Unit 7, Post 1: Akhmatova- Erin Simard

!: It’s interesting to me that the beginning of a period of dehumanization in Russia (and the more I think about it, I’m realizing in other countries as well) began with the death of art. Honestly, I had never really considered how important art is, but I think that speaks a lot to art’s political meaning.

?: Are there similarities between Russian poets and black American musicians/poets/writers, in terms of their meaning to their respective countries? 

After discussing it with my group, it seems that the people who preferred to read the Thomas translation preferred to read a more literal translation, while those who preferred the Anderson translation (like I did) preferred its poetic/lyrical writing style. As Tomas said in our group conversation, Anderson’s translation spoke more to us on a personal level, as it felt like we were able to see directly into Akhmatova’s perspective.

Unit 6, Assignment 2- Erin Simard

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As he notes on page 16, I have found that the most interesting courses I have taken have existed in the space where literature/the humanities and the sciences meet. There is so much more to learn about where these two “poles” collide, and I’m alarmed that Snow believes that the damage already done is irreparable. (page 16)

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How do we mend a divide that has become engrained in both the literary and scientific cultures? Is it only like this in Western cultures? (page 17)

I also recognized 8 of the top ten revolutionary scientific theories (to my surprise)!

Ethnic Notions- Erin Simard

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This displays how tightly media/culture and popular opinion are intertwined. The minstrel shows (which the film compares to Youtube or other similar forms of social media) took the most absurd excuses for slavery and the dehumanization of black Americans, and transformed them into one of America’s most popular pastimes. It all goes to show that while performance can be an incredible tool for transcendence and for expressing the intangible, it also provides an opportunity to popularize the most dangerous ideas and opinions- both then and now.

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What are the ways in which caricatures of black Americans are popularized now? Has anything changed?

Unit 5, Post 1- Erin Simard

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Performance Remains

Because white conquerors are the “winners” of history, we have chosen what and how we preserve and what we deem important enough to preserve in the “archive.” As Schneider states, “the archive is habitual to Western culture.” (100) Performance as a method of preserving and inheriting the past is associated with “primal” nations within Western society, while documentation is associated with Western heritage. Therefore, performance as a primary vehicle of remembrance threatens Western cultures and the “archive.”

Ritualizing the Past

Lemon’s work introduced a new meaning of the term “banality of evil” to me. Rather than just meaning that because every day people are capable of doing evil without necessarily being evil themselves, it can also mean how swiftly America moves on from horrifically violent acts of racism and transitions back into every day life, as if the acts which occurred never happened at all or that they do not carry enough significance to warrant a disruption in our behavior. For example, Birns mentions that the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Lorraine Motel, continued to operate as a motel well into the 1980s. In comparison, the Ford Theatre (where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated) remained closed from the day he was shot until 1968, when it reopened as a museum.

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Performance Remains

Is there a way to ever truly curate our “archive” to create a truthful narrative of our history, representative of all people and the ways in which they were influential?

Ritualizing the Past

Could art’s/a performance’s transcendant qualities be the key to unlocking the empathy needed to make change?

March 2- Erin Simard

I found this image (on page 135) to be incredibly striking. There is something in its intentional simplicity, as well as its emphasis on innocence in the foreground in tandem with and almost despite the chaotic background, that drew my attention. After taking several minutes to analyze why this depiction in particular caught my attention, I discovered a few reasons.

First, the depiction of a child juxtaposed against a large, white officer, symbolizes the systems which uphold white privilege. Everything- from the officer’s sheer size, to his position looking down on the young girl, to his narrowed eyes, and the gun on his belt- serves to symbolize the dominance and privilege that both his occupation and his skin color affords him. Furthermore, his role in punishing the children represents the white Americans who chose to use their agency and privilege to ignore and punish black Americans instead of assisting them in their fight.

Second, the dark clouds and unending line of children filing into a police car emphasize how disturbing it is that such a basic demand- to be treated as human and afforded the basic rights that humans deserve, “F’eedom”- could be received with such outrage and violence by white Americans and the American government.

