Revolution Lullabye

June 9, 2009

Pratt, Arts of the Contact Zone

Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” In Ways of Reading. 5th ed. Eds. Bartholomae and Petroksky. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.

This essay, originally published in 1991, problematizes the notion of the homogenous, coherent, utopian, and limited community (especially as imagined in and of the classroom) by introducing the idea of the contact zone, the places where cultures meet and engage. Pratt explains what she terms as the literate arts of the contact zone – things like authethnography, transculturation, critique, collaboration, bilingualism, parody, and vernacular expression – which are ways people throughout history have used language to express the clash of cultures to both a dominant and an oppressed culture. Pratt calls for the creation of “pedagogical arts of the contact zone,” strategies and techniques teachers can use to teach about diversity, culture, and power, ¬†and how writing and literacy play a part in creating communities and contact zones.

Quotable Quotes

Contact zones: “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today”

Autoethnographic text: “text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them.”

Notable Notes

uses the autoethnographic text written by Andean Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala in 1613 (not widely circulated or taken up til the 1970s) to King Philip II of Spain, written and illustrated, both Spanish and Quechua languages

her course – Cultures, Ideas, Values – that took up the concept of the contact zone. Lectures were impossible, everyone had a stake, a different viewpoint: “No one eas excluded, and no one was safe”

February 19, 2009

Barthes, The Death of the Author

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” In Authorship: From Plato to the Postmodern. Ed. Sean Burke. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP Ltd., 2000. 125-130.

Barthes argues that it is not the author who speaks in a text, but rather, language itself. The concept of a single (male) author is one rooted in Enlightenment individualism, an idea so powerful that it reduced the text to an explanation and an understanding of the author. Instead, Barthes claims, an author and a text are born simultaneously (126); the former does not give birth to the latter, for the act of writing is not an act of reporting ideas but, rather, a performative act. Writing and texts do not have single, solitary lines of understanding: they are multivoiced and understanding them can only be a process of disentangling the lines, not completely deciphering them or figuring them out (129). The work of assigning meaning to a text, of compiling the voices into some sort of understandable whole, does not belong to the author/writer. It is the duty of the reader. Barthes calls for “the birth of the reader” at the expense of the Author. (130).

Quotable Quotes

“The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (130).

“A text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (129) author-reader

“Everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered” (129)

“Life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, an imitation that is lost, infinitely deferred” (128).

A text is a “multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (128)

“Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin…Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing” (125).

“The voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins” (125).

Notable Notes

not assigning an ultimate final meaning to a text is to refuse God (and reason, science, and law) – very postmodern (129)

assigning an author limits a text, closes it, allows it to be criticized as an object

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