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.

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Audience Complicity

Simon Cropp

Apparatus theory is a film theory that gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s, and while it has many names attached to it–Althusser and Lacan for example–it is Jean-Louis Baudry’s “The Apparatus” that provides perhaps the strongest singular position on apparatus theory.

The theory itself is Marxist in nature–and it maintains an audience complicity with what is seen and absorbed from the film screen. For many of the theorists who explored cinema through apparatus theory, the audience would largely be made up of the proletariat, and the film would likely have been constructed through the institutional forces of the capitalist superstructure thus perpetuating the ideological foundations of those in power.

For Baudry, the film becomes much like Plato’s allegory of the cave. The viewers are transfixed in a dark place, haunted by images on a screen they cannot fully understand, but the viewers forget themselves in this moment. They become part of what they see on the screen. No longer is the viewer his or herself, but now he is transfixed on the screen–a piece of the ideology at play (Baudry 111).

Our discussion of The Third Man in class on Thursday led me back to Baudry’s view of film and apparatus theory. The spectator as a prisoner to ideology was a powerful concept to me when I first came across it, and I consider this theory to be at work in interesting ways when Martins meets Lime at the Prater amusement park, and they take their infamous Ferris wheel ride. I searched for this theory during class, but it had been too long since I had studied it. I needed to go back and read Baudry’s article again, but as I went over the text, the connections came back.

The director Carol Reed positions the camera at the base of the wheel early in the scene, so we, the viewer, are looking up at the massive structure. This framing is very much in line with Baudry’s apparatus theory–we don’t often realize how complicit we are–as viewers–with the film’s ideological functions. Reed positions us at the base of the wheel with all of Lime’s “dots.” We don’t realize this is happening, especially if we are the intended viewer of this film–the ones who saw it originally. Locked in a dark theater with a massive screen looming in front of us.

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It is not until Reed takes us to the top of the wheel, puts us into the position of power with Lime that he subverts the ideological function of the film industry’s hegemonic role in culture. Reed’s positioning of Lime’s monologue against the proletariat, but also positioning Lime in such a negative light–literally and figuratively–creates an inverted ideological structure of the powerless assuming a role of the all-seeing eye.

In the case of this scene, and with Baudry’s apparatus theory at our disposal, what becomes fascinating, is the viewer functions as the film’s third man. We are complicit now with Martins, and whatever ideology he takes from his time with Lime is the ideology we inherit as well.

 

Works Cited

Baudry, Jean-Louis. “The Apparatus.” Communications, no. 23, 1975, pp. 56-72. Duke University PressSummon, cameraobscura.dukejournals.org.unco.idm.oclc.org/search?author1=Baudry&fulltext=The%20Apparatus&pubdate_year=1976&volume=&firstpage=104&submit=yes. Date accessed 22 Oct. 2016.

Pyschology and the Body as Currency in To Bed with Grand Music (Spoilers!)–Meghan

I found To Bed with Grand Music to be a delightfully disturbing read. Deborah’s character frustrated the heck out of me, but I could not stop turning the pages. I kept thinking to myself “what shitty thing is she going to do next?” At the end of the novel, I literally cringed because I felt so bad for the young woman that Deborah sunk her slutty claws into  to turn her into another man-hunter. I love books that evoke this kind of emotion in the reader!

There are many rich ideas to discuss about To Bed with Grand Music. For this blog post, I would like to touch on psychology and the idea of body as currency.

When I first started reading To Bed with Grand Music, postpartum depression crossed my mind, since Deborah didn’t show much interest in or was always frustrated with Timmy and she felt like she was not cut-out for motherhood. Then I realized this probably wouldn’t be the case since Timmy was about two years old when the novel started and, as far as I know, postpartum depression doesn’t last that long and is usually right after birth (though I could be wrong, I am not very familiar with the topic). So, then, I pondered other things that could be wrong with Deborah psychologically. In the beginning of the novel, Deborah spends time justifying her sexual relationships in her head and coming up with moral reasons why it is acceptable for her to sleep with men other than her husband. She appears to know her actions are wrong, but she justifies them with the need to be happy and avoid being “nervy.” So, the next psychological disorder that popped into my mind was borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by a multitude of episodes of mood swings, anxiety, changing self-image, etc. Deborah certainly has a varying self-image of herself and she goes from being extremely upset with herself to extremely happy with her exciting life. However, I am no psychologist and I will stop trying to diagnose Deborah. I just thought this could offer some interesting fodder for conversation.

Anyway, what I would really like to focus on is Deborah’s transactions with men. It appears that Deborah’s body becomes a currency to pay for her lifestyle. Let me tell you how…

At first, Deborah’s exchanges with men seemed to be fulfilling a physical need and a “husband replacement,” for lack of a better term. However, as the novel progresses, it is quite clear that Deborah becomes addicted to her lifestyle and manipulating men. The more and more she gets involved as a mistress, the less and less she is worried about justifying her actions. She also thinks less and less of Graham and Timmy because they are boring and “second best” to her life in London. Thus, her “mistressness” becomes her job in order to afford her expensive lifestyle. Deborah completely reduces her body to currency in exchange for fancy accouterments, drinks, and meals.

