‘From a Time of Ambiguity’ (Fourth and Final Entry): ‘On Literature and Politics’

My name is Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a Russian living in the nineteenth century on the verge of destitution, and I have just murdered a rotten old pawnbroker and her loving sister. My name is Othello, an African Moor, living in the predominately caucasian society of Venice, and I suspect my wife, Desdemona, of infidelity. My name is Odysseus, a Greek warrior who courageously fought in the great war against Troy, and after those ten years of warfare, in addition to ten years of anguish at sea, I have returned home to Ithaca at last. My name is Dante, an Italian invested in Florentine politics, and I have seen the rings of hell, and I descended with Virgil down to the freezing pit where Satan himself suffers. My name is Wormwood, and I am a demon luring a patient into sin with the help of my uncle, the arch-demon, Screwtape.

Dear Reader, I must apologize for the confusion that I have conjured up in your mind just now. You must trust me that such delusion was not constructed with ill intention. My real name is Joseph Lankford Jekel. I am a nineteen year old, white male, born on March 1, 1996. The reason for my seemingly schizophrenic identity does not come from a disorder of the mind, but rather a freedom that comes from experience. This experience is not my own. However, I have experienced these things. I am each of these people. You might ask, reader, “but how?” I tell you that literature is the method through which I have experienced these things. Through reading novels, plays, epic poems, and short stories such as Crime and Punishment, Othello, The Odyssey, Inferno, and The Screwtape Letters, I have been able to experience what others have experienced. Through the characters of Raskolnikov, Othello, Odysseus, Dante, and Wormwood, I have been able to escape myself, and move into the being of another. C.S. Lewis says that we read literature for the following reason:

We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and selectiveness peculiar to himself… But we want to escape the illusions of perspective on higher levels too. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. We are not content to be Leibnitzian monads. We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is “I’ve got out.” Or from another point of view, “I’ve got in”; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside.[1]

Reader, I merely say all of these things to you to explain how much literature means to me. And by showing you the importance of literature, show you how much devastation comes with what I am about to tell you.

There is a problem in the reading of literature in our universities. This problem may seem trivial to some, but as I have said, this is a matter of utmost importance to me, not to mention the countless others who enjoy literature as much as I do. Not only are English departments affected by this problem, but most, if not all, of the humanities are plagued by it. John M. Ellis, a writer and critic, describes the problem as follows:

The most striking thing about the new prescription for the study of literature is how very specific it is. Traditionally, literature has been considered to have an educational social function, through one conceived in general terms: it has been thought to develop a richer understanding of human life and to train the mind. But critics who have determined views about what is wrong with our society—namely, its oppressiveness with regard to race, gender, and class—believe that readers should be concerned with those three aspects of society above all others. They are convinced that their triad of issues is fundamental and that anything else is superficial.[2]

As Ellis says, there is a recent focus on race, gender, and class, as well as oppression in general within the discipline of literature. Politics have always played a role in literature, but it is not always the most prominent topic within a literary work. The fact that these critics and professors are pushing for more and more coursework rooted in race, class, and gender shows a narrowing of our vision of literature.

Before I continue, reader, and before you even consider me a racist, sexist, or elitist, please offer me a chance. Think with me for a moment. Let’s say I am reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brönte, a novel about a young orphan girl who grew up under the control of her spiteful aunt. Then, Jane was put into an all-girls disciplinary school, where physical punishment was all too common. The story narrates her journey through life, finding love with Mr. Rochester, the owner of Thornfield Hall, where she became a tutor to a young girl. In reading this novel, gender would be at the forefront of discussion.

Now let’s imagine that I am reading Othello, a play by the almighty playwright and poet, William Shakespeare. In this play, Shakespeare tells of a high statesman, Othello, an African Moor living in an almost exclusively white, Venetian society. He marries the lovely, and Caucasian, Desdemona. However, after leaving Venice, the horrid Iago tricks Othello to believe that the faithful Desdemona has cheated on him. Iago’s poisonous words give rise to “the green one-eyed monster” of envy, which grows ever the more from Othello’s personal insecurities regarding his race and religion. If I were reading this play, race would be at the forefront of topics to be discussed.

