The paper on the character of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost and the character of Jadis from C S Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is now complete, proofed, reread, corrected, reread again, with a lovely bibliography, and handed in to my very kind and patient Professor. It is finally done!! For better or for worse. Now, I will spend the interim between handing in the paper and his final response to me, ie my mark, fretting about things like, could I have done more? Are my citations accurate and appropriately embedded? Is it sourced enough? Do I make sense to any other person aside from me? Is it a Master’s level paper? Why is my vocabulary still so wanting? Should I even be trying this? I’m a terrible writer. I hate myself. I should quit right now before I make more of a fool of myself. Yes. These are my thoughts EVERY SINGLE TIME! I am waiting for the day when a Professor sends me back a big fat “F”, and demands to know how I got into the Master’s program on the back of such poor writing. “Who let her in here?” Off with her head! Burn the witch!!” And then my darling husband, my wonderful sister, and all my brilliantly educated and successful friends tell me to “stick a sock in it.” And, “Get over yourself.” How can I argue with that logic? When I tell them my doubts, they just laugh at me. Normally, this might seem very cruel, and it kinda is, but then they also know me so well, and they’re quite aware of my track record. I actually do work very hard, and I take no “A” for granted–each of them has been hard-won. I will teach English Literature someday soon–when all this is over–and this very thing will be one of the lessons I take with me into a career. To me, sweat and perseverance will always be worth a grade, and I know that sometimes it will mean, for some poor science major agonizing over completing the English requirement for their BSc, the difference between a C and a C+.
Right now, I leave the supreme evil-doers, and go on to something lighter…slavery. (That was sarcasm.) Slavery–what a horror. No matter the beautiful things human beings accomplish NOW, there is always a stain of what was done THEN. Inescapable, and ever painful. My next paper will look at an aspect of that “painful inescapability” and examine how slavery is remembered in the films of modern western culture. This will be a fairly short paper, but my research so far tells me that this could be a Master’s thesis for someone who wanted to take it on. I know that threads of this topic have already been examined, and 12 Years a Slave brought a new flood of scholarly articles. So, I will add my two cents worth to the discussion.
But, and this is a big-ass “but”… I am a white woman. As a white woman, am I able to write intelligently about a topic that was, at least in North America, so excruciatingly “Black”? I can certainly speak to how the films were received by popular culture because, and I think Adorno said something to the effect that, we are all in popular culture, even if we don’t know it. It’s our perspectives that vary–and perspectives can be informed by our economical situation, our gender or lack thereof, and certainly race has lots to do with it, even if the very concept of “race” is being argued as we speak. My understanding of slavery therefore is going to be a projection of my own identity. So if my understanding of slavery is necessarily influenced by my own understanding of the world AND my place in it, how can I be anywhere near qualified to speak on it in a paper? I do have an answer to this…by the way. I know that I will not be able to disable the sense of outrage I feel about slavery, so I thought, why should I even try? Does this suggest my so-called “white guilt”? I wish I knew who coined that phrase, because I would love to give that person a piece of my mind.
I have no “guilt” over slavery. It happened in another country a hundred years before I was born. That’s like asking all Italians to feel guilty about all the violent crap the Romans did. C’mon. Neither I, nor my parents, nor my grandparents, nor my great-grandparents, nor my great-great grandparents on either side of my family ever owned slaves. I know my great grandmother had a servant in the house, but she was a local girl and paid for her work. Therefore, I can approach the topic of slavery with a clear conscience. That said, it does not mean I do not approach the idea of slavery without a large portion of sadness and outrage. Especially sadness. It is with a sad heart that I have watched the films on slavery. And it is this overwhelming sadness that loosens my tongue–so to speak–and compels me to speak.
Why MUST we remember slavery in North America? It’s over, isn’t it? Why can’t we just take the lessons learned and move forward? Well, I think we must remember for the same reason we remember our veterans. Someone once said that the only thing we learn from the past is that we have learned nothing from the past. That is the statement that we simply CANNOT allow to be true for certain things. Things like Nazism, burning witches, torture, the union of state and church, and slavery. Because if we don’t learn and keep the example of these arduous lessons, we will not grow as a species. There are some things that must be sacred to a civilization if it wants to evolve in thought and practice.
And that concludes my rant for this episode, folks. I highly recommend the beautiful and disturbing piece of art on film that is 12 Years a Slave.