Rachael Devecka Cultural Commentary: Alvin Ailey

The performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was incredible! There are many aspects I could write about, but since we covered most of them in Professor Bory’s unit, I would like to focus on what it felt like to be present and among the audience. I attended the second night of Alvin Ailey’s stay in Charlotte, so the dances I saw included En (a modern piece themed around a clock’s movement) and Cry (performed by a Charlotte native). My favorite part of the performance, however, was unquestionably the classic Revelations. The piece reached the audience on a spiritual level, jubilantly celebrating African American culture and resilience while reflecting on the positive and negative influences that led to its creation. While I could analyze it and find rich material, its beauty was partly that I didn’t need to: the dance was so emotional and cathartic. By the end of the show, everyone was on their feet singing, clapping, and swaying along. According to the way I was raised, the performance is for the performers and the audience’s task is to politely watch. I’ve never felt called to join in a performance before, and am usually embarrassed when actors shout for audience participation. But, when the dancers performed a Move Members Move encore, I was on my feet, unabashedly clapping with everyone else, and it would have felt disrespectful for me not to do so.

Rachael Devecka Yamato Cultural Commentary

Walking into the Duke family performance hall, I was unsure of what to expect from a drumming show. Certainly I did not expect the mix of dance, ritual, and vocals that complemented the drumming. One of the interesting things about the performance to me was how multisensory it was. The ritual and dance emphasized vision, while the drums emphasized sound and physical feeling. The vibrations of the drums affected the rhythm of my own heartbeat and made me feel physically connected to the performance. Besides this, the performers wordlessly encouraged audience participation, getting us to yell, clap, and more. In Humes we have discussed the isolating of academic disciplines, but one area we didn’t mention much was art. To me, the arts are tremendously interconnected. I attended an arts-focused middle school in which music, acting, dance, sewing, knitting, painting, creative writing, and almost any other art form you can think of were made one. For this reason, I am always frustrated by how Western society insists on breaking them apart. At Davidson, we have separate buildings for visual arts, music, and theater. While focus is not necessarily a bad thing, I believe depth can be lost from failing to explore interconnections and interdisciplinarity. We need to take a leaf out of Japanese tradition and realize that “drummers” can do far more than just tap out the beat. They – and all of us – can be so much more.

Rachael Devecka Kelley Lecture Commentary

The slavery of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and 12 Years A Slave is only part of the picture; there is a forgotten story. Native Americans didn’t all die from smallpox. As is typical of indigenous history however, their enslavement didn’t make it into American textbooks.

As Andrés Reséndez stated in this year’s Kelley Lecture, we picture “neat historical boxes… Natives died, and Africans were enslaved.” In reality, 2.5-5 million indigenous people––primarily women and children––were enslaved by colonizers and their descendents throughout the Americas by colonizers, beginning 26 years before the first recorded smallpox case.

The brutal conditions conditions and racist justifiations we recognize from African slavery were also true of this “other” slavery. But when the 13th amendment passed, indigenous slaves in the US were excluded from its protections. Native Americans did not become full citizens until the 1920s.

I am infuriated that I didn’t know any of this before the lecture. And if I didn’t know that as someone who has actively studied indigenous history, then the average American student has no clue at all. The way schools teach about indigenous history––if they mention it at all-–it is as though everyone died of smallpox and then the survivors were finished off on the Trail of Tears.

Native American culture is not restricted to the dead past, though, and it is clear from these statistics that the US government owes them the same visibility and justice that it owes to people of African descent.

Rachael Devecka “CP Snow and More”

CP Snow

“If the scientists have the future in their bones, then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist. It is the traditional culture, to an extent remarkably little diminished by the emergence of the scientific one, which manages the western world.”

Page 11

!) I never thought of the divide between writers and scientists as one of traditional culture vs. the future. I’m not sure if I agree with the argument that Western society generally prefers traditional culture over science, but this distinction is useful.

“‘Didn’t the influence of all [that most of the famous twentieth-century writers] represent bring Auschwitz that much nearer?'”

Page 7

?) Is it fair to blame writers for spreading the ideologies that led to Auschwitz? How would Snow argue that point?

