Week 8--Welcome (back) to the promised land!

Anne Dalke's picture

Welcome back from spring break. This week, we'll be finishing up Uncle Tom's Cabin, and dipping again into the Duff's collection of Modern Genre Theory. So what are you thinking (on any one of range of related topics)? For instance:

  • would you accept Bill T. Jones' invitation to "get naked" in the promised land (should it come to your home town)?
  • How do you respond to Harriet Beecher Stowe's invitation to self-sacrifice?
  • What sense do you make of Northrop Frye and/or Frederick Jameson's discussion of the utopic impulse of romance?
  • Does thinking of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a romantic representation of utopia increase its use-value for you?
egoodlett's picture

More Notes (which also should have been posted sooner)

It was interesting to think about Bill Jones's performance in the context of a women's college. I feel that, before coming to Bryn Mawr, I would definitely not have been comfortable even watching a performance such as that one, let alone participating in one, naked on-stage.

However, after three year's of Bryn Mawr's traditional streaking at most major college events, I would not mind attending a play that had a nude scene like Bill's in it. I'm still not sure if I would participate by going on-stage, but perhaps if it was in the community setting where I am now (an all-women's one), I might consider it. It's hard to say.

But, my point is, attending a women's college has definitely changed the way I view a lot of things, especially when it comes to being more open and accepting about new things (and nakedness). I am not sure how this openness will translate into the real world, once I return (post-graduation next year), but I am hopeful that at least some of that comfort with the new and strange will carry on with me beyond the Bryn Mawr Bubble.

Marina Gallo's picture

Would I have gone onstage naked?

No I would not. In The Promised Land by Bill T. Jones I understand and appreciate what he was doing, but I would not be comfortable lending my naked body to his performance. It takes a very strong person to be naked in front of others judging eyes. 

Another thing I wanted to talk about was the use of bodies rather than costumes or a set. This was innovative and it definitely helps tell the story.  It reminds me of Stowe's use of dialect to tell a stronger story. Maybe other authors and creators could use unusual elements to help tell their stories. That will gain more attention, which is usually what people want in spreading messages. 

Marina Gallo's picture

Genre of a woman's college

I was looking back over my notes and I came upon a note I scribbled down about women's colleges. The "genre" of them is clearly different from other colleges and it makes me wonder how long they will last. I find it to be an interesting experience going to a single sex school, but not necessarily better than a coed school. I went to a coed high school and enjoyed it. I can't make a definite decision on which is better, but I do enjoy Haverford more than Bryn Mawr..probably because I have a lot of male friends and I enjoy their company. There seems to be a lack of drama that comes along with having male friends as opposed to female.  Bryn Mawr feels like a whole other world than the one we we all soon be participating in. I found this out my freshman year. I don't know what point I am trying to make other than that note I wrote in my notebook made me think.
Christina Harview's picture

The Atheist Squirm

I kind of like watching people squirm uncomfortably in situations that they don’t like. We wiggle when we see naked men dancing on a giant screen in the middle of English class. We writhe when the word “nigger” is written on a page in a book. We do an uncomfortable jig when sexism materializes before our eyes.

To me, that nervous little laugh sounds of music, that dismissive face is the Mona Lisa smile, and the repressive comments are an invitation to feast! Dear lord! Bask in uncomfortable situations for that feeling is ambrosia in the sense of life; the food of the gods that walk this earth. My goodness there would exist no atheists or homosexuals or feminists were it not for those brave souls who step into the blaring heat of controversy, discontentment, and *uncomfortableness.*

So to those atheists, anti-racists, and feminists: read deep into Uncle Tom’s Cabin for it is there that we search for peace in our judgments. And no true seeker of truth should ever be happy with their decisions for there is evidence galore, unfounded or not, to betroth and divorce you from your beliefs. Oh my: that is the beauty of life. For if we went through life with the answer, how boring would our thoughts be? With no questions to amuse us, we are but monkeys picking fleas off of one another; the ability to ponder would escape us.

