Essay Blossom Von Bernice Love

The Purpose of Love Essay

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Why does one love? One loves for the sake of happiness. This was the common mindset in the pre-modern worldview from the time of ancient Greece. The ideas present in Plato’s The Symposium have however been replaced with a more contemporary view, particularly in Western societies. Allan Bloom details this transition in his work Love and Friendship. Bloom argues that the idea of “eros” has lost its true meaning; it has been morphed into a selfish and self-less act of mere sex: “Eros, in its Freudian version, is really all just selfishness and provides no basis for intimate human connection” (Bloom 24). Sex is no longer a form of a strong, intimate connection, but rather our contemporaries have allowed sex to become “no different from a…show more content…

Pre-modern societies were far less indivualized. People regarded themselves as small parts of a greater whole. There was a self, or a “core” as it is in the contemporary view, but it differs greatly. People of the pre-modern societies are said to have had an extended self, in contrast to the modern, autonomous self. Guignon defines the extended self as tying one’s identity into a wider context of the whole world. In the ancient times, this would have been with the gods, and the rest of one’s society, city or village, and family (18). This extended self in the pre-modern societies allowed for pre-modern love relationships. The shift occurred over several centuries, but three main events have been accounted for in Guignon’s work as the cause. The gradual shift of structure in society, from the triad, to the diad, to finally the monad, was caused by a new concept of turning inward to seek one’s self, a progression of development of modern science, and the realization of man-made social settings. The triad was the original notion that man was governed by an absolute. This absolute connected with man through nature. The triad eventually shifted to the diad; the absolute was dropped, God was no longer a figure for guidance. It was simply man and nature. The monad arose with autonomy. Now it was man and his mind interacting and living in society.
From St. Augustine, society

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Bernice M. Olivas

Politics of Identity in the Essay Tradition

I want us to realize that all our citations of high theory 

will not save us 

and neither will trying to show that we are as rigorous and as serious as our literary colleagues save us…

I want us to realize that even the respectability of bigger budgets 
will not save us. 

As real as those issues are, as real as our struggles with those budgets are

—we act like being broke is new. 

We always been underfunded. 
We always been figuring it out as we go. 
We always been dismissed, disregarded, disrespected.

But we served anyhow. 

We took care of our students anyhow. 
We transformed one discipline and created our own anyhow. 

And it was women who did that work. 
It was people of color who did that work. 
It was queer folks who did that work. 
It was first generation students in New York City and across the country, demanding open admissions, who did that work

 (Banks 2015, arrangement mine)

Re-uniting, Re-igniting, and Re-alliance

It is precisely because we do discourse, in all its messiness, that we have a chance to be this kind of hub for intellectual work and for justice work on campus and off (Banks 2015). 

In 2015, Adam Banks, the chair of the College Communication and Composition Conference, made a powerful call to action in his address to Composition and Rhetoric scholars. He asked us to “take flight” and to “travel across campus, across programs, and into more strategic relationship building.” He warned us it would be messy, but his call resonated across the composition community. However, Banks didn’t call as much attention to the shared creation story between “gender and women studies, indigenous studies, Latina, Latino studies, Asian, Asian American studies, and Africana studies,” or what is often called Identity Studies, and Composition and Rhetoric (Banks 2015). When women, people of color, queer scholars, first-generation students, and their allies were busily transforming “one discipline” and creating “our own”—these same people, these same voices—were demanding new spaces in the academy. Those spaces became “gender and women studies, indigenous studies, Latina, Latino studies, Asian, Asian American studies, and Africana studies.” In light of this shared experience, taking flight, is not so much an act of seeking “deep and long term, systematic relationships,” it is an act of re-uniting, re-igniting, and re-alliance. 

By making the politics of identity a site of active, aggressive inquiry in the writing classroom, we can reinforce and strengthen the ways composition and rhetoric already resists bigotry, othering, and prejudice. We live in a world where we just need to flip on a television or open our browser to see that we continue to face very real systemic racism, very real racial violence, very real cultural divides. It is not safe to be different in 2015 America. For some, being different is deadly. This is not hyperbole. 

