Monday, March 30, 2009
March 30, 2009
“Persepolis”, by Marjane Satrapi, gives the reader a unique story of a family in Iran. The book is named after ancient Persian ruins in northern Iran. Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Persia. In many ways, Marj’s family is symbolic to the name of the book.
Marj’s family came from political power. “Since his entourage was educated, your grandpa was named prime minister” (p 23). It wasn’t too long before he was sent to prison with the charge of being a communist. This was the beginning of her family turning to ruin. Since that point, her family always fought for their rights against governments that ruled by religion. Their education was their biggest downfall against a government that shunned education over their beliefs. By the end of the book, you realize how Marj’s family, like Persepolis, is rundown.
Like “Maus”, this story is a difficult tale to tell. Both choose to use comic books as their stories vehicle. The biggest difference is that this story is told through the eyes of an innocent girl. The reader knows that there are more things going on then are being told. However, we are viewing only the story Marj is living. An example of this was when the young people are being told that their love ones were going away for a “long trip”, when in reality they are in prison.
After reading this book, you have to realize just how lucky we are here in the United States. We have basic freedoms that other countries do not have. With the exception of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we have never been attacked by another modern country. I’m glad I haven’t had to live life like Marj’s family.
Paint a picture is exactly what a graphic novel does. The use of images to convey a story that would fall short with just text alone. To allow the reader to become involved in the story by determining what happens in the sequence with closure or by seeing oneself in a character(s). All of the significance of comics described when analysing McCloud's Understanding Comics. What Satrapi does in Persepolis is allows us to enter her world as a child. We follow back to that time with her so that we experience what she has already lived being in Iran during the time of regimes, revolutions, political confusion and war.
Being a child of war is something many are privileged to never have to experience. Being apart of that environment can force a child to grow up quick and become more in tune to mature matters, unlike most kids. Satrapi was definitely wise beyond her years early on. Knowing the inside outs of politics in her country as well as being well informed of the history of the events that are shaping her childhood. Because this story is a memoir of Satrapi's childhood I felt it only appropriate that is be told through the art of comics; which often are associated with children and the medium as a juvenile interest.
Persepolis puts into images the events that could quite possibly come from an adolescent diary. I thought I've had about sharing the interesting stories of my past to others.
To me a diary is a very intimate possession but denotes a sense of publicity. Ideals and discreet thoughts are often put into a diary but with conscience notion that it can be available to others. The intrigue details of a diary help to signify and event in a certain point in time. Help a reader and author to remember emotions or specific sensory information of a time and place. A diary is away for the author to have an intimate written conversation with something else. The joy of a diary is that no matter what the emotion portrays, weather a trying time or joyous, that specific periods continues to have life. An event placed in a diary moments after it has happened can feel like they just happened yesterday when revisiting that same diary entry years later. And because a diary is that private conversation between the author him/herself essentially, a reader is compelled to become active in the story.
Having kept diaries myself for years (and still do) and being a fan of works such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Little Women, Persepolis was of extreme interest to me. No better way to explain a coming of age during a time when words are only half of what a story can offer.
I have never been to the Middle East, nor have I ever really had any friends or many acquaintances from that area. At some point when I was at boarding school, an Arabian girl lived on my floor. She was extremely private, plain to a staggering degree to an American teenager, and I wrongly suspected she was poor. Later I wanted to see where in Saudi Arabia she lived and saw in the directory that her father was a sheik.
This girl was not remotely like Marjane, and I bring her up only to point out that she was extremely isolated and that she must have felt so homesick and thrown into a completely shocking and different culture for her. Despite serious efforts on my part to communicate with her, because I was mystified by her and felt sorry for her, this Arabian girl did a sufficient enough job in pushing me away that I eventually never bothered with her anymore. Before... I went in her room sometimes during free time and she had no posters, and in fact she had nothing at all except plain white bedding and the bland furniture the school provides. Her only clothes were a few white shirts and khaki pants. I offered for her to take some of my posters and other items, as I mentioned because I had incorrectly assumed she was the poorest person I ever encountered. I was either 14 or 15 and it never even occurred to me that this was her culture/what she wanted. I finally stopped visiting her because she would always ask me to leave because she said she had to pray. At the time, I thought it was just under the guise that she had to pray, but now I understand she likely really did have to pray. She never wanted to go out, borrow clothes, do anything I, or the other students, found remotely fun. Also, I recall her making some pretty shocking statements about "your" culture and how it's basically awful. I wanted to say, then why did you come to school in Massachusetts??? Of course, I did not dare.
I think Marjane and I might have gotten along better, but I felt sorry for Marjane as she left her country. Marjane and her family's rejection of the limitations in Iran, particularly for women were brave, and admirable, but that does not mean that people should not have freedom to believe what they want. The problem is forcing others to share those beliefs and denying rights over it that is wrong. I am embarrassed for our country's role in helping the Shah come into power, and do not blame people who suffered as a result for the resulting resentment. I feel sorry for the people of Iran who were hoping for improvement and then suffered worse under the Ayatollah. I think Marjane Satrapi accomplishes her goal of showing the reader that not all people in Iran are connected "with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism."
As in Understanding Comics and Maus II, the drawings in this book enable Satrapi to really show feeling through the images of the face. She was a precious looking girl who easily captured the reader's interest and sympathy. For instance, when she was crying in the middle of page 53 and the reader just wants to give the little girl a hug. Of course at the end, there was apparent pain when she looked back and saw her mother in her father's arms, and I just could sense the culture shock that would ensue when she arrived at school overseas.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
March 29, 2009
In 1979, during the Iran Hostage-Crisis, President Jimmy Carter openly questioned the Ayatollah’s interpretation of the Koran as being a misrepresentation of the ideology and intention of Islam. Carter had intended to initiate a dialogue with the Ayatollah on his own terms – theocracy. However, what Carter did not fully realize at the time, and what many American’s still do not realize today, is that those questions relevant to Islam and this political situation are not a functional field of discourse – as the Ayatollah reminded Carter before he refused to release those American’s held hostage in the Embassy. The Ayatollah’s, or any other fundamental, interpretation of the Koran and Islam may be flawed in some respect but these flawed or corrupted interpretations are such not because of their education or theocratic understanding but, in many respects, because they cannot be anything else. A thorough reading of Islamic discourse shines no light on contemporary regional politics, however, a glance at Franz Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth and/or Satrapi’s Persepolis provides a profound analysis of the people who live in this, or any, Muslim nation.
The violence endured by the peoples of ancient Persia over the past century – from WWI to the Cold War to the Revolution in 79’ – has been the violence of (neo) imperialism. This violence, like all violence, has exasperated the experiences of the Iranian people because, amongst other consequences, they have been forced to endure the subjectivity, and associate isolation, of modern society. Seemingly, for at least the past half-century, the question of Islam has been the only pertainent question of/for the people in the Middle East. However, this question is completely unanswerable, because in many respects it is completely irrelevant: the people of the Middle East have, seemingly, universally accepted fundamental interpretations of Islam because it represents the/an antithesis of, what they view, as their western oppressors. Thus, Islam has been assumed by large segments of the population as an affront to western civilization.
The question(s) of Islam are the last, not the first, question that must be asked of the people living in the Middle East. Further, if other issues can be resolved the questions of Islam may resolve themselves as the people’s reliance upon it becomes diminished. In this light, Satrapi and her family are at once the stereotypical Iranian family, divided between their past and their future and, perhaps, the stereotypical modern family, because of the challenges of modern culture: they have been severed from their past by larger cultural forces and are now left to ask, ‘what does it all ‘mean’.’ They no longer have an uncomplicated relationship to their home nation, to the people of their home nation, or, in some respects, even to themselves. Their very existence has been complicated by the processes of modern international reality(ies).
I want to offer McCloud’s appropriation of ‘closure’ as a suitable interpretation of the problems presented in Persepolis. However, I do not know that the media of comics and its philosophical underpinnings offer a more suitable engagement of the larger geo-political problems presented in the text – I do not know if cognitive engagement can offer an appropriate response to the problems of the Middle East. However, at best, perhaps, the comic media offers a unique means of addressing a world detached from itself. Because comics are a ‘duplicate’ media – they mirror reality without ever proposing to be ‘real’ – they allow the individual to assess their own condition. Comics, maybe better than other media, allow the subject to explore themselves as such and thus allow the individual to see their surrounding as a collection of signifiers and, perhaps, themselves as a signifier simultaneously reflecting and creating one’s self.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Scott McCloud uses his professional and artistic medium to define the art of comics. The definition established in the beginning is comics are juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an esthetic response in the viewer (McCloud 9). This book was extremely interesting to me because I have never been a fan of comics. Honestly until this year and taking this class I wasn’t even aware of what a graphic novel was. If I were to pick up Art Spiegelman’s Maus a few months ago I would have just assumed it was an adult comic book.