Finally, let us assume that I am reading Inferno, the first of three parts of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Dante moves through the nine rings of hell with the great epic poet, Virgil, leading him. His dead love, Beatrice, called Dante into this quest to see Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, with the permission of the Lord Almighty. This specific part of the comedy narrates his own navigation through the abyss of hell. There are references to Florentine politics and class in every canto of the poem. So, given that I were reading this epic poem, class and politics would be main topics discussed.

Thank you for following me through the plots of some of the most renowned works of literature. I merely meant to show you, reader, that there is a clear place for race, class, and gender in literature. This place is neither hidden nor outrageously prominent. Oppression is in literature just as any other theme: love, morality, death, grief, redemption, etc… depending on the work at hand. However, oppression is so emphasized in literature now that it has begun to wrap its hands around the throats of English departments, suffocating them to only speak on these topics. Ellis speaks on this saying, “the justifiable statement that everything has a political dimension does not imply the quite different and wholly false statement that politics is the deepest and most important consideration in every situation.”[3] So just because all, or almost all, of literature has an element of oppression, gender, race, or class doesn’t mean that those topics are the most prominent to talk about. And as I have shown earlier, sometimes they are the most prominent. But why make them the most important every time we read any book, when that simply isn’t the case in every piece of literatue?

I see where race and gender come into literature, I just don’t want them to destroy that which I love. Let me help by explaining exactly why this is so wrong. You may be tired of my quotations and references. Let me just clue you in that I am not an expert. I am merely a teenager. Therefore, I seek help from people who have devoted their lives to literature to assist me in speaking on something that I have been invested in for only a year. Phillip Cary describes the distinction between reading from literature (exegesis) and reading into literature (eisegesis) in this passage:

Let us mention in passing that when I teach my course on great books, “getting something out of it” is a phrase I use to describe how to do a bad job of reading. Instead of getting into the book, you try to get something out of it. It’s as if what you read is supposed to leave no mark on you; you just grab what you want and take it away. You don’t let the story or drama or poem get into you and shape your heart… Instead, you treat the book as something like a store where you go shopping, and you try to figure out which items you want to take from the shelf and bring home with you.[4]

Instead of letting the work impact us ourselves, people try to impact the work itself. They use literature rather than allowing it to make a mark on them, to transform them. The race-gender-class scholars, as Ellis calls them, read into literature, only reading in order to obtain their own political agendas out of the book. This seems adulterated to me. I want a piece of literature to change me, to shape me as a human being; I want to read from literature.

This gets me to my next point of discussion. I have invested much time to show what I love and to reveal what is going wrong with how people approach it. I have interviewed professors at my current university in order to see what they had to say on the topic. At a public university where race-class-gender scholarship is the norm, this was a suicide mission; I was jumping into the middle of the ocean with an open wound, blood calling all the sharks to come and attack me for not being “diverse enough.” I interviewed five professors, and I will be talking about three of them, using pseudonyms in order to keep the names confidential. I also quote them, not verbatim, but close to it, given that I took notes of what they said, rather than recording the conversation. The two I exclude just didn’t really say anything different from one or two of the three professors I am including.

One day I went to Dr. Stevenson. I started by introducing myself, and informing her of what I am interested in, and why I was there. I then proceeded to ask my first question; “What classes do you teach?” Dr. Stevenson teaches ‘Introduction to Gender Studies,’ Studies in Popular Culture,’ and ‘Science Fiction.’ I then asked her the question that I must ask anyone interested in literature: “Why literature.” She said something along the lines of “Literature is the expression of everything that is human.” She was drawing on the fact that literature makes us more human, which I actually agree with in part: I would add to what she said. I then asked her to talk about Race-Class-Gender Politics in English. She reacted hastily, somewhat explaining away the focus on politics, saying that politics have always been in literature (which is true, but there is an overly emphatic focus on the political aspect in all literature now). So, I attempted to clarify (perhaps not so successfully) and asked her why people are starting to read into literature and she responded with “Why do we read literature other than to read into it?” Dr. Stevenson may have misunderstood me, and had something else in mind. She very possibly meant something completely unrelated to what I was inferring, that she reads eisegetically. The situation was getting to a point of conversational tension, so I proceeded to wrap up the interview. However, if she meant what I have previously discussed, then I disagree with her eisegetical reading. We cannot read our own political agendas into a piece of literature. Again, she quite probably did not mean to encourage the practice of eisegesis when she said this. However, it is still a problem elsewhere despite whether she herself encourages it.

