Good Country People

Hulga is the only character in the book who I believe actually understood what mutual recognition was. It’s not to relate over assumptions that you understand anything well enough to gossip. It’s not saying “That’s Life” because no one knows what life is. To call life anything is entirely subjective and any guess as to why we are here is wrong. We have the most disgusting history that stemmed from nothing but human greed for more, but people are convinced that the modern world must mean we’ve changed, and the next generation will be different. No, when it comes to motivation, self interest is the only sustainable force that drives human beings. Empathy comes and goes but our desire for self satisfaction, validation, and any other motive of serotonin always prevail. That’s not to say there aren’t good people, or at least people who act on values that are morally acceptable. There are countless examples of it on a day to day basis. There is a lot of people fighting for absolutely good reasons, and there’s people who do a lot to attempt to make humanity better. But that was true all throughout history. There have always been good people but the evil people are always the ones who gain control because their scummy practices to achieve power are more effective than being a decent human being. I believe Hulga understands this.

Evening Thoughts on Complex Individuality and Mutual Recognition

As I read over the criteria list for the blog post, nothing quite struck me right away. My summer reading book Exit, Pursued By a Bear was mildly entertaining at best, and no other book I’ve read recently contained any depth. However, while taking a break from my Criminal Minds obsession this summer, I tried watching the new hit HBO series Euphoria. Although the show is filled with drugs, sex, and lots of sparkles, there is something else that makes it so captivating: the complex individuality of each character.

Like no other show I’ve seen before, Euphoria accurately depicts the struggles of high school, addiction, abusive parents, and every thing in between. What truly amazed me when watching it was the way it that showed life for what it is: really f-ing hard, but something beautiful at the same time. Without romanticizing the struggles of each character, Euphoria demonstrates that every single person you´ll encounter is going through something, whether you know it or not. The show does not focus on one specific character, but rather how each of their complex stories are intertwined in some way.

Nabokov´s concept of mutual recognition goes hand-in-hand with the idea of individuality because it recognizes that each person is more than just a binary, that we are all complex, unique humans. And such is the beauty of real life: we are all complex individuals that are living our own story in tandem with one another.

A Conversation About “White Gaze” and Careers

In the short story “A Conversation About Bread” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, the concept of people’s perceptions of stories is brought up and analyzed. The theory of the “white gaze” that applies to story telling or living with a roommate.

People bring their own subconscious opinions to everything in life. For instance, when Brian’s mom’s roommates was taking pictures of Brian’s mom out of the shower, “the girl was sending the pictures home to her family, like, look at this elephant I saw at the watering hole or this native with a disk in her lip” (179), she was bringing herself into the narrative and making comparisons (racist comparisons).

Similar to the white woman in the library overhearing their conversation about their short story who was “now very interested in their conversation” (181) and was “impressed by [Brian’s] use of the word ‘monolith'” (176) because she had some preconceived notion about how a black person should talk.

More people in the field of anthropology need to come from different backgrounds and be able to “ignore the white gaze until it no longer came to mind. Then, ‘and only then’… ‘black people can be free from all the double consciousness bull” (181). Diversifying different career fields will allow for different perspectives and new ideas that wouldn’t be brought up otherwise.

A happy society?

The idea of mutual recognition is pretty much a dream if we’re being honest. Can anyone actually imagine a world where we avoid conflict and there’s no fighting for power? Because I definitely can’t. Jessica Benjamin’s ideas are incredible. They are truly valuable ideas that would help our society immensely. Everyone would be happier and there would be a focus on truly learning about people and taking them for who they are and what they stand for. But could that ever happen? Our society is centered around power and the dynamics of war, fighting, and conflict when we should be focusing on things like mutual recognition. Thinking about this reminded me of a practice AP test last year about the business of war and violence. The backbone of the United States is conflict, and while it would be nice to move away from conflict, I don’t see it happening. The ideas Jessica Benjamin conveys are awesome, but for change to occur they have to taken in small doses. Moving towards a less conflict focused society will take a long time, but could ultimately contribute to making the world a happier place.

