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Dark Ecology: Race, Gender & the Environment

English 252 @ Hunter College

Author

chrish26

More than Just Extra Credit

I Am Not Your Negro is a moving documentary detailing the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of one of its most prominent activists, the writer James Baldwin. Baldwin not only wrote rich stories about growing up as a black male in the United States, he also spoke at conferences, on television, and in public gatherings, to discuss the wrongs of segregation, of the American divide, and of the socio-political injustices on black lives and minorities living in America, even particularly in the portrayal of them in history and the news, in classrooms, and in the media.

IAmNotYourNegro_ArtForum.jpg

 

(From Art Forum)

Baldwin didn’t believe God wanted him have hatred towards whites or for there to be national or social segregation. Baldwin confesses that he believes that whites didn’t act the way that they did (with superiority or hatred towards the black community, for example) because they were born “being white” but because some other reason, like power or money. The documentary is most interesting, I think, because it presents a narrative voice-over of Baldwin’s writing playing over clips of American culture around the Civil Rights movement, with a strong emphasis on movies and televised representations of blacks, such as with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. If blacks were ever in a movie, they were most often showed as simple or submissive, uneducated or foolish. Baldwin saw these movies as false representation of the quality of black personhood, as well as an extension of white supremacy and cultural vengeance due to any effect of progress made during the civil rights movements. Movies, media, news, etc. that further propagated segregation in American culture only did great damage to both sides of the times, according to Baldwin.

Baldwin gif.gif

(from www.out.com/interviews/2017/1/20/i-am-not-your-negro-director-raoul-peck-need-james-baldwins-brilliance-trumps-america)

The title, I believe, is an assertion that Baldwin does not identify with the media’s presentation of a submissive (“possessed”/controlled and suppressed) African American image, or as the description of a black person in age-old myths, or as the contentedly segregated black person in America, or as the radical black person promoting racial supremacy and hatred: he is a person. Baldwin’s post-structuralist utterance is the most revolutionary message of the Civil Rights Movement that is different from any other. The documentary is a deeply moving presentation of personal narrative, history, media analysis, and moral survey on human rights, freedom, compassion, co-existence, and truth.

Baldwin

(from abc-culture.com)

Celebration Time: April 22-April 23

As we come closer and closer to the end of this semester, with just one more month to go, it’s nice to look back at some of our discussions. This past weekend was, interestingly enough, extremely relevant to our class discussions, since it was both Earth Day on Saturday and Shakespeare’s birthday on Sunday.

1972_earth          Shakespeare english-literature

(Photo of the Earth taken from nasa.gov; photo of Shakespeare taken from oxbridgefutureleaders.com)

According to the Earth Day website:

April 22nd marks national Earth Day, which dates back to 1970, as “the birth of the modern environmental movement.”

After seeing the harmful effects of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin at that time, decided to incorporate a day that emphasizes the importance of protecting the environment. This became known as Earth Day. Earth Day is a day to bring awareness to environmental care, as well as to celebrate the planet that unites all people, all animals, and and the wholeness of our world.

Gaylord Nelson

(Senator Nelson speaking of environmental change, 1970; photo taken from wisconsinhistory.org)

In short, since April 22nd, 1970, environmental associations in conjunction with the Earth Day initiative have led citizens to the awareness of “oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife.” Beyond this, upon entering the new millennium, Earth Day representatives have also pushed for awareness of global warming and clean energy. This movement in environmentalism has opened up the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, and has emphasized the importance of protecting trees and forests. As of today, more than 192/206 countries observe Earth Day.

 

shakespeare birthday

(This comic pic of Shakespeare is taken from momfluential.net)

Following the celebration of Earth Day, April 23rd is traditionally regarded as Shakespeare’s Day. Although little is known about the great poet and playwright William Shakespeare, April 23rd is regarded as the date of both his birth and his death. While April 26th is regarded as Shakespeare’s baptismal day, April 23rd remains the celebrated day of Shakespeare’s life. Shakespeare is accredited with some of the best works of the English language and of literature for all time. Shakespeare lived from 1564-1616, and, according to research, died on his 52nd birthday, during his retirement. Sunday, April 23rd, 2017 marked the 453rd birthday of William Shakespeare.

cakespeare 023    Jane_Asher_launches_Cakespeare_2_c_Victoria_and_Albert_Museum_London_1

(This is a picture of a cake made for the 450th birthday competition held in London in 2014, a competition called Cakespeare; this first photo is taken from Pinterest. The second is a picture of Jane Asher’s cake for the competition; this photo is taken from the Time Out London blog.)

