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I, like most teachers, struggle at times with responding to students’ essays. Forget the hours it takes to read, digest, and thoughtfully respond to anywhere between 60 to 100 students, each writing four to six pages– the bigger question is: how can my comments make this student a better writer? What skills can I convey to the student that the student can take with him or her on to other classes?

Like many budding graduate students in a pedagogy class for the first time, I read Nancy Sommers groundbreaking essay “Responding to Student Writing” which is has revisited after years and “tons” of essays she has researched. Teaching in Higher Ed has a great review of Sommer’s new book that tackles the subject. What Sommers and her team found when they asked students about their best writing and commenting experiences was that:

 “two overriding characteristics emerged” in the answers. First, students valued “the opportunity to write about something that matters” to them. Second, they valued “the opportunity to engage with an instructor through written comments.” Sommers concludes that “teachers’ comments play a much larger role than we might expect” (p. xiii).

I wholeheartedly agree with Paul Corrigan in his assessment when he states that the most important point he got from the book was that:
The “ministry” of responding “is not just to the words, but to the person who wrote the words” (x). This quote speaks to the shift from responding to student writing to responding to student writers in Sommers’ titles. For me, this statement by Zinsser is one of those that instantly flip everything I’m used to thinking on its head; it is so obviously true that I wonder why I never thought of it before. Even if I had at least in part practiced the principle behind the statement, I had never understood or articulated it in just that way. What our students write does not dictate how we respond. What our students need does.
We cannot forget that students are unique and come to writing with varying levels of experience and interest and knowledge, so, of course, we need to address the students– not specifically the writing. I try. I do. I try to use questions when I leave comments because I want students to think of their writing process as a dialogue and conversation with me. Also, I want students to realize that I hold no definitive answers. I believe that they need to realize that good writing might have some basic outlines: use a strong, arguable thesis statement to guide the essay, organize paragraphs logically and neatly, use strong verbs, try to stay clear and concise, but other than those few, general ideas to keep in mind, writing is, as so many point out referring to Montaigne, “an attempt.” One could follow all those “rules” and still not produce an interesting, worth-while essay. My comments, then, try to point towards goals, and try to get students to think about their writing deeply– no easy fixes (well, not too many anyways). Rather, I want students to grapple with ideas and how to convey them.
I realize I need to step back on my commenting and focus it more. As Corrigan points out in his analysis of Sommers’ “one lesson rule,” we should be focusing on the one thing that the student can grasp and learn now:
when we follow the one lesson rule, teaching becomes our purpose. Commenting is not a clerical duty; it is an act of pedagogy. We do not help balance any cosmic scales by commenting on something just becomes it “needs” to be commented on. We should not respond just because students have written, because they have written well, or because they have written poorly. Instead, we should respond because we want to teach them something that—as best we can tell from reading their work—they need and are ready to learn.
Moving forward, I will try to stick to the one lesson rule (I might throw in a second, quick and easy grammar lesson if need be). And since good teaching, I believe is good stealing, I will post Corrigan’s linked video as well, stealing all his good ideas for my purposes! (Full disclosure, I went to grad school with Paul, where we sat in a few of the same classes; if you haven’t already, click the links above to his valuable information on pedagogy)
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I just read Rob Jenkins piece, “Retention in the Trenches,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education,

I remember the first time I left (was forced out of?) school; the first time school failed to retain me.

I was disinterested in school. Like many newly-graduated-from-high-school teenagers, I was burnt out from barely passing my classes at my private, Jesuit, prep school. I purposely did poorly in my entrance exams so that I would get put in “easy” classes. I know… I was young.

I was left bored in my composition classes, and I was told, in so many words, that my writing was poor by my disinterested instructors. (Of course, now I realize what they must have been going through). My instructor, however, gave me no direction in how to improve my writing. I ended up barely passing my enc 1101. In 1102, I hated all the assignments, hated the group work, and hated every thing we were assigned to read. Again, I was bored and doing enough to get by. I did, however, attempt to put more effort in to my writing to pass the class with a higher grade. For my efforts, I was accused of cheating (nothing came of the accusation, except my resentment), and I received a point penalty for missing too many classes.

I did much more poorly in my other classes.

After failing a couple of classes and taking a semester off, I was ready to come back to school, but school did not care for my return. I remember talking to counselors, who led me to deans, who told me my poor record indicated to them that I was not ready for school. I pleaded my case: I was bored in class, didn’t see the point, hated the “pointless” classes, I had learned from my mistakes, and I wanted to return.

I ended up at the local community college. Again, counselors were quick to dismiss my interest and were unhelpful. Finally, when I declared myself as an English major and was sent to the head of the English department, did I finally connect to someone who listened to me and helped me pick classes. And more than just pick classes, he would register me for the class right in his office. That extra step helped immensely. I can’t say how many times–and how much time wasted–I would attempt to register for a class that was full and then have to find an alternative. With Dr. Blanco, if I couldn’t get into a class, he would recommend another one. He would tell me what the classes would cover so that I could decide if it interested me. I owe that man so much.

