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U.S. Protest Literature 2012

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Janet Dean

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Transcript of U.S. Protest Literature 2012

U.S. Protest Literature
An Inadequate Timeline for U.S. Protest Movements
AFP/Getty Images
Getty Images
Daniel Meehan/Getty
Andrew Burton/AP
Unit 1: Can Art Protest? Can Protest Be Art?
Keith Haring, actupny.org
Some Inadequate Definitions
fr. Latin protestari (before or forth, testify)
originally: to declare
by mid 18th c.: to disapprove
by mid 20th C.: to express dissent or resistance against prevailing norms
for the formalist, no literature is protest
for the deconstructionist, all literature is protest (Ralph Ellison: "Implicitly the novel protests.")
PROTEST LITERATURE (a working definition for this class)
literature that expresses dissent as part of a broader movement in opposition to specific social and political conditions
literature that engages explicitly and self-consciously in social action
“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.”
Where is Protest Lit?
"art for art's sake"
purposeful, teleological
oriented toward action
ideologically simplistic
one-sided, controlled
mass distributed
"...there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem per se, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written solely for the poem's sake." Edgar Alan Poe, "The Poetic Principle" (1850)
"purposiveness without purpose" (Immanuel Kant)
oriented toward pleasure
aesthetically complex
(purportedly) free of ideology
"The conflict between politics and art ... cannot and must not be solved."
--Hannah Arendt
Can Poetry Protest?
“Listen and consider. When even the best of us hear Homer or any other of the tragic poets imitating one of the heroes in mourning and making quite an extended speech with lamentation, or, if you like, singing and beating his breast, you know that we enjoy it and that we give ourselves over to following the imitation; suffering along with the hero in all seriousness, we praise as a good poet the man who most puts us in this state.”
Book X of Plato's _Republic_
"There is nothing political about American literature. Everyone can like American literature, no matter what your party."
Laura Bush, 2003
Plato's Problem with Poets
1. Poets are "imitators of phantoms of virtue"
The Republic
Book X
2. Poetry moves us away from reason and appeals to the lower part of our souls. It corrupts us.
Platonic Ideal of Courage
Poet's description
of courage
Debates Among Poets and Critics
patriotism/poetry analogy (Sam Hamill)
need for "abiguity and complexity"; otherwise risks "complicity" (Charles Bernstein)
abstract poetry is elitist and conflates "ethics and aesthetics" (Kent Johnson)
critique of "abstract" poetry that is not "truly revolutionary" (Eliot Weinberger)
"To write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." (Theodore Adorno)
poetry "makes nothing happen" (W.H. Auden)
possible resolutions
poetry "outside" the republic

finding "the liberatory and transformative potential of a poetry divested of the burden of direct functionality" (Thomas Fisher)

"the project of ... poetry is not to make a difference, but to make differently..." (Thomas Fisher)
Benjamin, "The Author as Producer"
how does his life inform this work?
born in Berlin, 1894
prosperous, assimilated Jewish family
philosopher and Marxist theorist interested in radical culture
fled to Paris in 1932
fled Paris at onset of Nazi invasion in 1940
detained at Spanish border and committed suicide in 1940
what does he mean by "producer"?
Marxist theory: "relations of production" inform society, including:
cooperative work relations
unequal property and power relations
relations between classes
Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
what basic problem of Marxist literary criticism does he identify?

an entertainment writer in the service of bourgeois interests
a tendentious writer in the service of proletariat interests
proletariat = working class
bourgeoisie = owners of capital
Artistic autonomy (self rule) is impossible,
because writer is:
autonomy is assumed to be a requirement of quality
a work that is on the right side of politics need not have other qualities
we could say:
WB says:
"The correct political tendency of a work includes its literary quality *because* it includes its literary *tendency*."
How does "technique" matter to politics?
like other modes of expression, literature has a kind of technology
WB values transformations ("progress") in literary technique as a literary tendency that contributes to a correct political tendency
technologies can change
or stay the same
Pitfalls and Possibilities
"Activism" and "New Matter-of-Factness": politico-literary movements that fall short
elitist intellectuals
"hack writers"
photographs of tenements that become "objects of enjoyment"
"Umfunktionierung"/"Re-functioning" of Art
"adapt[ing] the productive apparatus to the purpose of the proletarian revolution"
changing the relationship between artist and audience
breaking boundary between forms
using revolutionary techniques such as interruption (Brecht's *gestus*), montage, and rearrangement to counteract the audience's illusion
WB makes one demand of the author, "the demand to think, to reflect on his position in the process of production. We may depend on it: this reflection leads, sooner or later, for the writers who matter, that is, for the best technicians in their subject, to observations which provide the most factual foundation for their solidarity with the proletariat." (80)
Unit 2: Declarations, Manifestos, Prophesies, and Revisions
Plato: art appeals to our “lower selves” and therefore is dangerous
Stauffer: strategies of protest literature are empathy, shock value, and “symbolic action” (invites dialogue, debate, and interpretation) (xiii)
Trodd: “feelings lead to a search for knowledge, and in turn this knowledge deepens emotional response” (xxii)
Fisher: "the liberatory and transformative potential of a poetry divested of the burden of direct functionality" (984)
Benjamin: feeling of enjoyment produced by experiencing art can be stultifying; makes us complicit in injustice (75)
how does Paine appeal to both