Learning about and understanding comics is beneficial to understanding how we see ourselves and our own face. McCloud states that we see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist (McCloud 33). Yet even though we are able to see ourselves in almost anything the visual we have of our own face is somewhat generic and cartoony. That is why comics have such an effect on so many worldwide. We are able to become the characters in the comic because the way we see ourselves is similar to the way the comics is drawn.
When reading comics our minds do the same automatic things they do in everyday life to understand the world around us. We fill in information that we know is there even though we can’t see it. McCloud uses the example that even though you cannot see his legs in the panel we assume that he has legs and they are below him. As far out as comics may seem to reality they are more closely related than most think. At least I thought before reading this book. Comics takes everything: time, senses, emotions, space, and represents them all with symbols; signifiers.
As with any art form, "The world of comics is a huge and varied one." (p.4.) The world of painting is huge and varied, as is writing, sculpture, film, etc. The history that McCloud provided helped the reader see the evolution of his art form from thousands of years ago to the present day. In so doing, he made it seem less like an art form which appeals mainly to children and more of an important world signifier meant for all ages, depending on content, of course.
By using language along with pictures, the author is able to force the reader to stop and think carefully about what is drawn and written. For example, with "a printed copy of a drawing of a painting of a pipe," (p.25) the reader can see that there is depth beyond initial comprehension when looking at a comic book. Comic strip sequence, detail, color, motion and vocabulary are all parts of the way a comic can manipulate his/her work to appeal to the reader/viewer.
Apart from my adoration of cartoons such as those in the New Yorker magazine, and an occasional pause for Garfield or Cathy comic strips, I haven't really exposed myself to comics much. McCloud's book helped me to appreciate, if not enjoy, the artistic ability and tactics used in compiling comic books.
A lot of the art of comics that McCloud discusses is noted as "invisible." Recently, I was subbing for math and the class was to work on division. They had to solve 25 division problems, each with a numerical answer corresponding to a letter. At the bottom of the worksheet was a puzzle with numbers listed under spaces, and as the students solved the division problem, they were to fill in the spaces with letters to create words. When it was complete, one could see an answer to the question above, "What coin doubles in value when half is taken away?" The answer that was found was, " A HALF DOLLAR." No student in the class understood the answer. No matter how much I thought about it, I too could not explain the answer.
Later that night, I was still thinking about it, embarrassed that I couldn't offer the students an decent explanation for the riddle. There were drawings of all different coins and a paper dollar on the side of the page, which seemed like semiotics, but only added to my confusion. Finally I realized the answer, though too late to clarify it for the students. This is one example I can think of in real life where semiotics were not a helpful means of communication for me and only distracted me from thinking of the correct answer to the puzzle. Nevertheless, I see that a comic's use of semiotics can be beneficial to the type of art they are creating. I am likely not going to rush to Barnes and Noble in search of comic books, but I am so glad glad McCloud opened my eyes to understanding them.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
March 22, 2009
The central focus of “Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” seems to be an articulation of the origins and potential significance of, what he calls, ‘closure.’ For McCloud, the idea that comics mimic the processes of everyday cognition through the process of closure makes comics a unique media. As McCloud notes, Marshal McLuhan first theorized that comic books were one of two “cool” media – media that has the ability to ‘involve’ the audience. This phenomenon thus makes comics as a unique media that deserve more than passing pop-culture recognition.
Because of the process of closure the mind is forced to ‘fill-in’ the gaps and thus requires the mind to build a bridge, so to speak, from one frame to the next. This bridge which is built over the ‘gutter’ of the comic actually helps the mind to understand the flow of the strip, and to remain engaged in the process of reading. Because the mind is permitted to fill-in the gutter with whatever fill it chooses, the mind, according to McCloud, actually finds the movement from event to event, or scene to scene, less contrived that a ‘traditional’ media: the mind understands the movement of characters or plot as it deems appropriate. Further, because the mind is granted the power of choice it is continually involved in the process of creation. In this way the strip is never fully complete. Further, one could argue that a comic strip is an infinitely unfinished effort because the ‘final’ work is always and continually reinterpreted by each viewer.
Similarly, the comic strip ‘forces’ the reader in ‘involve’ themselves into the story because they are continually, and in varying ways, invited to envision themselves as the comic. McCloud notes that artists like Art Spiegelman purposefully place masks onto their characters so that the reader may understand that character from an infinite number of perspectives: the reader is invited to project h/er own expectations onto the character present in the work. However, as McCloud also mentions, the reader can be alienated from the same character or object if the artist chooses to ‘objectify’ the agent. According to McCloud, this is often done by providing the object with an abundance of detail relative to the background against which it may be placed. Thus, the artists may manipulate the reader and force/ allow the individual to be either active or passive in their participation depending on what the artists deems appropriate.
This pattern is further complicated by the interplay of images and words that, through the use of image based or language based abstraction(s) allows the reader to float in and out of participation. As an example, the artist may abstract language just as an image is reduced to a series of interpretive lines so that the reader is forced to infer what is or is not intended in the work. As McCloud articulates in his ‘cosmology of comic expression,’ (p. 52) the artists can chose the type and method of ‘closure’ s/he wishes so to generate the effect s/he envisions: abstract images, poetic language; base language realistic imagery etc.
Personally, I do not argue with McCloud’s understanding of the process of closure and how it is manifested in comics. However, and perhaps this is, more precisely, a critique of McLuhan, I do not understand the difference between Art Spiegelman and Ernest Hemmingway. If, as McCloud argues, Spiegelman’s art functions because of its use of closure and its subsequent manipulation of faces, language, and reader involvement than I question how these process differ from “Hills Like White Elephants.” In this short story Hemmingway allows the reader to become a voyeur, who, unaware of the origins of the argument that dominates the story, is invited to interpret, deduce, and, if all else fails, insert one’s own understanding so that the story may take shape around a, now, assumed narrative. True, this is not an example of closure, but it is a manipulation of the reader by the artists and it is the involvement of the reader at the behest of the artist.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Stereotypes are too common in society. Groups or niches use descriptions to distinguish themselves from others; however, stereotypes are given to a group by an outsider. More often stereotypes are made from a derogatory generalization because the outsiders are fully unaware of the processes of a group. Stereotypes evolve from jealousy, hatred, and ignorance; all very negative traits. And believing in a stereotype is evidence of close-minded thinking as well as a sense of prejudice.
Spiegelman was able to use the stereotype given to the Jews by the Germans as vermin as a metaphor for the different categories people, individuals, were forced into because of differences beyond their control.
My undergrad roommate is a part of a well known national sorority. The women of the sorority have a stigma of being prudes, junior yuppies, Stepford Wives in training and just over all boring according to the standards of college life. A common nickname to degrade these women is Cake Bakers. Mostly by rival sororities, this sorority has had this long standing stereotype because of the kind of women that decide to be apart of the sisterhood. Most of the women, excluding my roommate however, were nothing like the Cake Baker stereotype. They were very open-minded, had bigger plans than marrying rich out of college and could party with the rest of us Frostburg Bobcats. I got to know these women through my roommate, classes, and Greek life events (being apart of a sorority myself).
These women were smart. So smart in fact they decided to use the stereotype to their advantage. As advertisement for the sororities Fall Rush all the women wore t-shirts with giant cakes on them and written above the cake was the question “Want a piece?” This tactic was cleaver to me because not only did they make light of the stereotype they showed rivals that they were not afraid. They proudly sported those red t-shirts around campus for the better part of the semester. They showed others that they couldn’t be kept down by ignorance. The t-shirts were effective because it made people ask questions. I forced people to open up to them to find get the story behind the shirt. And with getting the story behind the shirt you received the story of the sisterhood.
When a group is stereotyped individuality is non-existent. The group is a collective and all actions and ideals are the same throughout. But we know that is untrue. We know that they majority of the time not all blonde women are ditzy or have low IQs. We know of an elderly person with an impeccable driving record yet when we are behind an elderly person in traffic we curse their very well being. This is because we don’t know them individually. We haven’t had the time to look into their face. Or hear their views on the world compared to our own. The Nazi’s hated the Jews because of their faces but only after their faces all became the same to them. That is what stereotyping does. It blinds the barriers and borders that make us separate in a common collection. Once the stereotypes are erased the lines of the face become more defined.
Monday, March 16, 2009
“Maus II”, by Art Spiegelman, offers readers a unique way of telling the story of the holocaust. Spiegelman’s choose to tell his story in a graphic novel. Using this format, the readers get a visual story that focuses on images rather then just the words.
The Book begins with Artie deciding on drawing Jews as mice. Spiegelman humanizes and personalizes certain animals throughout “Maus II”. The Jews were mice, German’s were cats, Russians were pigs, and the Americans were dogs. By just looking at these animals, naturally, you know who didn’t get a long. This is a great visual device so readers already know something about a character before the character is formally introduced to us.
