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Forum for reading summaries.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Quotes from Barbed Wire, an article by Reviel Netz.

"The role of force in the history of the prevention of movement-force in its most literal sense, of physical pressure applied to bodies-means that such a history must be one of violence and the infliction of pain."

"At first, manufacturers, anxious that ordinary barbs might not be sufficient, erred on the side of caution, supplying them in sharper and larger forms."

"Bills to prohibit [barbed wire's] use were introduced in several states."

"A compromise had to be found, and gradually the barbs became less sharp (less 'vicious,' to use the technical term)."

"As humans learned more about animal pain, so animals learned more about human violence."

"Finally, the stage was reached where manufacturers, exploiting the fact that animals were capable of learning from experience, produced more conspicuous barbs, which, although clearly capable of directly influencing pain, functioned mainly as an indirect form of intimidation."

"By the end of the 1880s, the success of barbed wire as a tool for education of cows was complete."

"By 1914 barbed wire had become a common feature of European agriculture, protecting crops from animals, and animals from other animals."

"...with more than 100,000 tons consumed annually, the United States has always been at the center of the barbed-wire economy."

"In order to both secure their communications and to block the movement of horses, the British fortified the railways. A complicated pattern of parallel barbed-wire fences, with thick entanglements stretching between them, was extended along the entire railway system. At intervals of about a mile at first, and then less as the war progressed, small forts or blockhouses were set up. Made of prefabricated iron, these, too, were surrounded by thick barbed-wire entanglements and manned by small units of about six soldiers, armed with a new weapon the machine gun."

"Following a brief series of rapid advances, the Germans were halted in September 1914 along a line of defense stretching obliquely across northeast France. The trenches dug on both sides resembled those developed in the Russo-Japanese War, except for an even greater use of barbed wire."

"Here indeed was a way of life that provided a perfect solution to the problem of human movement. For those at the front, even the ones who survived in the lifeless terrain, time was marked by long intervals of boredom punctuated by short periods of engagement. This was a new form of alienation, which was to become an important political force in postwar Europe."

"If barbed wire now seems so familiar, this is because of the memorial power of the Holocaust. The control of space was essential to Nazi ideology and practice-German devotion to the land was opposed to the landlessness of the Jews. The Jews were an enemy without precise borders, whose defeat required their preliminary determination in space. The German quest to colonize Europe and the simultaneous quest to make this area free from Jews are aspects of the same space-seeking process."

"A camp was rather like a painting by Mondrian, a rectangle divided and subdivided into smaller rectangles of varying sizes, always staked out by copious deployments of barbed-wire. At the perimeter was the obligatory several-layered fence. Wire alone, however, was not enough to ensure absolute control (and its semitransparent nature became a handicap when it became desirable to hide what was inside the fence)."

"Deprived of any private space, [the Jews] were allowed just enough room to exist. Everything was calculated to annihilate the spatial presence of the Jews, even before their actual murder."

"These divergent perspectives tend to obscure the fact that the extension of the use of barbed wire from the control of animal to the control of human movement was not a perverse but a natural development of its capacities. At the basic level of pain-when barbs meet flesh-animals and humans do not differ very much."

"Barbed wire does not become barbed wire until thousands of miles of it have been produced. A small length is no more than a meaningless piece of ironwork, no more effective than a thornbush. But arrange mile after mile of it in lines, and you turn it into a new weapon of control."



Tuesday, October 07, 2003



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In his early works, Foucault reasoned that power is a product of the "gaze." According to his theory, power was the potential for making the invisible, visible. To sustain the organized functioning of society, modern bureaucracies must diagnose, categorize, measure, and appraise certain marginalized social segments.

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault showed the procedures of modern forms of punishment, which comprised the exertion of an excessive system of power. According to Foucault, power operates similarly to the gaze of the prison guards in Bentham's panopticon, in that all are subject to its influence yet none are aware of its existence.

