Recap of “The Spirituality of ‘Walden'”: Versions of the Sacred in Play

Junior English major Reese Harper recently attended Dr. Bob Davis’ colloquium event, “Sacred Play: The Spirituality of Walden” and published an article covering the event in the Wittenberg Torch.

On behalf of The Torch, here is Reese’s article.

Last Thursday, Professor of English Bob Davis presented a synopsis of his upcoming book to be titled “Sacred Play: Spirituality and American Literature.” The book will focus on American spirituality through the lens of Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist literary masterpiece Walden.

Former English professor Emerita Mimi Dixon introduced Davis and “Walden” itself.

“Bob’s classes are interdisciplinary, integrating literature and science, for example,” Dixon said. “Thoreau similarly combines religion with literature in Walden.”

Published in 1854, Walden details Thoreau’s thoughts and experiences in response to a pond near his residence over the course of two years. The text engages with themes such as contemplation and man’s relationship with nature. However, Davis is most interested in Thoreau’s version of the sacred: buoyancy, freedom, playfulness and possibility.

Davis referred to Thoreau’s philosophy of the sacred as “divine play” and this term will form the basis of Davis’ book.

“Thoreau’s literature is based on experiences of the sacred that are larger and more enduring than ourselves,” Davis said. “Play is an experimental model of religious devotion tuned in to the divine.”

Davis quickly clarified that Thoreau’s spirituality differs from the piety associated with organized religion. Thoreau resisted “associating faith with the special province of religion,” Davis said.

“Thoreau compares religion to a pond, its ripples different than ones caused by insects or fish,” Davis said. “His goal of religious practice is perseverance and being faithful to a divine spirit that’s infinitely variable and free.”

After clarifying Thoreau’s spirituality, Davis shifted to the text’s historical and theological origins.

“Versions of the sacred in play can be found in the theology of south Asia,” Davis said. “We know that in the fall of 1840, Thoreau studied key texts in Hindu spirituality. These texts refer to some gods as ‘divine creators.’ They are ends in themselves. Their existence is play, and it is sacred. For example, Vishnu is both discreet and indiscreet, substance and spirit. Krishna appeared with multiple faces studded with jewels, a god whose face is everywhere. Likewise, in the plot of Walden, the pond is a sacred grove, a prism that helps Thoreau experience objects from multiple standpoints, its prisms and hidden facets. The pond opens his mind to a god whose face is everywhere.”

Davis also found origins of the text’s spirituality in Christian thought.

Some Christian theologians refer to a concept like sacred play called ‘nimbleness of mind:’ being able to sense shifts in perception,” Davis said. “Christ ‘plays’ in many places. Jesus is a gardener, carpenter, revolutionary or stranger depending on the scene where he appears in the gospels.”

For those unfamiliar with Walden and skeptical of the immense symbolism within his pond, Davis concisely reasserted his position.

“People who have never read Walden would say ‘it’s just water;’ it’s never just water in Walden,” Davis said. “Walden is a very busy book. It uses up every myth, idea and color the mind has made up before it allows the one to wander.”

Davis did, however, qualify his findings.

“When other people break his rules of faithful living, Thoreau is just as quick to condemn as adherents to organized religion,” Davis said. “Thoreau’s lifelong quarrel with dogmatic Christianity was also a lifelong quarrel with himself—a rigid and serious man who claimed to never have changed his mind about anything. He shares that head-on religion is dangerous, and pursuing god directly leads to various ego traps. He tells us to look at god like stars, not face to face, but to notice them from the side.”

In the end, Davis succinctly relayed what he believes lies at the core of Walden.

“Thoreau teaches us to love our day, love our homework and love the facets of the pond,” Davis said.

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Dr. Bob Davis to Talk “Spirituality of Walden” in Colloquium

Next Thursday, Dr. Bob Davis will be presenting a lecture entitled, “Sacred Play: The Spirituality of Walden” in Ness Auditorium.

English majors that attend will receive colloquium credit!

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For a list of future colloquium events, click here.

Welcome Back!

Witty English welcomes all of the new freshmen and returning students back to Wittenberg for the fall semester and the 2018-2019 academic year.

The English Department’s first event will occur on Wednesday, September 5th at 4:00 p.m. in Ness Auditorium.

For those considering an English major or Creative Writing and/or Journalism minors, this is a great opportunity to talk with current majors/minors and faculty/staff. Undeclared students may also have the opportunity to declare their major/minor at the event.