Seek out the uncomfortable situations and reflect upon them. Woe to those who go out of their way to dodge the worst of life. The ignorant, upon reflection, will always come last.

Anyways…Here is a cool website with reference to a utopian society. We discussed the possibility of a society where each person is an individual and has no contact with other humans and is self sufficient. The topic of feral children was raised and this website is a very interesting reference to that. Also, please indulge me in a little squirming/laughing.

I expect some replies to this message, maybe even a few questions. Let’s actually get the dialogue rolling here, people. Expect exuberant replies.



M. Gallagher's picture

Inadequate comment, but a thanks-

I quite like to watch others squirm, as well--until it gets somewhat painful-- and rather find myself constantly engaged in squirming when I'm confronted with any type of new situation, let alone racism or religious zealotry (actually I've gotten far more able to address the last two in past years due quite aptly to seeking out these uncomfortable situations upon which to reflect). I plan to approach head-on, in due time, all other squirm-inducing situations I can, uh, wriggle into?

Anyhow, I mostly wanted to thank you for the feralchildren website because it looks fantastic even though I haven't had much time to explore it. Also, I missed the discussion in class, so I'm interested in the topic as I know nothing about it. In response to the other website, I can't help thinking of this old classic:

Bonsai Kitten

Claire Ceriani's picture

I wouldn’t say that

I wouldn’t say that thinking about UTC as a romantic representation increases its use-value, but it does change my perspective on it.  I think its use-value lies in the social context in which it was written.  It may be offensive to people now, and it may be a story skewed by the author, but it was still a critical catalyst for social change, and that’s where I think its value lies.  If this book hadn’t made the social impact it did, I really doubt that people would still be reading it today, or even recognize the title.  Thinking about it from the perspective of romance does, however, change my reading of it.  I still don’t really like its style from a purely artistic perspective, but I can appreciate its structure a little more.  My problem is that if Stowe really did feel that she was writing a realistic story, is it worth it to think about the novel as a romance?  If her intention was to depict these people realistically (and in my opinion, none of her characters are consistently believable as real people), then should we still consider these new meanings we’ve given to the work?  I’m inclined to say that the author’s intent should be taken into account if the author herself has made it known, because she clearly believes it’s important that the reader know it.  However, I think it’s very possible that, had this story been written more realistically without all the melodrama and sentimentality, it may not have had the same social effect on its readers. Stowe’s goal to tell this story realistically and believably was not met (not for me), but her goal to create social change was, and surely that was her greater goal.  Stowe’s melodramatic style, which would’ve been a hindrance in writing what we think of as “serious literature,” was a boon in creating social change.  That’s why I continue to believe that there are different kinds of classics, and that UTC is a very valuable social or historical classic.  But I don’t consider it great literature.

AF's picture

Take it to the Beach.

Thinking of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a romantic representation of utopia does increase its use value for me. That being said, even though I get the feeling this isn't the opinion of most of my classmates, I actually like Uncle Tom's Cabin. I know shocking. 

I've always liked to read to escape from reality. Books like this one are great precisely because they are laid out in black and white (err pun not intended). Stowe makes it easy to escape into her world and gives her reader the chance to just to read without really having to analyze and pick apart every single word she uses (cough...Melville). 

But that doesn't mean I think one should look at UTC in a mindless state. Just because the story is easy to follow and uses one dimensional characters doesn't mean the whole novel is mindless. Rather, it means that unlike Melville's Moby Dick, which one has to read while alert and on the lookout for craziness, one could just as easily take UTC to the beach as study it in class (although of course one would have to be willing to put up with the stares of your fellow sun-bathers).

One Student's picture

I'd sooner read MD than UTC

I'd sooner read MD than UTC for fun, simply because I take greater pleasure from Melville's writing style, actually. And if I were reading it for pleasure, I would read it, as you say, 'mindlessly'. When reading for pleasure, I become utterly superficial regarding style; for a couple years, one of my comfort reads was Dead Babies by Martin Amis which is a satire on the 60s (a satire with a strong Gothic note ...) and it's impossible to like any of the characters and everything is utterly fucked up - but zomg the PROSE!

