Archive for the ‘Vol. 1: Spring Essays 2012’ Category

It was a spring afternoon in Central Park in New York City. The park was packed with people and buzzing with activity; two spirits were among the many enjoying the warmth of the sun. Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault were catching up on recent events and enjoying the people watching while lounging on the recently mowed grass.

“I love the spring in New York City. It’s interesting to watch humanity defrost from the winter blues,” said Arendt. “And especially here in the park, we get to watch how people are with others. We can see them as they reveal themselves to others while they do not even know who they are as individuals. As I’ve said in the past, ‘Although nobody knows whom he reveals when he discloses himself in deed or word, he must be willing to risk the disclosure, and this neither the doer of good works, who must be without self and preserve complete anonymity, nor the criminal, who must hide himself from others, can take upon themselves’ (Arendt: 180). I am not sure, but I would venture a guess that we have both types right here in this park. I also love being surrounded by all the greenery, the biological life of man, yet we can see the tops of buildings that he placed here, reminding us of the work that man has done.”

“Yes, the weather has a way of bringing souls together in space. And this park has the open space for mankind to enjoy. This space is not private but public; it is quite social and by all means in springtime, it is a leisurely space. As you know, I believe that ‘we do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable (sic) on one another’ (Foucault, Spaces: 23). I believe I would consider this spot a heterotopia. It sure seems to be a counter-site, ‘a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality’” (Foucault, Spaces: 24). Foucault continued, “It holds all sorts of people within its perimeters; and we can see those that are in crisis among the many that are enjoying the park. Over there is a pregnant woman, and to our right is an elderly couple. I would consider all three to be in what I like to call crisis heterotopia  (Foucault, Spaces: 24). And look over there, on the bench, two gay men engrossed in conversation.”

“Now, now my friend,” Arendt responded. “How are we to know that they are gay? Wouldn’t we rather know who the men are rather than what they are? As I wrote years ago in my book The Human Condition, ‘The moment we want to say who somebody is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is; we get entangled in a description of qualities he necessarily shares with others like him; we begin to describe a type or a ‘character’ in the old meaning of the word, with the result that his specific uniqueness escapes us’ (Arendt: 181). I am, however, curious as to the web of their relationship, and they are probably disclosing who they are to one another via their speech, which unfortunately for us, we cannot hear from this far away.”

“Well, one of them looks to me like someone I met on the train last week,” replied Foucault. “And you know my opinion of trains and their many relations. I believe ‘a train is an extraordinary bundle of relations because it is something through which one goes, it is also something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that goes by’ (Foucault, Spaces: 24). The man I met was gay, as we tricked in the bathroom at Grand Central Station. I remember it well because he was carrying the same messenger bag with that Internet logo on it.”

Arendt smiled at the mention of the Internet. “I love that invention. Wish it had been around back in my day. Oh, the storytelling one can do via the web. As we both know, ‘the real story in which we are engaged as long as we live has no visible or invisible marker because it is not made’ (Arendt: 186). We can know the story of who someone is by what he allows us to know, his own biography as it were, with him as the hero. It certainly takes courage to speak out about one’s own story. As I wrote many years ago, ‘And his courage is not necessarily or even primarily related to a willingness to suffer the consequences; courage and even boldness are already present in leaving one’s private hiding place and showing who one is, in disclosing and exposing one’s self’” (Ibid). Arendt continued, “But with the Internet, one can now be anyone, really. Political and/or civic engagement is the norm on that medium. And stories spread like wildfire, whether true or not. Think about what just occurred with the Democratic Strategist, Hilary Rosen. She said something about the Republican candidate’s wife, and all heck broke loose. The Internet was all abuzz with the mistake made by Hilary Rosen.”

“Well,” responded Foucault. “What happened there is one of my pet peeves. What she said was completely taken out of context. One must know all of the situation as well as the words used prior to and after the offending phrase that everyone was upset about. As I said in my book, The Archeology of Knowledge, ‘The analysis of thought is always allegorical in relation to the discourse that it employs. Its question is unfailingly: what was being said in what was said? The analysis of the discursive field is orientated in a quite different way; we must grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its occurrence; determine its condition of existence, fix at least its limits, establish its correlations with other statements that may be connected with it, and show what other forms of statement it excludes’ (Foucault, Knowledge: 7). With that in mind, had the media and all those blogs paid attention to my philosophy on this issue, the brouhaha would never have occurred.”

Foucault continued, “The Internet highway is a major space for word travel, and the added component of the cloud makes space even less of an issue. It has been a boon for politicians. And as we know, politics is not for the faint of heart. The Internet can spread things faster than anything else we saw in our time.” Arendt agreed, stating, “It certainly was a great piece of theater, the Hilary Rosen debacle. The way everyone jumped on the bandwagon to condemn someone who actually spoke the truth once one looked at the entirety of the situation. Yet that did not stop many from using it for their own goals. And this bit of political theater reminded me again of my salutation to action. As I wrote back then, ‘This is also why the theater is the political art par excellence; only there is the political sphere of human life transposed into art. By the same token, it is the only art whose sole subject is man in his relationships to others’ (Arendt: 188). And this was political theater with no need for a space to act it out in as that space is the ether that most of mankind uses to disseminate his message. The relationship to others is exponential on the World Wide Web.”

