The first day of Marymount Manhattan's English and World Literature department's senior capstone presentations was on December 7th. The beginning of the event took place in Main 509, and was sponsored by Professor Julie Huntington.
Presentation number one was by Emily Inman, covering "Drunkenness as Transcendence: Uncovering Sufi Theme and Form in Algerian Poetry." It's quite easy to get confused with the title of the presentation, but "drunkenness" refers to that dizzying sentiment one feels when they become enlightened by a higher being, and in this case, by God. The whole concept is associated with giving yourself up to the divine and trying to bring the divine within you.
This is the ideal with Sufism. Many of those who do not practice Islam would think of Sufism as a sect of the religion, but Sufism is another dimension of Islam altogether. Communication is a prominent aspect in their teachings, as they believe that healthy communication with other human beings, as well with oneself, is the key to enlightenment. Reason and the intellectual are far less prized than inner revelations and experience.
... dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.
- Ibn Khaldun, quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islam, www.masud.co.uk, 1995
This may prove to be a difficult feat, and proved itself difficult during the time period of turmoil between Algeria and France and even the moments afterwards.
The dilemma of miscommunication can be resolved by poetic voice. The connection between the reader and the text is an intimate one.
Having already explained these elements, Emily went on to read, in fluent French, excerpts from Algerian poetry. The first poem is "Drunkenness" by Attar, written below. This poem can be found in the book Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the early Mystics to Rumi by Mahmoud Jamal.
My drunkenness is alien to the sober;
They do not understand this work.
Those worldly ones that sit in the church
Do not understand the sorrow of the drunkard's heart.
Those who are wrapped in the cloak of pride
Cannot see behind the veil of mystery.
Those who have not been separated from their Beloved
Will not understand my night without my Love.
Without my Beloved I was a prisoner in my home,
So that the others would not see my pain;
The sorrow of the nightingale, the yearning of the bud,
Only the flower in the garden can understand.
All who are not caught in the pain of Love
Will not find a balm for Attar's pain.
Here, we see the intimate connection between the writer and the audience. Attar wishes to express all of his sentiments to the reader and thus, leaves himself exposed. The infinite and unconditional love for the higher being is made evident to the many comparisons of his love to something melancholy and beautiful, such as the nightingale's sorrow or the sole flower in a garden.
If language is a tool to be used, then the object is not to deform it or destroy it, but to get the tool in the right hands, so it can be used effectively" (Baugh, 43)
In perfect French, Emily began to recite two poems by Algerian poets Rachid Bey, who wrote "Confusion," and Hassan Chebli, who wrote "Repentir."
"Confusion" depicts a concept of drunkenness or some form of drug induced hallucination. Apart from this euphoric interpretation, Bey also depicts a perpetual disgust of what he sees. Two key words were introduced to us: ammoniaque, which is a repulsion of a physical image; and lamartine, which is the reaction to the trauma of the Algerian war.
With "Repentir," we see something different. Although both poems do question the concept of sobriety, they both depict transcendence differently. "Repentir" depicts God as a consolation in the physical world, as well as in the one in the beyond.
Cody Gambino was the next senior to present his thesis on "The Cold War Queers: How Cold War Politics Influenced Themes in Queer Literature." Although historians are still unclear on the definite time period of the Cold War, they do agree that it lies between the years of 1947-1965. Within those years, the 1950s are seen as the platform of McCarthyism, which was a mass deterioration of unity in many regards. The original mission of McCarthyism was to eliminate any type of communist opposition, but it also developed into what we know as the lavender scare: the discrimination, firing, and red-listing of individuals who expressed any sexual identity other than "straight." Many of said individuals were forced into serving the army after being fired for their job.
Cody then proceeded to talk of three books that were inspired by these traumatic events of history. "The City and the Pillar," written by Gore Vidal, is a story that revolves around a handsome boy by the name of Jim.
Jim, a handsome, all-American athlete, has always been shy around girls. But when he and his best friend, Bob, partake in 'awful kid stuff,' the experience forms Jim’s ideal of spiritual completion. Defying his parents’ expectations, Jim strikes out on his own, hoping to find Bob and rekindle their amorous friendship. Along the way he struggles with what he feels is his unique bond with Bob and with his persistent attraction to other men. Upon finally encountering Bob years later, the force of his hopes for a life together leads to a devastating climax.
- description taken from here
"'The City and the Pillar' shows the rosier side of things, obviously still retaining the struggles faced by a homosexual, but there is a slower paced revelation of identity," Cody stated. "During the time period where this large group of people were being marginalized [those who identify in the LGBT+ community], there was an emphasis on the concept of "masculinity" and "heterosexuality," and there was an uncomfortable bringing of forth of an immediate sexual identity."
"The Price of Salt" was written by Patricia Highsmith in 1952. An interesting fact is Highsmith's apparent need for a pseudonym: Claire Morgan. Cody explains the clashes between the acceptance of sexual identity through this. Although plenty of people remained firm in regards to their sexuality and others were moved to declare their right to love, there were others who submerged their lifestyles in secrecy.
And so the 'The Price of Salt' — the first modern novel to offer its women lovers a desirable future — was imagined while its author was a) engaged to a man, and b) attempting to exorcise the erotic obsessions that inspired her.
- taken from here
"The Price of Salt" revolves around a romance between Carol, an independent and financially established middle-aged woman, and Therese, a young lady with dreams of being a set designer but who works in a toy store.
"Age difference isn't the only thing creating complications with the couple. Sacrifice is a concept both women have to become familiar with. We see what they both have to give up just to love the person they want," Cody commented.