When chapter two begins, the book takes a brief detour from the story. Spiegelman brings us into his studio as he works on “Maus II”. On page 41, we see Spiegelman drawing, but he is a human wearing a mouse mask. It doesn’t stop with just Spegelman, every human in the beginning of chapter two is wearing a mask that follows the humanized animals. This is so unique, that we are briefly out of the story but all of the characters still have faces of their animals. In an added bit of humor, on page 43, the last cell on the bottom right has a picture of a cat in his doctor’s office. An arrow points to the picture saying, “Framed photo of pet cat, really!” (p 43). That is just too funny, making sure the viewer doesn’t think it’s a picture of a German. Earlier on that same page, Spegelman mentions that his Doctor’s office is overrun with stray cats and dogs. Once again, in a bit of humor, a box says “Can I mention this, or does it completely loose up my metaphor?”(p 43).
“Maus II” is a new approach to a much told story. Spiegelman successfully tells a painful and tragic story in a way that anyone could understand. By using a graphic novel of animals, the story isn’t as personal.
Since the author grew up in New York, his ideas of these animals are likely similar to ours. Mice are cute little creatures, but can pose a pest problem and nobody wants them around, certainly not inside the home or eateries. Bobcats are dangerous carnivors. Pigs are pretty much gross. The author used animal faces, but the animals were wearing human clothes, consistent with the time period and position of the character. Despite the story being mainly about someone so familiar to the author, his own father, he chose to make all the Jewish characters similar looking mice, rather than individuals. It is a powerful technnique for a graphic book, as the reader is forced to inject their own perceptions onto the characters. Normally in comics or movies, or other visual art, we can see each individual looking like an individual. Art Spiegelman still shows shock, horror, sadness and pain on the mice faces.
It was interesting that Art Spiegelman also encorportaed the family's faces, and even actual photography, like on page 100, into his book. This technique helped separate and shape the different time period. It was in America, after the Holocaust, a time which should have been full of promise, but instead filled with sorrow. It shows that the damage done carries on after the horror itself has stopped. It is carried on from generation to generation, where children and even grandchildren feel the need to know what happened. Pehaps to know enables one to move forward, albeit differently.
My father is a Viet Nam vet, and undoubtedly has seen horror that I do not even want to imagine. Nevertheless, and particularly in my late teens and early twenties, I found myself needing to know what he saw over there. Was it like movies I had seen? Was it like MASH, a show that ran for what seemed to be my entire childhood? I always imagined that maybe MASH was what it was like for my dad, even though that was Korea, because to me, at that age, it was all the same.
After years of pushing and being dismissed, my mother finally gave me an in by telling my dad in an unkind way that he should just answer my questions because I'm his daughter. "What! What do you want to know so badly?" he asked me. I asked questions such as, "Why did you go when you didn't agree with the war?" The answer was a rhetorical question, "When I was drafted, should I have run to Canada like a little chicken and never see my country or my family again?" I asked if he killed anyone; he said, "I didn't stop to check." I asked if people shot at him, he said, "No, they were trying to make friends." The sarcasm was a mask for his apparent discomfort. I could sense hurt, loss and sorrow and I knew many of his buddies died over there. He, like all of them, had Malaria, which I know not from my own father, but from my mother when I asked my dad why he couldn't give blood and he returned with "Why do you want to know?" The other things I know, other than sheer facts like he was there in '66-'67, and that he was likely drafted because of his poor Italian heritage, are that the food was horrible, and the conditions weren't as nice as shown in MASH or movies. I said it looks like a beautiful country because he has some beach pictures, and my Dad said, "we had to wade in murky jungle rivers with big snakes, where the bugs were so big they'd take your gun away." At that, we both laughed, and I let it go.
To make him tell more would be like making someone I love re-live horror in a way, and I didn't want to bring back any more bad memories. Perhaps this is how the burning of the diaries can be explained. Nevertheless, I think the Holocaust is an important thing for many people, particularly Jews to know about. I can't even begin to imagine the anger that a victim must feel when they hear that ignorant people doubt the existence of it.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
March 15, 2009
Maus II provided an interesting interpretation of the role and function of the human face in (ab)normal social interaction(s). Because Speigelman choose to tell Maus II as both a retelling of the Holocaust and as a telling of his own difficulty with the emotional residue of his family’s Holocaust experience the reader is privy to the function of the face as both a historical and personal marker. I draw a distinction between these two ideas – historical and personal – because each seems to offer sufficiently different understanding of the role and function of the human face to warrant an exclusive description of its potential significance.
The human face is one of those everyday experiences that is so thoroughly a part of our lives that it often loses meaning. It is normal to see the face on the street, on the television, in a magazine or across the way; it is normal to see the face speaking, it is normal – at times – to see another person’s face motionless. It, however, is decidedly un-normal to not see another person’s face. We watch other’s faces and we casually interpret its variations: laughter, sadness, make-up, Botox. But, we are always granted access to the face no matter how perverse it may be. This access, to the face, seems at a first glance to be of the utmost importance. Access to the face denotes that person’s willingness to be identified by other individuals living in a community.
Access to the face grants the viewer access, we seem to believe, to the individual. This is not to say that the individual does not exists if he or she lacks a face, only that the viewer is not given access to said individual. This may not seem problematic, but I would offer that the hood offers an illuminating example of the assumed role and function of the face. When an individual wears a hood they claim ‘non-participation.’ The hood does not grant the viewer access to the individual and thus does not carry the expectation of social participation. When terrorist – of any sort, Islamic-fundamentalists, KKK, ELF – wear a hood/ mask they are not allowing themselves to be identified by all other members of the community within which they are participants. This assumed, ghostlike, position allows the terrorist to be all things at all times: s/he is at once a person and a non-person – the Other in Lacan-ian terms. This Other may then act with impunity upon the community infinitely representing a threat to the stability and predictability of persons lives within that community. At the same time, the terror suspect is almost always given a hood to wear while incarcerated or, as photos from Guantanamo Bay have shown, tortured. This is hardly an effort on the part of the captors to comfort the prisoner, rather, if the prisoner is a non-entity, is unidentifiable as a person, unapproachable, as Levinas may have framed the argument, than that entity is more easily disregarded: more easily tortured. The hood allows the torturer to see the prisoner as a tangible Other that then can acted upon, that, to some extent can be controlled.
When Speigelman depicts the face as a caricature he permits the reader to glance, not at the page, but back into their own mind. The individual reader is able to project whatever image they wish upon either the Jews or the Germans the survivors and the dead. This projection then invests the reader in the story in a way in which they otherwise have not . If the reader is granted permission to impose h/er own experience onto the story than the history that it depicts at once becomes more real and more distant. The mask is able to mediate the experience of the story as a historical event for the reader. Similarly, as the story ends, and Speigelman offers the reader their first ‘true’ face – his father as prisoner – and thus forces the reader to glance back to the immediacy of the moment. As Levinas may have described the moment, the reader is now forced to face the obvious reality of the moment.
Thus, the use of the hood or mask to distort the face serves a multifaceted function. It simultaneously permits the individual and the viewer to distance themselves from the moment, but it also allows the hidden face to exists more subtly and more profoundly in the mind of the viewer. Subsequently, then, the historical and personal experience of the face are manipulated. Historically the face becomes a personal projection; personally the face, or lack thereof, becomes a threat. In the final analysis, the face, and our access to it, at least partially mediates our experience of one another, society, our the history of each.
Monday, March 9, 2009
This week’s readings were difficult for me. I have very little knowledge of philosophy, never taking a philosophy course as an undergraduate. With that being said, I thought that Emmanuel Levinas’s “Ethics and Infinity” was very interesting.
The first part that really captures my interests was the connection with the face and acts of violence. “The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill.” (p 86) I believe Levina is pointing out an inherent contradiction. Facial expressions are what can drive a person to violence, but at the same time, a normal sane person couldn’t murder someone that is looking straight at them. The face is too personal and there is an immediate connection with that person looking at you. Philippe Nemo points out, “War stories tell us in fact that it is difficult to kill someone who looks straight at you.” (p 86)
In questioning the connection of the face and acts of violence, I have to say murderers that use guns have to look at their targets. Jus t this weekend, a shooter shot a minister in Illinois. This is why I added “sane” to my understanding of Levina’s theory.
Finally, I love Levina’s beliefs on being silent in someone’s presence. “It is difficult to be silent in someone’s presence; this difficulty has its ultimate foundation in this signification proper to the saying, whatever is the said. It is necessary to speak of something, of the rain and fine weather, no matter what, but to speak, to respond to him and already to answer for him.” (p 88) This is so true. To witness this, go on an elevator with strangers. There is an awkward silence while you’re on the elevator, and it is normally broken by someone talking about the weather. And I have to question, why the weather? What makes weather the one thing that everyone can talk about?