Foucault explains the relation in the following excerpt:

The constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time, by applying the binary branding and exile of the leper to quite different objects; the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring, supervising, and correcting the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms to which the fear of the plague gave rise. (229)

By way of historical analysis, Foucault endeavored to demonstrate that the modern world, although ostensibly more enlightened than its medieval predecessor, was constructed on a contemporary and more thorough sort of cruelty: the subjugation of those failing to respect the new authority of reason. Foucault asserted that modern society maintained an exclusion of women, artists, the mentally ill, and criminals, as none could adjust to the new enlightened order. Even though contemporary intellectuals had contended that their rationalist school of thought allowed for the liberation of mankind from its irrational history, Foucault insisted that society was, in actuality, a great internment. He believed that rationality served to cage man within the confines of a new, more Machiavellian framework.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

In the selected essay, "Hunger as Ideology," the feminist philosopher Susan Bordo examines the role of gender assumptions in the realm of advertising with a primary focus on societal attitudes toward food. Although the locus of Bordo's study involves American advertisements, she accounts for a variance in cultural perceptions and beliefs by stating that "if we survey cultural attitudes toward women's appetites and body size, we find a great variety-a variety shaped by ethnic, national, historical, class, and other factors" (140). She quickly undermines, however, these geographical disagreements over the ideal of beauty by asserting that "in the 1980s and 1990s an increasingly universal equation of slenderness with beauty and success has rendered the competing claims of cultural diversity even feebler" (142). Bordo traces the history of the modern epitome of female beauty to the Victorian Era, when the 'gender ideology' was characterized by the "same practical prohibitions against female indulgence" (150) as are present today. Bordo flawlessly demonstrates the female's emotional entanglement with food, as evidenced both by the widespread exercise of secrecy by women in indulgence and by the societal expectation for 'feminine' restraint in food consumption.

The average American woman, according to Bordo, associates a number of emotional components in her relationship with food. Bordo explains that "it is women who habitually seek such experiences from food and who are most likely to be overwhelmed by their relationship to food, to find it dangerous and frightening" (147). Historically, as America underwent its Industrial Revolution, the home, and more specifically the kitchen, became a place of "nurture and comfort for men and children, [while] feeding others [by women] acquired the extended emotional meaning it has today" (156). Bordo presents numerous advertisements which exclude a representation of the female receiving nourishment (being fed) by anyone. When the feeding of a female does occur in the media, Bordo emphasizes that it is most often sexualized; furthermore, her study unearths the suggestion that "women receive their gratification through nourishing others" (159). Bordo illuminates the dark aspects of food-related emotionality by averring that "for women, the emotional comfort of self-feeding is rarely turned to in a state of pleasure and independence, but in despair, emptiness, loneliness, and desperation" (164). These negative emotions are manifested in the secrecy with which women turn to the comfort of food.

In advertising, Bordo cites the pattern of depictions of women eating, activities that are "virtually always represented as private, secretive, illicit" (165). Bordo states:

Men sing openly of their wild cravings for Betty Crocker cakes; women’s cravings are a dirty, shameful secret, to be indulged in only when no one is looking. (165)

Bordo proffers examples of a category of commercials that are characterized by clandestine, documentary-styled portrayals of women, who are shown 'confessing' their secret, and certainly private, indulgences in consumption. Coupled with this response of women by stealth binging is the belief that female eating should be restrained. Bordo segues from the obsessive nature of secret consumption to the images of restraint in advertising with the following statement:

If one genre of commercials hints at the dark secrets of binge behavior-the refusal of female desire to remain circumscribed and repressed; the frustrations of'feeding' others and never being fed yourself-the 'bite-size' candy genre represents female hunger as successfully contained within the bounds of appropriate female behavior. (165)