Scientific Experiments Recognized

  • Eratosthenes Measures the World
  • Gregor Mendel Cultivates Genetics
  • Isaac Newton Eyes Optics (thanks afternoon lecture!)
  • Marie Curie’s Work Matters
  • Ivan Pavlov Salivates at the Idea
  • Robert Millikan Gets a Charge

Scientific Theories Recognized

  • Game Theory
  • Plate Tectonics (not those specific guys though)
  • Special Relativity
  • General Relativity
  • Quantum Theory
  • Evolution by Natural Selection
  • Heliocentrism

Rachael Devecka Black Girl Linguistic Play Reflection

!) The moment that stood out to me the most was after the dance when one woman asked what stereotypes the dance represented. Ms. Brown’s response startled me: “Stereotypes are not welcome on this stage… it’s just about young girls playing.” I loved that approach, especially in contrast to Bill T. Jones’ work which was focused on destroying stereotypes by showing them.

?) Does Ms. Brown’s dance troupe ever perform the three parts of the trilogy together? (Are they meant to be seen together?)

Devecka, Unit Five: ?! for Schneider and Birns

Schneider

!: Equating performance with disappearance (while it sounds artsy and intellectual) actually ends up devaluing the traditions of people who do not archive. It says that these people do not have a history and ignores the transmission power of performance. Instead, the key is to realize that performance itself can be a form of archive, housed in the memory of viewers, performers, and listeners. We need to acknowledge its staying power in order to avoid dismissing the full value of non-Western historical tradition.

“Such statements assume that memory cannot be housed in a body and remain, and thus that oral storytelling, live recitation, repeated gesture, and ritual enactment are not practices of telling or writing history.”

Schneider, p. 101

?: By arguing that performance cannot be recorded or saved, don’t performance studies scholars make performance just as exclusive as the archive? Not everyone can access written materials, and not everyone can access a live performance either. Recording it and preserving it, while changing the experience and the medium somewhat, make it more accessible for those who cannot afford to be there. If we’re talking about inclusivity, isn’t there a value in that, despite the flaws of archives?

Birns

!: The past can be constructed to follow any argument or teach any lesson. Facts are a lot slipperier than we are taught to imagine. Whatever has been decided about the past (whatever the powerful considered to be its ‘lesson’ or thought important enough to preserve) is what we take for determinate fact, when there’s a lot left out. It’s less important to look for lessons than to understand the connections of the past to the present and see how its impact is still directly felt.

“America is a society without any palpable relation to history, a society particularly ahistorical when it assumes it is ultra-historical. The ultra-historicism of official memorials makes us think the past is finished, when we still have the power to construct it… Ralph Lemon upends complacent assumptions that the past is a resource to be mined for determinate meaning. His work opens up a field of counter-memory in which what was supposed to be “historical experience” is in fact still taking place.”

Birns, p. 22

?: Does the performance lose value if we think of it as only a part of the process (“the performance is an outgrowth of a larger process, not an inevitable event” p. 19), and Lemon showcases all stages of his work (in multiple media) and all the pieces of the process besides that one are preserved?

Rachael Devecka: March 2 Post

March 2, page 79

The first thing that I noticed about this page was how empty and quiet it felt. The second, immediately after the first, was the violence in the image: scars on buildings and buses, broken windows, trails of smoke, and the remnants of a fight on the pavement. The third thing I noticed was the caption draped across the page, reading: “My country ‘tis of thee.” 

Lacking a border, the bottom image overtakes the whole page, its sky bleeding into the background behind the two top panels. The size of the bottom image, the way that the sky takes over the page, and the lack of human figures give it that still, empty feeling. This is especially true in contrast to the top images which depict a crowd of people and a man with a smoking gun.

Beyond the stillness, not only is the subject matter of the image violent (smashed windows, smoke, and all) but the angle of the image and the artist’s style communicate violence too. As the reader, my view of the image is framed by the top of a wrecked car at a crazy, unnatural angle, almost as if I were peering out from a hiding place. The unknown heaps I see before me on the pavement are merely sketched in with a few random squiggles and some shading. This stylistic choice communicates the shock of violence better than clearer drawings would, because the reader knows from the text above that there are no deaths, but the muffled heaps look like corpses at first glance. The billowing smoke and smudgy details along the right edge give the impression that the chaos continues––and maybe worsens––for all imaginable distance.