(rational sense) and

(emotional sense)?
Prophetic Voice
Empirical Voice
expresses divine will
makes predictions inspired by God
describes a moment of crisis and a (often) path to redemption
is universal in claims
based on systematic observation
emphasizes evidence and experience
draws on examples and analogies
Paine and Paradox
impact and endurance
120-150K pub'd in 1st year
reached 1/5th of population
source of much terminology of Revolution
still a touchstone
How does it work as protest and as literature?
How is it all things to all people?
“Occupy Wall Street: The Thomas Paines of our Time” (Article in _Huffington Post_)
Declaration Discourse
"a certain manic-depressive quality" (Robert Ferguson)
"Congress proceeded the same day to consider the Declaration of Independence, which had been reported and lain on the table the Friday preceding, and on Monday referred to a committee of the whole. The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with still haunted the minds of many. For this reason, those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offense. The clause, too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren, also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. The debates having taken up the greater parts of the 2d 3d & 4th days of July were, in the evening of the last, closed[,] the declaration was reported by the [committee], agreed to by the house and signed by every member present except Mr. Dickinson. As the sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive, but what they reject also, I will state the form of the declaration as originally reported."
Thomas Jefferson, _Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson_
how does the Declaration appeal to both



from Matt Groening's "Life in Hell" cartoon series
Language and Structure
Passive and Active Voice
3-Part Organization
how are the complaints organized?
what is effect of each?
how does it work as argument?
Revisions of the Declaration
why revise? how?
capitalizing on "sacred text"
bearing witness to nation's unfinished business
"refunctioning" (WB's "Umfunktionierung) forms
“...the bourgeois apparatus of production and publication can assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes, indeed, can propagate them without calling its own existence, and the existence of the class which owns it, seriously into question.” (Benjamin 74)
what happens to language?
what happens to structure?
"Poets, prophets, and reformers are picture-makers...they see what ought to be by the reflection of what is."
Frederick Douglas
pattern: reversal
relation to prophesy?
relation to empiricism?
goal: revelation
tools: humor, shock, pain
rearrangement of expected order; subversion
emphasis on oppositions (ideals and reality, speech and action); comparative strategies
use of imitation, echo, parody
introduction of the unexpected
production of discomfort
critique of audience
"At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed." Douglass, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro"
exposure of truth
conversion of audience
Relation to Audience
Tensions between Individual and Collective
Intersections (and Conflicts)
wikipedia.org; first pub'd in _NY Daily News_
_The New Yorker_, July 12, 2012. Photograph by Natalia Kolesnikova/ AFP/Getty.
Reinvention of Politics
Unit 3: Sentimentalism
"strange forms" of humanity (48)
racialist pseudoscience
theories of polygenesis
Slave narratives
Christianity and feeling "right" (624)
how are faith and sentiment related?
Stowe's Millennialism
"varieties" of "Christianity" vs. feeling "in harmony with the sympathies of Christ" (624)
The Flight of Eliza, plate 3 from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) engraved by Charles Bour (1814-81)
1853 edition
Beechers' Calvinism
1,000 year reign of Christ
Golden Age of Christian benevolence
complex sentimentalism
sentimentalism is seen as:
aesthetically inferior
exaggerated, unrealistic
ethically simplistic
dependent on Manichean dichotomies
politically weak
tied to commercial culture
can sentimentalism perform protest?
if so, how?
symbolic action
"Symbolic action implies indeterminacy of meaning, rich ambiguity, and open-endedness in the text, which goes beyond the author's intent. It invites dialogue, debate, and interpretation among readers. It points to a distinction between what an author displays and what he betrays. It prevents protest literature from becoming an advertisement, or propaganda, whose purpose is strictly teleological." (John Stauffer, "Foreword," _APL_, xiii)
finding truth and meaning in feeling
"honest tears" (432)
radical restructuring of power
With emphasis on white women, slaves, children, and domesticity "Stowe reconceives the role of [white] men in human history: while Negroes, children, mothers, and grandmothers do the world's primary work, men groom themselves contentedly in a corner. The scene, as critics have noted is often the case in sentimental fiction, is 'intimate,' the backdrop is 'domestic,' the tone at times is even 'chatty'; but the import, as critics have failed to recognize, is world-shaking. The enterprise of sentimental fiction, as Stowe's novel attests, is anything but domestic, in the sense of being limited to purely personal concerns. Its mission, on the contrary, is global and its interests identical with the interests of the race. If the fiction written in the nineteenth century by women whose work sold in the hundreds of thousands has seemed narrow and parochial to the critics of the twentieth century, that narrowness and parochialism belong not to these worlds nor to the women who wrote them; they are the beholders' share." (Jane Tompkins, "Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History." In _Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860_ [New York: Oxford UP, 1985], 146)
FYI: a great site for seeing clips of _UTC_ in film:
Stowe's call to action
sentiment and suffering
Why not?
At one point is it unethical to
portray scenes of human suffering?
At one point is it unethical NOT to?
Uncle Tom's suffering "cannot be told" (583)
Illustrations of Ch. 40:
Is change an individual or collective responsibility for Stowe?
What solution does the novel advocate for slave owners?
What solution does the novel advocate for slaves? Why is it controversial among abolitionists?
George and George
James Baldwin:
defining "good" and "bad" literature
Stuart Hall: defining the "popular"
Manichean dichotomy
dishonest emotion
evasion of key questions
"devotion to the human being"
cannot be reduced to "motto"
concerned with cultural hegemony
"market" definition
"descriptive" definition
dialectic definition
tests out 3 definitions of "popular"
working to reconcile theories about power with ideas about popular culture
Lines added to Sigourney's "Indian Names" in 1834

