ruminations

I began writing this post a week ago, and it was essentially done when I wrote it on Thursday. A week has gone by, and now I have more to think about and reflect upon. Unfortunately, this week has not been as blithe as last week was. Updates written today (July 6) are in red. 7/9: This must have been really confusing the first two days this was up, because I actually didn’t remember to highlight these sections in red in WordPress, although they’re in red in Word. Lol, my mistake. 

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Every night before I go to bed, a compulsion to check the door comes over me, typically before I brush my teeth. I go to my front door and check the locks, make sure it’s closed, and then go to the back door and do the same. I must do this, although I automatically lock the door behind me when I come inside or leave. Sometimes I do it twice, or three times.

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notes on a read-through of my manuscript

It’s that time of the year again! I have some spare time, and I say “Alright, let’s work on these manuscripts!” only to run into the same issues again, as I have already talked about in an earlier post. Yet, as I read my work over and over again, and grow older with it, I am becoming more and more aware of the things I do as a writer and why I do them. So I’ve compiled some observations.

I read my own work differently than I read a book. I suppose this seems like a rather self-evident statement, but I noticed that when I read my manuscript on my computer or in print, I find that I am way more focused on editing and pruning that I would be with a book. I suppose this is because I can edit my work, while I can’t edit Native Son, but I also find that when I am reading, I am less concerned with the author’s convention, or the crafting of the narrative voice; I am less concerned with the craft of writing as it pertains to a faceless, eternally different author. I find that I am the same way when reading my friend’s work. I can’t help but read them into the text, and I don’t like this, because I don’t want people to read me into my texts, although that’s going to be impossible for the people I know closest who are reading my work. Without knowing the author and having a window into their mind, texts seem to exist only as consumable forms of media, and do not carry with them any contextual weight regarding their production.

Having Microsoft Word read me my manuscript helps. I suppose it makes things feel a little more real? There’s a function on Word 2016 (I’m not sure if it’s on older versions) that lets you read a document aloud. I ran Protean through it while I was a little down and self-reflective, waiting on my friend (who’s already on the path to writerly stardom) to respond to my rather anxious Facebook message. As I listened, I put away my laundry, and found that I was sinking into the story, less focused on that narrow, indistinguishably hairline boundary between good writing and overexpression. I just let the story unfurl, and I found that my anxiety was shifting from being weirded out by my own writing to being immersed in one of the anxiety-riddled sequences of the book. My works are imbued with a dark humor which makes me laugh (and I suppose that’s all that matters?) but this is to lighten a text which is nevertheless about being anxious. The entire story is about miscommunication, miseducation, mismanagement of emotions, of relationships. The sequence that the robot-person read aloud was quite heavy, but also quite immersive. I wonder if this is how people read texts… the robot voice put a distance between me as writer and me as reader, a necessary middleman. I find that I quite like the manuscript now. I just wish that I could find a voice that’s a little better at pronouncing the words and making them sound like human text.

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out of the frying pan, into the fire

 

I graduated two weeks ago. It wasn’t that momentous an occasion. For one, I always feel weird about these “sad” situations. It makes me feel cold when I realize that I am not sad to say goodbye to people. It’s not like I’m happy to say goodbye; I find that I brace myself for these situations weeks in advance, and therefore don’t feel much at all. I don’t really say goodbyes, because I am doubtful I will never see my friends again. Those who I may never see in person I will see online, on Facebook or Instagram, cyber-agoras. It is unlikely that I will completely drop out of contact with those I care about, and so saying goodbye to someone’s physical form does not seem to move me much at all. And saying this may make me seem cold, but I can’t do much to change how you read me, or how you read the way I read myself.

I am in New Haven, staying with a graduate student in the comparative literature department. New Haven is a nice town; I can already tell I am going to like it a lot. I’m taking the Latin class I’ve talked about, and it’s not too bad. While I think it’s annoying I have to learn Latin, I have a knack for languages and in many ways consider myself an amateur linguist. Latin, as a classical language, has a lot of features I’ve only been able to study on Wikipedia pages, and learning it will definitely help me understand how French and Portuguese and other Romance languages function, even if the utility of Latin will not necessarily intersect (at least directly) with my research.

I am set to move into my apartment in about a week. While I have been enjoying my time with my host, I feel like a burden nevertheless and will appreciate having my own space and not being a squatter in hers. Only time will tell.

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finals

 

I have a lot of things on my mind, and I’m kind of too tired to really formulate them into nice, flowing paragraphs. I just need to reflect.

