Saturday, November 20, 2010

same blog, new site

Dear all,

Something's gone haywire with my formatting on this blog, and since in very postmodern fashion I'm all about surfaces and so little about content, I've created a new blog. The old URL was a little dated, anyway. It's no longer spring, and very soon it will no longer be 2010.

So here's the new site.

While the old URL very quickly expired, my name (though way more arbitrary than the passage of time... I think...) isn't going anywhere.

So follow me, if you like.

Love,

Grace

Friday, November 19, 2010

On fundamentalism

That's a pretty formidable post title for a silly little blog like mine, but I've been having some (albeit loosely connected) thoughts bouncing around lately that seem to point back to fundamentalism.

Another controversial "F-word" among many (fetus, feminism).

The other day, my critical theory professor suggested that fundamentalism follows postmodernism.

Rewind. Let's define postmodernism - or at least attempt to. The word's a slippery one, but basically describes the tendency of contemporary culture to reject absolutes. It's all relative, says postmodernism. A good postmodernist "deconstructs" - breaks down and analyzes - the strict dichotomies that govern us: black/white, male/female, gay/straight. Postmodernism is all about recognizing the pluralities that exist in the world and turning a skeptical eye on anything that claims to be universal, conclusive, or infallible. It's all about exploring nuance and meaning and category. Postmodern works are always quoting from or referencing other works and movements and themes - a postmodern work doesn't claim to be "original," but rather amuses itself by playing with the preexisting world.

Ideologically speaking, that's a pretty difficult world to navigate. We humans are funny creatures. We like to feel that our existence has meaning. We like to believe that we have a solid, core identity. We like to think there are things that are absolutely true, like that democracy means freedom or that someday, justice will be served.

All that is exactly what postmodernism is trying to debunk.

Postmodernism a reaction to this secure, confident, positivistic worldview - a swing of the pendulum that's been a long time coming. Because denying objective, ultimate truth makes us humans feel so puny and insignificant and insecure, I don't think Marc Olivier (yep, that's my critical theory teacher. Props!) is wrong to suggest that a reaction to postmodernism might be a pendular swing back towards a mentality that asserts that the world around us is ultimately knowable, rational - one that makes sense, one where there are ultimate truths. We humans like to institutionalize those knowable truths: religion, government, political parties. Cling a little more tightly to such supposedly literal, ultimately knowable truths and you get fundamentalism.

But hold up. If defining postmodernism gets a whole paragraph, shouldn't we explore the semantics of "fundamentalism" a bit more closely? After all, the term has a wide range of applications. It was first coined to describe a movement in Protestant theology, but over the last few decades has been reappropriated to describe groups of Muslims, Jews, and Mormons. Strictly speaking, "fundamentalism" should describe the groups' adherence to the most fundamental - that is, the most basic and essential - doctrines.

And here's a whole new can of worms.

What the heck is doctrine? What doctrine is "essential" or "fundamental" to a religious group obviously varies between members of that group. Members of the LDS Church don't believe polygamy to be an essential core doctrine, because we don't practice it anymore. Fundamentalist Mormons, however, have adopted the "fundamentalist" modifier, though, to assert their belief that it is. I'm not going to claim to be an expert on the Muslim faith, but it seems what jihad means is up for debate, and we've assigned the modifier "fundamentalist" to the Muslims who interpret jihad as literal war on unbelievers.

[Brief side note: for some interesting ideas on what essential, or for sake of argument "fundamental" Mormon doctrine is, see this 2007 official statement and Valerie Hudson's close reading of it]

However "fundamentalism" gets applied, it does mean uncompromising adherence to a set of beliefs. Quite the opposite of the postmodern refusal to decide anything for certain. That refusal is unsettling. It's a lot more comfortable to unquestioningly believe in the existence of God than it is to have to explore how and why you believe that - to thrust faith under a microscope.

That said, I'd like to close with this quote from Hugh B. Brown:

"One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking."


That's no resolution at all of the conflict, but I think it's the start of one. More to come in the future, I hope.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Two weeks later

Dear reader(s),

I am on hiatus. I know I haven't made a new post for two weeks, but I am so busy trying to figure out how to get all my school work and grading done, eat and sleep, and study for the GRE (which I'm taking Saturday) that coherence isn't at the top of the list of functions I perform lately. I'll write some well reasoned and carefully crafted post when I get my brain back. See you on the other side of Saturday.