Ye call these red-browed brethren
The insects of an hour,
Crushed like the noteless worm amid
The regions of their power;

Ye drive them from their fathers' lands,
Ye break of faith the seal;
But can ye from the court of Heaven
Exclude their last appeal ?

Ye see their unresisting tribes,
With toilsome step and slow,
On through the trackless desert pass,
A caravan of woe:

Think ye the Eternal Ear is deaf?
His sleepless vision dim?
Think ye the soul's blood may not cry
From that far land to him ?
limitations of sentiment
“Your letter she sent to Mrs. Willis asking …if this more extraordinary event was true…and if she might use it in her Key[.] I had never opened my lips to Mrs. Willis concerning my Children[.] In the Charitableness of her own heart she sympathized with me and never asked their origin…she knew it embarrassed me at first but I told her the truth[.] ….Mrs. Willis wrote her a very kind letter [begging] that she would not use any of the facts in the Key[,] saying that I wished it to be a history of my life entirely by itself which would do more good and it needed no romance….it was not Lady*like* to treat Mrs. Willis so….”
Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post in 1853 (edited for clarity)
connections and conflicts between Jacobs and Stowe
problems with the sentimental model
limitations of sympathy
models of moral purity
the impossibility of virtue
failures of feeling (Mrs. Flint)
crises of representation ("my pen is so weak")
unbridgeable "abyss" ("O virtuous reader! You never knew what it was to be a slave")
"no one can feel it more sensibly than I do"
Unit 4: Violence
Frederick Douglass
"Give us the facts, we'll take care of the philosophy." (White abolitionist John Collins to FD)
"My left eyeball was nearly knocked out." (95)
Being evidence vs. bearing witness
Chiasmus and Cartesian Dualism
"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man." (69)
Structural divisions and framing of chapter
Possibilities for integrating body and mind/spirit
Revelation and the Prophetic Voice
How does FD's relate to Uncle Tom's?
How is violence treated differently?
How does the Covey fight relate to the shipyard fight?
iRaq (Ipod)
Forkscrew Graphics Silkscreen, 2004 Los Angeles, California 86 x 59cm 22001
Depicting Violence to Protest Violence
Dread Scott
Ida B. Wells
W.E.B. Du Bois
Michael Slate
20th Century Lynching: Jasper, Texas 1998
fiction of "defending the honor of women"
organization/systematization of lynching
state complicity
what "truth" and "facts" does she marshal?
What is her prescription for "self help"?
How does "Jesus Christ in Texas" parallel or rethink Stowe's depiction of the Christ-like slave?
How does the violence of lynching depicted here relate to the violence of Uncle Tom's death?
What is the role of revelation?
Photojournalism of the Vietnam War
how does Slate's expose relate to Wells's?
how does Scott's art relate to DuBois's?