 In 1967—in response to the Vietnam War and widespread civil unrest—Mary Rose O’Reilley asked, “Is it possible to teach English so people will stop killing each other?” but in November of 2014 a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri refused to indict a white police officer for the shooting death of an unarmed black man. In December a grand jury refused to indict a police officer in the strangulation death of Eric Garner, another unarmed black man. These cases, like many before them, are likened to the notorious Emmett Tills case, and the events that led up to them and the events that followed them are compared to the Jim Crow era of lynching by activists of color like Tim Wise and Cornel West. Within weeks, a twelve-year-old black boy was shot by police for having a toy gun in a park. By March, his death is also ruled justified. In April, a video circulates social media; in it a black man is shot in the back fourteen times as he runs away from a police officer. Other people—peoples of color, women, people with disabilities, the queer communities—are also raising their voices to share their narratives, their mourning songs, their pain, fear, and frustration at the systemic inequality they face. In 2015. We, as a nation, are in as much of identity crisis as we were 1967. It becomes more and more obvious that we are still killing each other because we fear each other. And so I am compelled to ask “Is it possible to teach writing so that we stop fearing each other?” 

Our students who identify as mainstream struggle with the paradox of contested agency in classes where they are asked to grapple with issues that stem from injustice and inequality. They are Linda Flower’s “people who stand within a circle of privilege [who] may also be standing in need of empowerment. What [they] need is not a space to express [their] identity or the power to resist pressures upon it but the capacity to speak publicly for something of value in a committed but critical way” (216). Frankie Condon points out that “We are products, after all of a history at least as terrible, as wicked, as it might be triumphant” (41). The reality is that few of us exist outside of those harsh realities; most of us have some affiliation with identity groups that did/do horrible things that benefited/benefit us. This legacy is one that most of us carry. It weighs heavily on all of our students. As teachers and learners it buffers us from the trauma and pain we experience when we read, write, or immerse ourselves in accounts of these lived experiences. What is critical about Condon’s argument is that it focuses on mapping ways of thinking that asks folks from the dominant mainstream to reconsider the effect such thinking has on them—effectively creating a space for folks with contested agency to actively think, write, and speak about identity in context to their own lived experiences. White supremacy thinking is an illusion covering deep wounds to the self and the community. Condon writes: 
There are few matters in life about which I posses any degree of certainty, but this I know, both as a matter of life experience and as a result of my studies: racism splits us, slices us apart from one another, from our humanity, even from ourselves. Racism chains us to small, crabbed, notions of self, demanding of us a simultaneous denial of relations between self and Other and dependence upon those relationships for a sense not only of our own existence, but also and more especially for our own sense of worth. (3)
If we agree that all of our students, and all of us, live in a world where Discourse shapes our “identity kit[s]” (Gee 142); if we agree the discourse of othering is creating a toxic “doing-being-valuing-believing combination” (Gee 142) of language and social practices for all of us. It falls to us to ask, what happens if we re-consider the way we frame and understand writing through identity and about identity if we re-think the intellectual and social ramifications of writing and inquiring as our living, breathing, complex identities? What happens if we re-explore the pathways hardbroken and hardbuilt by folks in “gender and women studies, indigenous studies, Latina, Latino studies, Asian, Asian American studies, and Africana studies?” Can such inquiry offer renewed praxis, renewed hermeneutics; can it be a way of re-mixing our ways of thinking, writing, teaching, learning, and being? 

 Rethinking the “Personal” 

At some point in their academic career most students will be asked to think about the conditions of failure and systems of oppression that function in our society. They will be asked to think and write about conditions they have no control over, conditions to which they have been subjected. However, due to one of the great contradictions of higher education, they will be asked to do so as if they stand outside of those systems. They will rarely be given opportunities to explore their own identity in context to the systems and conditions they are asked to think and write about.

J. Elspeth Stucky argues “the neutral stance of literacy educators and researchers is the ideology that literacy research perpetuates, the mask that allows masking to go on. Neutrality is a claim about form, and the very simplest fact about literacy is that it is always contextual” (60). I would argue that among these “reductive” practices is the way writing about identity is often conflated with writing about what is personal (Stucky 60). If we are to take flight into any kind of social justice work, then we have to separate those terms. Identity and personal are not synonymous. The term personal refers to information not readily available to the public, information we can choose divulge, information that we have the privilege of keeping to ourselves without inflicting damage to ourselves. In contrast, our identity is contextualized by the society we live in. It has nothing to do with personal information we choose or do not choose to divulge. Instead, identity is wrapped up in the markers of readily apparent social realities and the social biases that construct that reality. These realities are part of us, whether we choose to be part of them or not. 