My initial inclination was to discuss the commodification of Deborah’s body. For example, she seems to be no more than a body–or object–to the men, a mere distraction. On the surface it may appear that Deborah’s body is the commodity that the men desire; or, it may appear that Deborah makes herself a commodity through her appearance and desirability. However, upon closer examination, it is really Deborah who is objectifying herself (and even men–but I am not going to discuss that in this post) and creating a currency out of her body. Deborah could have easily stayed in her country home and remained a faithful, domestic housewife, but she decided to move to London and make herself available to men. This was her choice in which she had full agency. Not only does she simply make herself available to men, but she creates a business of it and uses her body to pay the men for extravagant things. The transaction is simple: men buy her fancy food/things and give her attention and she gives them her body in return. In other words, Deborah’s body is simply the means in which she uses to get what she wants. The reason I think her body is the currency instead of the items she receives is because she puts more value on the fancy things than she does on herself/her body. Her body becomes easily exchangeable for her appearance and social status. In addition, her body is the only thing she has to exchange for the lifestyle that she desires.

I think this can easily be seen at the end of the novel when Deborah is walking home with Graham’s friend, Ken Matthews, and she points out the crocodile purse that she absolutely must have. After they sleep together, Ken sends her the crocodile purse with a note that says, “I hope I interpreted yours hints correctly. I have no experience of proper payment for this sort of thing” (176). To the men in the novel, their currency is the items that they give to Deborah, and their desired commodity is her body. However, from Deborah’s perspective, her body is the currency for the items the men give her, which are her desired commodities. Both sides of the spectrum (the men and Deborah) are more then willing to give up a seemingly small price for their desires.

Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. Persephone Books Ltd., 2012.

Why Not Vote for Her?

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by Simon Cropp

If I wanted to take a singular positive message from the film Strong Sisters, I could say I should be proud I come from a state that is so supportive of women’s rights, but then, I wonder, how misogynistic principles still guide principles of so many men, and I don’t mean an outright hatred of women, but instead a subconscious belief that women are inferior. I’ve always considered myself to have overcome to this belief of inferiority both consciously and subconsciously, but as I listened to the stories of Colorado’s women fighting to gain respect in the state government, an old fear gnaws at me.

What if those same, oppressive methods of thought still pervade my own subconscious views? I have tried to apply my thought processes to the decision-making processes involved specifically invoked by the film—how I deal with the concept of women in power.

It is certainly arguable if the Presidential seat in the United States is truly the highest level of singular power in our country when considering how capital influences every stage of the political process. So when a person like Bernie Sanders comes along and funds his campaign through grassroots organization and claims to only take donations from people, not groups or institutions, it is easy to get swept up in that momentum. And when Sanders was swept from the table leaving the first female nominee of a major political party ready to take the final steps towards the Presidential Office, it is also easy for me to hedge. Or to say: I don’t want to vote for a person supported by the corporate world. Our democracy is in trouble, and she represents exactly as what I see the problems to be.

Yet, what if I have voted in every election since 2000—every election since I was old enough to vote—when George W. Bush faced off against Al Gore, because those elections, I thought, had drastic implications for America.

I have to ask myself. What has really changed since 2000? Had Bernie Sanders ran his campaign in 2004 and failed to achieve the nomination of the Democratic Party, would I then have not, from the sweltering heat of Guantanamo Bay, cast my vote in that election? Would I have refused to vote during Barak Obama’s historic run?

I believe I would have voted in those elections, just the same, disillusioned or not. So again, I ask myself, what has changed? Hillary Clinton is what changed.

It is easy to sit and express voter apathy when things do not go exactly as I wish in an election. A time existed when I wouldn’t declare myself a Republican or a Democrat, but I do side with Democratic politics now. I have my entire life, to be honest, and I don’t mind sharing this. I don’t have any hatred or loathing for the other side, but I do know where my values are in terms of my political beliefs. And they have always aligned with the Democratic party.

Except this time. Why? Right. Hillary Clinton is what changed my mind.

Perhaps the problem rests with her scandal surrounding the emails. But then, I have to admit, as much as I have tried to parse out that scandal, as much as I have tried to fully understand it, I can’t. I had secret clearance during my time overseas in Guantanamo Bay, so I feel like I have some vague notion of protecting classified documents, but Clinton’s supposed lack of protection for a vast number of documents never made sense to me. Then, after a long FBI investigation, she was cleared of any wrong-doing. I’ve heard this is because she gets privileged treatment, but the more I think about how she is treated, the more I think: this is not how the privileged are treated.