The face is the most powerful form of communication. Facial expressions can communicate across cultures, countries and languages. But even an expressionless face can tell an entire history. I believe that I know my history, as well as my families, just because of my face. My face signifies me as an Other. Helping me to understand that I am different than all other people. That the emotions and things behind my face actual help to make my face what it is.
I often recollect being a child and having those "Is that me?" moments while starring in the mirror. I would get lost in the reflection of my face. Studying the outline and memorizing the structure. Picking out the parts that were significantly my mother or significantly my grandparents and which parts were all me. Lacan states the meaning of something is in its relation to another thing, but contrary the face is meaning all by itself. You are you (86). "Who am I?", "Is all there is to me is this face?"
After getting hired on the spot for my first after school job my mother told me I would never have a problem getting a job or being accepted because of the way I looked. At the age of 14 I took that as a great compliment but now at 23 I wonder how true that really was. And even if it is true, how relevant is it to anything that I've encountered in my life. Do looks rule the world? Looks undoubtedly fade so what is the use in giving them so much power. And placing power just because of one's face is unethical.
The interpersonal relation I establish with the Other, I must also establish with other men; (90). During and even now in my transition into adult I begin to wonder how much of my success is from my knowledge and experience or the things I'm not saying with my face. My friends find me crazy because I dread when people point out my looks. I don't want to be told I'm pretty. That statement holds nothing for me but that my face is symmetrical. Without consciences I reject all artificial power given to my face. Developing harsh biting language to outwardly express what my face contradicts.
I notice other people's faces. How their's differ from mine and with person's elder I realiz the difference is the expressions. People's face tell their history before a person opens their mouth. With the creation of history looks don't fade but are turned into experience. And often in the troubling time of life not all experiences are pretty. So in some ways I feel inadequate to the rest of the world because my face doesn't show those experiences. My face is green. It communicates nothing but that I have a long way to go.
Contrary to my "open book" facial expressions, stands my ex-husband. During the time we were dating and married, nearly 8 long years, he would get extremely frustrated with me for not concealing my emotions and putting on a face. His M.O. is for everyone to think he is wonderful, happy, and living a fulfilling life at all times, but more importantly at all costs. This is certainly not his way behind closed doors. His own personal motto (and who can believe that someone would even have such a thing?) is, or at least was, "Never let'em see you sweat." He was always fake smiling and fake laughing, and I would crave, not unlike an addict, to see him crack a true smile, which to me at the time was the equivalent of a rare, precious gem which held promise of a new beginning. Levinas describes his behavior in writing,"there is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance." (p.86.)
At first, I, as many people who fall victim to various unwell behaviors, was charmed by his life of the party behavior. At age 21, I frankly loved to party- whoa how the birth of my first son has changed me! My ex-husband was initially attractive to me for a few reasons, and mainly because his face made absolutely everything seem so great. Pathetically, I was sucked in by his very bizarre turquoise eyes that are a very rare color, a mesmerizing very light, clear turquoise. Sadly, I had not read Levinas who warns, "The best way of encountering the Other is not even to notice the color of his eyes!" (p.85.)
To clarify the beginning of this relationship, I will describe one of the first memories of a seemingly mild abnormal behavior that was demonstrated on our first date. We ran out of gas on the middle of a beach road, after I had spent the latter half of the day suggesting we stop for gas. I was nervous as the sun was setting - mind you this was pre cell phone ...basically other than the huge things that were actually attached to limos and such. He was laughing and saying unwaveringly, "This is fun. This is an adventure." As a one time thing, this may be romantic and running out of gas may seem to be an innocent mistake; after 20 times, it was not so much.
What would evolve over the years proved that events like purposely running out of gas were among the most mild of situations that this man, four years my senior, would put us in. No matter how dire, the man was smiling and laughing, like a true lunatic. His face showed lunacy. The same behaviors continued once our precious son was born, and will not be written on this blog to allow the craziness to live, even if only in words.
With the birth of love of my newborn son came the birth of my maturity and realisation that I needed to escape from someone I found extremely abnormal. It seemed almost that I was forced into motherhood before I was ever pregnant, but the unconditional love a mother has for her own baby had been missing until my first child actually arrived.
Through the years described above, I tried everything I could to defend my decision, however poor, to be with this man. I lied to my closest family and friends with silence and by covering for apparent horrendous things that my ex-husband would do. It was exhausting and I was troubled that the next sixty years of my life would be like this. Cognitive dissonance allowed me to reason with myself and believe that each new chapter or life event would promote miraculous change. Woops. Another, if only very intermittent deterrent from reality, was waiting for the moments when I pleased this troubled character. Lacan discusses this and concludes, "The subject has a relation with his analyst the centre of which is at the level of the privileged signifier known as the ego ideal, in so far as from there he will feel himself both satisfactory and loved." (p.257.) When someone is so dissappointing and so unkind and abnormal, a significant other may find him or herself waiting for that feeling.
For my entire life, I have been a very naturally happy girl/woman, until sometime in the midst of this relationship, when I stopped turning a blind eye to the array of occurrences, recurring and unique, that were not quite right, or worse. My mother, a psychologist, tried to steer me clear of this relationship from the first time she met my ex-husband, then new boyfriend. I was furious at her, and the only reasoning offered at the time seemed pathetic- she said repeatedly, "His eyes are not right, Kimberly. Please, I don't know what it is exactly, but I know there is something not right about this young man." It just infuriated me to hear her say this! It makes me, she in general leads me, to think about Lacan writing," ...to know what we mean when we speak of the subject of perception. Don't make me out to say what I'm not saying- the analyst must not hear voices."
My friends, siblings, mother, and even the man's own sister-in-law asked me to run from this relationship. My immaturity and naivete ensured that these warnings were dismissed and made me stick like glue to prove everyone wrong. These people all made frequent comments, particularly my own mother, who would say, "Where is my happy, laughing daughter? Please don't shut us out. What is happening? Where is your smile? You always used to be such a happy girl. Please, please let me help you." The morning of my wedding, my mother came in and asked if she could talk to me and told me that she would not be at all mad about anything, the guests, the money for the wedding or anything if I wanted to change my mind. I spazzed inside, but turned her down gently-ish. In the end, I could not escape fast enough once I became mama bear with a baby bear cub. I had screwed up big time and it was written all over my face, I just wouldn't look in the mirror.
In Cory's NY Times article, I think the families realized they had screwed up too, but it is so hard, particularly when one makes a major life change like marriage, to face the music when it was a mistake. With some people, you never can tell what is going on. With others like me, all you have to do is look at our faces.
Monday, February 23, 2009
The modern tattoo, especially in American culture has a lot to do with choice. Being able to choose practically any image to become a permanent part of yourself serves a great purpose in distinguishing identity. We can identify with a culture, group, religion, sexuality, niche, organization and the list goes on and on, from what we decided is most important to be tattooed. We have the choice to represent one part of our personality or all. To let every other person, who's on the outside, into who we want people to believe we really are. And with the case of tattooing you do represent who you are.
Traditional tatau and malu is not determined or chosen by the person getting tataued. The only choice available is whether you want a tatau or malu and which motifs are to be depicted. But tatau and malu is a representation of your lineage and the things that you have accomplished in your life so far. There is nothing about your personality that is left out.
In the story "Parker's Back", Parker choose any image that was appealing to him at the time he decided on another tattoo. Parker's reasons for the tattoos he bore where only because they were things he liked. Not many of them held particular meaning to him. And it seemed to me that Parker continued to get tattooed simply because he could and no one could tell him otherwise. Not even his wife, Sarah Ruth, we were appalled by the vanities of tattooing from the moment she met Parker. Instead of respecting Sarah Ruth's feelings about tattoos Parker, unsuccessfully tries to pull her into his choice by proclaiming the tattoo of God was for her, when it was really all about himself.
Deciding on a tattoo is probably the most difficult to do. Making that choice to ink anything into your skin is a great power. A power that only holds within yourself. No other person can choose a tattoo for you. The experience and the meaning wouldn't be the same if it were you're own choice. I believe this is why I don't have any tattoos. The topic has come to mind for years but every time I try to decide that, yes, this image will be the one I have second guesses. I've realized the second guesses are my consciences way of telling me that I don't really want that image to be a permanent part of who and what I am.
I've watched friends of mine decided through a plethora of images for one specific subject and then once they've found the exact one now they have to decided where on their body they want the image to be depicted. An interesting formula that can tell a complete story about a person. Having a tattoo of a butterfly on the small of your back reads a different message than having a lady bug tattooed on your foot. A person's name on the neck is a different circumstance than a person's name on the chest.
Choice is extremely important in tattooing the world. Individual choice in the modern tattoo and community choice to preserve tatau and malu in the original indigenous cultures.
