Toni Morrison’s essay illustrates the dehumanization of slaves, as eighteenth century U.S. census reports did not properly distinguish between pounds of rice and human beings and thus reduced the value of these bodies. Morrison uses the Census Bureau’s ignorance to demonstrate the clear limitations of this shared human experience, which Professor Tamura introduced in the opening lecture of Unit 3. Professor Tamura asserts that possessing a body unifies all people; nonetheless, other evidence from her unit corroborates Morrison’s theses. In discussions of international reactions to painful images from the Rwandan genocide, Susan Sontag suggests a lack of empathy despite mutual understandings of bodily pain. According to Sontag, “those whom war spares are callously indifferent to the sufferings beyond their purview,” (Sontag 66). This claim implies that, for a foreign audience, having a body does not bring these people to care. Because Westerners cannot picture themselves as the suffering Rwandans, perceiving this people as the “other,” they fail to utilize their commonalities as a way to conceptualize this pain. According to Morrison’s essay, white bureaucrats view slaves’ bodies as having more in common with dry goods than their own bodies. Similarly, Westerners do not view their bodies as having enough in common with the bodies of Rwandans to care about their pain. This reality, introduced by Sontag, inhibited international aid during this crisis.
Despite the universal human ownership of a body, bodies do possess inherent differences that handicap some. The graphic novel, March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell depicts a blind man, Al Hibbler, attempting to participate in a Civil Rights protest. According to these authors, the police intervene to take him on the grounds of their concern about his disability. However, this legal involvement had altruistic intentions only in theory, as police officers notoriously opposed the Civil Rights movement and met its proponents with violence. The panel of the graphic novel in which Hibbler appears implies that this police “aid” will only cause him suffering at the hands of these officers (Lewis, Aydin, and Powell 126). Lewis, Aydin, and Powell, nonetheless, attempt to use this novel to promulgate their cause, because, despite the passage of the Civil Rights act, much more social change must occur. As such, they hope to spark more action towards their cause than those taking the photographs that Sontag discusses, which did not lead to the desired international aid. The authors of this graphic novel use the fundamental differences in bodies as an emotional appeal for sympathy for Hibbler. Furthermore, they antagonize the cop, who does not expect anyone to believe any truth to his his feigned concern about the handicapped body of Hibbler. This pretense of altruism only creates an immense irony. Nobody besides those already protesting would have protested if this cop had taken Hibbler without saying anything. Nonetheless, for these authors, the irony of his remark, combined with Hibbler’s blindness and consequent vulnerability, can hopefully not only generate sympathy from their audience but also turn such reactions into action. Their call away from complacency and for further action within this issue stems from an assumption that the commonality of the human body successfully connects strangers through the media.
Nonetheless, can the commonality of the body inspire people to enact substantial social change? Between Sontag, who denies that the body connects people beyond their social differences, and Lewis, Aydin, and Powell, who create their scholarship in accordance with these hypotheses, this question does not receive an answer. Either shifting towards openness to international aid or working to eliminate contemporary racial discrimination, these media examples advocate for a more universal treatment of others as humans. Such a shift would fundamentally realign the systems currently affecting these authors. A system, for the purposes of this post, refers to the collection of institutions or principles upon which groups of people define themselves (often a government). Referring to how this change occurs, Lawrence M. Principe answers to the original question, as he notes that people typically fear discoveries that drastically undergird their former beliefs (Principe 78). Although Principe specifically discusses scientific advances and whether people accept them, this model applies outside of strictly the concept of the vacuum to other movements for social change. Locke exemplifies this initial rejection on the grounds of unfamiliarity, as he proposed an entirely unforseen model of government that derives its rights from the people. One crucial tenet of his model asserted the rights to property, which he derived from the human body. Locke’s democratic principles, furthermore, contend that, similar to the common body, property manifests itself as a universal right. Despite dismissals of his ideas at first, he inordinately influenced the United States’ fight for independence and subsequent structure of government. These events thus mark the eventual shift in the public’s opinion of him, and Locke establishes that systems and their understanding of the body can change. His value of property rights and of a respect for the body of man remain at the forefront of American politics and culture. The problem, nevertheless, remains that this respect still only extends to one’s own kind.
