Tuesday, November 20, 2007

. . .

It's been kind of a weird month. One of my classmates from OBC died at the beginning of November when an IED hit her HMMWV. I haven't mentioned it before because it felt too much like jumping on the band wagon. She was a very nice woman, and we got along, but we didn't keep in touch after OBC except by staying facebook friends, so I didn't want to write about her death and have people tell me they were sorry when her real friends, the ones that kept in touch, were the ones actually dealing with her death (it was one of those friends that made sure the whole class knew and then others forwarded the funeral/services information). It was just such a surprise to hear - according to one of the other platoon leaders, only about three or four female officers have died in Iraq. I think my parents are more affected by her death than I am because it brings it closer to home for them since it's someone I knew. I can be very unemotional at times (we had briefly talked about trading duty stations with except she didn't want Carson; she ended up talking branch into switching her from Ft. Story to Ft. Campbell because Story had too many officers as it was). A little over a week later, our Battalion Commander announced the good news that there hadn't been any coalition losses for a week. Unfortunately, it was already too late for her.

I also found out that one of my favorite professors (actually, one of the two professors that inspired me to want to be an English professor) was going to have an extensive surgery. It was scheduled for yesterday but I haven't heard anything yet. Somebody told me it was rather routine, but any surgery that could last more than five hours sounds pretty scary to me. Hopefully, I'll get some news soon but I'm sure my mom would have let me know something by now if it had been bad (no news is good news, right?) - her bosses are my professor's neighbors.

More Books

After reading Suite Francaise, it took me a while to get into another book. Once I finally got into Feminist Theory by bell hooks, however, I wondered why it had taken me so long. It was written in the early '80s. so some of the issues she addressed have since been discussed in many other places including Women, Race and Class. I know we discussed them in my gender studies classes as well. I don't think that the marginalization of black or working class women in feminism as been completely solved, but progress has been made in the past twenty years and their perspective is looked at and considered, and at least in class, we also studied the flaws in early feminism - the focus was still more on white women, but I don't think it's as bad as when hooks wrote this book and white women also understand their own flaws more now. Her writing was accessible, and she even calls for theorists to write theory in a way that is approachable to non-academics - after all, if no one can understand what they are saying, why would any common person want to agree with them or join the feminist movement? However, she clearly states that this is not to be confused with anti-intellectualism. She also discussed a certain Catch 22: in the fight against racism, for example, it is necessary for whites to also be involved because they are the ones who have the power, and for something to change, they need to acknowledge that and be willing to give it up. However, the annoying thing that can happen is that a white person has to say it for it to gain any real acceptance. Hooks mentioned an article Adrienne Rich had written that reflected many ideas previously already stated by black women and other women of color but when Rich wrote them down, they were embraced as if new and also accepted. Just because to fight racism whites are needed, doesn't mean they should be required to validate ideas or opinions (or men with feminism) - the ideas should be able to stand for themselves.

I had to read Black Like Me twice - once in high school, and once in college. In the four or five years in between reading it, I had done a lot with feminist theory and taken quite a few literature classes so I had a very different perspective on it. The book caused an uproar because it exposed racism in the South (the author just chose the South - he could have found it in the North as well), and he had good intentions. What it boils down to, though, is that it wasn't enough for blacks to say they were racially oppressed - a white person had to come in and confirm it for other whites to believe it.

