Week 7

As it happens, I’m writing a paper that includes reference to our readings for this week, so the issues they raise are right in the front of my mind, and I’m especially curious to hear what you think.

First, let’s consider: Why is the Galtung article here, since it’s not about literature– is it? Not exactly.

And I think you might find his argument sort of belabored, proving a point that seems hard to argue against. Would anybody disagree with Galtung that there are some kinds of violence that are hard to see as such, because they’re not inflicted by one person against another. “When one husband beats his wife there is a clear case of personal violence,” he writes, “but when one million husbands keep their wives in ignorance, there is structural violence.” I think people might disagree about whether this is a good example of it, but they would generally agree that there is such a thing as structural violence.

What if we take this understanding of ways that happy endings are distributed unequally among us as a feature of the contemporary moment– a “historic-philosophical reality,” as Lukacs described it?

If we do that, then we can ask: What literary forms to contemporary writers invent to represent the ways structural violence registers in real life?

And what literary forms does Beatty invent for this in The Sellout? Could we think of prolepsis, for example, or the features of narrator, character, and setting that you identified last week?


(You might want to refer back to Levine or any other theorist to help with this one. And cite page numbers when you can.)

*** ALSO remember, WEDNESDAY PEOPLE: In place of class this week, we have conferences that you scheduled. I’ll post those on the “evening” calendar.

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16 Responses to Week 7

  1. Johan Galtung’s “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” brought up relevant points that can be connected to Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout.” He asserts, “Above all the power to decide over the distribution of resources is unevenly distributed. The situation is aggravated further if the persons low on income are also low in education, low on health, and low on power” (Galtung, 171). He discusses how power is not evenly distributed among people when it comes to resources. The situation becomes worse when the people who are not in power are not wealthy or highly educated. I saw that in Dickens, where the protagonist lives, power is unevenly distributed as well. The narrator tells us how, “I went with the painted boundary” (Beatty 107). The place where the narrator lives has been taken off the map. He describes, in the beginning of the text, how the people of a higher class decided to remove Dickens from the map. The protagonist believes it’s because Dickens was poorer than the other neighbors that surrounded it. This prompted the narrator to take matters into his own hands and paint a boundary line in Dickens. He, soon, gets help from others who live in Dickens as well.

    The second point that intrigued me in Galtung’s text is when he discusses the life expectancy between social classes and how violence is employed. He writes, “Correspondingly, in a society where life expectancy is twice as high in the upper as in the lower classes, violence is exercised even if there are no concrete actors one can point to directly attacking others” (Galtung, 171). It appears as if the higher class will live longer than people who are in the lower class. Then, he goes on to speak about how violence can happen even when the person who carried out the attack can’t be found. I thought this could be connected to the attack on Foy. The narrator explains how, “I thought I recognized the laugh that belonged to the thin black arm holding the familiar-looking revolver that looked a lot like the gun Marpessa’s brother, Stevie, had…” (Beatty, 196). In Dickens we see that the life expectancy of these people isn’t high because of the dangerous situations they’re placed in, such as the narrator’s father. The protagonist thinks the person that attacks Foy is his lover’s brother, but the narrator is not certain about this. Similarly, to what Galtung was discussing, violence does occur but we don’t always know who it is. I also saw that Dickens can be viewed as a dangerous neighborhood where we never know who is going to die next.

  2. Emily Abrams says:

    In many ways, The Sellout stands as Beatty’s shrewd critique of structural violence present in America today, a society that so desperately wants to claim itself as “post-racial.” Just as Johan Galtung argues that social injustice is the “condition” of structural violence (171), Beatty’s uses his novel to comment on the multiple forms of social injustice he views present, placing the city of Dickens as its centerpiece. No stone is really left unturned – Beatty delivers commentary on a multitude of topics, from the subliminal messages in car commercials, on the interactions with the police, on race/sexual orientation based microaggressions felt across numerous demographics, and more. The contemporary nature and its relative criticisms expressed by Beatty’s content is what bridges that gap between his genre of fiction and what he hopes registers in his readers’ minds as true reflections of race in our society. In its form, as a historically-based relatively contemporary-set novel, Beatty is able to simultaneously critique our reality. It is hard to ignore Beatty as he scathingly pinpoints prevalent social injustices, demonstrating the greater structural violence at hand.