Over break, I read UTC standing in line waiting for the Greyhound, and I was the only white person in that line. I read the chapter in which Topsy is introduced while standing two feet from an African-American girl Topsy's age; she was traveling with her grandmother, and her mother met them when we got to Philly, no Ophelia needed there.

Louisa Amsterdam's picture

(Delayed) Reactions to "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin"

While watching Bill T. Jones’ “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” my persistent thought was that live, I would find the piece much more powerful. This leads me to think that the live dance is a separate genre from the filmed dance piece, one more focused on the visceral, and the other more on the analytical; I think the live genre is more suited to Jones’ piece. His treatment of audience emotion is also interesting, in contrast to Stowe’s method. He is trying to touch emotions that Stowe also tries to touch in the novel, but in a way that leaves more room for interpretation and ambiguity; he is trying to provoke strong feelings, but he does not follow the surest formula for making the audience, say, cry, the way Stowe does.

Seeing the video of Bill T. Jones’ “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin” immediately brought to my mind the end of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Song” (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/song-3/): “yes, yes,/that’s what/I wanted,/I always wanted,/I always wanted,/to return/to the body/where I was born.” I think these lines strike at what Jones’ piece is trying to get at (From what I understand of his commentary): Love of the body, and a visceral understanding of the commonality of the human body, is a form of paradise. I like that a poem and a dance piece can use very different methods to get to the heart of an audience member (me), but still activate the same feeling.

M. Gallagher's picture

A bit to play with for a piece

Because I couldn't remember what I wanted to say in class. And late because I apparently never finished writing this and submitting it.

On resurrecting fringe characters:

The woman/the African in a Eurocentric market: While I haven't read The Joys of Motherhood, I have read a play, "Anowa", by Ama Ata Aidoo which takes a folktale and tells it in a form of the oral tradition (which is in itself a conscious criticism of African society and the Western influence). http://www.enotes.com/anowa/ It's been a few years since I've read it, but it does reclaim to some degree, the telling of post-colonialism through a more female-centric view (though whether the piece is a feminist one or not is debated).

Fictional characters: Having come to some degree of fame over the past few years, Jasper Fforde writes books about fictional characters. "Poppycock, that's what all fiction authors do!"-- except his novels actually contain other people's fictional characters (classics and nursery rhymes mainly)- and they're the characters who police the books to make sure nothing gets buggered up in novel when the characters go AWOL etc.

His first novel was The Eyre Affair and yes. It is about that Eyre.

Basically, he makes an entire world of characters using already-created characters and labels them as fictional. And then he has the "real world" which is also fictional because he's writing it and it has distinct differences from the world in which we live (and there are more layers of "real" within that)... and relatively bad things happen when too much of them overlaps, so there are policing organizations on either side to make sure that they don't leak in too much. There is also a fantastic blurring of genres from metafiction, classic fantasy and sci-fi, classic literature, verse, and parody. But I really think I'm just getting excited now.

Have a few links: http://www.thursdaynext.com/index2.html



Click around-- he's created a virtual world to some degree- based on his "real" made in his writing but also incorporating some pictures of the actual world in which we live--, which is slightly entertaining even if one doesn't know the story.

Oh yes, and a note on the real: Gaiman's Neverwhere and the BBC radio play Undone both rather play with writing one world as real and the other as false and looks at the interplay between them, while the reader sits in their own world altogether separate from either (but still aligning themselves with the "real" written world which is available also in spoken and visual media forms, extracting the reader even further from a true real).
Anne Dalke's picture

on reality and pliability

For a related, more extensive, meditation on the "real" (and our fear of not getting it) see Really? As Pliable as Orange Peels, by one of your classmates.
akeefe's picture