Lastly, the image stretches to each corner of the page, with the attention being drawn directly to the scene between the child and the officer, which seems to represent not only how significant the exchange is, but also how the image is unfortunately one that has become evergreen. This image is not one that is unfamiliar to me; rather, it is one that has appeared over and over again in the media. When I first viewed the image, it immediately reminded me of the second image I have posted above, which depicts a woman, Ieshia Evans, boldly facing two white police officers in silence during a Black Lives Matter in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, the most haunting message of this image is one that reoccurs many times throughout the novel: what was started by the Civil Rights Movement is nowhere near finished. Though these images look different now and occur in different contexts, the struggle to be recognized as equal has remained relevant for over 150 years.

Campus Event Commentary: Raymond Santana by Erin Simard

There were so many incredible aspects of Raymond Santana’s speech that it is hard to even know where to begin. However, by far the most important, at least in my opinion, is the way that he appealed to the students instead of lecturing them. The way that he clearly and succinctly summarized the story of the Central Park Five spelled out in no uncertain terms how much work is needed to be done in order to ensure that a story such as his could never occur again. Yet, he did it in a way that was far from overwhelming or defeating. Literally calling us to the battlefield with him, he ended his speech by encouraging us to take the action necessary to end the cash bail system and solitary confinement. Though the elimination of these two things alone would not have prevented a tragedy such as the case of the Central Park Five and are relatively minor compared to the injustices he faced, Santana reminded us that each little step in dismantling the prison industrial complex brings us one step closer towards vengeance for previous victims and saving potential future victims. Thus, his argument was extremely effective and inspired me to approach activism with a renewed passion.

Unit 4, Assignment 1- Erin Simard

Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell were fearless black women who used their respective positions in society (Wells as a journalist, and Terrell as one of the few elite black women in America) to advocate for issues pertaining to gender and racial equality. While Wells focused much of her work on the physical manifestations of racism, Terrell spent much of her social capital attempting to permeate white organizations and structures due to her belief in racial uplift, or the idea that black people could end their own oppression through education, socialization, and work within their local communities. Though these two issues might appear to be separate, they both stem from the same vicious systematic and institutionalized racism that pervaded- and still pervades- America. Wells’ and Terrell’s writing demonstrates that no matter how racism manifests itself, its effects can be equally pernicious to black Americans and their opportunities to live equally.

Wells and Terrell also did not stop at merely standing for their equality; they both created exclusively black organizations and actively challenged their white counterparts in order to ascertain that their skin color would not affect the way they were treated even within activist communities, demonstrating the significance of intersectionality.

Unit 3, Assignment 3- Erin Simard

When read together, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” by Philip Gourevitch and “Regarding the Pain of Others” by Susan Sontag provide a devastating tandem of questions and answers. While Gourevitch’s account of the Rwandan genocide constantly begs the question “why,” Sontag’s discussion of empathy consistently reaffirms the horrific answers that I suspect most of us have always known. For example, one of the questions, if not the main question, posed by Gourevitch seems to be “why did the world so attentively watch the Rwandan genocide, yet choose at every opportunity not to intervene?” I, as I am sure many of us did, wondered while reading Gourevitch if the reason why the world “stood around with its hand in its pockets” (163) had something to do with the fact that the genocide took place in a Central African country. If an atrocity such as this occurred in, say, Spain, would the world have chosen another course of action? Was the Western world’s passivity possibly due to the fact that in the imagination of Western society, Africa exists as a place of savagery and a place where murder is simply natural? Sontag clearly states that this is, in fact, the exact cause of the passivity of the Western world. Sontag argues that it is impossible for humans to feel a sense of common humanity or to want to protect a group of people that are not even viewed as people, but rather a group of people among which these sorts of “cruelties” are simply an “inevitability.” (71) Thus, Sontag helps us to grapple with the intense questions posed by Gourevitch by providing clear (though often disconcerting) answers.

Make Your Own Passport- Erin Simard

Unfortunately, a part of having such enormous privilege is not even realizing all of the ways in which my privilege can manifest itself. Being white, cis, and straight, I was well aware of the fact that my privilege in these areas has benefited me in too many ways to count throughout my lifetime; however, I never truly considered the privilege that comes with not only being a citizen of the wealthiest nation in the world, but in even having a passport at all. A passport (or, essentially, citizenship) is one of the most basic items I thought someone could have. This workshop made it extremely clear to me that just in thinking that, I can claim another whole host of privileges that millions of people around the world deserve but do not have.

