a flavor of voice

“Today Was a Difficult Day”: Reading Power in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, like most children’s literature, is about power. From desks in a semicircle to Lilly’s fathers’ no-frills cheese balls, nearly every aspect of the book explores some facet of what power looks like in a classroom setting. In order to understand the nature of the adult-child power dynamic at the heart of the book, it is useful to conduct a close reading using not only the aetonormative framework articulated by Maria Nikolajeva[1] but also Clémentine Beauvais’s metacritique of this theory. Coupled with Nikolajeva’s theory, a synthesis of the “most prominent works of post-Rosean children’s literature criticism,” Beauvais’s criticism enables us to “solve” the central problem of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse in a way that aetonormativity alone cannot (Beauvais 2012, p. 75)…

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Outdoor Art and Blurred Distinctions: In Defense of Sheep

I have an extraordinary talent for looking at the wrong thing—or the right thing, for the wrong length of time, from the wrong direction, in the wrong way. I’m a terrible navigator because I get distracted by billboards, or birds. I’ve alarmed strangers by staring intently at their boots or their freckles or the way the light falls on their fingertips. I’ve never slept on a train because I don’t want to miss the space between places, the way the landscape turns into itself. And at the Cass Sculpture Garden, I am affectionately teased for paying attention to the sheep in the adjacent field rather than the pieces lining the exhibition walk. What can sheep teach you about art, after all?…

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a sampler of close readings and critical theory

Say Make Me, Remake Me: Ghosts in the Music of Toni Morrison’s Novel

Ghosts are subtle yet insistent, here but not here, memory and reality and fiction all jumbled together. Ghosts are as confusing and complicated as the living. And, I argue, ghosts are melodies—this is where we begin.

Reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Jazz using music as a theoretical lens allows us to engage with the narratives on their own terms: from the African American tradition, which is situated firmly in the analysis of tone, orality, rhythm, repetition, and so on. If we want to understand how the ghosts of Beloved and Dorcas operate within and influence the rhythm of the novel, we must begin by reconceptualizing the novel as a blend of the literary and the musical. While the two ghosts exhibit commonalities, which find their roots in the overlap between blues and jazz music, they play fundamentally different roles in the construction of their respective narratives…

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Meditation as Narrative: Understanding to Heal

Alice Walker’s “Suffering Too Insignificant for the Majority to See” was delivered to participants at the first African American Buddhist retreat. It is a talk about meditation and spiritual practice, about suffering that will not cease and the necessity of healing despite this. It is not, strictly speaking, a talk about either narrative or storytelling. And yet it is: Walker’s understanding of meditation and the practice of Buddhism as a way of “healing us so that we may engage the work of healing our ancestors” is fundamentally about coming to know ourselves, as well as our orientation in the world around us and the context of our present existence (Walker 101). Meditation as Walker portrays it is about seeking to understand the ongoing narrative of which we are a part and a product—and, most  importantly, about using our lives to mindfully continue that narrative and move forward, always forward, from suffering…

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(De)construction, (Re)construction: The Intersection of Political Realities and Theories

My book list is a reflection of the questions I’ve been working through for the past nearly-four years. Its first section, “Knowing and Being in the Universe,” addresses the existential dilemma of attempting to understand ourselves and our role, as individuals and as a species, in a universe larger than we can comprehend. Political systems and societies, after all, are different ways of ordering our lives as communities. But without first thinking deeply about who we are as individuals, we cannot possibly begin to theorize the systems by which we organize ourselves. Articulating our place in the universe is an enormous task, and there are no easy answers to any of the questions raised in the process. All we can do is keep asking, and remember that, as Lao-tzu writes, “Not-knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease.” As frustrating as these words may be, they do provide some comfort: if we’re confused, we’re not on the wrong path at all! We’re just taking the necessary first step toward truth…

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