The teachers at that school–once I finally started taking classes in my major–were amazing, and they and my experience, bring me to Jenkins piece. He states:

Obviously, we haven’t yet discovered the magic formula, or else we wouldn’t still be talking about this problem, much less potentially losing money because of it. 

He does give excellent advice.

Be a teacher, not a gatekeeper.”

As professors, sometimes, and I have this problem, we think our job is to let students lacking in ability know that they might not make it in college. I was told repeatedly by a girlfriend’s mother, by managers, and by my own high school counselor, that maybe college was not for me. As I’ve mentioned, I was told I could not get past the gate by writing instructors, and here I am, ABD, about to get my Ph.D.. I think Jenkins is correct in saying that students, especially at risk or academically under-prepared students, are “much more likely to stick it out if they see their professors as partners in the learning process.” I see my job as helping students realize that with hard work and effort they can learn the material and pass their classes. 

Next, Jenkins states that we should “be flexible” and reminds us “But don’t be a pushover”

Life happens, so we should help students through those moments, but we can’t let students walk all over us.

The next step is the hardest one for me, (and I don’t know why): Be accessible — and approachable.”

Students need to know that they can come talk to us. If they have a problem, they need to tell us so that we can be flexible without being a pushover. As Jenkins reminds us “For many students, professors represent imposing and sometimes intimidating figures.” I have had vastly wonderful literature classes, where my students come talk to me during office hours, chat with me before and after class about the movie, t.v. show, or other book they read that reminds them about something we covered in class. One class started a book club and asked me to be the faculty advisor. 

In my composition classes, however, I am arrogant and mean. I try to be open. I send out constant announcements reminding my students of office hours, of e-mailing me, of my openness to read pre-drafts before they turn anything in for a grade. I try to be tough so that students don’t think I’m a push over, but I am flexible when things come up. Sometimes I wonder if my accessibility isn’t influenced by my appearance as a 6’2 tall man. I know my sarcasm gets me in trouble.

I am working on this accessibility part, and have seen improvements from when I first started–improvements that have come at realizing precisely that I am an ally not a gatekeeper.

“Make Material Relevant”

I have armed myself with the following articles that show that liberal arts majors (specifically in humanities and social sciences) earn more than professional and pre-professional majors by mid-career:

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

Of course, the importance of clear communication, proper writing (in e-mails, cover letters, job inquiries, resumes, etc.) cannot be stressed enough. In a competitive market, the resume without typos wins.

Finally, Take some personal responsibility”

I think I should, as Jenkins suggest, step outside the comfort zone. As he puts it:

You can’t force students to do something they absolutely don’t want to do. And yet, over the last few years, I’ve begun to step outside my comfort zone and reach out to students who have multiple absences, who haven’t turned in an assignment, or who clearly seem distracted in class (and not just by their cell phones)” 

This article makes me realize the student focused approach I would like to take at a community college or liberal arts college. A place where students come first.

Brooks, Kevin. “Reading, Writing, and Teaching Creative Hypertext: A Genre-Baed Pedagogy.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 2.3 (2002): 337-356

Kevin Brooks explores the use of hypertext. He says students read on-line and engage in digital text, including as Micheal Joyce states, television. Students are engaged in these mediums and know them, so we should teach web-writing and hypertext, a pedagogy of “electronic rhetoric.” We need to teach students to go beyond consuming “screen culture” and become producers of it.

Brooks’ essay wants to put forth strategies for teachers to teach genre-based web-writing. This writing requires students to make rhetorical choices about form, composition, and traditional story elements.

Brooks looks at the history of genre-based and hypertext theories. Earlier work opened up pedagogy but provided no models for enactment. Brooks states that “The structure of a hypertext has been deemed more central to its function or success than its generic affiliations, but it seems to me that separating structure from generic affiliation is a formalist, arhetorical pedagogical move” (341).

Many theorist have argued that genre-theory applied to reading text, including internet text, is useful but none have provided clear models. Genres are familiar starting points to use with students. Brooks claims that his students equate “creative hypertext” with the choose-your-own-adventure and build from there. Some students might not be familiar with the computer technology or programs but will be familiar with genre conventions. Brooks goes on to outline his model:

  • Students should understand all texts are rooted in genre, and they need to read hypertext and print examples to familiarize themselves with the genre. Students should understand the print sources that hypertext emerge from.
  • Students should “choose genres that will meet their communicative needs” (344). Brooks picks a flexible genre (autobiography) and broad categories (popular culture).
  • Students should be encouraged to challenge and play and reinvent these genres.

Brooks notes how writing pedagogy has already used these strategies—now, we need to apply them to hypertext and genres.

He looks at Activity Theory that states we learn new things by using old knowledge. In writing, writers must respond to other text and choose their medium (pen and paper, computer, etc.). Brooks has rethought the hypertext to include non-electronic forms. [[These strategies speak to Roland Barthes’ autobiography, as well as fiction text by Jonathan Safran Foer, and The Principles of Uncertainty.

