Gerhard Richter’s “October 18, 1977” series has one consistent theme: confusion. The blurred nature of each piece conveys to the viewer a sense of disconnection from reality, as though one cannot focus on the world around them. It makes the paintings seem almost unreal, like a hallucination or a dream. Upon closer inspection, it seems that the unfocused confusion in each painting is not a disconnect from reality, but rather a reflection of the state of reality in the moment the photograph was taken. The era in Germany from which the photos arose was filled with disorder, with voices of the government presenting a story that did not align with the reality of the country. With the addition of Ulrike Meinhof and her fellow revolutionaries making waves in the news, few people knew what to believe about the world around them. The paintings represent this blurred sense of reality in Germany during this time. For instance, the photos titled “man shot down 1” and “man shot down 2” are some of the most blurred in the collection, for the death of Baader showed that the reality he fought for went unachieved and the reality presented by the government was farther from the truth than ever.
In particular, the paintings of Ulrike Meinhof’s life become increasingly blurry as her state of mind deteriorates. The paintings depicting Meinhof in her youth are only slightly fuzzy, indicating an era of stability in her life. The “confrontation” paintings, depicting Meinhof in prison, are so blurred it’s difficult to make out many details. This suggests Meinhof felt highly unsure at this point in her life, not knowing if or when she would be released from prison.
The Cake was truly an emotional journey. For long stretches it was highly comedic, but sporadic sobering interludes made me sympathize with every character on stage. This surprised me, since I thought I wouldn’t feel any sympathy for Della, the middle-aged southern baker who doesn’t want to make the cake for her young friend’s lesbian wedding. However, Della’s character was more full of inner conflict than she was full of hate, torn between a motherly love for this girl and her heteronormative idea of romantic love. Additionally, Della’s acceptance progressed throughout the play, to the point where she couldn’t bring herself to attend the wedding but put thought and effort into making their wedding cake. I was impressed by the choice of the playwright, the director, and the actor portraying Della, all of whom humanized the character as opposed to villainizing her. Painting Della as a human trying to change shows that opinions are not divided in the polar opposite way we so often imagine.
Every Davidson College student should watch Unlikely, a film about the challenges low-income students face in college. Prior to this screening, I thought I knew about the adversities facing low income students, since the majority of students in my high school faced these struggles. My school had a graduation rate of about 60% each year – my freshman class had around 1200 students, and I graduated with a senior class of around 750 students. I naively assumed that if a student made it to college, they would be fine. Unlikely showed me that the struggles of low-income students have a firm grip in the college experience. It especially hit home because one of the students telling his story in the film graduated from a high school in my public school system. I realized many of the students from my high school who I’d assumed had a straight road to success were struggling far more than I’d realized. I’ve caught glimpses of these struggles at Davidson – every now and then, a student voices their difficulty with maintaining a job or multiple jobs, meeting scholarship requirements, and keeping their grades up all at the same time. However, I think the extent of economic privilege at Davidson creates an environment in which those who are struggling with these issues feel afraid to speak about them, which is why every Davidson student should watch this film. All students need to be aware of the struggles of low-income students on campus so we can create an environment that is more responsive to their needs.
I found it impactful that Stevenson did not sugarcoat the issues around which his speech centered, such as explicitly telling the crowd that people of color will have a harder life than white people. I think one of the persistent problems in this country is white people thinking that issues surrounding racism have been solved. Stevenson seemed to target this perception in his speech. All his stories clearly demonstrated the remaining racism in the United States, and the wide range of situations he spoke of show how far the reach of racism extends. At one point Stevenson told the crowd that the Civil Rights Movement is over-celebrated, which was a call to recognize the reality we live in and how it still needs to change. Following the hard truth of his stories, Stevenson urged the crowd to have hope. I felt very much called to action by the end of the speech, with Stevenson’s message that so much needs to improve, but there is hope that this change can happen.
