Monthly Archives: March 2013

White (HUM303)

I’ve been grading midterms (no I’m not done yet so don’t ask) and one of the things that’s struck me is the plurality of readings of the quote from AGP. For those who correctly identified this passage the issue of race loomed large, but other themes/ affects/ associations were raised as well. As a few people noted, the whiteness of the shrouded figure does suggest a visual rhyme with Ayesha’s veiled body. And if we were to push that link further with the help of some Victorian Era social context, we might even arrive at the conclusion that white itself is an “empty signifier.” Whiteness may have a “positive” valence in a white supremacist world, but it also possesses a negative charge. As far back as Antiquity whiteness signified leprosy, and in the 19th century, whiteness was often correlated with syphilis. In addition there was a visual convention of warning young men against the dangers of venereal disease by presenting a beautiful female figure whose appearance was a kind of mask. See below (and before you go off on a google image search with the keyword “syphilis” be warned that what you’ll find will probably stay with you for a very long time):


Finally, consider the following lines from Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner“:

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

Bullhead (2011)

I’ll probably use this Belgian film for HUM415 during summer session. Not only does it address the core subject matter of the course– what, at this point, I”m calling “crime and system”– but it dramatizes in a very compelling way the relationship between masculinity and the male body. Briefly, Jacky, a Flemish rancher, uses illegal bovine growth hormone (BGH) to maximize the mass of his beef cattle. He becomes entangled with elements of the so-called hormone mafia, who have taken control of this market of the shadow economy in the aftermath of the EU’s ban on BGH. An undercover police officer is murdered. Other police agencies begin to surveil Jacky. Yet behind these crime-thriller developments is a terrible, life-altering event that occurred when Jacky was a boy.

Formally, Bullhead is innovative without being smug or flashy. The use of camera tilt, tracking, back-lighting, and narrative analepsis emphasize the anguish of Jacky’s loss, deepening the film’s human dimensions, even as it propels the story.  Fantastic cinema. It’s streaming on netflix so maybe check it out.

Zorros (HUM303)

Below, see The Mark of Zorro, the 1920 film version of Johnston McCulley’s serial fiction “The Curse of Capistrano,” first published in the pulp magazine All Story Weekly. McCulley condensed these initial texts in a single novel after the film was released, borrowing the film’s title and dedicating it to Douglas Fairbanks, “the original Zorro of the screen.” Subsequent adaptations include The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power; The Mask of Zorro (1998) with Antonio Banderas; the delightfully campy Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981) featuring George Hamilton; a 2005 sequel to the 1998 film, The Legend of Zorro; and an animated series, Zorro: Generation Z (2008); in addition to many others.

Bring a Test Booklet (HUM303/HUM415/HUM425/HUM470)

And more than one pen or pencil. And don’t wait until 10 minutes before class to buy a test booklet. And have a good breakfast. And get some sleep the night before. And if you’re really anal retentive put everything you’ll need into your bag before you go to bed so you don’t have to race around your apartment in the morning looking for it and miss the bus.

Midterm Questions (HUM415)

Here are a few questions I received from a student recently regarding the midterm:

Q. I have a question about two of the character in Paradise, Hamid and Mohammed Abdullah. Although I read through most of the book I don’t understand how Yusuf works for him? Does Aziz sell him to Hamid or does lend Yusuf to him? About Mohammed, I don’t really understand who he is suppose to be.from the reading I think he’s Aziz’s right hand man? It wasn’t  clear to me.
Also for the midterm prompts, will each prompt be individual from each other or will there be sharing of works? An example would be like out of the 10, 2 are from Havoc and so on. Will it be like that or each is one reading/idea?

A. Aziz leaves Yusuf with Hamid to help with his business and, in a sense, to socialize Yusuf. The relationship between Aziz and Yusuf becomes increasingly ambiguous. Like Khalil, Yusuf is rehani, but on the other hand Aziz seems to want to groom Yusuf as a trader if not exactly accept him as a family member. Mohammed Abdullah is a kind of overseer or enforcer who acts on Aziz’s behalf during the trading journeys. Aziz makes the plans, while MA ensures that orders are executed. He is feared, but his authority begins to falter as he grows weak from age and injury.

There will be 8 prompts on the midterm. Students will have to answer 6. Some of the prompts may overlap. Your response to each prompt is an opportunity to demonstrate 1) how informed you are about the course material in general and 2) your ability to establish connections between ideas and concepts.

Does anyone have any other questions? If so, send them to the comments section of this post.


Check? (HUM415/ HUM425)

Muse’s Madness:

Let’s approach this video as a totality: sound, lyrics, images. The second of these elements, lyrics, are fairly unremarkable.* Whatever power they have can be linked to the sound. (Something pop excels at: if the music is good enough you could recite the ingredients of a breakfast cereal and they’d seem profound). Sound: as my informant remarks, this is a long track, one that builds by layering. Then the layers are stripped away and begin to build again. There’s tension here, then: a slow progression and a reversal. But what about the visuals? The lyrics indicate a song about conflicted desire, which is classic pop content. Why then are what appear to be black bloc affinity groups battling LAPD SWAT? What does it mean that in the final shots the two lover-protagonists are smoking inside the subway car, their backs to each other, while a brawl between the RSA and its antagonists unfolds? Any thoughts about this? What are the politics of this morsel of pop? I’d love to hear your responses.

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Paradise (HUM415)

Even now, we tend to think of Africa as monolithic and to speak of Africans collectively as if they were not incredibly diverse in cultural, racial, and ethnic terms. One of the projects of a writer such as Abdulrazak Gurnah is to challenge these misconceptions by reconstructing the continent’s “geographical imaginary.” Part of that process includes representing the multiplicity of figures and groups populating East and Central Africa, a demographic reality Gurnah dramatizes by narrating a crucial period in world history: the consolidation of colonial power in Africa. Some decades after the notorious Berlin Conference, this stage of colonization witnessed a rapidly shifting social terrain– including the end of the “Great Caravans”.

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