Victor Villanueva suggests that by allowing writers to access skills, traditions, and rhetorical moves that western conventions often ignore or disregard we can reach our reader more deeply than we can using just a conventional scholarly discourse or an objective based ethos. He writes, “The personal done well is sensorial and intellectual, complete, knowledge known throughout mind and body, even if vicariously.” Memoria both argues for, and shows how, interconnected, intertwined, and braided narrative/research, narrative/rhetoric creates academic work that is active, vibrant, and effective. Memoria, is an example of why, all writers, not just writers of color or students, benefit by writing critically about their identity, privilege, and position in society. These texts show the many ways that writing about contextualized identity is both intellectual and academic.

For example, as a woman, I will always be part of the discourse of feminism; as a woman of color, I cannot escape the discourse of race. These facts are not personal in any space where my body is evident to people around me; they are political in those same places. Each of us has identity markers that cannot be kept personal. Further, we all grapple with identity markers that are less obvious, but which deeply affect our perspectives. For these reasons, I seek to suggest that identity is deeply valuable site of critical inquiry in the writing classroom. Through critical inquiry into contextualized identity, we can then foster habits of the mind that are necessary to good citizenship, community literacy, and empathetic engagement with other complex identities.

English 300—Politics of Identity and the Essay Tradition: 
An Extended Course Description

This course will explore the essay as a rhetorical tool for social justice. This class is for advanced undergraduate writers and ethnic studies students who wish to study and practice the essay form as a means to speak back to the social conditions that affect peoples of marginalized identity. This class focuses on the complex border-spaces between privilege and marginalization in order to claim space for a more just and sustainable future. This class will use a process of inquiry to better understand the relationship between the essay and exigency.

Much has been written, studied, and debated about the “essay.” Both creative nonfiction writers and academic scholars alike claim the form. At the same time, because is so versatile, the essay is often taken up writers who defy categorization. Many of these writers are also members of marginalized identities. Their writing focuses on their relationship to the mainstream community, institutions, and governing bodies. They use their lived experience of racism, sexism, gender bigotry, and ableism to push back against the power dynamics that create the conditions in which social bias thrives. These dynamics are often the sources of exigency—the drive and force behind the writing. These essayists inquire, define, contest, and disrupt the world we live in. From this perspective, the essay acts a tool of resistance to the status quo. 

James Baldwin immediately comes to mind. As an essayist he starkly brings to life some of the most relevant social justice issues we face. He pulls no punches. John McPhee’s “The Search for Marvin Gardens” shows us poverty and exploitation. Langston Hughes, known for poetry, gives us a short essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” published in The Nation. This offers a powerful call to action and an entry point into a conversation about art, protest, and respectability. Hughes demands that artists
Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing the Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing “Water Boy,” and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas’s drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. (Hughes 1926)
Follow that line of protest backwards and it will lead us back to the tension W.E.B de Bois and Booker T. Washington. It will also carry us forward to interviews, rants, and tweets from folks like Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, and Nicki Minaj. Through the essay we can track the evolution of respectability politics, and more importantly, evolution of the rhetoric of respectability politics. Hughes’s defiant call to action is an example of how a protest essay written during the Harlem renaissance continues to resonate with readers today. It’s also short, aggressive, and to the point. The protest essay doesn’t ask you to spend much time figuring out what it means, instead it demands that you get up and do something about what you have read. 

It is this “essay”—the essay that demands our attention, that calls us out, that claims space for the marginalized identity—that we will explore and practice in this class. This means we will be learning two things: 
  1. How to read from a place of believing rather than a place of criticism in order to better empathize with voices that may challenge our worldviews;
  2. A process of writing that inquires into our relationships with ourselves and with others who are not like us and the power that helps define those roles. We will write about our relationship to our communities, institutions, and governing bodies. We attempt to locate exigency in our own relationships to power, our communities, our institutions, and our governing bodies.
Some of the questions we'll explore this semester are:
 We’ll begin the course by orienting ourselves to the language and concepts that apply to the essay and the politics of identity, and then we will attempt to use these to analyze and describe the narrative methods of writers of the protest essay. This course hopes to accomplish the following:
  1. Who am I in context of community I was born to, the communities I choose to participate in, the institutions I claim, and the bodies that govern me. 
  2. What does mean to be privileged and/or marginalized and how do we write about it, why do we write about it. 
  • Provide students with practical strategies and useful concepts for revising their own work ;
  • Distinguish some of the characteristics of the protest essay;
  • Help students develop a language for talking about privilege, marginalization, power dynamics, and exigency; a knowledge that they can employ not only when thinking about their own work but when discussing power dynamics with others in workshop settings, in teaching, and public readings. 

