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Filming Uncle Tom
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2003-02-05 08:03:16 :
Link to this Comment: 4408

Welcome back. This week we're watching The King and I; next week it will be Bill T. Jones' Last Supper @ Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Rodney King trial....

so post here your reactions to seeing "Uncle Tom" in various filmic forms.


Simon of LeGree
Name: Nancy
Date: //2003-02-05 19:38:45 :
Link to this Comment: 4427

I found myself, this afternoon, alone in the media room of canaday completely bewildered by this bizarre rendition of Uncle Tom's "Little House". To see the story thrown so wildly out of its carefully constructed context not only revealed the extent of Stowe's elemental reliance on typology, but also mirrored our feelings about the novel to some degree.
"Poor Eliza, Poor Eliza" the women in the movie chant, "Poor Eliza, Poor Eliza" Stowe screams at me from every page, "Poor Eliza! Yes! Poor Eliza" my brain manifests, acquiescencing to popularized pity and compusory compassion, yet not a single person sheds a tear to help save 'Poor Eliza's' soul (and Stowe herself has told us the value of kind words alone).
As in all fairy tales (that have no true bearing on our life) the bad guy/wolf/stepmother/slaveowner/curiously named little man in the woods disappears in a cloud of smoke (or beneath a diety-controlled river, the video suggests) so the story can reach it's final destination and the people of the world can work to spread the morality and lessons they have learned: never eat someone else's porridge, don't chase a woman blessed by God across a river, and stay away from stray spinning wheels.
On another note, I'm having a hard time digesting the mixed signals Stowe gives us about Christianity. Yes, she is most definitely drawing parallels between morality and "goodness" and Christianity, but she gives us the caricatures of George, Eliza, and Tom, and she seems to be arguing against her own religious case. Tom, Eliza, and George, in that order, cover the spectrum from least free/most religious to most free/least religious. It seems ridiculous for Stowe to show religion as a tie binding slaves to masters and then to suggest that George should turn to christianity, even after he escaped.


stowe's eternal frame
Name: orah minde
Date: //2003-02-06 13:41:53 :
Link to this Comment: 4452

it is interesting that nancy brought fairy tales into our discussion. last semester i took a csem that was about how fairy tales, typological tales, speak to us in the real world, and in the present time. after today's discusion in class i've decided (my mind will probebly cahnge again by tomorrow) that the beauty in stowe's work lies in her ability to create a typological frame into which we can pour our own lives. ensnared the characters of her novel try to fight through; this is a theme that runs through history. true, the frame will never be filled to capacity and there surely will be leaks, but for the most part the liquid of our lives can be controlled in a state that can understood, stowe's frame. stowe was speaking to the people of her time but also helping future generations to cope with like traumas.

i really enjoyed reading nancy's posting though it is interesting how she portrayed stowe as 'scearming' out at the reader, while, i imagine her as an old woman giving a lecture to a mass of people. He lecture consists of two repeated sentances: "slavery is bad. beleive in christ. slavery is bad. beleive in christ. slavery is bad. believe in christ....."for the entire 90 minute session.


Re-enacting Uncle Tom
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2003-02-07 10:27:59 :
Link to this Comment: 4472

Wanting to fuel further discussion about...filming/enacting/re-enacting "Uncle Tom" for the present day....
I record here what happened in class on Thursday, when I asked you, in groups of four, to "materialize" scenes from the novel. What we got were enactments of
--Ch 7 (a dance melodramatizing the emotions of the scene of Eliza's escape);
and four modern adaptations of
--Ch 19 (turned into a debate re: the economic necessity of having an American military base in Okinawa);
--Ch 13 (turned into a conference room of a powerful law firm, where a woman has just broken the "glass ceiling");
--Ch 5 (turned into a mother initiating a flight to Canada, so her son can avoid selective service in Vietnam);
--Ch. 9 (turned into a conversation about aiding and abetting Jews during the Holocaust).

