Excerpt from “The Souls of Black Folk” – W.E.B. Du Bois

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, 1 the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, 2 — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; 3 two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body 4, whose dogged strength alone being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging 5 he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, 6 for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

Excerpt: “The Twelve Double-Hours of Night: Insomnia and Transformation in Gilgamesh” by Andrea Deagon

My ordeal, like most variations of personal hell, felt isolating, immense and unshareable. Some years later, when I reread the Gilgamesh epic7, it dawned on me that what I’d experienced was written there. In this ancient Mesopotamian poem, Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk2, expends vast energies in his city and in heroic ventures with his alterego Enkidu. When Enkidu dies3, the bereft hero, overwhelmed by the realization of his own mortality4, goes on an soul-purging, exhausting journey to the ends of the earth in a vain quest for eternal life.

What resonated with me was not the loss of a friend as close as a second self– though something like that had happened years before5; nor the terror of death, though I’m sure that such terror could take much the same form as what I experienced6. But the self-consuming energy, the vast exhausting world, the body as an engine driving toward final irremediable loss7 – that I understood. The epic of Gilgamesh came to represent whatever was wise and heroic in what I experienced at this great transition in my own life, as it speaks to many people about their own losses and transitions8.

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Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

But 9 at that moment I glanced around at the crowd that had followed me. It 2 was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; 3 I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, 4 the white man 5 with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — 6 seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. 7 He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. 8 I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

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Introduction to Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our age is retrospective.9 It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. 2 The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. 3Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? 4The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.5Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature?

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Acting out: Literature, drama, and connecting with history by Kornfeld, John; Leyden, Georgia

Martha is an example of a student who took a long, hard look at African American history as it was and is. An eager participant in all three plays 6, Martha was a capable actress and an excellent reader;2 yet3 in I Am Rosa Parks, she frequently had difficulty delivering her lines in one scene, when she played a waitress who refuses to serve a black patron who comes in to sit at the counter4. She was supposed to ask him rudely why he had come in and tell him in no uncertain terms to get out. Some days Martha would grimace and stutter her lines;5 other times she would not deliver the lines forcefully enough. One day, as we were encouraging her to speak louder and point to the door as she sent the patron out6, Martha stopped in the middle of rehearsal and burst into tears. “I just can’t do it,” she sniffed. “I don’t want to talk so mean to him. It’s not right!”

Martha had not simply learned the historical information about discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s; she was, in a sense, living it as a member of the cast—7and rejecting the accepted values of that time. She may have previously been aware of the existence of racism past and present, but8 it had had no meaning to her until she participated in the play. As Heathcote (1983) argued9, “In drama the ‘over there’ becomes ‘here’ and the whole world is around me” (p. 695).

On Running After One’s Hat by G.K. Chesterton

I feel an almost savage envy on hearing that London has been flooded in my absence, while I am in the mere country10. My own Battersea has been, I understand, particularly favoured as a meeting of the waters. Battersea was already, as I need hardly say2, the most beautiful of human localities. Now that it has the additional splendour of great sheets of water, there must be something quite incomparable in the landscape (or waterscape) of my own romantic town. Battersea must be a vision of Venice. The boat that brought the meat from the butcher’s must have shot along those lanes of rippling silver with the strange smoothness of the gondola. The greengrocer who brought cabbages to the corner of the Latchmere Road must have leant upon the oar with the unearthly grace of the gondolier. There is nothing so perfectly poetical as an island;3 and when a district is flooded it becomes an archipelago.

 

Some consider such romantic views of flood or fire slightly lacking in reality. But really this romantic view of such inconveniences is quite as practical as the other. The true optimist who sees in such things an opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much more sensible than the ordinary “Indignant Ratepayer” who sees in them an opportunity for grumbling. Real pain, as in the case of being burnt at Smithfield or having a toothache, is a positive thing; it can be supported, but scarcely enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are the exception, and as for being burnt at Smithfield, it only happens to us at the very longest intervals4. And most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences—things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains. I myself am of little boys’ habit in this matter. They also serve who only stand and wait for the two fifteen. Their meditations may be full of rich and fruitful things. Many of the most purple hours of my life have been passed at Clapham Junction, which is now, I suppose, under water. I have been there in many moods so fixed and mystical that the water might well have come up to my waist before I noticed it particularly. But in the case of all such annoyances, as I have said5, everything depends upon the emotional point of view. You can safely apply the test to almost every one of the things that are currently talked of as the typical nuisance of daily life.

For instance, there is a current impression that it is unpleasant to have to run after one’s hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind? Not merely because it is running, and 6 running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting, little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating to run after one’s hat; and when people say it is humiliating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic—eating, for instance. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing—such as making love. A man running after a hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running after a wife.

Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy. He might regard himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no animal could be wilder. In fact, I am inclined to believe that hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper classes in the future. There will be a meet of ladies and gentlemen on some high ground on a gusty morning. They will be told that the professional attendants have started a hat in such-and-such a thicket, or whatever be the technical term. Notice that this employment will in the fullest degree combine sport with humanitarianism. The hunters would feel that they were not inflicting pain. Nay, they would feel that they were inflicting pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon the people who were looking on. When last I saw an old gentleman running after his hat in Hyde Park, I told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much unaffected pleasure his every gesture and bodily attitude were at that moment giving to the crowd.