Foucault deliberated on this for a moment. “Perhaps I would have loved to have the Internet back in my day to afford me the ability to reach the masses. However, this tool can be abused if not handled correctly. There are relations between statements, and the Internet does not allow for that. People post every few hours or minutes with no regard to what they posted prior. There is no connection, and most folks are invisible. Some even post under fictitious names. I am reminded once again of my writing in The Archeology of Knowledge. In it I offered, ‘However banal it may be, however unimportant its consequences may appear to be, however quickly it may be forgotten after its appearance, however little heard or however badly deciphered we may suppose it to be, a state is always an event that neither the language (langue) nor the meaning can quite exhaust. It is certainly a strange event: first, because on the one hand it is linked to the gesture of writing or to the articulation of speech, and also on the other hand it opens up to itself a residual existence in the field of memory, or in the materiality of manuscripts, books, or any other form of recording; secondly, because, like every event, it is unique, yet subject to repetition, transformation, and reactivation; thirdly, because it is linked not only to situations that provoke it, and to the consequences that it gives rise to, but at the same time, and in accordance with a quite different modality, to the statements that precede and follow it’ (Foucault, Knowledge: 7). With the blogs and the postings that people tend to do on the spur of the moment, the before and after are not part of the parcel. In this arena, things do live on, they do get repeated and transformed as we saw with the Hilary Rosen event, but we have no ability to look at what the poster wrote an hour earlier on another blog. People are quite anonymous, and there are few heroes to point to in this medium.”

Arendt nodded, “ I agree, the medium can be both a blessing and a curse. But to be honest, we philosophers have more of a problem with that whole Twitter thing. How in the world can our work reside there? We are restricted to the number of characters used, and I have no idea how you or I could commit to such a travesty.”

Foucault laughed, “I concur, my friend, I concur.”

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. 1958. University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. 1969. Pantheon Books, NYC.

Foucault, Michel. Of Other Spaces. 1986. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

 

Written for Prof. Monique Mironesco’s POLS 302: Political Philosophy / POLS 499: Directed Reading

Through the analyses of power and space, Michael Foucault in “Of Other Spaces” gives many hints and signs about the relevance and the implications of “space” in the lives of people.  In our contemporary society, cities and urban spaces are perhaps where such analyses could be utilized to better understand and illustrate economic and social phenomena that influence the level of civic engagement and political participation by citizens.  However, one must not forget that there are many types of different inhabited spaces that are not urban—and such places would be equally important in enhancing our understanding of how space in relation to historic time contributes to the overall level of civic engagement.

In his written work, Foucault utilizes a conversational style that engages and invites the reader to reflect about the individual and society, as well as their actions over history — including social struggles that led to major societal changes throughout time.  Foucault also focuses great part of his text on what he calls “heterotopias,” which in a sense are representational of any “place” in the world, with its unique characteristics, set of principles, and cultural beliefs.  This is how Foucault describes “heterotopias”:

“There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias” (Foucault).

It seems that one could interpret heterotopias in many different ways, but I see heterotopias perhaps as social movements that led to major changes like the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and the 1989 Diretas Ja in Brazil that reinstituted democracy in the country.  Such socio-political movements were unique to their particular cultures — they also functioned and were influenced in very different ways to serve specific societal purposes within a particular and crucial time in history.

Just as Michael Foucault in his text “Of Other Spaces” invites individuals to engage in heterotopias, or perhaps to engage in a new form of thinking, being, and relating to social structures, Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition also challenges readers to take charge of their lives and of the societies they belong to.  Throughout her work Arendt offers critical insight into social and political matters.  She also uses storytelling as a mean to engage her audience.  According to Lisa Disch’s book, Hanna Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy, Arendt uses storytelling more specifically as a mean to deal with the “problem of political judgment” as she believes that storytelling allowed the human mind the needed degree of imagination to possibly consider and perceive issues through others’ perspectives and point of views (Disch).  Arendt believes this capability of seeing issues through others’ perceptions to be a very important trait to enhance people’s overall understanding and political participation within pluralistic societies.

In order to point out a few similarities between Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces” and Arendt’s The Human Condition, I will proceed to analyze and explore their works — first separately and secondly by comparison.  I will then conclude this essay by briefly discussing how the work of these two amazing political philosophers, with their languages and styles, can offer us insight into how we can better understand, engage, and participate in our current political process.

To expand and explore his ideas and reflections on heterotopia, Foucault applies six different principles to it.  In the first and second principles Foucault mentions that, “Its first principle is that there is probably not a single culture in the world that fails to constitute heterotopias. That is a constant of every human group. But the heterotopias obviously take quite varied forms, and perhaps no one absolutely universal form of heterotopias would be found … The second principle … is that a society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion; for each heterotopia has a precise and determined function within a society…”

Through these principles Foucault implies that heterotopias are capable of developing and happening in any “space” or any part of the world, among any social group — however, they would do in very different ways — possibly to fulfill different societal and political needs of any particular time in history, depending on the existing needs and struggles to be overcome.