Brooks uses the autobiography and popular culture genre; the latter includes working in collaboration. Assignments ask students to keep in mind their print predecessors in order to understand the genre but should challenge and play with those genres. (Good examples: Shelly Jackson’s My Body

Brooks proscribes four aspects to keep in mind to tighten up hypertext pedagogy:

1-This technique is good for teaching literature

2-Over the research, we should allow students to make their own rhetorical choices and not limit them because of what the research says

3-Assign familiar genres

4-The door is open for more research.

 

These are some great ideas; I am lucky that USF has taught me to implement many of these ideas in composition already. The idea of remediating a text helps students contemplate their rhetorical choices, and once they begin to think about their own rhetorical choices, they begin to think critically about the rhetorical choices made in the work they are reading. For every major project our students complete, they have to remediate their argument into an alternative (hypertext), whether a web-page, a yoututbe video, or a blog. I would like to take this idea a step further and have the final project be a multiple genre assignment.

I would love to use these techniques and ideas to teach a theory course. Brooks idea to have students create an autobiography, I think, will translate well into teaching Roland Barthes in the same manner as in composition class. Once students begin to think about the techniques and are forced to articulate their choices, they begin to learn the material better. I would also like to teach the postmodern novel again– this time, I would have less text and have the final revolve around the students creating their own “postmodern novel.”

Happy Objects- Sarah Ahmed:
(Ahmed, Sarah. “Happy Objects.” The Affect Theory Reader. Comp. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. N. pag. Print.)

Locke says that we judge happiness by what causes an increase in pleasure or diminishes pain in us– Something is good or bad according to how it affects us (ahmed 31)

— But heartbreak cannot be judged in such short-term thinking. Heartbreak is an emotion that must be dealt with, and the result can be either -or good or bad. Locke says that a man loves grapes, so his joy of grapes is no more than he likes the taste of them. But heartbreak’s empirical, “object” is more abstract. On one hand, someone rejects you, but there is no “grape” to grasp; furthermore, the feeling lingers as something that must be overcome, or the emotion can take over and destroy you–just ask Othello.
“Happiness might play a crucial role in shaping our near sphere, the world that takes shape around us, as a world of familiar things. Objects that give us pleasure take up residence within our bodily horizon” (32)—also, our likes shape what we are like. We shape our material space by what we like and do not like: we avoid places, things, smells, objects, etc. that we do not like and we try to surround ourselves with the stuff we do like.
Locke says we are made happy by different things that we find delightful. Happiness can be directed towards a thing– an object: a grape, here now. I like grapes so I try to eat them. I am directed towards the things I like and try to distance myself from the things I do not like. In a phenemonological way, happiness is intentional. I am happy towards something. Even in the moments of absence, if the object is not before me, I can be happy if I recall a moment of happiness. (32-33). Objects can affect us in time and space. If I receive something that makes me happy in a certain place, then that place, by association, becomes a happy place. “Or if you are given something by somebody whom you love, then the object itself acquires more affective value’ (33). Happiness has a “here” and “now” or a “when” to it.

“It has always interest me that when we becomes conscious of feeling happy (when the feeling becomes an object of thought), happiness can often recede or become anxious” (33)

— This idea is in Heidegger- When the hammer breaks, we detach from it and turn it into an object of contemplation rather than authentically, just use the hammer. So with feelings–there is a heideggerian idea here– Our truest feelings/emotion are the ones we feel when we don’t notice. –or are we just blank slates? Do we just feel nothing until we realize it? I would still argue no– just as the upset stomach or sleepless night attest to the feeling of anxiety or stress you might not be fully, consciously aware of.
On page 34, she looks at Aristotle who says that happiness is the Chief Good that we aim at. This idea of the end of ends gets at the problem of thinking of happiness as a “thing” that can be achieved. Is it happiness if there is an end? Things, here, are good in that they become the means to happiness. Temporality matters, happiness comes after the object. “As if happiness is what we get if we reach certain points” (34).

Sociable happiness:
Objects get related to happiness, since they are meant to embody good feelings and necessary for a good life. (34)—but the things that bring us happiness require an attainment of taste as well. In saying that a grape is good, you have made a value judgment on that object: “…taste is not simply a matter of chance (whether you or I might happen to like this or that), but is acquired over time” (35). What Pierre Bourdieu illustrated: taste is shaped by what society deems as good or bad so that we desire these good and bad objects. Again, as Aristotle says, good habits are gained through habituation—practice, just like taste is a matter of putting in the work to like the right/good object. At this point, Aristotle makes a distinction about intention “a man is not a good man at all who feels no pleasure in noble action” but what does the “feeling” matter if the feeling fails to be seen. If a man does good, he is good, no? Intention is too tricky. More than habit, habit gives us good taste, makes us desire and strive for the right/good object. “Fake it til you make it”—lie to yourself until you believe. The social of happiness is this idea that society decides what should bring us happy: “groups cohere around a shared orientation toward some things as being good, treating some things and not others as the cause for delight. We are affected by others, such that when we are around others who are happy we catch that happiness. By thinking about affects in this contagious matter, we can look at the inside-outside model of affect—that affects come from inside us to the outside world. But here, affect comes from outside of us and changes us inside.

