Wisdom Teeth

by Simon Cropp

In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, we are told stories of the histories of people under the terminology of root canals. The important formation of who characters are in this novel, such as Archie and Samad, Irie, and Clara, is linked to the metaphor of teeth and how possibly the procedure of removing decay from the roots of their heritage.

Allow me a digression:

And this reminds me of my own uprooting, when my wisdom teeth had to be removed. Wisdom teeth are the last sets of teeth to grow in, and they’re often impacted, so later in life, almost all of us have to have the dreaded procedure.

I was 22 years old and didn’t have insurance that covered procedures;, so for me, the removal of wisdom teeth had to be a budgetary affair. My dentist said he knew a guy. Oral surgeon in training. Had to get a number of contact hours in to meet the requirements of his program, and removing wisdom teeth was considered something he could do unsupervised. I remember there was a rule he had to follow: no an anesthesia. I had to be awake for the procedure. But people do it this way I was told. He’d give me a Valium, I’d feel like I was asleep, all would be right in the world.

I showed up for the day of the procedure with my friend Mike–as the Valium would render me likely incapable of driving. I remember now, the receptionist at the dental office had captured my withered, blackened heart at that time. She would look at me with these big blue eyes, smile, and I never heard a thing she said. Well, when I checked in, she said something like: “The doctor is running late. Run and get something to eat. Blue eyes, beautiful smile, blue eyes,” or something like that.

Mike took me to McDonalds and we pounded down a couple of McDoubles, because, you know, I was 22 and could do that.

We returned to the office, met the surgeon in training, and he asked where we’d been. I said, “Oh, since you were running late, the receptionist said to run and get a bite to eat or something. So we ate some cheeseburgers.”

The surgeon in training didn’t take this well. Began rubbing his balding head. He said, “Oh no, no, no, this won’t do at all. Not at all. We must reschedule.”

“Sir,” I said. “I am a manager at Blockbuster video–to get this time off–today and three more days in a row for recover–that was a feat, I tell you! Why must we reschedule?”

“You ate! You can’t eat before this. The Valium won’t work. You can take it, but it won’t work. Your cheeseburgers might get tranquilized, but you, my friend, will not.”

“But she said…” my friend Mike said gesturing to the receptionist.

“I said something like bread,” she said from behind the counter. Blue eyes, smile, blue eyes. Anger too! Oh no.

My mind scrambled. “I’ll take the pill. It’ll work. You’ll see.”

Despite his hesitation, the oral surgeon agreed. And we were off. I took the pill, went back to the room, rested in the chair, and sure enough, I began to feel something. A stirring in my brain. A numbing in my body. I knew it would work.

The procedure began. And all that something I had felt before, that numbing? It fled. Ran away. As the surgeon jacked my mouth open with some device that wouldn’t allow me to clamp down–after he numbed me–he began digging in my gums. And wisdom teeth, it turns out, don’t just come out a tooth. They come out in pieces. They are cracked and broken and jackhammered, and pieces of teeth and blood sprayed on his mask. Sweat formed on his brow.

All effects of the Valium gone, I suppose he saw something reflecting in my eyes. Horror? He brought in a second assistant. She sat down in a chair beside me and just held my hand. He brought in a woman to hold my hand! I didn’t flinch, though. I let him work. For two hours he removed slivers and chunks of gigantic teeth, but it was the roots, he said, the roots were the biggest he’d ever seen. Like the roots of a horse tooth. He brought in the beautiful receptionist and my friend Mike to look at my impressive roots.

So much pain, black smoke pouring from my mouth, but I continued on, wondering what it would be like to have real insurance.

Finally, he stopped. He took off his tooth and blood-soaked mask and said, “There is one tooth left. Upper right. I cannot do this anymore. It is too much. That tooth is not impacted. So it will remain. I cannot subject you to this anymore.”

“I can handle it,” I said around the mouth apparatus.