My group chose Thomas’s translation of Akhmatova due to its high artistic nature. We considered both the translations through the lens of the translation panel from Dr. Robb’s unit, remembering that every translation is an interpretation of a work as opposed to a direct copy. The artistic nature of Thomas’s translation compared to Anderson’s translation suggests that Anderson’s work is more directly translated. However, we thought a more artistic interpretation might invoke thoughts and feelings in the reader more similar to those evoked from reading the original work.
Dr. Ewington’s March 26 Lecture:
! – It’s crazy that poets were still active even though the profession became so dangerous.
? – Were other forms of art similarly censored during the terror?
! – The performance conveys emotions that most people in the US experience during childhood, reminding the audience that divisive stereotypes are man-made and not natural.
? – Camille Brown began a Q&A session directly after the performance, creating a conversation with the audience about the dance they just watched. What makes this post-dance conversation such an integral part of the performance?
! – Schneider suggests that when one reads a document of a performance, they read the document as “a site of performance” (105). This stood out to me because a document such as this describes the performance through the eyes of the document’s creator; in this sense, the documenter performs. Thus, the archived information must be read as both a detailing of performance and a creation of performance.
? – I got caught up in Schneider’s idea that performance can remain on the stage, but it remains “differently” than its original form (105). IA changed performance might be received in ways that differ from the creator’s intention, so can it still be considered a form of the original performance?
Nicholas Birns, “Ritualizing the Past: Ralph Lemon’s Counter-Memorials”
! – Birn’s phrase “the body serves as a distilled history” stuck out to me most, since “distilling” means extracting the most important part of something (19). Using the body in performance compels the audience to focus on the parts of history that the performer believes are most essential.
? – Birns mentions that Lemon’s drawings have a performative quality to them, for they “provide information, as well as the artist’s own perspective on it” (19). We so often consider performance as an act involving live movement, but should we begin to consider all art forms as acts of performance?
The page’s main image of Aretha Franklin singing at Obama’s presidential inauguration grabbed my attention first. The scene has an aura of triumph – Mrs. Franklin’s expression, the lyrics, the hopeful faces in the background. The design leaves no questions asked about the importance and wonder of the moment, for the background is heavily detailed and the image is not confined within a panel.
The panels depicting the aftermath of the violent white mob at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963 provide a stark contrast to the large, exuberant image that takes up most of the page. The lack of detailed background in the panels suggests that the people or body parts are the intended focus. This focus allows one to see without distractions that the violence in Montgomery was inflicted on human beings by fellow human beings. It serves as a reminder of the banality of evil – when hate infests a community, it turns average people into aggressors without reason.
I found the panel depicting a young boy staring at his hands particularly jarring. A previous page had shown that boy gouging one of the freedom rider’s eyes at the encouragement of his father. On this page, the way he stares at his hands with regret indicates he had trouble coming to terms with the violence he just committed. His expression reminds the reader that children should be too young to know hate. The masculine hand clamped on his shoulder suggests that this hate was put in place by his parents. This panel provides an understanding of how racist hatred was perpetrated generation after generation, for children were indoctrinated into a culture of violent white supremacy before they could even think for themselves.
These panel images are small, but clear and defined. They show the horrific events that were endured on the road to reaching the triumphant moment depicted in the larger image. The lyric “land where my fathers died” represent what the images convey, for it speaks of the past generations that risked and sometimes gave their lives for the cause of freedom and equality. The depiction of the hard road that led to made the large image possible shows the deep connections between the past struggles and the present. It demonstrates that the difficult past cannot be forgotten, and that moments of triumph in the present show that the fight for equality is still alive.
Both Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells were spurred into their most prominent eras of activism after a friend was lynched. Their activism took different forms – Terrell focused on racial uplift through education and community activism, while Wells focused on exposing and combating the racial violence in the south. Despite this difference in focus, Wells’ book Southern Horrors and Terrell’s work “What It Means to be Colored in the Capital of the United States” share similar themes. They each describe a type of racial violence that results from white mob mentality. The violence that Wells describes is physical, brutal, and barbarian, while Terrell describes social and verbal violence. In each case, the violence comes from the desire of white people to remain superior and flaunt their societal superiority.