Another interview, in which I asked the same, if not extremely similar, questions, occurred that same week. I met with Dr. Pepita, a cross-professor in the English Department and the Latin Studies Department. She teaches ‘Modern American Literature,’ Latin American Literature,’ ‘World Literatue,’ and ‘U.S. Latino Literature.’ What struck me most about this interview was her response to the “Why Literature Question:” “[Literature] gets at the heart of experiences that cannot be quantified. It provides a way to connect different question of class, oppression, and racism.” Now this isn’t so striking to most people, but she seemed to say that race and class are the reason for literature. I see that those topics come into play, but is oppression the reason we read literature? C.S. Lewis, and myself, would say differently. She probably doesn’t think that oppression is the reason to read literature. However, her answer did scare me and it does show that race, class, and gender are at the front of her mind. There are professors out there who do think that literature is solely for the use of attacking oppression.

I met with one professor that I deeply appreciated and agreed with. I appreciated all of the professors for meeting with me, and our meetings were civil, and even extremely natural with kind conversation. I just didn’t agree with any of them except for Dr. Voltaire. He teaches ‘Introduction to Shakespeare,’ Introduction to Literature,’ and occasionally the following classes: ‘The Lyric in English’ (teaching Donne, Yeats, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Whitman, and Frost), ‘Renaissance Drama,’ and ‘English Literature from Beginning to 1700.’ He responded to the literature question by saying, “[Literature] gives us an insight for who we are as people. It is all about language. It shows us how to be people. However, some of my contemporaries might answer this question with political answers.” This man knew what he was talking about.

Dr. Voltaire reveals something about me, reader. As you may have inferred, I typically adhere to the Western Canon of Literature. These new oppression scholars usually rebel against the traditional list of books that are read because those works of literature supposedly come from alleged racists, sexists, or elitists. They dislike the stigma that comes with the Western Canon: the old, white, rich male. The question is whether this stigma accurately represents the Canon. In what I have seen, it does not. Ellis says that the “reality is quite different: the literary canon is the result of the activities of all kinds of writers, many of them loners and oddballs who irritated their ruling classes. Far form being willing propagandists for the social order, they were often viewed in their own times as dangerous subversives.”[5] Not only this, but the Western canon does not consist of only white males.

First, there are many female writers, some of which trump most of the male writers. These include Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Brönte, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Conner, and more. Then there are African American Writers like Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King Jr. and more. Then there are Latin writers such as Cervantes, who wrote maybe one of the most read novels of all time, Don Quixote. There are also a few homosexual, or thought-to-be homosexual, writers in the canon. These writers include Oscar Wilde, Willa Cather, E.M. Forster and possibly more. There are, of course, plenty of white, male authors in the Canon, but that can be attributed to the way things used to be, where white males were the only people who could contribute. Now, women, African Americans, and all people have the chance to write. Naturally, the Canon will develop in this area as time progresses.

In addition to all of this, all the authors in Canon are in the canon for a reason. They are the greatest writers, and they have allowed uncountable amounts of people to experience something outside of themselves. These writers have stood the test of time, not just because of the color of their skin, or the position they held in politics. Just as I ought not reject an author because he or she is of a certain gender, sexual orientation, race, or socioeconomic class, so should we not read an author solely on the fact that they are of a certain gender, sexual orientation, race, or socioeconomic class. We ought to read authors because of their writing, both style and narrative, both imagery and language, and their ability to help us get out of ourselves into some other being, not because they are the correct ethnicity or have the desired sexual organs.

I want to reinforce the whole idea of reading from verses into literature with an anecdote form C.S. Lewis’ Preface to Paradise Lost:

If we stripped the armor off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honor, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate… Instead of stripping the knight of his armor you can try to put his armor on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lace; that is, with his honor, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries out of the Grand Cyrus. I had much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them. The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C. S. Lewis in Lucretius… For the truth is that when you have stripped-off what the human heart actually was in this or that culture, you are left with a miserable abstraction totally unlike the life really lived by any human being.[6]

I would rather know what it feels like to be Raskolnikov, Othello, Odysseus, Dante, and Wormwood, than strip them of their beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors to form them into an image of myself.