The questions I was posing, after the shows ended (and pose again here) were about the limits of such enactments. Is the typology of the novel transferrable to contemporary events? What are the dangers and the limits of such re-figurings? Did our enactments make the novel seem more applicable, more understandable, more relevant to you? Or did they remind you of the need for a kind of historical specificity that Caren Kaplan (in her essay "Getting to Know You") claims, for instance, is blatantly ignored in the "Little House of Uncle Tom" scene in "The King and I"?


the importance of performing Uncle Tom
Name: Nicole Mar
Date: //2003-02-09 14:30:41 :
Link to this Comment: 4492

One of the resons that Stowe's story in Uncle Tom's Cabin is so potent and moving is that it is so basic. Based on this I don't know how the ideals of oppression and freedom can not and should not be applied to contemporary events. I was rather impressed by the class last Thursday for being able to perform the book in ways that dealt with Stowe's novel while highlighting different but related injustices. By presenting the emotions that the characters within the novel felt in ways that we could all relate to (the draft dodging, the glass ceiling ect) I think that we are not only reminded of the wrongs fo the past but also the injustices we still face. And while none of the situations we came up with as a class fit directly to Stowe's vision historically, they were none the less valid and thought provoking. I think that the criticism that the story of the enslavement of Uncle Tom does not map well, historically, onto Siamese slavery is missing the big picture! The specific of different systems and times in history are not so important in the mapping as the message with is trying to get accross!


Uncle Tom's Cabin
Name: Monica Loc
Date: //2003-02-10 01:17:42 :
Link to this Comment: 4506

I definitely agree with Nicole when she said that Stowe's story in Uncle Tom's Cabin is potent because it is basic. I am almost done with the book and as I read more and more, I am beginning to understand what the story is slowly unraveling. Even though the previous chapters did not have much action and suspense, right now in the part I am reading, Stowe is being emotional and descriptive in the scenes. This makes the story very melo-dramatic and not seem as draggy. Though I feel that the story will end in a sad note, I must say that so far I have been touched. As for the class, I wish I could have been there when the skits were being done. That must have been fun! I am looking forward to reading Scarlet Letter and presenting it to the class on Feb.20!


reinterpretation
Name: Natalie
Date: //2003-02-10 20:39:13 :
Link to this Comment: 4520

I thought it was interesting that, by staging our skits in different time periods, we both lost and gained elements of both the plot of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the emotions elicited through it. I guess I would argue that we need to reinterpret any(???) texts from previous time periods so that they touch upon the sentiments the author intended but also relate to the present time (i.e. most of us cannot imagine losing someone we loved because they were sold, but we can imagine losing someone to death/violence, etc). This is also what an analytical essay does, in that it uses the text as a basis for the argument yet incorporates many different modern resources into the argument so that it is both plausable and accessible to the intended audience. One could say that we were, in a sense, constructing visual/sensorial "essays" with our skits- I'm not quite sure what the implications of that would be on our analysis or writing.


A psychological perspective
Name: Emily
Date: //2003-02-11 01:19:44 :
Link to this Comment: 4532

I know we already discussed this in class, but one aspect of this project I thought was quite interesting was the fact that 3 out of 4 groups reinterpreted Uncle Tom's Cabin by comparing a scene to a more modern event. In a past psychology class, I learned that the more an idea or thought that a person has is relevant and recent, the more readily accessible that thought is in the person's mind. This concept of accessibility can perhaps be applied to the phenomenon that occurred during last Thursday's class. Perhaps 3 out of 4 groups came up with similar skit ideas is because Uncle Tom's Cabin is historical fiction, meaning historical references were more accessible to our class than other ways of interpreting the novel.


In class discussion on The Last Supper...
Name: ngoc
Date: //2003-02-13 12:34:42 :
Link to this Comment: 4571

1)in our class discussion, it seems that there were a number of us see the Promised Land has nothing to do with your body and that it is the "self" that's important in this act. i felt that in this discussion, it is almost as if we disconnected our "body" from our "self" ... i wonder then, how we should define the self...what make up the self... can we possibility isolate the body from the self?

2)when the discussion of paradise came up, i did not know what to say or think because although paradise appears a'"universal" term ... there is still a root, an attached context, culture, beliefs...etc.. when it is ask for us to imagine what our paradise is like... there seems to be an assumption that we all carry a "sense", an "idea" of paradise...it is already part of us ...and our task now is to imagine one that we prefer... there is also an indication of an embeded assumption that everyone (every culture) must carry a certain ideas that is similar to paradise... i on the other hand, cannot imagine such paradise...because of who i am, what my beliefa are, and way i was brought up... while it our effort to imagine a place, a paradise that possibly include all the people no matter who they are(as Bernadette was saying)... we also inevitably draw a boudary excluding others.


