Monthly Archives: February 2016

Perpetuum Mobile in Life after Life

This week’s reading for ENG 5010 was Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life. First, this book will definitely be added to my classroom library. I think I will start offering the books from this course as extra credit options for my students. These are bestselling books that students could pick up anywhere, and the content is not “mature” enough to cause me to question their appropriateness for 16, 17, and 18-year olds.

This week I looked at how perpetuum mobile  is used as a structure by Atkinson. Although I knew that the Latin term meant perpetual motion, I did not know that it had a musical counterpart. I believe the musical definition is more fitting that the physics definition, although Atkinson makes no mention of the term in her notes; she refers to creating a structure that is “slightly fractal.” In the novel, Ursula (the main character) refers to time first as an ouroboros and then as a palimpsest. I think Atkinson created a possibility for time, an ideal one in which we can try again and again to get life right, that does not fit any single previously created construct for time.

Please read my entire post Perpetuum Mobile, feel free to comment, and please read the posts by my classmates.

I Was There: Experiencing Slavery Through Time Travel

For the third week in a row, I have read a book for my graduate course that I think my students would be able to read (much more than the canonized novels), would enjoy reading (much more than the canonized novels), and would have a stronger impact on them as humans (much more than the canonized novels). And of the three I have read so far (the first two were How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Jazz), I strongly believe that Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred deserves a spot in the curriculum.

Butler utilizes a device that would hook most juniors in high school: time travel. My students would think that I had lost my mind to assign them a book about time travel; they know that I am not a fan of YA lit or trendy books. But the topic of the novel is riveting; the main character, an African-American woman, repeatedly travels back in time to the plantation where her ancestors were living (I am being deliberately vague using the word living for anyone who would like to experience the book). She both witnesses and experiences the violence and brutality of plantation life in 1819; Butler’s writes using a first-person narrator so that the sensory details are vivid moreso that third-person description. The narrator even has a few moments of metafiction comparing those events with the ones she had been accustomed to seeing in movies, a definite poke at the reader.

I wrote more about my idea that literature that allows the reader an I-was-there-experience, especially on a topic that is not relatable to the average white, middle class person, is much more effective than a third person narrative in my blog post for the ENG 5010 class. That post is available at Writing (about) Time . You can also read more posts by my classmates about Kindred and the topic of time travel in their posts.