This is White Teeth – Naomi

In the interest of similar trains of thought (and expediency), I’m combining my responses to This is England and White Teeth.

In the film This is England, Shaun is a little boy who falls in with a group of skinheads. This happens for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it comes down to his desperation to feel love and acceptance; to feel like he is a part of a group. Shaun’s father died in war leaving his mother to raise him on her own. She is obviously trying her best to cope with the loss of her partner, but she is missing signs that her son is having trouble with peers and looking for a guidance. Enter Woody and a group of skinheads. They shave Shaun’s head and explain to him what he needs to wear to be a part of their subculture. Shaun’s mother is angry that his head is shaved without her permission (after all, he is just a young boy), but after confronting the group over this, she leaves her son with them again.

This acceptance and belonging seems innocent enough at first, but leads to Shaun being involved with threatening people and “paki-bashing”. This young boy, who at the start of the film simply looked for friendship and love, has graduated to participation and (mostly) acceptance of violent crimes.

Perhaps something similar can be said for Mohammad Hussein-Ishmael, Mo, a Muslim and Pakistani butcher is White Teeth. Mo decided to join KEVIN (Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation) in an effort to belong to a group after he spent years as a victim: “The second reason for Mo’s conversion was more personal. Violence. Violence and theft … he had been a victim of serious physical attacks and robbery, without fail, three times a year” (391). Mo had spent years being marginalized and assaulted and wanted acceptance and action. Certainly, the type of community that Shaun and Mo were looking for are very different, but at their core, I think that both wanted to belong and feel accepted.

My final thought when connecting these two pieces is the circle that they could be involved with. If this book and film existed in the same literary universe, I think it’s possible that the characters would be in a violent circle of hatred and longing for acceptance.

English citizens fear immigrants ⇒ subset of citizens join skinheads ⇒ skinheads feel marginalized ⇒ violence and “paki-bashing” ⇒ Mo is assaulted repeatedly ⇒ Mo joins KEVIN ⇒ KEVIN commits terrorist acts ⇒ English citizens fear immigrants

In reality, we’re experiencing a lot of this in American today. I think that we can break through this cycle by recognizing it, calling attention to it, and making an effort to get off the ride.

Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. Vintage International Books, 2001.

This is England. Directed by Shane Meadows. Warp Films Limited, 2006.


The F Word – Naomi

For much of my adult life, I have been very independent. After graduating from high school in Hawaii, I moved to Kentucky for my undergraduate work (yes, I know this sounds crazy on many levels). After I got my degree I moved to Colorado, because, why not? I made these choices on my own and I paid for it on my own. I have worked continuously from the time I was 16 until I turned 34 when I quit the career I obtained a Masters Degree for, the career I worked in for 12 years and was objectively good at. I quit this career which I had dedicated almost half of my life in pursuit of to be a housewife and stay at home mom. And when I made this announcement to my friends and family I heard a resounding intake of breath followed by the somewhat insulting question, “But I thought you were a feminist?”

Yes. I thought so too. And I am. But it depends on who you ask, I guess. In her essay “Feminism with a Small f”, Buchi Emecheta discusses some of her philosophy surrounding the concepts of feminism and what they mean to her. She writes, “Being a woman, and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of the African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called a feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small f” (175). So, maybe I am a white middle-class feminist with a medium f? Can feminism really be only one thing and does it matter who provides the definition?

This essay resonated with me, particularly the passage where she states, “We need more Golda Meirs, we need more Indira Gandhis, we even need more Margaret Thatchers. But those who wish to control and influence the future by giving birth and nurturing the young should not be looked down upon. It is not a degrading job” (180). Making the choice to stay home with my children was an incredible privilege and I recognize that. And that does not make my contribution to society any less than if I had stayed in the workforce and put my children in daycare. I have struggled with feeling like I’m doing a great thing for my kids while at the same time feeling like I’ve been subordinating myself and degrading the work women have done for years to create equality with men.

I could continue rambling on about my fears surrounding what I’m doing to and for my three daughters. But I will end by saying that Emecheta confirmed in me that I am neither doing something extraordinary, nor am I doing something derogatory by choosing to nurture my children at home.

Emecheta, Buchi. “Feminism With A Small ‘f’!.” African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. 173-185. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

Narrative Structure in Absolute Beginners – Naomi

I’ve been musing a lot about how to approach Absolute Beginners given all that happens in the novel. Ultimately, I felt like I was reading a rambling circle of unconnected events that ended in a riot and inheritance of a surprise sum of money.

The novel is broken into four sections: “In June”, “In July”, “In August”, and “In September”. The first section of the novel, “In June” comprises more than half of the novel. Honestly, I don’t know why this section was so long. I felt like the narrator was just pulling me as the reader around the city of London with no break for day or night. What is happening? Who is there? Why does this matter? I don’t feel like I ever got a satisfactory answer to that last question.

The final section of the novel, “In September”, is where most of the action occurs. The race riots, romantic reunion with Suzette, death of the narrator’s father and discovery of his writings and wealth, and the narrator’s attempt to run away from (or towards) something are all contained in these final 55 pages. As a scholar of English, I have never suggested that a book should be 4/5 shorter … until now.