"Genre" to the Masses

Over the break, I was reading Writer's Digest, and came across an interview with Laurell K. Hamilton. She is the author of the Anita Blake series, of which she is on her 16th book, and the Merry Gentry Series, of which she is on book 6. What I found interesting about this interview was how the term genre was used. The article was titled "Genre Bended." One quote from Maria Schneider, the articles author, said "Hamilton is a genre writer to the core, and she was writing fantasy, when fantasy wasn't cool. But she never let the accepted conventions of genre fiction constrain her creativity - instead she forged new genres from well-honed formulas." I've read some of Hamilton's work, and as a person whose read a lot of horror, fantasy, paranormal work, I can say that she has melded the genres in an interesting way.

However, what I am really interested here is the use of the word "genre" as referring only to a certain class of fiction, namely fantasy, horror, science fiction, mystery, and romance. Also, I am interested by the idea that "good" creative writing in genreless. Later in the article, Hamilton explains why she was kicked out of Marion College's writing school. "I submitted two horror stories to get into the writing program; I made no pretense that I wanted to write anything else... She (her teacher) told me that all genre was garbage, but I refused to write anything else. And within two to three weeks, half the class was writing genre." In talking with my creative writing friends, I found that there seems to be a stigma in traditional creative writing classes around "genre work."

The term genre came up later in the magazine as well in an article by Michael J. Vaughn, "The Popular Fiction Report." The article was supposed to give a "genre-by-genre market report," but it dealt with the similar categories as was described by Hamilton in her interview. On one page there was even a tree labeled "Sub-genres" and branching off into mystery/crime, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Thriller. Each of these branches had leaves of even more specific categories. This is the link the magazine suggests looking at for further information of "sub-genre."



What I am finding interesting is the hierarchical nature of genre listed here. This is no emergent story. Some genres seem to be clearly the favored... and then those that are favored are classified really without the word "genre" in their definition. We've been dealing with "genre" as a term that can be applied to any piece of literature, and even to many other grouping found in the world. However, the story present by this magazine is that "genre" is itself a classification.


Hannah Mueller's picture

defending these genres (and destroying them at the same time?)

That's an interesting point, that some genres are privileged by many people who seem to be deciding what kind of literature should be written or considered valuable. Then those genres get to be immune from the stigma of genre altogether. This takes me back to the introduction to Modern Genre Theory, which said that the term "genre" used to have a negative connotation--rules, conventions--but now is accepted and even celebrated as an "enabling device."

From the interview Al talks about, it's clear that the idea of genre is still taken negatively in the creative writing world, if "genre work" is so disdained. But why is it better that Laurell K. Hamilton "forged new genres" instead of fitting her work inside a pre-existing one?

I'm trying to think what Derrida would say about this. He might say that it's impossible to tell which works are "citations" and which are "non-citations"--it's impossible to define a genre because it is always changing (not stuck in history), so why refuse to accept (take seriously) a book that calls itself fantasy or horror, etc? Even though it's in a genre, that genre has the potential to morph into something different every time someone adds a work to it. Then, looking back on a genre in the future, you'll have a lot of different works that build on each other and are different. Genre, then, is more of an "enabling device" because it's an author's starting point rather than her fence.

I'm making an attempt to defend these fiction genres by asking what genre is anyway, and if it's fair to dismiss some piece of fiction because it's a "genre work" if genre doesn't exist the way we think it does, as Derrida says it doesn't.


One Student's picture

Paradise is a Lack of Conflict

"Suffering ... is the means by which we exist, because it is the only means by which we become conscious of existing; and the remembrance of suffering in the past is necessary to us as the warrant, the evidence, of our continued identity."

-Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Heaven (and utopia) require the negation of the self. Which can be spiritualized quite easily since there are religions which aim to subsume the self into the world. And wouldn't that be an end to conflict? And isn't paradise a lack of conflict?

I'd rather keep my sense of self, thankyouverymuch.

I don't much like how Uncle Tom's Cabin ends. So many characters become subsumed into The Christian. I miss Topsy and Cassy. They interested me, and it's as if they died.