Unit 3, Assignment 2- Erin Simard

Chapter 1

Sontag opens her first chapter with a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s response to a letter she received from a lawyer. In this letter, the man posed a question, “How in your opinion are we to prevent war?” Sontag explains how Woolf spends much of her letter refuting the basis of the question, especially the notion that there is any inherent “we” who is responsible for the production of war, then ultimately argues that the answer is not by simply regarding other people’s pain (for example, through pictures.) Sontag builds upon this point, arguing that though pictures may produce an initial sense of repulsion and sympathy, they do not serve to sway anyone towards a different position, no matter how shocking or gruesome the content of the pictures may be.

Essentially, in this chapter, Sontag argues that simply being forced to bear witness to the pain of others is not enough to cause bystanders to play an active role in the prevention of it.

Chapter 6

In this chapter, Sontag argues that though everyone has an obligation to view and bear witness to the suffering of others, the reason why most people ultimately view others’ suffering is to fulfill some horrific desire to witness something incomprehensibly horrible. She posits that we might actually even enjoy the suffering of others and subconsciously wish for it to continue for our the sake of our own fascination. Eventually, however, people turn away from these images due to a feeling of impotence. This causes large-scale passivity on the part of bystanders, which only serves to reinforce the structures which allowed for the suffering in the first place. The only way to override this instinct to look away or turn to a different channel when a horrific image is presented to us is to translate our frustration/discomfort/helplessness into a form of action that will directly alleviate the suffering of others.

In short, Sontag asserts that the only way that viewing the suffering of others could be productive is if our initial reaction of disgust or anger is translated into action.

Chapter 8

In this chapter, Sontag argues that while the mere act of remembering a tragedy can seem ethical (because forgetting can feel apathetic), it only serves the greater good if we fuel that remembrance into a productive change in either ourselves or the world around us. Furthermore, it does not serve any useful purpose to remember individual “bouts of evil”; rather, we should analyze each instance in the broader context of humanity, history, and progress.

Thus, in this chapter, Sontag reinforces the idea that watching is just watching, and remembering is just remembering, just as pictures of tragedies are ultimately just pictures; these actions hold no inherent meaning unless they are used to inspire us to do or change something.

Unit 3, Assignment 1- Erin Simard

Adolf Eichmann

  • Worst human ever
  • Lost his job during the Great Depression
  • Joined the SS in 1932, where he began to rise through the ranks
  • Eventually was tasked with “coordinating the details” of the Final Solution, or the Nazi plan to mass murder as many Jewish people as possible
  • Was so shaken by the mass murders that he organized that he could not look inside the gas chambers; claimed that he only organized the Final Solution because he had orders he had to adhere to, and not because he was an anti-Semite

Information from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Adolf-Eichmann

“Banality of Evil”

  • Term coined by Hannah Arendt, who wrote a book regarding the trial of Adolf Eichmann
  • The perplexing theory that Nazis were not extraordinarily horrible or psychopathic people; rather, they were average, almost boring people who were unable to think for themselves 
  • Upset and confused a lot of people because it is generally much easier to believe that 

Information from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichmann_in_Jerusalem

The Origins of Totalitarianism

  • Written by Hannah Arendt
  • Considered one of the best non-fiction works written in the 20th century
  • Argues that the Holocaust was a proxy meant to inflict fear on the German population as a whole, rather than a project intended to only eradicate the Jewish population

Information from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism

James E. Ferguson Event Response- Erin Simard

Although the opening minutes of the event were spent celebrating how much progress Davidson has made in terms of inclusivity, the more I listened to the speakers, the more apparent it became to me that racism has unfortunately played (and still plays) an essential role in Davidson’s story. For example, one of the speakers recalled that when he attended Davidson in 1992, the laundry building still had segregated bathrooms. His example was met with an audible gasp from the room, and it has sparked a personal curiosity as to just how big of a role institutional racism has had in Davidson’s history. Sadly, I have a feeling that this story is just the tip of the iceburg.

The event grew to be slightly disappointing when, ironically, it turned into a place where a few white men could share their experiences from within the Civil Rights movement, rather than allowing their black counterparts to give their perspectives. My initial attraction to this event was due to the idea that I would get to listen to a perspective I was privileged enough to not have myself, but this perspective was unfortunately not given as much space as I believe it was warranted. Thus, overall, while I did learn quite a bit about the role race has and does play at Davidson, the event was ultimately a little disappointing.