How does the composition of each photograph contribute to meaning?
Are ethical questions raised by these photographs?
Journalism or art?
What is the effect of aesthetics on protest?
Eddie Adams
Nick Ut
Art Protesting the Iraq War
Clinton Fein
How is the depiction of violence used differently in "Who Would Jesus Torture"?
How is religion being deployed differently than in Du Bois's story or elsewhere?
Is this more or less effective protest than photojournalism? What stories are being told that are not told in photographs?
"I'm not beyond killing. Nobody is. But I wrote 'Mississippi Goddam' instead." Nina Simone, remembering September 15, 1963
racial violence 1963
attack dogs and firehoses in Birmingham, Alabama
Medgar Evans murdered
Alabama's governor tries to block integration
4 black children killed in KKK church bombing
"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America." Barack Obama, November 2, 2008
Wright's "Big Boy" and Songs of Protest
"Music is my weapon. When I sing 'Strange Fruit'...I feel as powerful as an M-4 tank." Billie Holiday
The ‘protest’ novel, so far from being disturbing, is an accepted and comforting aspect of the American scene, ramifying that framework we believe to be so necessary. Whatever unsettling questions are raised are evanescent, titillating; remote, for this has nothing to do with us, it is safely ensconced in the social arena, where, indeed, it has nothing to do with anyone, so that finally we receive a very definite thrill of virtue from the fact that we are reading such a book at all.

[On Bigger Thomas, the main character in Richard Wright’s novel _Native Son_:] All of Bigger’s life is controlled, defined, by his hatred and his fear. And later, his fear drives him to murder and his hatred to rape; he dies, having come through this violence, we are told…to a kind of life, having for the first time redeemed his manhood. Below the surface of this novel there lies, as it seems to me, a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy. Bigger is Uncle Tom’s descendant, flesh of his flesh . . . . For Bigger’s tragedy is . . . that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth.
James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1949)
Juxtapositions in "Big Boy Leaves Home"
narrator's voice/BB's internal voice
being watched/witnessing
Alexie's Uses of Violence
inter and intra-racial violence
violence IN and OF history
violence IN and OF mythology
violence IN and OF fiction
violence IN and OF social construction
“...he thought about the beauty of myths and the power of lies, how myths too often became lies and lies became myths” 132