That noted about the archaic flow of information, many young adults were getting tattooed, because it was cool and trendy, rather than as a form of language the way tattoo has been illustrated in many of the readings we have encountered from Oceania. Lack of research led to lack of knowledge on tattoo. It seemed sort of like getting earrings, which for me at least, was not a huge expression of language or who I am or was, but because it just seemed like it was time. So really, no reason at all, except perhaps to fit in. It hurt a bit and wasn't a real necessity.
As Dr. Ellis notes in her book, Tattooing the World, "...DeMello concludes, and most scholars concur, that in the United States the meaning of the tattoo design is symbolic, readable only by the few or the one." (p. 197.) I found this statement largely true during my college years when I would ask a friend why he or she wanted to get a certain tattoo, or what it meant. Some would reply that it was a sorority or fraternity thing, almost in a way that seemed out of their control rather than a living part of them of which they felt proud. Others would say they just like cats, or stars, or roses, for instance, so they got one because they think tattoos look cool. Disappointingly, the deeper meaning or signifier of language through symbols was often missing.
The sense that I got from O.E.Parker's tattoos conveyed a similar feeling as what I described above; the feeling is mainly one of disappointment. It seemed that O.E., not unlike numerous others, thought that his tattoos would really sparkle and dazzle. However, in reality, the more tattoos he adorns himself with, the worse he feels they seem to appear. The tattoos don't seem to flow or tell a story or trace genealogy like a malu or tatau; O.E.'s tattoos don't even really compliment each other. O.E. Parker is looking to fulfill something and when he finally thinks he is going to please the character of his wife, who is nearly impossible to please, by getting an expensive tattoo of God on his back, he is let down again.
Poor O.E. Parker is the epitome of an uneducated man, both in the way he speaks, and the choices he personally makes, such as getting so many tattoos that displease him, and marrying a woman that displeases him. This is a far cry from the language of eloquence and sense of pride and belonging conveyed by tattoos of the Maori and Samoan people, for example.
Until more recent decades, many in the US may have speculated, correctly or not, that people such as O.E. Parker were the tattooing type. Dr. Ellis writes, "Outside the Pacific, she(DeMello) suggests, tattoo became associated with the working class; today many people acquire tattoo only after dissociating it from those connections." (p. 198.) We do not know where O.E.Parker is exactly, though it is likened to Birmingham, Alabama, but tattoo has certainly evolved to encompass a wider socio-economic clientele over the years.
On a very different note, Wendt writes a short story based on his only tattoo, or at least his only tattoo at the time of writing "Afterword:Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body." His story, "Cross of Soot," tells an enchanting tale of a boy becoming a man after sneaking into a prison and receiving a tattoo from an inmate there. The inmate, however, was unable to complete the tattoo, yet it still depicts an important and significant image of a cross, a universal symbol, which is at least recognized globally as something. What a cross is, is left to personal interpretation. Nevertheless, this tattoo, which was meant to be a star, is a symbol of pride and entry to manhood, not an unfinished emblem of shame.
It appeared to me that the old man who was tattooing the boy was going to leave the prison and be freed, exonerated, as his family had arrived. After reading Dr. Ellis's interpretation of the man being on death row and leaving to be executed, I was disappointed at the bleakness of the situation. Still, the man passed on something special to the boy, and that appeared positive nonetheless.
The story of Tyson and his tattoo made me think back to O.E.Parker. I felt somewhat saddened that our culture, or at least some people feel our culture in America, has stolen tattoo. As evidenced by the seemingly cavalier way a man got a tattoo of a Maori woman's moko put on his face in L.A., (p.198.) we can see why some people believe that their culture is being stolen and tarnished. That said, there are certainly many people who fully grasp the gravity of tattoo and carefully plan what they are having put on their body. It is an art form, and a language, to which anyone should be entitled, however, attention should be paid to the design being original as to not take something personal from another culture. Still, copying is a high form of flattery.
As many of you know, I play hockey for Loyola College. I am one of the goaltenders for our roller hockey team. I don’t have any tattoos on my skin; however, when I play hockey I wear a temporary moko. It’s a tradition for goaltenders in hockey to have their masks painted. The colors used on the mask are normally the team colors, but the design doesn’t always match the team mascot.
Just as Parker jumps through life, going job to job, I jump from hockey teams. Unlike Parker, “Everywhere he went he picked up more tattoos” (p 428), I could never have one mask for each team I play with or have one mask with various multiple images that would keep on growing. I decided to have a mask painted with neutral colors and a design that reflexes me more then the team that I play for. I choose a Lacan design as opposed to a team design.
Most goaltenders will get their masks painted with some sort of design that is based off the teams’ mascot. So, if the team’s mascot is the Eagles, then more likely, goaltender would have an Eagle on their mask. I have a connection with music, and that was how I choose my current mask design. One of my older teams would come out before a game to a song by the band White Zombie. So, I based my “hockey moko” with the theme of zombies.
Parker decided to get a tattoo of God on his back, as I finally decided to get a zombie designed goalie mask. Parker’s decision was based off of Sarah Ruth and questioning what God would say about Parker’ life. “At the judgment seat of God, Jesus is going to say to, what you been doing all your life besides have pictures drawn all over your?” (p432) So as a way of defying, and maybe in some sort of way connecting, to Sarah Ruth, Parker had God tattooed on his back. I based my mask off zombies in a hockey graveyard. Parker’s tattoo was for Sarah Ruth. My mask was design to intimidate the other team.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
February 22, 2009
‘Why, what were you thinking?’ was all I could think. When, several weeks ago two of my students were comparing there recently inked tattoos. This was not a matter of hypocrisy, as I too have several tattoos, but an honest inquiry about the specific tattoos each had received. Again, I was in not surprised that a student might have a tattoo – as I have mentioned several weeks ago, in my school alone, in the short time I have taught there, I know of two students who have graduated from school and gone on to careers as tattooist – rather, I wanted to know, and was compelled to ask: “Why would you have your name tattooed across your back?”
My students are, for the most part, the children of farmers and middle class commuters. They are not, in others words, your stereotypical urban youth who are ‘seeking to look like Kanya West or Lebron James:’ they are middle-America, whether they like it or not. The fact that such students are motivated to get such tattoos is, admittedly, the consequence of numerous developments: social acceptance, family dynamics, economic position, morality etc. But, in the end, it is difficult not to see the tattoo, or at least this type of tattoo, as a connection between otherwise exclusive worlds. And, if one is willing to admit to such a connection, than one is also prompted to ask ‘why, what value does this act have, not for some youths, but, potentially, for all youths?’
Increasingly, it seems, students are receiving tattoos as markers of identification. Which, as professor Ellis notes in her book, has been the traditional function of the tattoo. Though, what is interesting about the tattoo as a modern medium is not that is signifies the individual as the member of a community – either as a positive or negative identification – rather, it permits the individual the opportunity to say, without saying anything, ‘I am.’ The individual is provided the opportunity to understand themselves, not necessarily as an individual member of a community, but as an individual: they are granted agency.
For many teenagers, the tattoo, no matter how insipid it may seem to adults, is a marker of identification for teenagers: they are permitted to say ‘I am this.’ Though, again, the need of such a declaration seems superfluous, the better question may be, what has brought the individual to such a point? I do not wish to dwell on the necessity of the tattoo has posited by Lacan – not yet – but as it is articulated by Flannery O’Connor.
In, “Parker’s Back,” O’Connor presents Parker as a transient individual in perpetual search of satisfaction. Parker floats from job to job, woman to woman, and promises ‘never to get himself tied up.” (p. 426) Over the course of his life Parker floated from place to place, both at home and, through the Navy, abroad, with no particular purpose. He had no particular attachment to anyone tattoo, they, like much of his life, were “haphazard:” “ everywhere he went he picked up more tattoos…he did not care much what the subject was so long as it was colorful.” (p. 428)
“Parker would be satisfied with each tattoo about a month, then something about it that had attracted him would wear off.” (p. 428) He was insatiable: always in search, always hungry. He lacked all ability to internalize his motivations and found himself lost in a world of immediacy: “Long views depressed Parker. You look out into space like that and you begin to feel as if someone were after you, the Navy or the Government or religion.” (p. 430) Parker was, as Dante may have understood him as one, ‘without hope, [who must] lives on in desire’.
When Parker is eventually motivated to have his back tattooed with ‘G-d,’ he chooses a face that aroused intense anxiety in him: “his heart began slowly to beat again as if it were being brought to life by a subtle power.” (p. 436) He found what might be described, as a design that projected an undeniable sense of the ‘Other,’ as described by Lacan. A design that, to Parker, would permit a connection between he and his wife – that would permit the two of them to share a common understanding of the world, or at least one another. Unfortunately for Parker, Sarah Ruth found herself easily and fully able to reject his tattoo and all that it may or may not have signified to/ for him.
