Playing

Reading and engaging with the text through one point of view made the experience of reading more immersive. Rather than looking at the society surrounding this text as a past to be analyzed, I was forced to understand what existing in this sort of Structure would be like. In this way the exercise was more engaging than traditional forms of text engagement in that I constantly had to think over my character, her relation to the other characters and how to authentically present her point of view. I was forced to examine the other conjure figures and learned more about the role of a conjurer and their unique placement in society where this figure explores a unique kind of agency through the spiritual and mystical. Through inhabiting the conjure woman I was forced to contend with the way the conjure woman and her goopher are both centered through the stories title and by being given the power to move forth the plot by Julius, while also serving as a character within a story that is treated as unreal and as a tool for Julius’s use. In this way dealing with the figure of the conjure woman was a very labyrinth like and meta experience and in taking the role I had to try to understand the significance and connection through the stories
In playing the novel it was pleasurable to have a creative way to engage with the text and connect deeper with the characters. It made me question more topics such as voice which was also a frustration in that I had trouble deciding how to convey the voice of the conjure woman. In the end I decided to do a sort of mixture and was still conflicted about voice. The conjure woman’s status in the society and authentic voice constantly left me conflicted. It was also frustrating trying to find a direction to write in or respond to. Especially as a paratextual character I felt unsure of how much I could move the narrative forward. It was also pleasurable to read what the other members of the game were doing with their characters and allowed me to gain context through the research of my classmates in a more engaging way. However, it was frustrating being tied to my point of view and not being able to respond to certain aspects of their moves because of the limitations of having to speak through characters voice.
If I were to play again, I would have more engagement with the textual characters. While I played my role as a sort of para para textual character, it made it more difficult to engage. I might decide to become an aunt peggy or other conjure woman that Julius talks about specifically rather than another conjure figure and engage with his chis character as the storyteller to look for more meaning. I also might have started more original conversation threads rather than respond for every move.
I think having more of a framing device would make the game run smoother and allow our responses and characters to blend better together. I felt as if my character was not part of the central conversation and had trouble looking at ways to relate my character to what was happening.

Becoming John

At first, I found it quite difficult to dive into the minds of the readers or even understand each of the stories within each other because there was a lot going on at once. However, by focusing on John, I was able to read the text through a new lens. Rather than attempting to piece together everyone’s roles in the text and figure out their importance, I was able to re-read the stories and catch moments that I had not noticed before. For instance, I paid extra close attention to John’s thoughts and the way other characters responded to him which helped me better understand their dynamics and John’s state of mind. I was able to pick up more on the John’s relationship with Julius and the way that he still saw Julius as a slave. It deepened my understanding of their relationship by pointing out the ways that John tries to assert his authority over him. I especially saw this in the scene with Julius’ grandson.  

I found it quite difficult to get into John’s mind at times because I would already have an analysis in my head. As a result, I wanted to write it in my voice because that’s how I had worded it originally so I had to find different ways to say the same thing or sometimes not say it at all because it was out of John’s character, but still find a way to deliver the message. I think the research part was a bit overwhelming for John’s character because I kept finding good sources that analyzed Julius more. Therefore, I sometimes had to work with Julius’ description and analysis to then determine what John might think of that or how his interaction with the topic might go based on the novel. 

If I were to play again, I’d probably still choose John or a role where I could step back and be more comfortable going into analysis mode without having to go through the step of converting it into someone else’s voice. However, even though that step was often challenging, I think it is what allowed me to grasp a deeper understanding of the text. So, I’d probably try to challenge myself and play two roles. I think it could be interesting to even reply to oneself because it forces one to challenge their current response and look at it from a different perspective.  

I think I would make it more into a “game”. I admit the word “game” gave me trouble understanding the assignment because it wasn’t really a game like the ones I’m used to with points or a specific objective. I think by adding points like “If you respond to somebody’s post directly then you gain more points” or by making it more creative or including more sources it also raised one’s points. I think that would serve as a motivator for people to go outside of their comfort zone and allow themselves to be more creative with their roles. 

 

Sheena’s Talking Book

It’s funny that you say that Chana, I’m basically the exact opposite. As the paratextual George W. Cable, I had to look at Chesnutt’s work from an outside perspective and with a grain of salt. Cable had the opportunity and ability to have known what led up to each of Chesnutt’s works being made, what it took for each character to be invented. Whether it had been an internal struggle for Chesnutt or a character flaw, as an editor Chesnutt hand-picked to read and revise his work, Cable would’ve picked up on them. But also from his position as a close friend, he was privy to Chesnutt’s innermost thoughts and worries like the color line and social reform. As an activist himself, Cable would’ve had an opinion on Chesnutt’s writing, and it’s relevance to the community and in my interpretation, called him out for it. He was like an overseeing force added to the short stories, as an omniscient eye witness to it all. He had no limitations and the research I got on him was very vast from his childhood to his death everything about him was well documented.