Mutual Recognition vs. “Dry”

The novel “Dry” by Neil Shusterman takes the reader on a journey following a group of mismatched teenagers through a lengthy and deadly drought in future Southern California. The story begins following two siblings, Alyssa and Garrett, who search for their parents with the help of their geeky neighbor Kelton, after they do not return from scavenging for water. The unlikely friends end up traveling with a dangerous seeming girl, Jacqui, who agrees to take them in her car to Keltons bugout, where they promised water. Immediately after meeting Jacqui, Kelton developed a deep mistrust of her which was rooted in her age superiority and his own insecurities. This mistrust was mirrored by Jacqui as she worked to maintain the upperhand on Kelton and the rest of the crew. Benjamin expressed that mutual recognition can only be achieved after both parties acknowledge that the other has a similar center of experience. This lack of mutual recognition was highlighted after Jacqui forcibly took over the drivers seat from Kelton claiming she was the better driver. Towards the end of the story, as Jacqui is about to make a reckless and impulsive decision, the reader witnesses Keltons internal dialogue where he expresses that he sees Jacqui as one of the group and acknowledges that she is just as scared and lost as the rest. This crucial turning point for Kelton was reciprocated at the end of the novel where we meet Jacqui again and she is kind and respectful towards Kelton and the others, an action the reader had not seen before. The newfound mutual recognition between Kelton and Jacqui was great character development throughout the story and also solved an underlying unresolved conflict.

On Authorial Intent and Mutual Recognition

Recently, I have been re-watching the Harry Potter series. I re-read the books last year, for the first time since I was in early middle school. But I have found myself hesitant to endorse this series that I love because of the comments of J.K. Rowling, the author of the books.

Over the years, she has made many claims about the books. Following the publication of the last book in the series, she announced that Albus Dumbledore had been gay all along. At one point, she claimed that she had envisioned Hermione Granger, one of the main characters, as a black girl. But these announcements came post facto, and were therefore far too late.

By introducing these ideas after the characters had been solidified in the public’s mind, J.K. Rowling robbed these characters of mutual recognition. These supposedly central parts of characters identities had been hidden for years. How could we mutually recognize characters for traits that had never been expressed? By withholding the information that she claimed to have known all along, Rowling’s pathetic attempts at inclusivity fall short.

No young black girl is reading Harry Potter and relating to Hermione because of her struggles with racism or colorism. No closeted teens are watching these movies and seeing one of the main heroes of the story be LGBTQ+ like them. If the people she now tries to include can’t recognize their struggles in these stories, is she really including them at all?

Sylvia Vs. Miss Moore

In “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara, Sylvia and Miss Moore have an odd relationship. Miss Moore seems to fully recognize Sylvia and the kids as individuals but Sylvia does not. In the story, Miss Moore calls the kids by their first names rather than their nicknames (111 & 114). Calling someone by their own name is special and defines their identity. She treats them as human beings rather than as delinquents or trouble makers as others might. Even though Miss Moore is anything but rude to the kids, they still treat her awfully, especially Sylvia.

One can tell from the beginning that Sylvia has lots of contempt for Miss Moore when she thinks, “I’m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree” (110). This disrespect is expressed again when Sylvia thinks, “… though I never talk to her, I wouldn’t give the bitch that satisfaction” (113). Sylvia probably does not have much power in her life, being a poor, black girl, so she acts rude and bossy trying to maintain any sort of power/control she can get. However, Miss Moore constantly attempts to break down this power struggle by treating Sylvia properly and not putting her down. Miss Moore strives for mutual recognition while Sylvia wants to remain in control.

“Song of Ourselves”

Coming off our final unit on Romantic poetry, specifically a deep dive into Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, we wrote a final send-off poem together, inspired by Whitman’s send-off in section 52 of “Song of Myself.”

Here is the text version of our “Song of Ourselves.”  And here is our video:

Stefon: An Unexpected Love Story for the Ages

We have all heard of SNL. The long running late night comedy show has been running for about four decades and offers comedy in many forms such as satire, sketches, news updates, and more. One of the most popular story lines, however, is that of a guest star on weekend update: Stefon.

