15/1030: Happy German Unity Day

While I already posted my obligatory explanation of the holiday and its significance for those who didn’t know here, it’s a good moment to write a little about one of the more significant intermedial references I am exploring for my dissertation. For those who read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, I am talking about the way the fall of the Berlin Wall is described.

November 10, 1989 [why Nov. 10? It should be “November 9, 1989”]

A Wall was coming down. It was an historic occasion. No one really knew quite who had put it up or who was tearing it down or whether this was good, bad, or something else; no one knew how tall it was, how long it was, or why people had died trying to cross it, or whether they would stop dying in future, but it was educational all the same; as good an excuse for a get-together as any. It was a Thursday night, Alsana and Clara had cooked, and everyone was watching history on TV.  (197)

This passage and the parts that follow it are intermedial because of the reference to the news reporting in 1989. One sees the events as described by the characters.

“What’s happening now?” […] “Same, man.” […] “Same. Same. Same. Dancing on the wall, smashing it with a hammer. Whatever. I wanna see what else is on, yeah?” (197).

What’s more interesting, though, is how the characters are made to respond to what they are seeing. Irie, the teenage daughter of Clara and Archie, is impressed by what she sees as the ‘historic moment’ and she sees it as a moment of freedom, parallel to her own yearning for freedom and some great change in her personal life. On the other hand, her father and Samad are more critical of Germany on the brink of unity.

“Not all of us think fondly upon a united Germany” (199).

Of course, the words hold truth on and off the page.

Then, there’s the TV reporting itself, something one can find in the records with little research:

The twenty-eight-mile-long-scar- the ugliest symbol of a divided world, East and West- has no meaning anymore. Few people, including this reporter, thought to see it happen in their lifetimes […]. (199)

Something I’m not sure about, is if this is supposed to the live-reporting of a reporter. If so, then is the reporter stepping into the role of the author? Is the reporter a real reporter? I’m a bit tired, so I leave this last question for tomorrow (or later). In the meantime, I leave with a tribute to one of Germany’s greatest moments and one happily remembered by Germans today.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality


Day One, 1029 Days left

Alright, so that number is a tiny bit arbitrary, since I have no clue yet if I can expect to submit the bound dissertation on July 15, 2019. However, assuming I want to apply for my PhD at the end of the lecture-period of the Summer Semester of 2019, that would be the day.

Pat Thomson from patter has a “Starting the PhD” series that I’ve been following since I knew I wanted to earn a PhD- before I was even done with the MA thesis. Now, whenever she posts something, I’m even more interested in her advice. Today, I am going to follow up on her most recent piece (of advice): write and write regularly.

Now, the “Day One” at the top of this post isn’t really true. I’ve actually been working on the PhD in some form for more than a year. Development of the project already started in May 2015 and became more and more supported with research through Fall 2015 and then again in Summer 2016, while I worked to be admitted into a PhD program. Now, however, it’s time to get out of the development stage. I’ve got the abstract, working bibliography, and abstract. I’ve got a working outline and a time-plan. Now it’s time to start writing.

So today is Day One. It’s the day where I commit to one post a day about my PhD research or something strongly related. Today, I will spend more time preparing this series of blogging than actually fulfilling the goals of this objective, but I need to start somewhere and I’m someone who likes to set-up some guidelines of how to go about doing something for herself. Then I will write.

First of all, all my posts will need to be seen with a disclaimer and a copyright.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality. 

With that in mind, I will try to always cite my sources so that I can claim originality with a clear conscience.

Woo. With that rather legal talk out of the way, some guidelines for the content of my posts pretty much follow what patter puts out in her blog post:

writing about something that puzzles [me], writing about how a particular reading relates to [my] topic, responding to a small quotation – writing about what it made [me] think about, exploring a particular possible idea for a research design, developing an argument about an aspect of [my] research – the choice of method for example, writing about why it is a good choice and/or why it might not be, writing about a talk that [I’ve] heard, recording a research related conversation [I’ve] had with a peer, thinking/writing about what [I] might want to talk to [my] supervisor about, experimenting with different writing ‘voices’ and styles, trying out draft paragraphs, introductions, abstracts, writing descriptive pieces, where [I] work on the ways in which [I] might provide rich detail about [my] work, practising how to incorporate dialogue into an argumentative text, writing to learn to craft anecdotes and vignettes.

I think that these suggestions give me a lot of possibilities to fill the next 1000+ days. Because I am doing my PhD under individual sponsorship- no program, I will need as many routines and structures I can build for myself to get through this. From experience, 1000 days seem like a lot, but they really aren’t for a large-scale research project. Deadlines will still arrive too quickly. At the same time, I could probably get most of my writing done in six months. The issue will be to stay committed to writing about the research and the thinking so that I can practice writing and be able to write something in six months.

Savvy? Good.

“The Christmas Truce”- Robert Graves

One of the many courses I am attending this semester is an English literature course called Representation of War in British Film and Lit. Never mind the fact that we’re reading Heart of Darkness (as an example of colonial warfare?) and watching Apocalypse Now (definitely not British), but we started the course with The Battle of the Somme (1916) Siegfried Sassoon’s and Wilfred Owen’s writings. We followed up with representations of World War I in short fiction and read Katherine Mansfield’s “An Indiscreet Journey,” D.H. Lawrence’s “Tickets, Please” and Robert Graves “The Christmas Truce.”

If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. It’s an excellent movie that portrays the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce, but gives the viewer so much more.

