Monday, July 2, 2007

Nea onnim no sua a, ohu

In celebrating my return back to the blogoshpere, I decided to take some time and space to explain what my blog's name means.

"Nea onnim no sua a, ohu" is a saying of the Akan people of Ghana which translates to something like,"He who does not know can know from learning". I am an ardent supporter of those who pursue knowledge for the sake of having knowledge, so I try to devour any new information that comes before me. I wanted my blog to reflect this about me and I will try to remain loyal to this central concept by exploring ideas and experiences, and maybe even coming up with an answer or two in the process.

Have no fear, I harbor no illusions about my intelligence or education levels. I don
t mean to come off as a pretentious asshole nor do I plan on assaulting my readers with dense, esoteric nonsense that is designed more to confuse than to enlighten. My goal is to try and explore ideas and issues that can be interesting, challenging, and, sometimes, very fun.

I don't want to take up any more valuable space attempting to describe what this blog will be (hopefully). So, I shall let it speak for itself. Until the next time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Lost South

Faulkner is a master of describing the broken south. His characters are often the bitter and broken inheritors of a twisted and mythologic history. His white characters are invariably trapped in their own memories of a past that never was, unable to accept a present vastly different than anything they could ever imagine. His black characters go beyond the simple sambo character, but they are still stereotypical, the faithful servants that require a benevolent white hand, or faceless laborers. Underneath these characters, there is always some sordid, filthy secret that could destroy a family or personage. I enjoy the flipping of the southern mythos and Faulkner's love of exposing the hypocrisy of the former landed gentry or the moneyed "town" people. There is this constant tension between the land, the love of land, the people of the land, and those of the town. And even within the people of the land, Faulkner differentiates between those with money who own land and those who work the land. His disdain for the wealthy of the south is palpable, and yet, he has a definite love of the south. The land, the people, the common people, are filled with nobility and magic.

This story focuses mainly on the sordid history of the moneyed class, but it also looks at the land and the fruit of the land and its connection with memory. The jasmine is the only connection left t the family from their wing in Carolina, that and a piece of old stained glass. The jasmine has grown thick and helathy, its scent flowing into the house, almost overpowering. It covers everything with its sweet, obliterating anything before it. Like memory, the jasmine grows over time, exerts more influence, eventually pushing everything away, until there is nothing but the memory left.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Chesnutt and despair

"The Wife of His Youth" saddens me. Chesnutt, in the works we've read, have all brought strong and conflicting emotions out of me. But the most common emotion is an everpresent sadness, bordering on despair, an undercurrent I feel throughout the works we've read. But "The Wife of His Youth" affects me the most. First of all, the "Blue Vein" society is a rather sad organization. It is a society of outsiders. They know enough that they won't want to be black. That's not a mystery or too surprising.

What is most sad and frustrating is their intense shame and unfulfilled desire to be accepted by white people. The result is that mulattoes, and really most people of mixed racial heritage that live in a post-slavery or post-colonial society, live in a zone between the world of the black and the white. They are living spaces of liminality. Their very ambiguity and in-betweenness leaves them room for creativity and adaptation. This may be part of a reason why so many very influential artists of the late 19th and early 20th century were mulatto. But this very in betweenness is also what alienates them so totally. And this alienation is incredibly sad to me. Either, as a mulatto, you are trying to "pass" or you are "choosing" to ally yourself with blacks. It's an incredibly frustrating state that combines all of the greatest psycho-emotional problems that arise in a racist society: self hatred, alienation, isolation, and despair. Chesnutt captures these feelings wonderfully in the "Wife of His Youth". Especially the final scene where Mr. Ryder's wife first approaches him and tells her story. It is a searingly painful scene, and it ends on such an ambiguous and sad note. It is an awful reminder of the strength of so many black people who survived the horror that was slavery and of their devotion and strength after slavery to try and make something of their hard lives. Even the ending of the story where Ryder acknowledges his wife and introduces her to the Blue Veins, I can feel nothing but sadness that it took so long for her to find him and that she had to live so hard for so long.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Flawed Boy

Twain clearly uses Huck's tale to showcase the flaws that lie within American society. But I believe that one could make an argument that Huck is a metaphor for America, also. He is a growing boy, an adolescent, in a hostile world, trying to find a way to define himself. This is a great description of the US during the early and mid-19th century. America was still very much a young country. It was still expanding westward and had yet to fully form its identity, as is evident by the intense conflicts over slavery. In essence, America was still a child, a growing child, but a child nonetheless, unsure of its place in the world and what it was about. This is Huck. A child growing into maturity, challenged by the world around him.