    As the action of the novel will unravel in the coming chapters for next week, I find it worth figuratively bookmarking Galtung’s perceptive-yet-logical conclusion about responses to threatened structures: “When the structure is threatened, those who benefit from structural violence, above all those who are at the top, will try to preserve the status quo so well geared to protect their interests” (179). The prologue, being Beatty’s use of prolepsis, exemplifies this reaction to the narrator’s efforts to reimplement segregation. This then begs the question, who exactly is benefitting in particular within this “system”?

    With Galtung’s assessment in mind, it’s fair to argue that the “Lost City of Dickens” is a casualty of such structural violence – unequal power and injustice seen in resource distribution among the factors that led to its discreet dissolution. But why, then, might the external spaces, the nation at large, push to maintain such status quo? While reading the upcoming chapters, readers should also keep in mind what Galtung described as “an operational test” – we should take note of “who comes to the rescue of the structure,” be they actors within or outside of Dickens (Galtung 179). It is because of these actors, as we know resultant of the novel’s prolepsis, that Me comes to stand before the Supreme Court in a momentous hearing. Here, then, we might want to also discuss whether structural violence is impacted merely on the basis of a ruling? In its various forms, does this violence dissipate? Does it simmer? Or does it transform altogether?

  3. maggie c. says:

    Galtung writes “The statement ‘peace is absence of violence’ shall be retained as valid” under one of the three rules for peace in “Violence, Peace, and Peach Research” and Beatty really tends to overturn that in his work. I think, in a strange way, while Beatty isn’t inventing parody, he’s certainly reinventing parts of it. “Hominy you’re not a slave and I’m definitely not your master” writes the narrator of The Sellout (77). Yet that’s exactly what winds up happening and why Me stands before the supreme court. For most of the novel the narrator struggles with Dickens, with Hominy’s position in his life, and the loss of his father. If anything, it’s a narrative that’s not trying to make peace. The narrator is going against the grain of everything and by doing that, he’s instigating a lot of, not necessarily violence, but dissonance. He’s in the Supreme Court for owning a slave and has everybody so angry at him they’re on the verge of screaming. Yet we know this courtroom is also ultimately what will bring the book to its conclusion.

    Beatty then, is purposefully going against the grain here. Instead of writing a novel that’s going to draw people in and say “this is why America has a problem” and being as moral as possible in his writing, he turns everything upside down and goes to wreak havoc with such a narrative because it forces people to look at structural violence and see it for what it is. If anything, one would argue through the use of prolepsis, we do see peace from this, but even that’s misplaced. Me is oddly at peace at that trial, which is like the epicenter of everything going wrong. His closing line in the prologue is “so fucking be it” (23). He knows what he’s up against and knows that Dickens is just another town lost to structural violence…but he goes on. He continues to push and push until he eventually brings it back. In a way the novel works a lot like its narrator, it’s willing to antagonize in order to bring to light what’s wrong and defy. To show an entire system is corrupt Beatty is taking Me and using him to exemplify the ills of the system; can anyone ever benefit from it? Is it possible to escape at all? Are we forever going in circles when it comes to structural violence, and is the only way to highlight it enough for people to clearly see what’s wrong to take such an extreme as the narrator did?

  4. While I do agree that Gatlung’s long winded explanation was verbose and complex, I see why we’re reading it alongside this section of The Sellout for this week. In these chapters, we see the beginning of The Sellout’s plans to resegregate Dickens, and thereby put it both literally and figuratively back on the map. And The Sellout, as a character and narrator, as well as Beatty the author reconfigure the form of their respective creations to commit a type of violence that doesn’t necessarily cause harm.