            There is a solution in the reading of literature in our universities. The ‘affirmative action’ type of reading and curricula formation needs to stop. We ought not create classes and read literature about ‘indigenous poetry’ or ‘women writers’ just because they are indigenous or female, respectively. In doing so, one is insulting those writers; they are essentially saying that these writers are great for indigenous writers or for women writers. These writers are denied there undeniable, untainted greatness. Great women writers, like Jane Austen, will be read outside of gender literature classes. Great latino writers, like Cervantes, will be read outside of latino classes. Great African American writers, like Langston Hughes, will be read outside of African American literature classes. Great homosexual writers, like E.M. Forster, will be read outside of homosexual literature classes. This is so, because all of these writers are great writers, not because they are women or men, Latino or African American or white, or homosexual or straight. They will be read for their ability to get us, the readers, outside of ourselves and into the being of another.

Reader, I merely bother you with these things that may seem completely irrelevant to your life because literature is what I love. And what I love is being attacked and distorted in ways that I wish I didn’t have to describe. I would only hope that I would listen to you, reader, about what you love, and about the truths that you tell me. I hope you can see from my perspective, and try and walk in my shoes, as I have done in the situations of many literary characters.

____________________________            

[1] Lewis, C.S. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge, England: University Press, 1961. 137-138

[2] Ellis, John M. Literature Lost Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1997. 33.

[3]Ellis, John M. Literature Lost Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1997. 137

[4] Cary, Phillip. Good News for Anxious Christians: Ten Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2010. 167-168

[5]Ellis, John M. Literature Lost Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities. New Haven, Conntecticut: Yale University Press, 1997. 52

[6] Lewis, C.S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. Dheli, India: Atlantic Publishers & Distributers, 2012. 61

‘From a Time of Ambiguity’: ‘On Brittain’ (Entry Three)

Blake and Julia Schwarz stand next to the brand new, white crib, staring at their beautiful baby boy, Brittain. They gaze into his blue eyes and run their fingers through his soft, blonde hair. They suffer through sleepless nights, waking up to a screaming child. They attend to the infant’s every need, feeding him, changing his diaper, rocking him to sleep. Despite sleep deprivation, the Schwarz family abounds in joy. However, five months after Brittain’s birth, they go for a check-up for the newborn. The couple, with child in hand, strolls through the almost-too-white hallways of the hospital. They hear a moaning old man suffering from Huntington’s disease; they see a woman who just recently collided her vehicle into another, blood oozing from gashes covering her body. They cannot help but feel disheartened, but they continue to their doctor’s office. They enter through the threshold, ready to make sure they are providing the baby the appropriate nutrients, hopefully feeding Brittain the best food for his health. Nutrients were the least of their worries. The doctor kindly and unsteadily reveals that Brittain has Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic defect that prevents the subject from developing muscles. The main muscles that are affected are located either at the joints connecting limbs to the body, or near the lungs. Blake and Julia find this out, and their souls sink. Their doctor tells them that their five-month-old baby only has about half a year left to live. This affliction indicated that Blake and Julia both possessed the recessive gene for this disease. This meant that there would always be a chance for their possible future children to possess this defect. The young couple went home and thought about options of what they could do in this situation. The research in curing this disease is extremely primitive and usually involves embryonic stem cells, which presented Blake and Julia with a moral dilemma: should they stop another [frozen embryonic] baby from living in order to obtain stem cells for the purpose of building muscle in their own child? They made the decision not to do so, but did as much as possible to help Brittain during his last months, hoping for a miracle, but living with the reality that their son would die. Over the next months, these two watched their son slowly but surely decay. His muscles were unable to develop with his growth. They pictured in their heads the image of their child loosing the ability to breath. It pains me to think about a baby struggling to inhale.

They take yet another trip to the doctor’s office, their noses filled with the piercing stench of isopropyl alcohol. They sit in the chairs of the doctor’s office, anxiously fidgeting with items on the desk. The doctor walks in, sits down and looks into the eyes of the couple. He tells them that Brittain has two more days to live.

