Carving Without the Least Bit of Intimidation: Love, War, and Food in Jhumpa Lahiri

I’m just going to jump right in and get us started with two interpretive questions:

1. What, precisely, is the “temporary matter” of the first story?
2. What does a pumpkin have to do with the partition of India?

Obviously, the title of “A Temporary Matter” refers to the brief electrical outages that occur each evening in the story, but by the end we are so far from minor inconveniences and so deep into the intimate pains of living a human life that this is clearly no longer the answer. And, of course, the pumpkin is simply what Jack-o’-Lanterns are made out of, and the Bangladesh Liberation War simply takes place in the autumn of 1971, so the presence of Halloween could be merely an accident of history.

These two questions, only seemingly simple, are going to run us over a very wide gamut of world history, geography, and culture. We could talk about many, many, many things just in these two stories, but I would like to focus your attention on a few key themes that are going to weave together this collection of short stories into a whole that will, by the end, emerge as something greater than it’s parts (though the parts are exquisite): marriage, food, genealogy, and partition. In piecing this list together, I excluded many things. For instance, I said marriage instead of love. Why do you think I made that choice? Why food, instead of music, or culture, or language? Genealogy I’ve used to stand in for that whole complex of our relations to our own past, “our native land, native language, and the laws that govern us” (#). And though the Partition does not appear in every story, a partition occurs throughout (see the end of “A Temporary Matter”).

Continue reading Carving Without the Least Bit of Intimidation: Love, War, and Food in Jhumpa Lahiri

The Gossip of Flames: Becoming Opposite Equals in Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance . . . . Always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity . . . . always distinction . . . always a breed of life.
[3]

In today’s lecture, I am going to address two seemingly simple questions:

1. How does Whitman’s poetry work in “Song of Myself”?

2. What does Whitman’s poetry mean in “Song of Myself”?

I believe that the answer to the first question, how does it work, is crucial to understanding the answer to the second question, what does it mean, perhaps as much as for any poet before or after Whitman. As we have progressed more than halfway through “Song of Myself”, we have all noticed that Whitman does not shy away from incorporating big questions, about good and evil, life and death, sexual ecstasy and brutal violence.

Continue reading The Gossip of Flames: Becoming Opposite Equals in Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Belonging in Locke: The Other Side of the Compact

Précis

I. A merchant in Venice, but not of it, in which it is argued that to understand Locke’s system, or indeed any society, we must understand (i) what it excludes, and (ii) how that exclusion functions, by way of the social exclusions in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

II. The Other Side of Reason, in which a list of Locke’s exclusions is presented with reference to the text, then reduced to an argument apropos which exclusion is more fundamental, that of the slave or that of the madman

Hieronymus Bosch, Ship of Fools (c. 1490–1500)
Hieronymus Bosch, Ship of Fools (c. 1490–1500) (#)
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Philosophy Is A Drinking Game

Or, Desiring Wisdom

*A virtual lecture for The Human Situation in this time of plague, on Plato’s Symposium from the Introduction through the speech of Pausanias

I’m not coming to you in video this time (next time, I promise!), but I still have video clips of course. Let us begin with one of three songs about love that all good Houstonians and/or Indie Rock fans are bound to love. Please watch Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.”

Why this song? I will tell you in a second. First things first, I’m going to tell you my goal in this lecture/essay: to complicate your own, personal definition of love. I hope to do this by begging you to pay careful attention to each of the speeches in the text, not just the big showstoppers at the end. There are many definitions of love in this text, and each of them is worthy of deep consideration. This is my argument: you need to take each of these seriously, or you will miss a lot. This argument is, in some respects, a bad model for you, because the counter-argument it refutes is entirely extratextual: you, the Human Situation student, do not in fact take these early speeches seriously. Between all the discussion sections and papers and final oral exams and random conversations, I think a conservative estimate is that 80% of that time has been spent by students talking about Aristophanes and Socrates. And look, this is fine! These are really great speeches, possibly the two most important things ever said about love outside of 1a. Adam & Eve & 1b. Jesus (at least in the Western tradition).

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Coming and Going: Misrecognition and Identity in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

Professor Richard A. Garner
The Human Situation, April 15th, 2020

Outline

I. The Best Title in All of Literature

II. Misery Like a Coastal Shelf

III. The Injury of Intelligence, the Insult of an Education

A. Intelligence is a curse

B. A Martyr to the Desire of the Other; or, that St. Sebastian Painting One More Time

C. The Terror of Identity; or, Meeting Yourself Coming and Going

Continue reading Coming and Going: Misrecognition and Identity in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

On teaching Achebe teaching on Conrad

Just got done giving a lecture on Achebe’s “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” I’m not sure if there’s a single more necessary essay than Achebe’s when it comes to reading a work of literature and, in fact, I cannot imagine teaching Conrad without doing it from Achebe’s basic starting point. 

Though this semester I taught it in a course with several other professors, I have also taught it in Intro to Lit courses before. It’s always a bit of a struggle, as Achebe’s argument that we should exclude the text from the canon are strong, to say the least. 

Yet it is such a powerful pedagogical text, one that seems worth reading if only because it allows one to introduce Achebe’s succinct, powerful critique of representations of Africa. I also feel as if there are few texts that have a similar ability to undermine our assumptions about civilization and subjectivity. In effect, we still live in the world that Conrad’s novel critique; this past is not, in any real sense, past. Apocalypse now. 

What I’m left with is this: does continuing to reread Conrad, especially when it trades off with reading a book such as Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, simply replicate Achebe’s diagnosis at one remove?