    The narrator of The Sellout is constantly introspective. We view him as close as possible, hearing his innermost, what we can only assume are private, thoughts, beliefs, etc. We believe in his convictions, as readers, because he does so strongly and we can understand where his drive comes from. Beatty himself uses the narrators introspective nature to create the same effect within the readers. By having such a close view into the psyche of the narrator, who to our standards has outlandish, absurd ideas about race and racism, he forces the reader to double back on their own understanding. We discussed this last week in class, the novel has many moments that make us laugh and in the same moment question why or whether we should be laughing. This in and of itself functions similarly to the kinds of structural violence Gatlung describes. Regarding structural violence, Gatlung states that “In all these systems there is interaction, and where there is interaction, value is somehow exchanged. It then makes very much sense to study what the value-distribution is after the system has been operating for some time, and the gross distinction has been made between egalitarian and inegalitarian distributions.” (Gatlung 11). The value-distribution system of the novel is often for enjoyment or education. One would expect a novel based in satire that deals with racism in America probably wouldn’t imagine The Sellout. No, this novel is atypical in just how uncomfortable it is to read. This uncomfortability, I believe, is very much intentional and forces the reader to take part in the conversation of inherent bias and racism in America, regardless of whether they want to or not. In this way, Beatty is using the novel to enact structural violence onto the reader, but in a more nuanced, positive way.

  5. Deepika Khan says:

    Though not about literature, Johan Galtung’s article, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” may be used to better understand Paul Beatty’s novel, “The Sellout.” I think the Galtung reading was included in conjunction with chapters 8-16 in Beatty’s novel because the reader can see clear examples of “structural” and “personal” forms of violence against the protagonist throughout the text (Galtung 170). Given the various “dimensions of violence” Johan Galtung specifies in his article (Galtung 172), the types of violence the speaker faces, both in his personal life and in society, is no surprise. For example, the now-forgotten town of Dickens is “not sufficiently protected against deterioration by upholding mechanisms” (Galtung 172), such as political corruption, which leads to the county rescinding the town charter. Time and time again, Dickens falls subject to “structural violence” by the hands of those who have the most power (i.e., educated and/or white) and it is up to the Sellout to bring some form of peace to his hometown (Galtung 172). I would agree with Galtung that there are some kinds of violence that are hard to see as such because they’re not inflicted by one person against another. Violence done to one person is easier to perceive as opposed to violence on a larger scale because the physical effects of such violence may be seen. However, like most people, I would agree that there is such a thing as structural violence, even if it’s hard to discern.

    As I was reading Johan Galtung’s article, I came across two terms that I had trouble applying to Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” because I think it may be argued that both terms equally apply. I believe the society described in “The Sellout” is both a “static” and “dynamic” society because the personal violence against the protagonist is just as recognizable as the structural violence present in Dickens (Galtung 173). The personal violence the Sellout faces because of his father explains the structural violence he hopes to bring via segregation on a public bus and in a public school. The way Dickens is set up also contributes to structural and systematic violence. For instance, the “Stank” (Beatty 113) that causes local residents nothing but trouble is the “denial of input” (Galtung 175), which is a form of “systematic” violence meant to prevent the human body from properly functioning (Galtung 175). Reading Galtung’s article and directly applying it to Paul Beatty’s novel is weirdly enjoyable. It wasn’t a hard read and it got me thinking about the ways in which WE all deal with violence in the society we currently live in today.

  6. Venessa says:

    Galtung invites readers to a discussion based on structural and personal violence. His piece is about the different types of violence that occurs within these two categories. Something that struck me while reading was when he said: “Thus, if a person died from tuberculosis in the eighteenth century it would be hard to conceive of this as violence since it might have been quite unavoidable, but if he dies from it today, despite all the medical resources in the world, then violence is present according to our definition” (168). I thought Galtung’s insight here was very debatable. I don’t think death that’s health-related can count as violence because we all have to die at some point. Even with the best treatment, someone can still pass away regardless of how well they are cared for. That point just didn’t make sense to me. Death is just unavoidable and it does not always count as violence. However, to the point of structural vs. personal violence, I do believe there is a distinction. What Galtung writes is also evident in The Sellout. Galtung says, “Structural violence is silent, it does not show – it is essentially static, it is the tranquil waters. In a static society, personal violence will be registered, whereas structural violence may be seen as about as natural as the air around us” (173). The way the society of Dickens changes overnight in The Sellout corresponds to structural violence. The narrator says, “Dickens underwent a different type of transition. One clear South Central morning, we awoke to find that the city hadn’t been renamed but the signs that said WELCOME TO THE CITY OF DICKENS were gone” (58). This is considered structural violence because a whole city was wiped from the map overnight. The people, the resources, and the community were erased as if they never existed. That is silent structural violence of politics that Galtung relates to. To completely destroy a community is violence in and of itself even if there is no physical violent interaction. The effects are just as devastating, as a whole society is now invisible. All signs of their existence are being erased and written over.