The third and fourth principles Foucault attributed to heterotopias are somewhat a little more difficult to comprehend — but through the interpretation of heterotopias as possible social movements, these principles become more understandable, and their concepts somewhat easier to grasp.  Foucault mentions under his third principle that “the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (Foucault).  I believe that through this statement Foucault means to imply that social and political movements can, at the ideological level, spread and influence different “spaces” and places that may be very culturally different and be experiencing diverse forms of social and political issues.  This process could happen between two different societies and perhaps even within a single one where different “spaces,” perhaps represented by different social classes, could be engaged in the same movement, even if from different perspectives and to achieve different ends.  Such process could also begin from a very small “space,” like a “garden,” and still impact a much greater “space,” or even the entire world.  In turn, Foucault’s fourth principle deals with time and traditions — he implies that some heterotopias may be transitional and of short duration while others may be “sort of perpetual,” and also that some will break with traditions while others will perpetuate them (Foucault).

Foucault’s fifth and sixth principles deal with accessibility and functionality respectively.  Under the fifth principle Foucault mentions, “heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable” (Foucault).  Through this statement Foucault implies that some “spaces” are open and easily accessible to people, while others are more exclusive and selective, possibly as a way to distinguish the public and private realms.  Perhaps through this principle Foucault also attempts to imply that accessibility and openness may also depend on how moral issues and traditional ways can affect the capacity of collective action within societies.

Lastly, Foucault’s sixth principle states, “The last trait of heterotopias is that they have a function in relation to all the space that remains. This function unfolds between two extreme poles. Either their role is to create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory … Or else, on the contrary, their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well-arranged as ours is messy, ill-constructed, and jumbled.”

By breaking up with tradition and established social structures, other paths can be opened that can lead to other “spaces,” perhaps “spaces” that are better, more dignified and more humane. Therefore the function of heterotopias is ultimately to lead people to a better “place,” to freedom — either within themselves, or externally, as an individual in relation to other individuals or to society.

In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt refers to “human conditions,” those activities and functions that give all men their very existence and reason to live.  According to Arendt, such conditions will vary depending on the place and on the specific time in history men encounter themselves; thus all men are conditioned, either by internal factors like their own actions, thoughts, and feelings, or by external ones like the historical moment one experiences and happens to be part of, any cultural influences, family, and even friends.  “The Human Condition” revolves around the concept of “Vita Activa,” or the active life, that derives from old Greek principles, and meant to Arendt “human life in so far as it is activity engaged in doing something.”

Arendt organized the “human conditions” under three concepts — labour, work and action — making relationships between these concepts and the political and social world she experienced.  Arendt elaborates that “labour” is the process necessary for human survival, while “work” is the activity in which natural things are transformed into artificial objects — therefore, “work” is not inherent to men or essential for their survival, it is rather an activity that men imposed on themselves, perhaps as a result from a cultural process.  For Arendt the third concept, “action,” is men’s necessity to live among other men, since men are, by nature, social beings — the quality of men’s actions will reflect their social characters and differences.  Arendt also makes the point to differentiate in more detail what constitutes “labour” and “work” as a mean to illustrate and question the organization of modern economic activity, or of what she considers to be a senseless process of production and consumption.  She implies that through the “work” of men, objects are given a certain degree of permanence, while “labour” only sustains men’s lives out of necessity — thus the products of “labour” are consumed, over and over again, and there is no escape from “labour” in life (Arendt).  Before exploring the differences between “work” and “labour,” Arendt criticizes Karl Marx’s work in part, pointing out that Marx failed to understand that even after emancipation from oppression, men could not free themselves from “labour.”

Throughout her work Hannah Arendt makes many relationships between the importance of thinking, understanding, and taking action.  She also implies in many different ways how the economic activities of our times, of compulsory production and consumption, keep people occupied to such a degree that it inhibits their capability of reasoning and understanding the various social and political issues of our times (Arendt).  Perhaps Arendt felt the responsibility to use her various written works to invite people to question existing political, social and economic systems, and to help people understand each other’s differences (pluralism) as assets in the strengthening of society as a whole.

Arendt’s idea around the permanence of objects resultant from the “work” of men, in contrast to the brevity and quick consumption of  men’s “labour” is comparable to Foucault’s forth principle of heterotopias in which the French philosopher describes some “spaces” that accumulate in time and are perpetual, while others are transitory. I believe both philosophers beneath their concepts attempt to illustrate the idea of freedom.  Perhaps freedom for Foucault, within the context of his fourth principle, means the rupture with traditional barriers and rituals that can prevent men from fully reaching “heterotopia”; also, how men can for split moments of their lives feel and be free, but not possess freedom permanently and continuously.  For Arendt the issue of freedom is perhaps easier to comprehend — “labour” represents the lack of freedom, the oppression.  Even when man is able to make gains and ensure some rights, “labour” is the concept utilized by Arendt to emphasize that perhaps freedom is very hard to achieve, and surely uncertain.