For declared majors/minors, class pictures will be taken at 4:30 p.m. Pizza and light refreshments will be served promptly at 4:00 p.m.

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Recap on A.D. Carson’s Visit at Wittenberg

Last week, Wittenberg welcomed Dr. A.D Carson with open arms as he discussed a multitude of issues ranging from police brutality, activism, and black history.

Carson is a performance artist from Decatur, Illinois, as well as an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, where he teaches hip-hop and the Global South. He is well-known as the Clemson University Alum who flipped his college dissertation into a 34 track hip-hop album, titled “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions,” where he focuses on race, history, police brutality, and other current events.

He is also an organizer for the See The Stripes Campaign that aims to raise awareness of historic racism throughout his university. Carson has also received various awards pertaining to his dissertation, activism, and artistry including, but not limited to: the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Excellence in Service at Clemson University, and recognition by the Graduate Student Government as the 2017 Outstanding Dissertation.

Carson was on Wittenberg’s campus from Thursday, Feb. 22 until the last event concluded on Friday, Feb. 23. The first event allowed Carson and students to engage in conversation about police brutality and state sanctioned violence in philosophy professor Julius Bailey and English professor Sha’dawn Battle’s joint courses in Ness Auditorium.

The event was open to the campus community, encouraging anyone and everyone to join the imperative discussion of what is currently happening in our country. The discussion began with a video, titled “A.D Carson Second Amendment,” where he paid homage to those who were killed during acts of police brutality and discussed what would happen if those affected by these acts of malice were to arm themselves and shoot back. One thing that was discussed that specifically stuck with me was that 90% of black killings are done by black people, however, 90% of those people are indicted and convicted. The difference here is that when police officers commit the same offenses, only 1% are indicted and convicted. It was a strong statement that really propelled the discussion into police brutality.

The event was followed by an open mic event later that evening in Founders Pub. During this time, students took to the mic to rap, read poetry, and sing about the issues they were facing. There was also a dance-off that the students particularly loved. The night overall was a fun event for students to eat and engage in an informal setting.

Finally, Friday rolled in and Carson concluded his visit with a talk included in the English Colloquium series, “Boy It’s Familiar: History, Activism, and Writing Rap,” where Carson previewed his dissertation. His dissertation was a noteworthy end to a string of events celebrating black history while also spreading awareness of the current social issues facing our people and our country.

Carson’s visit was co-sponsored by Faculty Endowment Fund Board, English Department, Philosophy Department, African Diaspora Studies Department, Communication Department, Thomas Library, Multicultural Affairs, and Women’s Studies.

You can find Dr. A.D Carson on the following social media sites:

Instagram: @aydeethegreat

Twitter: @aydeethegreat

Website: www.aydeethegreat.com

-Nikki Howard, ’20

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D’Arcy Fallon Reads Excerpt of Novel-in-Progress “The Yum Yum Bus”

While on sabbatical, D’Arcy Fallon retreated to a cabin in Nova Scotia, where she escaped from modern-day distractions to focus on her novel, “The Yum Yum Bus.”

The first colloquium of the 2018 spring semester began with our very own D’Arcy Fallon  debuting her current novel in the works, “The Yum Yum Bus.” On Wednesday, January 1st, students and faculty joined together in Ness Auditorium for a reading of the work, a telling-of-age story about a woman, Rory McAllister, who struggles with the demands of teaching and the battle of accepting an ordinary life.

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Fallon began by reading the first scene of her manuscript, where audience members learned of Rory’s inhibitions and the emotional roller coaster she encounters while lurking through the shopping aisles.

Through use of humor and sensory details, Fallon has created a space into which the reader can be fully immersed. Fallon provided an engaging performance of her reading that allowed the audience to truly melt themselves into the pages of her manuscript. Using various accents, anecdotes, facial expressions, and emphasis on certain phrases, Fallon not only had the audience chuckling amongst the humor, but also eager to hear more of the tale.

Fallon revealed that she hopes to finish “The Yum Yum Bus,” her first work of fiction, by the end of the year and we could not be more excited to read the final product!