In sharp contrast, the text box moves brightly across the page like a flag, waving patriotically o’r the homeland. This cheerful flow and nationalistic words written in curly script––with “y’s” that look like something out of a Walt Disney movie, belie the image above.

After looking at the page, I was left feeling very cynical about America and U.S. patriotism. The patriotic version of America is calm and beautiful and proud. It’s the America of Walt Disney and the Star Spangled Banner and fancy cars. The way we like to see ourselves stands in sharp contrast to what we were in the moment depicted here: a legacy of racism erupting into violence and destroying everything in its way.

Rachael Devecka: Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells

Mary Church Terrell:

(https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mary-church-terrell)

  • Black and women’s issues activist
  • 19th – 20th century
    • (The two women were contemporaries)
  • Parents were formerly enslaved → business owners (father was early black millionaire)
    • Divorced
  • Went to Oberlin College
    • Master’s degree
  • Taught at Wilberforce College
  • Her friend Thomas Moss was lynched, inspiring her activism
    • Worked with Ida B. Wells on anti-lynching
  • Helped found National Association of Colored Women in 1896, was president until 1901
  • Published autobiography “A Colored Woman in a White World”
  • First black member of American Association of University Women
  • Protested segregation in eating places

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Church_Terrell)

  • Not sure what her religion was personally, but she attended and worked at Christian institutions (Presbyterian and Methodist, respectively) and wrote for Christian newspapers

(https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/mary-church-terrell)

  • Came from a religious household

Ida B. Wells:

(https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ida-b-wells-barnett

  • Journalist, researcher, activist who “battled sexism, racism, and violence”
  • 19th – 20th century
    • (The two women were contemporaries)
  • Born into slavery
  • Parents politically active in Reconstruction
  • Orphaned in Yellow Fever epidemic, cared for younger siblings
  • “In 1884, Wells-Barnett filed a lawsuit against a train car company in Memphis for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train, despite having a ticket.”
    • Won at local level! *lost federally*
  • After lynching of friend, she focused on anti-lynching activism
    • Investigating and writing
      • “Her expose about an 1892 lynching enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis.”
    • Teaching internationally
  • Boycotting World’s Columbian Exposition in 1983 for negatively portraying and excluding black community
  • Helped found National Association of Colored Women’s Club
  • Focused on Urban reform later

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_B._Wells

  • Christian
    • “‘I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people. … O God, is there no … justice in this land for us?’”

Violence and Common Roots:

Both Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell fought specifically against lynching, sexism, and racial violence. In fact, the two women were contemporaries and worked together on an anti-lynching campaign. Each was galvanized to the issue by the lynching of a close friend. 

Another commonality Wells and Church shared was their fight for women’s and black rights in a more general form. For instance, the National Association of Colored Women’s Club (NACW), which they co-founded in 1896, provided a supportive space for women of color outside of the church and to advocate for racial and gender social justice issues. Both women were also talented writers who spread their work through the press.

Having the NACW designated explicitly as a space apart from the church is interesting, given both Church and Wells’ religious backgrounds. Church appears to have come from a fairly conservative Christian family, worked at religious institutions, and written for religious papers, yet she was the first president and co-founder of NACW. Wells, too, is reported to have been a deeply religious Christian. Christian values of justice, love, and kindness may have influenced their activism. One quote by Ida B. Wells, for instance, shows how her faith in God is tied to her faith in justice: “I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people. … O God, is there no … justice in this land for us?”

This is interesting in light of what we learned last class about religious oppression, but it does not altogether surprise me. Christianity, in my experience, is interpreted very differently by different cultures. One example I’ve heard cited––you can agree with it or not––is that white people use Christianity to oppress and people of color use Christianity to liberate. I’m curious to find out what truth there is in that statement as we go through this unit.

Church’s piece focuses on the daily injustices of living in DC as well as the broader issues (such as lynching) and expresses how this causes people to lose hope. She calls out the United States for hypocrisy. She does not propose a solution and she does not focus especially on women in this piece.

Wells’ piece describes the side-by-side history of lynching and law, as well as lynching culture at the time. She provides statistics to debunk common excuses for lynching. One of her focuses is a critique of the opposite treatment of white women and women of color. White women are ‘precious’ and powerful, and it is on their behalf that most lynchings are supposedly carried out.