Of the three short stories, the war front was only really described in Graves’ work, and it wasn’t done even in a straightforward manner. Mansfield’s story was labeled as “At the Front” by the Penguin collection of WWI short stories, and while the story mentally and emotionally carries one to the front, it was actually set in a French village away from the “real” fighting. I appreciated all three stories, especially Lawrence’s about a budding feminist movement, but I mostly wanted to dedicate a few thoughts to Graves’ story. As to be expected by literature (open to subjective presentation and interpretation) all three stories presented more than uncritical observations of war. The style of Graves’ text especially provided some food for thought.

I already indicated that Graves story doesn’t work in a straightforward way (does literature ever?). Instead, it relies on a frame to open the reader to the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce during World War I. The frame, consisting of a young man being told “yarns that improved with the telling” in response to his doubts about human relations and the imminent “world war III, helps form the interpretation of the (arguably unreliable) narration. Stanley (the young man) believes in an idea of “mankind” and so his grandfather and his pal, both WWI veterans, each tell a story that complicates the idea, both reinforcing and challenging it.

I could go into a further analysis of the story itself, but right now I mostly want to comment on the story-telling itself. See, something that dawned on me during class discussion is that these stories the grandfather and Dodger told were shared in a sort of celebratory way. That they “improved with the telling” indicates to me that there was some revelry that went on in how the war was recounted and how the deeds were described.

Coming from the United States, one of the Allied Powers during both world wars, I am used to this idea of story-telling as a positive tradition. I think the same is true of England, However, I was attending this class in Germany and Germany obviously has a very different relationship with the wars. I asked my classmates whether their grandparents shared stories of the war with them, and their answers were “no.” Post-war captivity and hardship were talked about, but German WWI or WWII veterans generally have little audience for their stories (unless it’s a right-wing bar). There’s more than one explanation for this, but I don’t want to get into that here.

Basically, however, I was interested by the challenge of interpretation presented by this story based on a cultural difference in the writer, expected audience, and actual audience. At the same time, Graves question of “mankind,” I feel has a much different answer than both WWI, WWII and the time he wrote it in 1962.

“New English Literatures”

There’s a new trend in German academia to refer to English post-colonial literature as “New English Literatures” or “New Literatures in English.” This means that the course I recently signed up for at the Universitaet Hamburg is not necessarily about English lit. Neuerscheinungen, or newcomers, but rather about a more specific branch of Neuerscheinungen, and while many of the works published today are “post-colonial,” the term can be applied to much older works.

That last clause is debatable, and I’m going to have to spend some time defining the term first.

The quickest etymology of the word “post-colonial” is to take the prefix and recognize that it means “after.” Therefore, “post-colonial” means “after colonialism.” This means that “post-colonial literature” refers to literature that was written after colonialism, right? So, after colonization was…

Sure, this is an adequate conclusion if you want to simplify matters and say that colonialism is over and that it ended with the relinquishment of the British colonies just at the end of World War II. But what about the U.S. and Puerto Rico? What about the Soviet Union? Furthermore, as John McLeod points out in his book Beginning Postcolonialism, even when the colonizers release any economic or political power in the the country, many formerly colonized nations and their former colonizers continue to operate within colonial relationships that still exist. “Colonial ways of knowing still circulate and have agency in the present; unfortunately they have not magically disappeared…” (McLeod 32). Even when the colonizer is no longer physically present, structures still perpetuate.

One of my favorite structures to talk about is language (I’m a philologist and literature student), and I see the topic of language in “post-colonial” literature as important to think about when thinking about this kind of literature. Often, post-colonial literature is written in the language of the former colonizer. Much post-colonial literature is written in English. Initially, it seems that talking about oppression, for example, in the language of the former oppressor seems to perpetuate the extent of that oppression. However, one can also look at the use of the language as a medium to give the former colonizers access to the way the formerly colonized felt and feel. If these texts were written in Bengali, a Nigerian language, or Jamaican, they would reach a much smaller audience. Furthermore, language changes and the way it’s used by many of these authors is different. Often, the language is appropriated by the writers (one of the key strategies of post-colonial writing, along with assimilation and abrogation).  So while the structures, like language, still perpetuate, there are other factors at work.

Because of these observations, I think we can agree that “post-colonial” is a bit inadequate to describe the works we’re reading in this class, especially since many works in many different languages are post-colonial, but we’re only looking at English ones.

There I go again, though, talking about works that are post-colonial without saying what makes a work post-colonial…

Let’s start with who is entitled to being post-colonial. Is it the former colonized? Or can it include the former-colonizer? what about the fact that there’s tensions in national and individual political and cultural identity? what about the fact that post-colonialism addresses present day transformation from the past, and yet is still formed by the past? these works explore oppression, but also describe/enact counter-movements to this oppression.

McLeod summarizes that postcolonialism involves one of more of the following (on page 33):

  • Reading texts produced by writers from countries with a history of colonialism, primarily those texts concerned with the workings and legacy of colonialism in either the past of the present.
  • Reading texts produced by those that have migrated from countries with a history of colonialism, or those descended from migrant families, which deal in the main with diaspora experience and its consequences.
  • In light of the theories of colonial discourse, re-reading texts produced during colonialism; both those that directly address the experiences of Empire, and those that seem not to.

I spent my first official sitting in my “New English Literatures” class discussing with the professor and the others about the term and what it can apply to. A lot of discussing. What can be called “post-colonial” is perhaps even more complicated leaving class than entering it, but I came up with a working definition for the term that I will be revising throughout the course of my MA thesis writing. My MA thesis has to do with literature written by/about migrants/migration, and therefore I need to have a good definition to declare early on in my thesis:

Right now, I see post-colonial literature as literature written by “former” colonized or colonizers, who explore the boundaries left (or opened) by colonization and question the “established” “truths” of nation, language, identity, heritage and perspective.

Of course, my definition is still includes colonization, which is why I don’t see my literary focus as post-colonial literature, but rather cultural studies… stay tuned for a post on what that is all about.