There was a lot of fun in picking the character I wanted to be, looking into their stories and getting to know their personality knowing that because it was outside of the story Chesnutt made there was no preset I had to follow. It was very freeing, being able to tackle any and every aspect related to the characters. It was even really interesting to see the way other people in my group would respond to my letters and opinions. At the same time though I was often frustrated with how free it was. I was always really worried if my topic was good enough or had to directly relate to a story. With no boundaries, I felt lost in how vast the possibilities were, not knowing where I was going. I also felt like it was nearly impossible to cross the divide between me and the non-paratextual. I had no way of rationally getting to them unless I specifically critiqued them and if I did it’s not like that’s something they could directly respond to. So being so far out the box made it really hard to interact with those inside it.

If I were to play again I would actually definitely prefer to play a role that’s non-paratextual. I’d want to be a direct character in the story like Anne or Julius so that my character is flushed out more. They would have a set role in the story so I wouldn’t feel lost in the scheme of things. With non-paratextual who they are and what they think is already understood and you just get to riff off of that, which kind of reminds me of fan fiction. All their arguments and beliefs laid out and inferable from the larger text from where they originated. I think to play with a voice that everyone has some kind of knowledge of would have been more fun to connect to and speak out of.

Playing Chesnutt

Playing a book rather than reading it definitely changes some aspects of how I viewed the stories. As Chesnutt, I could attempt to understand how both his personal life (as a black ‘freeman’ in America), and society around him helped shape and give meaning to his writing. Additionally, while authorial intent is generally something that should not be argued, by pretending to be Chesnutt, not only could I do just that, but I can give meanings to many aspects to the stories as well.

While that was definitely the fun part of the project, there were some frustrating aspects. For one, as a young, fairly unaccomplished college student, it was somewhat difficult to attempt to get into the mind of a very accomplished, published author. In order to attempt to do so accurately, I needed to research both Chesnutt, those involved with him, and those who wrote about him. However, while it was not difficult to find articles, reviews and works about Chesnutt, there was almost too much information to sift through. Were there to be just a few works, I would have been able to pick the best suited one, and use it to my benefit. But, as someone who has a hard time making decisions, it was a bit overwhelming to see so many research options, yet only be able to use one or two of them.

It is for this reason that if I were to play this game again, I probably would not play as Chesnutt. Although I had a good time pretending to be him, I feel as though being a paratextual may have been more enjoyable for me. By doing so, I would be able to create a unique persona and personality, rather than relying on facts or reality (which would definitely make my work more creative and exciting.) Additionally, while I would still need to do some research, that research would be on my own parameters, and based on aspects of a character that I created, rather than one that already exists. I also would have found it fun to, as a paratextual figure, breach the divide between the frames, and make an attempt at communication not just with Chesnutt and other real-world characters, but with people like Julius and Annie as well.

The only thing that I would change about the game is the inability to delete a move once it’s been created. Although I have yet to accidentally hit post on something before I was ready to do so, this created a bit of anxiety that my computer would malfunction (totally probable), which would cause the post to go live before I was ready for it to do so (somewhat less probable,) and an embarrassingly unedited first draft would suddenly be available for all of English 321 to read. (And sure, I could have written it out first on a Google document and then transferred it over to the game, but it’s 2019, I’m a millennial, and we prefer instant gratification.)

reflective post on TALKING BOOK (due Thursday)

To focus your reflection on our gameplay of Chesnutt’s “conjure tales,” I would like you to write a post of 500-1000 words that reckons with the following four questions (you can either write four quick responses or weave the four questions into a single mini-essay):

  1. How did your reading of the text change by virtue of looking at it through a single “window”** (i.e., the point of view of your character or persona)? What did you learn about the novel by playing this role rather than simply reading the text?
  2. What are the pleasures and frustrations of “playing” a novel, rather than reading it? What obstacles did you encounter, and how did you deal with them?
  3. If you were to play again, what would you do differently? Would you pick another role? What moves would you change? What different moves might you make?
  4. Any changes you would suggest to the interface of the game? Bonus points if you post them to the developer’s site on GitHub!