When females conform to the prescription of restrained consumption and deny themselves nourishment, food becomes "a perpetually beckoning presence, [and] its power grow[s] ever greater as the sanctions against gratification become more stringent" (142). As the strength food has over women increases, Bordo explains the construction of the "compensatory binge as a virtual inevitability" (166). Thus, the relationship between women and food grows increasingly complex and more severely damaging to womankind.
Bordo's arguments remind me of the book, The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf. Wolf asserts that while women have been granted certain freedoms, they are still enslaved by the 'beauty myth.' It holds the quality of 'beauty' to be objective and universal, and based entirely on biological, sexual, and evolutionary truths. Wolf strikes each of these arguments down with well-researched data. Aided by technological advances, the panic of both genders at the presentation of vast resources to women demanded the onslaught of images of the ideal 'beauty.'
Naomi Wolf argues that the gap created by the increasing freedoms of women in the twentieth century has been filled by the growth of the cosmetic surgery industry. The combination of painful childbirth and the forced, arbitrary institutionalization of women produced the underlying belief of women that femaleness is inherently painful. Aided by the media, the cosmetic surgery and cosmetic industries have propagated the Western ideal of beauty.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Reader Response to The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

In the excerpted chapters from The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois illuminates the tenebrous folds of the “Veil,” his representation of the implied dividing-line between black and white people. In addition to his inducement of the “Veil,” Du Bois explores both the physical and spiritual distances between the races by employing a detailed, poetic imagery of space.

In the chapter, “Of the Meaning of Progress,” Du Bois recounts the early years of his career, from his search for employment as a schoolteacher to his journey back to the countryside of his tutelage after ten years of absence. He first speaks of the “Veil” as a physical entity by commenting that “all Fisk men thought that Tennessee-beyond the Veil-was theirs alone” (225). According to this statement, Du Bois believes the educated black men felt a certain proprietary claim to the black communities; moreover, the “Veil” serves to separate the races, while within a single race, men seek to create differentiation between their racial fellows. Du Bois again refers to the “Veil,” in relating his appointment as teacher by the commissioner of a small town. The following section encapsulates the cruelty of the arbitrary division between the races:

“Come in,” said the commissioner,-“come in. Have a seat. Yes, that certificate will do. Stay to dinner. What do you want a month?” “Oh,” thought I, “this is lucky”; but even then fell the awful shadow of the Veil, for they ate first, then I-alone. (226)

Two arguably equally qualified men apply for the same position: one white, the other black. Both are considered, and the black man is eventually hired, yet he is unwelcome at the table of the employer. This small vignette of the alienation of colored people powerfully illuminates to the modern reader the apathetic cruelty and subsequent suffering of African Americans.

To better intimate the facets of the “Veil,” Du Bois constructs impressions of the physical chasm between white and black people through the manipulation of meaningful imagery. In his “little world,” the female students “looked at the hill in wistful longing,” (228) gazing toward a land of the “aristocracy of Toms, Dicks, and Captains” (228). The male students traveled into the town, just as their female counterparts gazed passively to that same land of Opportunity. Du Bois states that he has “called [his] tiny community a world, and so its isolation made it” (228); as a consequence, the imposed partition by the white community has become the ‘agissante’ of the black people’s “common consciousness”. Despite this small victory of spirit, the blacks continued to suffer financially, under the shade of the “Veil.” Du Bois asserts the force of this economic tribulation through the admission that although the Burke family “held a hundred acres, […] they were still in debt” (230). The realization of success through the proud ownership of land is eclipsed by the state of indebtedness created by the same procurement of property. Du Bois’ reader can understand the operation of the “Veil” as both a physical and a psychic barrier to the advancement of colored people.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Reader Response to "The 'Banking' Concept of Education"

In this essay, taken from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire analyzes educational theory through a comparison of what he terms the 'banking' concept of education and the 'problem-posing' approach to education. The former concept is characterized by a firmly defined hierarchal relationship between the teacher and the students, in which the instructor enjoys all the benefits of totalitarian authority. As a proposed solution to the problematics of the 'banking' concept, Freire suggests the implementation of a more balanced power exchange between student and teacher. He calls this method the 'problem-posing' approach.
Freire enumerates the negative aspects of the 'banking' concept of education; moreover, he formulates improved measures, which are encompassed by his theory of 'problem-posing.' He illustrates the idea of 'banking' by evoking a representation of students as receptacles and teachers as the virtual 'milkmaids' of education. He maintains that in such a system, the best teacher is she that "completely [...] fills the receptacles" and the best students are those who most meekly "permit themselves to be filled" (260). Eloquently, Paulo Freire explains the ills of the 'banking' system by illuminating what the theory fails to consider:

Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. (260)

In the 'banking' concept, students must unquestioningly accept the information given them, and through this exercise, they learn not to think, but to conform. Freire believes that these methods allow the oppressors to remain in power and the oppressed to continue to suffer from lack of freedoms.
Freire's solution, the 'problem-posing' model transfers the power from the teacher to the whole classroom. He states that "only through communication can human life hold meaning," (263); furthermore, Freire's method succeeds in "responding to the essence of consciousness-intentionality- [by] reject[ing] communiques and embody[ing] communication" (265). The instructor encourages her students to analyze hypothetical situations and apply classroom knowledge in their daily lives. Through real-world application, students are able to achieve true cognition, and thus become independent thinkers.
I believe that Freire's theories have a place in discussions of an improved educational system. Although the solutions he poses are seemingly impossible to achieve in reality, the 'problem-posing' model can stand as the ideal for which society should aim. The current focus on standardized testing in the United States has proven to be detrimental to the shaping of young minds. Perhaps, Congress should revisit the ideas of Paulo Freire.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Reader Response to "Our Secret"

In the essay, "Our Secret," Susan Griffin intertwines a multitude of individual voices and perspectives to create a narrative tapestry of the human condition. Alternating between medical descriptions of the nature of cells and their growth and the detached account of the history of rocket science in weaponry, the narrator offers the accounts of survivors of the Holocaust alongside her own consideration of the diaries of Heinrich Himmler. Griffin also draws parallels between the Nazis and members of her own troubled family. Primarily, she is concerned with the extent to which familial past and domestic atmosphere contribute to the shaping of a child's identity. Griffin introduces the prevalent opinion in Germany prior to the Second World War regarding the raising of children, which instructed parents to "crush the will, [...] establish dominance[,] permit no disobedience [and] suppress everything within the child" (350). After providing evidence of the tyrannical nature of Himmler's father, Griffin quickly concludes that "each life is influenced and it in turn becomes an influence" (350); moreover, she states that "whatever is a cause is also an effect" (350). Soon after this revelation, Griffin relates the rigidity and unrealistic expectations of Himmler's father to the unending efforts by her grandmother to reshape her family in the name of 'keeping up appearances' (353). In a further exploration of her family, Susan Griffin confesses that her grandfather, who was very likely of Jewish origins, harbored a hatred for Jews, blacks, Catholics, and the English. She describes her grandfather, sitting alone in a darkened room, in a brilliantly crafted illustration of his self-imposed isolation and the narrowness of his mind. She comments that when he spoke about his politics, "his eyes, no longer looking at [her], blazed with a kind of blindness" (361). In her study of Himmler, Griffin continues to encounter evidence of emotional denial and a societal refusal to acknowledge person culpability in causing the pain of others. Ultimately, she ties these occurrences back to the child-rearing practices of the time and the lack of communication within a family unit. Griffin strongly asserts her belief that "in disowning the effects we have on others, we disown ourselves" (377). In the essay's closing paragraphs, the narrator imagines a chilling scene of the silence and complacency which characterize a society of passive witnesses, whose failure to strive for human justice renders their own liability.
The structure of "Our Secret" is distinctive in its inclusion of italicized textbook entries. These serve to orient the reader to the ideas concerning the effects of both genetics and atmosphere on the shaping of the individual. Griffin chooses to incorporate the voices of both the torturer and the tortured not to provide the balanced perspective of an historian or a journalist: instead, she utilizes the chorus of voices to highlight the shared needs and desires. This evidence of common emotions reinforces her belief that every human life is intrinsically tied to the lives of all humans.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The fun begins...

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