Think of the “feeling” of a room: the atmosphere of the room gets inside the individual. However, what coms first? The feeling of the room or the emotion? Emotions are “sticky” – anxiety is sticky and picks up what comes near it. If we enter a room with anxiety that anxiety gives us a certain angle.

Going back to Heidegger, who says we are always in moods, so we can’t enter a room in neutral, but rather, we always-already feel something or come into a room with some expectation or hope of how the night will go and how to feel. A room might have a feeling—and surely, I have entered rooms feeling one way but the energy of the room has turned me another way. I might enter anxious because I don’t know anyone, but once I have a drink and talk to some people, the feeling changes. “The moods we arrive with do affect what happens, which is not to say we always keep our moods” (37).
We become alienated when we fail to connect with the affective community, when we fail to derive happiness from an object that is supposed to give happiness. We then offer explanations for why we are not happy: “Such explanation can involve an anxious narrative of self-doubt (why am I not made happy by this, what is wrong with me?) or narrative of rage, where the object that is supposed to make us happy is attributed as the cause of disappointment, which can lead to a rage directed towards those that promised us happiness through the elevation of this or that object as being good” (37). Happiness depends on situation, context, and person. Think of the feminist “killjoy” who calls someone out on being offensive so that the killjoy is said to be unhappy. You are said to be causing an argument because you spoke up. “The feminist is an affect alien: she might even kill joy because she refuses to share an orientation towards a certain thing as being good because she does not find the object that promises happiness to be quiet so promising” (39). The community shares in a happiness affect, in a shared idea of good or happiness that the kill joy refuses to accept. However, to go against the common belief and point out offensiveness rather than go along with it is to be awkward. Depends on who does what to whom; bodies who don’t go along with society are alienated or perceived as aggressive to society.

“If we arrive at objects with an expectation of how we will be affected by them, then this affects how they affect us, even in the moment they fail to live up to our expectations” (42)—Well, ya… Heidegger says that we can never fail to have an expectation of objects. Objects in the world are only comprehensible because those objects are in the world and we have knowledge about them. How can I not have an expectation of how something will affect me? What about heartbreak? Do I have an expectation of how heartbreak will affect me? I know the experience will hurt and that melancholy is always lingering in a relationship. Derrida examines the end of a dialogue and the impending melancholy since you always know one of you will die—but what happens if death is not what ends the dialogue but rather heartbreak/ rejection?

“The promise of happiness thus directs life in some ways rather than others” (41) “We do not just find happy objects anywhere” 41—so people are not “objects” granted, but we DO fall into relationships at random: “anywhere.” The idea of happiness from love out of nowhere is examined in Badiuou (see above). Ahmed states that we direct our life towards the social good, and THAT does not come from nowhere. Expectations come from social arena—Heidegger’s being-in-the-world and following the they-self. The expectations set up by society, having x or y, doing x or y, completing such and such a goal in life promises happiness, happiness follows these things.
Ahmed is interested in the speech act “I just want you to be happy.” (look at Badiou who says the act of saying “I love you” must be continually repeated and lived again and again, continually changing and evolving).

Ahmed wants to examine how the act of saying “whatever makes you happy” releases the child, giving freedom for future decisions, but recall Zizek who looks at this act: how can you be happy without me in your life. The “whatever” of happiness also involves the unsaid idea that “how can you be happy without following what I say will make you happy?” ZIZEK.

Ahmed looks at the queer child: the parent is unhappy about the child being unhappy, as in, I just want you to be happy, but how will you be happy living this queer life? “The queer life is constructed as unhappy, a life without those things that will make us happy (42)… In Ahmed’s examination, the unhappy queer becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the Dad imagines the queer child unhappy; the queer child becomes unhappy at the father’s speech act “I just want you to be happy but how can you be happy as a queer? You won’t have all this straight things like a kid and family.” (so queer life is already marked as an unhappy life). The father sees the unhappy queer child as fulfilling what he though all along: tha the child can’t be happy. These examples show how happiness choices get normalized: happiness is marriage and family life. Happy objects are shared, and while you can live a “queer” life “happily” that does not mean you will; furthermore, you will live happily but make others unhappy.

