Josna Rege

394. Scattergram, Spring 2017

In Books, Music, Politics, Stories, Teaching, United States, Words & phrases on January 14, 2017 at 4:33 am
Robert Rauschenberg, Scattergram

Rauschenberg, “Scattergram”

My Spring teaching semester begins right after Martin Luther King Day, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States (there, I said itfollowing hard on its heels. As I find myself struggling to bring order to my mental landscape, the word scattergram comes, unbidden, to mind.

scattergram would require me to map my wayward thoughts in relation to something fixed. But rather than being plotted between two axes, representing dependent or independent variables, everything appears to be in total disarray. Nothing can be held steady, allowing other variables to be plotted in relation to it. Even scattered is too controlled—splattered, more like it.

No matter, I must posit order; let the horizontal axis be calendar time, the vertical, hours per day or hours per week. There looms a 15-week semester moving inexorably onward into May, with four courses (3 different preparations) running—galloping—concurrently, three of them twice a week each, the fourth, blessedly, only once. Here they are, with their attendant syllabi and lesson plans and work schedules, their assignments and office hours, their grading, grading, grading. Subject matter is another diagram altogether, but of course it will color the whole experience, mine and my students’, in and out of the classroom.

shoppingThe courses will inevitably overlap with each other. Concepts of freedom and unfreedom frame my two first-year composition courses, with a focus on incarceration in the United States, mass imprisonment of black Americans, black men in particular, disenfranchising them all over again: The New Jim Crow, as Michelle Alexander describes and amply demonstrates. The ideas in these two courses can be further illuminated through the lenses of the third, contemporary theory. To Jean Beaudrillard, U.S. society is itself carceral, though Americans will do almost anything to avoid facing this fact, with “truth” becoming a non-issue in the age of the hyperreal, when media images no longer need to correspond to any underlying reality. 


Michel Foucault’s genealogies of prisons and punishment trace the advent of “corrections” and the rise of all-seeing surveillance, epitomized by the panopticonStuart Hall, author of Policing the Crisisredefines “black” and unites in resistance the diverse new ethnicities of contemporary Britain. The fourth course, my weekly Special Topics seminar, after dragging us, bedraggled and grief-benumbed, through the wake of terror, helps us come to some kind of healing through art—and through humanity, I hope, bedeviled though we are.


Sure, we’re scattered, shattered, shell-shocked, mud-bespattered. But we’d best take heart, bestir ourselves and coalesce, soldiering on through the blighted landscape, casting a smattering of light upon these benighted post-truth times. 


Come Together

from (Abramsky)

from (Abramsky)

 Belay there, me hearties! Let’s Work Together.

(And why have I just used so many words with the prefix “be-“? Begorrah, I cannot say.)

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. Hi Josna
    The courses you are preparing – albeit a vast amount of work- sound fundamental to the healthy government of any society. I felt a pang of envy even; all your learning is central to your growth as a contributing member of your society. Evangeline

    • Thank you for your encouraging words, E. A vast amount of work I haven’t yet done, I’m afraid! But yes, I suppose it keeps me from vegetating altogether. xo J

  2. In the UK the political right with their anti-PC stance has denigrated ‘soft’ subjects like media studies and upgraded ‘hard’ subjects like English by focusing on grammar and its rules and so on. The result is a population increasingly illiterate to the ways of mediaspeak, fake news, urban myths and the power of the corporate elite. With so much uncertainty around it’s unsurprising that many seek the ‘certainty’ of conviction politics and simplistic cause-and-effect assertions. Where the US leads the UK (perhaps soon the Disunited Kingdom) follows. I wish you joy with your courses, tough-going but essential, now more than ever.

    • Yes, same here-as you rightly note. Yes, the humanities are under attack, with English only seen as useful in a service capacity–technical and business-writing, for instance, or public relations. You’re right that it discourages critical thinking, even as lip service continues to be paid to it.
      Thank you for your good wishes–I don’t presume that it will be smooth sailing in this chilling climate.

  3. Immersing myself i the prison stuff would drive me to serious depression, I’m afraid. I wish you and your students a different outcome!

    • I worry about that, Kristin. Thinking about ways to lighten up this dismal subject–well, if not exactly lightening it up, at least offering interesting angles on it. For instance: write for 5 minutes on how you understand Kris Kristofferson’s line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
      And also, to interested people, offering avenues of action: sending books to a prison book program, for example, or working with The New Jim Crow Study Guide and Call to Action, out together by the Veterans of Hope Project.

  4. Oh, dear, Jo – you are just articulating some of my own feelings of being overwhelmed.
    From the personal to the cultural I am feeling un-balanced in an unfamiliar way.
    I have decided to take courage from Obama, Bernie Sanders, and perhaps even Dylan, and
    try to focus on the hope and the knowledge that America is full of decent people and we know who is really in charge. All the best for your new semester!

  5. […]  394. Scattergram, Spring 2017 […]

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