Today’s students, seemingly, like Parker, are all slogging through the world without any discernable purpose or place: they are lost in their own desires. Ironically, perhaps, the emerging trend of teenage tattoos has less to do with an addiction to desire than a sincere search for identity. A search that, even if ended arbitrarily or easily (with nothing more than their name), provides the student with a first proclamation of identity, a first step into the world so to speak. This is a matter of orientation, or place, from which the student is able to begin to construct a coherent worldview and from which they can begin to convey their self to others. This trend, if conceived of in this manner, than is more emblematic of a larger social inability to constructively assimilate the youth as individuals, than an inherent deficiency of the youth.
Monday, February 16, 2009
The ritual of tattoo in Samoan culture is a well known and scared practice. Both men and women become tattooed, on their thighs, and the entire experience has a deep relevance to the culture and history of Samoan people. In "The Who Do Not Grieve" the families of two women who were tattooed together are outlined. Lalolagi and Tausi decided to experience the tattoo ritual together because of friendship. Jealousy along with miraculous forces twists the expected outcome of the tattooing and shapes these women's lives dramatically.
Lalolagi becomes involved with the tufuga. Tausi jealous of this affair exposes her to the tufuga's wife. This results in Laloagi's attack from the wife as well as other women where she is brutally beaten, has her ear cut off and left without any help. Lalolagi's tattoo is unfinished because her body rejects the ink. After her beating she lives with the permanence of the tattoo that reminds her of the horrible experience and the decisions she chose to make. Lalolagi becomes exiled from the culture which results in the treatment and upbringing of her two daughters, Ela and Mary, and her granddaughter Malu. Mary was thought of as a prostitute and was well known among the people as such. Lalolagi has remorse from her actions as a young women and when Mary's name is mentioned, particularly by Malu, she becomes very emotional and resorts to violence and silence. She knows that the what Mary is accused of is the same as what brought a curse to Lalolagi's family.
In turn, Lalolagi places a curse on Tausi and her family for her betrayal. Tausi's granddaughter Alofa finds herself in an unfamiliar setting where she is plagued with actions of racism. And although Tausi wants to be forgiven of the betrayal she caused on Lalolagi she still passes and is buried in a place far from home. The very thing that she never wished. Alofa is left to grieve Tausi's death.
There seems to be nothing but grieve in these stories despite the title of the book. But specific grief of things that are out of the control of these women involved. The grievance comes from the permanence of the tattoo. The events surrounding the tattoo are forever etched in the thighs of these women. Even though they grieve they force themselves not be become permanent in it. "Don't grieve for the dead. If you do, dog-girl, who's going to wash the dishes?" (Figiel, 228). Reminding them of where they came and directing their off-spring into where they are headed.
I do not have any tattoos. There has never been any experience or tangible thing that I want to be reminded of at all times. That I want to be permanently apart of my body. I have heard and know of a few people who have tattoos that they are unfortunately to carry with them for the rest of their lives. Tattoo are a blatant reminder of the state of being you were in when the tattooing was done, the emotion you felt for the tattoo, the meaning of the person, place, thing that is to be represented on your body. Often people get tattoos and completely regret their decision of what the tattoo is, where the tattoo is on their bodies or just the act of getting it.
A friends boyfriend got his first tattoo a couple of years ago. Upon seeing the tattoo I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. It made no sense to me, at the time, it was very plain and in a very noticeable but unflattering spot on his upper arm. He says his reason for the tattoo was that he really wanted to be tattooed but didn't make a concrete decision about what he wanted. After reading "They Who Do Not Grieve" and reflecting of the importance and sometimes ambiguous concept of tattooing his tattoo reflects some of the regret or grieve associated. His tattoo is capital bold lettering simply states: MISTAKE.
They Who Do Not Grieve
This was a very interesting book to read. “They Who Do Not Grieve”, by Sia Figiel, was written in a very feminine point of view. The stories in this book revolve around Lalolagi and Tausi’s tattoo experience. Lalolagi’s tattoo was never finished due to her body rejecting the ink. Because of that, Lalolagi faces shame and grief throughout the book.
Both Tausi and Lalolagi, childhood friends, were going to have their thighs tattooed. “But unlike Tausi, who finished the operation, my grandmother woke up suddenly to find that the fish, the starfish, the spear, the centipede did not take to her flesh.” (p 6) The location of the tattoo was very interesting. In our American culture, getting your thigh tattooed is not common. The objects that they are getting tattooed are important parts of Samoan life and their natural surroundings.
In grieving, Lalolagi would see the ghost of her daughter Mary. “Each time Lalolagi saw Mary, she would be silent for days. Not eat her food. She would just sit in the middle of the house and look out to the sea.” (p 99) I feel that her grief is symbolic for her failure of getting a tattoo. Having a tattoo symbolizes their strong ties to Samoan culture. Having Lalolagi’s body reject the ink has to be linked with a rejection of one’s culture.
My feelings are sort of opposite to the feelings of Lalolagi. Most of my friends have tattoos. I personally have none. My friends have always questioned the fact why I don’t have any tattoos. I have toured with national metal acts (that all have tattoos), worked with professional football players (who all have tattoos), and play hockey (most hockey players have tattoos). The real reason is a fear of commitment. In Lalolagi’s case she wanted a tattoo, however I really don’t. She grieves and I’m happy with not having one.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Feb. 15, 2009
The use of the feminine perspective to tell “They Who Do Not Grieve” lends the story the authenticity of forced options and alienation that a masculine telling may not provide. Traditionally, woman have been asked to assume or understand those practices that men set in place, but they rarely are asked to establish or alter such practices themselves. Women, in this way, are the great cultural tag-along: always there, though, always in-toe. I do not mean to belittle women’s historic contributions, but I wish to convey the point that in a/ our patriarchal society the feminine is not the seat of power. Thus, when Malu, Lalolagi, Pisa, Alofa are cast-out, either by directed or voluntary exile, they tell both their own and a larger mythic story: male vs. female, society vs. nature.
In many Pacific tribal cultures tattoo’s are bestowed in stages – with age additional pieces are given. This process signifies, among other things, the growth of the individual. Interestingly, with age the individual is not necessarily granted distinction but belonging. The individual increasingly, and undeniably, becomes part of their surrounding culture. Each piece enmeshes the individual. Of-course, this also means that when the individual is denied their due tattoo they are exiled from the culture – they are no longer a member – proper member – of their tribe. This lends depth to the idea that “the female tattoo is my name: I am the fish, the starfish, the spear, the centipede that never was:” Lalolagi became the tribes-woman that never was when, in the course of events, she was denied her complete tattoo. (p. 7) She ceased to be a member of her tribe because she was not able to share in their/ the culture: she was stunted. She was a blight, an outcast – and she knew it: “Then when the plants were just big enough, that is, when the plants showed the slightest sign that they were springing buds that were about to bloom, she would weed them away. That became the cycle of her life. Every time she saw things growing – saw them blooming – she would destroy them.” (p. 103) She was, at once, both exiled from society thus forced to assume a more ‘natural’ position, and simultaneously set-against the very nature she was left to wallow in: in exile, she was set-against herself.
The members of the tribe are, to this extent, indebted to the tattoo artist who, alone, has the capacity to connect the individual, lost in themselves, to the culture they are particulars of. The tattoo is religious because it has the capacity to move the individual beyond himself or herself:
“Every action associated with the tattoo was a prayer. Is a prayer. The gathering of the materials and the act of tattooing itself, which I equate to a form of writing. Master tattooists are in this sense G-d’s medium on earth. Writing G-d’s truth, which is to be found in the starfish, the centipede, the canoe, the flying-fox, all the symbols of the tattoo, the elements of nature and of the universe that are mapped in memory, mapped on the thighs of our young women and the hips of our men. This is our payer. A prayer we carry with us. Always.” (p. 248)
The tribal tattoo thus mediates between the individual and society. It both signifies their membership and a means of existing beyond that membership. (The tattoo is a fetish item, in this way, it is an object the denotes membership, but also draws a line between one’s self and others and thus permits the identification of one’s self on either side of that line.)
Thus, when Lalolagi finally tells Malu the story of her tattoo – of her life – she is gravely concerned about the consequences of exposure: “Shhh… we have to keep the va. The space. Or the spaces in between. ‘Between her and me. The space that makes her say something like. ‘Do you want the whole universe to hear?’” (p. 235) But, of-course, this was her very concern: if the ‘Va’ – the space between one’s self and all other selves, one’s culture – is not properly maintained than the individual will be exiled, will be left alone. The Va was the very thing that was lost when the tattoo was left unfinished. And thus it was the loss of the Va that set Lalolagi and her descendents against nature, society, themselves, and, further, for fear of additional shame, left them to exile unable to ‘grieve’ for fear of a continued loss or corruption of the Va and the implications of such a deterioration.
