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On the Gothic: When I think of gothic art, architecture and literature I think immediately of the sublime--I wonder if anyone would like to comment about the sublime in _Beloved_. There certainly is a sublimity to Beloved's relative growth in size throughout the novel, which intersects with the particular trauma associated with motherhood (I'm thinking of Beloved's phantom pregnancy).

I'd also like to comment (and hope others will too) on Amanda's presentation, particularly her evocation of the shadow/shade. I'm thinking about the shadow in Beloved not just in terms of the shadow/shade as a ghost, but the physical following around ("like her shadow") of Sethe by Beloved, and the haunting of Sethe's memory by the shadow of Beloved. Adrienne's comments on "rememory" and Amanda's discussion of the shadow, haunting, and the unspeakable bring me to Jung, and the concept of someone's "shadow" as the repressed memories relegated to the unconscious. One step futher to Freud and I'm back at the negative--thinking about the metaphor of photography and the conscious/unconscious processing of memory in "A Note on the Unconscious"--which tilts my reading of Palmer's "Letter 5" in the direction of the historical, of memory, among other things that intersect quite nicely with our discussions in class. (Speaking of the historical, the shadow acts as a time marker as well, like the shadow on a sun dial--like the photograph of the shadow in Palmer's poem, the photograph and shadow are like a sort of "frozen" or captured time.)

Before I've worn out the shade/shadow trope (which I think and hope still has possibility enough to last): Latin, umbra, shade, is where we get umbrage, the shadow cast specifically by the tree (among other things). I of course think of the umbrage on Sethe's back, but also the umbrage (the anger, the upset) of 124 and the crawling already? ghost.

Last thing: Thinking about conjugation, Oedipus, the many things we talked about in class. Being a one-time Latin student I know a lot of cheesy Latin-related jokes, not the worst of which: Oedipus conjugated when he should have declined. Yes, har-har, but I was thinking about the couplings of people in _Beloved_, Sethe and Beloved, Paul D. and Sethe, and Beloved and Paul D. and the binding/yoking of all of the characters. Charlie alluded to this in class...any thoughts on bondage, literal, metaphorical, etc. in the novel?


The use of a house as a means of depicting a historical trauma can pose a number of problems for the reader. Primarly the use of the house as a metaphor is well worn not only in literature but in politics as well. With such close ties that often overlap and by attempting to rewrite history the author becomes constrained to historical accuracy. When the author diverges from this track, it is too easy to dismiss them as sloppy, or the text as a fantasy fiction.

I was a history student in my undergrad, and reading books like 100 Years of Solitude or Beloved can be difficult for me as I try too hard to find the historical reference within the text. By using a house it becomes even more difficult, because each room is a potential metaphor for a region, a time period, or a philosophy/ideology. By creating these little compartments, again the author is constrained to make sure that their interactions retain some historical accuracy, or at least what we perceived to be historical accuracy.

Another difficulty is, naturally, the author's expectations that the reader has an understanding of history and can recognize its appearance in the novel. If anyone has started to read or has read Artificial Respiration, they'll understand this problem quite well.


Megan’s comments on umbra/shadow reminded me of something I was thinking about in class but could not refine into coherence. Let me attempt: Sight and seeing, as metaphors, are vital to our conceptual understanding of the world. In class, we talked about how our conception of time is influenced by sight: looking to the future, hindsight is 20/20, etc. This conception overlaps with conceptions of memory. In a less direct way, we define our conceptions of race to a large extent with visual metaphors. People of African descent, we dub black and those of European descent, we call white. I don’t think it is insignificant that black people are not really black nor white people white. Of course, “black” and “white” bring with them all sorts of implications. But my point is, when Ellison and Morrison complicate the act of seeing (invisibility, men with no skin, the 2 paragraphs we close-read), they are undermining the manner in which our brains have been conditioned to understand both race and history.

On the haunted house:
The word “compress” makes it seem like the domestic is a microcosm of “complex historical events.” I don’t really know if I like that framing of the domestic. I see it as the flip side of the socio-politico-historical coin.