It might be that I struggled with the narrative style of “In June” and couldn’t ever really get into the novel. It might be that the narrator was jumpy throughout the novel and never named. If I were to recommend this book to someone (not enrolled in an amazing and fascinating graduate course!), I would suggest that they skip ahead to the final section and soak in all the interesting tidbits about the narrator and London.

And then I would probably speculate with them about why the narrator never actually left London. Cheers.

MacInnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. 1959. London: Allison & Busby, 2011.

(Sub)Cultural Appropriation – Naomi

I had a really hard time thinking of something specific to write about for this week’s post, because Subculture: The Meaning of Style is so full of sociological information, my head was spinning. Thankfully, I read Simon’s paper and decided to consider the concept of appropriation of subcultures.

In the book, Hebdige details a variety of subcultures that emerged in England in the 1960-70s. In chapter 6, he discusses the idea of “the commodity form” which is “the conversion of subcultural signs (dress, music, etc.) into mass-produced objects” (94). This, combined with questions posed by Simon, got me thinking about cultural appropriation as it relates to these subgroups.

For the “punk” kids, style was described as safety pins, blue hair, spikes, etc. There was an “otherness” quality to this that made the members of the group stick out. All of this could have the effect of creating fear in those around; those not belonging to or understanding the subgroup. Enter Hot Topic. Now, every neighborhood kid (or adult) could cruise on down to the mall and buy a $35 ripped t-shirt or faux vintage Ramones hoodie. Are you dying to own a pentagram leg belt? They’ve got you covered! Just stroll past Sears and stop before you reach the Mrs. Fields cookie shop. All major credit cards accepted! No more do these people have to think about what it means to belong to a group or subculture. The appropriation of the style necessarily strips the shock factor, or “otherness” from the group. Because these subcultures emerged due to perceived problems with the capitalist nature of society, I think that the commodification of the signs of the subculture eliminate, or at best water down the message of the group.

And now, this:

Also, a funny comic:

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Routledge, 1979.

Shakes-lowe (another hijacked post by Naomi)

The controversy surrounding Marlowe and Shakespeare is something that has been discussed for hundreds of years, and now there is a definitive answer to at least part of it. News broke yesterday that the Oxford University Press will begin to credit Christopher Marlowe as a co-author of three of the Henry VI plays. I immediately emailed my undergraduate Shakespeare professor. Up is down! Left is right! What is happening in the world?!

As someone who primarily studied classic and canonical literature throughout my undergraduate education, this certainly newsworthy. While I don’t think that it will change the way that these plays are taught, I do think that it opens the door for more discussion about collaboration and, perhaps, plagiarism. One of the things that I found most interesting about this is they way that it was determined that Marlowe did contribute. According to The Washington Post, different academics went through a very rigorous process:

“To find out if collaboration occurred, 23 international scholars performed text analysis by scanning through Marlowe’s (and other contemporary writers’) works, creating computerized data sets of the words and phrases he would repeat, along with how he did so — all of the idiosyncrasies that comprise one’s writing. Once they had a solid sample set of unique patterns, the Times noted, they cross-referenced it with Shakespeare’s plays.

The result? Seventeen of 44 of Shakespeare’s works probably had some sort of input from others. The three Henry VI plays proved to have enough of Marlowe’s literary footprint that his name deserved to be added as a co-author”.

I’m interested in what the rest of the class thinks about this development.

Many Levels of Brow – Naomi

There is a very humorous scene in The Third Man, where the protagonist, Rollo Martins, is speaking to a group of book lovers about his writing and his opinion of other authors. What is so funny about this scene is that Martins is speaking about authors and genres that would be considered “lowbrow”. When asked about his favorite author, Martins replies with the author of Westerns and another of the panelists tries to pivot to a more refined poet (92-3). This got me thinking about the literary canon and acceptance of (other than highbrow) literature.

As someone who has taught high school English for over a decade, I have to say that I appreciate the existence of the literary cannon. I think that it is helpful to have a list of works that are deemed valuable to read and be studied. And I think that (for the most part) these are the works that should be taught through high school. When people  have a common background of literature, it helps with allusion and understanding of many other things in society (history, politics, Saturday Night Live, etc). The canon makes modern satire much easier to understand, because a presumably large portion of the population are familiar with what/who is being satirized.

That being said, I don’t think that the canon is an exhaustive list of literature for people to read and I don’t think that all literature needs to be “highbrow”. I’m going to out myself as someone who read the entire Twilight series and liked it. These novels were not well written and lots of literary types like to make fun of Stephenie Meyer because of it. Meyer is probably okay with the criticism knowing that her franchise has sold over $6 billion worldwide. People wanted to read these novels; millions of people wanted to read these novels. It is unlikely that any of the Twilight series will ever be taught in any educational setting, but not all writing needs to be, and I think it’s wonderful that people are reading anything at all.

Getting back to the novel at hand, I enjoyed The Third Man and I appreciated its many levels of discussion and interpretation. I think that our class decided that this book would be “middlebrow” and firmly outside of the canon. All of that can be true, and I think that everyone in class got something out of studying this (somewhat forgotten) novel at the graduate level.