About “The Yum Yum Bus”:

If you had told Rory McAllister in her arrogant, kiss-my-ass 20’s that she would be living in the Midwest, teaching writing at the local college, she would’ve blown a few raspberries. The Midwest? Seriously? Fast-forward a decade. Now, in her 30’s, she’s living in the land of funnel cakes, corn mazes, and plastic lawn statuary. Rory is back home in Evening, Ohio, the place she calls “the parking lot of life,” feeding the meter one quarter at a time. As a former journalist, Rory used to think she knew a thing or two about truth with a capital “T,” but now, trying to impart wisdom about ethics, truth-telling, and creativity, she’s not so sure. Her students, sometimes crazy, sometimes brilliant, and more than a little sensitive, challenge her assumptions about veracity. Even so, she never had thought she’d have to deal with students who fought or cried, made up stories about dead grandmothers so they could get out of class. Who will teach the teacher (if she can only get over herself)? Enter The Yum Yum Bus, a 1968 Leyland Atlantean Double-Decker food truck that glides through the streets of Evening like a humpback whale. From behind the wheel, Maida Barnes dispenses banana bread, dangerously strong coffee, and lessons in how to get behind the wheel and steer your own life.

Written by Nikki Howard, ’20

Getting Caught Up On Events from Late Last Semester

On the last day of class, members of Dr. Robin Inboden’s Victorian Arts & Society class got to take a trip into downtown Springfield to visit the Mast Mansion (Castle Knoll) to view Victorian architecture and to have a celebratory tea party for the end of the semester.

Local architect Lon Krider designed the mansion for Phineas and Anna Mast in 1882. Taking approximately three years to construct, the mansion has become a center for Victorian architecture in Springfield.

Students can find the Castle Knoll at 901 West High Street, right above the railroad tracks. Tours can be scheduled through Turner Foundation historian Kevin Rose. The mansion, however, is in deep construction to restore it to its grandeur from its days as a nursing home.

There is no set completion date as the Turner Foundation is also restoring other historic buildings in Springfield while working on the Mast Mansion.

Students in Inboden’s 354 got to sample a variety of teas as well as quaint sandwiches, scones, and hobnobs, all while wearing paper crowns, courtesy of Christmas crackers.

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“I want to be valued, not valuable.”

Sponsored by the English Department, the Women’s Studies Program, and the Womyn’s Center, students and faculty gathered for a media discussion to talk about the popular book and Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale, late last semester.

Students and faculty discussed differences between the series and the book, the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale and its purpose in today’s society, prevalent sexism and the forms it may come in, critical remarks, analysis of important characters, societal parallels, and how current issues may connect to the tale.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Susan Denaker, is a dystopian tale of a woman, Offred, who is forced to become a handmaid, also known as a sexual slave that is required to bear children for those who are infertile. The woman in this world, specifically the handmaids, are incredibly oppressed and suffer various tortures, such as the gouging of eyes, mutilation, and rape. This a world in which women have been stripped of all rights and are no longer valued as respectable human beings.

While dystopian literature can be an entertaining work of fiction, it can be easy for the material to hit close to home. Some readers even avoid dystopian literature because the content feels too real to them, almost like a cautionary tale of what is to come. Many feel it is better to avoid the genre until society itself feels safer. However, it is important to note that while creating the tale, the producers did not want to include anything that was not already happening to women elsewhere. This means that while some are avoiding the genre for being “too real,” for others this is their reality, a reality they do not have the luxury of avoiding.

The book and the series seem to be telling the same story, but with a different purpose. While they both are created in an era of uncertainty, the Hulu series can be described as more of an inspirational tale, as the female characters are more empowered early on.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a true push between religion and science, where one may question what happens when science fails us and we turn back to religion. In a world where the reasoning behind infertility is blurred, religion becomes an anchor with an extremist mentality. It is a religion of subjugating women based on biblical text, as they are expendable and not meant to be valued – emphasizing Offred’s quote of, “I want to valued, not valuable.”

With parallels between pro-life and the Net Neutrality act – a form of controlling the media and who may have access to it – some may wonder if a tale like this is truly dystopian, if it is truly an impossibility, and if we doing this to ourselves already?

-Written by Nikki Howard, ’20

Weightlifting: A Reflection on Dr. Cynthia Richards’ Sabbatical

When I first was asked to reflect on my sabbatical, I decided on what I thought was the perfect metaphor for my reflection—weightlifting. I had just started weightlifting with my 16 year-old-son. He is an advocate of the practice, and quick to point out that it has benefits for everyone. Not long after, I heard about how both Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Hillary Clinton have personal trainers who insist on strength exercises, including pushups and curls. I set as my goal a chin-up by Christmas and imagined concluding this reflection by noting that I had met my goal. But about three weeks in, I suffered a painful groin injury and found myself completely incapacitated. (I will never read Uncle Toby from Tristram Shandy quite the same again.) So, I begin my essay with this acknowledgement of failure rather than an uplifting story of my success.