Just as Foucault under his fifth principle explores the differences between the private and the public spheres, so does Arendt.  Nevertheless, Arendt goes far beyond Foucault in her assumption as she suggests that with modern age the private realm (the family unit) was brought into “the light of the public sphere” (society), and this in turn has resulted in a generalized confusion and blending of both realms that has not benefited society as a whole.  To Arendt, the loss of distinction between public and private realms has limited people’s freedom and their capacity of engaging in political action.

Both philosophers seems to have emphasized the importance of place and time, and both mention the significance of the discoveries of Galileo in their works.  For Foucault, Galileo was responsible for the opening of such possibilities like the “infinitely open space” that eventually turned over an entire era’s beliefs.  The possibility of space infinity challenged all precedent ideas, beliefs, and religious faith of the Middle Ages (Foucault).  For Arendt, Galileo’s telescope and the revelation of the secrets of the universe propelled humanity from what they believed to be reality into a new era of unknown possibilities and uncertainties that in a way forced men into contemplation and even greater scientific discoveries.

In addition, a pluralistic society according to Arendt’s point of view can very much be Foucault’s society of heterotopias.  The many “spaces” of Foucault’s accounts can easily be compared with the diverse cultures, beliefs and opinions of various sectors and individual members of a pluralistic society.

Both Foucault and Arendt seem to use storytelling and a conversational style in their written work that offers readers a variety of interpretations — and perhaps this is what the strength and relevance of their work rests upon.  Their stories and illustrations invite readers to think, imagine, and to blend all the information given with one’s own experiences and beliefs.  As Disch mentions in her review of Arendt, “A more powerful defense of storytelling as marginal criticism begins from the premise that it is precisely because they call for interpretation — that they cannot be taken literally — that stories make a powerful vehicle for marginal critical theory” (Disch).

When people are allowed to make interpretations, they do so in great part based on their own imaginations and beliefs.  In this manner, people are able to engage in critical thinking and in the process of understanding their time and place (space), and related social and political issues.  Thus storytelling, when used to invoke political participation, can be a very powerful tool, building the necessary bridge to engage citizens into meaningful action.

Michael Foucault and Hannah Arendt successfully engage their audience through storytelling and challenge people to take action towards regaining their lives and their place in society.  Both philosophers make criticisms about modern politics and the existing economic and social processes that have continuously impacted people’s lives and deprived western and other societies from reaching more equality, fairness, and freedom.

The generalized political apathy of the American society at the present time may very well have its roots in the withdrawal of public political participation.  It is possible that the mass withdrawal from political action is largely due to an increased lack of interest in the political life of this country, which is generated and perpetuated by powerful economic and political forces that have the means to deeply influence our society: forces like the media for example.  The lack of understanding, of comprehending these manipulative mechanisms that aim to alienate and buffer our society, is perhaps one of the most dangerous political phenomena of our times — it leads to inactivity, and without action, more precisely political action, people cannot regain control of their lives and of the world they inhabit.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. With an Introduction by Margaret Canovan. Second Edition. University of Chicago Press. 1998.

Disch, Lisa Jane. Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy. Cornell University Press. 1994.

Foucault, Michael. “Of Other Spaces”. 1967. 9 Apr 2012.    <http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html>.

Written for Prof. Monique Mironesco’s POLS 499: Directed Reading

For two and a half hours, a small, cozy set at Honolulu’s Kumu Kahua Theater is home to the voices that echo from our own childhoods.  These voices?  They belong to the nine-member ensemble of “Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre,” breathing life into the celebrated and controversial book by local author Lois-Ann Yamanaka.

The story is one with which we are all familiar: growing up in Hawaii, with all the stigmas and stereotypes this entails.  The format is unique in that the poems Yamanaka wrote are performed mostly verbatim, but with an added twist in presentation that turns the individual vignettes into a cohesive story about a young girl growing up in 1970 on Big Island’s Pahala.

Led by actress Elexis Draine and supported by notable standouts Shawn Anthony Tomsen and Stephanie Keiko Kong, there is a high caliber of acting throughout the entire cast.  The actors’ dialogue effortlessly with the audience and each other completely in Pidgin, the unofficial language of local Hawaii.  Their mastery of the language and their characters is extraordinary, perhaps stemming from the fact that there is less of a sense of pretend than there is real life experience.

It is a difficult task to successfully capture both humor and anguish in one production, but in Yamanaka’s work, this is masterfully done.  The Pidgin language grounds the storyline as relatable, and the actors navigate flawlessly through wordy poems while still evoking strong emotional responses from the audience, be it painful silence or uproarious laughter.

The show is brought to life solely by its actors rather than elaborate sets, props, or special effects.   In no way will the show astound visually and technically.  Despite this, there are perfectly appropriate costumes and wigs used to expertly transform the small cast into a wide array of memorable characters.

“Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre” is more than just a book: it is a full experience that completely engages the audience and does not restrain itself to the stage.  Viewers will want to sit close to fully appreciate the nuances of the actors, but must be prepared for audience action and participation.  There is no hiding in this theater, and these characters will infiltrate both the soul and the personal space of audience members.