**Henry James famous likened the novel genre to a “house of fiction” that “has in short not one window, but a million — a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will.”

survey of opening moves

I’m really impressed by the first round of moves in our “Talking Book” play thus far. We’re going to do a brief exercise today reporting on each others’ moves, so this may duplicate some of what we talk about then, but I wanted to call attention to some exemplary moves, categorized by what one can do with a move. So here are some strategies, paired with moves that use those strategies (among others, in many cases):

Implied Inscription

It seems as though Chesnutt’s work contains a reverse transaction of inscription upon the Caucasian body by the Black subject (now power-holder) instead of the typical way of Caucasian inscription upon a Black body. He structures the latter by posing Uncle Julius, a former slave, as the principal storyteller and wordsmith in these vignettes and his new employers, Annie and John, as his willful participants in this inscription. It closely resembles the inscription of the Condemned Man by the apparatus in Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” in notable ways.

The Caucasian listeners happen to be the descendants (possibly the grandchildren) of former Southern plantation and slave owners. They barely make any interinjections while Uncle Julius is sharing his long and well-paced stories about the inner lives of Black slaves that would never have been heard otherwise. He gives insight to character structure and plot to the point of art form. Chesnutt doesn’t even mention any details about the designated listeners; not even an uncomfortable shuffle, or mention of the predominate layer of the setting (whether sitting in a grassy area, or at the woodcutter’s). They are willing participants in this inscription, not like the Condemned Man in Franz Kafka’s “The Penal Colony.”

What exactly Uncle Julius inscribes upon Annie and her husband includes the structure of power and influence within the slave community in order to affect their white owners and overseers, such as voodoo (“goopher”) and careful storytelling (Uncle Julius and the barn). A friendly exchange between two Caucasian people and an African-American would never have happened before this time period, which makes this moment of inscription remarkable and fragile. Uncle Julius also inscribes upon them to be witnesses to this pain and lack of autonomy that he has experienced first-hand and through those around him; in order to make an impression upon them.

Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” includes a society which wishes to make a similar impression upon their criminals. In the case of the Condemned Man, he was placed within a torture device whose schematics write a message into the skin of the law-breaker, in a language that the Condemned cannot read or write. It’s believed that the very act of inscription upon the body will transfer the wisdom of right-action in order to correct the character of the Condemned. The characters of Annie and John Chesnutt’s tales do not exhibit the same unwillingness that the Condemned Man has when he realizes he’s about to die, but the inscription of right-action is written implicitly upon Annie and John  rather than explicitly. These stories clearly frame out the life of a slave, to hearers who are tied to the very people who benefited monetarily and otherwise from human enslavement. It is a reparation through storytelling that Uncle Julius delivers to his listeners.

Piece on “local color” writing and the South and heads-up re: our “game”

Just wanted to share a brief overview of “local color” writing and its relationship to the South: I think it helps grasp the broader context Chesnutt was writing his “conjure tales” within.

I’d also like to direct you to the site we’ll use to host our “game” of Chesnutt’s writing. Feel free to peruse the site: you can see some old games from last year, a list of possible characters to play, and more.

We, He, She, They: Inscription and Liberty Through Pronouns

“The Garrison party, to which he still adhered, did not want a colored newspaper—there was an odor of caste about it” (Douglass).

“And when he adopted the pronoun we—an echo of “We the people,” transcribed from the Constitution’s first line to the top of his own blank page—he engaged in an act of political representation: he defined a community and dared to speak on its behalf” (Hager).

“Identity definitely is important, but it’s also not the only thing that matters […], pronouns belong to the social world of language, not to individual psychology” (ContraPoints).

Hager’s introduction to the early writings of African American concerns the anecdote of an unnamed man engaging in what is described as an “act of protest” (Hager 1). What Hager notes is so powerful about this is not only the way in which the author actively criticizes the hypocrisy of the Constitution’s alleged inclusion, but that it is done so through the “[adoption of] the pronoun we” (Hager) This kind of language allows the author to inscribe his identity and the identity of countless African slaves who had suffered, died and survived under slavery onto the page in a way that hijacks the power of the Constitution and turns its words on itself.

Our contemporary discussions about pronouns often circle issues of representation for transgender and non-binary peoples. Such discussion has been fraught with controversy as the very demand of a people to be represented by a pronoun which they believe is most representative and respectful of their identity and their place is society is something which challenges the very harmful, gendered structures that are demanding silence in the first place. The struggle for representation in the transgender and non-binary communities concerns gendered pronouns which, as ContraPoints argues, plays a significant role in the sociopolitical nature of language—how we relate to and signify each other. Though her argument is distinctively focused on issues of gender, I believe it intersectionally translates to the concept of racial identity in a way that echoes the need for a minority subject people to adopt a pronoun which situates them in society and challenges who the pronoun represents in the first place. As ContraPoints often argues in her videos, her adoption of the “she” pronoun represents the fact that she lives her life as a woman, that she experiences life as a woman. Therefore, “she” becomes the necessary way for her to inscribe herself through language. Similarly, the unnamed author in Hager’s example argues that if he is to live his life as a free person, then the act of adopting the pronoun “we” is in fact necessary and revolutionary.