The same principle can be applied to every other typical domestic worry. A gentleman trying to get a fly out of the milk or a piece of cork out of his glass of wine often imagines himself to be irritated. Let him think for a moment of the patience of anglers sitting by dark pools, and let his soul be immediately irradiated with gratification and repose. Again, I have known some people of very modern views driven by their distress to the use of theological terms to which they attached no doctrinal significance, merely because a drawer was jammed tight and they could not pull it out. A friend of mine was particularly afflicted in this way. Every day his drawer was jammed, and every day in consequence it was something else that rhymes to it. But I pointed out to him that this sense of wrong was really subjective and relative; it rested entirely upon the assumption that the drawer could, should, and would come out easily. “But if,” I said, “you picture to yourself that you are pulling against some powerful and oppressive enemy, the struggle will become merely exciting and not exasperating. Imagine that you are tugging up a lifeboat out of the sea. Imagine that you are roping up a fellow-creature out of an Alpine crevass. Imagine even that you are a boy again and engaged in a tug-of-war between French and English.” Shortly after saying this I left him; but I have no doubt at all that my words bore the best possible fruit. I have no doubt that every day of his life he hangs on to the handle of that drawer with a flushed face and eyes bright with battle, uttering encouraging shouts to himself7, and seeming to hear all round him the roar of an applauding ring.

So8 I do not think that it is altogether fanciful or incredible to suppose that even the floods in London may be accepted and enjoyed poetically. Nothing beyond inconvenience seems really to have been caused by them; and inconvenience, as I have said, is only one aspect, and that the most unimaginative and accidental aspect of a really romantic situation. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. The water that girdled the houses and shops of London must, if anything, have only increased their previous witchery and wonder. For as the Roman Catholic priest in the story said: “Wine is good with everything except water,” and on a similar principle, water is good with everything except wine.

 

Source: http://essays.quotidiana.org/chesterton/running_after_ones_hat/

Letter of Recommendation: ‘Pinky and the Brain’ by Jonah Weiner

“Pinky and the Brain,” a cartoon that aired for half of the 1990s 9, is a three-chord kind of show, as bound by formal constraints as they come. Before spinning off into its own half-hour slot 2, the series began life as the best thing about “Animaniacs,” an exuberantly unhinged variety cartoon executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and packed with non-sequitur punch lines, meta-level laughs and so many showbiz in-jokes that you could forget this was a show nominally made for kids 3. “Pinky and the Brain” stood out for its ingenuity and extreme economy. The show has only two recurring characters to speak of — the talking lab mice of the title — 4 and precisely one plot, set into motion in the opening moments of each installment with the same 23 words: “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

 

That the mice will deploy some scheme for world domination is the lone narrative motor, and that their failure is guaranteed provides not only the inevitable third-act kicker but also the condition of the show’s continued existence: a reset button that returns the mice to the lab to plot again. The pair is at once idiosyncratic and archetypal, in a vaudevillian kind of way. Brain is a hyperintelligent, short-tempered straight man voiced by a guy doing a stentorian Orson Welles impression; Pinky is daffy and sweet and speaks in an over-the-top Cockney accent 5.

They are given no back story beyond a stray line in the theme song (“Their genes have been spliced”), and they learn no lessons by episode’s end. Characterization takes the form, instead, of kid-friendly, broken-record repetition 6. In every episode, while unveiling the plan at hand, Brain will ask Pinky, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”–a question so ritualized that fans refer to it by “AYPWIP”–to which Pinky will offer a reliably outré response. “I think so, Brain, but I can’t memorize a whole opera in Yiddish.” “I think so, Brain, but Pete Rose? I mean, can we trust him?” “I think so, but Kevin Costner with an English accent?”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-pinky-and-the-brain.html?_r=0

Don’t move to Canada. Stay and fight. by Michael Krikorian

No one’s moving anywhere. My friends Dahlia and Chris aren’t going to Mexico, and 7 Alexis is not going to Copenhagen. My gal Nancy’s not permanently packing up and moving to Umbria, and Duke is not moving to Thailand with his cousin Jake.

And2 you?  You aren’t going wherever the heck you say you are moving to now that Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States of America.

What we all do is this:3 We stay and fight.First, we wait and see. Even Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”

But4 if we don’t like what happens, we fight it. We5 take to the streets and rekindle memories of the anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights marches. We don’t run and hice.6 We don’t abandon America.

I feel, strangely, not what I thought I would “the morning after.” I’m more patriotic than I was yesterday. More in love with my country than I have since, I guess, Sept. 11, 2001.

As my old friend Aqeela Sherrills, a longtime Watts gang interventionist and community activist said in a Facebook post Wednesday: “There’s a gift in every tragedy…   A Trump victory is an opportunity, if your like me, I do my best work under pressure. Don’t go to Canada or where ever you thinking, The U.S. is ours! and no President, Senate, Congress or White House will tell me otherwise!… lets go to work!”

