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19 February 2010 @ 11:21 pm
Compelled by the very articulate and interesting posts from members of this community that I have had the fortunate opportunity to read, I have decided to start my own journal. It will mostly be composed of reflections on readings with which I am currently engaged, although at times I will probably engage in some self-reflection or critique.

This semester I am still doing coursework and am enrolled in a Shakespeare course, as well as a seminar on Fictions of British India so you'll see a lot on that.

About me: 26, West Coaster by birth, East Coaster, it seems either by default or choice. I am a closet meathead; I love running and the outdoors but there is a language that I can only speak when I lift something really heavy. I lose all other language at that time and in the weight room mind and body are one in a way i cannot describe. Language is in all other places in my life but that one space, and I love it for that.

I adore red wine (white wine too) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ridiculous celebrity fashion, vintage, the texture only achieved by choosing the right word at the right moment.

I have lived in South Africa, Germany, Israel and the States consider all these places home and not home; I think I like feeling restless. It is the only time I feel settled. I love good movies and good bad movies (movies that are self-reflexively bad), J.M. Coetzee, Ian McKellen, Philip Roth and anything Primo Levi left behind. The light hits things differently in Africa too, I have found. There is a quality about sunlight there I have never experienced anywhere else. I miss the smells too. And proper Grenadilla. And my family. I have a metonymic connection to both Germany and South Africa that I chose to inherit as obligation, personal responsibility. It is with that obligation in mind that I write, and that which informs my academic and personal approach to, broadly speaking, life.

Growing up in the Bay Area made me a total foodie. I love food and the aesthetics of it. I wish that I could grow my own but I kill plants. But I do farmer's markets. I love apples the way some people hunt after fine wines.

I am obsessed with the New York Times Sunday Crossword. Once, I got an appointment book with a Sunday Times Crossword on each page. The one made the other unnecessary; I didn't have a life to plan or record in an appointment book because I was doing the puzzles. And because I had the puzzles to keep me busy, I had no need for the appointment book. I am an introvert but I wish I was an extrovert. Yet learning and accepting myself as an introvert has helped me be ok with feeling like I want to be alone a lot.

Walter Benjamin is breathtaking. So is Jean Luc Nancy, Hayden White and of course, Derrida. And the guy who played Shakespeare in Love, but in a different way (Joseph Fiennes?).

"Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something."
-Judith Butler
12 December 2007 @ 11:02 pm
As I fill out applications, I notice that some ask for my GPA "in major," others for my overall GPA, and some do not specify. Is it disingenuous to put my "in major" GPA when the application does not specify? Will I get busted for this? My GPA in my major is much higher because it does not include the disastrous science classes that I took.

Your thoughts?
03 December 2007 @ 02:03 pm
First of all, thank you to all the troopers who plowed through my statement- thanks to you I am making serious headway. Comments ranged across the board and I am taking them all very seriously.

I am going to reply to everyone who commented individually, but in case any of you are interested in reading round II, I am including it below. I hope that in addition to gaining insight on the process myself, I am providing a record of drafts and cuts that will help other people construct their statement. In looking for templates online or a guiding statement to learn from, I found just about nothing, so hopefully watching someone else go through the process will be informative for people looking online for resources and personal statement guidance.

Also, I am more than happy to advise or read and comment if anyone wants to send me anything!

Here is my statement with some MAJOR revisions- I just about cut the whole thing in half!


01 December 2007 @ 02:40 pm
Hi All,

I am new to this forum, and it is a real relief to find a community like this, since information on how to apply is so limited. I am looking for advice on my Statement of Purpose- would anyone be willing to read it  (tailored for Columbia's program) and give me feedback? If so, I would greatly appreciate it and am happy to reciprocate!