Well, there is always Whitewater, right? The alleged charges that Clintons used campaign funds inappropriately. But ultimately, no evidence exists that these charges have any validity. And in the United States, the burden of proof is on the accuser, and after my year of working with “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay, who often turned out to be just men picked up and turned over with no evidence, then held against for years of their lives, I came home with a stalwart belief in the burden of proof. So why should that apply to everyone but Clinton?

She does take big donations from the evil Wall Street. Still, though, Wall Street manages the majority of Americans’ retirement plans. I suppose it makes sense to work with the people of Wall Street and not paint them as villains. They hold the collective, financial futures of America in their hands. I have a dark, angry spot in my heart for Wall Street, but I’m not a politician. I don’t need to work with them and protect the futures of my fellow citizens.

So what the hell is it? Her health? She apparently collapsed recently. But hasn’t she been endlessly campaigning? Is she the first potential candidate to have health problems? Andrew Jackson had bleeding lungs (and was a massive racist), FDR was partially paralyzed, Grover Cleveland was the textbook picture of poor health, John F. Kennedy had significant health issues, and Ronald Reagan’s health issues are widely known. So what is it about her health?

The answer has to be clear at this point: my change in political occurred, subconsciously, due to oppressive patterns of thought directed toward women in power. I have voted in every election since I was eighteen years old, and I know where my political values rest. Clinton’s record speaks for itself, and her values largely align with my own. That it took so much for me to see this is difficult for me.

The hillary_clinton_2016reason I didn’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton can only boil down to one, singular fact: she is a woman. While embarrassed, humiliated (and uncertain if I even want to share this horrible story) by this fact, I am glad I figured it out. I’m glad I’m over that oppressive line of thinking, and I hope this allows me to be more introspective in the future.

Those Secret Exquisite Moments – Stacy

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I wanted so badly to enjoy reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. This novel was my first encounter with Woolf’s work, and as such, I was excited, I was ready to be enticed, I was ready to be enchanted by the words of the celebrated author. However, I did not have that experience.

I recognized immediately that page one contained no chapter heading. I was not concerned at first; however, after I read for several pages, twenty or more, I realized there are no separate chapters. The novel is written as one long chapter. I found this phenomenon to be vexing as there were no natural stopping points. I felt as though the book should be read in one long frenzied, and frantic sitting. The frantic need to reach the end of the work increased to the point I felt as though I were anxiously experiencing moments of Woolf’s madness imprinted on the pages the further I read.

From our classroom discussion, I knew of the tunneling through multiple consciousness style of writing, and I expected I would enjoy reading from the multiple personalities. As I began, I expected a visual shift as a cue to a change in consciousness, but as such clues are not always present, I often felt I could not follow the swift changes. At several moments, I felt as though the characters were experiencing thoughts of obsessive-compulsive disorder through the listing of items. At first, I felt the listing was all in the mindset of Clarissa Dalloway as a matter of thought organization when she begins by stating the names of flowers available at Miss Pym’s: “delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises” (12). However, the repetition of the listing so quickly on the next page felt as though it were not so much an organization, but a problem. The action is repeated once again in the consciousness of Lucrezia Warren Smith in the form of a multi-step sequence: “Her words faced. So a rocket fades. Its sparks, having grazed their way into the night, surrender to it, dark descends, pours over the outlines of houses and tower; bleak hillsides soften and fall in” (23).  Through the purposefulness of this action, I felt more anxious.

Other moments, I felt as though the characters’ thoughts felt extraordinarily fragmented within the same paragraph. Though Clarissa Dalloway appears to recognize this fragmentation, she makes it appear more purposeful as facets of the whole. She explains the difficulty and exertion it takes to put oneself together as “[. . .] she alone knew how different, how incompatible and composed so for the world only into one centre, one diamond, one woman [. . .]” (36). Though I did not feel the joining together of myself in the way of a faceted diamond, I feel as though I did experience a fragmentation of my thoughts alongside the pages which led me to a feeling of isolation which was reflected  in the thoughts of Septimus Warren Smith when he claims “he could reason; he could read, Dante for example, quite easily [. . .] he could add up his bill; his brain was perfect; it must be the fault of the world then—that he could not feel” (86). Because I know nothing is wrong with my brain, hopefully, much like that of Septimus, I must find fault elsewhere in the world of Woolf.

Though I did not enjoy the reading of Mrs. Dalloway in its entirety, I felt I glimpsed the “secret deposit of exquisite moments” (29) through lines which were truly remarkable moments of literary ecstasy. These were moments in which I could see the landscape of London unfolding in waves before my eyes, the many colors of nature (especially through the multiple red and white flowers) blossoming across the pages, and the lives of the characters unraveling like seams.

 

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Harcourt, 2005.

Mrs. Dalloway- Annotated Bibliography

mrs-dalloway-annotated-bibliography_meghan-miller

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