The country our parents,7 uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents fought for is sliding around a hairpin turn, but it hasn’t crashed.

Yesterday, a guy I know from the streets showed me a knife he had in his waistband. A killing knife.8 It made me think of “Saving Private Ryan”and a brutal, achingly sad scene:  room-to-room fighting, a German soldier slowly pushing a killing knife into the chest of an American soldier.

What happened Tuesday doesn’t compare to those days. Everyone walking around like it’s the end of civilization now that Trump is in? It’s not. We’ve been through far worse. A perceived threat is not as bad as a punch in the face.

I was on a text thread Tuesday night that included several millennials. It started with how wonderful the election was going turn out: the first woman president, the rejection of hateful talk.

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School suspensions don’t work by David Bulley

Cindy sits across from me in what is now called The Justice Center at Turners Falls High School in Montague, about 20 miles north of Amherst. The room is brightly decorated with student art, there is a coffee machine and some candy on a table, and behind me on the wall is a quote from the mystic Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” 9

Cindy (a pseudonym) smiles, though she is painfully embarrassed. Last year she was suspended for fighting. Now she sits across from me after having thrown a cafeteria tray and several other things at two boys. She is upset — 2 still in fight or flight mode. 3 We just chat for a while, about the weather and her weekend, her friends. 4 Eventually I know she is ready, and I ask a question to begin the real work of our meeting. “Cindy, what happened?”

When it comes to student misbehavior, most schools have long practiced a basic system of crime and punishment, isolating the perceived “offender” through detention or suspension. Until this school year, that’s what we did at Turners Falls. But 5 during the summer I was trained in a system called restorative justice, an approach that focuses on nonjudgmental discussion, developing empathy, and repairing the damage done. 6 We’ve put it into effect for all our nearly 300 students.

Even last year we might have suspended Cindy first and done the restorative work second. Before that we would have simply suspended her without ever asking what happened. After all, it’s caught on camera: 7 her throwing the tray. That’s all the evidence we need to make a problem disappear for at least a couple days. 8

Diagnosing and Treating The Ophelia Syndrome By Thomas G. Plummer

The Ophelia 9 Syndrome manifests itself in universities. The Ophelia (substitute a male name if you choose) 2 writes copious notes in every class and memorizes them for examinations. The Polonius writes examination questions that address just what was covered in the textbook or lectures. The Ophelia wants to know exactly what the topic for a paper should be. The Polonius prescribes it. The Ophelia wants to be a parrot, because it feels safe. The Polonius 3 enjoys making parrot cages. In the end, the Ophelia becomes the clone of the Polonius, and one of them is unnecessary. I worry often that universities may be rendering their most serious students, those who have been “good” 4 all their lives, vulnerable to the Ophelia Syndrome rather than motivating them to individuation.

And so what? 5 Is it such a bad thing to emulate teachers? What if you are a student of biochemistry or German grammar? 6 Then you have to memorize information and take notes from instructors who know more, because the basic material is factual. There is no other way. 7 And this is a temporary condition of many areas of study. But eventually every discipline enters into the unknown, the uncertain, the theoretical, the hypothetical, where teachers can no longer tell students with certainty what they should think. 8 It is only an illusion, a wish of the Ophelias and the Poloniuses that literary texts have just one interpretation or that the exact sciences be exact. At its best, even science is a creative art. Hayakawa quotes his good friend Alfred Korzybski as saying,

Creative scientists know very well from observation of themselves that all creative work starts as a feeling, inclination, suspicion, intuition, hunch, or some other nonverbal affective state, which only at a later date, after a sort of nursing, takes the shape of verbal expression worked out later in a rationalized, coherent . . . theory. 9

Most of us have metaphors—either subconsciously or consciously—of our student experience. 10 I asked several of my students about theirs. One said he thinks of himself as a computer with insufficient memory. He is able to enter information but cannot recall it. One said he is a sieve. A lot of stuff goes right on through, but important pieces stay lodged. One said she feels like a pedestrian in front of a steamroller, and the driver will not give her any hints about how to get out of the way. Another described his metaphor as a tennis match in which he must anticipate his instructor‟s response to each shot. Another thought of herself as a dog jumping through a hoop. Another described himself as a mouse in a maze with no directional signs and no exits. Another as a child in a candy store where you can choose only one or two pieces to take home. These metaphors describe people at various stages along the way from Ophelia to individuation.

Talk is cheap. It‟s fine to say, “Learn to think for yourself,” and it‟s quite another to do it. A recent Fortune magazine article described the plight of middle managers in American corporations. Driven by chief executive officers at the top for greater profits and productivity, many are working 70 or 80 hours a week and sometimes more. The article reports that the corporate byword for urging these people on is “think smarter.” But since no one really knows what that means or how to think smarter, they just work longer. And people are burning out. 11

Learning to think while still in college has its advantages. It may mean shorter working hours later on. It may mean not having a mid-life crisis because you chose to study what you wanted rather than something that someone else wanted you to study. It may mean becoming your own person. 12 It may, purely and simply, 13 mean a much happier life. I want to suggest six things you can do—six things I wish I had done—to treat the Ophelia Syndrome.

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