Perspectives of Uncle Tom
Name: Kathy
Date: //2003-02-13 12:56:32 :
Link to this Comment: 4572

I have found it very useful to look at Uncle Tom from various perspectives, both in film and topics brought up in class. I originally felt the book was already emotional, but in a way that was very distant from my own life. By placing the story of Uncle Tom in other contexts, it has helped me understand that the text alone is emotional, but it is the ideas it represents that creates the true, individual emotion within us. The Bill Jones video and the discussions in class have shown me how Uncle Tom's story can be interpreted in many ways and that not one way is the "correct" way.


tuesday's class: representing each other
Name: Maggie
Date: //2003-02-13 14:54:31 :
Link to this Comment: 4577

Most of us did not feel any great discomfort at representing our partner's opinions or thoughts about the blackface pictures. However, almost all of us thought that we could have represented ourselves better than the other person did. I think this ties in neatly with what we talked about today in class. Anne said that when she had black students in the class, they were outraged at the "ventriloquization" of the black slaves through the white northern woman. Perhaps Stowe saw her mission as noble and worthy, and felt like she did a fairly accurate job representing the slaves. But maybe the slaves disagreed? (Disclaimer: I am not saying that the black students in Anne's previous class represent all black people OR the slaves at the time!)

Another observation about representing other people: over half of the groups tried to say, "we talked about..." and in that context, say what their partner said. That way they did not have to start out with "Jane thinks that..." because that is more directly about the other person and not the mutual conversation that people had.


From a distance
Name: Barbara Sp
Date: //2003-02-13 14:57:34 :
Link to this Comment: 4578

I agree with Nicole in that I too was impressed with the different interpretations of Uncle Tom's Cabin in class. None were repeated, each presented a different aspect of current discrimination and all in the space of half an hour! Stowe's book does have 'legs,' I think, because although one form of oppression has been eliminated, cruelty has not. Maybe the Promised Land that the dancers were searching for is that state of trust and mutual kindness that always seems so unreachable.


Nudity!
Name: Maggie
Date: //2003-02-13 15:02:24 :
Link to this Comment: 4579

I'd like to say that I think Jillian and Bernadette did a great job for the first student-led class, good job, guys.

To add to what we were discussing at the end of class, about the nakedness in Jones' last act... I agree that the nakedness is probably symbolic of emotional vulnerability, stripping away the layers that hide us from each other, perhaps that prevent us from reaching 'the promised land' while on earth, etc. However, I think that because nudity in such an extreme and personal context is so risqué and sensational that it ends up distracting the audience from the message it is trying to convey.


SO striking....
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2003-02-14 10:02:32 :
Link to this Comment: 4598

...to me that my invitation to imagine the kingdom of heaven was NOT one that had universal resonance (see Ngoc's posting, above). I guess this loops us back again to our conversation, several weeks ago, about each word, each category, having an outside (and if the category is so large as to include everything, well...it's not much use to us, is it?)

I was reminded of this chain of thoughts last night, as I was reading my current light bed-time book, James Morrow's Towing Jehovah, in which one of the characters, a Jesuit priest, thinks that

"the New York subway system offered a foretaste of the Kingdom: Asians rubbing shoulders with Africans, Hispanics with Arabs, Gentiles with Jews, all boundaries gone, all demarcations erased, all men appended to the Universal and Invisible Church, the Mystical Body of Christ--though...there was no Kingdom, no Mystical body, God and HIs various dimensions being dead....

"He turned right onto Second Avenue...climbed the steps of a mottled brownstone...He scanned the names (Goldstein, Smith, Delgado, Spinelli, Chen: more New York pluralism, another intimation of the Kingdom)...."


Nakedness
Name: Eric Seide
Date: //2003-02-14 10:57:33 :
Link to this Comment: 4600

During the naked dance scene, I took a quick peek around the class to see the look on everyone's face. I thought it was very interesting that very few people looked uncomfortable with the fact that we were watching naked men and women on screen. In such a diverse atmosphere, you would expect at least a few people to feel uncomfortable, or dare I say, vulnerable? I guess that shows that Bernadette and Jillian did a good job teaching their point.


generalization = imagination?
Name:
Date: //2003-02-14 11:37:51 :
Link to this Comment: 4601

It was very interesting to watch all the various ways that the story of Uncle Tom's cabin could be performed. I liked the whimsical tone taken in The King and I incorporated with the traditional style of dance. The bright colors, masks, and female voices gave it an almost childlike quality. I also noticed the chanting of "Poor Eliza" in it.
What makes a book a classic is that it is able to apply to any era or any situation. A book that one can relate to, a book that is a representation of one's life. In The King and I, the servants could relate the story to their own distress as servants. Bill T. Jones took another spin on it and related the topic of race that is so prevalent in the book within his dance interpretation, which I thought was very interesting as well; I rather liked it. Because Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel is so basic provoking such fundamental ideas; race, gender, class, and these intangable things can become the basis of dance. There leaves so much opportunity for imagination and emotion when one performs "race" or "gender".
In a way, because Uncle Tom's Cabin is such a generalized book, it invites itself to be recreated and redefined through time.


