates, what you thought you knew, so the effects of theory are not predictable.

IV. Trying to theorize today by using another artistic text:

Bill T. Jones, Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land (1990)

Reactions? What have you just seen? Experienced? Felt? Thought?
Had "The Promised Land" come to Cincinnati (or your hometown)--
would you have danced? Why/why not?


Murphy, Jacqueline Shea. "Unrest and Uncle Tom: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land." Bodies of the Text: Dance as Theory, Literature as Dance. Ed.Ellen W. Goellner and Jacqueline Shea Murphy. New Brunwick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 81-106: ...performance whose meaning is largely embodied in its relation with an audience and its dependence on bodies, rather than in the plot climax or story it tells....

"'Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing.' The boy commenced once of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, ...accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body....'here, Topsy...give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing'....the thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet, spinning round...in a wild, fantastic sort of time...." Little Harry, like Topsy, dramatizes ways that race is an act. Harry...is clearly not the slave he is depicting....

...one of Stowe's envisionings seems to be for the slaves in the book to be able to dance differently...like refined Europeans....[cf. Adolph and Jane]....Stowe reinforces this idea...by describing her novel...as a ballet....["Topsy...is fairly introduced into our
corps de ballet, and will figure, from time to time, with other performers" ]....Stowe's book has...been long and fiercely criticized....conforming readily and submissively to European American culture is a large part of what it meant to be an Uncle Tom in twentieth-century America...Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land...performs live, vulnerable, naked bodies. The non-narrative form of this performance resonantes with non-Eurocentric dance forms...takes Stowe's "ballet" and turns it into the best kind of postmodern critique....


Let's return to Stowe's work, and see how much critique is built into the novel itself.

Remember my using Tina Zwarg's explanation of the blackface "signifyin" of the novel (Black Sam's humorous manipulation of the chase of Eliza...) to unsettle both Baldwin's and Tompkins's types of types (both stereotypes and archetypes), to say that however we are "scripted," we can go "off script," re-write the script, "signify" the script, "interpollate" the script...?


More from Zwarg: the most surprising aspect of the text is the way that Tom moves from an interesting and cunning subversion of the patriarchal system imposed upon the slave community to a complicity with the overarching patriarchy of Christianity....Tom is a Christ in blackface....the resurrection of a "black" Christ can no more displace the dangerous hierarchy of Christian rhetoric than Eliza's escape in men's clothing can displace the hierarchy between men and women....Tom's death reveals too suddenly the sacrifice at the center of the social contract.

"'Don't call me poor fellow!...I'm right in the door, going into glory!..I've got the victory....He an't done me no real harm,--only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that's all!'" (Uncle Tom, 362-363)

Beverly Wildung Harrison, "The Power of Anger in the Work of Love," Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, ed. Judith Plaskow and Carol Christ (1989): Sacrifice, I submit, is not a central moral goal or virtue in the Christian life....the aim of love is not to perpetuate crucifixions, but to bring an end to them in a world where they go on and on and and on!...Mark the point well: We are not called to practice the virtue of sacrifice.

Let's look a little more closely @ this matter of sacrifice:


From any kind of rational-choice position, self-sacrifice makes NO sense:
"And what are these miserable yellow dogs you work with, that you should suffer on their account? Every one of them would turn against you, the first time they got a chance...there's no use in your suffering to keep from hurting them" (Cassy to Tom, p. 312).

From what construction of the world and self MIGHT it make sense??

"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).

"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).

Is our resistance to the logic of sacrifice premised on a notion of self-possession? Let's take some time to reconsider human nature, not as fundamentally spiritual, but as economic: life (and rights) as a matter of "property," in terms of who owns what:

 

Frederick Douglass

Patricia Williams



"...what a blessing it is for a man to feel that his wife and child belong to him ! I've often wondered to see that men could call their wives and children their own fretting and worrying about anything else. Why, I feel rich and strong" (George, p. 161)

"now I'm a free man...and my wife and my child I claim as mine" (George, p. 170)

"there, now, she's yours, body and soul"...."No more mine now than she was before..but I can protect her now"..."Well, she's yours by a fiction of law, then" (St. Clare and Ophelia, regarding her purchase of Topsy, 269).

"The law regards him as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise....that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God...can be sold, leased, mortaged exchanged...to suit the phases of trade, or the fancy of the purchaser" (276, 283).

"'I'm your church now!...you've got to be as I say.' Something within the silent black man answered No! and, as if repeated by an invisible voice, came the words...'Fear not! for I have redeemed thee....Thou art MINE!'" (Legree and Tom, p. 293)

"No! no! no! my soul an't yours, Mas'r! You haven't bought it,--ye can't buy it! It's been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it,--not matter, no matter, you can't harm me!" (Tom to Legree, 309).

"...there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his master's goods are not his own, if he can get them" (St. Clare, on the necessary deception of slaves, p. 185)

"'It would be stealing'....'They who steal body and soul needn't talk to us'" (Emmeline and Cassy, p. 353).

"It's commonly supposed that the property interest is sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don't know what's to be done." (St. Clare, p. 191).

"A human soul is an awful ghostly, unquiet possession for a bad man to have...What a fool is he who locks his door to keep out spirits, who has in his own bosom a spirit he dares not meet alone" (regarding Legree, p. 366).