Big love,

Grace

p.s. It's been awhile since I've posted any nice pictures for your edification. Here's one I really like of the RER station at what must be Étoile in Paris. Right now it's the background on my computer for reasons I might explain at some point in the near future.p.p.s. I just came across this video from Paris this spring of my dear friend Ryan and I dancing outside the Musée d'Orsay. Our theme song was "Through Heaven's Eyes" from The Prince of Egypt, and sometimes we had random fits of dancing and singing in the streets. Here's one.
video

Monday, October 25, 2010

more memory, this time wearing footie pajamas


Right now I'm thinking a lot about memory, familiarity, and nostalgia.

I am still processing all the theory going on behind this, but here are a couple memories that have resurfaced in the last couple days, for a myriad of reasons.

(1) When I was a petite gamine, my dad created a cycle of stories he used to tell about two little girls, Gracie and Grossy. Anyone read "William Wilson" by Poe lately? This set of stories my dad told were of a similar sort: one obedient, happy, intelligent little girl named Gracie and her evil twin Grossy. I couldn't repeat a single story today if you asked me to, but I remember my dad teaching, through narrative, lessons as diverse as that when your friends are mean, it's probably because they're insecure, or that when you do what Mommy says, everything goes a lot more smoothly. Maybe this is where my love for stories was born...

(2) Little phrases. My dad used to start the stories he told me about his childhood, "Back when I was a little girl..." He inherited this from my mom's father, who has five daughters (and a son at the very tail end of the family) and a really great sense of humor. But this line frustrated me to no end, just like it frustrated my aunts and mother before me. "Dad! You were never a little girl! Duh!"

And that's not the only line my dad got from Grandpa Dale. When his girls would tell him his breath stank, he replied, "Well, it's better than no breath at all!" My dad still uses that one.

(3) My family's first house in Kansas. This is the house tied to most of my memories from childhood. I learned to roller blade on the street in front of the house. I used to yell, "I like Parker!" or "I like Michael!" or "I like Cody!" (depending on the week, ha) from the swing set in the back yard, telling my secrets to the soybean field behind the property. We used to see deer in that field on Sunday mornings and say, "Look! The deer are going to church!"

I drive by that house every time I visit home. We moved out of that house when I was twelve, but it still has this strange attractive force on me. It's really an uncanny experience to visit it - and I mean "uncanny" in the sense of German "unheimlich": that which is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Though that house holds so many familiar memories, the place itself is alienating to me. A new family has moved in, changed the landscaping, and painted the house - it's no longer the place of my childhood in spite of the familiar elements: the outline of the house, the number of lamps on the street, the shape of the cul-de-sac.

In spite of the changes, the unfamiliarity I'm confronted with every time I visit, the place has some strange pull. There's something at once comforting and disorienting about the experience. And I think I relish that. Maybe it's because though there's a sense that "there's no going back," the memories of my child are somehow immortalized in that place, or in my idea of that place, and being at that specific geographical location triggers those memories.

I think this plays into what Chase mentioned on my last post - Pierre Nora's writings on national history and "realms of memory" with which I am shamefully underacquainted. (I think I just invented that word. Run with it.) As I understand it, Nora links communal cultural memory to the objects and physical locations where we commemorate and enact these abstract memories. The same has to be true for an individual's own narrative of his life: certain places are wrapped up in certain abstract memories.

But more reading required on this one.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

on memory, wearing heavy boots

Have you ever had a memory come flying out of nowhere and hit you with almost physical force? No obvious trigger to set it off. Totally non sequitur by all conscious counts. One second you're alive and well in the present, and the next you're reliving 1997.

Just had one of those.

I was washing my face, getting ready for bed, when a memory from my childhood crash-landed into my superficial thoughts about my new lipstain and tomorrow's outfit.

I can't have been more than 8. I was visiting my grandparents and overheard a conversation about a neighbor's son who, I was able to gather, had killed himself. It was the first suicide I had ever heard of. I asked the sort of questions I think any curious child would: how did he do it? Why? Don't you get in trouble for doing that?