However, although the examples of Locke and Principe demonstrate that the parameters of systems can change, whether humans can change how they relate to each other within a system remains questionable. For interactions between either two people from different systems, or two people with distinct differences from the same system, limitations exist. With the body serving as an underlying guide for human relations, many disagree on whether humans can learn to interact with those different from them. Morrison suggests that history, which denies any such claim, provides the best evidence for the future. As the human body has always provided a potential unifying force, no reason exists that it should work now when it did not before. However, Aurthur Brooks suggests that “‘bridging identity’ is… what our hearts truly desire in a divided world.” For this author, the exchange of human stories will eventually allow a greater appreciation for those initially perceived as “different” and enact this change. Such a thesis relies heavily, nonetheless, on a common human experience to unite those involved beyond their historical difference. Possessing a body, while potentially not the limit to what humans shared, provides a minimal baseline for commonalities among humans. Morrison suggests that this cannot compensate for the past. Nonetheless, even if aided by tactics such as the aforementioned media, the human body still perpetuates difference. Despite social progress within these human created systems, these differences cause the ultimate efficacy of the body’s unification to remain in question.
In arguably one of the more dramatic readings of the course, C.P. Snow explores the fundamental and monumental divides between literature and science that plague not only academia, but also society. His exposition of these problems includes many dramatic remarks on the ways in which these disciplines fail to understand each other; however, I fully believe that this only occurs due to a breach in the different ways in which they experience revolution. Much of unit two’s work focused on paradigm shifts and the ways in which scientific revolutions occurred upon discovering a new relationship or disavowing a previously understood reality. Yet empirical evidence or at least objective, repeatable experimentation serves as the underlying commonality within all scientific revolution. Science lends itself to concepts that prove themselves without a shadow of a doubt: in discussions of truth, it remains unquestionable that objects accelerate due to gravity at 9.8m/s/s (a scalar value, some small margin of error). However, literature does not offer itself up to objectivity that easily. While literary movements evolve, they do so as a reflection of the culture and world from which they come. Literature does not have a “right answer” and a “one size fits all” movement of literature does not exist. Scientific discoveries and literary movements do not develop as mutually exclusive phenomena. For example, renaissance literature and its increased emphasis on the individual and free stemmed in part from the scientific and technological advancements that increased social mobility and broke down previously cemented divides between aristocracy and peasants. Nonetheless, literature reflects more than science, and its statements on the people about which it reports indicate an inherent imperfection. Literature can begin to expose the world, but it only reveals a certain part of the collective narrative and always with holes. As such, a literary revolution occurs when more of this narrative comes to light.
Notwithstanding, the crux of Snow’s argument lies at the problems that can occur when these disciplines fail to look past these divides and respect those from the other side. While he points out not unfounded challenges, a greater emphasis must occur on bridging divides and failing to value one way of processing information more than the other. As seen in the unit eight film “Katarina Blum”, the challenges to democracy become inordinate when two groups have a fundamental disagreement about an issue but one has a monopoly on scholarship. Although, in this case, the life or death consequences of her protests create a much more severe issue than the science and literature debate, both scenarios contain a fundamental incongruity. Furthermore, the power that one group has, as seen in the film, to control the narrative, as the press does, creates a stark lack of democracy. The disclaimer at the very end, that any similarities to the authentic press were “neither intentional nor accidental but unavoidable”, reveals the overwhelmingly anti-democratic elements of this regime. While a trade-off inevitably exists between freedom and equality in any regime, this complete allowance of an unrestricted freedom of the press ironically creates a tyrannical presence for the country’s citizens. Understandably given the country’s desired anti-Marxist political climate, its leadership leaned far away from enforcing standards for equality. Nonetheless, this results in the potential for oppression from extra-governmental forces, such as the paper, and the film’s exposé of this dichotomy, combined with the disclaimer about the truth value of this depiction, underscores key evidence of the country’s values. While the reality that Snow presents on academic disagreement would almost certainly never lead to this rather dire situation, it contains the same fundamental problem. This film underscores how, in different circumstances, this fundamental problem can lead to much worse consequences.