Twain takes this character and follows him down a path of growth; this is a path that is just as challenging, conflicting, and confusing as the path that America was on in her adolescence. The slow realization of Jim's humanity mirrors America's slow realization of the evils and hypocrisy that slavery embodies. Just like the call of abolition in the early 19th century, Huck comes to this realization slowly and with much resistance, but as the truth becomes more evident and damning, his realization growns at a greater rate until he is almost completely transformed. But even with this vast transformation, Twain shows that Huck still has a long way to go before he is a fully formed adult. Huck's choice to go off with Tom in order to "rescue" Jim still shows a very great amount of immaturity. His intentions are fine, but he goes about fulfilling them in an improper way.

Finally, Twain leaves Huck in his imperfect state so as to keep the reader wondering how exactly he will end up. Twain does not really resolve this question because he does not know what will happen to Huck. All Twain has is a strong sense of optimism and faith that Huck's goodness and ability to grow will lead him to become a strong, responsible, moral man. And this is the hope that one can only hold for his country.

Monday, March 5, 2007

It happens so very often for students when studying literature that they simply read a work, give it a surface exploration, and then move onto their next assignment without ever really being affected or influenced, not comprehending why they were ever asked to read the work in the first place. "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is not one of those works. This entire piece is a testament as to why Whitman can be called a "master" without reservation. The one thing that makes this piece so great is the immense love and loss expressed by Whitman.

Love. A word and idea much abused in literature and art. Every two-bit poet that has picked up a pen has written about love's ambiguousness, its amorphality, and limitless bounds, but Whitman gives love an honest and fuller view. What allows Whitman to so successfully navigate around love is his seemless weaving of two events, occurring simultaneously, into one coherent work. Whitman is standing in a yard, looking at a lilac bush and remembering his fallen comrade and friend. At the same time, Whitman is describing the journey of his deceased friend's coffin to the graveyard. He is able to take the pain associated with memory, connect it to the scent of the Lilacs, and let that memory follow his friend on his last journey into the earth. As we follow the coffin in Whitman's dream, the reader is thrown into the spectacle, choked by the all encompassing sadness "Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land.../With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,/
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the/unbared heads,/
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,/With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising/strong and solemn..." The sense of loss is absolute and total. It is not possible to not be affected. Whitman's use of atmosphere, the universality of the despair, and his own sense of loss that joins everyone else carries the reader forward on a wave of raw loss.

And yet, Whitman does not allow this mood to overrun the poem. He keeps everything well contained and organized, directing the reader through his own sadness, without letting the sandess of the situation wash away everything. He's able to do this effectively by referring back to the lilac, his memories, and the dooryard. We learn that our narrator threw a lilac sprig onto the coffin of his deceased friend, and we learn why these lilacs mean so much to him. This realization is incredbily subtle in its power. We now understand why he hurts when he sees the lilacs bloom, and yet, we can all relate to this phenomonenon so there is not a real, jarring surprise through the revelation. It is done with sensitivity, it takes our attention from our direct, raw sadness and takes us only half a step away from it, but far enough to come back to the present and understand why our narrator feels the way he feels.

Finally, it is this tenderness for the reader, this regard for our own feelings that demands that I see Whitman for the master that he is. He takes us along a very, very painful journey, and he allows us to cry and to scream and to moan, but throughout the work he is right there with us, stroking our back, comforting us, guiding us down a path where we may once and forever let go.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Whitman as Warrior

"Beat! Beat! Drums" stands as a testament to Whitman's desire to crush the Southern rebellion absolutely. But there is no mention of emancipation or slaves within the work. I think that Neely's assertion stands, at least nominally, for Whitman does not make an explicit statement on slavery or the Emancipation Proclamation in the work. But, I hesitate to say that Whitman did not care about Emancipation at all. When looking at works of Whitman's, such as "Leaves of Grass", that predate the Civil War, then it becomes clear that Whitman believed firmly in justice and liberty and hated anything that stood in the way of these liberties. In fact, Whitman repeatedly mentions the role of poets in the battle for liberty. He believed it was the responsiblity of artists to expose the inequities and injustices of the world, to help to spur action and be an example for people to follow.

"Beat!Beat! Drums" holds none of this sentiment. There is no mention of liberty, freedom, or the obligation of poets to expose the actions of the unjust. Instead, the poem is an ode to the destructive power of war. Whitman encourages war to run through the country with no regards to anyone. He wants there to be no peace until victory is won. Let no farmer work, let no bridegroom have peace, let no one be comfortable while this war wages.