After bell hooks. I read the novel Kindred by Octavia Butler (apparently she's one of the first and most important black sci-fi writers though this novel isn't sci-fi). In one of my English classes, I read Reconstructing Dixie to support some arguments in a paper. One of McPherson's examples was the novel Kindred. The plot and her description sounded fascinating, but I promptly forgot the author and the title of the novel after finishing Reconstructing Dixie, and whenever I remembered that I'd wanted to look for the author, I was nowhere near the book. Well, a few weeks ago, I was browsing the U of I catalog, and looking at the reading requirements for some of the classes (I needed some ideas), and one class happened to have a novel by Octavia Butler. I recognized the name, went to Amazon, and voila, Kindred. Once it got here, I finished it one day. The main character, Dana, is from 1976 Los Angeles, and at the onset of the novel, she discovers that whenever her white ancestor Rufus, a slave owner, is in mortal danger, he has the power to summon her to the past (ranging from around 1805 to 1825 - not exact dates), and she can only return to the present when she herself is in mortal danger. In the novel, Butler manages to take a look at slavery, how it affected people, the different ways people were complicit, and what exactly it took to keep people subordinated. Many of the characters eventually figure out that Dana is from the future so she doesn't exactly have to go around pretending to be anyone or anything else but she still has to adjust in her interactions with people, especially whites, to avoid more trouble. I loved the book; it was a neat idea, and since Butler doesn't go into explaining the time travel too much, it doesn't really distract from the characters or the plot. Of course, now, it's once again taking me a while to get into my new book, because I enjoyed this one so much.

Fortunately, I also just got My So-Called Life in the mail, so I might use that to transition. Claire Danes used to be my favorite actress because of that show (I saw it when I was about thirteen - it was also around the time of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) and I really wanted that hair color though I never had the guts to do it. They finally re-released the DVDs just in time for the holidays. I hope it's as good as I remember. The DVD includes an episode guide with a few essays from fans, including Joss Whedon, who is a creative genius. He created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, all of which I own (which is actually a sore topic right now, but that's for a later post, once my comics finally get here).

Friday, November 09, 2007


One of the soldiers out here has a word a day calendar, and recently the word was nostalgia or nostalgic. The calendar went with the definition “homesickness” even though I am much more familiar with the word when used to describe someone looking on the past as better than the present or reminiscing about the good old days (okay, so I’m not so good at defining things). As a result, we had a few soldiers trying to use the word in a sentence meaning one thing while the XO and I were interpreting them according to the second definition.

While they may have wanted to say that they were feeling homesick, some of the older soldiers also tend to express a sense of nostalgia for the old Army, back when privates still respected their sergeants, etc. I realize that the Army has recently dropped its standards to meet recruitment goals, and rushes people through training. I mean, I was worried about passing BOLC II because of all the physical aspects, but it’s not like they wanted to fail people (or did for that matter; all 300+ LTs that went at the same time I did passed, no matter how many times they had to go to the range or land nav course). Yet, I am skeptical about the idea of the good old days. I don’t believe that history is progressive by any means; (if anything I’d be much more likely to say that history is cyclic, and there are always actions and reactions or backlashes – a liberal time is followed by a more restrictive period which is followed by another liberal era etc, etc.) just because time advances doesn’t mean that things are going to get better or more tolerant. Despite that, I still dislike the idea of looking back on the past and wishing things to be like that again. Just look at the ‘50s, for example: some people like to look back on the ‘50s as a time of good values, strong family ties and good work ethics, and these ideas are helped along by the popular culture of the time, such as the sitcoms that are shown on Nick at Nite and other classic television channels (even some people who don’t want to return to the ‘50s have this idyllic view of the period). They forget about the other things: the need to fight for Civil Rights, McCarthyism, women’s roles, etc. Actually one of the things that really stood out in The Feminine Mystique was Friedan's comment that the teen pregnancy rate was the highest it had ever been, and these were stats based on the wholesome ‘50s. It seems like people make that argument every decade, but it's just particularly ironic that the decade everyone looks on as so strong in family values would have the same issues as now, when according to some, family values are under attack or deteriorating.

Anyway, my point is that it’s hard to look at something and say it is better or worse now than before. I remember my dad always used to say that if he had been in the ‘90s Army when he first joined, he probably wouldn’t have made it because he was a bit of a trouble maker – as far as he was concerned, the standards had increased. Maybe they have gotten lower since then but no matter when or what the profession, there’s always going to be someone that isn’t as respectful as expected, or disappoints their leaders/mentors/teachers after they’ve placed their hope in them. No sense in getting nostalgic about it.

