The other side of the story

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I do like Rodoreda’s writing and this analysis struck me as interesting:

In Writing Beyond the Ending Rachel Blau DuPlessis points out that displacing attention to the other side of the story is one of the strategies frequently used by twentieth-century women poets when they rewrite classical or Judeo-Christian myths. This narrative displacement ‘offers the possibility of speech to the female in the case, giving voice to the muted’ (108). Such a change in perspective radically alters the nature of the story and its underlying assumptions. Eurydice’s or Penelope’s values, after all, are not those of Orpheus or Ulysses. Although DuPlessis’s analysis focuses on the revisionary mythopoesis of poets whose language is English, the concept of the other side of the story is relevant to the writing of Catalan novelist Mercè Rodoreda and her 1962 novel, La Plaza del Diamante, in particular. The protagonist is a woman whose life, like that of Goethe’s Makarie, would appear to be without external events, ‘a life whose story cannot be told as there is no story’ (Eichner 620). Rodoreda, however, is well aware that female experience is not minor and that women writers can, in the words of Virginia Woolf, choose ‘to make serious what appears insignificant to a man, and trivial what is to him important’.
The protagonist of Diamante is a simple, unlettered, working-class woman who recounts her courtship, marriage, the birth of her two children, her widowhood, and her remarriage, the birth of her two children, her widowhood, and her remarriage. Natalia’s narrative spans a period of some twenty-five years, running from shortly before the advent of the Second Republic into the post-Civil War period. Chapters 1-17 portray her daily life and its ‘small headaches.’ In chapters 18-32, political events assume increasing importance and the headaches become big ones. In chapters 33-49, Natalia gradually rebuilds her life in postwar Barcelona. A series of binary oppositions structure the narrative: story/lack of story, speech/silence, presence/[-p.61]absence, power/powerlessness, open/closed spaces, male/female. The movement is from oppression and dispossession to repossession and partial liberation in the final section of the novel.
Much of the impact of Diamante derives from the use of an innocent as the center of consciousness. There is an air of bewilderment about Natalia. She tends to take people at face value, and their actions and words are often incomprehensible to her. Rodoreda creates the impression of oral communication, and as we listen to Natalia speak we are struck by the judgments she does not render, the protests she does not voice, the feelings she either does not articulate or does not examine. Wolfgang Iser has called attention to the importance of the empty spaces of a text, describing gaps as the pivots on which the text-reader relationship revolves and blanks of Natalia’s narrative that stimulate our interaction with the text. They lead us to establish the connections she does not make and to listen to the implications of what she does not say. When we examine the pattern of incidents, important symbols, and stylistic devices, the submerged text comes into focus. The other side of the story stands out in bold relief.” (pp.60-61)

“In Diamante the political turmoil of the 1930s is presented indirectly and in the contest of Natalia’s life. She makes no comment on the significance of events, because public affairs are remote from her privatized existence as a woman. The Second Republic is for her simply the time when her small problems turn into big ones.” (p.64)

Ref: (italics in original) Kathleen M. Glenn (1986) La Plaza del Diamante: The Other Side of the Story. pp.60-68 Letras femeninas – Voces femeninas en la literatura de la guerra civil española; una valoración crítica al medio siglo de historia 1936-1986. Vol XII, num 1-2

what is permissible in war…

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Benjamin Valentino, Paul Huth, and Sarah Croco ask: “Do international laws effectively protect civilian populations in times of war?” (p.339) “Laws prohibiting deliberate attacks on civilian populations represent some of the longest-standing formal international legal agreements in existence,” they explain. “Despite intense debate over the normative, legal, and practical effects of these treaties, however, to date no quantitative empirical analysis of compliance with the laws of war has been produced. Indeed, until the last decade, few scholars had attempted to provide quantitative evidence for compliance with international laws of any kind. In this article, we seek to shed light in this important question and provide a better understanding of why some combatants choose to intentionally target civilians in such large numbers while others seem to respect the distinction between enemy soldiers and civilians.” (p.339)

Informal norms restricting the targeting of civilians during war are probably as old as war itself. Nearly all societies and cultures have generated at least some rules governing the behavior of combatants during war. As Michael Walzer notes, one nearly universal rule is the “tendency to set certain classes of people outside the permissible range of warfare, so that the killing of any of their members is not a legitimate act of war but a crime. Though their details vary from place to place, these rules point toward the general conception of war as a combat between combatants, a conception that turns up again and again in anthropological and historical accounts.”
In the West these norms were embodied first in international customary law and then eventually codified into formal international legal agreements. The first major multilateral effort to formalize rules against targeting civilians culminated in the 1907 Hague Convention….” (p.341)

hmmm how is ‘the distinction between enemy soldiers and civilians’ constructed in the popular imaginary?

How are ‘certain classes of people [set] outside the permissible range of warfare, so that the killing of any of their members is not a legitimate act of war but a crime’?