On a personal level I can relate with Lalolagi. When I was twenty I purposefully left one of my tattoos unfinished. Through my twenties I continued to play Ultimate Frisbee and was thus continually asked by an older – forty-something teammate – ‘when you going to finish that thing,’ everyday. I am not bothered by the tattoo, as I said, it was purposefully left unfinished, I do however find it interesting that the piece bothered my teammate so thoroughly. It seems/ ed that the unfinished piece, perhaps any unfinished piece, left him unfinished. He seemed openly awkward around my leg, and forced to inquire about it. I do not know exactly what his motives were, but I do wonder if there is an innate human need for such a thing to exist as a completed work – a need that spans tribal and ‘modern’ cultural constructs.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
This concept is apparent in any exclusion of people but a big example that we are faced with today is the acceptance of sexuality. The GLBT community lives within the borders of every other person but these people are alien within their own culture. They are not accepted and because they are different than others they are told they are wrong. How can a person’s identity be wrong? Anzaldua explains her sexual identity concluding that anything that puts you outside the border and constructs a borderland around you can be trying. GLBT people are currently in the biggest struggle ever. Some say that we are in the era of a GLBT civil rights movement. GLBT people want the same rights as others that they are entitled. But denying these rights are oppression that tries to get GLBT community to conform or even fade away. But there is no where for the GLBT community to go. Like the famous saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”.
The majority of the exclusion of the GLBT community is because of the vague border between church and state. Religious views of sexual identity are leaked into the governmental rights of the people. Religion and government are supposed to be separate operational organizations. However, the views of religious groups are now written into the constitution as a means of separating people. There is an irony in the conjoining of two different things to separate equal parts.
Just like the Chicanos and African-Americans, a GLBT movement is well deserved, especially now in the wake of the outcome of Proposition 8 in the 2008 election. There have been rallies, protest and seminars about what can be done to overturn the Prop 8 decision. The GLBT community shows that they will not comply with the standards that are set in place to dehumanize a large population. Just like Kolvenbach states, “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change”, positive mainstream views of homosexuality try to blur the boundaries within this culture. More and more homosexual artist, writers, such as memoirist Augusten Burroughs, and public figures are bringing GLBT issues to the forefront. Our culture can accept it or reject it but those who don’t accept don’t have the power to change.
Monday, February 9, 2009
A border is a line that separates two objects. In “Borderlands”, by Gloria Anzaldua, she describes borders in a more personal approach. Anzaldua wrote a collection of tales describing her personal issues and conflicts with culture, religion, and sexuality.
Azaldua begins by saying, “Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them.” (p 25) I thought this was a great way to introduce the reader to the author’s use of symbolism. Throughout “Borderlands”, Anzaldua talks about her own personal cultural strife and how she “crossed” her symbolic border into the world that she lives now.
Being Chicano, Azaldua describes her cultural beliefs as male defined. “Culture is made by those in power-men. Males make the rules and laws; women transmit them.” (p38) She also talks about sexuality in culture, “If a women doesn’t renounce herself in favor of the male, she is selfish. If a woman remains a virgin until she marries, she is a good woman.” (p39) The culture Azaldua grew up with she ultimately rebels from by questioning the role of women in Chicano culture. The border is set in Chicano culture, but Azaldua crosses that border by rebelling and believing in her own role of women in her world.
Throughout “Borderlands” we get glimpses of Anzaldua’s spiritual beliefs. We do know that she was raised catholic (p 41). Anzaldua talks in detail on how the Aztec gods became a part of Roman Catholic religion in chapter 3. “The male-dominated Azteca-Mexica culture drove the powerful female deities underground by giving them monstrous attributes and by substituting male deities in their place, thus splitting the female Self and the female deities.” (p 49) Again, Anzaldua points out that just like culture, religion is male-dominated. Women were symbolized as serpents in Aztec religion. In Protestant and Catholic religion, a serpent is associated with evil. We get deeper insight on Anzaldua’s faith with this comment, “In my own life, the Catholic Church fails to give meaning to my daily acts, to my continuing encounters with the “other world”. It and other institutionalized religions impoverish all life, beauty, pleasure.” (p 59) I get the feeling that just like her culture, Azaldua crossed the border into a new world of spirituality.
Azaldua comes out and clearly states that she is a lesbian. She refers to her sexuality as “Intimate Terrorism”. She is rebelling against the male culture by using her sexuality as a weapon. “No, I do not buy all the myths of the tribes into which I was born.” (p 44) Anzaldua is building a new culture of her beliefs.
In Baltimore, I would make the connections of borders with opposite communities. Last semester, I did a project comparing the Penn Lucy and Guilford communities. These communities are only separated by 20 feet of pavement, but they are totally opposite. This comparison is very symbolic to Azaldua’s beliefs and the culture she grew up in. These are two different worlds. Penn Lucy is a community of poverty where as Guilford is a wealthy community full of Baltimore’s elite. Only a border of pavement separates these two neighborhoods.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
"want(ed) the freedom to carve and chisel (my) own face." (p. 44)
Despite all that she condemns, Gloria Anzaldua strives to preserve her culture and her roots, including their various languages and the knowledge of their ancestry, including "Indians," by which she is referring to Native Americans in today's language. It almost appears hypocritical considering the poems and writings describing the pain and violence, sexism and racism and homophobia in the region between Mexico and the US. The ties that Gloria Anzaldua feels to her culture and her interest in preserving and educating about her culture are self-justified. Anzaldua writes, "I feel perfectly free to rebel and to rail against my culture. I fear no betrayal on my part, because, unlike Chicanas and other women of color who grew up white or who have only recently returned to their native cultural roots, I was totally immersed in mine." (p.43)
This is likely a familiar feeling to many- we can say something negative about ourselves like, "Wow, I sure have gotten plump after having some kids," but if an old friend from high school said the same, it would be received as rude or hurtful. Gloria Anzaldua feels so strongly tied to her culture, and clearly knows it so well as illustrated in her writing, that she is her culture and she can speak freely about herself.
Part of the freedom that she expresses in her writing is the style she uses. Jumping from Spanish to English is unique and not limited by borders such as chapters or specific poems. She intermingles tongues freely throughout the text and I wouldn't hesitate to assume it goes deeper than the two languages noted above. Though I am not familiar enough with the various dialects that Anzaldua associates herself with, (Standard English, working class and slang English, Standard Spanish, Standard Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish dialect, Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, and Pachuco,) (p. 77)I would assume that they are all interspersed in her writing, as she is writing as she pleases, sans limitation. Anzaldua is writing honestly and openly about herself and her culture, and in that altering the cultural map while freeing herself.
An important theme which rises again and again throughout her writing is the abuse and the alteration of her cultural and geographic maps at the hand of Anglos/whites. She refers a few times to the unfounded cruelty inflicted on her and her classmates at the hand of white school teachers, and it is further evidence that the difficulties in her life extended far beyond the borders of the ranches where she lived, even into a school setting where teachers should be protecting and helping the children. Instead, the Chicanos/as are punished for being themselves, but clearly have not suppressed Anzaldua from growing into a woman who "survive(d) the borderlands" and "live(d) sin fronteras." (p.217) The reader is invited into the past, as well as the present, to see how Anzaldua has been harmed and how these serpents continue to re-visit her throughout her life; they are her. Nevertheless, she is going to draw attention to this culture in hopes of preserving it, but allow someone who is non conforming to it, such as herself, to be a part of it.
Recently, on the Baltimore news, there was a rally to stop the frequent murders in the city. Often young black men are the targets for the ruthless and mindless loss of life. Instead of drawing thousands, as was hoped, the rally drew dozens, hopefully not symbolizing that our local culture is not ready to join together to stop these horrid occurances.
Marvin "Doc" Cheatham has nearly quit being the leader of Baltimore's NAACP chapter. When one views the disappointment of such low attendance at a rally of such high importance on the local news, it is easy to see why the leader may be discouraged. However, he has not given up for his race, and he carries on with his mission. This reminded me of Anzaldua and how she carried on to preserve her culture, though there were many devastating aspects of it. She became a teacher to young Chicano/as, just as Cheatham tries to educate Baltimoreans.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
The socio-spatial approach…sees the conflict between ‘abstract space’ (how government and real estate actors think about space for political or economic gain) and ‘social space’ (how people think about the place where they live) as a central issue in urban research…We can apply these ideas to neighborhood decline. Neighborhoods may be ‘written off’ by banks or landlords (abstract space), but can be considered desirable living environments for others (social space). (p. 1064)
Thus: “real estate actors [bankers and politicians] do not simply limit their risk in low-income neighborhoods, but actively or passively structure the process of neighborhood decline.” (p. 1081) It is reasonable then to argue that such slum areas, such blights on the urban landscape as Cherry Hill, are, at least partially, made – they do not simply ‘happen.’