 

Works accredited to William Shakespeare:

Comedies
All’s Well That Ends WellAs You Like ItCymbelineThe Comedy of ErrorsLove’s Labour’s LostMeasure for MeasureThe Merchant of VeniceThe Merry Wives of WindsorA Midsummer Night’s DreamMuch Ado About NothingPericlesThe Taming of the ShrewThe TempestTroilus and CressidaThe Two Gentlemen of VeronaTwelfth NightThe Winter’s Tale

Tragedies
Antony and CleopatraCoriolanusHamletJulius CaesarKing LearMacbethOthelloRomeo and JulietTimon of AthensTitus Andronicus

Histories
1,2, and 3 Henry VI1 and 2 Henry IVKing JohnHenry VHenry VIIIRichard IIRichard III

(This list has been made by Amanda Mabillard.)

 

For information on Earth Day:

http://www.earthday.org/about/the-history-of-earth-day/

For information on Shakespeare:

Mabillard, Amanda. How Many Plays Did Shakespeare Write?Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/numberofplays.html >.

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/numberofplays.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/almanac-shakespeares-birth-and-death/

 

 

 

 

Chopin for the Syllabus

Short but rich; while blunt and mysterious also; The Awakening by Kate Chopin remains of one of the most thought-provoking novels I have ever read. The words, for the most part, are clear (despite an occasional French or slang); the sentences are simple and sturdy; the paragraphs are tight; and the chapters are short, no more than two or three pages on average. But after reading this novel twice, I can’t quite break through the text to understand what it’s about.

awakening

(This is the version I read: Barnes & Nobles Classics, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/awakening-and-selected-short-fiction-kate-chopin/1005693355)

Within the novel, Edna Pontellier is a woman of high class in late 19th century Louisiana, while married to the successful Léonce Pontellier, with whom she has two sons. The novel opens with the Pontellier family on vacation at a Grand Isle resort on the Gulf of Mexico. While there, we subtly learn of Edna’s displeasure with her life, especially as she spends most of her time with her friend Adéle Ratignolle, who encourages her to be more wifely and motherly. But Edna wants to feel meaningful as an individual, not just as a wife or mother. While on resort, she falls in love with Robert LeBrun, who takes her to the water where she does not know how to swim. She eventually teaches herself little by little to swim manageably. When she falls in love with Robert, she is “awakened” to the earnestness of this unhappiness in her life and “awakened” to a self within, that is not just meant to be a wife or a mother. This affair does not last, but the effect it had on Edna remains with her so deeply, that when the family returns to Louisiana, Edna grows more and more distant from her family and, after some time, separates herself from them to have her own place. The rest of the novel concerns Edna as a woman attempting to explore the depths of herself as an individual and expressing an inner life through painting. Edna has a friend, Mademoiselle Reisz, who is a renowned pianist. Mademoiselle Reisz is an inspiration for Edna, because she is an independent woman, with no ties to a husband or children. Edna’s predicament, however, is that she is a wife and a mother, and her self-exploration will be cut short, due to her family or her society. At the end, after Robert returns and leaves again, to tell Edna he loves her and that he cannot harm the reputation of a married woman, Edna revisits the ocean at the Grand Isle, where she had learned how to swim, and she drowns herself.

theawakeningedna

(Photo, taken from https://mixedupsaydee.com/2015/12/07/the-awakening-by-kate-chopin-an-analysis/)

After I read it the first time, I spoke with my cousin, who had been taught the novel in high school. My cousin hated it, because she saw Edna as a selfish woman, who cheats on her husband and abandons her family, only to kill herself, because she can never be satisfied. I, on the other hand, had read this novel shortly after I had read Dostoevsky’s The Demons, in which he writes: “He who kills himself only to kill fear, will at once become God,” of which God is “the fear of the pain of death.” I read this novel as a story of existential survival, with her suicide being a triumph of will, a total forfeiture of oneself to oneself, death as the eternal ecstasy to life and all its chains; for Edna teaches herself to swim in the ocean, the symbolic place of her awakening, but she chooses to drown there. When I went back to the novel years later, I could see Edna’s occasional petulance, her spitefulness, her unnecessary wickedness, her lack of thoroughness, especially in thinking things through. The novel can be an easy read…but only if you chose to ignore its ambiguity.

