Hey folks. Here’s a little random blog post:
1. This week in my classes, I’m teaching a widely anthologized and very famous critique of utilitarianism by Bernard Williams. The Williams article contains a very famous thought experiment, Jim and the Indians, designed to stimulate criticism of the utilitarian idea that we are responsible for what we fail to do, as well as for what we do.
It so happens that the very first post of a new blog called Moontime Warrior: Fearless Philosophizing and Embodied Resistance (h/t Feminist Philosophers for the link), discusses what it feels like to be a Native youth exposed to Williams’ stereotypical rendering of Indian experience. In her post, Good Philosophers Don’t Have Anxiety Attacks: on mental health, race and belonging in the classroom, Erica Violet Lee, a Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) student at the University of Saskatchewan, reflects on the effect of the case on her:
After the professor read this aloud, I sat there with every muscle in my body tensed, wishing for the class to be over so I could leave. The worst part, of course, was that no one objected or even questioned the use of this thought experiment – not even me. I didn’t have the patience to explain why it’s messed up to teach an unnecessarily racialized, stereotypical story that deprives Indigenous people of autonomy, in a classroom where you have one Native student, in a discipline that struggles with inclusion of People of Color and women at all levels.
I had become convinced that I was not welcome and that I did not belong in this classroom, maybe not even in philosophy, and “Jim and the Indians” solidified that thought in my mind. I was rendered voiceless. This is a feeling I wish I could share with the professor who told my peers and colleagues that my anxiety was a made-up excuse; who believed that I just wanted it easy.
After reading that post, I couldn’t walk in to my classroom this morning and teach the article the same way I have for twelve years, with a mere disclaimer. I shared Lee’s post and we talked through both Lee’s perspective, and also ways to get at the issue Williams wants to illuminate without resorting to problematic narratives about race and gender. I am very grateful to Lee for sharing her story. I’ll never teach this article the same way again.
2. I finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, my Big Fat Book for March. The narration is excellent, and I switched back and forth between audio and digital. I just love her writing. I love being in the worlds she creates. Here’s a reflection by the main protagonist and narrator on the loss of his beloved mother at age thirteen:
But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead. [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 93). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]
Here’s the main character describing his father:
Maybe he wasn’t drinking any more, but all the old late afternoon wanting-a-drink edge was still there, scratchy as sandpaper. [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 186). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]
Here’s a character describing her Swiss boarding school:
“And the view is like the mountain on the Caran d’Ache box. Snowcaps and flower meadow and all that. Otherwise it’s like one of those dull Euro horror movies where nothing much happens.” [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 387). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]
Loved it. I’m a little mixed on the ending. I might write about it.
3. Outlander, on audio. Ok, someone has to explain the character transplant Jamie undergoes when he finally returns to Lallybroch and berates his sister for getting raped. So far in the book, some 25 chapters or so, Jamie has been calm, rational, and very mature for his twenty-three years. His uncle basically prostitutes him for his scars, to drum up support for Scotland, and he bears it with equanimity. Same for his forced marriage. He has a wisdom beyond his years. But he returns home, sees his sister pregnant, and assumes the worst, that she copulated with the evil Captain Jack Randall of the British Army:
“Aye, so ye chose to sell yourself rather than beg! I’d sooner have died in my blood and seen Father and the lands in hell along with me, and well ye know it!”
“Aye, I know it! You’re a ninny, Jamie, and always have been!” his sister returned in exasperation.
“Fine thing for you to say! You’re not content wi’ ruining your good name and my own, ye must go on with the scandal, and flaunt your shame to the whole neighborhood!”
Gabaldon, Diana (2004-10-26). Outlander: with Bonus Content (pp. 374-375). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
The thing is, he’s not a ninny. So far in the book, Jamie has been masterful at reading signs, deciphering facial expressions, interpreting the way people hold their bodies, even the way horses move, and yet, he can’t figure out he’s all wrong about his own sister? I felt this scene was very out of character.
4. I’m not sure how I found this, and yes, it’s on Reddit, but it’s a really fantastic motivational article. This may be all the self-help advice anyone will ever need:
tldr; 1. Nonzero days as much as you can. 2. The three you’s, gratitude and favours. 3. Forgiveness 4. Exercise and books (which is a sneaky way of saying self improvement, both physical, emotional and mental)
5. Soccer season. In full swing. DS14’s team is outplaying expectations, and the expectations were high to begin with. We all have this feeling there is no stopping them. (Check back in with me mid season!) I was standing on the sidelines somewhere in fucking Massachusetts, at least four hours from home, on a Sunday night, and freezing my ass off, when a fellow soccer mom imparted some wisdom to me. I was remarking that there is so much pressure now, college coaches, showcases, national rankings. And the boys are bigger and the knocks are harder, and I’m so fearful of injury I can hardly stand to watch. She said — maybe the fact that her husband has just had a life saving major organ transplant had something to do with her attitude — that she’s just so grateful her son can run and kick and play and do something that he loves with a team he cares about and coaches he respects. When he gets off the field, she only ever says one thing: “I just love to watch you play.” She said she found the phrase in another mom’s post online, and it made a huge impression on her. It made a huge impression on me too.
6. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but I’ll be at the Popular Culture Association conference in Chicago in April. I’m presenting in the Medical Humanities area, on Harlequin medical romance, but I expect I’ll be spending most of my time in the romance area. I’m super excited that one of my all time favorite writers, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, will be there, and also for so many of the romance papers I can hardly fit them all into my schedule. I plan to blog about it as much as possible.
7. I’m reading Sarah Mayberry’s Satisfaction ($2.99 for Kindle), which just came out and everyone is reviewing. But then I read Brie’s post about the penis-in-vagina syndrome it succumbs to and I had to put it aside. And that reminded me of another great post, by Pamela at Badass Romance, on Some (More) Scattered thoughts about Romancelandia, Overthinking and Balance:
If I do want to have fun with what I read, and immerse myself in an emotional journey along with the characters, is “overthinking” and writing a critical response part of the fun, or does it spoil the fun? Our fun, or other people’s fun, if one asks too many questions in the wrong space? What about the pleasure of reading as a social practice, which many bloggers have noted can deepen the reading experience?
8. I started Beeminding a once a week blog post. That’s the only reason I wrote this. Yes, I’m pathetic. But at least I know how to turn my patheticness to advantage!
Hope you are having a good week.