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.

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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.

Jazz as Narrative Structure

As I mentioned last week, I am enrolled in a graduate level English course. The course is Contemporary American Literature and the topic is Temporal Play. Last week we read How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I had read the book in the past, but the temporal play–a reverse chronology–had not stuck with me. The novel–its plot, its reverse chronology, its place in the canon of immigration literature–has resonated with me to the point that I want to use it in my curriculum in the future. For the time being, I plan to assign the two excerpts that are in our textbooks to my juniors, but I will teach those as immigration literature, a concept that I have not included in the past.

This week’s novel is Jazz by Toni Morrison. I am a little embarrassed to state that I have never read a novel by Morrison. In fact, last year was the first time that I had read or taught any work by her (it was her only published short story “Recitatif”). I own a copy of Beloved but have not been able to bring myself to read it due to the graphic depiction of rape and/or violence.

I am thrilled to say that I love Jazz. Again, like the Garcia Girls, the temporal play is a delight to participate in as a reader. I found the content of Jazz to be very appropriate for my high school juniors and seniors, but I’m not sure that they would have the wherewithal or the stamina to stick with it until the end. Maybe honors or dual credit. Maybe. However, I have taken great pride in this week’s blog for the class. The title Jazz does not have a direct impact on the plot. I wrote my post about how the musical qualities of jazz are Morrison’s structure for narrative. I probably would not have come to that conclusion so readily if I wasn’t already familiar with “Recitatif” both as a musical term and as a narrative structure for the story.

If you would like to read my blog post, please go to Writing (about) Time: Thoughts Concerning Temporal Play in Contemporary Narratives and look for my post titled “Jazz as Narrative Structure.” While you’re there, feel free to read the posts by my classmates and leave us any comments.