I think this would be a great addition to the syllabus for many reasons: 1) it is short, so it is definitely manageable for professors and students who have busy schedules; 2) it is an American novel, which also includes the French language and issues of race (with its subtle mentioning of indentured servants and peoples of mixed racial backgrounds); 3) it is not just a novel about a woman, it is a novel about an individual against herself, against her society, and against nature; 4) it revolves around the questions ‘What does it mean to be a self?’ and ‘What is human nature?’; and lastly, 5) it offers a provoking mystery about the role of nature in an individual’s life.

“The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.”
― Kate ChopinThe Awakening

Quotes on The Awakening:

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1970518-the-awakening

A blog read (by someone else) on The Demons:

https://projectdblog.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/he-who-kills-himself-only-to-kill-fear-will-at-once-become-god/

A blog read (by someone else) on The Awakening:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin: An Analysis

The River Speaks of Me

Only slightly do I remember the Vltava River. My photographs from Prague were misplaced during the move. But when I think back on my time there, what cuts deepest in memory is an impression by the river: the waves, a darkened hue, writhing out of form; moonlight, omnipotent, yet lacquering more than penetrating; and myself, though hardly there at all, ein Gestalt von Leben und Tod.

At 20, I took myself away from the troubling uncertainty of my life in Brooklyn, and I boarded a plane to Prague, to discover, for the first time, the land of my ancestors. Prior to the visit, I had known nothing of the city, its people, its history, or if I even had any relatives there. But, as I had been told, my last name—Hongach—is of Czech descent. I thought perhaps I may find some security for my life by digging passed the distance of an unknown past and, thereby, God willing, tap the root of some ancient spirit, from which I am.

We were losing our house in Brooklyn and, more than ever, the touching pride of family unity became more and more remote. Now, in retrospect, I figure I left to chase this feeling, a hurting so mysteriously deep, I supposed it may be traced to its origin through cultural lineage; and, by pinning the base, perhaps I believed, I could save us from the loss.

 

article-2334990-1a1dddfd000005dc-418_964x669

(A statue of a soldier by the Vltava River.

Photo taken from http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/06/03/article-2334990-1A1DDDFD000005DC-418_964x669.jpg)

 

Both running away and running toward the hypothetical heart of my problem, I was truly quixotic at 20, there in Prague, roaming the city, all day and all night, over and over again. Prague, I discovered, is enchanting. It is a city bleak and shimmering, charming and simple, old and fresh. And as I wandered often late after midnight, my body, enchanted, would sway to a bench on the bank of the Vltava River, with a copy of Rilke’s Brigge as my only companion and my ears infused with the repeated song Is This Happiness? by Lana Del Rey.

I would sit on the bench and let the cool night envelope me. Even with the music playing, I could hear the river speak. Whispering, beckoning, eulogizing. The Vltava had a lot to say, with its lightly tucked cloak of moonlight and its cunning running tongues. I would stay only a few minutes to contemplate and to calm the disquiet.

If it would happen at all, it would feel nice, in a moment, to feel a breeze unwind and ease my frazzled mind. I would realize then, that it was either too late or too early, at that hour in the night, to think about life’s possibilities. It would be at this interim, between night and the coming day, that my quest would resign, neither successful nor failed, but gently and boldly free.

But are you ever really free?

Prague was enchanting, indeed, especially the Vltava River, which taught me that this place was no city to die in.

 

 

 

 

(To learn more about the Vltava River: http://www.visitvltava.cz/en/the-course-of-the-vltava-river/20/ )

(Here are quotes from Rilke’s The Notebooks from Malte Laurid Brigge : https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/314321-die-aufzeichnungen-des-malte-laurids-brigge)

(To listen to Is This Happiness? by Lana Del Rey, click the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-noXRjAamQ )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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