We see a similar demand amplified in the actions of Frederick Douglass as he fights for the establishment of a “colored newspaper” which would not merely “represent” the issues of African Americans, but would become the published voice for them, the defining published voice which careers the same audacity as the adoption of a collective pronoun so that at once a people can be included in the language of the Constitution (Douglass). And though we can be open to a conversation concerning any fractures or rifts brewing among a revolutionary movement, the resistance against Douglass starting an African American paper is, almost directly, a refusal to allow the pronoun “we” to be transferred from whites to blacks. To establish the North Star is to open “the social world of language” and allow the “we” to be redefined (ContraPoints). It is an effort to move beyond an individual, psychologically-based feeling of freedom; it’s to march toward a linguistically and politically free existence as “we.”

I am including ContraPoints’ video which I quote from and reference here. Though her topic exclusively concerns gender and a different contemporary issue, I believe the arguments translate well, offer great insight on the function of language and unpack a somewhat difficult-to-understand concept in a thorough—if not eccentric—fashion.

Hagel and the Word

As I read the selected passages from Hager’s Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing, I found myself thinking about about the purpose of writing and Audience more deeply. In his own words the narratives that are centered in this text “turn our attention to the manuscript writings of marginally literate African Americans who were enslaved, not because such texts are less mediated or somehow more authentic than published works but because their authors had different, hitherto unaccounted experiences of both emancipation and the act of writing.”(23-24). It lead me to consider what exactly marked these accounts as ignorable, less digestible, and different than the popular narratives in the past .
The two writers that are encountered in chapter 3 are Adam Plummer and John Gordon. Both men are involved in the exploritive process of narrative writing and inscription. They both center romantic love in a way that depicts how the dictates of antebellum society and later the dynamic shift of these rules with emancipation, inscibe themselves in their writing and motivation to write.This is done through processes of writing and rewriting accounts of the past that reveal something about the experience of living through the transition to emancipation.
In the Case of Adam Plummer he revolves his short and crude narratives around the love and separation between him and his wife. Of the 4 events that Hager informs us create the account that is supposed to be an autobiography , 3 events involve Emily.”Four events make up Plummer’s brief life- narrative: his birth in 1819, his marriage to Emily in 1841, his separation from her in 1855, and his receipt of her first letter.”(pg 83) In this way Adam exposes the dictates of antebellum society that are inscribed on his life and uses his own method of inscription and writing as a way to asert his humanity and make sense of the inscription that has been placed upon him. Enslavement has broken his family apart and left written word as his only way of upkeeping his marriage. After the dynamic shift with emancipation the autobiography is discontinued. something that Hager suggests might be due to a possible reunion with his wife. This calls in to question the purpose and motivation for beginning the narrative at all. It is at this point that Hager question whether a slave can even write a narrative while enslaved.(82) In the case of Adam plummer his attempt at narrative is never finished and his authority over his self identity and family does not seem fully realized. Although it is a reconstruction through memory it is still happening and not fully refelective. In this way there is a difference from popular slave narratives. However whats most striking about the unfinished account is how it captures the suffering and mundane experience of enslaved life without the distance that most narratives carry. Plummer is not writing his narrative for an audience woth a white sponsor to filther the crude writing and polish the experiences through and in this way Plummers narrative might be the truer narrative of life, un-polished, honest and crude. Although it cannot be confirmed why he decided to write the narrative it is clear that it was not something he wrote with the thought it would ever be read.
John Gordon’s account provokes simular questions however in his case, Gordon mives beyond his crude diary and begins to recreate a narrative with an audience in mind. The contrast between his crude diary in slavery and the more final version he makes after freedom seems to reflect the change in dynamic from pre- to post emancipation. His crude diary barely mentions Slavery and does not seem to make any statement on his condition. It captured his mundane life and quest for love without highlighting the major factor of his enslavement. It is only in the recreation process that Washington changes parts of his history to better use romance as an allegory for his quest to freedom and speaks about freedom in any way. This signifys a shift in motivation or intended audience. Although the account was not published it is clear that the diarys purpose was different than the narrative version by looking at the way he decided to write and inscribe them. The narrative version is even written with more care to form and better paper.
Wondering about audience and purpose also lead me to considering the way epistolary is used in the acquisition of literacy. aletter writing is a major part of the want to write for both writers It begins with a literal want to communicate to others and then turns into a communication and negotiation with the self.