The other day in my Chaucer class—yes, Chaucer—a student asked if Chaucer was didactic. The professor’s answer was that Chaucer was no more didactic than Shakespeare. He went on to say (something to the effect) that there are lessons to be gleaned in the reading of Chaucer or Shakespeare, but great authors do not try to hit you over the head (ummm Ernest Callenbach). The haunted house is a technique that Toni Morrison uses to “show rather than tell.” I think that most actual houses, even if they are not haunted, have a definite atmosphere; thus the common reader can relate to a haunted house. That is why Oprah’s book club members can talk about Beloved without close reading of the sort we did.

But back to this coin. The socio-politico-historical is significant because, rather than just fodder for intellectual debate, it affects people’s lives. Speaking of history as a thing in and of itself is missing (or at least not getting)the whole point. I think Freud really took hold because he illuminated the relationship between society and the psyche. Freud places a huge amount of emphasis on the mother-child relationship as does Lacan with his mirror-stage—particularly relevant to Beloved with both the idea of looking and obviously, the relationship between Sethe and her daughters. Rather than a compression of historical trauma, I think the domestic is a manifestation of historical trauma.


Reading Brandon's comments reminds me of how hard it is to pick the right word once you've become self-reflexive about language in the way I want our class to be. I decided on "compress" because the term didn't have pejorative connotations for me and I wanted to avoid words like "reduce" or "flatten" which do.

The idea -- "flatten" does this too, of course -- was to give a sense, not of matter being lost, but matter becoming more tightly packed, with all the density, intensity that suggests.

But I understand Brandon's objection to the verb "compress." I'll be very happy if I have to second-guess my language on a regular basis. And I'll be even happier if everyone else in the class has to do the same thing.

The important thing to remember, though, is that this second-guessing should not, must> not lead to a paralysis where words are concerned. It's only by trying and failing, by perceiving the way our language misses its mark that we really learn something meaningful.


I’m wondering if Sontag’s word choice might be relevant, here, in terms of the difficulty of word choice. Her term “photographic seeing” from On Photography might help in dealing with historicity and memory. But I can see the limitations of using such a term. And, in light of Chan’s interview of Sontag, it seems to me that she has just as much difficulty defining “postmodern” as the rest of us.

I’m interested in investigating her comment about “seeing the world photographically is the great leveler” (10). At one point she refers to the action as “democratic.” Her anxiety about this action is that it is potentially anaesthetizing, or makes us “used to things” (10).

See also Chan’s parenthetical observation that Sontag’s “comment [about “photographic seeing”] presaged Virilio’s observation that our Past, Present and Future has been replaced by Fast Forward, Play and Rewind—the image of modern/postmodern man being that of a sitter with a remote” (10).

In some ways I think Brandon’s word choices—“flatten” and “compress”—are directly related to Sontag’s aestheticism (as interpolated by Chan): “In the real world, something is happening and no one knows what is going to happen. In the image-world, it has happened, and it will forever happen in that way” (10). Time is “flattened” or “compressed” in image (according to Sontag, and, perhaps, for me, too). But what really happens in prose texts?

In class last night, Dr. Dryden gave us a mini-lecture on Poulet’s The Problem of Reading in which Poulet investigates the positive side of the reading experience and the history of literary scholarship, which is in direct response to his “situatedness” within New Criticism/Formalism. For Poulet, reading is a form of inter-subjectivity; the reader accesses the consciousness of the writer via the act of reading—there’s some absorption. But Poulet also says that “books are objects, waiting for someone to deliver them…animals for sale…looking for a buyer…[it] exists outside of itself…falling away of barriers between you and it…there’s no longer outside and inside.”

Poulet’s argument about the “enchantment” theory of reading is in direct opposition, I think to Sontag’s “photographic seeing” and, also, the project of cultural studies. What to do, then, when we’re trying to figure out whether to use “flatten” or “compress?” What to do, then, when trying to situate ourselves in the historical relevance of a work of prose? (I think the division between cultural studies and formalism is difficult to navigate, especially when choosing language.)

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