Review of Week 14 (Nov 21) and Preview of Week 15
2:00 class (by Brandon Fish)
On Monday, we started class by talking about the English symposium last week. Anyone who attended should contact Dr. Seaman through email. The annotated bibliography was due on Tuesday evening, and Dr. Seaman will be grading them over the weekend. Our project proposal is due Tuesday December 6th. Next week we will also have an opportunity to do a blog post for extra credit. We began a very busy class period by discussing some sections of the Differences chapter which we did not discuss the previous week. Race is a cultural construct, and our ideas about race have constantly been reconstructed throughout history. Although concepts of “the other” had existed long before, the word “race” was not used in the English language until 1508. Race would go on to be conceptualized in scientific terms. This concept came through European conquest of the world, and the discovery of other peoples. We also agreed that concepts of race, gender, and class are all performative, meaning they are defined through actions.
We also discussed ideas of class in our society. While many people see society as classless, with great opportunity for upward mobility, this is not realistic. In fact, the income disparity in our country has been growing for some time, with little upward mobility. When people are poor, society often sees them as lazy, weak, or simply unwilling to work. There are many indicators we use to judge someone’s class before we know how much money they make. These indicators are referred to as “cultural capital.” Cultural capital includes the way someone dresses, how they speak, whether or not they sound educated, and what kind of cultural activities they enjoy. Dr. Seaman brought up the example of a college professor. Even though professors generally do not make much money, they are viewed as part of a higher class because of their education. At the end of our discussion, Dr. Seaman reviewed the definition of constructionism from the Bedford Glossary, particularly two statements I’ve included below in the “Quotes” section.
We then moved on to the Life chapter from the Theory Toolbox, which is available in PDF on our schedule. Aristotle separated life into Zoe and Bios. Zoe represents the basic functions of life or animal life, while Bios represents “the constrained ‘biopolitics’ of our social existence” (Theory Toolbox 208). Now we think about life in terms of science, although biology has only existed as a field of science for a couple of centuries. We got into talking about “biopower,” which is a power that comes from determining the how society defines bios. In the context of biopower, the social system for crime and punishment has moved away from a disciplinary systems, which focuses on specific prohibited actions, and towards the abnormal subject, or labeling someone as abnormal regardless of their actions. Another example of biopower is the move away from corporal punishment and toward adderall or ritalin in the classroom. In this way, biopower has focused in on defining the problem as one of personality or abnormality rather than addressing individual actions. Next we discussed resistance to power, and how it has changed with biopower. While resistance under a disciplinary system required only individualism, today individualism has become so entrenched in popular culture that it is difficult to use it as a method of resistance. With the shift to biopower, resisting repression through individualism results in the inadvertent contribution to the society we are resisting. In America, we all see ourselves as resisting something.
We also reviewed the psychoanalytical criticism of Wife of Bath by Fradenburg, who demonstrates that a reading of a text can include many different critical approaches. Fradenburg not only incorporates psychoanalysis into her reading, but also incorporates gender and class. We discussed Fradenburg’s discussion of true romance, fantasy and mortality. The Wife of Bath can represent vulnerability transformed into triumph through the tale. In her telling of the story in the prologue, sex and violence plays ultimately to her advantage in the prologue, and in the tale, her story becomes one of rescue. While romance can be a powerful motivator to accept things as they are instead of how they could be, fantasy can be a more productive alternative. In part, the Wife of Bath’s tale can reflect her fears of mortality, and represent a fantasy in which she can transform into a young, beautiful woman. Fantasy allows us to turn anxiety into pleasure. We also noted that, most concepts are introduced by using a Freudian example, but in the case of the third section of the essay, no such example is used.
We wrapped up the class with an open discussion that briefly referenced the ongoing international Occupy movement in relation to our earlier discussion of class, and then resistance to biopower. Dr Seaman pointed out that the concept of Occupation, the creation of a mini-society as a model for the rest of the world, is one of few examples of effective resistance to biopower in a non-traditional manner.
Ironically, less than two days after this class, I was arrested by the Charleston Police Department for participating in an Occupation protest here in Charleston. This has resulted in the loss of my recording of the class, which I intended to take quotes from. So, in the place of interesting and funny quotes from my classmates, I will be forced to take quotes from the readings themselves.
“The life chapter is like a self-help book” – Someone in class
“Like gender or sexual orientation or language itself, the fact that [race is] an arbitrary category oesn’t mean that it’s inconsequential or easily changed.” – Theory Toolbox p.178
“Inequality seems to widen by the day as a result of the restructuring of the nation’s tax system in favor of the rich, the removal of restrictions on CEO pay, and the massive loss of blue-collar work with the advent of deindustrialization. Yet many Americans are still more likely to blame weakness in individual character than structural conditions to explain poverty and joblessness.” – Theory Toolbox p.183
“Normative, repressive power wants to take the color of life away. While in contrast, we resist by being ourselves, having fun, being perky like Reese Witherspoon.” – Theory Toolbox p.219
“One is not born a woman:one becomes one.” – Simone De Beauvoir Bedford Glossary p. 79
“’homosexual’ is a ‘discursive, and homophobic, construction’ rather than a natural category.” – David Halperin Bedford Glossary p. 79
3:20 class (by Casandra Fitzgerald)
This week we discussed race and class in Theory Toolbox from the chapter on differences. The chapter went over how race is historicized and how it developed as a concept, highlighted social constructs, and pointed out that there are so many differences we don’t note that would have been noted in previous years (whether a few decades or a few hundred years ago). Differences were also seen in the idea of class, where we took a look at cultural capital and what dictates “class.” We pointed to things such as education (where did you go?) and how well you speak are common ways people differentiate classes or build their cultural capital. Next, we moved on to look at the Life pdf, which spoke about the way in which cultural critique is happening. Our attention was directed to the bottom of page 208, and the discussion of Aristotle’s two type so life: raw animal life and the experience of life (or the essence.) Another key point from the pdf was that life is information, which keeps life and science separate from fate or divinity. We briefly discussed the ideas of medication and therapy changing the person versus changing the person’s behavior and actions.
On race- “Conceptually empty, race is able to chameleonically adapt itself to a society’s prevailing notions of truth, drawing legitimation from them and changing as they change” (Nealon 176.)
“Making its first appearance in the English language about 1508, ‘race’ is anything but natural and eternal. It is, on the contrary, quite profoundly social and political” (Nealon 177.)
“The subject seemingly remains the same… the fact that it’s an arbitrary category doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential or easily changed” (Nealon 177-178.)
On class- “While mobility hasn’t changed, what has sharply increased in the same twenty-year period is inequality: The rich have gotten much richer and the poor have gotten poorer – and the vaunted middle-class society seems to be disappearing altogether” (Nealon 182.)
“Yet many Americans are still more likely to blame weaknesses in individual character than structural conditions to explain poverty and joblessness” (Nealon 183.)
Preview of Week 15 (by Dr. Seaman)
This is our final full week of class, and we will spend it finishing our encounter with the Theory Toolbox—and you will spend it turning in NO formal written work, for the first time in a very long time. Your final blog post of the semester is due on Thursday.
On Monday, we will discuss the recent movement toward theorizing our relationship to the natural world within literary criticism (including ecocriticism and critical animal theory) and different effects of that shift in orientation. (This reading is a PDF linked to on the course schedule.) On Wednesday, we turn to the chapter on Agency, and we will consider why the authors chose to end with this topic—one that has come up in different ways throughout the semester, particularly ever since the Subjectivity chapter. Consider how they seem to be using it as a conclusion and what this indicates about their purposes throughout the book.