Gloria Anzaldua’s “Borderlands/ La Frontera” tells her story from childhood to womanhood and along the way details her problems of place and person – the same problems found amongst the youth who are raised on
The land has been disregarded as irrelevant, at best, a danger most other times. The borderlands – all borderlands, urban and rural – have been partitioned by the American public and left to atrophy. This, of course, is fantastically problematic for those who were born, raised, and continue to live on these lands: “only through the body, through the pulling of flesh, can the human soul be transformed. And for images, words, stories to have this transformative power, they must arise from the human body – flesh and bone – and form the Earth body – stone, sky, liquid, soil.” (p. 97) Anzaldua testifies that her existence has been made problematic because the connection between her and her land was severed. She, as a result, is unable to realize her self, she is unable to transcend her ‘condition.’
Anzaldua, it may be argued, is the victim of a ‘cultural redlining’ that creates/ permits the social and personal problems now inherent to her heritage: “There are many defense strategies that the self uses to escape the agony of inadequacy and I have used all of them. I have split from and disowned those parts of myself that others rejected.” (p. 67) She, more than any other problem, rails against the loss of language, the violence of language, enacted upon her and all Chicanos while attending school. The process planted the seed of doubt in her perspective of her heritage: “if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language” (p. 81) Of course the problem, which extends well beyond language, though language perhaps is the gateway to all such alienation, is that the individual is left without a cultural home to inhabit – without a historical self – without a self.All such people are left with an inherent paradox: they wish to know, though are irrevocably scarred to acknowledge, their heritage and self. To do so, would be to accept the fundamental inadequacies and pain associated with it. (“ethnic identity and place identity are often the result of interaction between the self and external definition” (p. 1067)) Inadequacies and pain that are not the result of any internal insufficiency, but of perception thrust upon them by an uncaring and thus callous external force.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Tales of the Tikongs, written by Epeli Hau'ofa, is a collection of twelve stories about life on the small island of Tiko. These stories are written like oral tells. While reading this book, I got the sense of a great chief was sharing his knowledge. One main theme throughout this book is the Development of Tiko.
Stories like "The Big Bullshit', in which Pulu, a collector of scrawny small animals, tries to raise three cows and a bull that were given to him from New Zealand to help develop Tiko. Pulu fails, after having his three cows butchered and discovering his bull is impotent, he sells his bull and with the proceeds bought chickens and pigs to begin his new collection of scrawny animals. This story makes a couple of interesting points. First point would be how New Zealand gave Pulu an impotent bull which could not make calves. This was the reason for this development program. The second point is that by the end of the story Pulu is right back at where he started.
"The Tower of Babel" is the tale of developing a fish cannery in Tiko. In this story we meet Alvin "Sharky" Lowe, an Australian with money to loan for beginner fishermen. Ika Levu gives up his humble life of being a part-time gardener to become a fisherman. As soon as Ika got all of his fishing equipment and got thoroughly in debt, Sharky disappeared. After many failed attempts to talk to the bank, Ika sank his boat with all of the fishing equipment so that they couldn't repossess it. Ika then returned to his humble life. Like Pulu, at the end of the story Ika is back at where he started.
Both of these stories are great examples of how attempts to develop Tiko have failed. In these stories, the villain is the outsider coming to Tiko. The outsiders try and sell the people of Tiko that it’s for their benefit they're here, but the truth is that the outsiders are really the only ones that benefits. The question has to be asked, what would Tiko have against development? I believe the people of Tiko like their way of life, and fear the changes that these developers could bring.
One of my previous media jobs put me in a situation of being an outsider. Unlike the developers of Tiko, I was not a villain. For two seasons, I traveled with the Baltimore Ravens as a producer for their radio broadcasts. Everywhere the team went, I went. I was on the team plane, stayed in the team hotel, on the bus with the players before and after the game, and I was at team practices. I could easily make the connection to the people of Tiko and the players and staff of the Ravens. They are very tight group that didn’t trust new people.
For a few week of the first season I had to prove my trust to the team. Being an outsider, players and staff would watch what they said, thinking I maybe looking for some dirty for a story. During that time, I only got real basic answers to questions.
On a flight home from Denver, an event transformed me from an outsider to an insider. It was early in the morning while we were flying home from a loss. Earlier, defensive back Cory Ivy was shaken up on a tackle. He missed a couple of plays, but came back and finished the game. We were about three hours into a smooth flight when all of a sudden we heard painful cries coming from the players seating. I and others on the plane were then totally woken up by the captain of the plane, “Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain. We are making an emergency landing in Pittsburgh due to a medical emergency. Please buckle your seat belts, we are going to be burning threw our fuel to arrive there sooner.” With that announcement, everyone was wide awake and began questioning who was hurt. About ten minutes later, we landed in Pittsburgh. Cory Ivy was taken off the plane. This was a huge story. I had to question my media ethics. Do I call my station and tell them what’s going on, or do I say nothing until I arrive back in Baltimore?
I choose to wait until I got back to Baltimore to respect the team privacy. The choice I made proved to the team that I wasn’t after the story. After that event, I was no longer treated like an outsider. Unlike the developers of Tiko, I wasn't in it for myself.
In “Our Sea of Islands”, Hau’ofa speaks about how the people from Oceania live from day to day, not really caring for the long-term benefits of aided development of other countries. These countries, like the developers in the stories have their own agendas. I have to question, but at what point does a better way of life out weigh ones sense of culture and traditions.
Through stories of Tiko natives and the way they live, with the help of satire and humor, Epeli Hau’ofa illustrates the distinctive geography and human characteristics that may only take place in the small island in the South Pacific Ocean. In “Tales of the Tikongs” Hau’ofa presents a different character and situation with each story however the characters are wittingly related. With the use of satire Hau’ofa actually sets up caricatures of Tiko natives to embellish on the idea of how unique a people Tikongs are. “Thus the Lord works six days and rests on the Seventh, Tiko rests six days and works on the Seventh [Hau’ofa, Tales 1]”.
As the reader we are invited into this part of the world and introduced to the land with stories of young men coming of age as well as aged men working to become better off men through education, business, agriculture and religion. Many of the tales are about people on the progression of something great but with uninvited help from advisors from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. The people are reluctant for the push of development of their country because they believe Tiko is perfect the way it is, the way God intended it to be. “Tiko can’t be developed, unless the ancient gods are killed.” [Hau’ofa, Tales 18]. Tikongs rely on their faith to guide them through their day to day. And the Tikong’s faith complimented by their ideology of imperil rejection allows them to follow the teachings of the Bible but make them their own. Hau’ofa’s tales have the quality of fables and Bible stories spruced with laugh out loud humor. The Tikongs are very devout people and religion, specifically Christianity is mentioned in almost every tale and is often the theme around most. Such as when Ti, a 77 year old man who uses a page out of the Bible to roll a cigarette is haunted by Biblical spirits Joshua and Moses until he commits the same sin twice, suggesting that a sin can only be cancelled by an equal and opposite sin. [Hau’ofa, Tales 35-42].
Hau’ofa uses humor to bring attention to the way the indigenous of Tiko are treated by outsiders. “Speechless, impotent and utterly indignant [Hau’ofa, Tales 15].” This type of belittling in “Tales” as well as in Hau’ofa’s essay, “Our Sea of Islands” reminds me of the American Slave trade and the advancement of Civil Rights in the 1960s. In “Our Sea of Islands” Hau’ofa explains that the “derogatory and belittling view of indigenous cultures are traceable to the early years of interactions with Europeans. [Hau’ofa, Our 28], just as when slave trade was common in America. Men and women from African decent were made to feel inferior to Europeans and American Caucasians. This was done by language such as “boy” when referring to African men and the all too controversial word Nigger to determine anyone of color. In America Europeans used the exploitation of Africans to help develop the country but did not put much effort into developing African-Americans as American people.
African’s were made how to speak, how to behave and most importantly how to build the country into majority it is today. Europeans also taught African’s religion, Christianity, which they used to their advantage and like the Tikongs, incorporated their own beliefs. Religion was and still is a major part of African-American lifestyle. From the production of the AME church to congregations being the center of most African-American communities. Although at current I am not active in religion I grew up in a church driven household and know very much about the Baptist faith. What I learned mostly is that religion is a thing that brings people together. It connects potential total strangers and brings them closer to family. When you share a particular strong religious view with another person a connection can often be made. To African-Americans that connection reaches deep back to the roots of religion. Run-away slaves used biblical hymns to help guide their way through the Underground Railroad. Because many slaves were illiterate the teachings of the bible were passed through spoken word and storytelling without any tangible resources. Such as with the Tikongs who all follow the same similar beliefs of their faith it is there understood difference that help them to stay connected to their roots.