Rachael Devecka: Make Your Own Passport Reflection

I really appreciated the Make Your Own Passport project and the reflections that it led to, despite the difficult that comes with confronting your own privilege. There were three main themes that emerged from my table’s conversation: human rights, immigration rights, and power. Firstly, I noticed that article 15 in the UDHR states: “Everyone has the right to a nationality.” Statelessness violates this right. Are stateless people entitled to protection by a government if none claims them? Are they legally considered fully ‘human’ if they don’t have this fundamental status? Secondly, as someone who is interested in immigration law, I was bewildered by the stateless status. All of the forms I am familiar with require nationality and identification. If someone doesn’t have this, can they immigrate to another country? Can they acquire refugee status? If people don’t have a state, can they (technically) face persecution by ‘their’ government? Thirdly, we discussed how much power having a nationality confers. Among other things, we mentioned work status, traveling, voting, and government benefits. It is also true that some nationalities hold more power than others––which we connected, in many cases, to the ongoing effects of imperialism. It’s worth considering what it means to be American versus what it means to be Gambian or to be stateless. It is also worth considering where those dynamics originate. I left the project feeling motivated to learn more. I reached out to an immigration lawyer to ask her some of my questions, but I have not heard back about the answers as of yet––when I do I will update my post or bring the answers to class.

Rachael Devecka Unit 3 Post 1

Adolf Eichmann, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and Hannah Arendt’s concept “Banality of Evil”:

  • Aeon: (https://aeon.co/ideas/what-did-hannah-arendt-really-mean-by-the-banality-of-evil)
    • Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi who organized transportation of Jews to concentration camps
    • Arendt covered Eichmann’s trial in 1961 for the New Yorker
      • Study: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)
    • She decided “he was ‘neither perverted nor sadistic’, but rather ‘terrifyingly normal’” and “‘never realised what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’”
      • He wanted to advance his career and was mentally incapable of feeling that what he did was ‘wrong’
      • Representative of Banality of Evil
    • Banality of Evil means…
      • Not evil per se, nor filled with evil intentions
      • A “joiner” who just hopped on the bandwagon and tried to do it well for his own gain
      • Shallowness
    • Controversy around concept
      • Mary McCarthy: “‘[I]t seems to me that what you are saying is that Eichmann lacks an inherent human quality: the capacity for thought, consciousness – conscience. But then isn’t he a monster simply?’”
        • My question: how much does intent actually matter? What is more evil, a conscious pre-meditated murder or one committed in the moment? A psychopath, or a sociopath?
      • Alan Wolfe: “Arendt concentrated too much on who Eichmann was, rather than what Eichmann did.”
        • My question: I think humanization is incredibly important, but I also think evil exists––so when is the line at which we need to stop humanizing people? What about in terms of mass shooters today? How does mental illness legitimately factor in without it being purely an excuse?
      • Historical errors –– she missed some of his ideological writings
        • Bettina Stangneth: Stagneth “shows Eichmann as a self-avowed, aggressive Nazi ideologue strongly committed to Nazi beliefs, who showed no remorse or guilt for his role in the Final Solution – a radically evil Third Reich operative living inside the deceptively normal shell of a bland bureaucrat. Far from being ‘thoughtless’, Eichmann had plenty of thoughts – thoughts of genocide, carried out on behalf of his beloved Nazi Party.”
      • “By taking a narrow legalistic, formalistic approach to the trial – she emphasised that there were no deeper issues at stake beyond the legal facts of Eichmann’s guilt or innocence”
    • The Origins of Totalitarianism (book)
      • In this book, Arendt argued the absolute, inhuman evil of Nazis
        • “‘[T]he reality of concentration camps resembles nothing so much as medieval pictures of Hell.’”
      • Written before Eichmann trial
      • Never reconciled the two concepts together
        • My question: are they incommensurable? Can a group and its actions be utterly evil and have members that are not?
  • Britannica: (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hannah-Arendt)
    • Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975)
    • Born in Germany
    • Jewish
      • Also dated her professor who then became a Nazi
    • Immigrated to Paris and then USA to escape Nazis
    • Political scientist and philosopher (Jewish affairs and totalitarianism)
      • Argued that totalitarianism was “the outcome of the disintegration of the traditional nation-state” and “totalitarian regimes, through their pursuit of raw political power and their neglect of material or utilitarian considerations, had revolutionized the social structure and made contemporary politics nearly impossible to predict.”
  • Wikipedia: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann)
    • Eichmann (19 March 1906 – 1 June 1962) was in charge of transportation logistics for the “final solution”
      • Joined Nazis and SS in 1932
        • Head of Department for Jewish Affairs 1933
      • Did organization and logistics work, did NOT make policy
        • Jobs were…
          • Gathering intel on Jews by location
          • Planning for seizure of their property
          • Transportation (trains)
          • Staying in contact with the Foreign Office to figure out how to do the same in conquered countries
      • “Dieter Wisliceny testified at Nuremberg that Eichmann told him he would ‘leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.’”
    • Captured in Argentina 1 May 1960
    • Tried in Jerusalem
      • Found guilty of war crimes and hung in 1962
  • Wikipedia: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism)
    • Arendt’s first major publication
      • Published 1951
    • Analysis of Nazism and Stalinism
      • Structured in form of three essays: Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism
      • Covers topics such as scientific racism, continental imperialism, the mechanics of totalitarianism, propaganda, and more
        • “totalitarian regimes seek to dominate every aspect of everyone’s life as a prelude to world domination”
    • Very well-received
  • Merriam Webster: (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/banal)
    • Banal means:
      • Trite
      • Lacking originality or freshness
      • Insipid
      • Flat
      • Devoid of any novelty