"52 Handsome Male Nudes"
Name: Kati
Date: //2003-02-14 14:33:49 :
Link to this Comment: 4603

Thank you so much Bernadette and Jillian! Yesterday's class really helped my in my understanding of the novel and I think that the discussion that took place in class was really exciting. Thanks!

Until reading Murphy's article on Uncle Tom and Bill T. Jones, I was still having a hard time grasping the relevancy of Stowe's novel in the twenty-first century. I realized and recognized the themes of oppression, but the ways in which Stowe presented them have become so cliche in our society today that I wasn't able to recieve them without being cynical. Viewing the clips of the Bill T. Jones video really helped me to see how this novel can be translated into our day and time.

I think that I agree with Anne's statement made in class on how she didn't believe that Jones' "Eliza on the Ice" had anything to do with women or Eliza, but in fact dealt with gay men in today's society by comparing them to this heroine of yore. However, I believe that over all Jones' creation is dealing with something much larger and universal than male homosexuality.

The original title of the last scene of Jones' piece was "52 Handsome Male Nudes", but they weren't all men! Women were on that stage too! I think that the original title was not just an oversight or change of plans on Jones' part. I think that the title was meant to imply that there would only be men when in fact there were going to be both men and women. The way this problem is working itself out in my mind is that by calling all of the people on the stage "male" Jones is attempting to tear down another one of the barriers that prevents this world from being "Paradise." Like clothes, like labels, like masks, like gender. I don't mean to say that gender isn't a crucial part of our lives, I think it is very important (!), but I think that in this Paradise that Jones visualizes differences in gender shouldn't be detrimental, just as he tries to illustrate to us that differences in sexual orientation shouldn't be detrimental, and just as Stowe (disputably) tries to show us that differences in race shouldn't be detrimental. Wow! That's a pretty big jump from this world to the next. I know that several members of the class stated that they wouldn't want to be "naked" in an academic setting, and that's great. However, I think that it's important for all of us to find someplace where we where are willing to be naked; a safe place where no barriers are needed.


Bill T. Jones
Name: Sebastian
Date: //2003-02-14 17:25:57 :
Link to this Comment: 4606

As opposed to my feelings from reading the book, my feelings on the story told by Bill T. Jones was very meaningful to me and moved me. While it is possible that the story was made up or exaggerated, it nevertheless had a deeper effect on me than any of the words or stories put forth in Stowe's novel. The reason for this is because I know from experience what it is like to hear these kinds of stories from family. I am a first generation American, both of my parents and my brother immigrated here from Poland before I was born. Growing up I lived with stories of what it was like to live in, then communist, Poland and heard stories about my grandparents and aunts and uncles struggling through German occupation during World War II. Some of my family members even suffered through the concentration camps and many did not come back or were never the same afterwards. Just thinking about and writing about these stories tears my heart apart and I can sympathize with the pain that Jones must be feeling, knowing what his family suffered through. It is because of this that his words and ideas hit closer to home for me.


Two Films
Name: Taka Kawan
Date: //2003-02-14 23:09:35 :
Link to this Comment: 4609

The two films we covered in class performed two distinct roles in my comprehension of Uncle Tom Cabin.
First movie, King and I, I was particularly interested in the people (i.e. wives and children of king) who were performing the Uncle Tom Cabin play during the banquet. When Uncle Tom Cabin was introduced to them, I thought that their perception was primarily focused on the tragic treatment of slaves and cruelty of the "bad master". Only Tiptom (spell?) questioned the tragedy of "slavery" itself by comparing to her own situation with her fiancé. All other people, who were satisfied with their life and position, did not evoke any doubt from their subordinate relationship with King, and "western education" led the young prince to the conclusion to be "better master" than his father. The framework of the society remained the same, and I wonder this is how the director saw Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In the last scene of "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin / The Promised Land", in which all the dancers were naked and showing the fundamental commonalities of human, I thought that Bill T. Jones proposed an alternative place for religious freedom in Christianity. Everybody who shares this commonality is eligible to participate in the Promised Land. Nudity, on the other hand, is one of the strongest expressions of personality, and it rather signifies "differences" between each other. Therefore, I think that this proposal is not necessarily asking the audience to "join" his Promise Land, but provoking the recognition of the "differences" between the human, such as gender, race, physical properties, etc, and Jones is challenging how we can perceive these "differences" in our actual society. In both sharing the commonalities and recognizing the differences between each other, vulnerability becomes the not only the essential process of understanding others, but also for knowing yourself more.