  7. Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

    Violence can take multiple forms – personal, cultural, and structural – according to the Galtung reading. The latter idea that violence can be located structurally, that is, within the foundations and institutions of an unequal or imbalanced society, was the concept from the reading that I connected most with Beatty’s novel. Professor Fisk raised an interesting question having to do with whether literary forms can represent the ways that structural violence exists in our reality, and which literary forms those may be. This question, as well as my own related question “What bearing does ‘form’ have on the structural and symbolic significance of a novel?” have been on my mind for the last few days as I’ve attempted to digest and make sense of Galtung’s piece.

    After thinking about this question, and my own variation on it, I am inclined to say that a good deal of the literature that comes immediately to mind could be interpreted as having a form that points to some degree of structural violence within the world surrounding them. Before proceeding, it should be noted that the literature that came to mind and that fit this was literature written by people who are not white men. For example, I think of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights as perhaps a representative sample. The story is told (partly) from the view of Nelly, the family’s servant and witness to the events of the story. Written with a slightly skewed timeline and retroactive telling of much of the events, the writing does not seem to fit the traditional novelistic form, but rather improvises slightly on the form for the purpose of telling the story in a better, more engaging, and more fitting way. This form of writing, whereby the details of the story are filtered, after-the-fact, through the view of an individual largely outside of the action (of lesser economic and social status, no less) seems particularly significant when placed in respect to the biographical and historical context of Brontë and her writing. This is all a long way of saying that form can be, I think, an expression of the difficulties or impediments that come with writing in or about a particular historical context.

    Coming to Beatty’s novel, I don’t have a good answer to this question. I did, however, find myself circling the concept of prolepsis and rehashing some of the discussion points that we touched on last week in class. Structural violence denotes, I think, some sense of inevitability of circumstance – being doomed from the beginning, because simply, for lack of a more apt idiom, the cards are stacked against an individual or group. Life chances are imbalanced so significantly that life itself is predetermined and therefore, actions on the individual level are moot. Reading The Sellout, it’s difficult, I’d say, to make an argument in support of free will, of ample opportunity, of exceeding chance to escape the life that seems laid out before Me. The characters in that book seem almost to be predetermined to struggle, condemned by the superior few. Beginning at the end, Me’s story leaves little room for uncertainty: the reader is aware throughout the whole narrative of where he will end up in the end and, likely, what the ruling against him will be. It is not a novel necessarily about his journey or any personal growth, but rather it captures the relative stability and predictability of violence against Me. Prolepsis reinforces with literary form the violence condemning Me from end to beginning.

  8. Jude Binda says:

    The concept of “structural violence” caught my attention because I have never really thought of violence in this way. For most people, violence is something inherently direct; one person is actively doing something to someone else. Violence, as Galtung describes it, offers a perspective that I never considered.

    This week is yet another example of our readings mirroring real life. We are reading a book where our black narrator embodies racism and simultaneously rejects its existence while Kanye West is in the White House saying, “A liberal would try to control a black person through the concept of racism… You think racism can control me? Oh, that don’t stop me. That’s an invisible wall (https://youtu.be/jLmQ57mEGFs?t=918). What our esteemed Kanye is trying to say here is that racism is a form of liberal mind control and that the only thing keeping black people from doing better is their “victimized” state of mind. Sound familiar? I also couldn’t help but notice the amount of grinning and nodding Trump did while Kanye was talking. I started thinking about what I thought was going through Trump’s head in that moment and then it hit me: structural violence! Kanye, a black man in the public eye, has stated that racism isn’t real. The problem is that his statements are not seen as just reflective of himself alone but of the entire black community. The net effect is the creation of grounds for denial and dismissal of racism. I immediately thought about the fact that so many people would watch this and use it to justify their prejudices towards black people. In one fell swoop, Kanye probably managed to give confirmation to potentially millions of people of what they have always suspected: black people are just complaining about things that happened hundreds of years ago in order to get special treatment. I mean, is it not extremely horrific to anyone else that there’s probably a frat boy wearing a MAGA hat out there somewhere (probably named Brad) who saw Kanye say these things at the White House and thought to himself, “Huh, he’s got a point there.”