Viewer be warned – this performance will not be appealing to the faint of heart.  The explicit sexual content and copious amounts of swearing may be enough to have some shifting uncomfortably in their seats.  For others, it is nothing but a stereotypical, and humorously appreciated, refection of schoolyard banter from long ago.

Whereas some Pidgin plays approach island stereotypes through humor alone, such as the “Once Upon One Time” series of Lisa Matsumoto, “Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre” makes a stronger and more impactful statement.  The foul-mouthed “Titas” and the slightly spacey, kind old man “Bernie” are humorous reproductions of schoolmates and neighbors.  There are also the darker images of Hawaii: a physically and verbally abusive “Uncle” and a boyfriend “Jimmy boy,” the captain of the volleyball team with only sex on his mind.  This balance of characters highlights life in Hawaii, no matter how harsh, and does not attempt to provide the audience with a feathery, feel-good story in lieu of reality.

“Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre” will have the audience engaged from the start, and will resonate loudly among many.  It is not just a story of one girl’s adolescence; it is a platform to remember those unique voices from the “hanabata days.”  More than that, it is a delightful exhibition of local language, writing, and talent at its finest.

Written for Prof. Brenda Machosky’s ENG 200: Composition II

Dear Hannah,

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I can’t believe you are getting ready to graduate high school and more importantly turn 18. You are no longer my little cousin, but instead a smart and amazing young woman. In August you will pack up and leave your house for college, and while this will be a huge transition, I want you to know that I have great confidence in you. You will be faced with many choices and temptations, and I want you to remember to make smart decisions. I was recently reminded over spring break of a time when I didn’t make wise decisions and how I suffered because of it. Hopefully my advice will stop you from making similar mistakes. You are your own person; do not feel pressured by society to act a certain way.

When I left home twelve years ago to attend college for the first time I was excited to be on my own. I couldn’t wait to make friends, party, and go out. Instead of buying school clothes, I bought clothes to wear to parties. Getting an education was not important to me. Over Fall and Spring Break I felt the need to leave school and go party.  I mean, isn’t that what everyone did in college? Isn’t that what was modeled in society? Everything from commercials to songs told teens to party. Movies like American Pie, Can’t Hardly Wait and She’s All That all showed high school seniors and college students that partying and drinking was the cool thing to do.

Karl Marx once stated that “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” I think he was saying that the world we live in is a reflection of our society. Our society shapes our ideas, philosophies, and our culture. So why does our society portray Spring Break as a drunken party time? I learned the hard way that this type of life is fun but doesn’t work. My first semester I went from getting a 4.0 to getting a 2.0. Not only were my parents furious with me, but I felt like a failure.  The two week (extended) spring break trip I took to Paris didn’t seem all that important anymore. I had fallen behind and was never able to catch up. I learned the hard way that following the party life does not lead to the success and happiness that is portrayed in the film and music industry.

As you know I have started school again, to finish where I left off. This time I am focused and ready to complete my education.  Last week my school had Spring Break and instead of relaxing or having fun I finished the course work for two of my classes ahead of time. I have learned my lesson and I will stop at nothing to finish school and get my degree in teaching.  My attitude has changed, and I am reminded of French philosopher Louis Althusser’s idea that a person’s desires and judgments are the products of social practices. He believed that society made the individuals responsible for their own actions and beliefs, therefore influencing their own image.

Hannah, I know that you have the best intentions of following your dream of becoming a veterinarian; however, I know that there is still a lot of pressure on college students to have fun and party. Hollywood continues to pump out movies that portray the good life of partying.  I think we have to ask ourselves why we follow these cultural ideals that are pushed on us.  Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci identified a form of political control referred to as cultural hegemony. According to Gramsci, cultural hegemony proposes that the prevailing cultural norms of society, imposed by the ruling class, must not be perceived as natural and inevitable, but must be recognized as artificial social constructs, institutions, practices, beliefs; that must be investigated to discover their roots as social class dominations; from which knowledge follows societal liberation.”  We have to ask ourselves why follow the beliefs of these few rich and privileged people; these movie plots are dreamt up in a studio, they are not real life stories, and by watching this garbage we are compromising our society. We are letting them control our thoughts and ideas of what normal is.

I guess my point of writing to you is to let you know that I am here for you. I know this transitional period in your life may be challenging.  I am aware of all of the temptations you will face. However, I want you to be confident in yourself and know that following the norm will not leave you room for success. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. I made a lot of mistakes that I regret, and if I could I would do things differently.  Since I cannot, the best I can do now is to graduate and prove to myself that I have what it takes to succeed. Your life is what you make it, you have the ability to do anything you want … never forget that.

Best of Luck, Lili

 

Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

Early morning September 11th, 2001, I was going about my usual job. I was an Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician stationed in Massachusetts.  My job was to maintain the survival gear used by the aircrew members that flew the F-15’s there on base.  That morning I was in the middle of a G suit inspection when the sirens wailed.  “ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!” was heard over the speakers.  I didn’t think much of it.  We’d been through this drill before many times.  The mission of this base was to protect the skies of the east coast, from Maine to Virginia.  There had been a few times when a pilot in a small private aircraft failed to respond to an air traffic controller and my aircrew had to “escort” him to the closest airfield to meet with local law enforcement agencies.  Today we figured some dumbass was the lucky winner.  The voice came over the building speaker telling us that two airplanes had just flown into the World Trade Centers.