“You are stitched and sewn, here are two subscriptions for Vicodin. You will need them. Don’t talk or the stitching will break. Keep gauze in your mouth so clots can form. I will be here the rest of the day before returning to Denver. Call if you need anything.”

So Mike and I left. I felt particularly strong that day. Like I had done something most people hadn’t done. So I continued to play that role. I acted as if there were no pain. Of course, I filled the prescriptions. I b.s.’d with Mike, told him that’s how a man does an operation. Mike told me to stop talking. At the time I thought he was concerned I would break my stitching, in retrospect, I think he didn’t want to hear what I was saying.

I did break my stitching from talking too much. We had to go back to the oral surgeon in training that Friday afternoon. We caught him in the parking lot as he was loading up his car to head back to Denver.

“You may have to go the emergency room,” he said. “I can’t numb you. All my equipment is loaded…”

I looked at him, looked at Mike, imagine blue eyes looking at me from somewhere, and I said, “Just do it. Just stitch it. No numbing.”

He did it. And it hurt. But whatever.

I learned something that day–a fundamental lesson to my own self, to my own sense of being and history. I learned to never eat McDonalds again.

But then, these painful extractions, these lessons and formations of who we are in distinct moments, is this not what Smith meant with her epigraph: “What is past is prologue.”

What I did not know that day cost me.

From Segmented Bodies to Categorizing Mass Groups: Enhancing the Collector’s Set

 

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The Thunderer

 

by Simon Cropp

In her novel Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin explores the thoughts of a Knight serving in an alternate world where Hitler’s armies have won and continued to reign far into the future. The Knight thinks to himself, “Women’s only reason for existence, to bear boys and nurse them to eighteen months. But if women cease to exist themselves? The world will be rid of an intolerable ugliness” (11). When considering Knight Von Hess’ thoughts about the role women play in this futuristic world, a conclusion can be drawn: women are rendered mere objects. Women function only as wombs to continue the Hitlerian Empire of men, though these objects must exist or the entire empire would collapse.

When we think of objectification in modern society, Von Hess’ thoughts are perhaps a reflection of the most extreme scenario. From breast exploitation to the segmented body, American culture seems aware of the fact that women are sexually objectified, yet despite this awareness, progress seems sickeningly slow.

Browsing through headlines about sexual objectification of women, the focus seems to be laid at the feet of the media. Advertising, television, and movies all have a role to play in the fetishizing of women as things instead of people, pieces instead of whole entities. But then, women were certainly objectified before the onslaught of mass media to the degree these articles discuss. In fact, Burdekin’s vision of a world where women were reduced to a single function occurs in a time and space without all the terrible vices modern media warns is the cause of sexual objectification.

Consider the recently discovered words of presidential candidate Donald Trump. “When you’re a star they let you do it.” This sentence was uttered nearly a decade ago when Trump explained to another man how much sexual leeway he has with women. In his view: he has all of the leeways because he is a star. A star created through the massive media machine of television. His claims that he can do most of what he wants to a woman because he is rich, he is a star, obviously, this behavior reduces a woman to an object that can only be acted upon. But because women are not objects, this video has given rise to another discussion surrounding the presidential candidate–one of sexual assault. In Burdekin’s world, recourse does not exist for women, but in America, the citizenry want to believe there is justice for this kind of behavior–whether or not Trump’s actions were real or locker room talk.

Leaders found themselves at odds with their party’s representative after this video surfaced, but I am not cynical about their motives in defending the count noun “women” from Trump’s statements. I am cynical about the objectification that continues to occur in their defense of “count noun women.”