Despite this horrible occurrence, the Schwarz’s dealt with their baby’s death in a manner that surprised almost everyone. They found peace in the event, spending their last twenty-four hours playing with their son. For he would only be with them for so much longer. They rejoiced in having the gift of having their son, even if it was only for eleven or twelve months. Of course, Blake and Julia mourned their son’s death, and still miss him now. However, they did not let this tragedy infringe on their lives and their ability to find love in the world, whether it be with each other, with friends and family, or with their healthy, young daughter, Margaret, born two years later.

<>

Blake was my theology professor in high school. Professor Schwarz, as I called him and still call him despite my high school graduation, has changed my life exponentially for the better. I attended a private, classical, Christian school called The Cambridge School of Dallas, where he taught. Renting out part of an old non-denominational church building, Cambridge housed ninety students from sixth to twelfth grade. I had a graduating class of fourteen. While this may sound torturous, and at times it was, I owe my life to this school and those in it, especially Professor Schwarz. At first, I despised my time at Cambridge, having considered departing from the place entirely on three separate occasions. I disliked the miniscule class size, only having one other male in the grade until my third year attending. I disliked the amount of homework and classwork assigned to us, restricting us from having anything remotely close to a social life. I disliked how much I knew each person, knowing more putrid qualities in each acquaintance than virtuous aspects of their character. I disliked how much the teachers expected of us, requiring us to do a total of three to five hours of homework each night by sophomore year. All of this seemed ridiculous to me, as well as my peers. As if this wasn’t enough to evoke anger inside me, anxiety constricted my mind and distorted my view on life my sophomore, junior, and senior years. My doctor diagnosed me with clinical anxiety by the summer separating my sophomore and junior years. During this time, I struggled with mental and emotional issues, not to mention dealing with medication, therapy, and, sometimes, ridicule. Overall, I couldn’t wait to escape this dismal abyss.

Starting my second semester of my final year at the school, with my psychiatrist encouraging me to start on medication yet again, my emotional well being started to turn around. Not only this, but my intellectual and spiritual well being improved dramatically. I started to invest myself in my studies, or at least some of them. I began to delve into the literature we read in English class. In reading Othello by William Shakespeare, I intently watched Othello, refuted the pungent Iago, and doted upon the beautiful Desdemona. I began to find joy, something I seemed unable to do in years past. In reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I absorbed myself in the anxiety of Raskolnikov, the main character of the novel, indirectly and miraculously finding a cure for my own anxiety. This novel healed me because I got out of the way long enough to focus on the hurts, needs, and aspirations of someone from a different time and place, someone, it turns out, who made me realize that I am not alone in my struggle to be free of crippling anxiety. I was able to see with Raskolnikov’s eyes, to imagine with his imagination, and to feel with his heart. Just as Raskolnikov had the Godly love of the good-hearted prostitute, Sonya, I had the same type of love given to me by friends and mentors, including Blake Schwarz. If this man had failed to walk into my life, I doubt I would have much mental stability or emotional comfort at all.

Professor Schwarz would sit with me for hours talking with me, whether it be about my anxiety, the Christian life, or even his son Brittain. In spending several hours a week with this man, we grew close together, and I learned of his son’s ailment. I only physically “met” young Brittain once, maybe twice, but his death has had a deep impact on me. I, in becoming so close with Blake, felt the pain he felt in his son’s death, in portion at least.

<>


O! Crying infant from the womb

            You came, and five months passéd by

            ‘Till Death announ’d: Brittain would die.

The Shadow enters all too soon.

——–

Tear upon tear fall down the face

            Of Blake and Julia; they weep.

            A simple solution they seek.

Yet, time allows vision of grace.

 

Brittain, a gift of God bestow’d

            Upon man and wife, giving love.

            The day will come, when like a dove,

His soul ascend, body below.

 

Rejoice is found in time remain’d,

            A joy found in each smile and grin.

            Some might say Death obtains the win,

But Death, cloak’d in black, naught has gain’d.

——–

Appeared before them was a man

            Saying, ‘Why bring a child to Earth

            When Pain is all I’ve known since birth?

This child to die just like a lamb.’

 

Response is delivered to him,

            ‘Pain exists, but joy outweighs it.

            I see my son, inward joy sits.

You see him and look to be grim.’

 

One sees pain, the other sees all.

            I know more than pain, I confide.