Time stood still.  This was no numb-nut, this was the real thing.  Almost as if I became the well-oiled machine, my training kicked in and I was in the suit-up room helping the two ALERT pilots put on their equipment.

Off the pilots went and off the rest of us went to the break room to see what the news could tell us. We sat there watching it all unfold. We watched the towers crumble one at a time. We saw footage of the Pentagon’s damage. I remember thinking, “Those were our people, our family inside the smoldering wreckage.” At that moment we knew that our service to our country would change drastically.  I could see my children in my mind.  Jacelyn was only three and Dorian only one.  How young they were, thank God, to not have to see this and still so young that this event would change their lives forever.

We then got the word that the base was on lock down.  No one was leaving and we didn’t know how long that would last.  Our aircrews were still in the air patrolling the skies, making sure we were safe.  What did our personal guardians see from so high above?

I called the daycare and asked to speak to my children. I told each one that I loved them and mommy would be home late.  It was up to my husband now to take over both roles.

Four years later, things changed again.

Even before I woke up early that morning I could feel the heat beating down on my building.  Not just heat but a dry-your-tongue-instantly heat that Kandahar produces.  As soon as I stepped outside, the heat tripled, or at least that’s how it seemed.  I thought the soles of my boots would melt into puddles if I didn’t start moving.  As I started my long walk to my work area I noticed that there was a fine cloud hanging in the air. I must have just missed a strong wind.  The baby-fine powder that was shifted about had created a veil, distorting the outlines of the building and tents around me. I sneezed.  This cloud was now invading my nose and eyes. To think I only had to deal with 90 days of this fun.

I arrived to work to find this dust had already made its way inside. I chuckled because it reminded me of the movie “The Blob.”  It found its way into every little nook and cranny. It wouldn’t be worth vacuuming or dusting here.

My office area was small but well-organized, just like my office back home. Each set of aircrew gear had a designated locker.  Just past the lockers was a crew rest area.  It had a couch that was pretty clean, considering, a TV with a DVD player and a mini fridge stocked with water, hajji soda and ice cream in the upper compartment.  I could hear my personal angels singing when I found the ice cream. It had the feel about it that we all wanted.

Home.

My children were my home.  Thousands of miles away my home waited for me.  They waited for the phone calls and for the letters that moved so slowly in the mail.  I too got excited with the thought that a homemade card was on its way with the scribbles and haphazard hearts drawn on it.  Those cards made me feel as if I was getting my big hugs in the morning and a quick kiss before my children went off to school.  My home is where my heart is.

Today’s work brought me in a different direction towards home.  My shop needed to refresh its supply of survival first-aid kits and to get that done I needed to bring them to the army medic building down the road.  I gathered what I needed to bring and started the hot walk to my destination.  The walk there really was a surprise.  What I thought was a God-forsaken place actually had some beauty. It was a diamond in the rough.  Lush, green plants each with a beautiful palate of colored roses were to my left. Behind this rose garden was a building that could pass as a sand castle with its round flowing gables. The mortar and mud structure stood out from the other square structures on post. This had been the airport before the Russians invaded decades before.

The Medic Building did not have the typical look or feel of an institution hospital. This building looked more makeshift, less permanent. The plywood walls gave it away. Walking into the front door I instantly noticed a clean smell. Surprising, considering the other buildings on this post smelled of dirty armpits. I was greeted by a soldier sitting behind a desk. He couldn’t have been older than 19, but looking at his eyes I knew that he had already seen more than many trauma doctors twice his age. He seemed happy to step away from his desk job and help me with what I needed. I followed him through a maze of doors.

The recovery room was dark, peaceful. An occasional beeping noise was faint. Beds were neatly lined up and evenly spaced.  Here and there a few were occupied by a soldier or a Third Country National (TCN for short). I walked by the soldiers and smiled. Not a full “show ‘em your teeth” smile but one that was enough. I care that you’re here. I ignore the TCN’s. We walk into yet another room of this labyrinth. Here is where I lost my breath. Not due to a cloud of dust or veil, but because of a crisp, clear picture that was right SMACK in front of me.

As a mother of two beautiful children my job is solely to protect them, to give them the best life that I can and to teach them to be decent, caring and productive human beings. Being a service member and mother I guess I’m a little more protective than the regular civilian. I know what bad guys can do. I know firsthand what kind of effect war could have on American children.  Or, at least, I know from my side of the war. I knew that we were lucky living in the United States that we haven’t had a war on our soil for over 150 years. We are very lucky to not worry daily about stepping on land mines or being caught in a sniper’s crosshairs. These things happen where the bad guys live. What lay before me, in adult-sized beds, were the bodies of two small children. They seemed the same ages as my Jacelyn and my Dorian. These were children with more bandages than skin, and tubes and hoses protruding from their tiny bodies, unmoving eyes closed. They each had a stuffed animal given to them by the medics as a means of comfort. The first child had it tucked under an arm; the other child had no arm where it should have been. After a second look, I noticed this child wasn’t missing just an arm but also both legs.

