An Insignificant MyStory (Part 3)

In between posts with Casey today, I did manage to get some work done. Particularly, I'm working on prepping for my summer course. I will be teaching a 6 week upper-division expository writing course. Usually, I teach expository writing as digital citizenship (essentially a course in feminist research, digital ethics and social construction). This semester I am trying something new--Gregory Ulmer's Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. As the title intimates, Ulmer's pedagogy is not caught up in traditional interests with the thesis and the paragraph. Rather, it is a creative attempt to translate these kind of structural units into digital practice (they are respectively replaces by the assemblage and the image). It is very hard for me to summarize Ulmer's project with an justice to its philosophical ambitions and pedagogic invigorations in a sentence or two. So instead, a display. Although I am a bit suspicious of this work (across Levinasian lines, Ulmer is drawing on Heidegger and Derrida, and while Levinas and Heidegger-Derrida share an interest in interrupting hegemonic epistemologies, they also differ on the role of the other and the obligations of the self), I admire it.

The book's assignments all aim at designing what Ulmer dedicates a wide image, a kind of psycho-social cognitive map that helps a student recognize multiple (and likely hidden) elements of their identity. There's four primary lens through which students image-ine their identity (referred to as the Popcycle of the Mystory). These categories have resonance to literary modes articulated by Frederick Jameson. They are:

  • Literal = School "This history represetns the memory of the collectivity"
  • Allegory = Entertainment "The discourse learned is that of cultural mythology encountered in popular genres" [Ulmer notes in several places that this could be religion for some people. It is meant to target the locus of cultural identification--what teaches you who you are supposed to be?]
  • Moral = Family "The individual is considered in terms of his/her family upbringing, with the language being the one learned in the home (English, Spanish, Creole) and the discursive regime being the habits and customs specific to that family"
  • Anagogy = Career [Disciplinary knowledge] "The collective meaning of history is determined in mystory ... by the world view embodied wihtin the specialized knowledge that one acquires as an expert in some given career field... This knowledge is the means by which one earns one's livelihood (work), but the knowledge of an avocation may be used instead. (81-82)

In preparation for teaching the mystory, I have been creating one. Its quite fun--and exhilarating. My initial experiences emphasize that Ulmer has discovered an exteremly effective methodology for encouraging creativity.

Today I spent time on the third assingment:

Make a website documenting the details of a movie of TV narrative some part of which you still remember from your childhood years. (127)

Ulmer notes that books can be used in place of cinema and television. He also explains:

the first purpose of the documentation is to record the part of the story that you remember. Once you have inventoried the remains of the work in your memory, view it again and record what you notice in this fresh viewing. The memory is the site of a sting, in Barthes's sense [...] When reviewing the work, note especially the problem or conflict organizing the drama, and the way it is resolved. Memory tends to form around problems, whether the problems are large or small. All narratives are structured by conflict (the protagonist confronts a problem).

In preparing for my summer course, I work on my Mystory for an hour at a time. I also tend to break up my work into categories a bit as I go (I think this kind of genre/structure might be beneficial to undergrads). Here's what I produced in my first hour focus on Assignment 3. (Sorry, I lost the links in the cut and paste, Google Site's HTML function is hopelessly bloated).

What I remember

For my story, I choose an old cross-over series of Marvel comics: the mutant massacre. This story line crossed over several interrelated titles: X-Men, X-Factor and The New Mutants. I rarely read comics these days, although I'll pick through a few issues or a graphic novel every year. But I read quite a few comics during my youth--and whenever I think about all those comics, sitting in the bottom of my guest bedroom closet, this is the series that comes to mind.

In the story, many mutants have taken to living in the tunnels under New York City. Rejected by society-at-large, on account of their difference, they chose to withdraw themselves. While I forget the particularities of their motives, a group of mercenary mutants is contracted out to massacre the mutants living under the city.

The X-men work alongside other mutant heroes (X-Factor, The New Mutants) to stop the genocide. I remember particularly that Wolverine kills his nemesis Sabertooth in a very anti-climactic way. Unfortunately, there's very few other specific details I remember.

Why I Am Selecting It

For as long as I can remember, I have been haunted by genocide. It motivates my scholarship. It is what directed me to academic study. How could a group of people murder another group of people? How could they desire the extermination of an entire people? Such questions are amplified by the Nazi Holocaust. For here, it is not a simple matter of greed (at least, I don't think it is). It is not competition for resources or longstanding political conflict (such as what I understand of Riwanda). This is not to diminish the horror of other atrocities, which I realize it might. Rather, this is to amplify the cold, technical precision of Nazi death camps--more factories than camps. Places that manufacture death.

As an eleven year old, I was drawn to this story line. This was not Spider-Man beating an enemy set on world domination or on acquiring wealth. Those are simple human motives, motives, I speculate, that any eleven-year-old could understand. But hate at this intensity, hate as a motive, that is something that didn't show up in Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo, the Incredible Hulk or any of the other stories that I recall from my youth. Yet one of the pivotal moments of the 20th century was nothing but pure hate.

As I write this, I can think of other places where pure hate shows up in 20th century aesthetics. Tolkien's Sauron, for instance. Wikipedia offers up an interesting tidbit from Tolkien:

Tolkien noted that "it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall ...) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction." Thus "it was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him."

Order and coordination. Industrialized death. Efficiency. For as long as I can remember being alive, I have been suspicious of these terms. IBM and the Holocaust does nothing to sway me otherwise. Here, quite literally, accountability and efficiency are the servant of industrialized murder, all in the name of world order.

I will never forget the line by Wiesel in Night, reflecting on eating soup after watching the dreadfully prolonged hanging of an adolescent. "That night, the soup tasted of corpses." The taste lingers.

Further Research / Loose Notes

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the storyline. I am going to hold off on reading it until after I have re-read the stories (mainly to avoid spoilers).

Unanticipated: Intentional vs. Functionalist perspectives on the Holocaust (found in Wikipedia while searching for Order as a theme of Mein Kampf). There is a separate page dedicated to the debate. The intentionalist argument, I would guess, is more well-known: that Hitler's intentions for killing the Jews traced back to his earlier writings/thoughts. Put simply, he always envisioned the genocide. This is referred to as the straight line to Auschwitz. The functionalist argument, which I had never heard before today, seems a bit more probable to me (it is also a more rhetorically-ecologically complex argument, which I find appealing). This argument is based off of evidence that Hitler originally envisioned a deportation of all Jews to Madagascar. Once the war on the Eastern front disrupted transportation, the "storage" of Jews began to pose a serious problem. Detainment facilities were short-term (ewww...) solutions. For functionalists, the idea for genocide developed after a few, localized massacres at these camps.

The final solution wasn't an initial plan, but rather an unfortunate, unanticipated, accident. This is referred to as the "twisted path" or the "crooked path" to genocide. This is also, unfortunately, an electrate model of creativity. Ulmer's work approaches composing in terms of linkage (assemblage, maintaining disorder) rather than linear Order (synthesis). But, in the word's of Shakespeare's Prince, "all are punish'd." Thinking tastes like corpses.

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