When Seth Meyers hosted Weekend Update, Stefon came on as a guide to New York City, offering crazy tourist advice covering parties, activities, and food. But Stefon became way more than just a side character, as the skit went on to receive multiple reiterations and formed into a full blown story.

Dramatic Comedy as applied to Aristotle’s definition (at the least) is a meaningful art form because it allows us to see humanity in exaggerated circumstances, and it is open enough to shape to what society wants. Stefon is an extremely exaggerated character, pointing out the almost absurd hipster customs and lifestyles of certain New Yorkers, as well as mocking the way they talk and dress. But despite the completely ridiculous satirical sketches, the audience started to become very connected to Stefon as a character, specifically when it came to his relationship with Seth Meyers. As the seasons went on, people watching the show recognized a flirtatious attitude forming between Stefon and Seth Meyers. Noticing this, the skits started to shape towards that potential romance. And in the pair, the audience members found a story to hold on to. Stefon as a concept is funny on his own, with the talents of Bill Hader and the writing of John Mulaney supporting the character, but he is also very human. And, what started as just a characterization, turned into a comic hero, with the story reflecting what society wanted.

What is so cool about this “dramatic comedy”, is that the story was never set in stone, perhaps because it was never really supposed to be a full story. But, as the sketch went on, and the people responded, a story was created out of it. Because of this, a very real very natural romantic comedy was formed out of almost nothing. And what is also wonderful about this example is the writers/actors ran with it. The comedic form is very open, and allows for these kinds of spur of the moment twists and changes. Stefon could have just stayed a simple side character, but instead turned into a whole character with a love interest and, (spoilers) in the end, a husband. When Bill Hader left the show, the writers concluded the skit the way it had built up until that point, with a dramatic episode ending in the marriage of Stefon and Seth.

The sketch for Guns-SNL

A Sketch for guns created by SNL was created to show the impact and importance guns have on Americans; in a funny almost overboard representation of it. The skit is designed to show how life can be going good or bad but once you include a gun it will make everything more extraordinary and amazing. during the time period of 2015 guns were a big topic in politics since they were seen as dangerous to others and useful to others; satire is used heavily to show that guns can be there with you in your first love or in big moments in life and how guns are always going to be there to stay by your side.

Hyperbole is used throughout the skit the women is speaking on different events that transpire in our lives. She says things like ¨Wherever life takes you guns were here to stay. she says this in a very soothing almost therapeutic tone. It shows that it is a serious topic but spoken about in a comedic manner. The skit also uses Irony when saying ¨Guns unit us¨ it is said in a tone that is very in a funny tone. And that In most cases people feel guns do the complete opposite and that we cause more damage to each other with them then if we did not have guns. 

The Invisible Third Person in Saeed and Nadia’s Relationship

Saeed and Nadia’s relationship is not one we often see in novels or movies. Compared to many representations, which come off as spontaneous and easy, the two characters relationship reaches depths of pain, irritation, and fear that is rarely ever shown. But, more rare, is seeing the death of a relationship. And a “death” is exactly what occurs in “Exit West”, or at least how it is portrayed by Hamid.

Hamid writes the relationship of Saeed and Nadia like a third person, complete with multiple facets and an ability to be born and to die. Throughout the book, this new person goes through so many changes and shifts: innocently childlike and playful at the beginning of the book; hopeful but weighed down as the two start travelling across the world; broken and tired nearing the end, but somehow still aware. Just as the two characters grow, so does the relationship, but it almost seems as though the relationship is responding in accordance with it’s environment, as a person interacts with their environment, and not as a result of the characters individual actions. And in the end, just as a person dies, the relationship must as well. Nearing the end of the book Saeed and Nadia bury a drone, and soon after part ways and start separate lives. This burial isn’t just the literal burial of the drone but seems to represent an understanding of the end of another life, their relationship. Something Hamid does well is make the end natural. A natural death, just as it was a natural beginning. Because although this third person died, it shouldn’t prevent a celebration of it’s life or an acknowledgment of it’s existence. Hamid makes sure of this.