At the same time, I do not find this work to be the work of a "mystical nationalist", if only because reconciliation and union are not big themes in the work. This poem is a song praising the destructive power of war and asserting the necessity for sacrifice and ruthlessness. When Whitman says that no one shall practice their everyday routine, it is a message to the world that says everyone must sacrifice for their side and fight. At the same time, it exhorts the forces of war to disrupt the lives of the enemy, to destroy their lives. This is not a poem that expouses reconciliation and common brotherhood. This is a poem that demands the absolute destruction of not only the enemy's army but of the enemy's way of life. This poem does not carry the sense of someber, tragic necessity that infused the speeches of Lincoln like the Gettysburg Address or hist Second Inaugural. Instead, Whitman succumbs to an all consuming bloodlust that overrides any sense of "mystical" nationalism or reconciliation.

So, while Whitman does not explicitly mention emancipation in this work, he also does not mention or subscirbe to what I would describe as a "mystical" nationalism. This work is an ode to destruction, death, and interruption. There is no overriding sense of nationalism here, only violence. Whitman is caught up in the moment of war, blind to the greater contexts, revelling in the simple chaos and destruction that accompanies it. So, I must respectfully agree and disagree with Neely's assertion, at least in the context of this one particular work.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hawthorne does it big...

Hawthorne has some issues with Puritanism, to put it mildly. The self-rightceousness, the meanness, and the penchant for fanaticism are all anathema to Hawthorne on a deep level. "Young Goodman Brown" takes this theme, Hawthorne's distrust of the Puritan church, and plays with it. It's a very, very scary story. I found this much scarier than the readings we were assigned on Poe because of the uncertainty. Is the entire thing a dream? Is Goodman Brown the lone Christian in all of Salem? The illusion forces one to confront their own prejudices about Puritans. If you think Puritans are self-rightceous fascists, then you would probably sympathize with Goodman Brown. If you stand on the other side, then Goodman Brown is simply a crazy old dude with too active an imagination. But, what makes this story all the more intense is that Hawthorne can play with his reader regardless of their sympathies or faith.

Goodman Brown plays the role of the dupe/cuckold, regardless of your sympathies or thoughts about Puritanicalism. Hawthorne makes it such that if you are a hardcore Puritan, then it becomes very hard to dismiss the thought that Goodman simply suffered from a bad dream. Salem was an area known for its legacy of witchcraft and it is well known in Puritanical thought that the devil actively corrupts the soul. On the other hand, if you are not Puritan or devout, you can mock Goodman's delusions as the result of a person forced to consume terriffying religous poppycock and believing in it so absolutely that it causes one to fall into insanity. Either way, the reader loses, and Hawthorne wins.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Troubling Ambiguity of Identity in Wheatley

Is Phillis Wheatley a sell out? When one reads her poems it is very easy to come to the conclusion that she enjoys or at least celebrates her being captured and being saved. But is this the whole story? I believe that Phillis Wheatley may be one of the first documented cases, if we assume that her works reflected her actual viewpoints in even some minor ways, of a truly brainwashed/self-hating African-American. One of the first documented cases of American slavery's ability to steal, not only the body of the African, but her heart, mind, and identity also.

In "On Being Brought from Africa to America", Wheatley praises her captors for releasing her from a "pagan" land and bringing her into "salvation". And yet, in the same line she criticizes those Americans that hate blacks and she tries to remind them of blacks' own humanity, but only through the lens of Christianity. She says,"Remember Christians, Negroes black as Cain/ May be refined, and join the angelic train". Here Wheatley is trying to reconcile one of the inherent contradictions and weaknesses of the justifications for American slavery and, by extension, American racism. If a reason for slavery is the christianizing of Africans, then why are they not seen as human or "saved" after they convert and have proven their faith? This poem is Wheatley begging America to accept and love her as one of its own.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be accepted in one's adopted society, even a slave can have and probably should have that desire. What is disturbing in Wheatley's works is the denial of the value in her African-ness. She believes in the American lie of African inferiority, but she desires to be accepted by America and to be seen as a human. But, in order to be read by the publi she must publicly declare her inferior status. It is a catch-22 of epic and dangerous proportions. Wheatley, in her desire to recognized and accepted must deny the self. She must cast off her blackness, her supposed savagery, her paganism, and she must pick up the affectations of her white overseers and owners. But, in the end, she is still black.