I wanted to be sick. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run over and caress their faces and tell them it would be alright even if their mangled bodies and minds would never make it out alive from this room. However, the soldier that was trying to guide me pulled me by the arm and told me to keep moving. The look on my face must have given me away because the words his lips formed — “not going to make it” — answered all of my questions.

These children were human shields, I later found out, and the bad guys got away. I thought I knew what war was and the good and the bad that can come from it. I was wrong in every aspect. I knew that no matter how hard I tried to be good at my job, no, great at my job, sights like these would never go away. I will never be able to protect my children from the hard truth of human cruelty, but I will be able to teach them the value of freedom.

And to think, all I needed was a box of band aids.

 

Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 100: Composition I

Spring Break is often portrayed in the media as a time for young people to unwind and express themselves, free from the burdens and metaphorical chains of societal obligations such as school work. People often partake in behavior opposite to their normal mundane scholarly existence. Every portrayal of Spring Break in the media is of this sense of extreme freedom. Spring Break is often characterized by images of the beach and of parties, young people in swimsuits free to be uninhibited and party for an entire week. The reasons for this may be seasonal, having to do with the break coinciding with a change in the weather, causing people to seek an opposite extreme. For most people, living in non-tropical climates, Spring Break signifies an end to the confinement of snow and rain in the winter months and the beginning of a season of lighter clothes and more activity outdoors in the springtime. For me, however, the Break is fairly mundane, with only the addition of two days completely free of any obligations. This is because I work full time in addition to going to school. For me, Spring Break does not represent a time of complete freedom for the regular college student. It merely represents a chance to live like a normal out-of-college individual with a regular forty-hour-a-week schedule. Because of this, I choose to enjoy simpler pleasures with my Break. I feel that this relates strongly to Althusser’s position that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their condition of existence.” If I were an average college student with no experience in the working world, feeling trapped by the halls of academia with no alternative existence but the bleak winter weather outside, I could see possibly taking the Break as a reason to party and get naked on national television. Because I imagine my existence to be more mundane, a slightly post-college view, I look at my Spring Break as an opportunity for normalcy; an opportunity to be another working person in a working world, rather than a working person also working in school.

Over my two-day break, I did a lot of yard work in order to set the foundations for my aquaponics system. Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponic plant-growing and aquacultural fish-raising. The idea is to use waste products of the fish living in the tank to provide nutrients for the plants growing in the hydroponics system. At the same time, the plants clean the water for the fish, allowing more fish to be raised in captivity than would normally be allowed in such a small space. For me, aquaponics combines the best aspects of permaculture: creating symbiotic relationships in farming and gardening with nature, and “square foot gardening”: to grow the most possible plants or crops in the least amount of space. I see this as an adaptation of the unnatural aspects of square-foot gardening to the symbiotic relationship it can have with the unnatural concept of living in urban and suburban neighborhoods. I believe that I chose to work over my Spring Break, rather than to party, because I do not feel like academia or winter unduly restricts my freedom during the year. In Althusser’s terms, my imaginary relationship with my condition of existence is that school is a vital part of my livelihood and I do not feel a need to escape it by condensing an extreme degree of freedom into one week. Rather, I imagine my experience in the semester to be more free than the mundane existence I could be enjoying keeping my job as a mechanic slaving over skilled, yet unfulfilling tasks for the rest of my working life. I believe that this difference in the imaginary relationship that I have with college and the imaginary relationship that pop-culture portrays is partly due to my life experiences beyond college.

If we consider Althusser’s ideas about the Ideological State Apparatus, the characteristic media portrayal of Spring Break becomes obvious in a Marxist class-struggle connotation. It is portrayed as a method to unwind from the repressive nature of academia. By highlighting its emancipatory nature, we also subtly highlight the oppressive nature of its opposite: school. In this sense, we could postulate that the media, as an Ideological State Apparatus, seeks to weed out the weak-minded and provide an aversion to higher education. This represents a need to fulfill positions in society held by its working class members. This is class struggle at its most basic. Only, as Althusser points out, the Ideological State Apparatus molds minds through a false sense of free will, rather than through an oppressive method which would fuel class struggle and have less effective results.

In this context, working over Spring Break has caused me to feel more free than if I were to be so compelled to “let loose” by a subconsciously repressive ideology imparted by the Break’s portrayal in popular culture. For tending to my garden and knowing that I could possibly produce enough food for myself to live off, I feel liberated. Liberation through hard work and dedication is not often portrayed in the media because it seems as though the idea of work does not instill the same kind of sense of freedom as it does in me, but this may simply be another symptom of an invisible class struggle and a ruling class holding down a working class in the most clever way possible.

 

Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

What I’ll be discussing in this essay is whether the show Medium encourages or discourages cognitive thinking based on the pilot episode.  I’ll do this by using my personal experience with the show, using evidence from the article “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” and using other theories we learned in class.