Still, weightlifting works as a metaphor for my sabbatical, and perhaps even more so now that my endeavor has only proven partially successful. It still helped me connect to my son, for example, and understand the allure of this practice. It also remains an apt metaphor for what sabbaticals are for: lifting some of the weight of the work, strengthening scholarly muscles, or just finding another way of staying energized and connected to the world. Sabbaticals are a way of coming back to the work one loves stronger and fitter, but also humbled by a new project. It also makes me feel reconnected to my students and how a liberal arts education requires us to learn new skills and master new disciplines. I become a student again. Taking on a task as totally alien as weightlifting was a good reminder of how strange writing an academic essay can feel to a first-year student or how daunting completing a 25-page-thesis can be for a senior.

This sabbatical, I was a student of early modern trauma. For anyone studying with me over the last few years, you will know that this not a new subject for me. It was first fueled by an interest in war in the eighteenth century, and then more specifically the Restoration poet John Wilmot’s combat experience in the Second Anglo Dutch War, and how he never really recovered from the loss he experienced there. Trauma theory had helped me reimagine his seemingly nihilistic satires as witty attempts to work through his grief after witnessing two of his comrades die by one cannonball at the age of 19.

This sabbatical, however, that focus became more disciplined. In August, an UK historian and I secured a book contract with the University of Nebraska Press for an edited collection of essays on how modern trauma theory applies to the early modern period. What felt most exciting to me about this project was how it could defamiliarize historical suffering, reframe it as sudden and unexpected and difficult to assimilate rather than the way we typically view historical loss as normative and constant.

My own essay in the volume focuses on the representation of female trauma during the late seventeenth century. If we imagine suffering as normative during the early modern period, female suffering was even more so, so unremarkable as to become aestheticized. In fact, nearly every critical study I read on early modern trauma focused on the image of Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and how her mutilated body functions as an emblem of loss itself. No one had yet to explore what her suffering meant to “her” rather than what it meant to writers, such as Shakespeare, who use her image to explore the complex nature of the male psyche.

My own chapter then focused on a poem by Aphra Behn called “The Disappointment,” and then brought me back to a work that has long occupied my thinking, her final novella and early slave narrative, Oroonoko; or the Royal Slave. In both these works, Behn found ways to name suffering precisely where our western canon wanted to deny it existed: in female sexuality and in the use of black male and female bodies to promote white projects of advancement. Trauma theory allowed me to “remember” that long after Behn learned of Oroonoko’s execution by dismemberment her own memories would be triggered by accounts of physical vulnerability and loss. That she would seek to “work through” this grief and hence would have delayed writing down his story, and that when she encountered stark images of male vulnerability and loss in a genre otherwise known for its bravado and word play—the male-authored imperfect enjoyment poem—she would find unexpected pathos there. Trauma theory also allowed me to read her entry into that genre—”The Disappointment”—as an expose of how female trauma is never recognized because female pleasure is never acknowledged. Her poem, then, ends abruptly and atypically, without physical recovery for the male, and her female figure flees while her female narrator tells us that she can imagine the woman’s pain, and challenges us to do the same.

Behn’s challenge to her readers unexpectedly resonated with the #metoo movement that also emerged during my sabbatical and which my sabbatical gave me time to reflect on. In this movement, “readers” are also asked to imagine pain—that of harassment in the workplace, for example—which was once viewed as normative and instead recognize it as loss—the loss of bodily autonomy, of dignity, and even of one’s career ambitions. This movement represents just the type of belated naming that trauma theory has taught us to recognize as powerful and imperfect, but necessary to healing and to lifting the weight of our histories and of history itself.

So, weightlifting did indeed prove the right metaphor for my sabbatical, although I doubt I will ever manage a chin up. It has helped me understand the world around me a little better, given me new tools for reading the literature I teach, and a renewed appreciation for what matters in my work and for how necessary sabbaticals are for naming that.

Costume Highlight Reel from Literary Halloween Party

This past Tuesday, the English Department, along with members of SAGE, hosted the annual Literary Halloween Party. Students and faculty had the option to dress as a literary character or author for colloquium credit; or, they could simply dress up just to dress up.