Happiness, Freedom, Injury:
Ahmed wants to explore how the speech act: “I just want you to be happy” protects the family. Using the example of Bend it Like Beckham, Ahmed explores the gap between father and daughter that makes up the conflict of the movie and can be read, simply, as the conflict between generations where the customary, common place conflicts with the alternative: old/father with old values vs. the new values/ daughter who wants alternative outcomes and life. Ahmed explores the climax of the film where the daughter is at the wedding of her sister; she is unhappy and accepts her unhappiness by identifying with the happiness of her parents (and marrying sister). The daughter manages to put her own happiness aside for the happiness of others. (45). ((can this analysis be used to explore heartbreak? Can the hearbroken put his/her own happiness aside for the happiness of the lover who wants to leave to find happiness—probably with someone else? My initial reaction/thought is no: repeating what Zizek says: how can the lover find happiness without me when the lover knows how much I care? How can you manage to be happy without me who loves you so much?))—Ahmed notices how the sister’s outcome—the daughter who finds happiness playing soccer and the daughter who finds “traditional” happiness in marrying and having kids—still manages to show the points of alignment, where happiness is enjoyed together. Both outcomes leave us with happy sisters and happy parents; however, the film places more weight on the alternative happy object than on the traditional one when the protagonist is asked by her sister why she wants to play soccer and the protagonist answers that she wants “more.” A “more” that liners noticeable since she doesn’t say I want something different but rather more. An evaluation is made.
Ahmed relates these ideas to the larger issue of immigrant/diaspora narrative. The immigrant wants the next generation to avoid the pain that the parents feel. The subtle message is that the immigrant needs to play the game [of assimilation], represented by the England’s national sport of soccer. Not playing the game (the father’s first speech about not playing cricket any longer once he was excluded) becomes the narrative of self-exclusion and a refusal to assimilate. Ahmed calls this angry immigrant the melancholic for not letting go of the unhappy object. The melancholic insist on speaking about racism when, as the kill joy, he should get over the racism instead of bring up the sore point (the past): holding on to the past is a way for the melancholic to create obstacles to happiness for himself as well as for his adopted nation.
Ahmed discusses proximity on pg. 49—read this page against Zizek’s views on tolerance and racism today. —end—

 ImageKandiyoti, Dalia. “Consuming Nostalgia: Nostalgia and the Marketplace in Cristina Garcia and Ana Menendez.” MELUS 31.1 (Spring 2006): 81-97. JSTOR. Web. 12 June 2013.

Begins with bell hooks quote: “Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (hooks 21 qtd. in Kandiyoti 81). While majority culture makes marginalized culture a commodity, Kandiyoti asks, what happens when marginalized culture commodities itself? The key to selling Cuban-American culture is nostalgia. She claims that nostalgia plays a major role in the Perez-Firmat’s 1.5 generation.

Kandiyoti states that most scholars critique nostalgia for idealizing a conservative vision of the past. This past used for sale is manufactured (the simulacra—a past based on a non-existent idealized past). Other scholars (Mariyln Halter) suggest that identity is purchased through commodities (this idea runs through Fight Club: purchase identity: what couch defines me as a person? Baudrillard notes this problem early in his career; one buys a rolex watch not to keep time but to make a statement about who he is as a person). Nostalgia sells collective history, life, community, heritage that can be purchased—the consumer’s return to that idealized past (82). Nostalgia implies this analysis: nostos (return home)- algia (pain). Kandiyoti states that a return to home is unlikely if not impossible; “As a result, the need for strong cultural identities is fulfilled through the purchase of foods, clothes, crafts, travels et al., which are marketed through nostalgic discourse” (82).

Kandiyoti argues that Garcia and Menendez critically examine nostalgia consumerism, not dismissing it. These authors look at the original meaning of nostalgia as a painful return home. While rejecting the commodified, politicized and marketed nostalgia, “they [the characters] cannot help but be enveloped by the nostalgic link to the past” (83). Kandiyoti states that these characters cannot free themselves from the pain of their stories of longing. These characters move between identities of “ethnicity, consumerism, and personal history.” (83)

In Menendez, nostalgia is seen through the gaze of the other—the tourist observing the old men playing domino. ((While in Garcia, the exiles themselves market nostalgia: Constancia’s creams)).  The dominant Cuban nostalgia revolves around the same idealized version of pre-revolutionary Cuba without Castro. Constancia, Kandiyoti argues, is different in politics, averse to nostalgia because her mother abandoned her and returned with Reina. Constancia does not have the usual happy memories of the past in Cuba; rather her past is full of (personal not political) pain. The first look at nostalgia is the sister’s grandfather nostalgia for the Spain he left behind. Later, Constancia suffers culture shock but refuses (because of her painful past) to engage nostalgia in Miami. Yes, Constancia cries when she leaves little Habana and is angry her sister kept all their father’s things—she, Kandiyoti argues, hates exilic nostalgia but can’t “separate herself completely from it” (85). She later becomes a seller of the past.

Constancia sells cosmetics that really depend on selling the past and the ideal image of Cuban Woman. The image of Constancia’s mom sells the image of a past unaffected by time, from pre-Castro 40’s, and image of home/land. The products are a simulacrum of Cubanness. Constancia is affected by the letters she reads from customers who thank her for giving them a piece of the past so that “Her feelings about the past are shaped by the interaction of marketplace identities and her own history” (87). Riena does not engage in selling the past the way Constancia does. For Reina, the past and wanting to stay young is gibberish. The two split where Reina wants to protect her mother’s image against Constancia’s commodification.