Reclaiming Uncle Tom
Name: Jillian
Date: //2003-02-15 14:56:38 :
Link to this Comment: 4611

Perhaps it's because I spent a lot of time watching and thinking about Bill T. Jones in preparation for Thursday, but I feel attached to him and have an incredible reverence for all of him, from his personal history to his dance movements. The relationship between Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and Jones's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has been sitting uneasily with me since Thursday. Like Sebastian, I too have family members who were greatly affected by the Holocaust so I understands what Sebastian means when he says "I know from experience what it is like to hear these kinds of stories from family". The history of the Holocaust is my history, and it is a history I share with all the other millions of people who were affected by it. The story of slavery is not Stowe's story. Though I have great respect for what she did for the slaves in helping to bring about the abolitionist movement, her words unsettle me because in a lot of ways, as the narrator, she takes the black slave story and turns it in to her own in retelling it. I think Jones also has a great respect for Stowe and honors her by the subject matter and title of his dance, but he also takes the story away from her and gives it back to his people -to whom it rightly belongs.


some of my weekend reading...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2003-02-15 17:01:09 :
Link to this Comment: 4613

...has put me in mind of our discussions of the legacy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The first is Margo Jefferson's "On Writers and Writing" column in The New York Times Book Review (2/16/03), in which she muses on what Richard Rodriguez has done in his new book, Brown: The Last Discovery of America:

"Brown," for Rodriguez, stands for everything in American life that resists fixed categories. An abstract synonym is "hybridity"; Rodriguez's willfully concrete term is "impurity." He writes, "Brown forms at the border of contradiction (the ability of langauge to express two or several things at once, the ability of bodies to experience two or several things at once.)"

I want to set against Rodriguez's use of "brown" to engage in category-refusal an excerpt from another essay which insists that we acknowledge the historical importance of the category "black." In "Race-Sensitive Admissions: Back to Basics," in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2/7/03), William Bowen and Neil Rudenstein argue that

"racial classifications were used in this country for more than 300 years in the most odious ways to deprive people of their basic rights. The fact that overt discimination has now been outlawed should not lead us to believe that race no longer matters. As the legal scholar Ronald Dworkin has put it, 'The worst of the stereotypes, suspicious, fears, and hatreds that still poison Amerca are color-coded....' The aftereffects of this long history continue to place racial minorities (and especially African-Americans) in situations in which embedded perceptions and stereotypes limit opportunities and create divides that demean us all. This social reality, described with searing precision by the economist Glenn C. Loury in The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, explains why persistence is required in efforts to overcome, day by day, the vestiges of our country's 'unlovely racial history.' We believe that it would be perverse in the extreme if, after many generations when race was used in the service of blatant discrimination, college and universities were now to be prevented from considering race at all...."

Finally, I want to issue an invitation to you to either use the categories available to you--or think outside the known categories--about the current U.S. position regarding war w/ Iraq. On Feb. 12, 2003, Senator Robert Byrd made a speech on the floor of the Senate, saying, in part,

"Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time."

"This is no time to be sleepwalking. Everyone needs to speak up, to share what they see, to contribute to the evolution of a national policy which, whatever role we play or fail to play in it, will be carried out in our names." You can join in the conversation @ The Place of the U.S. in the World Community ; you can also access that site directly from our course home page.

Anne


Finale/Not
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2003-02-18 14:40:54 :
Link to this Comment: 4656

Dear Big-Bookers—

Well, I had a FINE finale planned for Uncle Tom's Cabin, but seems that the universe had other plans for us today. Hoping you're enjoying the snow—

We will just cut our losses and move on. For Thursday's class, you should read the opening portions of Moby-Dick (Chapters 1-40) or The Scarlet Letter (Chapters 1-9), depending on which group you've signed up for. Sebastian and Phil, Taka and Monica please send out e-mails to the class before today ends, with a heads up about where our discussion(s) on Thursday might be heading/how we might best prepare to participate in them...

I'm adding two new forums to our course home page, where you are invited, nay URGED, to post your initial reactions to those novels.

Find also below my meticulous notes for what might (in an alternative universe) have happened today, had the blizzard not struck us all...