Is Mersault Just Crazy?

The Stranger, a novel by Albert Camus, has one of the most interesting, strange, analyzed characters in literary history, Monsieur Mersault. What separates him from the rest of the character world is his pessimistic viewpoint of life, that it is absurd for everyone and that its only certainty is death. He clearly lacks the basic morals and emotions the rest of the world has, not mourning the death of his mother and killing a man for no reason other than it was hot outside.

Many critics of the story would say that Mersault’s indifferent viewpoint on life is the key to true happiness, defeating the systems of social power brought upon us by our ancestors, seeing the book as Camus’ guide to lead a good life. But is it? Or is it a counter-example to how to lead a life? Imagine a world where killing people for no reason is common, nobody cares for relationships, and the only thing on people’s minds are death. There is no doubt that there is power in the morality system, shaming the people that are not able to control themselves, but is it not necessary to avoid chaos?

Monsieur Mersault is showing himself in the story to be a complete Nihilist, and a pessimistic one too, far away from the existentialist and the optimistic Nihilist. It is true what Mersault thinks, life really does not matter because we are all going to die, but it is not worth still living it to the fullest?Even if life does not matter, is it not a good idea to make it a better place? His actions in the novel, firing off at the priest at the end, killing the Arab without remorse, and showing no respect to women throughout (except for fulfilling his desires), all point to the behavior of an absolute sociopath that really does not care about anyone, not even himself.

Life might not matter at all because we are only here for a short time, but that does not mean people like Mersault should be around to ruin it for all of us. There might be systems of power Mersault is fighting with his strange viewpoint, but the ones he fight are the ones that keep evil and dullness from taking over the world. Camus in this story is showing the audience the extreme existentialism that could be dangerous and that sprouts from his teachings and is telling us not to be Mersault.

It Isn’t Just in Your Head, the Mutual Recognition of “Escape from Spiderhead”

George Saunders’ piece, “Escape from Spiderhead,” conveys an essential message that appears at the end of the reading as Jeff, our narrator, reflects on his past and lets go of his struggles.

“Escape from Spiderhead” takes place in a futuristic prison clinical that test new drugs on criminals instead of having the criminals put into an ordinary jail. The reading follows along with Jeff’s perspective and his thoughts about the events he endures. Jeff experiences a particular experiment, which tests his morals, and he learns more about himself and other than every before.

The specific drug tested, in the time we are with Jeff, is a drug that makes two random strangers fall entirely in love without having been interested before. Furthermore, the drug can turn off the passion, drug-influenced or not. In the beginning, there is no resistance and maybe even some enjoyment, but it starts to make Jeff question many things. He doubts the reality of love and reflects the emotions felt, were they even real? Matters are made more difficult for Jeff as the scientists force him into furthering the experiment to prove the drug to be successful.

Through the experiment, Jeff reflects on his feelings towards others as human beings, compassionate, sympathetic, and understanding. He sees them as his equal even after discovering the horrifying crime they had committed. Jeff’s recognition toward them grew more present over time. It isn’t until the experiment is taking too far that Jeff realizes the truth he has been missing.

During the time of the trial and his “fateful night,” Jeff’s mother had always been there for him, protecting him and trying to put him in a better place. Even after Jeff was convicted, his mom still saw him as a human similarly to how Jeff saw the others during the experiment.

Overall, some may assume mutual recognition is seen when Jeff connects with his fellow mates. But it is not until the end when Jeff decides his fate and thinks of his mother and himself as not a criminal anymore. It is the relationship between mother and son that has evidence of seeing each other as equals and human beings that makes mutual recognition visible.

The Stance “Bloodchild” Has on Gender Roles

After reading through the story for the first time, my mind was filled with questions such as: “What did I just read? Why did T’lics have children by implanting Terrans (Humans) with eggs? Who make a story like this?”

