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Lecture 08 - Difference, Loneliness, Separation (25 April 2012)


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Eighth lecture for my students in English 104A, UC Santa Barbara, spring 2012. Course website:

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Lecture 08 - Difference, Loneliness, Separation (25 April 2012)

  1. 1. Lecture 8: Difference, Loneliness, Separation English 104A UC Santa Barbara Spring 2012 25 April 2012 “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” —Gavin Stevens in William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun, act I, scene iii
  2. 2. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness (1998)● Whiteness is a cultural construction “that like all racial identities has no valid foundation in biology or anthropology,” but is still “a social fact” (vii).● It is a valuable construction that “has a cash value” (vii) that provides certain individuals with advantages.● An individual’s relation to the large-scale power structures supporting whiteness as a privileged position is an ethical and political choice made “within a social structure that gives value to whiteness and offers rewards for racism” (viii).
  3. 3. Race (in Lipsitz)● “Race is a cultural construct, but one with sinister structural causes and consequences.” (2)● Is a determining (if unacknowledged) factor in a huge number of decisions that people make, both in the course of their daily lives and while engaging in commercial and government business. ● pages 5-13 give several dozen examples, including: – Discriminatory housing practices – Differential rates and types of law enforcement – Higher levels of exposure to dangerous toxins – And many many more.
  4. 4. Racism (in Lipsitz)● Has a specific history: ● “[C]onstant and deliberate actions have institutionalized group identity in the United States, not just through the dissemination of cultural stories, but also through systematic efforts from colonial times to the present to create economic advantages through a possessive investment in whiteness for European Americans” (2).● “There has always been racism in the United States, but it has not always been the same racism.” (4-5) ● “laws guaranteeing the right to eat at a lunch counter did little to correct the elaborate web of discrimination in housing, hiring, and education that left minorities less able to pay for a lunch-counter meal, let alone raise the capital necessary to own a lunch counter” (xviii).
  5. 5. Racism (continued)● Is an elective choice made by people, not an attribute of particular groups. “White people always have the option of becoming antiracist, although not enough have done so.” (viii) ● However, there incentives for compliance with structures of white dominance.● Since the 1960s, has often shown itself in ways that shape race-related rewards and punishments indirectly, rather than by overt acts of discrimination.
  6. 6. Whiteness● “the unmarked category against which difference is constructed” (1).● Provides advantages in the form of privileged access to housing, educational advantages, access to insider networks, and the transfer between generations of wealth accumulated under discriminatory conditions. (vii)● “secures its dominance by not seeming to be anything in particular” (1).● Constructed as a broad social category – as a race – in connection with demographic shifts of the mid-twentieth century, especially the preponderance of European Americans in suburbs (7) .
  7. 7. Home ownership● Is a chance disproportionately available to whites, in part because of discriminatory lending practices (6-7) and in part because white people are most likely to have inherited wealth generated by past discriminatory practices.● Costs of home ownership have increased greatly in comparison to other prices since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (15).● Is one of the primary means by which wealth is passed from one generation to the next, and thus one of the primary means by which past inequity is perpetuated (16).
  8. 8. Carson McCullers (1917-1967) ● Born Carson Smith; married Reeves McCullers, 1937 (divorced 1941; second marriage of the couple 1945-1953). ● The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, published 1940, was McCullers’s first published novel. ● Key terms (for our purposes): ● Southern GothicPhoto by Carl Van Vechten, 1959 ● Autobiographical fiction
  9. 9. Southern Gothic● Adopts several conventions of more traditional Gothic sensibilities to the setting and language of the American South.● These conventions include: ● An emphasis on the grotesque, macabre, or fantastic incidents. ● A setting that often includes old or ruined buildings, desolate locations, etc. ● A narrative technique that “develops a brooding atmosphere of gloom or terror,” as M.H. Abrams puts it. ● Often, plots that deal with extreme emotional or psychological states.
  10. 10. “Miss [sic] McCullers’ picture of loneliness, death,accident, insanity, fear, mob violence and terror isperhaps the most desolate that has so far come from theSouth. […] This is not so much a novel as a projectedmood, a state of mind, poetically objectified in words, anattitude externalised in naturalistic detail.” —Richard Wright, review in The New Republic“Few writers, however, are as consistent andthoroughgoing as Carson McCullers in creating asustained body of work. Her novels and short stories, setbeside those of her contemporaries, seem more nearly ofone piece. This underlying unity is partly the result of herprevailing theme of loneliness and desire, partly theworking of the special sensibility which colors herperception of people and events.” —Dayton Kohler, “Carson McCullers: Variations on a Theme,” College English (1951)
