Final Blog

December 23, 2010

This is one of the few English classes that I have taken and I have truly enjoyed reading most of the works of literature that we focused on in class. As an English major you always hear talk of the Canon and the traditional works of literature that are “essential” and so “important” for English major to read and be familiar with. For our final blog we were asked to basically evaluate the Global Literature course and express what we enjoyed about the class and what we didn’t as well as discussing the Canon.

In my opinion what this course should be is, a class that focuses on literature written by non western writers. What this means is that the course should not include tradition western works which essentially is what the Canon is, but it should mention them very slightly. Because it is Global literature I think that it deserves to only include works of literature that are not western works, after all its only fair because American literature gets two required classes that English majors must take at Queens College, as does British literature. So Global literature in my opinion should not include 20th century canon works.

What worked for me in this course was the second half of the semester. During the second half of the semester we focused on non 20th century works of literature and these works are what grabbed my attention and interested me the most. As I mentioned in previous blogs I absolutely loved “Drown” by Junot Diaz, and I am currently reading his other novel ” The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”. But I never expressed how I truly felt about the other novels we read in the second half such as “Persepolis”, “Dreams From My Father”, and “The Woman Warrior”. I never expressed what how I enjoyed these  novels better than any of  the works we read in the first half. I finally noticed, because of this final blog assignment, the reason behind me enjoying the second half of reading so much better than the first and that reason is because I relate to the authors that wrote the works we read in the second half. Never in my life have I traveled trough Africa, like in “Heart of Darkness”, and describe people by the color of their skin and belittle them in my mind and with my words. But I can relate to Kingston being discriminated against because of her culture, Diaz hating himself because of his culture and ethnic physical traits, and Obama realizing how minorities are exploited by politics. This is why I enjoyed reading in the second half of the semester. There is no hiding that I am a minority, and I can relate to each work that we read in the second half and these works made me think and reminded me why I love reading. I never once could  relate to “Homer:The Iliad,The Odyssey”, and I never once enjoyed reading it. I always thought of English as an art and not a list of “Great” western readings that professors must shove down students throats, and because they know the students will not read it, must then test them to ensure they do because no body wants to fail.

You would think that going to college in New York City which is considered the most diverse city, and going to college in Queens which is the most culturally diverse borough in New York City, that by now we would be able to incorporate more works of literature written by minorities and women. But yet we still focus primarily on the 20th century canon and western literature.  The Canon wars that took place in the 1980s was to incorporate more women and minority writers into the works of literature read in colleges in America. Although they did succeed and us reading Diaz, Obama, Satrapi, and Kingston is evidence of this, I still do not like the idea of the Canon or that they are considered “Great Works” in literature. Why is it necessary to read often racist, and sexist works, what do I learn from this. Being a minority and a English major it is truly disappointing. Why should we read the works of dead white males, are minorities not as good at writing, do women not posses the same passion for writing as these men did. I do not believe that because a group of men decided that these works are “great” means that they should be the focus of English in college education.

Because I am a minority and a English major I maybe bias, but it does not give me hope. I feel like minorities are not represented fairly in the Canon and that the Canon should be changed not only because of the misrepresentation of women and minorities but because of the time period. It would make sense if the Canon was changed every certain amount of years to include past “great” works and current “great” works. But the problem with this is that every onde has a different interpretation of what a great work of literature is.

Out of the 5 classes I have taken for my English major this is the first to spend substantial amount of time on works of literature that are not considered part of the Canon. And I enjoyed this class much more than the other English classes I have taken.

It is not only race and sexuality that is the problem with the Canon and having colleges only focus on the Canon, but having students being narrow minded and only read the Canon is a problem. College is supposed to expand your mind, you are supposed to think and learn. And if Colleges only have students read the Canon then we are only learning parts of literature because we would never experience authors such as Diaz, Kingston, and Obama.

I think  that the Canon wars were very effective, but need to be revisited. During the Canon wars Allan Bloom wrote a book titled “The Closing of the American Mind”, in this book he stated things like “that abandoning the Western canon had dumbed down universities, while the “relativism” that had replaced it had “extinguished the real motive of education, the search for a good life”. I cannot think that any one could be more wrong about moving away from the Western Canon. If students do not like what they are reading they will not read it instead they will find summaries and get the information they need to pass a test or write a paper and the information they are supposed to learn from the reading will never stay with them. Now if we go away from the Canon and read novels close to the current time period and interest students then they will want to read and keep what they learned in their minds and expand their frame of thought. Novels such as “Dreams From My Father” address past issues with African Americans, and current, and includes situations in which most people relate to and this attracts them to the novel.

In time what I think will matter to me as a reader is reading what ever I like to read. Of course I will read the mandatory western Canon reading that I am destined to encounter at least 20 or more times till I complete my English major at Queens College, but I will not enjoy reading them. And what will matter to me as an English major is becoming a better writer and seeing more minorities and women on the syllabus for future classes, and until then I will chant “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western cultures gotta go”, as the students from Stanford did in a rally during the Canon wars.

Now I am not saying the Canon is full with horrible racist and sexist works, but the fact that it only has white male writers makes the canon racist and sexist not the works although some of them are. And the reason that the second half of this semester worked for me was as I stated before was because we read works by talented writers who I can relate my self to and learn from. In simpler terms what I am trying to say is that how can I learn or want to learn from a writer that lived centuries before me and I could never relate to and vice versa.

It saddens me that my first English class with Beverly will be my last because she did introduce me to authors who I probably would have never encountered because of the usual required reading in typical English courses. I think that Beverly handled the course exactly how it should have been handled, in that she showed us some of the Canon then dedicated the rest of the second half to non Canon works of literature.