The story sets us up in this unknown society on an unknown planet where Terrans (Humans) and T’lics (Aliens) live with one another in peace. We’re given some backstory as to how the Terrans and T’lics eventually came to be living with each other. They both, at one point, hated each other. Terrans would shoot to kill T’lics while T’lics would assassinate the Terrans at night. However, after years of fighting each other, both groups came together to discuss peace between the two groups. New laws were set among both groups and that leads us back into present day in the story. We follow Gan throughout the story as he discovers the truth about T’lic implantation. Gan was chosen from the day that he was born that he was going to be a NT’lic. NT’lic were designated Terrans that would host and give birth to Grubs, T’lic babies. One thing that struck me was that they typically only went for males.

After analyzing the story a second time, it came to my mind that this story experiments with gender roles. The story introduces this new land where men were giving more births than women just so that the T’lic population could continue to increase. You begin to realize that T’lic seem to have more control over the Terrans. It’s hidden in the words, but each species has a specific role that they’re expected to carry on throughout their life. Besides the point of survival, you come to a generalization stance where you wonder if T’lics only keep Terrans alive because they can be used.

T’lics saw it that men were either expected to have children with other Terrans or give birth to Grubs. For women, they were expected to have more children in order for T’lics to choose who would be the next chosen one to give birth to Grubs when they got older. T’Gatoi, the T’lic that lives in Gan’s home, states in the story that they actually prefer women to birth Grubs because they had more fat in them; however, they choose men so that women can have the ability to birth their own children. T’lics use Terrans only for the mere benefit that they implant their eggs inside of them and have them give birth to the next generation of T’lics.

This story plays with the idea about gender roles in our society and questions: What would happen if men obtained the ability to give birth? Octavia Butler does a good job diving deep into this idea while also telling a story like no other.

The Connection Between “The Cariboo Cafe” and Current Events

The Cariboo Cafe by Helena Maria Viramontes is a short story that follows three different perspectives, that of two young children named Sonya and Macky, The Cariboo Cafe cook, and an unnamed mother. All three sections of the story share the common connection of the characters ending up at The Cariboo Cafe for a variety of reasons, the most important reason being the influence of society.

In class, we discussed how the true protagonist of The Cariboo Cafe is not a specific character, but rather the society and system as a whole.

The Cariboo Cafe was written in 1984, and during this time was the Central American crisis. Countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala broke out into civil wars and communist revolutions that created violence and made it extremely dangerous to live in these places.

As a result of this violence, many Central Americans began to seek refuge in the United States for safety, like Sonya and Macky in The Cariboo Cafe.

Today, many people from Mexico and Central American countries are immigrating into the United States for safety and more opportunity, like Sonya and Macky and the unnamed woman in The Cariboo Cafe.

In The Cariboo Cafe, the cook seems to have closed minded opinions about these immigrants, referring to them as “illegals” and “weirdos” (Viramontes 2981).

Today, President Trump has said similar comments about Mexican immigrants, referring to them as “bad hombres” and “rapists” (Ross, Washington Post).

These closed minded and racist ideals from both the cook and President Trump reveal the consistency of American ignorance and how it hasn’t changed in the many decades between these two events.

It shows that Americans need to learn acceptance and empathy towards those who are immigrating to the United States to escape violence and to better themselves and their families.

Works Cited:

“The Cariboo Cafe”, A short story by Maria Helena Viramontes

Ross, Janell. “From Mexican Rapists to Bad Hombres, the Trump Campaign in Two Moments.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Apr. 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/20/from-mexican-rapists-to-bad-hombres-the-trump-campaign-in-two-moments/.

Bloodchild and Moral Relativism

“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler starts out as a very… usual work of science fiction. When I first started reading this story, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen this all before. An alien race enslaves humanity (or rarely, vice versa) and indoctrinates them into accepting their subservient role in society, but one day, some brave, righteous humans find out the truth and begin to strike against their masters in the name of rebellion. The body horror aspects of Tlic reproduction help reinforce the unease they create.

However, that idea is purposeful misdirection. “Bloodchild” isn’t about slavery, brainwashing, or aliens versus humans. It’s a complicated tale of Terrans and Tlic both trying their best to maintain their people and freedom in an uneasy and uncomfortable arrangement for both parties. It’s that complexity that makes “Bloodchild” so interesting.