This sentiment becomes even more telling when she decides not to mention race. For example, in "To S.M., A Young African Painter, On seeing His Works", Wheatley mentions nothing of race or the shared African heritage that the two artists share. The total lack of a mention of race is very jarring, especially since she has little reservations in talking of Africa in other works, usually under a negative context. Now, does it not seem a bit weird that Wheatley would explicitly not mention race in a poem dedicated to another talented artist of African descent in America? Why does she deny or outright ignore not only their shared race but also their shared condition? It is this omission which is most startling and saddening to me.

Wheatley is so brainwashed that she cannot or will not recognize the shared condition of a fellow African artist. Combine this with her negative portrayals of Africa, her desire to be accepted in a society that excludes her because of a trait she cannot change, and her inability to truly speak up for justice for other black Americans, and one can only conclude that Wheatley suffered from immense self-hatred and confusion. In this sense, she becomes an even more tragic figure than the one that is already portrayed by the general community.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Original Hustler

There have been those who have claimed that Benjamin Frankling can be called the Founding Father. The one individual who embodied the classical ideals that make America. But I would disagree. Benjamin Franklin to me is not the the Founding Father, he may be the original American. By this, I mean that Benjamin Franklin is the perfect embodiment of the Protestant work ethic and the slimy "get ahead" attitude that infuses American life. In other words, Benjamin Franklin can be accurately characterized as the original hustler.

What characteristics would you say enable Franklin to hold this title?

The first, and most important feature, is that Franklin did not grow up in a privileged household. Franklin understood from a young age that he would have to make a name for himself. He could not depend on his family to care for him always, so he knew he'd have to get a trade and make a go at it. At the same time, though, Franklin cannot be limited by working for another person; and this is the second aspect of being a hustler. The desire to be independent is the principal driving force behind the hustler.

The drive for independence is what differentiates the hustler from the employee. Whether you look at a simple corner drug boy compared to his lieutenants and mid-level dealers, or a cubicle dweller comapred to upper management, the dichotomy exists. The hustler seeks autonomy and influence. If he can do his own thing, he will. And it is this drive that truly makes the hustler unique, and is one of the principal driving forces of Benjamin Franklin. His desire to be free of his father's and brother's influence, his ability to lead those around him, and his almost boundless intelligence all lead him to the life of the hustler. And hustle he does.

Franklin takes his skills and parlays them into real influence. From publishing Poor Richard's Almanac to acting in service of the colonial government in Europe, Benjamin Franklin finds a way to separate himself from those around him and to gain influence where one should not have it. In essence, he hustles. In this sense, Franklin is the original, and maybe the best, American hustler.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Thomas Jefferson is a hard figure to pin down. His writings and thoughts are so prolific that it is close to impossible to read an excerpt of any of his works and pretend to have a grasp of his thought process. Add his famous contradictions and hypocritical posturings, and you get a very, very complex and conflicted individual. But, no matter an individual's political affiliation or opinion of Jefferson, as a man, one must recognize the sheer genius of the Founding Father.

Jefferson is a lover and true believer in liberty. He believes in the power of rationality to overcome questions of prejudice and injustice. He eloquently attacks the notion of state-sponsored religion, not to mention religous extremism or sectarian strife, as irrational and counter to the goals of a free society. He gives numerous examples of the fallibility of governments and individuals to show that government has no reason to judge or legislate what people should believe. This is a pertinent and controversial even today. The strife, not only in far-away lands like Iraq but, in America also. The rise of the Christian Right over the past decade has explicitly shown the dangers of mixing government and religion too closely.

It saddens me to imagine Jefferson, arisen from the grave, walking around America, observing all that we have and cherish, and yet, seeing the anti-intellectual, ignorant country that we have become. We have come far in our journey as a country, but we are now plagued by a populace that does not care about learning or justice. We allow our government to run roughshod over the rights and liberties that men like Jefferson fought long and hard for. I am not simply referring to the soldiers who died on the battlefields for our sake. But I am also referring to the politicians, lawyers, and learned men who debated long and hard on how our government should be set-up. Jefferson and other delegates, especially from Virginia, fought long and hard for the inclusion of a bill of rights within our constitution because, they knew that without certain rights explicitly stated, the government would find ways to circumvent them. These individuals would be horrified to see the overstepping of executive power, the capitulation of the congress, all combined with the quiet, accepting apathy of the people. Truly, they would have to wonder whether this great experiment had already died.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Hi. My name is Jamaal Green. I'm a senior economics major with a minor in city and regional planning. I'm looking forward to working with this class. Sorry for the late start, but I hope to catch up and contribute. Thanks