I admit that this is a little peculiar, archiving what did NOT happen, but I guess I'm feeling the need to get credit somewhere/somehow!
See you Thursday,
Anne

Teaching Notes For What Was Not Taught,
(But Might Have Been), 2/18/03

I. Cf. Levinthal's book on Blackface w/ Alan Iverson Bobblehead:
is this Blackface? (not exaggerated ...but: not unrelated? stereotypical?)


II. Linda Williams "Playing the Race Card:
Melodramas of Black&White from UT to OJSimpson"
how we talk to ourselves about race: using the genre of melodrama:
a structure that moves us emotionally/ideology of moral certainty
characters divided/Manichean good/evil
tears as visceral ethics (powerlessness or hope?)
fueled by nostalgia for a good home:
key quality/inherently conservative iconic space of innocence/virtuous victims
homey family values of UT'sC/quintessentially American

calls for more realism won't overturn deep racial stereotypes that
serve melodramatic imagination (fairy tale quality)
organizes difference in visceral, affective, morally explanatory terms

what I'm getting @ here/gauntlet on table:
is that UT'C uses a structure of melodrama that we still buy into,
if not in this novel, then in other contemporary venues—that have a long history

per Williams: melodrama of the courtroom/trial structure:
adjudicate between opposed stories, aim for least doubtable, not true or innocent
evidence of demeanor/ritual of trauma
beaten black man in Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials
iconic chase scenes (fugitive slave)

SHOW 15 min. clip from video of Rodney King trial

reactions? see the structure?
other experiences of melodrama? binary exaggerations?
any links to UT'sC? any revisions of that tale?

III. questions of truth, "reality,"
"fatal handicap" of not having experience of slavery, of being black in this country;
interest, last week, in what black students have said about the novel....
how that intersects w/ melodramatic imagination....

cf. perspective of actual slave/ book Bernadette mentioned on Day 1:
Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

when I taught the book, conversation was always about
whether we could trust Jacobs,
wondering whether her tale was sincere, authentic account of her experience,
or whether it was so artful, so calculated for effect that we couldn't trust it

I was questioning, on Thursday, your assumptions that personal testimony
is somehow authoritative: that if someone tells a story abt. their experience,
it constitutes uncontested, incontestable, privileged knowledge,
which the rest of us have to accept as truth

Sandra Harding, "Reinventing Ourselves As Other,"
says relying on personal experience encourages
what she calls experiential foundationalism
belief that knowledge rooted in personal exp. is unassailable:
used as a trump card which puts an end to argument
incompatible w/ dialogical, dialectical model of education
personal testimony can end in identity politics,
claims to exclusive, privileged identities that preclude effective political action,
& eliminate the possibility of cooperation across differences

most famous critique of the reliance on personal testimony is a classic essay
by feminist historian Joan Scott, "Experience," who argues, more like a literary critic,
that it is mistaken to accept the testimony of personal experience as authoritative
because experience is not ever an account of brute facts,
but always an interpretation of reality
when we tell about our experiences,
we draw them together into a meaningful pattern, a coherent narrative--
we make them into stories; we shape them; basically, we interpret them


Linda Kauffman, "Against Personal Testimony,"
Am Fem'st Thought At Century's End
problematizes privileging of personal experience
--as encouraging you to give in
to the flattering temptation to talk solely to and about yourselves;
--& encouraging you to give in to a certain bourgeois myth
abt. the power & autonomy of the ind'l psyche
[at a time when our civil liberties are more eroded than ever];
--most impt'ly (worst!)
reinforcing the belief that we are all intrinsically interesting & unique,
& that social justice work is about our happiness.

telling stories about our lives
can have the effect of turning us away from the work of social transformation
that it can allure us, fatally and falsely,
w/ the so-called authenticity and sincerity of personal testimony,
& encourage us to be satisfied w/ that.

most illuminating part of Kauffman's argument: in encouraging personal testimony,
we are effectively muzzling dissent, stopping real engaged conversation
This is experience as a conversation-stopper.
The real problem is that we tend to treat experience as somehow privileged:
if I say, as a poor white trash, growing up south of the mason-dixon line, I think...
you will see my testimony on class issues, possibly racial issues,
as uncontested, incontestable
sincerity, authenticity of experience appears to give me an authority
that a number of feminist theorists have questioned