Y’all. Why did I do Honors? Oh yeah, because I thought it would really help me get into grad school to see that I was pushing myself. Yet, as I am realizing, now that I’m in grad school, being in Honors at Swarthmore doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pushing yourself, because I could have taken these Honors courses and not have to take these stupid exams. without being an Honors major I took my first two exams (in Geographic Thought, a course I really enjoyed, although I don’t think I really grasp some of the problems we read about, and Black Cultural Studies, a course I took a year and a half ago) and the test were fine? I don’t think I wrote something good, but I made interesting points and tried to approach a complex topic in a way which drew together multiple authors, which is what I assume is the purpose of these exams. It’s not necessarily how poignantly you can respond to a question (which is inherently vague so as to remove the possibility of a one-answer solution), but how you can draw upon the materials of the course to construct an understanding of its subject material in response or in consideration of a vague, general question. Also the exam was open-notes, open-book, and so are all of my exams, and I have this annoying little voice in my head saying “why bother studying?” and I can’t not listen to it. I took my test today and finished with a lot of extra time, which kind of sent me into a panic because I wasn’t sure if I had just misread the questions. I have 5 more exams; one written, four orals. The next one is Monday. I then have 4 oral exams on the 15th and 16th.

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the body suite

I

When I was in Berkeley, I took a break from one of the information sessions for admitted students and went downstairs to the bookstore. I had realized that I hadn’t purchased any paraphernalia from any of the schools to which I had been admitted and I had always liked the Berkeley clothes that I’d seen at other students at Swarthmore. It was a typical shopping experience for me; I looked around, sort of scoffing at the expensiveness of most of the things I actually liked, before settling on the generic Berkeley sweatshirt that most people at Swat are prone to seeing me in, now. (I’m actually wearing it now.) Yet, I couldn’t find my size – M. There was either S, the size I eventually bought, and XL. As I looked at the XLs. I found this annoying, and asked the cashier if they had any Mediums in the back. She responded with a stern “No.” I then told her that it’s always so hard to find my size, although they had tons of XLs, a size I used to be able to fit long ago. And it was at that moment that I suppose she really looked at me, instead of giving a sort of rote response. And then she said “Wow, I could never imagine you in an XL.”

Many people at Swarthmore would not recognize the 11th grade Xavier if we were to randomly appear on campus one day, take a stroll across McGill, or sit in the BCC and wait to be seen. They would probably think he was one of my mythical siblings (everyone always assumes I’m an only child, and I’m not; I have three siblings.) I was far larger and far more aware of my body back then, and the pseudoconfidence I may exude now in this trimmer, slimmer form may fool you into believing that all aspects of that person, who existed for so much longer than the one who exists now, are gone or have been permanently changed. But that isn’t even remotely the case.

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why I declined my Fulbright

Lol. So I’m officially done! with all of my applications. I was accepted to the Master’s programs in Quebec and got funding to do them from the Fulbright Commission but I declined my grant offer today. When I got the email notifying for the Fulbright, it was like the same thing that happened before with other acceptances; looking at my phone, saying “Oh, wow” and going back to whatever I was doing, thinking, in the absence of emotion, about why I am so unimpressed or unmoved. I’m tired, and I’ve been saying the same thing for months. I haven’t even told many people about the Fulbright because I haven’t really considered it a viable option. I wanted to write (an actually brief) blog post about it, just to sort of formally announce that I got (and have declined) my award.

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define: hegemony

hegemony [n] – the ideological manipulation of a subordinated group by a dominant ruling class whose intent is to convince the subordinated to view their domination as justifiable; the process by which the subaltern accept, internalize and enforce their alterity.

 

Shit. This is a big topic, and I’m of course not going to touch on all of the possible manifestations of hegemony, like kyriarchy, patriarchy and antiblackness, but what I want to do here is clarify a term which entered my vocabulary my junior year. I had seen the word hegemony or heard it in conversation, (reading it as he-guh-moan-ee)  but never really understood its significance until I read an essay (which at the time I barely understood) in which the term was for the first time brought into its Marxist context. The essay was written by Antonio Gramsci, commonly understood as one of the forefathers of Marxist cultural studies, and Gramsci discusses hegemony primarily from the cultural vantage, going so far as to call his conceptualization cultural hegemony. Hegemony is one of those words like neoliberalism, neocolonialism, and patriarchy which are thrown about a lot in academic discourse, be it in papers or in seminars, in ways which can detract us from its basest manifestations insofar that its application seems ubiquitous. The overarching theme in many of our lives, it’s easy to riff on hegemony without really basing it in our everyday experiences as scholars. I’ve found that the vantages in my discipline which are used to concretize hegemony (which is, talking about in books) nevertheless keep the concept removed and bound within the theoretical world of race, as opposed to its real-world analog. If I accomplish anything in this post, I hope to clarify and make the concept clearer for an audience who perhaps hasn’t read Gramsci or Althusser, primarily through a study of what one of my primary research questions; the importance of ideologies in our lives.

In part, this post is also a definition of ideology, for we can’t really understand cultural hegemony without first exploring the mechanism through which hegemony functions. Rather than give a definition, let’s start with a story.