As an outside reader, it’s easy to bring our own morals and norms into a story without realizing it. The reader is tempted to assume that Terrans are forced into a horrible relationship where they have to give horrifying birth to aliens against their will just to advance the Tlic’s society. It’s important to remember, however, that the Tlic race was dying out before the start of the story. T’Gatoi informs Gan that the host animals the Tlic used to use for implantation had been killing most of their young for generations. Humanity represents the Tlic’s only hope for survival.

Additionally, the humans in the story were not captured as breeding slaves. According to the story, they first came to the Tlic’s world as refugees, escaping oppression and violence in their own society on Earth or elsewhere. While the Tlic did treat the humans badly initially, putting them in pens like animals, the story also indicates that the humans did much the same, treating the Tlic like overgrown worms to be detested. T’Gatoi was one of the first Tlic to advocate for the (limited) rights of Terrans, and although that issue is still not perfect, the arrangement the Terrans have is clearly superior to the one they had beforehand.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the mindset and morals of the Tlic are not exactly the same as ours. T’Gatoi sees nothing inherently wrong with implantation because it’s normal in Tlic culture. Likewise, pregnancy is perfectly normal in our culture, despite it being incredibly painful, and before the 20th century, often lethal. Consuming infertile eggs to lengthen one’s lifespan is also normal for the Tlic, even if it might seem artificial or dubious to humans. Mutual recognition is a key idea here — recognizing each other as subjects, not objects. Recognizing that morals and cultural traditions, while often similar, are not universal, is important to understanding the mindsets of other people.

Indeed, that is what the Tlic are — people. The story refers to them as such. Even though they might look like gross, giant centipede-things with the gift of speech and technology, they are still individuals with their own desires, fears, and personalities. On the third page of the story, Gan’s mother implies in a flashback that T’Gatoi herself was somewhat ostracized among her own people for some time. These are living, breathing people with their own society, and we should not reject it just because it isn’t “human”. Love can take many forms, and whether it’s familiar or not, unless it’s actively hurting someone against their will, we should accept it.

Mutual Recognition in “Bloodchild”

Jessica Benjamin explains that people have to recognize everyone as individuals in order to avoid dominance and aggression. People need to build relationships to steer clear of building a hierarchy of dominance. Without building relationships, people will never reach mutual recognition. Benjamin disagrees with Freud’s theory because the theory ignores the need to connect with others. It also only allows for women to be submissive players in their own lives. However, both need to realize the power dynamic in order to reach mutual recognition. 

This need to recognize that you are in a power dynamic is a bit problematic to me because although people in the submissive side do need to realize they are being oppressed for the relationship to change, more responsibility should be given to the dominant side of the relationship. The dominant side enforces the power dynamic and it ultimately up to them to fix the skewed relationship. 

In “Bloodchild” although Gan is ultimately given the choose to decide whether him or his sister should be impregnated, this is not a sign of mutual recognition. The choice is not really his because someone in his family is still going to have to go though this painful process. The terrains do have examples of not completely submitting to the power dynamic. However, the Tilcs are still the ones with the power and will not be willing to give more power to the terrains because then their species would be threatened by not being able to reproduce. The dynamic is very oppressive to the terrains. Gan, since birth, has been brainwashed that it is his duty to be impregnated. When he contemplating not to be impregnated, he was taking some power back but he never reaches mutual recognition. The terrains are seen as a mean to reproduce and not as an individual on the same level as the Tilcs. Mutual recognition would only be achieved if both sides saw each other as equals in all parts of life.



The Old Blog is Dead! Long Live the Old Blog!

For many years, we used the Blogger platform for the AP Lit blog. Since it is owned by Google, it integrates pretty seamlessly with your Google accounts — which made it easy to use, in some respects — but it is a very limited and bug-ridden platform. So this year, we have decided to construct a new class blog from scratch using the most more powerful and stable WordPress platform.

If you are interested, though, in seeing what past AP Lit students have been thinking and writing about, feel free to wander over to the old blog.

old blog