Kauffman, Harding and Scott are saying that all experience is narratively shaped;
that what counts as experience is never self-evident nor straightforward,
and should always be contested, questioned
experience, in short, is narrative all the way down;

we must find ways of assessing experience : historicize it, look for consistency,
juxtapose experiences w/ each other, do contra puntal readings of competing appeals
experience as the beginning, not the end of deliberation
calls us to attend to the particularities of the case,
all the plots that might be constructed

experience is mediated socially, and we often need to look critically at it
bodily exps. may be culturally constructed, but we can get a critical distance on that

Harding on traitorous readings of our own assumptions
on strategy of "infidelity": one's own argument may become inadequate

perpetual need to expose, undermine the construction of knowledge, as we go about it

Sharon Ullman & Madhavi Kale teach history the same way,
as narratives, as plots, always constructed, and always needing to be contested

that means that one way we can think about the narrative of H Jacobs' life, &UTC
is in terms how they told them, constructed them, in terms of the plots available to them,
HJ manipulated, revised those stock plots
her Incidents are usually read as an uneasy alliance between two plots:
that of the slave narrative and that of the sentimental novel
and the conflicting ideologies of femininity that each one represents:
colonized body of the slave girl, the virtuous life of the young maiden

Jacobs draws on both to construct an alternative plot that melds the two,
figuring out what her life means, as she writes the script of her life, AND
always conscious that her audience is conscious of the archetypal/
stereotypical narratives she is revising

in its melding of two stereotypical plots, the book works to confound stereotypes,
to bring them into question...
and how she manipulated, revised those stock plots:

do any of you know the conv'l plot of the 18th c. sentimental novel?
anybody read Samuel Richardson's Pamela or Clarissa w/ Peter Briggs?
simplified: choice is virtue or death!

--Jacobs chooses neither, constructs an alternative plot,
but always conscious that her audience is conscious of the narrative she is revising

Jacobs ends w/ the freedom required as the conclusion of the slave narrative,
rather than the marriage expected as the culmination of the sentimental novel;
but it is an equivocal freedom, one that someone else,
a white woman, has to buy for her

she has had, from the first, a vexed relation w/ the female slaveholders of the south,
and white women employers of the north, who shelter her
this all comes to a head at the end of her autobiography,
when Mrs.Willis offers to buy her freedom:
Harriet Jacobs at first refuses, because, of course,
the good intentions of her white friend only serve to remind her
that she is, legally, just merchandise
this is an unavoidable conflict, in 1860, between comrades of different races

how can any bond between black and white women be sustained when
the black woman is dependent on the white one
for the autonomy that she claims is hers by right?
when the generosity of the white woman is dispensed by her buying the black one?

the next-to-last paragraph: "love, duty, gratitude bind me to her side":
I hear in that unwanted bondage, being kept in service by the pull of obligation
how can she repay her white friend, who has bought her freedom?

there's lots of latent racial discomfort and inequality within these transracial bonds
lots of inequality that plays out elsewhere in and outside the text:
for ex, Jacobs first offered her life to Harriet Beecher Stowe to write up
(also her daughter, as a companion on a trip to London);
Stowe refused both, but used a short, Gothic, romantic version
of Jacobs' 7-yr-confinement in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin

Jacobs then wrote her life story herself, but had difficulty marketing it;
eventually, a firm agreed to publish the text,
on the condition that the well-known white abolitionist Lydia Maria Child
"authorize" it, by writing a preface;
the publishers also solicited two appendices, two more validations by white abolitionists
this was common practice for slave narratives;
Frederick Douglas was similarly "authorized"

her "authorizers" testify to Jacobs' "virtue,"
which of course the narrative has shown to be dissemblance, a fiction, a lie
this vexed collaboration between black and white is played out also
in the problematics of a delicate white readership
listening to the story of a black sexual victim
and perhaps in this class as well?
the increased attention paid to Incidents in the academy during the past 10 years
has provoked considerable debate between
female African American and female white scholars,
by the proliferation of white women guardians and mentors, like myself,
presenting the text to classes which, like this one, are majority white in composition;
to what degree is this just another replay
of the vexed transracial "sisterhood" of the abolitionist movement?

okay, so what final words do we have to say about UT'sC?
what have you learned about the novel? genre of melodrama? use of archtypes?
thoughts about how best to tell stories of race in this country?