Rachael Devecka Unit 2 Post 3: A bit of Appiah and some Bullshit on “On Bullshit”

Option One: The final two sections of the reading (9.6-7) are very challenging. Do the best you can to summarize them in your own words, but don’t worry if you can’t follow all of the details. The main point to see is that it’s possible to be relativist about rationality (reasonable belief) without being a relativist about truth.

Strong cognitive relativism says that two entirely different truths can exist within the same universe because things are only “true” or “false” within a conceptual framework. Appiah sets out to disprove strong relativism through one important facet of it: strong relativists believe that different truths which are incompatible may coexist. For example, someone can believe that stars do not exist and someone else can believe that they do, and these could both be true. Appiah says that since there is only one universe, there can only be one reality; stars either exist or they don’t. Weak cognitive relativism deals with perceptions or logical beliefs as opposed to truths. In other words, different interpretations of the same reality are possible and reasonable beliefs are based on culture. Stars do exist, but they mean different things to different cultures. One person may believe that stars are the souls of their ancestors while another believes that they are physical spheres of plasma. Both may have perfectly valid reasons for believing what they do and be able to ‘prove’ within their cultural framework that their choice is the logical one. There is no way to objectively decide between the two theories––and they can coexist. Appiah uses another example which I think is useful: we group things differently based on our schema and the groupings are based on what is most useful to our culture as opposed to what is true or false. This is weak cognitive relativism. Logic is relative; truth is not.

Option 2: What’s the most effective way to reduce the amount of bullshit in contemporary discourse? Be sure to use Frankfurt’s specific notion of bullshit—so in that sense, the question is really asking: What’s the best way to get people to care about truth when they speak or write?

One point that Frankfurt makes in his definition is that our society values opinions very highly and insists “that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything.” We’ll start with this example because bullshit is highly prevalent in politics. In political conversations, I try to admit when I don’t know enough about something to have a qualified opinion. This is something few people I’ve talked with are willing to do. I think this is due to the pressure that Frankfort mentions. Because we are expected to hold so many opinions, it is impossible to put in the work to become experts in all areas. Since it is simultaneously imperative to speak to all of them, we become less concerned with the truth and more concerned with sounding intelligent and engaged. We feel a need to spout nonsense just for the sake of spouting something. This is also true in a classroom setting when the pressure is amped up by grades. If class participation is part of a student’s grade, then they feel a need to say something––anything––in order to rack up points. Students are often expected to put more time into homework and be ‘experts’ in more areas than is physically possible. Students have to pick and choose where to put their focus and then they are forced to bullshit the things they don’t care as much about in order to get high grades. Taking out grades is a good step in eliminating the need for bullshit. Without them, students can listen silently and learn when they don’t have enough knowledge for an opinion. They can also put more time into becoming experts on their passions; experts who do know––and care about––the truth in these areas.