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Postcolonialism and Authenticity

Many moons ago (Fall of last year), I took a course in Native American Religions at UMW.  It was one of my favorite courses that I’ve taken so far because it forced me to look at a group of that “fourth world”/”diaspora” that Tyson mentions in the chapter about Postcolonial Analysis from a non-Eurocentric perspective.

Take, for example, Black Elk.  A quick, dirty summary: Black Elk was a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe, and he experienced a vision quest that redefined the spiritual guidelines of most of his tribe.  In the book Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt interviews Black Elk and retells the narrative of Black Elk’s existential vision quest.  The printed version of Black Elk’s vision quest, written by Neihardt, has become a cornerstone of Lakota Sioux spirituality.

Black Elk Speaks, in many ways, furthers the “noble savage” stereotype.  It is also potentially ripe with Eurocentric bias, having been written and edited by white men.  There’s no way to know whether the material printed in the book was genuine, or if it was fictionally embellished with stories of visions and spiritual harmony, objectifying and commercializing a culture.  Either way, the story told in Black Elk Speaks became a foundational aspect of Lakota Sioux spirituality after the book was published in 1932.  I ask, how is this problematic?  In many ways, I struggle with the issue of authenticity because it seems very unauthentic.  There is no sense of “reclaiming the precolonial past,” as Tyson puts it.  All cultural aspects were irrevocably affected by the American imperialism.

How does a culture regain its sense of identity and self after colonialism?  How do you all feel about this idea of authenticity–where else might we find examples similar to this?  At this point, do they actually need authenticity?  Is it important for these postcolonial societies to develop their own authentic (or maybe not authentic) sense of identity, to evade the plague of double consciousness, to reclaim the dignity they were stripped of when the Wasichu white devils dislocated them from their homes, languages, and spiritual ties?  Later in his life, Black Elk converted to Catholocism and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show–does that somehow corrupt our trust for him and his authenticity?  Maybe I’m just rambling now, but….. WHAT DOES AUTHENTICITY EVEN MEAN ANYMORE?!

I think these are all important things to consider as we look more into postcolonial study!

Some Gatsby Afterthoughts

Special thank yous to Adrienne for planning (and silverware), to Rachel for the best potluck contribution, to Ashton for bringing the DVD, and to Tedward for valiantly taking home all leftover food so no one else had to carry it.

Confession: I did not expect to like the DiCaprio/Mulligan version at all.  But I did.  A lot.  It’s  gorgeous, of course.  And both Gatsby and Daisy were significantly more human in this version–reinforced even in simple ways like the fact that Nick repeatedly called Gatsby “Jay,” which is not true of the novel or Redford/Farrow movie.  As a result, Leo-Gatsby seemed more vulnerable, his carefully constructed world on a much shakier foundation.  I had loved Redford-Gatsby, but he is a cardboard man, and Leo-Gatsby showed the work it took to be Gatsby.  And Mulligan-Daisy was both much more likeable and more awful, since her guilt for Myrtle’s death is more profound if she isn’t simply a twit.

Still struggling with how I feel about the Nick-in-a-sanitorium invention.  And with the combination of explicit information about the 20s for an ignorant American viewing public being carefully woven into the film, only to be juxtaposed with radically anachronistic elements (not the music– I liked that much more than I anticipated).

Both Toms stink.  Bruce Dern-Tom is not nearly enough of a “brute,” to use Daisy’s word.  And Joel Edgerton-Tom is not believable as old money– would Tom Buchanan ever wear dirty polo clothes to a dinner with guests?  No way.  Very interesting difference in George Wilsons, one of whom is so beaten down and lost and the other of whom is a man ready to kill.

It has already been well established that I can find a phallic symbol anywhere.  But please, people: Nick and Gatsby on the porch with a huge white column between them (Redford version)??  The sharing of one cigarette??  Etc. etc.  Don’t even get me started psychoanalyzing Gatsby’s wombish swimming pools, in which he meets his death.

Lastly (maybe): why did Leo-Gatsby say “old sport” to rhyme with “Colbert Report”?  That was awkward.

Reader-Response and the Bible

As I read Tyson’s example from Critical Theory Today using Judas in the Reader-Response chapter, I couldn’t help but consider how Reader-Response criticism, in many ways, defined Modern Christianity.

*As a sidenote, I would include other religions if I were familiar with them; however, I am not well-read on the sacred texts of most other religions–in fact, I am not especially well-read on the Bible, either. Regardless, I feel like the Bible is a great example of different interpretations of the same text.*

In the Judas example, Tyson focuses on how the Scripture ultimately gives “no indication” on whether or not Judas hanged himself.  Since a text (in the lens of affective stylistics) is an “event that occurs in time,” and “the meaning of a text consists of our experience of what the text does as we read it,” Tyson claims that the text in question (found on p. 175; “That Judas… overthrow it.”) instills in the reader a sense of uncertainty, and is primarily about the “experience of reading” rather than Judas or Scripture.