            ‘Tis better to have lived and died

Than never to have lived at all.[1]

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Blake helped me see, through bringing me out of that dark void of anxiety, that there is joy in life. I had been so alone and mad at the world, and he helped show me the way to find light even in the darkest place I had ever been. I was never suicidal, but if you had asked me during that time of my life, whether it was worth it to live, I’m afraid my answer would not have been affirmative. On the other side of anxiety, I now see, despite massive amounts of pain, that living, existing, is in and of itself a good thing. It is, in fact better, to exist than not to exist.

<>

Blake and Julia cherished their son’s life, and wished nothing but health for him. They found a way to obtain comfort and joy, in spite of their boy’s death. Meanwhile, parents all over America, and even all over the world, are opting to terminate that which Blake and Julia treasured so. Abortions are all too common now. Woman after woman walk into abortion clinics to have the child removed from their wombs. Man after man demands that their lover “get rid of that mistake!”

Given that I am male, I don’t have personal experience in the matter of pregnancy or abortions, as far as being the patient. However, I do not see how one could choose against someone else’s existence. I understand that pregnancy is not extremely enjoyable; childbirth is even worse. I understand that some women are raped, and that sometimes even girls as young as fifteen find themselves carrying a child. I understand that some are not ready for parenthood. However, I don’t think any of these reasons give anyone the right to choose whether another ought to live or not, to exist or not. Does any human have the moral ability to decide whether another exists or not? I feel the greatest sympathy for those women who are raped, for those young teenagers who made one mistake, for those that are terrified of parenthood. Do they not know what they are doing? They are deciding someone else’s existence, or in their case, non-existence. Some claim that they do not want to bring their child into this horrible, pain-ridden world. Is there no joy? Suffering, evil, and pain all exist, but do they exist without any redemption? Bringing a child into this world does not condemn them to suffering. Bringing a child into this word, allows them to experience joy, to experience pain, and learn and grow from that suffering. I have experienced pain. I have marched through the swamp of suffering. I have fought with the wind of sorrow. Through this, I have found the importance and the joy in life. I understand that some might not consider a fetus to possess personhood, but who am I, or any other person to decide whether someone has the chance to experience devastation, as well joy, immense amounts of hurt, as well as love?

______________________________________________________________

[1] An original poem entitle ‘In Memoriam N. B. S.,’ modeled after Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam A. H. H.’ I use the same form as he does. He used four lines of iambic tetrameter for each stanza and the poem consists of 133 Cantos, or sections. I represented this by doing three sections of 1 stanza, 3 stanzas, and 3 stanzas. He mourns the death of his best friend, and I am mourning the death of my close mentor’s child.

Essay Series: ‘From a Time of Ambiguity’

I am currently enrolled in an Essay Writing class that deals with creative nonfiction. Given that I am currently waiting to hear back from schools that I desire to transfer to, I am in a state of ambiguity. I do not know what state in the United States I will be living in next semester. While these essays (four of them) do not deal with ambiguity, they are written in a time of ambiguity. The first two will be posted soon. The second two are in the process of being written.

The Fraternity: Brotherhood is not Lost

I recently read ‘The Dark Power of Fraternities‘ by Caitlin Flanagan, an essay on Fraternity life in The Atlantic. While she doesn’t outright attack and tear apart fraternities, she does deeply question whether they should exist. I think this is an important thing to think about. She brings up MANY deaths, rapes, and drunken injuries that are truly devastating. She discusses the way that universities let fraternities go under the radar and how insurance and liability are big problems. I agree that tragic or horrid events happen in or around fraternity houses and parties. I think that alcohol has effects on young men that can cloud judgement. I do disagree with her complete outrage and her dismissal of the importance of brotherhood. She says that fraternities claim to have this archaic form of friendship, but that they just get together to drink and do various stupid activities and drugs. This is not the case, at least in my experience.