House speaker Paul Ryan said, “I am sickened by what I heard today.” As were many of us, I hope. He also said, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” And here is the ugly other side of objectification. The collecting of objects. The protecting of objects. Championing that which cannot protect itself because it lacks agency. To revere, to show deep respect for someone or something, to show profound regard for this thing or person. Because the count noun women all must be revered, because they are things worthy of being collected. They are not individuals, they are mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. We must revere that, I think, because we revere that collectible mass thing with not a single unique quality among its individual parts. It is strange that scientific studies show how men see a woman as a collection of parts instead of her whole self, but then so quickly, to fix this, a woman cannot be rendered into a single person, but only a mass collection of things easily categorized into two or three roles. Mother, sister, daughter, caretaker, etc.

Burdekin shows the complex, dark depths to which sexual objectification can take us, but our modern reality shows us the other side–the equally problematic issue of objectifying with the eyes of a collector protecting his prize.

 

Brave New World and Swastika Night–Meghan

First, I would like to express how much I  enjoyed reading Katherine Burdekin’s haunting novel Swastika NightI think Swastika Night is an amazing vision of what could have happened if Nazi Germany had been successful. Dystopian novels (excluding recent dystopians like Hunger Games and Divergent–sorry) are really fascinating to me, and I am happy to have encountered this one. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are two of my favorite books. I think they both fulfill an incredibly intelligent depiction of dystopian societies drawing on history, politics, social issues, and much more. Now, I am adding Swastika Night into my “favorite’s list” for dystopian novels.

I have a confession: I have not read Orwell’s 1984. I know this is a crime as an English major, so please forgive me. Not having read 1984, I will not try to draw connections to Swastika Night–plus, Daphne Patai, in the introduction to Swastika Night, and Darragh McManus, in his article Swastika Night: Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Lost Twin, already draw upon these connections. Instead, I would like to discuss the interesting similarities between Swastika Night and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a novel I am much more familiar with.

A quick, over-simplified recap of Brave New World:

Brave New World unfolds in a place run by The World State Society, which is a futuristic, dystopian society that controls every aspect of its inhabitants. The society is heavily controlled by the government, specifically Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers, also referred to as “his ford-ship” in honor of the god-like figure, Our Ford (which, as many scholars have identified, is a direct reference to Freud) (Huxley 40). The government controls the citizens by keeping them drugged on “soma” and distracted with constant, open sexual activity. Contraceptives are required and there is no natural form of reproduction—sex is strictly pleasure based and natural birth is abominable. In addition, all members of society are grown as “test-tube” babies and conditioned to function in specific levels of society (Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons). The counter-culture to the World State Society is the Indian Reservation. The Indian Reservation is a place where traditional families and reproduction still occur. The people of the Indian Reservations disprove of the World State Society’s promiscuous tendencies.

This male-centered novel focuses on characters Bernard Marx, John the Savage, and Lenina Crowne, who is the central female character that is present in both halves of the novel, even when the male character focal point shifts. Until meeting John the Savage at a reservation, the first part of the novel examines Bernard Marx’s discontent within society. The second part of the novel focuses on John the Savage, an outcast from both the World State Society and the Indian Reservation.The novel is based around the male character’s struggles with belonging in society. Bernard Marx, originally disliking the promiscuity and functioning of the World State Society, decides that he does want to be a part of the society after he returns to it. John, on the other hand, continues to be an outcast to the end of the novel when he commits suicide due to his conflicted values that drive him mad.

Back to connections in Swastika Night:

Within the first few pages of reading Swastika Night, I noticed a lot of similarities to Brave New World. Although the plot-lines are very different, both novels present a tone of uneasiness and creepiness (if you will) in the beginning. Brave New World definitely has more satire present from the beginning, but it still makes the reader feel uncomfortable. Swastika Night opens with a scene that takes place in the Holy Hitler chapel and reveals many disturbing perceptions of women and male domination in their Creed. Brave New World begins by taking the reader on a tour through the hatchery where humans are unnaturally born in test tubes and conditioned into class structures (this scene also presents a type of “creed” for the society because it identifies all the beliefs and history of how the society turned out this way). Both opening sections present the reader with what we would view as ridiculous, disturbing realities.