The Protest Essay as a Tool for Social Justice: A Brief Philosophy

The writing classroom is a powerful place to analyze of othering and to inquire into the contextualized self and an ideal space to interrogate systems of privilege and marginalization created by othering because it is offers us the opportunity to write about these experiences, to share our lived experiences, and to reflect on those experiences, to step away from notions of neutrality and objectivity and to make content the focus of our study. Stucky argues that a part of the trouble with ideologies and mythologies of literacy is that that “content is the least acknowledged, least talked about, least valued aspect of most of the current research on literacy” and that “this has allowed discourse about literacy to proceed without regard to what people are saying” (60). Writing gives voice and brings the focus “back to what people are saying.” If discourse analysis can be described as a study of the ways language is linked to social behavior and the ways language functions to shape ways of thinking, then the writing classroom is well equipped to develop practices that can support writers as they inquire into the ways we use language to create systems that privilege and marginalize. Some of those tools include personal narrative, literacy narratives, expressive and reflective writing, and inquiry-based writing. Certain approaches to writing support writing work that delves into the discourse of othering. Place-based writing, for example, can be used to discuss the ways privilege and marginalization physically manifest in a place.

This class is portfolio-based. This approach allows students an opportunity to present their best work for evaluation. This is more likely to happen when they can apply everything that they’ve learned at the end of the semester. Portfolios also are more likely to encourage genuine revision. This is also a discussion-based class. Students are responsible, with guidance from me, for leading discussion. By encouraging students to help generate content, it is far more likely that the discussions will address the questions most students share about the material. This strategy also allows for the opportunity to create new knowledge—things come up in discussion that I can’t always anticipate or know. 

Although Banks argues that “trying to show that we are as rigorous and as serious as our literary colleagues [will not] save us,” we wouldn’t be good teachers if we weren’t thinking about how the praxis and hermeneutics of our classroom act to help writers develop intellectual and critical habits of the mind. The Council of Writing Program Administrators, The National Councils of Teachers of English, and The National Writing Project identify eight habits of mind essential for success in academic writing as 
It is my argument that framing writing courses around inquiry into the lived experiences not only supports all eight habits of the mind, such courses can act to help writers better understand a) the ways the discourse of othering works in the world, b) how the discourse of othering has places them into systems of privilege and marginalization, and c) how the discourse of othering has shaped or affected their worldviews and shaped the ways they perceive people different from themselves. The process a writer uses to build ethos when writing about or through their contextualized identity remains the same as other scholarly pursuits. The writer must locate a topic, research the topic, join the ongoing discussion about the topic, and finally, stake a claim based in that work. However, instead of building ethos just through data that exists outside of the writer, ethos also comes from deep inquiry into our own embodied relationships to our communities, institutions, and governing bodies. Writing and inquiring into identity extends Burke’s parlor metaphor so that the parlor is physically, politically, socially contextualized. 

Both Composition Studies and Identity Studies offer a rich repository of essays, monographs, poetry, performance art, and research emerging from inquiry and writing about the contextualized identity that speaks to the intellectual integrity of such praxis.  As an example, in Gloria Anazaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, a rich exploration of the contextualized self, Anzaldua examines her relationship to the borderlands, her sexuality, and her languages as well as her relationships to her communities and her governing bodies. She emerges after having written about these relationships with a new consciousness, a new way of understanding herself. In the process she employs numerous rhetorical devices, research methods, and deep critical analysis. 

