Thursday, January 29, 2015

Black Rainbow Presentation

Black Rainbow

By Albert Wendt

Novelist and Poet Albert Wendt
·      Author of five novels concerning Samoan culture
·      Pacific Rim and English literary scholar in New Zealand
·      His Master's thesis was about the Mau, Sāmoa's independence movement during the early 1900s colonialism[1]

Hone Papita Raukura "Ralph" Hotere
·      August 11, 1931 – February 24, 2013
·      New Zealand artist of Maori descent (Polynesian)   
·      Most Famous Works are “Black Paintings”- politically active art utilizing black on black materials: lead, charcoal, and sea wood

Discussion Questions
1.     In Chapter 1 “On Maungakiekie”, the interviewer tests the protagonist’s cultural history and understanding of the Ralph Hotere’s political lithograph “Black Rainbow”. Interviewer: “You play rugby? Where you’re from?” Narrator responds, “Used to. But our community banned it…Caused to too much violence among supporters” Interviewer: “Yeah? What kind of violence?” Narrator: “A few people were killed with stones and sticks?” [4] Considering Hotere’s “Black Rainbow” is about Samoans reacting to the controversial rugby tour of New Zealand by apartheid era South Africa in 1985 and it invokes historical awareness of French nuclear testing in the Pacific, how does the narrator’s cultural amnesia about his own country’s art play into the belief that historical knowledge shapes our identity? Does his lack of cultural context make him more vulnerable to the Tribunal, who has a monopoly on memory, or more secure?
2.     In Chapter 2 “Cocaine”, the narrator recognizes his absolute power over the lives of other’ non-Chosen people. “I was scared of the power the Tribunal had bestowed upon me […] I denied the power”. The hotel manger responses, “It’s the wish of our Illustrious President and our all-seeing Tribunal that our Free Citizens, who’ve earned the Freedom of our State, be treated well. And obeyed utterly”[5] What   does the definition of free and freedom mean in this context? Is the right to do whatever you please over others truly freedom outside this book’s context? 
3.     Throughout the text, Nurse Honey and Big Nurse extract truth from the protagonist. The housekeeper in the safe house tells him of her autobiographical truth. [6] In spite of the females using sex to obtain information, both seek truth. What do these women’s roles as truth seekers or truth givers mean in the context of story telling, literature, and actively pursuing truth? 
4.      In Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education, the role of Jesuit educators and students is defined. “Their mission tirelessly to seek the truth and to form each student into a whole person of solidarity who will take responsibility for the real world” (35-36). Similarly, Tribunal selects the protagonist for tirelessly seeking the truth. “TRIBUNAL IS YOUR FAMILY. YOUR SEARCH IS FOR THE TRUTH OF THE TRIBUNAL. THE TRUE CITIZEN NEVER GIVES UP”[7].  How does the Jesuit University’s mission to educate and seek truth differ from the Tribunal’s mission to form the protagonist into a person who takes responsibility of Tribunal’s real world?
5.     Does the travel format and quest of this postmodernist, post-colonial novel interwoven with literary and film references have more to do with de-colonization of English Literary Canon or more of a mocking of people’s general notions of a travel novel? Because generally history is considered truth not fiction, does the format question the credibility of history?
6.      Mau was official name associated with the movement for Samoan independence from colonial rule during the early 1900s. In Samoan, Mau means 'opinion,' 'unwavering,' 'to be decided,' or 'testimony' denoting 'firm strength'[8]. How is definition applied to the final chapter that tells the reader, “to improvise whatever other endings/ beginnings they prefer”[9] Is meaning of Mau make this book postmodernism or does it give the reader the agency to seek the truth by selecting which history to believe? Do modern historians, journalists, and educators do justice or disservice to their students by presenting what they believe is truth?   

[1] "Artist Ralph Hotere Has Died." New Zealand Herald. January 24, 2015. Web.
[4] Wendt, Albert. "On Maungakiekie." Black Rainbow, 15. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1992.
[5] Ibid 51
[6] Ibid 59; 113
[7] Ibid 36
[9] Ibid 267

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Black Rainbow

Molly Erlanger
EN 385D
Dr. Ellis
27 January 2015
Wendt & Kolvenbach
            Wendt creates a society in his novel, Black Rainbow, in which people must lay out their entire past for their government. They must detail every bit of it for the Tribunal, and allow themselves to be scrutinized for what is believed to be the greater good. In exchange for their honesty, they have the potential to become an ideal citizen, allowing them to have access to seemingly anything they could want in the world. Truth is equated to freedom and superior in this society. However, this system seems to present a bit of a grey area. It can be contested whether anyone can truly know themselves if they give up ownership of their past. A person’s past actions define the way in which they will act and perceive things in the future. Without this responsibility and knowledge, the people of this society become a tool of their superiors more than anything else.
            The Jesuits speak quite a bit about the idea of cura personalis, or care for the whole person. Kolvenbach, in his piece The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education, defines the mission of teachers as “to tirelessly seek the truth and to form each student into a whole person of solidarity who will take responsibility for the real world” (Kolvenbach 35). In short, it is incredibly important to examine the whole self in order to become a better man or woman for others. This is the sort of inner and personal journey that the main character in Wendt’s novel experiences; the real nature of his travel in the story is reflective, and his inner journey is able to transform him.

            This is the importance of knowing and understanding a person as a whole. Not as an idealized version of themselves, nor as only the parts of themselves that they want to reveal. As a history minor, I study plenty of events from the past that many people would like to forget. However, it’s important to know where humanity as a whole came from, as well as individuals. People need to seek the truth, in all its forms, so that we may understand why certain terrible things happen. A reflective journey into the past can be painful for some, but it is important to take responsibility for both the positive and negative aspects of ourselves so that we are not doomed to repeat our mistakes. No one person can truly be immortal or untouchable, and by facing the ugliness of human nature head-on, we can learn to become better people for the future.