    At least when Beatty wrote our narrator, it was satire. And even if Beatty was not being satirical, at least there’s the fact that it’s just a book. The Kanye business is neither the former nor the latter, which is what I find alarming. Sadly, there’s another example that came to mind when thinking about all this. Back in May, Kanye stated on the topic of slavery that it “sounds like a choice.” Sound familiar?

  9. In The Sellout, the narrator’s case, of a African American man owning an African American slave, is being presented to the Supreme Court. The idea of this occurring in present day is mind boggling, especially to one of the Supreme Court justices present. Although, the narrator himself, doesn’t necessarily abuse Hominy physically, he is still taking part in a level of violence. In Galtung’s text, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” it states, “The second distinction is between the negative and positive approach to influence. Thus, a person can be influenced not only by punishing him when he does what the influencer considers wrong, but also by rewarding him when he does what the influencer considers right…This may be readily agreed to, but does it have anything to do with violence? Yes, because the net result may still be that human beings are effectively prevented from realizing their potentialities” (170). Basically, by not giving that person a place to thrive, and keeping them in a controlled environment it actually does more harm than good, which is why Galtung believes it is a violence. In terms of how this applies to The Sellout, it relates back to the narrator and Hominy’s relationship. Hominy willingly wants to be a slave and calls the narrator “master” even though the narrator is against it. However, the narrator reluctantly agrees and lets Hominy do whatever he feels is necessary to be done, like serving him lemonade. This relationship can be considered to be violent, because it limits Hominy’s potential. Rather than getting more acting jobs, or an actual job to help support himself, the relationship between Hominy as a “slave” and the narrator as a “master” actually cripples Hominy, in the sense that he never truly gives himself a chance to be his best version of himself.

    Another point which I found intriguing from Gultang’s text was when he brought up the idea of resources being distributed unevenly. In “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” the text states, “Above all the power to decide over the distribution of resources is unevenly distributed. The situation is aggravated further if the persons low on income are also low in education, low on health, and low on power — as is frequently the case because these rank dimensions tend to be heavily correlated due to the way they are tied together in the social structure” (Gultang 171). This quote reminded me of the authority presences that we’ve seen in the text so far, which include the narrator’s father, the Supreme Court justice, and police. I’d like to focus on the parts of the quote that state how resources are distributed unevenly due to the social structure. The fact is that power is never distributed evenly, and often times people who do have power use it in the wrong way. In these examples, we see these individuals as figures of power don’t distribute their resources evenly. In the case of the police officers killing the narrator’s father, we see that as officers they want to keep the body so it can be examined. But the fact that those resources are available to them doesn’t ultimately change the outcome. As a African American man interacting with the police, the narrator’s father would just be another victim to them and their assumptions of the African American people. Beatty clearly states this as we see that the narrator chooses to pick up his father’s corpse and drags it through town. We also see this when Dickens is taken away from it’s people. Not literally taking away their land, but because people of a higher power had an advantage, they had the upper hand and lead to the town no longer being called Dickens. It’s interesting to see just how Gultang’s ideas are presented in The Sellout as “acts of violence” through actual power, and by unknowingly crippling others, when you often believe you’re helping them.

  10. Galtung’s article brings interesting notions of structural violence to the fore, but some of his criteria for defining violence would need to be updated to hold water in a contemporary setting. This can be forgiven given its date of publication, but I feel it is important to acknowledge that while the sentiment of the article is still sound, many of the minutiae are outdated.

    To answer Professor Fisk’s question about the bearing of ‘form’ on the symbolic significance of a novel, I would argue: Yes. Form can (and does) alter a reader’s perception. Form is important for the same reason syntax is. The order in which a reader receives information is extremely important to their reading.