In addition, there is also a connection between the women in Swastika Night and Brave New World. Although the women in Brave New World are not treated nearly as horrifically as the women in Swastika Night, their reproductive rights are still being controlled. The women in Swastika Night are equated to animals and have no agency or ownership of their bodies. Rape is not even considered a crime, and the women are objects to be dominated by men. On the surface, the women in Brave New World would appear to have more control of their bodies; however, when taking a closer look, this is not the case. Women in Brave New World are required to take contraceptive and have to avoid pregnancy at all costs. If a women does become pregnant, she is outcast from society. Pregnancy and child birth is viewed as the most disgusting, savage thing that a woman could do. In addition, the Brave New World Society maintains the mentality that everyone belongs to everyone. Though this mentality is supposed to be sexually liberating, it removes personal ownership of the body also. The members of society are expected to be promiscuous and monogamy is highly discouraged. Both Swastika Night and Brave New World present problematic views of women’s function and agency in society.

One final connection between the novels is the control that is imposed upon in each society. Both Swastika Night and Brave New World present elements of brainwash and censorship. In Swastika Night, we see the German Empire controlling what people know about history and how members of the society function. The Brave New World Society also distorts reality and imposes lies upon its members. Both societies organize members into cast-like systems–by blood and gender in Swastika Night and by levels of conditioned classes in Brave New World.

Though there are many other  connections, I will stop here. I am really excited for our class discussion tonight. I look forward to hearing what other people think about the novel.

Here’s another interesting (quick) article I found online about Swastika night: http://www.cclapcenter.com/2012/07/on_being_human_swastika_night_.html

 

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Harper Perennial, 1932.

Cultural Appropriation in Literature is a Problem – Naomi

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

There are a variety of cultures and issues around the world that readers may have been cheated out of by cultural appropriation in writing. If publishers are desperate for fiction pieces about minorities, it may be easier for them to simply seek out the authors whom they already interact with. This could severely limit access to publication that would help change the face of literature. Furthermore, appropriated experience could taint the reality of what is being presented. Yes, we are talking about fiction, and that is still an important avenue to explore. In an interview with Rick Moody at the PEN World Voices Festival, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pointed out one troubling issue: “The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuœciñski has a little blurb on the cover that describes it as the greatest intelligence to bear on Africa since Conrad. And I really was insulted by that, because it isn’t the greatest intelligence to bear on Africa, and I didn’t think, by the way, that Conrad was particularly writing Africa as Africa was. What’s troubling is that this claim sets the norm for how we see Africa: If you’re going to walk in Africa, you’re told to read that book to understand Africa. But this is really not what Africa is, at least not from the point of view of Africans in Africa, which I think is an important point of view. These books distort reality—there are many examples.”

So, while fiction is by definition, describing imaginary events and people, writing so frequently skirts reality that it creates a difficult issue for readers if an author is describing actual places and cultures. These are very murky waters.

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

 

Mrs. Dalloway- Annotated Bibliography

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Here are a few sources that I ran into while researching, but I did not include in my annotated bibliography. Someone might find them useful:

Colesworthy, Rebecca. “‘The Perfect Hostess’: Mrs. Dalloway, Gift Exchange, and the End of Laissez-Faire.” Modernist Cultures, vol. 9, no. 2, Fall 2014, pp. 158-185.

Czarnecki, Kristin, and Carrie Roman, editors. Virginia Woolf and the Natural World: Selected Papers from the Twentieth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. Georgetown University, 2010. (This one looks really interesting, but I haven’t been able to look over it because it just came through on the library exchange).

Tromanhauser, Vicki. “Mrs. Dalloway’s Animals and the Humanist Laboratory.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 58, no. 2, Summer 2012, pp. 187-212

Wiechert, Nora. “‘No Sense of Porportion’: Urban Green Space and Mental Health in Mrs. Dalloway.” Virginia Woolf Miscellany, vol. 78, Fall 2010, pp. 21-23.

 

Meghan Miller