However, one key lesson from this course posits that democracy and divides that challenge it can occur in more ways than the archetypal tyrannical government and physical protest. Democracy exists in small ways and particularly in how humans interact with each other and cross these aforementioned challenging barriers. Translation serves as a particularly strong representation of these challenges. In comparing two separate translations of Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem, that of Anderson surpasses that of Thomas. Anderson’s demonstrated his work as superior to Thomas’s both in its poetic beauty and in its comprehensibility. This twofold advantage definitively enhances its readability. Her translation forgoes short, choppy sentences and uneven lines present in the other for a more cohesive flow and strong cadence. Although obviously a translation, Anderson’s translation felt much more like reading a poem. In terms of its meaning, particularly for an outsider to Russia, its culture, and some of the subtle idiosyncrasies, everything felt much more well explained in Anderson’s translation. For example, Anderson unpacks how the wails she refers to came from “the wives of those the Tsar put to death”, whereas Thomas just discusses a “wailing wall” (page 3). This specificity allows anyone to understand the thematic content of the poem without necessarily bringing in as strong of a background in Russian studies as someone like Professor Ewington would have. Furthermore, Anderson’s translation contains many helpful notes with dates, locations, and other relevant background information that aids its outside audience. These democratic elements nonetheless represent an important accessibility frequently forgotten in debates like that which Snow explores. Each side of an issue must not become so implored with their own issues that they forget to consider others, and the contrast within these two translations demonstrates the crucial democratic elements that come from this considering.
Despite how nice efforts for democracy sound, history has perpetually shown the challenges to this type of future. Even if momentary, historically humans have struggled to stop themselves from temporarily departing from democracy. The ramifications of this issue, somewhat discussed above, nonetheless seem to matter less than a bigger question: how to move on after this bad moment. Monuments, a token often used as a physical reminder of apology, come with their own problems however. A reading from unit five discusses how monuments frequently “forestall a premature healing, a rushed reconciliation.” Particularly in the case of the Civil War, as the article discusses, monuments specifically in the locations of past events, these emphases of the past fail to place these issues in the present narrative. Although the principal leaders of such movements have died, the artist studied, Lemon, objects to using their demise as an excuse to view the problems that they attempted to fix as issues of the past. Lemon emphasizes both that these problems still exist and that his attempts to express their history do not mark a complete study of such issues. These intentions that Birns, the author, brings to life recall Angela Davis’s argument (from Unit One), which posits that defined “ends” to struggles for expanded rights frequently mask contemporary systems of prejudice. In her example, contemporary discourse has established the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1963 as an “end” to the Civil Rights Movement. However, this evaluation, according to Davis, has inhibited the evolution of a vocabulary and discourse that could better recognize what this legislation fails to fix in the racial equality struggle and how such issues permeate contemporary institutions. Both Lemon and Davis attempt to combat the social tendency and desire to ignore present prejudices and issues with the excuse of past social change. Nonetheless, given that Lemon establishes the present nature of so many issues frequently placed in the past, Angela Davis examines how this happens.
While these issues of reconciliation and equality ask big questions, their relation to the science and literature debate may at first appear tangential. Nonetheless, both cases reflect the results of the human fear of the unknown. Humans inherently define themselves by opposition to create security surrounding their own identity. The minuscule science and literary debate would likely never serve as a catalyst for a conflict like that in “Katarina Blum” or of the Civil Rights movement. Its importance, at face value, may appear tantamount to that of a debate of a debate over a translation. Notwithstanding, these small examples, particularly the clash between science and faith, represent the problems that create these large challenges to democracy. This fear of the unknown, present in all four examples, has its true capacity for damage if humans cannot look beyond themselves to overcome it.