    “The Sellout” is an obvious example of this, where the first bit of information we receive is the narrator’s eventual destination before jumping back to his childhood. Had Beatty instead started at the beginning and offered an entirely linear tale, the effect of the novel would have been entirely different. From the onset, readers know that the narrator is going to say, “Screw the Thirteenth Amendment!” and engage in contemporary slavery. With this knowledge, we read about his startling childhood asking ourselves, “What caused him to make that choice? What was the impetus for that plot point?” He is already guilty in our minds. Had the story been linear, we would have gone into the narrator’s childhood with the assumption that he, like all children, is innocent.

    Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is another example of ‘form’ influencing meaning. Like “The Sellout,” the story is told in a nonlinear fashion, but for different reasons. The nonlinear form of the epic poem highlights God’s omniscience, which in turn draw’s the reader’s perception to, well, perception and Milton’s own blindness.

    Joyce’s “Dubliners,” a book about Dublin and its inhabitants, is organized as a series of short stories. This form, by giving the reader many perspectives and characters, highlights for the reader that this book isn’t a simple short story anthology but rather about the people of Dublin.

    I can’t think of any contemporary – or noncontemporary – writers who use form to represent structural violence, but I fully believe it is possible and would be interested to read such a form.

  11. Khurram says:

    Form, for all its comparative flexibility in literary criticism, is still, when broadly defined, functionally an ordering tool whose definition, as Caroline Levine writes in the chapter, “The Affordance of Form” from Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network, also includes “repetition and difference” (3). Socially, repetition is a maintenance activity, while difference is, among other things, a spatial, vertical divide, possibly associated with identity.

    Why does that relationship matter? Because while Johannes Galtung’s “Structural Violence” isn’t strictly a literary text, it discusses a form (and form in general) that could be proofed by literature, as set out by Levine. That is, as Levine writes, form doesn’t belong to art alone (2), and its language can be used in the political sphere, though it sometimes masquerades as “structure” (3). It might be a bit tenuous to suggest an overlapping vocabulary is enough for one space to act as a proof of another, but if we accept that a form can identify a literary technique AND a political structure, then one can express the other.

    Moving on to Galtung, I find the definition of violence fascinating. By phrasing violence as “the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual” (168), one is immediately drawn to the cause, of which there can be indirect influences, unintended consequences, victimless violence in a micro sense, latent, and as such, difficult to observe violence, etc. (169-171). Galtung uses a lot of vague language which opens the idea of structural violence. In many cases, this is a visual issue: we cannot see a victim, an oppressive or violent act, an immediate punishment or reward, and so on. Even the idea of psychological torture over physical torture denotes a kind of nebulous oppression: a broken mind is less immediately noticeable than a broken arm.

    By that logic, intangible structural violence appears to have a longer lifecycle than its tangible counterpart. A destroyed building, say, can be rebuilt quicker (or at least planned to be rebuilt quicker) than a whole disappeared town can reappear. Slavery by any other name outlasts what we aesthetically associate with slavery—you might think whips and chains, cotton and a sepia-toned south—but hidden underemployment records, literacy, health, or incarceration generalities, it functionally exists in a kind of nebulous adjacent activity.

    Beatty, in essence, uses The Sellout to proof structural violence as an existing form, even if its borders are hard to see. Directly, the disappearance of an underserved town is tied to real estate development and gentrification, two ideas that immediately pop in your mind when you think of social oppression (56). As a literary form, staging the story of Dickens and literal slavery within a proleptic framing device introduces the reader to Beatty’s proof of Galtung’s exploration. Beatty’s story unfolds in the courts. I’d wager that most people, if asked to identify structural violence in the world today, would point to political representation and the court system in some 1, 1A order.

    The disappearance of Dickens isn’t technically on trial, but it is a destruction of identity and the maintenance of a gap (think of how often people who want to know you include “Where are you from?” in their discovery. Now imagine you’d have to answer, “From a place that doesn’t exist anymore”) relayed in the confines a structure whose functional practice includes the definition, and sometimes the destruction, of identity—the courts are where issues of race, gender, punishment, etc. are assessed and reassessed. When Beatty’s narrator says “Dickens was me” (40), and we later discover Dickens no longer exists because of an oft-repeated structural oppression tactic, Beatty’s narrator is saying he doesn’t exist either, at least so long as his hometown doesn’t. He happens to be saying it in a place that represents political structure. What’s crazy is through proleptic storytelling, the threat on his existence already occurred. The framing device—the court system—is here to maintain the difference.