Essaying Social Justice

Because Identity Studies is a rich conglomeration of rhetorics, approaches, strategies—of ways of knowing the world, and of making knowledge—it works to nuance and complicate assumptions in both Composition Studies and critical pedagogy. Identity Studies directs our attention to ways other people experience learning, writing, social awareness, and social justice by offering a rich repository of their narratives an accounts of lived experiences. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” gives us language, a new way of thinking about stereotypes, meta-narratives, systemic racism. She gives us an easier term: she gives us the “single story.” Telling a student when they are feeling frustrated, entrenched, or challenged, that they have fallen into believing, without questioning, a single story of a people, has better results then telling them that defending a stereotype or that their world view is embedded in racism. Vine Deloria, Jr’s “Indian Humor” shows how a “single story” actually in-real-life-affects people. Defining the single story of Native Americans as told by mainstream America with films, ads, book covers, and newspaper clippings is almost too easy. Watch the “Red Man” scene in Disney’s Peter Pan before talking “Indian Humor.” 

Focusing on identity as a site of inquiry in the writing classroom is an act of intervention, and it runs contrary to ideologies of neutrality and objectivity, and it is a wild approach to vigorous intellectual pedagogy, but it’s not new. Many of us already “do discourse” (Banks 2015) in a way that promotes empathy, compassion, and solidarity. Inquiry into identity, if we frame identity as lived experiences contextualized by relationships with communities, institutions, and governing bodies, is a powerful practice because identity and literacy are deeply connected. Because human identity is so complex and varied, inquiring into contextualized identity offers nearly limitless points of entry into writing practices that encourage writers to think about larger social issues. 

In order to teach for empathy, we must encourage self-awareness about social positions of power and marginalization. In the humanities, the term othering is used to describe one of the ways us/them dichotomies of power are created and maintained. Such binaries argue that there are two kinds of people—us and them. “Quiet Hands” is a protest essay written as a blog post about pop culture from the perspective of an autistic woman. It has to be both seen and read for full impact but the single line, “When I was a little girl, I was autistic. And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy,” creates a clear binary between the autistic writer and the people who abuse her with the best of intentions. Like many protest essays, its power lies in its demand that the reader take sides—something we are usually trained to avoid—and to quote Terry Pratchett, “No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things” (Location 2801). Teaching empathy can be as simple/complicated as finding a text that makes the reader exist in the marginalized body for even a single disconcerting moment. 

Us signifies the group of people an individual identifies closely empathizes with. Them signifies peoples who are different from us in ways that are seemingly insurmountable. When we mix in power and privilege, difference becomes something inherently threatening to us, our ways of life, or our privilege. This threat becomes a way of justifying actions that, if committed against other members of the “us” group, would be received by society as criminal. The most obvious and pervasive danger of othering is that it helps to create structures of privilege and marginalization based on identity markers such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and ability, while allowing the dominant culture to disavow racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia, what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls racism without racists. Silva’s study shows that people can and do vote in favor of laws that disadvantage people of color, blaming social inequity on what they perceive to be weaknesses of character rather than systemic inequity (Bonilla-Silva 2000), and actively avoid interactions with people based on race while simultaneously advocating for “equality.” Othering is how we can argue that that “everyone deserves a fair shot” and still vote to close Head Start programs in low income neighborhoods.

Anti-Othering and the Essay Classroom 

In 1967 Mary Rose O’Reilley asked if her position as an English teacher would allow her to make a significant change in the ways people thought about violence. She was looking for a way to mesh pedagogy and passivism in the classroom so that the students leaving her classroom would help to create a ripple effect that would engender a real change in the world. Her core reasons for seeing the writing classroom as a place where such a change could be possible are same reasons I believe that the writing classroom is a space where we can confront and interrogate othering, privilege, and marginalization. The writing classroom is space well designed for both analysis and writing about our lived experiences. By bringing the two together and framing our lived experiences and identities as a site of inquiry, it is possible to develop ways of teaching writing so that writing becomes an act of shedding light on the way the discourse of othering functions. It is possible to bring the discussion of privilege and marginalization into the writing classroom in a way that focuses on how these things happen, why they happen, and how they affect all of us when they happen.

  • Curiosity: The desire to know more about the world. 
  • Openness: The willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world. 
  • Engagement: A sense of investment and involvement in learning.
  • Creativity: The ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating and representing ideas. 
  • Persistence: The ability to sustain interest in and attention to short-term and long-term projects. 
  • Responsibility: The ability to take ownership of one's actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others.
  • Flexibility: The ability to adapt to situations, expectations, or demands. 
  • Meta-cognition: The ability to reflect on one's own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge (1). 


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