The First Part of November

I finished reading Angela Davis’s work Women, Race and Class. I had read a few chapters for my feminist theory class back in the day, and decided to read the whole book. It’s very accessible and easy to read. Due to the organization of her chapters, she doesn’t completely use chronological order in all areas, and definitely focuses on certain time periods more than others, but overall it was informative. She addressed and discussed some of the problems that existed in the early women’s movement, and continued to plague it during the second wave: the way white middle class women dealt with women of either a different racial/ethnic background or of a different class standing. Often middle class women didn’t understand that class struggles or racism were much more pressing than sexism for these women, and even continued to express their own racist/classist ideas. She also went into a detailed about lynching. Of course, if anyone is interested in that topic, Ida B. Wells was one of the most important people in opening the world’s eyes to the horrors of lynching, and I’d also recommend Making Whiteness by Grace Elizabeth Hale which had a very good discussion of race, gender, lynching and power dynamics.

I also read the novel Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirosky. It’s actually two novellas, or two sections of a larger novel that the author never got to finish. I’d read an article about it a while back, thought it sounded fascinating but never actually got around to ordering it or reading it (I was waiting on the paperback and forgot about it in the process) until Amazon put it on my recommendation list and reminded me of the piece. The author was a woman of Jewish descent living in France during the Nazi occupation. At the time of the occupation, she was already a famous author, and she continued to write (I’m actually curious if any of her other works are still in print). She was working on a novel about the war and the French when she was deported and killed in Auschwitz. The manuscript was discovered rather recently, and published. Naturally, the story behind the novel alone would account for an interest in the piece and a large readership, but it was also a very well written and good story. According to the preface of the French edition, she was a fan of Tolstoy, and her novel shows his influence with her great assortment of characters (not to say that she copied his style or anything but she interweaves and works with the stories of several characters of varying backgrounds). I read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl when I was only ten or eleven and honestly thought it was kind of boring. I don’t expect most adolescent diaries to be too entertaining even if the writer has the potential to be a great author later in life – at that age (and most ages), people are kind of self-involved (also, given my age when I read it, I may have been too self involved to appreciate it). Basically, while I felt the success of Anne Frank’s diary had a lot to do with what she represented and symbolized, I think Nemirosky’s work may benefit from that, but would also be worth reading without that the background story.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What I've Been Up To Lately


Hardcore by Linda Williams – Originally published in the late ‘80s, this book has since become a classic in pornography studies. Rather than taking a side of anti-censorship or anti-porn, Williams takes a look at the history of the genre and analyzes the changes that have been occurring and their reflection on society. (The anti-pornography position tends to oversimplify things and they often portray women as victims without any agency of their own – also, I find it impossible to agree with the idea that any type of heterosexual intercourse is rape as at least one leading anti-porn feminist has stated in the past – basically she believes that due to the act of penetration, there’s always a certain type of violence attached to sex. Laura Kipnis raised the point of semantics in The Female Thing – why is it always the penis penetrates rather than the vagina engulfs?) Overall it was pretty interesting, but I don’t know how dated it is since I don’t exactly have personal experience with the genre, and this isn’t the place to start a study of it – kind of illegal and all.

I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert – It reads exactly like an episode of the show with comments in the margins reminiscent of The Word. It refers to episodes and jokes from the show as well (I probably missed a few because I haven’t been watching it very regularly since leaving the States). It was pretty entertaining, and even contained his speech from the White House Press Corps Dinner.

What else is new? The Dining Facility is finally serving jalapeno poppers again (they’d been out for at least a month), so that’s pretty exciting. I was in the food court a few days ago, but there wasn’t really much to eat so I ended up munching in my room – Taco Bell was out of quesadillas, sour cream and cheese sauce, and Burger King was out of everything but chicken tenders and breakfast foods. On the other hand, Cinnabon finally got in a shipment of straws and frosting.

I also had my first mission as mission commander recently. It went pretty smoothly with only a few minor hiccups here and there. I got pretty lucky because there are a lot of things that can complicate things / cause headaches.

I should be getting promoted at the end of the month. My name wasn’t on the list that battalion received but my commander checked somewhere else, and my name was on that site. I’m looking forward to the pay raise, and at least this way, I will no longer look like I’m brand new to the Army (although, that might have been a good thing; now I won’t have the excuse of inexperience as much as before).