The episode started with Alison Dubois interviewing a man, in an interrogation room, about how he found his wife, murdered.  As he kept talking, he drew attention to Alison by talking about her white skin and how amazing it would look when blood would run down her skin if he cut her throat.  That scene cut to her waking up in her bedroom; she had just seen a vision of this man in her dream.  She had been having these dreams often enough for her husband to take notice.  Her husband, Joseph Dubois, started documenting these dreams two years prior and collected a number of vicious visions. Alison’s visions were becoming an obstacle for her career path.  She was interning for the District Attorney because she was trying to become a lawyer.  However, the visions and dreams that she received made it impossible for her to remain objective in a case.  Her frustrations were obvious to her husband, so he took it upon himself to take a random vision that she had and faxed it to the authorities.  This caught the attention of the Texas Police Department, and they requested she to go to Texas to see if she was legit. During this whole process, she was continuously badgered by the skeptical main detective. Even with the detective’s condescending manner, she was able to prove him wrong over and over again.  Because of her input on the case for a murder-rape trial of a 6-year-old boy by a 17-year-old boy, she was able to provide justice as well as closure to this cold case.  Because of her success with this case, the District Attorney that she was interning for decided to hire her for her services as a medium.  The end scene cycled back to the beginning of the episode where she was in an interrogation room interviewing the same man that was in her vision.

This episode, and this show in general, allows us to enter the world of crime-solving.  Most of society would never enter an interrogation room or a conference room filled with a group of detectives discussing a serious crime.  It showed us, step-by-step, how they use evidence and intuition to put together a theory about what happened. Solving crimes definitely stimulates cognitive thinking.  I found myself trying to solve problems in this show in the same way before the conclusion is ever revealed.  What this show also does is expose us to different terms that we otherwise would never understand if it weren’t for their use in the show.

For instance, a conversation took place between two scientists talking about wheat germ.  The lines were strategically written to make sure the audience was able to understand the scientific jargon.  This was done by having the scientists take turns stating the facts by using questions and by validating their ideas with the other party in the conversation.  In fact, there was a scene where Alison was stating the facts of a crime scene with the use of slides to help a group of attorneys understand what was going on in a particular murder case.  In one of the slides, she stated more than what the physical evidence provided because of what she saw in her vision.  When the lawyers recognized this, they started to question her because they did their job by the textbook.  They began to state their own facts, based on their personal knowledge of being lawyers, to contradict her statement.  This scene helped me to understand how people in the crime-solving profession come to conclusions.

What I also noticed about this show was the lack of dead space.  There was always something going on in the episode, making you want to keep up with the storyline.  Let’s say if you went to the bathroom and you missed a minute of the show, the rest of the episode would probably make absolutely no sense.  This is because shows nowadays are becoming more complex.  The time of simple-story plots like “Full House” are gone.  This is because shows like that can be boring to this generation of T.V. viewers who are cognitive thinkers.

There must also be a downside to this show.  I could argue this show is keeping society from their need to read.  Instead of reading a crime-solving story in a novel, people are taking the easy way out by watching crime-solving shows on television.  This may prevent society from learning how to use proper grammar; if you’re not constantly seeing the correct use of grammar, you probably won’t be able to use it properly on your own.  As I was growing up, I felt that I was able to speak grammatically well compared to the other students in the classroom.  However, when I went to college, I found myself in a remedial English class because of my poor writing skills.  I attribute this to watching television shows rather than reading books.  I could also argue that this show embodies Karl Marx’s theory of false consciousness.  This show may be encouraging people to think that if you can enjoy this show, that means it’s one of your interests; maybe this means you should work in the crime-solving business.  I saw that one of the community colleges of the University of Hawaii was now offering an A.A. Degree for Criminal Justice. Having this opportunity available and having that false consciousness created by shows like Medium can create a vast number of Criminal Justice majors that later find themselves dissatisfied with what they had chosen.  This unfortunate event could result in a waste of time and a waste of money.  I’m sure lots of college students can relate to this situation.  It can also be said that this show, along with the media in general, has created an over-stimulated society.  Is there a reason why there always has to be ominous music playing in the background whenever Alison is having a murderous vision or is walking into a crime scene?  The answer is it creates more suspense; without it, it’s almost boring.  Today’s audience is used to a format of television shows that have a lot of suspense, comedy, or visual effects.  In turn, this makes us fill in the space in our own lives in order to make it less boring.  Most times, I am unable to do homework without something playing in the background.  For some reason it helps me to concentrate, but it may be decreasing my ability to retain what I’ve learned which defeats the whole purpose of doing the work.

Medium yields both positive and negative arguments for whether or not it helps cognitive thinking.  It exposes us to experiences and terminology that we would otherwise never encounter in real life, but it also hinders our grammatical skills and homework-doing abilities.  The shows are filling up the dead space in television shows with constant moving of the story to keep up with growing numbers of cognitive thinkers, but it’s aiding our over-stimulated society to remain over-stimulated.

We can’t blame the media solely for creating a society of avid T.V. viewers.  They are exploiting us through T.V. programming, but the quality of T.V. programming has improved the thinking of society in general.  T.V. for me is like the Internet; it is a faster way to take in information.  I would rather research the Internet for information than wade through a number of books; I would rather enjoy a television show that lasts about an hour than read through a book that would take me days to finish.

 

Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II