Dance!
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2003-02-20 17:47:08 :
Link to this Comment: 4713

When we were watching the video of the making of Bill T. Jones "Last Supper @ Uncle Tom's Cabin," Jillian mentioned that one of his (former) dancers would be coming to Bryn Mawr this weekend. Here are the details:

Heidi Latsky Dance
Just Watch!
Friday, Feb. 21, 2003
8 p.m.
Goodhart Hall

Heidi Latsky, formerly a dancer with Bill T.Jones/Arnie Zane Company, is
known for her punchy, quick and ferocious dancing. Her company of 12 dancers
offers a palette of all shapes and sizes -- theatrical moments and intense,
dynamic dancing. Just Watch! premiered one month after the tragic events of
Sept. 11, 2001, and speaks to this time in our history. The dance company
becomes a metaphor for the world at large, capturing the senses of isolation
and community devotion in ways both sorrowful and uplifting. An exploration
of the phenomenon of being a part of and apart from a community, the
performance is an evening of pathos, humor and exuberant physicality.

Heidi Latsky all but sets fire to wherever she treads...The balance between
full-throttle dancing and control is astonishing.Ever heard of immaculate
mayhem?
--The Village Voice

Tickets: Tri-CO Students: $5.00 - Tri-Co Staff and Faculty: $12.50
- General Admission: $15.00 - Seniors: $12.50

For Tix and Information Call 610-526-5210


King and I
Name: Phil
Date: //2003-03-06 16:53:33 :
Link to this Comment: 4977

The King and I was one of those movies which I watched often while I was younger, that I sort of grew up with. However, due to my young age, many of the themes and plot subtleties went unnoticed. Thus, I was quite surprised when I watched the movie recently, for I had not seen it in many years and remembered it quite differently. Having also read Uncle Tom's Cabin, benefited appreciation for the movie substantially. I do find it interesting, though, that in The King and I, the plot line which runs parallel to Uncle Tom's Cabin is merely a side plot. Many of the same themes, such as feminism and the strength of women, are obviously present and presented in a similar fashion, albeit more overt and directly. Anna, rather than Tuptim, is the play's protagonist. This changes the perspective is analogous to Uncle Tom's Cabin focusing on Mrs. Bird/Mrs. Shelby, while still presenting the injustice of slavery. When one considers the period from which The King and I was conceived, it is clear why this plot alteration occurred. The King and I was released in 1956, to a society, that while still racially prejudiced, morally was miles ahead of the society to which Stowe catered. However, the plight of the slave Tuptim would also have been intriguing, and it is interesting that plot change did occur. Perhaps this is due to the audience to which the movie was presented; that America in the 1950s would be more receptive to a movie focusing on Anna's story rather than Tuptim's.


overdue comments
Name: Bernadette
Date: //2003-03-18 04:20:48 :
Link to this Comment: 5048

Somehow I had missed Anne's discussion of Jacobs novel here before Iwrote my paper in which I somewhat compared Jacobs and Stowe - their strategies really. Though I came to a better appreciation of UTC by the end, I remain biased towards Incidents. If I was ever given the decision and forced to chose between placing one or the other of the two novels in the canon I would not give a second thought to chosing Incidents. Stowe did a much more thorough and less prejudiced job in writing her slave narrative than I expected after reading only the first part of the novel. However, it was still a novel written mostly from a white perspective and about the white role in slavery and abolition. Even as she writes to support the abolition of slaver, Stowe never treats her black characters as more than second class citizens. While I understand that she was a product of her time, that doesn't change what the racist, white supremacist beliefs that her novel represents. Jacobs however, though writing to a white audience, and definately playing to them frequently, wrote almost exclusively about the experience of slaves and black people in America.



Name: Sebastian
Date: //2003-05-15 12:21:56 :
Link to this Comment: 5680

I really enjoyed The King and I, and much like Phil I never really noticed the Uncle Tom's Cabin-like themes. I feel this was primarily because I had never read Uncle Tom's Cabin but also because the way that the struggle of Tuptim is presented within the bounds of another culture. It is different to have slavery of those within your own people and culture than suppressing those from a foreign land because they look different. However, I do see the connections now and it makes the movie much more interesting to watch.



Name: Melissa
Date: //2003-05-16 08:42:35 :
Link to this Comment: 5695

I was really amazed by the inclussion of Bill T. Jones in this discussion. I have seen some of his work previously in a Dance Composition course and didn't know how that he didthings suh as what we werre shown. I absolutly adore the inclusion of contemporary instances into our discussion. The film versions of Uncle Toms Cabin seemed so horrific in thier settings. I was very impressed by the time change and setting, it added to the idea so much further. In taking Uncle Tom out of the south and the idea of the present time to a more current idea made me feel as though the end of the book was more enrapuring. In that, I read in the sense of slave times, but drew parallels to difficult living situations of current blacks in Lower Income Housing.