“What we accept in life we cannot accept in story,” protests J.M. Coetzee’s Susan Barton, the heroine transcribed from William DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe into J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, one of the many novels I analyzed for a graduate seminar thesis entitled “Mut(e)ilations: The Loss of Voice and the Voice of Loss in South Africa,” which earned me a 2004 writing award at the University of Cape Town and a 2005 Award by UCDavis’ English Department. I describe Susan’s remark as a “protest” deliberately; Foe is Susan’s dissent against the grand narrative of Robinson Crusoe, a text she decries as Defoe’s attempt to create an anesthetized legacy from her witness narrative. From my examination of Coetzee’s literature, my experience living in the South African society left as a consequence of apartheid, and my study of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I argued that to begin a process of healing in post-apartheid South Africa and indeed, the many histories of national trauma in the 20th century, the country must memorialize and inscribe within its national canon its history of forgetting people; and must reveal instead a story of disappearance and a disappearance of story, a tale of lost tales.

Living in South Africa and studying its literature has led me to consider the use and misuse of language to represent silence in traumatic histories. Those familiar with DeFoe’s original text will remember the slave Friday, literally rendered speechless by the text. Transplanted into Coetzee’s text his mutilated tongue alienates him from communication, his consequent silence subject to wanton interpretation and mistranslation. I found this act of interpreting and assigning meaning to the silence of the victim as much an act of violence as denying the victim expression through language altogether and decided to probe it further in other literary contexts.

My experience exploring the violence of both muting and assigning a ventriloquist to silenced victims drew me to a course in Holocaust Literature. My senior thesis explored how the stories told through children’s Holocaust literature has and will construct Holocaust memory for upcoming generations.  Here, I found myself again surrounded by attempts to fix meaning to a silenced people. In my senior thesis for this course, I argued that much of Holocaust knowledge comes to us filtered through literary fiction written about it, its narrative reinterpreted through modern politics, cultural attitudes, motives and agendas. While doing so keeps the history interesting for and relevant to modern audiences, it is also a ventriloquist’s act. I maintained, as I did in my study of South African literature, that the literature of traumatic cultural memory must acknowledge the essential ambiguity of the victim’s story, the history of silencing and the silences in the historical narrative, and the capacity of language to both give voice and to subvert it. I concluded that we must recognize in the subaltern story its essential ambiguity and our inability to fix meaning to it; that our only recourse is to eulogize and memorialize the trauma and the loss. We cannot and must not attempt to recover an irretrievable language. 

In pursuing my PhD, I would like to consider the issue of how to tell the tale of a silenced witness, how literature grapples with the problem of the untold stories in global postcolonial and postmodern literature, and our motivations for interpreting told and untold stories as we do. My knowledge and interest in 20th century literature has been informed by an array of courses on contemporary literature and history (I was a history minor with an emphasis on Judaic studies), and during that time, I cultivated a sensitivity how the witness narrative has become as much political and diplomatic task a factual one.

After leaving my work with the Memorial, I accepted a research position with the IJCR, a think tank devoted to social and demographic issues. Here, I consider how and why textbook publishers choose to incorporate versions of post-Holocaust history into their texts. Surveying varieties of historical accounts reminds me once again that history is more a discourse than a reality, a myth imbued with the political, social, and moral agendas of the people who tell it. Working at the Institute has allowed me to hone my research skills and, critically, confirmed my ambition to pursue further academic scholarship. It has given me distance and perspective on career goals, allowing me to enroll in Hebrew and German courses, which will allow me to access primary documents in my chosen field. I have taken a distanced and analytic view of my two theses, expanding upon and reconsidering many of the initial concepts, arguments, and conclusions I originally asserted. I have determined that I not only wish to pursue this study, but that I can best do so within the framework of Columbia’s English PhD program. In my quest to better understand the violence imposed by silence and silencing the witness, I found myself greatly influenced by Professor Spivak’s work on the subaltern and by Professor Damrosch’s study of literary allusions to antecedent texts in order to create new layers of narrative meaning. Significantly, my thoughts on using literature as a means through which to bear witness have been heavily influenced by Professor Hirsch’s preoccupation with the limits of language to represent traumatic memory.

I do not suppose that as a PhD, I will understand or explain the episodes of trauma and violence in history, or the massive effect it has on the way we construe ourselves and construct our surroundings. I do, however intend, as a graduate student, to understand how and why our society is compelled to bear witness, and to project a theory about what type of story we, as witnesses, will tell. My wish is to research, document and influence the texture of that memory, to become a witness and a storyteller myself and to help weave the narrative that will pass on to the next generation.