"Son, things have never been like how you think they used to be." 387
“Uncle Sam never did a dam thing for me/
Except lie about the facts in my history”
Tupac Shakur, "Panther Power"
"The Indian Killer is, in fact, a revolutionary construct." 245
"_Indian Killer_ is the first Native American novel I know to take a very particular sort of Indian rage, _murderous_rage, as its central subject--and, it would seem, to encourage its expression." Arnold Krupat, _Red Matters: Native American Studies_, 103 (2003)
What makes a revolution?
Unit 5: Documentation
“I have aimed to tell the truth as I saw it.” Jacob Riis
Muckraking: Riis, Sinclair, Hine, Ehrenreich
techniques and strategies
inside view
close up
sensory assault
illusion of objectivity
dehumanization, depersonalization
"Some poor optical property of our highly polarized and unequal society makes the poor almost invisible." Eherenreich
disciplinary boundary crossing and experimentation in documentary protest
realist fiction
journalistic fiction
self-consciousness, self-critique
Self-Critique: Evans, Agee, O'Brien
"The communication is not by any means so simple." Agee (308)
relation between documenters and subjects
relation between documenters and audience
crises of representation
dangers of producing art
Problems in Documentary Protest
Esther Hernandez, "Sun Mad" (1982)
_Under the Feet of Jesus_
Commercial Culture of Agribusiness
labor injustice
environmental racism
What does Viramontes document?
What does the novel protest?
immigration policy unequal citizenship
bodily effects of migrant farm work
gender oppression
fear of
la migra
documentation and faith
displacement and elusiveness of "home"
language/tools and agency
women as doubly alienated, doubly vulnerable
women as survivors and resistors
An estimated 85% of produce is hand picked.
Who picks the food you eat?
birth defects
injuries and deaths
Farmwork the 2nd most dangerous occupation
Highest rate of toxic chemical injuries
Higher incidences than other wage-earners of heat stress,dermatitis, influenza, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, pesticide-related illnesses and tuberculosis
Higher rates of infant mortality, parasitic infection, malnutrition, and dental disease (National Center for Farmworkers Health, ncfh.org)
a 2003 study found pesticides in the urine of 92% of the 213 farmworkers tested (ncfh.org)
limited access to health care
Economic barriers:
An estimated 5% of seasonal workers are covered by employer-provided health insurance
Legal barriers:
California's Proposition 187 (1994) prohibited undocumented workers from using health care, education, and other social services; a federal court found it unconstitutional in 1999
Half of all farmworkers earn less than $7,500 per year
Half of all farmworker families earn less than $11,000 per year, far below the 2002 U.S. poverty level of $18,100 for a family of four
because of piece rates, it's possible for farm workers to earn well below minimum wage (Geneseo Migrant Center, www.migrant.net)
economic exploitation
Farm Laborers Organizing Committee, supportfloc.org
Unit 6: Dystopian, Utopian, and Millenial Visions
"True Womanhood"
Poster for Sydney Grundy's 1894 Play The New Woman
"The New Woman"
Currier & Ives 1871
"No women on earth have a higher sense of their moral and religious responsibilities, or better understand, not only what is demanded of them, as housekeepers, but all the claims that rest upon them as wives, mothers, and members of a social community. An American woman, who is the mistress of a family, feels her obligations, in reference to her influence over her husband, and a still greater responsibility in rearing and educating her children. She feels, too, the claims which the moral interests of her domestics have on her watchful care. In social life, she recognizes the claims of hospitatlity and the demands of friendly visiting. Her responsibility, in reference to the institutions of benevolence and religion, is deeply realized.” Catherine Beecher, _A Treatise on Domestic Economy_, 1841
"...the ideal of woman's place in the world is changing in the average mind....All our inventions have led up to it, and have in nothing else wrought out beneficence so great as they have accomplished here, purely by indirection. In brief, the barriers that have hedged women into one pathway and men into another, altogether different, are growing thin..." Frances E. Willard, _How to Win: A Book for Girls_, 1888
Pathologies of Women's Bodies and Minds
“There is indeed little doubt that the mass of our women possess that peculiar nervous organization which is associated with great excitability, and unfortunately, with less physical vigor than [in earlier generations of American women.] ....
I firmly believe—and I am not alone in this opinion—that as concerns the physical future of women they would do far better if the brain were very lightly tasked and the school hours but three or four a day until they reach the age of seventeen at least….
It were better not to educate girls at all between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, unless it can be done with careful reference to their bodily health.S. Weir Mitchell, _Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked_ (1871)
The "Rest Cure"
I was put to bed and kept there....As far as he [Dr. Mitchell] could see there was nothing the matter with me, so after a month of this agreeable treatment he sent me home, with this prescription: 'Live as domestic a life as possible. have your child with you all the time.' (Be it remarked that if I did but dress the baby it left me shaking and crying --certainly far from a healthy companionship for her, to say nothing of the effect on me.) 'Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.' " Gilman, _The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman_, 1926
"a slight hysterical tendency"
What is significance of:
the house
the room
the wallpaper
the creeping woman
the end?
Andre Brouillet, painting of Professor Jean-Martin Charcot teaching at the Salpêtrière in Paris, showing his students a "hysterical" woman, 1887 (Wikipedia)
What problems of modern society are "diagnosed" in _Herland_?
"Fifteen years till the third millennium" (18)
"the great work begins" (119)
Dystopic Millennial Visions
what’s going on socially, politically, or culturally in 1985-1986 that portends disaster, chaos, or apocalypse?
how is apocalypse imagined? (Roy, Harper, Prior)
Utopic Millennial Visions
what's going on socially, politically, or culturally that seems to signal salvation or a coming paradise?
how is "Morning in America" imagined? (Joe, Martin, Joe again)
“She dreamed of a beautiful country,--a land, it seemed to her, of rest,--green shores, pleasant islands, and beautifully glittering water.” (Eliza in _UTC_)
postmodern fragmentation of
("great" good, or "great" terrible?
Angels of mercy or angels of death?)
the possibility and price of freedom/individuality
(Joe, Louis, Belize, the Angel)
associated with dissolution of Soviet Union
literally, "restructuring"
part of a historical trajectory from the Bolsheviks' revolution
What does it have to do w/ a play about America?
visitors from the past
the last Bolshevik
prior Priors
Ethel Rosenberg
Mormon pioneers
(Joseph Welch at McCarthy trials)
Sarah Ironson
Restructuring what? How?
"the rhythm of history is conservative" (Joe, 70)

"History is about to crack wide open. The millennium approaches." (Ethel Rosenberg, I:118)
parallels among characters
molecules (30)
"In my generation, we had clarity." (Roy, 79)
"Consider it solidarity." (Belize, 27)
legal justice
divine justice
human justice
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