Greene, Graham. The Third Man. 1949. Penguin Books, 1977.

“don’t criticize what you can’t understand” – Naomi

News broke early this morning that Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” and I could not contain my excitement. As such, I’m hijacking this week’s blog post to discuss this incredible turn of events.

Bob Dylan is an incredible singer/songwriter whose career has spanned over 50 years. And he is so much more than “just” a musician. Dylan’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and his advocacy of moral issues through the 1960s is undeniable. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” were a part of the soundtrack of protest from events surrounding inclusion of black people in restaurant diners to the Cold War. Whether or not you enjoy his particular style of music, it is impossible to deny the impact he has had. But does this make him worth of a Nobel Prize? In literature? Yes. Yes, it does.

According to the Nobel Prize website, the Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to a candidate who has been nominated by a member of one of the following categories:

  1. Members of the Swedish Academy and of other academies, institutions and societies which are similar to it in construction and purpose;
  2. Professors of literature and of linguistics at universities and university colleges;
  3. Previous Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature;
  4. Presidents of those societies of authors that are representative of the literary production in their respective countries.

This is quite a distinguished group to belong to. After the nomination process, months are spent in the process of narrowing to a winner who must receive more than 50% of the academy’s votes. This is quite the vetting process, but can it include a non-traditional artist such as Dylan?

Many songwriters have delicately straddled the lines between pop culture and poetry. Tupac Shakur is another artist whose lyrics sometimes doubled as poetry (in addition to the poems that he wrote and published). This lead to UC Berkeley offering a brief course in the late 90s focused on the life and writings of Tupac.

Ultimately, I can’t see a compelling argument as to why Bob Dylan should have been excluded from the nomination process, nor why he should not have been selected as the winner. My excitement comes from my hippy heart, and also from a place of legitimizing various artistic art forms. I love Shakespeare. And I love Dylan. And they are both artists who spoke to a wide swath of people and deserve to be celebrated.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan. I’ll see you Sunday night in Phoenix.

The One Book – Naomi

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic tale of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the characters are faced with an all-powerful, single ring – the one ring. This ring has the potential to bestow malevolent power upon whomever wears it, and therefore, must be destroyed. Much like this ring, knowledge has always served to empower people and limiting access to knowledge can help to create a compliant citizenry.

In Swastika Night, the protagonist, Alfred, is entrusted with a seven centuries old book which contains all of the history that had been erased by the Nazi regime. This book had been written by a Nazi who, seeing the destruction of books throughout Germany and fearing for the preservation of history, memorized all he could and wrote it down in one book. The book had been carefully guarded and shared from father to son in a single family for 700 years.

Initially, I was thrilled at the concept that this book was protected and contained information that could be found no where else. But then it struck me: this book had been written by a single man who was trying desperately to remember all that he could.  The text describes the composition of the book in this way: “Von Hess says in his introduction that it took him over two years to prepare the book itself. And when he started to write it he had to do it all from memory” (74). There is so much opportunity here for inadvertent, or flagrant, error. This concept was completely glossed over by the men who held the book.

When Alfred got possession of the book, he was elated and felt justified in all his suspicion of the German Empire, but really, there is potential for Alfred to fall victim to another set of false history. I am surprised that this was not considered. As Alfred read through the book it seemed as though everything he read simply confirmed his own doubts about what he had been taught throughout his life. Honestly, I think more suspicion would have been warranted here.

Burdekin, Katharine. Swastika Night. 1937. The Feminist Press, 1985.

Cultural Appropriation in Literature is not a Problem – Naomi

Cultural Appropriation in writing is a difficult topic, but I hardly see this as a major issue.

Yes, a variety of issues and cultures from around the world are interesting and should be explored through writing. If a holocaust survivor is unwilling, unable, or lacks what publishers are looking for, should the world be deprived of fiction surrounding the holocaust? I say, NO! Fiction is not real. And the author only needs to be as “real” as is required to turn over a manuscript. Lionel Shriver attacked this idea head on with her keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival.  She said, “In his masterwork English Passengers, Matthew Kneale would have restrained himself from including chapters written in an Aboriginal’s voice – though these are some of the richest, most compelling passages in that novel. If Dalton Trumbo had been scared off of describing being trapped in a body with no arms, legs, or face because he was not personally disabled – because he had not been through a World War I maiming himself and therefore had no right to ‘appropriate’ the isolation of a paraplegic – we wouldn’t have the haunting 1938 classic, Johnny Got His Gun.”

I recognize my own desire to know where literature comes from, and when I can tell that the author has experiences what he/she has written, I do feel a certain satisfaction. Fortunately, this is not a requirement of writers. If it were, would we ever have science fiction or fantasy? Did Tolkien personally destroy a piece of jewelry which held incredible power?

In the end, if I make assumption of an author that turn out not to be true, the literature has not changed. Trying to put writing into a tight, little box, will not serve to increase publication by minority or otherwise culturally appropriated writers, I think that it will only limit the breadth of subjects that are seen in literature.

I just don’t see another side to this argument.