When I was young, I had a bunch of white friends. It was part of the experience of being in higher level classes in a school district which enacted its apartheid regime based on “intellectual capacity” that I only had white friends until I began to realize, at some point in high school, that I was not in fact white and that I enjoyed my Black friends’ presence a bit more than my white friends, although they weren’t in any way bad or, worse, racist (!) people. It was also a hassle to get my mother to let me go anywhere in middle school. I would have to call and beg for her to let me stay out in town longer than usual, and going to my friends’ houses was essentially a teeth-pulling fit every single time. I didn’t understand why my mother was like this until recently, when I began to reflect on what it meant to be a Black kid in a rather White suburb, and the discourses which parents transmit to their children in ways which are not directly legible. My mother would tell me every time she’d reluctantly acquiesce to letting me go to this or that friend’s house that I should “be good” and respectful and “never bring shame to the family name.” I thought this was kind of a medieval thing to say, conjuring up images of honor and chivalry, and I’d shrug it off. I didn’t really know how I could bring shame to the Lee family name, because everyone’s parents naturally loved me. I was a friendly, bright, funny and respectful young chap, but I was black. This was a realization I never really internalized, for my mother never really said it, but she knew that white parents would interact with me differently because of my blackness. They switched on a certain lens when interacting with me, be it conscious or not, and as a 11-year-old, I wasn’t aware of the switch. I had to constantly negotiate the fact that I was being interacted with through the veil of my blackness, through the concepts and notions which constitute a cultural ideology about what it means to be a Black person. This is perhaps my first introduction to the Gaze that everyone riffs on in critical theory; the concept that my otherness is visible and mapped onto my body, and that anyone interacting with me will perceive and inevitably act on notions which constitute the image which my visibility invokes. As a ten-year-old bourgeois black boy, I had never experienced marginalization outside of being picked on for being fat, which I inevitably internalized. This is hegemony, in a way, but a subject for another time.

One of my mother’s admonishments was: “Don’t eat at other people’s houses. There’s food at home.” I didn’t know what this meant, but I assumed at the time, comically, that it was because, in my family’s imagination, white people didn’t know how to cook. At the same time, there are tropes about white cleanliness in the Black community, too, which put me off from eating at their houses. So for the most part, I hesitated, but indulged from time to time. Yet, in retrospect, she told me not to eat at white people’s houses because they would think I either don’t have manners because of the way I eat, or that I don’t eat at home, two concepts which are rooted not in my general comportment, but in the specificity of my being a Black person. She was afraid they would map these rather stupid ideas onto me and mistreat me, and actively taught me to avoid such pigeonholing by curbing what would otherwise be “authentic” behavior. If I was hungry, I should eat, but because I was in the company of white people who may think that Black people don’t get enough to eat, or don’t eat well, or don’t eat exotic foods like lasagna, I needed to bend my behavior in order to spare myself the scrutiny and marginalization which would disillusion me and make me cognizant of the ramifications of my birth condition as an Other. That’s heavy shit, but it’s also something that many Black kids experience, particularly those who must exist in white space and occupy the position of the Other.

This is hegemony; the education of self-minimization to Black children, the transmissions of lessons which dictate that one’s natural behaviors, which may or may not be the product of one’s race, nevertheless inflect on others a reason to actualize and accept a preconceived notion of an entire group of people; that one must curb one’s natural tendencies in the presence of White people lest they corroborate a negative image of the collective Other which one represents. It’s teaching young girls to cover their bodies to keep the nasty boys from getting distracted by their bare shoulders and erotic knees. It is a remedy to a symptom of a greater issue, for the issue is not the Black mother or the father of teenage young girls, but those marginalize their children. It is so much harder to say to White people “maybe a Black kid is just hungry, and not hungry because he’s Black,” for a Black parent can’t speak to every White person their child will interact with. The easiest thing to do is to teach that child to bend and conform; and thus a hegemonic discourse is produced, internalized; it becomes an heirloom, transmitted across generations.

Hegemony interacts with ideology by responding to dominant narratives of the Self and the Other. These words, and the English language, aren’t discursive or expressive enough to really express what I’m talking about, but the Self in this case, sometimes also referred to as the Nation, is the conceptualization of the default person whose qualities therefore determine the existence and categorization of all else; the Others. Ideologies are best described as the assemblage of values, images, discourses and ideas which constitute a/the collective perspective of a people. It’s hard to distinguish an ideology from another, and for the most part, I view ideologies as rhizomic systems (from Deleuze and Guattari; something which has no central point of departure or arrival, and builds around a central core for which there is no fixed locus) as opposed to arborescent ones (something that has a root from which all else branches). When we think of race, for example, as an ideological system, we have no point to dictate the origins of the concept, for concepts rarely work this way. Even ideas which are coined, like intersectionality, are not necessarily new concepts, insofar that Black women have been riffing on the idea of intersectional feminism since at the very latest the 19th century.

I could get really heady, bringing in Althusser and de Certeau and Lefebvre to talk about how ideologies are manifest in physical space and in society, but this is a brief sketch. I wanted to really just tell this story, because my mother read my fellowship bio and noted that she didn’t understand what hegemony meant, despite me knowing damn well that she has experienced and internalized hegemonic discourses throughout her life, particularly when it was time to raise 4 young black kids in a New Jersey suburb. While I think it’s good to have other ways of talking about things, and that words like hegemony and discourse can raise more questions than they answer, I nevertheless remain open to the ambiguity of these words, and find that in their flexibility they can better speak to a system of conditions and experiences, as opposed to particulars which remain abstract and difficult to define.