    • Khurram says:

      “Galtung uses a lot of vague language which opens the idea of structural violence.” By which I mean language expressing intangibility, not unclear writing.

  12. Cassandra says:

    I really enjoyed reading Galtung’s article as this topic has been on my mind a lot lately. With the rise of violent alt-right groups, I wonder what other options the left has besides responding with personal violence. Just this past weekend in Manhattan, anti-racists protesters were attacked (personal violence) by a members of a men’s rights group called the “Proud Boys” while the NYPD stood by and watched (systemic violence). Now, powerful democrats from Cuomo to De Blasio are calling for an investigation into the incident, which will likely only lead to arrests and prosecutions (more systemic violence). I bring this up because many mainstream leftists condemn the activities of the radical left when they respond to alt-right events with personal violence (often in self-defense). 

    In Beatty’s novel, both personal and systemic violence are highly visible in the narrative. The personal violence, however, often seems like a response to the systemic violence, for example the narrator’s father’s experiments as an answering seeking quest for systemic racism, and Hominy’s fetishization of his own racial oppression that manifests in an erotic masochism. I’m not sure what narrative forms Beatty invents, besides having the characters internalize and focus their lives these different forms of violence. Galtung asks poignant questions to today’s political landscapes regarding the means of achieving “peace,” that Beatty certainly explores in his novel. “If we are interested in e.g. social justice but are also, in the avoidance of personal violence, does this not constrain our choice of means so much that it becomes meaningful only in certain societies? And particularly in societies that have already realized many social-liberal values, so that there is considerable freedom of speech and assembly, and organizations for effective articulation of political interests?” (Galtung 184). In a way it feels like avoiding personal violence is a luxury. One that Beatty’s characters don’t seem to always have.

  13. Stacey McDonald says:

    Galtung’s statement that “…a person can be influenced not only by punishing him when he does what the influencer considers wrong, but also by rewarding him when he does what the influencer considers right. Instead of increasing the constraints on his movements the constraints may be decreased instead of increased, and somatic capabilities extended instead of reduced” (170) seems to speak entirely to Beatty’s Hominy. I say this because Hominy is presented as a man that wants nothing more than to be enslaved by a white man- I mean, his entire birthday was segregation themed, for God’s sake.

    Anywho, when I read this passage for a second, and then third time, I realized that Beatty unknowingly wrote an entire novel that seems to be in conversation with Galtung’s piece- which, to answer your question, Dr. Fisk, can absolutely be about literature as much as it is about society. After all, isn’t Literature in itself meant to speak to the society it is created in, and to give a glimpse of that very life to those that live outside of it? How else would we understand each other?

    In many ways, I find The Sellout to be a potential biography of the America that Americans refuse to acknowledge. The America that was so terrified of what the future held that Donald Trump managed to worm his way into the White House. Beatty’s struggle to put Dickens back on the map is merely a metaphor for the masses of people that want to Make America as Good as it Was, and then find a route to greatness that doesn’t revolve around the Republican party’s agenda. Especially disheartening for me in this week’s reading was the passage that states “Those inclined to believe in free will and the free market argue that the Lost City of White Male Privilege was responsible for its own demise” and that privileged white males had been reduced “to a state of such severe social and psychic anxiety that he stopped fucking. Stopped voting. Stopped reading. And most importantly, stopped thinking that he was the end-all, be-all, or at least knew enough to pretend not to be so in public” (149), and it’s nauseating to think about the lengths to which the privileged white male will go to deny that the privilege does not exist. So many times during our current presidential administration we have been reminded that his most invested supporters are the kinds of people that we would have liked to believe no longer existed, but the truth of the matter is that they simply went into hiding until they were given a safe space to speak what they consider their truth to be with the support of the highest office that this country holds.

    How did we get here? When will it stop?

    Overall, I believe that Galtung’s discussion and explanation of structural violence makes visible every crack in our governmental system, our media, and our thought processes, “but does it have anything to do with violence? Yes, because the net result may still be that human beings are effectively prevented from realizing their potentialities” (171), and we must realize that we are preventing others, and preventing ourselves, from fulfilling our potentials so long as we normalize the hatred raining down at us from the top of the chain of command.