At my tender age, the only answer I could get was that "he had drunk too much coffee." Now, I was not the brightest child, but I was world-wizened enough to know that coffee did not drive a person to take his own life.

And that's where the memory ends: "he had drunk too much coffee" and my childlike skepticism.

And now it's here, stored in The Cloud.

We sometimes like to think of the Internet as replacing human memory, obviating it, making it obsolete. We no longer need to remember trivia we can find two clicks away on Wikipedia. I can search classics like Brothers Karamazov on Project Gutenberg, meaning I don't have to actually memorize my favorite quotes - they're always accessible. I don't have to remember your birthday - Facebook notifies me in a convenient little box on the side of my screen.

But memory's not going anywhere. It just might work a little differently it did ten or fifty or a hundred years ago. I find that my memory works a bit like a text full of hyperlinks. One idea leads me to another before I've even finished my first thought. This is exactly why my blog posts are usually riddled with parenthetical text. I think memory works on a system of tags. One event in the present tags back to another in the past. I remember a literature professor my very first semester explaining Anna Karenina using this device. All the events in our lives are interconnected, or, perhaps, we weave a network of meaning by subconsciously connecting events.

So wherever that memory of my first encounter with suicide came from, it is somehow connected to whatever I was thinking or feeling or experiencing 42 minutes ago, and is acquiring even more meaning as the basis for this blog post.

Hm. Maybe I should try writing when my mind is functioning at full capacity, and not in the middle of the night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

bones

Dear World,

I've got a couple bones to pick with you. I'm going to preface this post by saying that I almost always regret decisions I make in the middle of the night, and deciding to create this post might end up as one of them, but maybe the ideas I want to get out have less sting than I estimate in my insomnia.

Hope I can stay lucid long enough to get these out.

Here are my issues. On the surface they seem to be pretty disparate, but at the end I'm going to try to link them all together, thus preserving The World of My Mind as a place where at least some logic happens.

(1) Gender.

That's pretty broad. And I don't have an issue with the concept of the existence of gender. Rather, I have been thinking a lot about what it means for me to be A (short-haired, strong-willed, sometimes caustic) Woman and even more what it means to be A Woman in respect to what it means to be A Man, and what it means to be A Human.

I'm part of a group that meets once a week to talk about gender issues, especially in Mormon culture, and we've come to some interesting conclusions about ideas like what it means to be "equally-yoked" in a marriage relationship and some even more open-ended speculations about things like why women don't have the priesthood.

But this week, my friend Will made a couple comments that are reshaping the way I look at gender issues. Will's point is basically that beyond being men and women with a distinct gender, we are all people. It can be easy (and fun!) to generalize about gender traits: women are more nurturing and likable, men seek risk and leave the toilet seat up, etc. But even if those are the statistical tendencies, there are so many exceptions to the "rule" that I don't know if I want to keep calling it one. Why not just say, "Some people are nurturing" and "Some people are averse to risks, while some people thrive on them"?

Why do we care so much about gender differences?

This question is really pertinent to another concept I'm trying to work out: human relationships. For this week's meeting of the infamous Feminist Support Group (though we probably shouldn't call it that - we'll be black-listed on BYU campus), we read this talk by Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State. He's got a really provocative and really pertinent argument that I'm going to unjustly sum up thus: for biological reasons, men are more competitive, risk-seeking, and tend towards extremes, while women are more are more risk-averse and tend towards the statistical middle of society. That, says Baumeister, is why while you see men "on top" of society - as CEOs, major literary figures, politicians - you also see them "on the bottom" - in prison, homeless, repairing your septic tank. He also claims this explains why men "specialize in" ephemeral, shallower relationships and women "specialize in" intimate ones.

But do we? That's the gender stereotype: men struggle to express their feelings and so have more superficial relationships, while women crave a soul sister with whom they can share their every hope and dream and fear.

But wait! Don't all humans want and need both kinds of relationships? I guess I can stomach Baumeister's argument with language like "specializes in," but my basic point is this: human beings - men and women - need close, intimate friendships as well as a shallower network of acquaintances. How can you split that on gender lines?

