music and literature save lives

August 24, 2012

My friend, Julie Jung, designed a graduate course at Illinois State called “Rhetoric Saves Lives” (scroll down to ENG 590 Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition Studies, almost at the bottom on the right-hand side). From Julie’s course description: “Titled ‘Rhetoric Saves Lives,’ this seminar argues that scholarship in rhetoric can and does productively intervene in discourses that threaten the lives and livelihoods of beings on this planet.*” And the asterisk signals a note at the bottom of the course description — I’m including the note not only as an example of citation and gratitude but also as an example of Julie’s humor, which always cracks me up:

* I am grateful to my colleague Professor Angela Haas for arguing so persuasively that rhetoric does in fact save lives in response to my once saying that our work as rhetoricians isn’t like “brain surgery, because, you know, we don’t save lives or anything.” Accordingly, she inspired not only the title of this course, but also the very course itself.

As an undergraduate at an experimental college, I pestered my beloved literature professor with questions and comments such as the following: But how can literature make a difference? What does literature have to do with reality? Aren’t we destroying the literature by picking it apart? To which, my beloved literature professor answered, “How is my job any different from that of a plumber or a carpenter?”

Thirty-five years later and I’m reading a collection of contemporary Iranian literature with a group of alumni from that same college and with that same literature professor. Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, edited by Nahid Mozaffari, offers a corrective to our mis-information and monolithic stereotypes about Iran. Literature is dangerous — on the back jacket of the collection, Dick Seaver of Arcade Publishing explains that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Department of the Treasury) warned the company that without a permit, the publisher would face consequences: a million-dollar fine and ten years in prison. What is the danger in this collection? Iranian writers describing their home, country, culture.

Reading Ahmad Mahmud’s excerpt from the first chapter of his novel, Scorched Earth, about the first days of Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, I kept thinking, ‘Why isn’t this required reading in high school, in college world lit. courses?’ The excerpt offers confetti pieces of the start of war and its inexorable normalcy.

This evening, I’ll attend a concert, the first of the 2012 Twickenham Fest three-concert series. I’ll listen to the world premiere Speaking for the Afghan Woman by William Harvey, an American composer, who lives in Kabul. Scroll down and read the Program Notes for a quick introduction to Afghani literature, music, and the feminist, Meena Keshwar Kamal, the founder of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan). (There’s a fantastic exhibit on RAWA at Second Life.)

How do music and literature save lives? They combat ignorance. Listen to more about William Harvey’s work with his organization, Cultures in Harmony, or read this review of Shiva Rahbaran’s Iranian Writers Uncensored: Freedom, Democracy, and the Word in Contemporary Iran. Have at it. Go save some lives.


excellent review of Fifty Shades of Grey

July 29, 2012

Gail Dines’ review in Counterpunch, “Why Are Women Devouring Fifty Shades of Grey?” is excellent. Fair warning: it will make you weep at the popularity of the book.

double-entry journal

February 26, 2008

I just finished writing my double-entry journal for Kenneth Bruffee’s article, “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind,'” one of the readings we’re doing tomorrow in Writing Pedagogy. I asked everybody to do a double-entry journal for one of the Cross-Talk articles and then to do one-paragraph reactions to the remaining three articles we’re discussing.

And it took me probably three times as long to read the article doing the double-entry journal as it would if I just highlighted and penciled in marginal comments. Agh. Of course it takes longer. That’s important information! And I don’t use that information effectively. That is, I’ve taken to using  double-entry journals to ensure that students do the reading in my 102 classes, but I think I’m really wasting their potential to build that community of knowledge-makers that Bruffee’s article discusses.

Strange to read Bruffee AND write a double-entry journal AND be aware that double-entry journals can be a hugely effective tool in the Bruffeeian enterprise — and I need to think how to do that. Give enough time. Use journals as part of class conversation. Use journals as springboards for writing. More conversation.

Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat

December 17, 2007

Just finished this memoir by Palestinian American author (born in Ramallah). Story is framed by 17-year-old narrator’s letters and then goes back to begin the story with three-year old Ibtisam’s memory of the Six Day War. By the end, I was ready for the next volume (we stop with Ibtisam at about age 6 or 7, I think), so it’s a good thing Barakat is already at work on her next book. Prose is simple, elegant.


January 15, 2007

the serendipity of the web blows my mind…i love how hyperlinks take me places i could never imagine. so, for instance. i’ve just finished reading edmundo paz soldán’s Turing’s Delirium cuz Paz Soldán is giving a talk at UAH this thursday, and i’ve got two of his novels in english translation. and after i finished Turing’s Delirium, i kept thinking of neal stephenson and mostly of cryptonomicon, which i haven’t read but was pretty sure would be relevant…especially since paz soldán includes an epigraph from stephenson’s snow crash, which i have read. so i went to the novel’s website and read a good portion of the prologue and there’s a great section that includes alan turing as a character. but i also went to stephenson’s website (which has a well address…very cool [The WELL started as one of the earliest online internet communities — almost a decade before the world wide web]) where he links to “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” a piece that explains why he doesn’t answer readers’ email or usually accept speaking engagments:

The quality of my e-mails and public speaking is, in my view, nowhere near that of my novels. So for me it comes down to the following choice: I can distribute material of bad-to-mediocre quality to a small number of people, or I can distribute material of higher quality to more people. But I can’t do both; the first one obliterates the second.

sage advice for writers — and on his website, stephenson also points to an article by jonathan rauch in The Atlantic Monthly Online that explains stephenson’s personality, that is, as an introvert. “Caring for Your Introvert: The Habits and Needs of a Little-understood Group” was published in march 2003 and still receives more hits than any other article. there’s a follow-up in a feb. 2006 issue (“Introverts of the World, Unite!“) that’s also worth reading. rauch suggests that internet could be re-coined intronet, since it’s such a perfect medium for introverts.

introversy is the term the atlantic monthly online uses for rauch’s article and the ensuing discussion (see the april 2006 piece “The Introversy Continues“).

caryl phillips’ the nature of blood

December 13, 2006

I’ve finally read Caryl Phillips’ The Nature of Blood, a novel at least two friends have urged me to read for some time now. This urging usually comes after I mention Tayeb Salih’s (Al-Tayyib Salih) Season of Migration to the North, which riffs off of Shakespeare’s Othello. So I knew Othello would figure in Phillips’ novel. I didn’t know that the main narration was by a character named Eva Stern, a holocaust death camp survivor. I was frustrated with the seeming lack of connection between the narrative strands, and this frustration did not abate until the end of the novel and the introduction of the character of Malka. Eva Stern’s telling of survival is powerful; but I also kept thinking of Ilona Karmel’s Estate of Memory, which I think is more effective. I was frustrated, too, by the Othello character. I still think Salih’s novel is magnificent; it offers a thick and transformative reading of the Othello narrative. Season of Migration to the North is still my pick for one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read.