This got me thinking about the way in which the Bible has been interpreted by many readers over the course of centuries.  Tyson references three possible expectations that a sentence from the passage on p. 175 could yield, all containing differences in interpretation.  These different interpretations, I think, have become manifest in the vast branches extending from from the tree of Christianity.  These denominational offshoots that have sprouted up from the same text is probably one of the best examples around of Reader-Response criticism.  I also found it funny how “uncertainty” was the moral of this particular story, because uncertainty is such a cornerstone of faith; in the words of Pi Patel, “Doubt is useful–it keeps faith a living thing.”


Anyways, thoughts?  In what ways do you all think Reader-Response criticism has affected Christianity (or other religions) to this day?  And, on that note, are there any alternative, potentially interesting theories that we could apply to the Bible? (psychoanalytic, Marxist, New, etc…) Why?  Definitely potential for a New Criticism reading of the Bible/relating that to fundamentalism…

Ian’s Psychoanalytic Analysis of “Hospice” by The Antlers

–Listen here

–Lyrics here

Hospice is a ten song, 52-minute story of a hospice worker who falls in love with his patient, a victim of terminal bone cancer.  Musically and lyrically, it is a work of art.  The album, although an allegory for the author Peter Silberman’s abusive relationship, is still ripe with potential for psychoanalysis in the story itself.

In my criticism, I will focus on the character Sylvia rather than a specific song, since the album tells her story.  I will not be analyzing the characters in the text, and not their metaphoric purpose, because the characters of the text are more fruitful for this exercise.

We have two main characters in this tragic story: the Hospice Worker–a male nurse who I will call the Singer–and the patient he falls in love with, Sylvia.  Sylvia has had cancer since she was a little girl, and the following image (from the album’s digital booklet) is the best preface for her story that I could offer.

PrefaceHer psychological issues transcend that of a typical cancer patient.  Just from this small preface, we can see that she suffers from nightmares and delusions, and an ambiguous darkness that follows her like a shadow.  When she “fell crossing that street,” her sense of reality became intertwined with the demons she faced in her head.  She saw ghosts, like the bald boy who died in the ward, and for a better part of her life couldn’t escape them.  Furthermore, we can conclude that Sylvia’s parents were abusive in one way or another.  From track 7, “Two”:

“Daddy was an asshole, and he fucked you up; built the gears inside your head and now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating.”

Sylvia is physically self-deprecating; in track 3, “Sylvia,” we see that she has tried to kill herself by sticking her head in the oven (certainly an allusion to Sylvia Plath).  The Singer stops her, and then implores that she go back to “screaming and cursing,” that she “remind [him] again how everyone betrayed [her].”  He would rather take that than her death.

We are not given background information on the Singer, but rather become aware of his character through his narration.  He is in love, if you can call it that, for it is no doubt a corrupted form of love.  Love implies some sort of reciprocity.  Maybe more of a vacuous adoration, one which leaves him wanting more after every wound.  The Singer’s professional job, which is to care for Sylvia, becomes his personal job.  However, what he does for Sylvia is never enough to satisfy her; she is always left bitter.  The two marry, and the rings become a symbol of bondage.  From track 4, “Atrophy”:

“With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger, I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer.”

Psychoanalytically, what does this mean?  Let’s start with Sylvia.  The first thing to note is that Sylvia’s childhood development stages were severely impaired.  Her father, who she tried to love during the Oedipal stage, was abusive.  This could mean that she generally displaces her anger and hate onto other people who attempt to love her, i.e., the Singer.  Sylvia also suffers from terrible nightmares, which, according to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, are in some way the results of repressed memories.  Track 7, “Two,” indicates where those repressed memories might come from:

“You had another dream, it was more like a nightmare.  You were just a little kid and they cut your hair.  They stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.  They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.”

In this particular dream, it seems that the latent content and the manifest content are one in the same.  She has nightmares that harken back to the days when she was plunged into grand and frightening machines as a young girl.  Sylvia’s nightmares are so prevalent that I would say she has trouble disassociating them from reality, and becomes unable to control her repression of these memories.  This is what Freud calls the “crisis.”

Finally, Sylvia was also exposed to the concept of death at a young age.  A child who becomes aware of their own mortality before the teen years certainly is liable to develop a very potent thanatos, or “death drive.”  From sticking her head in the over to other forms of self-deprecation and injury, Sylvia does her fair share of death work.  However, this could be a vehicle of repression, which would explain the nightmares full of demons and visions of ghosts that possibly represent her repressed fear of death, which is more imminent and real for her than we can imagine.

This somber tale of impossible love is, although depressing, beautifully written and unbearably cathartic.  Sylvia is a tragic character, and a productive case study for psychoanalysis.  The Singer could be as well–but that will have to wait for another day.