Here are some of this year’s costume highlights:

 

Clockwise, from left to right: Town Mouse and Country Mouse from Aesop’s Fables (Emma Stogsdill and Sierra Sanchez), Frankenstein Creation (Ashlee Eckenroe), Literary Mash-Up (Dr. Lori Askeland), Woman in Black from Susan Hill’s Woman in Black (Stephanie McGregor), Jonny Cade from The Outsiders and Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Katie Hodson), Giraffe from Giraffe (Nikki Howard), Alice from Alice in Wonderland (Emma Kilpatrick), Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games (Megan Winters), Inigo Montaya from The Princess Bride (Drew Pool), and Nancy Drew(s) from Nancy Drew (Kailey Mau and Samantha Reynolds).

Prof. Fallon’s Sabbatical: Writing Her First Novel

After a professor has been granted tenure, they are able to take either a semester or year off from teaching, known as a sabbatical, to further their research on a current project, or to spend time writing on prior research they have gathered.

Two Wittenberg professors are on sabbatical during the fall semester, Professor D’Arcy Fallon and Dr. Cynthia Richards. Here is a preview of what D’Arcy has been working on during the summer months and these first five weeks away from Wittenberg:

“I’ve been in Nova Scotia ten days. I’ve mastered how to lock the front door, learned where to take a free shower, and learned the finer points of separating the trash into garbage, compost, and recyclables. As for the toilet, well, I’m still learning.” – July 16, 2017

As that journal entry from the summer of 2017 attests, I spent nearly two months in a little cabin built on stilts above the Atlantic Ocean without plumbing or running water. I was in Nova Scotia with my two dogs, China and Sebastian, trying to get a running start on my fall sabbatical. I believed that some intensive alone time in a primitive cabin without modern-day distractions would help me get cranking on The Yum Yum Bus, a novel about a creative writing teacher who must negotiate the tricky territory between praise and truth-telling. (It did!)

I had access to electricity, a tiny fridge, and an assortment of lackadaisical space heaters. But there was no TV, no internet, no bathtub, and very spotty phone service. It rained the first three weeks I was there. I wrote in my journal, “Forty-six degrees outside and this place feels like it’s constructed out of Popsicle sticks.”

“Cleaning” the cabin, I accidentally touched a few panes of ancient window glass too vigorously and broke them. At low tide, using a ten-foot ladder, I tried to putty in new panes, only to break those too. I was on a first-name basis with the people at the hardware store. Did I mention it was cold and rainy?

The cabin was located in Vogler’s Cove, on the Atlantic side. I loved living by the tidal clock. My bedroom was located directly above the ocean and I could feel the tide surging in the middle of the night. The sunsets were breathtaking, the morning fog a delight, and the birds and ocean critters afforded non-stop entertainment. It was like watching The Animal Planet nonstop, without commercials. There were lots of challenges, but overcoming them became part of the charm of life at The Black Duck. I mastered using the Incinolet Carefree toilet, which burns solid waste. As for the other kind of waste, a hole in the floor above the ocean sufficed. I thought about re-naming The Black Duck “Camp Commando.” There are many things to be embarrassed about in this world, but going to the bathroom should not be one of them.

Now it’s September in Springfield, Ohio. Did I mention it’s cold and rainy? My office wall at home is covered with three by five cards, taped notes and charts and little phrases are helping me concentrate on The Yum Yum Bus. I have never written a novel before. I am extremely grateful for this time to write and I vow I’ll have a draft of the book finished by the end of December. And if I can’t keep that promise, there’s always Nova Scotia.

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Included is an excerpt of some of the work Prof. Fallon has written thus far:

The Vapors: Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia

There were a few moments when the sun burned through the fog and it was actually hot and I thought I might go swimming, but then the fog swirled in. I would not have been surprised to see someone in a trench coat with the collar turned up scurry by. With fog, you never know what you’re getting. Love, romance, lost pets, confessions, old movie stars.

Who walks in the fog? Who are you? The tide is low and the ocean is sighing: fog, fog, fog. Waves roll up on the shore, sandpipers run, kids fly kites, people kiss on the sand dunes, dogs chase sticks. We’re all newborns in the fog: blind, intimate, random, strangers.

Walking in the fog is like opening a birthday present. Unwrap the moment. We’re in a cocoon of mist, swaddled in clouds, diapered in moisture. Maybe it’s the last day of life as we know it. We’re all here, with our dogs and tennis balls, sun screen and bottled water, folding chairs and metal detectors.

Look. Three adolescent girls in bikinis do cartwheels. A grandmother in a fuchsia windbreaker takes photographs. The sweet black lab looks like a sugar donut as he rolls in the sand.

I am a visitor from another country, a pilgrim trying to make a fresh start. Is it here, on the beach? Will you take me in? Fog forgives. It looks the other way. Make me yours.