Terrell campaigned for black women’s suffrage, and founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Wells similarly campaigned for black women’s suffrage, and openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored the lynching that terrorized black lives in the south. The focus on women is evident in their respective works. Wells’ book emphasizes how femeninity and lynching tied together: white people often excused lynching by saying they were “protecting their women,” while black women who experienced violence were not heard at all by the white community. Terrell uses multiple examples of black women being restricted from the privileges granted to white women. For instance, Terrell talks about an insistence on hiring nurses (who at the time were all female) who were white, since black nurses were not permitted in the same public spaces as white children.
Neither Terrell nor Wells offer a specific solution to racial discrimination. Wells emphasizes that people need to see and work to fix the “defect in our country’s armor” that permits racial violence. Terrell implies that legal discrimination in public spaces needs to be corrected in order to make progress.
Sontag’s exploration of viewing other people’s suffering expands on the failure of the international community in the Rwandan genocide, which Gourevitch highlights. Specifically, Gourevitch explains that it was not just a failure to understand the situation, but a failure to take action. The United Nations, and especially the United States, knew what was happening in Rwanda, but just stood back and watched. Sontag helps expand this concept by highlighting the differences in perception of suffering based on the demographic of the image’s subject. She explains that in war photos, the faces of dead American soldiers rarely face the camera, as though it would be too painful to face their death head-on. The same courtesy does not often apply to faces of war victims from Africa or Asia. Sontag surmises that westerners view violence as a more standard part of life for these victims. The western world is more upset when faced with depictions of Anglo-European suffering. This is what happens in the story Gourevitch tells. Gourevitch includes the testimony of General Dallaire, who pointed out that the western world had poured thousands of troops and billions of dollars into stopping the violence in Yugoslavia, but had turned their backs on Rwanda.
The country I drew in the passport activity was Estonia, which did not seem significant to me at first. Later on I began thinking about the significance of each passport. Mine, specifically, would allow for easy travel across Europe, as Estonia is a member country of the European Union. This knowledge made me think about the mobility granted by each passport. In my real life, I have a United States passport, which has allowed me to travel easily to several foreign countries. I traveled to the Arizona-Mexico border several years ago, and experienced very little security each time I crossed from the United States into Mexico. Crossing from Mexico into the United States, was a much longer and more tedious process. It seemed that the very idea of being American, or coming from the “American” side of the border, erased the majority of suspicion as to one’s purpose for travel. On the other hand, being somehow tied to Mexico and coming from the Mexican side of the border was automatically deemed suspicious. Passports represent nationalities, and nationalities unfortunately come with varying degrees of privilege.
Paragraph: Sontag describes how photos depicting violence of war have usually been intended to shock people with the realities of war, but war still happens despite this. These pictures depicting victims of war can be used in any context, provided a different caption is assigned to them. The group victimized in the photo might use it as defense, an indicator of the horrors the opposing side inflicts on their side. The group culpable in the photo might claim the image was staged, and use it to pin the other side as liars.
Sentence: Although their purpose is to shock people away from war, photos depicting victims of violence change meaning based on the viewer’s perception.
Paragraph: Sontag explores an innate attraction that people seem to have to horrific images. The attraction happens too often to be deemed horrific, so it could be tied to sexual urges. After seeing so many horrific images, some people might become apathetic to depictions of violence, especially if the violence has no end in sight. People often become distanced from the photos no matter what, even through sympathy, for sympathy allows people to distance themselves from a part they could have played in the suffering.
Sentence: Horrific images first spark a strange fascination in the viewer, and eventually spark a sense of disconnectedness from the violence depicted.
Paragraph: Images of suffering are important because they show people the horrible things humans are capable of doing, often voluntarily. All suffering has an audience, which does not want to linger on the images for too long — now seemingly more than ever. However, by looking away, people are not necessarily negating the purpose of the image. The photo’s purpose is not really to make the viewer suffer, but rather to draw attention and reflection to a subject. Thinking about a horrific topic depicted by an image is better than contributing in some way to the topic’s awfulness.
Sentence: Images of suffering are necessary because they call the audience to reflect on the reasons for that suffering.