  11. 11. Loneliness● Much writing of the early twentieth century tended to associate loneliness with urban life and modernity, as an effect of the urban individual’s separation from the small community that had been the most common setting for American life until the 20th century. “Loneliness, far from being a rare and curious circumstance, is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” (You Can’t Go Home Again 426; ch. 31)● Loneliness as a basic characteristic of human experience is a common theme of mid-twentieth century writing. “It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.” (53; ch. 3)
  12. 12. “There was no noise or conversation, for each person seemedto be alone. The mutual distrust between the men who werejust awakened and those who were ending a long night gaveeveryone a feeling of estrangement.” (30; ch. 2)
  13. 13. Speech and communication● “his plump hands shaped the words ‘Holy Jesus,’ or ‘God,’ or ‘Darling Mary.’ These were the only words Antonapoulos ever said. Singer never knew just how much his friend understood of all the things he told him. But it did not matter.” (5; ch. 1)● “Antonapoulos sat stolidly and made obscene gestures when they came too close to him.” (94; ch. 6)● “He [Biff] was sorry he had talked to Alice. With her silence was better. Being around that woman always made him different from his real self.” (15; ch. 2)
  14. 14. ● “But most of the time nobody was sure just what he [Jake] was saying. Talk—talk—talk. The words came out of his throat like a cataract. And the thing was that the accent he used was always changing, the kinds of words he used. Sometimes he talked like a linthead and sometimes like a professor. He would use words a foot long and then slip up on his grammar.” (17; ch. 2)● “He would start all over with them, but in a different way. He would bring out their lessons and talk with them. They would sit close together and look at their mother. He would talk and talk, but none of them would understand.” (81; ch. 5)
  15. 15. ● “‘It don’t take words to make a quarrel,’ Portia said.” (75; ch. 5)● “Doctor Copeland did not know how to begin. Sometimes he thought that he had talked so much in the years before to his children and they had understood so little that now there was nothing at all to say.” (83; ch. 5).● “Doctor Copeland tried to speak, but his voice seemed lost somewhere deep inside him.” (89; ch. 5)● “Mick loved to go up to Mister Singer’s room. Even if he was a deaf-and-dumb mute he understood every word she said to him. Talking to him was like a game.” (91; ch. 5)
  16. 16. “Mick drew the big block letters very slowly. Atthe top she wrote EDISON, and under that shedrew the names of DICK TRACY andMUSSOLINI. Then in each corner with thelargest letters of all, made with green andoutlined in red, she wrote her initials – M.K.When that was done she crossed over to theopposite wall and wrote a very bad word –PUSSY – and beneath that she put her initials,too. […] She hummed one of the tunes, andafter a while in the hot, empty house by herselfshe felt the tear come in her eyes. Her throatgot tight and rough and she couldn’t sing anymore. Quickly she wrote the fellow’s name atthe very top of the list – MOTSART.” (38; ch. 2)
  17. 17. The town● “The town was in the middle of the deep South. […] On the main street there were several blocks of two- and three-story shops and business offices. But the largest buildings in the town were the factories, which employed a large percentage of the population.” (6; ch. 1)● “It was always funny how many people could crowd in from nowhere when anything out of the ordinary happened.” (27; ch. 2)
  18. 18. Jake leaned against the counter. “Say, what kind ofa place is this town?” “Ordinary,” Brannon said. “About like any otherplace the same size.” “What population?” “Around thirty thousand.” Jake opened the package of tobacco and rolledhimself a cigarette. His hands were shaking. “Mostlymills?” “That’s right. Four big cotton mills – those are themain ones. A hosiery factory. Some gins andsawmills.” “What kind of wages?” “I’d say around ten or eleven a week on theaverage—but then of course they get laid off now andthen.” (60; ch. 4)
  19. 19. Reminders● The bookstore is going to start returning textbooks to publication houses on April 30. If you’re planning on buying textbooks from the bookstore in the UCen, but haven’t yet done so, now is a good time to do it.● Papers are due at the beginning of lecture one week from today.● The last day to drop (for students in the College of Letters and Science) is Friday, 27 April. ● I know you’re not planning on dropping this course. I’m just giving you a friendly reminder.
  20. 20. Media CreditsPhoto of Carson McCullers (slide 8) comes from theCarl Van Vechten Collection at the U.S. Library ofCongress, and copyright on this collection hasexpired. Source: Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942; slide 12) is stillunder copyright, but is being used for teachingpurposes, in order to discuss the painter in the contextof a course discussing twentieth-century Americanculture, and is a low-resolution copy not suitable forproducing quality copies of the original work. Source: