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Lecture 22 - "Everything was on fire"


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Twenty-second (and last!) lecture for my students in English 140, UC Santa Barbara, Summer 2012. Course website:

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Lecture 22 - "Everything was on fire"

  1. 1. Lecture 22: “Everything was on fire” English 140 UC Santa Barbara Summer 2012 12 September 2012Give me back the Berlin wallGive me Stalin and St. PaulIve seen the future, brother: it is murder.[…........................................................]There’ll be the breaking of the ancient Western codeYour private life will suddenly explodeThere’ll be phantomsThere’ll be fires on the roadAnd a white man dancing. —Leonard Cohen, “The Future” (1992)
  2. 2. An important reminderDon’t forget to bring ablue book to the final!
  3. 3. Some final comments about The Road● Questions or observations before we move into our final review?
  4. 4. Our concern with time this term● Time as … ● Grounding and structuring element of our being-in- the-world. ● Having a past, out of which we gain an understanding of who we are. ● Containing a fuzzily defined “present moment,” in which we engage with the potential for action in the world. ● Creating the expectation of a future, which we project as a way of creating meaning in the present moment.
  5. 5. The past ...● As the ground for our (narrative) understanding of our own identities. (Beloved, The Plot Against America)● As the source of regret (and pride) for things done ill or well.● As the site to which memories return and the locus of trauma. (Beloved)● As a site to which we are bound in our temporal thought, preventing the achievement of liberation. (The Quartets)
  6. 6. The present ...● As intimately connected to both past and future. (Beloved, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Road)● As the moment in which we can engage with the world directly. (The Road)● As being structured around a world that may be indifferent or hostile to us (The Plot Against America, The Road)● As being an arena in which varying degrees of control are available to different people, depending on their access to and complicity with existing power structures. (The Lecturer’s Tale)
  7. 7. The future ...● As containing the looming guarantee of death (The Road; everyone’s mother in The Time Traveler’s Wife)● As the locus of intent when we act.● As ground of meaning for our actions. (The Road)● As presenting a set of opportunities that is determined by what we do, what other people do, and a complex set of other factors.
  8. 8. (Psychic) Trauma● Might be thought of primarily as: ● an emotional wound ● causing long-lasting effects ● because it cannot be assimilated into a person’s sense of identity, or cannot be made to fit into the signifying order that a person assigns to the world and ● compels repetitive revisitations in memory until it becomes integrated, or “worked out.”
  9. 9. ● In Beloved: Slavery, and the way that it warps networks of signification that provide meaning and the potential for real ethical choices. ● Denver’s re-integration into the community.● In The Plot Against America: Lindbergh’s presidency and anti-Semitism ● more specific events that are traumatic: Sandy’s complicity, the D.C. hotel eviction, etc. etc. etc.● In Lecturer’s Tale: Nelson’s (physical) trauma as exposing (and exploiting) the traumatic structure of the bureaucratic knowledge-factory.● In Time Traveler’s Wife: Henry’s mother’s death as compelling mandatory physical revisitations.● In The Road: the apocalyptic trauma and the journey toward the re-integration of meaning and value.
  10. 10. Magic and Politics● The phantasmagorical nature of complex contemporary political realities.● External figurations of it: ● Henry’s Heideggerian “thrownness” in time. ● Beloved as the figuration of the trauma of slavery and its repercussions ● Nelson’s finger as figure for the power of complicity with power structures. ● The election of Lindberg as telling us who we are by showing how plausible and nearly related to us the might-have-been is.
  11. 11. Other thoughts? Questions? Thank you for being such an excellent group ofstudents this term. I have greatly enjoyed working with you.
  12. 12. A final thought… She [Baby Suggs] did not tell them to cleanup their lives or to go and sin no more. She didnot tell them they were the blessed of the earth,its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure. She told them that the only grace they couldhave was the grace they could imagine. That ifthey could not see it, they would not have it.(Beloved 103; ch. 9)