Does spy fiction – or other popular fiction – contribute to all of this in any way?

Ref: Benjamin Valentino, Paul Huth, and Sarah Croco (2006) COVENANTS WITHOUT THE SWORD International Law and the Protection of Civilians in Times of War World Politics 58 (April 2006), 339–77

The Hunger Games trilogy – Vivienne Muller

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Just hunting through for work on The Hunger Games… found this article by Vivienne Muller:

ABSTRACT: “The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins deals with a dystopian future society in which a punitive ruling elite provide ‘entertainment’ for the masses in the form of mediatised ‘games’ featuring young people who must fight to kill one another until there is only one winner. The purpose of these games is to remind the populace of the power of the government and its ability to dispose of any who dare to defy it. In acknowledging violent ‘games’ as virtual entertainments which can be used to political effect, Collins suggests that they possess a disturbing capacity to undermine ethical perspective on the human, the humane and the real. Drawing on Baudrillard’s ideas about simulation and simulacra as well as Elaine Scarry’s and Susan Sontag’s concerns for media representations of the body in pain, this paper discusses the ways in which the texts highlight the dangers of virtual modes while also risking perpetuating their entertainment value.” (p.51) Ref: Vivienne Muller (2012) Virtually real: Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy International Research in Children’s Literature 5(1): 51-63

… a couple of interesting and/or nicely worded statements from Muller’s article…:

Describing the trilogy itself, Muller explains: “The trilogy heavily references the disturbing entertainment of Roman gladiatorial games as well as the immersive nature of computer/video games, the seductive allure of reality television and the distancing effect of mediatised images of war and violence to warn of the sinister uses to which these can be harnessed.” (p.51)

“The trilogy focuses in large part on the ease with which the real can be transformed into the virtual space through technical and aesthetic manipulation of viewers and participants.” (p.55)

The Hunger Games trilogy also conjures the spectre of the TV talent show which in high measure lays claim to the performative, the competitive and the entertaining. This is strongly enunciated in the hunger games in books one and two and it ghosts the action in book three, despite the latter’s move into a more [-p.57] sombre and reflective mode.” (pp.56-57)

“In Mockingjay, the hunger games have been replaced by outright war between the Capitol (led by President Snow) and the Districts (led by President Alma Coin of District 13). The way war is waged in mediated and mediatised format as were the hunger games in the first two books identifies their participation in the same virtual space. Both sides in the war make extensive use of video footage for propaganda purposes – trying to stay ahead of the game to leverage psychological as well as material victories.
The constant morphing of the real into the virtual calls for some kind of perspective that distinguishes between them.” (emphases in blue bold mine, p.59)

I expect Muller’s article would probably aid discussion about the dilemmas inherent in the ethics of representation; in watching violence (especially at a distance and through mediatised formats); in witnessing/engaging with others’ suffering, etc. Introducing her paper, Muller writes: “…this paper will discuss the ways in which the texts seek to highlight the dangers of virtual entertainment mode and their capacity to mask ‘real’ suffering, torture, violence, and death. This reading of the series allows it to be a clever engagement with the idea that exposure to virtual entertainment media forms frustrates attempts at critical distance from them to the point where it is difficult to identify and engage productively with the actual to which they refer. In considering this, the paper will also question whether the trilogy’s repetitive and elaborate use of the virtual entertainment modality risks compromising the ethical freight carried in the texts by young female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen.” (emphases in blue bold mine, p.52)

Note also that Muller references the following interview, which sounds interesting: Blasingame, James. ‘An Interview with Suzanne Collins’. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 52.8 (May 2009): 726.
Collins is also apparently quoted in: Ketteler, Judy. ‘The labyrinth re-visited; a Greek myth is transported to the future’. The Costo Connection 25.7 (2010): 55.

“Education after Abu Ghraib” – Giroux

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Back in 2004, Henry Giroux wrote a fascinating essay on the connections between education and the individual and collective ability to reject institutionalised violence. His argument draws on Theodor Adorno’s essay, ‘Education after Auschwitz’, but reviews Adorno’s principles through the more recent experience of Abu Ghraib. I only just found it, but consider it incredibly thought-provoking and still absolutely relevant nearly ten years on…

Giroux analyses the media portrayal and public reception of the Abu Ghraib abuses. He spends some time (space?) considering the political aspects of how the photos were read and it’s all worth quoting… anyway… Giroux, for example, asserts that:

What is often ignored in the debates about Abu Ghraib, both in terms of its causes and what can be done about it, are questions that foreground the relevance of critical education to the debate. Such questions would clearly focus, at the very least, on what pedagogical conditions need to be in place to enable people to view the images of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison not as part of a voyeuristic, even pornographic, reception but through a variety of discourses that enable them to ask critical and probing questions that get at the heart of how people learn to participate in sadistic acts of abuse and torture, internalize racist assumptions that make it easier to dehumanize people different from themselves, accept commands that violate basic human rights, become indifferent to the suffering and hardships of others, and view dissent as basically unpatriotic.” (p.792)

He goes on: “I am concerned about what the events of [-p.792] Abu Ghraib prison might suggest about education as both the subject and object of a democratic society and how we might engage it differently. What kind of education connects pedagogy and its diverse sites to the formation of a critical citizenry capable of challenging the ongoing quasi-militarization of everyday life, growing assault on secular democracy, the collapse of politics into a permanent war against terrorism, and a growing culture of fear that increasingly is used by political extremists to sanction the unaccountable exercise of presidential power? What kinds of educational practices can provide the conditions for a culture of questioning and engaged civic action? What might it mean to rethink the educational foundation of politics so as to reclaim not only the crucial traditions of dialogue and dissent but also critical modes of agency and those public spaces that enable collectively engaged struggle? How might education be understood both as a task of translation but also as a foundation for enabling civic engagement? What new forms of education might be called forth to resist the conditions and complicities that have allowed most people to submit ‘so willingly to a new political order organized around fear?’ (Greider 2004, p. 14). What does it mean to imagine a future beyond ‘permanent war’, a culture of fear and the triumphalism that promotes the sordid demands of empire? How might education be used to question the common sense of the war on terrorism or to rouse citizens to challenge the social, political, and cultural conditions that lead to the horrible events of Abu Ghraib? Just as crucially, we must ponder the limits of education. Is there a point where extreme conditions short-circuit our moral instincts and ability to think and act rationally? If this is the case, what responsibility do we have to challenge the reckless violence-as-first-resort-ethos of the Bush administration?
Such questions extend beyond the events of Abu Ghraib, but at the same time, Abu Ghraib provides an opportunity to connect the sadistic treatment of Iraqi prisoners to the task of redefining pedagogy as an ethical practice, the sites in which it takes place, and the consequences it has for rethinking the meaning of politics in the twenty-first century.” (pp.792-793)

Explaining the essay by Adorno that he draws on in this essay, Giroux writes, “Adorno’s plea for education as a moral and political force against human injustice is just as relevant today as it was following the revelations about Auschwitz after World War II.” (p.794)

Implicit in Adorno’s argument is the recognition that education as a critical practice could provide the means for disconnecting common sense learning from the narrowly ideological impact of mass media, the regressive tendencies associated with hyper-masculinity, the rituals of everyday violence, the inability to identify with others, as well as from the pervasive ideologies of state repression and its illusions of empire. Adorno’s response to retrograde ideologies and practices was to emphasize the role of autonomous individuals and the force of self-determination that he saw as the outcome of a moral and political project that rescued education from the narrow language of skills, unproblematized authority and the seduction of common sense. Self-reflection, the ability to call things into question, and the willingness to resist the material and symbolic forces of domination were central to an education that refused to repeat the horrors of the past and engaged the possibilities of the future. Adorno urged educators to teach students how to be critical, to learn how to resist those ideologies, needs, social relations, and discourses that lead back to a politics where authority is simply obeyed and the totally administered society reproduces itself through a mixture of state force and often orchestrated consensus. Freedom in this instance meant being able to think critically and act courageously, even when confronted with the limits of one’s knowledge. Without such thinking critical debate and dialogue degenerates into slogans, and politics, disassociated from the search for justice becomes a power grab. Within the realm of education, Adorno glimpsed the possibility of knowledge for self and social formation as well as the importance of pedagogical practices capable of ‘influencing the next generation of Germans so that they would not repeat what their parents or grandparents had done’ (Hohendahl 1995, p. 51).” (p.795)

Human autonomy through self-reflection and social critique became for Adorno the basis for developing forms of critical agency as a means of resisting and overcoming both fascist ideology and identification with what he calls the fascist collective. According to Adorno, fascism as a form of barbarism defies all educational attempts at self-formation, engaged critique, self-determination, and transformative engagement. He writes: ‘The only true force against the principle of Auschwitz would be human autonomy . . . that is, the force of reflection and of self-determination, the will to refuse participation’ (Hohendahl 1995, p. 58).” (p.796)

So much of what Giroux writes here seems to advocate for the kind of critical literacy that educational theorists and leaders desire, but struggle to push through in terms of actual assessment systems and educational organisation. It also had me thinking of any number of ways that popular literature could be developed for discussion in the classroom (spy fiction, for example…)… still thinking it all through – definitely worth a read or two.

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Henry A. Giroux (2004): Education after Abu Ghraib, Cultural Studies, 18:6, 779-815

Reference is to: Greider, W. (2004) ‘Under the banner of the ‘‘war’’ on terror’, The Nation, 21 June, p. 14.
Hohendahl, P. U. (1995) Prismatic Thought: Theodor Adorno, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.