The resolution reflects the algia (pain) of return—nostalgia. Since one cannot ever return (nostos), the nostalgic attempts “to reconstruct, resurrect, and recover” the past, but Constancia will learn that the past is a lie. The father’s notebook reveals the lies he built the past on. The lies of Constancia’s past mirror the lie of the past she sells in her cosmetics. However, now that she knows, Constancia, unlike the other exiles and their nostalgia, can leave the past behind. The past, itself, comes in multiple versions. (author, sisters, and father).

Menendez’s characters also struggle with the past, with nostalgia as presented in the dominant Cuban-American discourse. In Menendez, the Cubans participate in their own commodification—in past that are constructed and consumed by both Anglos and Cubans. However, I argue that they are victims of Miami politics selling an image that then becomes the reality. Again, a simulacrum—a hyper-reality: more real than reality.

Kaniyoti states that the main story is about loss—but I argue that yes, about loss but not a nostalgic loss of place. The story is about emotions—about the loss of family, community, and connection. The people who stare at the domino players are staring at people who have lost community. — (page89) Maximo sees his dead wife and is nostalgic about all things pertaining to his dead wife—not to loss homeland or yearning for return home. Kandiyoti looks at the stories of nostalgia and how “the narrative itself oscillates between Maximo’s anguish in the present and his exilic history” (90) –((because his exilic history has his wife))—Kandiyoti looks at the stories that the men tell that begin in happy reminiscences but that turn dark. ((because the stories are based on a reality that does not exist and lead to the end where he no longer has his wife)). She states that “nostalgia becomes a disturning rather than a soothing, pleasant, or identity-reinforcing link to the past” (90)—Nostalgia becomes an emotional reminder of the lost place in the world while also reminding Maximo of a past he shared with his wife that is no longer there. Kandiyoti aptly points out that “ But for Maximo, the positive elements of the past do not coexist with the painful memories as separate entities—the remembered positive aspects of the past in particular produce suffering” (90)– a number of problems with this observation: of course, as with any exile—as this very essay points out that nostalgia is pain and return—Maximo’s thoughts on the past lead to pain. The positive past only reinforces the painful present. If the past was great and is gone, then of course remembering how great things were will be painful. Doubly so for Maximo who lost his wife: when he thinks of happy times with her, he will be in pain through the positive. This point seems obvious—a painful past will be remembered happily if it is left behind.

Kandiyoti claims that the Cuban’s nostalgia, replayed over in songs, writing, politics, and products for sale, give “outsiders” a view of “Miami Cubans” that have solidified. She cites 8th street as a place for Cubans and tourist. She points out the story’s opening on the park rather than the characters. Kaniyoti cites the Dominicans as Menendez’s way to show that Miami is a center for many Latinos, highlights “cultural practices” with Caribbean cultures, and to show how Cuban’s discourse affects others, as seen in Antonio’s response to Raul’s musings on the women that pass by.

A look at how tourist consume the Cuban other, which irritates Maximo. Then she analyzes the jokes. She says “This final joke is a caricature of the manufactured grandiose past, It validates Antonio’s and other’s impatience with the exiles’ nostalgia. At the same time as it undermines dominant Cuban nostalgia and tourists’ vicarious experience, Menendez’s story also reinforces Maximo’s non-commodifiable suffering” (94). Ok… first, that is ONE reading of the joke. Yes, we can see the joke in this manner, but that misses all the nuance of the joke. The joke reflects a past in which a poor exile had everything (was a German Sheperd) to where he has nothing (mutt). She states that the last joke leaves Maximo in tears because he wonders what he is able to salvage from the past—but could it be that he is in tears because he remembers his wife? Kandiyoti goes on to suggest that Menendez (herself?) suggest that nostalgia is a spent discourse because the joke is a repetition not an original the way Maximo thought.

These characters (in both stories) both participate in selling nostalgia and an image of Cuba (although neither really falls under Perez-Firmat’s 1.5 definitions since they both came over much too old. Their kids are 1.5, who came over in adolescences) and dissent from it.

Perera, Jennifer Allantine. ““Only In Miami Is Cuba So Far Away”: The Politics Of Exile In Ana Menendez’s In Cuba I Was A German Shepherd.” Journal Of Postcolonial Writing 39.2 (2002): 8. Supplemental Index. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

This essay starts with the observation that Miami is close to Cuba and acts as a border town (that is also far away). Immigrants cross borders as do cultures (similar to Andeluza’s idea of border-crossing). Perera begins by relating an anecdote about touring Miami and Domino Park, the “quintessentially” Cuban Culture; she feels that the park and the Cuban domino players attempting to recreate their culture in Miami are contrived (which means forced, unnatural, artificial, etc). The men playing are just men playing—why does one assume the players are Cuban enacting their Cuban culture? She feels the players “perform” their culture. She returns with a camera and becomes more a part of the performance.

The park, on the corner of 8th street and 15th Ave., would be missed until 1976 when Miami’s government set aside money to revamp the park (in 1986, merchants complained about drug deals and crime in the area and commissioned to shut the park down; then in 1987, the park was redone—the park was closed for over a year from 1987 until 1988 when renovations finished and the park reopened).