My friend Adam suggested to me that perhaps rather than "preferring" shallow relationships, some guys (and I would say people in general) just don't know how to go about forming intimate ones. But that's just a basic human need, right? And I know several of men who express their emotions better than I do, who are better at forming intimate friendships.

Maybe I'm overstating my point, and I probably shouldn't tackle Baumeister on this issue, but there is a part of me that wants to simply talk about the way human beings are. Yeah, men and women are different chemically and biologically - just as Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain and The Male Brain. But there is so much that is just essential to human nature that I sometimes wonder if we don't perpetuate gender inequality and stereotypes when we talk so much about gender differences.

Tell me if I'm wrong.

Moving on, though.

(2) The Future and Talking.

What? I'm graduating? You mean, I have to plan my life? I don't know what I'm doing. I can't give you any more information, because frankly, I don't have it. All I know is that I want to keep going with my education. I am finding again and again that I thrive on discussion, conversation, on an exchange of ideas. Though I have loved my time at BYU, I want to add new voices to the dialogue I participate in. At BYU, I share the same foundational beliefs with the vast majority of people I talk with, but I'd like to mix it up a little.

Here's another bone to pick: frankly, the gay-bashing, the reluctance to thrust religious culture under an academic microscope, and the speeches borrowed from Glenn Beck (which are mercifully few - I screen my friends' media consumption) are exhausting. I'd like to switch it up.

(I also realize that when I "screen my friends' media consumption" I'm expressing the very kind of bias I'm trying to escape, just in the opposite direction - wanting to disregard a voice one disagrees with. But seriously, Glenn Beck? Starting your own "university" to program masses of doctrinaires like yourself?)

I would like to hear new opinions, new perspectives. What does that mean for my future? Applying to grad schools outside Utah. Seattle? Madison? New York? Chicago? Philly? New conversations with new people.

(3) Provocation.

I am discovering something perhaps a bit distasteful about myself. I like to provoke a reaction in people. For example, in my office, I have already earned the reputation of being feminist, whatever that means. A brief anecdote: my friend Camille works with the wife of one of my coworkers. In the process of figuring out who I was, the wife said, "Ohhh Grace the feminist!"

I absolutely relish that, and I try to push it as much as I can, evidenced by the questions I pose and the comments I make, my frequent references to castration and my increasingly boyish hair. I walked across campus holding my friend Jourdan (she's a girl)'s hand just to get a reaction. I want to get under people's skin, I want to ruffle their feathers, I almost want them to dislike me for putting my (slightly subversive) ideas out there.

My feelings on this are mixed. The adult in me says, "Now, Grace. You don't need to please everyone, but trying to push their buttons is more than a little disrespectful." The angry adolescent in me says, "Haha! You can't stop me! And these conservative suckers really need to be pinched, prodded, and if worse comes to worse sucker-punched (metaphorically speaking, of course) into seeing that the world still exists outside of Provo and it's a lot more complex and nuanced than they think!" I leave it to you and the future to decide where my ultimate sympathies lie.

ALRIGHT, enough already. If you've made it to here in this post, I applaud you. I'll probably even bake a cake for you because you probably burned all the calories in three and a half slices in this marathon of a rant.

But I did promise I'd tie this all together, which I'll do in just one sentence:
I want to talk (bone #2) about gender issues (bone #1), but careful, I might scare you off just for the fun of it (bone #3, which I'm actually picking with myself and not with The World).

À la prochaine, cher lecteur.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

let me explain


A few months ago, I made this post, begging France to take me back soon. At the time, I figured I wouldn't see that beautiful country for at the very least another year or two.

I thought I was kissing my "Carte 12-25"* goodbye, because it expires the 29th of June 2011. I tacked to my wall for purely sentimental reasons. Wrong! I plan to use that thing ASAP to visit my dearest Amandine in Auxerre.

I had tucked my Passe Navigo** away for safekeeping. But that thing will be back in business starting the 22 of January.

You may ask, my dear friends, why?

I've been hired to teach French 102 and 201 on study abroad this winter semester.

Interpretation: I go to France for free. Travel and housing paid for, plus my normal teaching salary.

DISCLAIMER: This is a blessing - not my own doing. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Powers That Be.

*French rail pass for people under 25 travelling
** swipe card for the Paris Metro