Madness or Silence

December 9, 2010

 

For the blog we must chose if the last section, “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe”, is either madness or silence, but I think that both represent Maxine. 

Maxine desperately tries to be like her mother and be outspoken and the most popular girl as her mother was in medical school, and in the final section her mother’s talk-stories impact her school life and child hood. In the final section Maxine discusses her school life and how she is tied with another girl for least popular in the school, this is where  the silence plays a part. As much as Maxine tries to be Brave Orchid she is not, instead she is like a typical Chinese women who is shy and barely speaks,  this causes the madness. Because she is tied with this girl she then begins to torment her for no apparent reason but to try and make her talk, this is only part of the madness that Maxine illustrates in this last section, but her silence and lack of popularity in school I believe cause this madness. 

Maxine also mentions her neighborhood and paranoia. She compares herself to the neighborhood crazy girl “Crazy Mary”, and she feels as though she is the “Crazy Mary” of her family because she hears voices in her head, and this turns to paranoia as she fears she will have to marry the mentally ill neighborhood kid, or her parents will give her away to a Chinese man. 

I believe that the Madness is caused by the silence for one key reason. In this chapter Maxine touches on confessing to her mother certain things she did, and when she speaks of killing a spider her mother instantly tells her to stop because she can’t take it, this is the silence. Maxine is not able to talk to her family and is an outsider at school automatically because she is Chinese, so this silence turns to madness, and I think both are about Maxine herself. 

I also wanted to just touch on something we mentioned in class which was about the ghost. In the previous chapters Maxine mentioned not being able to stay at her mother house because the ghost haunt her, I think the Ghost is her mother. Although she loves her mother, her mot her made life very difficult and put contradicting views in Maxine’s mind. All her talk-stories and ghost stories of her killing ghost and of medical school and being strong women play a huge toll on Maxine and her madness. She desperately wants to be her mother but is more like Moon Orchid and other Chinese women because she is quiet and Maxine knows this goes against everything her mother instilled in her. The ghost is also her culture, although she loves it she doesn’t want it to hold her back as it did her mom, who went from doctor(Shaman) to Laundry worker. I realized this mostly from her name Maxine Hong Kingston, She wants to push her culture away but still remember where she came from so she hyphens rather than getting rid of her maiden name and culture completely.

Change in Maxine’s mother

December 5, 2010

I wasn’t sure if you wanted us to discuss the change in Maxine’s mother, also known as “Brave Orchid” in the novel, in the two chapters or how she changed from the beginning of the novel.

I noticed a difference in Brave orchid in her personality compared to that of the first two chapters. In “Shaman” I think this is were her change becomes evident. She mentions going to medical school and only having to be worried about her self after her two first children have died, this is where her change comes about. In medical school she is able to escape most of the typical woman role in Chinese culture and she does not have to plow or fetch things for her mother-in -law and she is responsible for only her self.   When she returns to her village is where you see the change cause by medical school and independence, she becomes just like the Chinese men and culture and thinks of women on a lower scale and sort of worthless. She complains shortly in this chapter about paying $200 dollars for Maxine’s birth when they were giving out slave-nurses for free, she thinks of the money as a waste because she could have gotten a free girl if she wanted to. I think this change is caused by medical school because when she returns to her village is when she is treated as a “shaman” because she can cure people and supposedly get rid of ghost.

You also notice her change in “At the Western Palace”. When her sister Moon Orchid arrives, Brave Orchid complains about her being worthlessness because she is unable to do simple house work such as folding the laundry. Brave Orchid or Maxine’s mother is drastically different. in the previous chapters  she tells Maxine stories of female empower ment such as “Fa Mu Lan”, but then then in these two chapters a woman’s worth to her is house work and her own daughter is not worth $200 because she could have gotten a slave-nurse for free. Maxine’s mother changed by going back to the typical Chinese views of a woman’s worth.

P.S.

I noticed in the chapter “At the Western Palace” Moon Orchid’s husband left her in china and started a new family in America and has success. This immediately brought “Drown” to my mind. I recall in “Drown” the father leaves his wife and children in the Dominican republic to start a new family in America, although he eventually reconnected with his first wife it had me thinking. In these cultures where woman are thought of as less valuable then men why is it that the man cannot survive without the woman and the woman is the key to his success. Both  men immigrate to America and both men find a women and start a new family before having success, so who’s really worth what is the question.

Kingston is simmilar to the swordswoman in many ways. The most noticible way is that they are bothe women and the only way “Fa Mu Lan” or her in her fantasty can get recognition for her accomplishments is to pretend to be a man.

Although Kingston never pretends to be a man she recognizes that even in America she faces even more roadblocks. She faces sexual discrimination from her own family and chinese culture, as well as racism and sexual discrimination from americans. What make her and the swordswoman so similar is that she is fighing for somethings as was the swordswoman.

Kingston could claim to be a woman warrior because of the everyday battles she faces as did the swordswoman. Except Kingston faces an even bigger battle, she wants to be aknowledged for her accomplishments but because she is a women this is difficult, she also wants to help  the people in China and end communism. Kingston is faced with an even bigger challenge than Fa Mu Lan was faced with because she is fighting for the Chiese-Americans as well as the Chinese back in china where as Fa Mu Lan was fighting for her family and Chinese peasants and the swordswoman was only faced with sexual discrimination and class difference, and Kingston must battle sexual discrimination, class difference, and racism.  “What we have in common are the words at our backs- And I have so many words-“Chink” and “gook” words too- that they do not fit my skin” (53), Kingston faces so many challenges, including similar ones that the swordswoman faced, that her tattoos of “revenge” cannot fit on her skine because she has so many.