The third book mentioned is "The Dancer From the Dance" by Andrew Holleran.
One of the most important works of gay literature, this haunting, brilliant novel is a seriocomic remembrance of things past -- and still poignantly present. It depicts the adventures of Malone, a beautiful young man searching for love amid New York's emerging gay scene.
- taken from here
"What happens after World War 2," Cody explaind, "is the creation and concentration of gay communities. Yet, these communities were experiencing a tremendous amount of discrimination and the sexual identity of a person continued to be a touchy subject. It becomes a matter of 'I either die or exist as a show.'"
There's a wave of popular society. We can't hold it and mold it. We can't go against it. And so many tried to despite all the oppression. I'm trying to give this subject justice.
- Cody Gambino.
Heather Harbach tackled "The Construction of Bride's Cosmetic Consumption Through Influencer Marketing in Toni Morrison's 'God Help the Child.'" Rather than just jumping into her presentation, Heather shared an insightful piece of information regarding what it means to be a writer.
I learned a lot about myself as a writer. I think this is something only we [writers] can understand, but I had so much anxiety staring at a blank sheet of paper whenever I used a digital platform to type [such as WordPerfect]. I couldn't do it. It became so stressful, so I had to sit down with my clipboard and paper and write everything out. Words flew more fluidly. I filled up this entire binder with just my writing.
- Heather Harbach
And trust me, the binder was thick and no doubt, it was heavy.
Her poster depicted the never-ending circle of consumption and how it is apparent even in our makeup. Heather challenged us to think of who or what influenced us to pick up that first mascara brush. "Was it your mother? A friend? An advertisement? How do you do your makeup?"
"God Help the Child" by Toni Morrison follows Lula Anne Bridewell, who calls herself "Bride." She is a tall, elegant woman with a blue-black complexion in a white world where lighter skin color meant a greater possibility to climb higher up socially and financially. She is verbally abused by her mother growing up who punishes her for her skin and neglects to show any affection.
Bride's journey to self-confidence from a starting point of nearly zero self-esteem exemplifies the struggle of self-acceptance. "You have to learn how to accept yourself as you are," advised Heather. "And sometimes the environment doesn't provide the right conditioning for that healthy relationship with yourself, but in the end, once you do, you'll be much happier."
Bride then begins to wear all white, showing off her skin color, better reflecting her beauty. This is one of, if not the most, pivotal point of the book.
'God Help the Child' is the kind of novel where you can feel the magnificence just beyond your reach. The writing and storytelling are utterly compelling, but so much is frustratingly flawed. The story carries the shape of a far grander book, where the characters are more fully explored and there is far more at stake.
- taken from here
The concept of fleeing into the imaginary instead of confronting what's ahead of her is the conflict we are presented with in Ashley Potter's presentation titled "The Subjective Narration in the Prime of 'Miss Jean Brodie: A Metaphysical Experience Uncovered.'"
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie [written by Muriel Sparks] is a sublime miracle of wit and brevity, and a Scots classic that’s a masterclass in narrative construction and the art of 'less is more'. The action centers on the romantic, fascinating, comic and ultimately tragic schoolmistress Jean Brodie who will, in the most archetypal sense, suffer for the sin of hubris, her excessive self-confidence.
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Here, the focus of the presentation is on Sandy who is an individual with a deep interest in analyzing human behavior. "How do you claim individuality when you are the one who doesn't belong?" Ashley asked to the viewers. More importantly, how do you conform when it's not in your nature to?
Ashley went on to conclude that this unhealthy obsession with human behavior (and ultimately, other people) is the root to Sandy's writings. She is constantly writing about Miss Brodie, the center of her fixation. Miss Brodie is one of the professors teaching at the high school Sandy is currently in, but her teaching style proves to be a bit unorthodox. Rather than teaching history, arithmetic, or biology, she talks of "ladylike" manners, her romantic endeavors, and most controversially, fascism. In addition, she selects six girls from the entire class and calls them a "set."
"This devalues them as people," commented Ashley in her presentation. "Oh, they're just a set. Like a set of furniture or a set of dolls. This shows Miss Brodie's manipulative side. She's trying to play God."
The God of Calvin, Sandy might say. In a respect, there is much truth in the statement. Miss Brodie feels as if she can attain what she wants due to her "prime" time of existence in regards to beauty and sexual desire, expecting all to covet and aspire to be like her. This can be compared to the narcissism found in Calvinists, who believe God picks and chooses the "elite" members of society to be brought to salvation. This alludes to the "set" Miss Brodie makes of the girls.
Although Miss Brodie does forcefully define the girls according to her own standards, we later find out that Sandy, as the narrator, "played God" better than her teacher. Sandy has written her own book: "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace," which becomes a popular psychological disquisition.
There are subjective and imaginary elements incorporated all throughout the novel. It is apparent with how Sandy 'sees' Miss Brodie everywhere, including when she sees her friends, she sees Miss Brodie's floating head. It's always interesting to figure out what is the individual's reason to see things that aren't there. That running away or that need to escape. Or just that fascination with someone else.
- Ashley Potter
The presenters then proceeded to the front where they were asked about their personal decisions regarding the making of their projects and their basic overall writing journeys. An interesting connection, brought to light by Dr. Jennifer Brown of MMC's English department, was control. Control was evident in each presentation, depicting how an abstract notion can be interpreted in a variety of ways, displayed in many forms, and covered in different angles.
After a few minutes of discussion, the first segment of the Capstone presentations came to a close.
Special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Brown of the English Literature department for her photos.
Lead Image Credit: Flickr