The essay claims that the park’s name brings to mind layers of meaning: a space where Cubans play and provide tourist with cultural spectacle. This playing and providing spectacle raises questions, and the park’s name brings to mind questions of translation of experience.

The essay goes into Ana Menendez’s biography as a 1.5er (Gustavo Perez-Firmat’s term). The 1.5 gen’s relationship to Cuban culture gets mediated by familial memory: “with every retelling [memory/stories] create a greater distance” so that stories become more “imaginary than real” (10). Menendez tells stories of exiles who are trying to figure out, through memory and re-definition, the meaning of exiled Cubans (11). The stories represent fractured exiles relying on memory; the stories have themes of displacement, loneliness, and alienation: “An overriding theme is that of return, and the belief, at least for first generation exiles, that their stay in Miami is on transitional” (11). –A note on some of these claims—while there were some exiles who thought they would return, by the time of this story, I doubt very much that anyone still lingered to the idea of return. The essay also claims a tension between conservative Cubans and “disillusioned Castro Supporters”—which is just wrong. I don’t know if she means the Cubans—many of them—who initially supported Castro, who swore he would kick imperial forces out of Cuba (read: America) and bring back the constitution that Batista had left behind. Immediately after taking power, many people realized how Castro was communist and began to flee. And any Castro supports are still in Cuba fighting the “revolution” –the wording (of the essay) is sloppy and inaccurate.

Culture is based on the past in relation to a future yet to come; Cuban exiles feel as if they are in transition (with eye on going back to Cuba) so that their cultural investment is fragile. Cubans at the park know the original (cultural practices) that the park is based on, but they perform a “cultural translation” for those (tourist) who don’t know the original.

–The essay then quotes and summarizes the story extensively— Maximo thinks of return but only returns in his memories. Domino Park becomes a no man’s land so that Maximo’s identity “is constructed, (re)constructed, and lost in memory” (12). His memories are an act of “cultural recovery” and while this recovery happens in his (internalized) memories, the recovery “plays out”—happens through play and jokes both of which require an audience. The characters are aware of being watched; Maximo’s jokes about Cuba, his articulations of Cuban culture, experience, and his connection to the past becomes a double performance for his friends at the Domino table and for the tourist listening.

The joke represents a present and a constructed past. Jaunito (the mutt) reinvents his past and reimagines his identity (14). The joke undermines itself, however, because Jaunito is not a german shepherd, so the joke recalls Maximo’s “harsher reality” as a professor turned a server. The joke reveals the friends as (ARE) Cuban culture by allowing a performance for the tourist.

The essay then looks at the last story of the collection—but I am not writing on that, so I don’t “care.”

Maximo’s joke “demonstrates how painful the process of transplanting and translating oneself into another society and asserting a cultural identity can be” (16).

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Zizek, Slavoj. “Melancholy and the Act.” Critical Inquiry 26.4 (2000): 657-81.

Zizek begins by stating that the Lacanian Big Other designates explicit symbolic rules and unwritten rules as well. Example of Robert Ebert’s movie rules—in a foreign land, in a car chase, a fruit stand will get run over, the grocery bag rule, etc—the Big other regulates our speech and actions. While not stated outright, disobeying them can be very bad.

One of those rules is mourning and melancholia. The dominant opinion is: “Freud opposed normal mourning (the successful acceptance of a loss) to pathological melancholy (the subject persist in his or her narcissistic identification with the lost object). Against Freud, one should assert the conceptual and ethical primacy of melancholy” (658). In mourning, a remainder occurs that fails integration through mourning, “and the ultimate fidelity is the fidelity to this remainder” (658). Mourning kills the lost object (again), while melancholy stays faithful to the lost object. The melancholic refuses to renounce the attachment to the lost object. (((This point is elaborated on by Derrida—we carry the world of the other; the dialogue continues)). This idea of maintaining attachments to the lost object can be used in multiple ways: from the queer one—gays should maintain attached to the repressed same-sex libidinal economy to the ethnic one: where the ethnic  group might lose their culture as it is subsumed by the capitalist tradition.

“The melancholic link to the lost ethnic Object allows us to claim that we remain faithful to our ethnic roots while fully participating in the global capitalist game” (659).

Anamorphosis- distorted projection or perspective, requiring a specific vantage point. Zizek says ideology works off of anamorphosis, where if we look at the ideology from a certain standpoint, then it makes sense; example, anti-semitism—the Jewish plot is the cause of all our problems. Anamorphosis distorts the idea of subjective and objective reality, since “the subjective distortion is reflected back into the perceived object itself, and, in this precise sense, the gaze itself requires a supposedly objective existence” (659).

This paradox does not hold in the melancholic, who mistakenly asserts that something “resist the symbolic sublation”, and “locate[s] this resistance in a positively existing, although lost, object. ” The melancholic interprets his/her desire as a loss, when it is merely lacking. The melancholic thinks that he/she possessed the object and has now lost it when in reality, he/she never possessed it at all. The melancholic confuses the object as missing, but in reality, it is lacking. That lack causes the object to emerge in the first place. The paradox comes when the melancholic thinks the object loss when in reality it lacks. “The melancholic subject thus elevates the object of his longing into an inconsistent composite of a corporeal absolute; however, since this object is subject to decay, one can possess it unconditionally only insofar as it is lost, in its loss” (660).