“A tale is about other tales; it is also the teller and her telling, my wife would’ve said. A story written down loses because written language is an artificial technology. That story has to fictionalize a readership and its author. So in my writing down of the housekeepers tale(s), I risk losing the teller and the full mana of her tale” (Wendt 105).

            Albert Wendt suggests that stories are really just about other stories. Similarly, travel experiences relate to previous travel experiences. When Marco Polo tries to relate his tales of travel, he circles back to Venice. In Black Rainbows, readers attempt to make sense of the narrative by also going back to what we know.  In this scene, the searcher explains the risk involving in story telling. In a similar way, travelers relating their experiences run the same risk. When retelling accounts of traveling to exotic places, as the narrative unfolds, the speaker risks losing some of the original spark she felt in that particular city. Just as, when we attempt to record our own personal history, we risk losing some of original sensations that cannot be recreated through the written language.
            In Black Rainbows, recalling or attempting to recall one’s history is equally as risky. In order to be a perfect citizen, one must purge themselves of their history. However, just like the storyteller, one’s history is not an isolated event. Stories are not merely stories, but “a tale… about other tales”. I find these claims relatable to the experience of travel and particularly, the difficulty in recounting one’s experience of travel as an isolated incident. In order to speak of travel experience, one always relies on previous experiences. Cities build upon the past in the same way. However, the notion that a “story has to fictionalize a readership and its author” is like the traveler retelling their experience and Albert Wendt attempting to draw his readers into his novel. Stories, like traveling, require a relationship between author and reader, or city and traveler. However, there is the suggestion that through written accounts, the author loses some of the original spark. This remains true with travel. The idea that written language is an “artificial technology” seems particularly appropriate when retelling travel stories. Our language feels inadequate to describe the feeling one has in a new city. The sense that artificiality is embedded within human language is also true. Our written language is made up of words that symbolize things, but those words do not accurately describe my particular experience in my favorite city.
Storytellers reveal our history and experience, not a written account of an isolated event. In Black Rainbows the same holds true, one’s personal history is not simply a written account using inadequate language, but a story told to one’s self built upon other stories. In this way, travel through the mind becomes a means of accessing one’s past. In order to access one’s past; one must travel back through the stories they’ve told that add up to one personal history as a whole.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Black Rainbow

Valentina Viscardi
EN 385 D
Dr. Juniper Ellis
27 January 2015

Culture and Memory

It has been said that, “those that do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it.”  In the postmodernist novel, Black Rainbow, by Albert Wendt, the Tribunal attempt to revoke this renowned statement from George Santayana by altering the past and creating the future. The Tribunal brainwashes, “Don’t listen to historee, That’s all guilt and insanitee” (37).  In having this mindset, the past means nothing for us, nor to the narrator in the text, who struggles to realize his true identity because of his hidden history.  Thus, in traveling through time, we track our identity and use it as a compass to our relationship in society.
The Tribunal’s concept is made clear in the example of the woman trapped in the Tribunal Interrogation room.  She proceeds going through door after door because, “like all of us, been raised to believe that doors were merely entrances and exits into rooms, out of rooms, into views, treasures, meanings, surprises, and so on” (106).  Here the Tribunal’s message rings true.  Our history is dangerous because it makes us believe in things that aren’t there or valid.  If the woman had read the door she would’ve seen that there was a sign that read, “ALL DOORS ARE ABOUT OTHER DOORS.  THEY ARE THEMSELVES”(108).  In other words, the woman was blinded by a “cultural baggage” (65), in which she was led to believe that the door was not just a door, but her gateway to, “hope, salvation, meaning” (108). 
Our narrator makes an interesting point earlier in the text.  He reveals it is, “strange how we see reality through art and the other cultural baggage we carry” (65).  He makes this critical connection when he notices the hill over the river resembles a Colin McCahon painting.  Along with the woman, we are looking for non-tangential things—hope, salvation, meaning, what does that look like?  However, if we open our eyes to look in front of us, directly in front of us, and become more aware of our surroundings, and comfortable with where in the present time we are now, we can then begin to adjust our eyes from blindly searching, to meaningfully contemplating.
How are these two accounts different? We have to remember that the account of the woman running through the doors was told from a Tribunal trained storyteller.  It is meant therefore to illustrate the dangers of reading into your memory and culture, but it is indeed one sided as discovered above.  The narrator’s account makes a similar notion.  The memory can help shape your understanding of the world around you. 
Similar to modern day, we can experience reality through art.  For instance, in the McManus lobby, there are cardboard boxes cut and written on with sharpie that say, “You think you’re cold?”  Attached to the posted cardboard are tattered socks and the number of homeless people in Baltimore (over 3,00).  Incorporating the two ideas above, there is a dualism about the importance of culture and memory.  In many ways, those boxes are decorative fixtures that take up the space of the theatre’s windows.  But, they aren’t just boxes, they are a piece of our Baltimore culture that tells us that within a mile radius of our University, there are people walking around in the street without the proper winter attire.  In this case, art smacks us out of our cultural baggage.  Where most of us come from, we grab our coat in the morning without even a second thought.  But, in seeing this visual representation, we are momentarily transported to a city street corner or along Northern Parkway, where there are many men and women holding up signs pleading for our assistance.

Thus, memory, history, and our cultural background have the ability to serve as a bridge to our perception.  In traveling along this bridge, we can discover our true surroundings and our presence in the relation to the past.