Sunday, February 10, 2008

Still adrift in the gumbo

This week finds me still examining Michael Jarrett’s Drifting on a Read. Through Chapter One, he discusses the satura trope of jazz, which concerns 'mixing.' He compares this to making a fine gumbo. If done right, all the original flavors are there, complemented and informed by the others. Done wrong, everything turns into a mushy stew, one big indistinguishable flavor. I can relate to this as a few nights ago I was fixing a nice veggie stir-fry mix. It was looking good when, toward the end, I decided to add more veggies and what I had were pretty hard (i.e. carrots). I decided to throw in some water to try to steam them. Unfortunately, it turned the whole dang thang into a big sloppy puddle o' veggie mush. You've got to know when to quit. But alas, all is not too bad, because I have learned something. And even if that is how not to properly satura my vegetables, that's still something.

Anyhoo, toward the end of his chapter, Jarrett offers a recipe for satura-in-writing, something Gregory Ulmer calls 'mystory.' Its a means for appropriating the story of a legendary figure and putting your own spin on the tale. Soon after reading this section, I was perusing the SF Chronicle Book section today and came across a review for John Edgar Wideman's Fanon, which treats the story of Frantz Fanon, "one of the 20th centyr's major revolutionary thinkers," according to reviewer Megan Harlan. While Wideman's book is not a reimagining of Fanon's life, "...the narrator and Thomas take turns ruminating on Fanon's character in dazzling, fever-pitched riffs..." The narrator appears a thinly-veiled version of Wideman himself (the 'narrator' even has a mother named 'Mrs. Wideman") and uch of the novel is taken up with the narrators' discussion of his failed attempts to write a book about Fanon (this from an author writing a book about Fanon that's not really about Fanon, as it is about himself--i.e. a failed book on Fanon).

Interestingly, Jarrett discusses the "autobiographical component of mystory," for example in discussing Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, about a mythic jazzman, Jarrett notes, "Ondaatje seeks to understand himself by researching Bolden" (56). With Fanon, it appears Wideman has a mystory-type project, in which he seeks to understand himself (or at least his relation to this Fanon project) by researching and understanding Frantz Fanon.

1 comment:

David said...

So many good blog entries lately. I hope you all are reading one another.

Yes, I've had the same experience with actual gumbo as you have had with the stir fry, and no, there's nothing wrong with contemplating and extending the "gustatory" metaphor celebrated by Jarrett. I think with gumbo that my wife has found the answer: go light. She makes it an extremely "lite" (low fat) thing, which snow peas and shrimp and her own low fat chicken stock. Yum!!!!

About Mystory. I really wanted time to talk about it last week, and so must get to it this week. It's an interesting activity, started as MJ says by Gregory U., but then taken to further (and more sensible, practical) lengths in a pionering textbook I want to show you all in class. _Text Book_: An Introduction to Literary Language_ (in its first few editions, now "Writing through Literature").

Robert Scholes, G. Ulmer and Nancy Comley. They have a chapter on metaphor that rocked my world, and still does, then a chapter on Mystory which I used for a few years and in the end, found a bit underwhelming. It's not as big and dramatic as MJ seems to make it, and it's much more akin to the "I-Search," Ken Macrorie's version of the "research paper" that Tom Gage used to make 612 students do.

We need to talk about this stuff. It's very interesting, and it made a BIG impact on the notions of "developmental" that teachers carried around in the 80s and 90s.