Zizek looks to Giorgio Amamben who “emphasized how, in contrast to mourning, melancholy is not only the failure of the work of mourning, the persistence of the attachment to the real object, but also its very opposite: ‘melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object’” (661). The problem is that the melancholic thinks what he possesses is lost—he mourns the object before the object is lost. ((((This problem happens with Maximo, who always wonders while all the stories that begin with Cuban being pure and great turn into something dark—he is suffering from melancholy, and even in Miami, where he possess a Cuban identity, through his food, his wife, and his community—he feels his Cubanness lost; later, he maintains connection to his identity through playing with the Cubans, through old stories, and through his jokes, but feels this abstract object loss, so he suffers the attachment to it—Also, his sadness comes from knowing that his homeland has forgotten him; he is no longer the German Shepherd of Cuba, he is the mutt of America. Having suffered one loss (losing his home), he suffers the loss of his Miami identity, he suffers the loss of his children, his friends—all before any of them are actually lost))))

As Zizek further explains “the mourner mourns the lost object and kills it a second time through symbolizing its loss, while the melancholic is not simply the one who is unable to remounce the object but rather the one who kills the object a second time (treats it as lost) before the object is actually lost” (662).

The manner to explore this paradox comes in the Lacanian distinction between the object and the (object) cause of desire, the feature that has us desiring the desired object. Something that we are usually unaware, “even misperceived as an obstacle.” The melancholic posseses the object but has lost his desire for the object: “. . . the cause that made him desire the object has withdrawn, lost its efficiency” (662). Lacan’s object petit a, is the void in reality around which reality is displaced and centralized. “This object is the sublime object (of ideology), the object elevated to the dignity of a Thing, and simultaneously the anamorphic object (in order to perceive its sublime quality, we have to look at it awry—if looked at straight on, it appears as just another object in a series)” (662).

The void-lack- only works when when it is embodied in an object. The object keeps the gap open. The void of desire embodies itself in an object that serves as a stand in. This void is best embodied in post-sctructuralist, Derridian, deconstructionist ethics: an ethics that calls for the always-already withdrawn negative trace of its own absence. We can never be fully present, accountable, ethical enough in the face of the other. The other is a void around which to build this ethics. Another example happens in Derria’s view on Marxism: we must keep true to the spirit of Marx, not the letter. Derrida’s radicalization means only the theoretical Marx, any actualization of Marx betrays the “spirit.”  As Zizek explains “on account of its very radicalism, the messianic promise forever remains a promise, cannot ever be translated into a set of determinate economic and political measures” (665). We can never be responsible enough to the other, our answer to the other will always lack. This gap between ethical responsibility and action betrays the problem of totalitarianism because the party attempts to fulfill this ethical gap with actions that betray and go against the people.

Democracy works as a perpetual working-ING, a “to-come”: “The to-come (a venir) is thus not simply an additional qualification of democracy but its innermost kernel, what makes democracy democracy. The moment democracy is no longer to come but pretends to be actual—fully actualized—we enter totalitarianism” (665). This democracy to come refers to when one is urgently called to answer the call of the other in the face of injustice. Derrida addresses the gap between ethics and politics, where ethics is the impossible response to the call of the other and politics is the need to act/respond. Ethics is always to-come; politics is a “here/ now”—in politics, in having to make a choice, we risk doing the wrong thing: “The ethical is thus the (back)ground of undecidability, while the political is the domain of the decision(s), of taking the full risk of crossing the hiatus and translating this impossible ethical request for messianic justice into a particular intervention that never lives up to this request, that is always unjust towards (some of the) others” (666). Ethics, then, opens up the condition of possibility for politics, while closing it. When I have to act in politics because of the ethical call, my action my hurt (some) others—will be unethical. The decision to act works on two levels:

First, we open up the gap between the ethical call of the other, and the decision to decide. Zizek elaborates, “the first decision is identified with/as the injunction of the Thing in me to decide [the other’s call/ the other’s decision in me]; it is a decision to decide, and it still remains my (the subject’s) responsibility to translate this decision to decide into a concrete, actual intervention, to invent a new rule out of a singular situation, wehre this intervention has to obey pragmatic and/or strategic considerations and is never at the level of the decision” (668-9).  Zizek wants to say that the Lacanian act is not along the lines of this deconstructionist ethic, where the “other’s decision in me” is not some structuralist view of a decentered subject of abyss of otherness I can never reach; rather, the Lacanian act refers to the subject’s direct identification with the other’s Thing/ injunction to action. The subject becomes the Other-Thing for “a brief, passing moment of, precisely, decision—directly is the Thing” (669).

An ethical act changes the very nature of what we think about ethical acts, the very idea of what is good.

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