I am an initiated member of a fraternity. In my specific fraternity on my campus, there have been no deaths or rapes. There have been a few alcohol related injuries. There is plenty of drinking. I went through pledgeship as a “dry pledge” meaning that I would not drink. I started and stopped drinking my sophomore year in high school. I have not had more than a sip or two of alcohol in the past three years. I have to say to Flanagan that she is partially correct. There are reports of rape in other fraternities on my campus and, of course, nationwide. Deaths have occurred on our campus in the past. I disagree with her though. First, she is wrong in the sense that this applies everywhere. She makes it seem as if these things occur normally to all fraternities, but my experience is different then what she claims. Second, she seems to want fraternities to be disbanded, since they are the cause of all these accidents. While a fraternity might draw a certain person (if it is a certain fraternity), and alcohol can always contribute to an event, the elimination of Greek life would most certainly not solve the problem. Let’s just say that all fraternities were eliminated. There would still be plenty of drinking, weed smoking, drug doing, rapes, and accidents. Also, plenty of people not in fraternities do these things. In fact, I would wager that at public universities, the majority of ‘independents’ participate in pretty similar activities as Greeks do. Lastly, brotherhood is not something to be dismissed, as Flanagan seems to do.

Six weeks ago, my close friend and pledge brother, Tristan, was walking to his car at around 6 pm, but it was already dark outside, since daylight savings had not come yet. Him and our pledge brother, Taylor, were walking to the ‘arm pit’ where all the undergraduates park. They started to step onto the cross-walk. It is a law at the university that all cross-walks must be stopped at for pedestrians. Pedestrians have the right of way at every cross walk on campus. They didn’t see any cars near, and as they were walking across the second and last lane, Tristan was hit by a car. Taylor was right ahead of him and had not been hit. He turned around and couldn’t believe what happened. Tristan was fine, although he had to be rushed to the ER. He ended up having to go back home, figuring out that he had a fractured hand/wrist, a torn meniscus, and a torn MCL, requiring knee surgery. He had to miss a full week of school (which is a huge deal) and still is on crutches and is going through physical training. There was no alcohol involved in this situation.

I want to point out a few things. First. it was Taylor, Tristan’s brother, who pulled him off the road, so that no other car would run over his body. It was his brother that called all four of his parents (step-parents included), and who also rode in the ambulance with him, staying with him until his parents were there. Second, once Tristan returned to campus, it was me (and others, when I was not eating with Tristan), his brother, who could get his food in the dining hall for him at every meal since he couldn’t even carry a plate. One time at dinner he asked me to get him seconds, and then proceeded to apologize that I kept having to get him food. I looked at him for a second. I was wearing a sweatshirt with our letters printed the size of my entire chest. I told him, “these letters mean something, you know that right?” If there is ever something that is going to happen to one of my brothers, I will help. If there is ever anything that happens to me, I trust my brothers to be there for me and help me any way they can.

I can agree to some extent to what Flanagan says in that some crazy stuff goes down in fraternities and that some things  might need to be corrected, but I cannot even remotely come close to thinking that this ‘brotherhood thing’ doesn’t exist.

Feminism: The Absolutely Worst Way to do Something Good

Since I am someone interested in Literature, attending a public university, I tend to encounter over political correctness. These classes typically include the mentioning of and the unhealthy focus on feminism. What bothers me about feminism is that it first takes away from what should be taught. If we take out great books to be replaced by women’s works just because they are written by women is wrong. If a work of literature, philosophy, or anything else is good, than it is good. Who cares whether it is written by a man, a woman, an African American, a Native American, or any other person. The quality of writing and content is in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY dependent on the gender or ethnicity of the writer. If Ralph Waldo Emerson is replaced as an essayist by some unheard of woman writer SOLELY due to the fact that she, in fact, possesses the genitalia that constitute her as a woman, there is something going wrong.

There are absolutely amazing women writers in many disciplines. Jane Austen is one the greatest novelists of all time. She has managed to write several (5-10) incredibly influential novels the social life. She is by no means a one hit wonder. Also, Emily Dickinson is possibly among the top ten poets of all times. Her language is amazing and cryptic and causes people to sit in awe of her use of the word. Eleanor Stump is possibly one of the greatest minds in philosophy, as well as possibly being one of the greatest minds in general in the past century.

We don’t read a majority of male writers because we are sexist or racist; we read whatever is considered a “great work.” To deprive anyone of the freedom to read what is great just to equalize the playing field deprives readers of great knowledge and experience. There are great writers of both genders and of multiple races.

Including less known, inferior women writers is quite the opposite of helping women. It actually insults women. Doing this, it says that these new included women writers are good writers “for women.” I wouldn’t want to be considered good at something just because I’m good for being “X;” that is demeaning.

I will read what is great, whether it is written by a woman or by a man; by this person or that person because what great is great.