  14. After reading Galtung’s article, I do have to agree with Jordan’s response that although the article is quite lengthy reading it alongside Beatty’s The Sellout does prove to be beneficial. In my opinion, seeing Galtung’s view on violence (and its many forms) assisted in enforcing this imbalanced in treatment and quality of life between Dickens and non-Dickens residents.

    Looking at Galtung, this notion that “violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances”(Galtung 171) automatically made me think of the citizens of Dickens. The residents of the town obviously do not live the highest quality of life. Going back to what the evening class discussed last week, the mere fact the town was wiped off any map and renamed with new streets and locations demonstrates gentrification and the lack of power the population has in their own town. The town is considered so insignificant that even its residences and the rest of the world failed to realize the change until it had already been enforced. With this shift the town becomes “rebranded”, reinforcing that the public has essentially no power and they are at the mercy of those that seize control.

    Furthermore, I found Galtung’s opinion to be quite interesting when comparing it to the educational system within Dickens. The narrator states, as a child in Dickens “You used to learn more on your way to and from school than you did in school” (Beatty 190), with many children relying on their education based on what they witnessed and picked up from the streets. Although the narrator’s father would periodically send his son to the streets as an educational lesson, seeing how little the youth in former Dickens actually learned in their classes is a striking contrast to the white upper-class children at Intersection Academy. At the academy, remedial students would wait for their “limousines and luxury cars” (170) and “never seemed to get wet. Mostly because valets and scullery maids chased after their rambunctious wards holding umbrellas over their heads” (171). While the children of Dickens barely obtained a proper education within their classrooms, the Academy children have the privilege of failing their classes and still have people wait on them. They never have to worry about whether or not their lack of motivation will affect their lives; even at their current state they still have people watching over and tending to them. This moment demonstrates the unequal opportunities these students face. Although the children in Dickens may be bright and have street-smarts, because they do not have the access to the same resources as the Academy children, they are left at a great disadvantage and will likely be unable to progress in life at the same rate.

  15. Zara Diaby says:

    The ways in which Beatty forms his world reminds me much of Zadie Smith’s, Now More than Ever; although it is not a satirical world in the same sense, the structure calls to attention what we take for granted. The lines that suddenly disappeared from the citizen of Dickens, “ One clear South Central morning, we awake to find that the city hadn’t been renamed but the signs that said WELCOME TO THE CITY OF DICKENS were gone. (58)” The reclaiming of the newness for the old and keeping current and updated in a society that wishes to rewrite the past, is a theme in Smith’s article. Both discuss a type of naturalness to the subjugation of a people. Though Smith doesn’t focus on race and more so the idea of quieting of voices. I link this to the current climate surround the Amazon headquarters and gentrification.
    “Above all the power to decide over the distribution of resources is unevenly distributed. The situation is aggravated further if the persons low on income are also low in education, low on health, and low on power – as is frequently the case because these rank dimensions tend to be heavily correlated due to the way they are tied together in the social structure. Marxist criticism of capitalist society emphasizes how the power to decide over the surplus from the production process is reserved for the owners of the means of production, who then can buy themselves into top positions on all other rank dimensions because money is highly convertible in a capitalist society – if you have money to convert, that is.”
    A lengthy quote to emphasize my point but it is the truth. They say if you see a starbucks you probably cant afford that area any more. What makes me wonder is why people move to disenfranchised areas and complain about the situation. Price people out of places they can afford and then become upset when they say you treat us unfairly, then those who are complicit in the subjugation of certain peoples tell them be quiet we are all afforded the same opportunity. If anyone tells them to check their privilege they intstantly become defensive. In Smith’s story, Scout calls the narrator out on this, she tells her that she instinctively wants to protect the vilian rather than the victim, mostly because we are conditioned to do so. In Beatty’s novel most will feel polarized from Me because they are not apart of the world constructed they find his reactions to things strange and often times confusing because the world he occupies is the world of the victim. We are not conditioned to sympathsize with them, even other victims. Point being the Hispanic officer who works along side Me’s father. He says allow for due process to punish those who killed his father, yet even he knows that it wont happen.

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