“The ultimate aim of literature is to be set free in the delirium…a possibility of life.”
In the article,
and the Anthropology of Becoming
, anthropologists Biehl and Locke relate their ethnographic projects of the urban poor in Brazil and Bosnia-Heregonvina to Deleuze’s reflections on the transformative potential of becoming (Biehl 2010). The anthropologists sought to extend Deleuze’s belief that literature reflects an author’s outlook on life to include patient writings. In their field studies, Biehl and Locke found that even in “delirium,” author patients strove to become something beyond past or current experiences.
Although my classroom is not an anthropological field assignment in a war ravaged urban poor setting of Bosnia-Herzegovina or possess the extreme poverty and social dislocation of Brazil, there is an undercurrent of similarity between the two. They both share a scrambling for limited resources. In the case of the anthropologic field studies, the search was for mental health treatment. Its unavailability led many to suffer from lack of proper diagnostics or inadequate services leading to great physical and mental sufferings. The unavailability caused many to make do with what was present and inadequate, and in the process of making do, they developed personae others judged as inappropriate.
I see the classroom as a place where students come to explore and grow based on text examinations and shared discussions, and not just the site of Lexile measurements. The classroom should be a place where students develop enduring understandings of the world they have inherited and for which they are an integral part. However, I recognize that this is sometimes not the case.
In addition to improving their academic skills, my students are searching for identity. They are looking for black, brown, and yellow characters who share their current experiences. They are confronted with a curriculum they perceive as not connecting to them and offers little about themselves. We continually ask them to “see” the enduring understandings of identity from the respective core texts and then we as educators make judgments about their faulty understandings. When they try to make do with the limited texts, they often misinterpret and define identity in an “us versus them” modality that translates into a hierarchy of value in which they never see their own individual or group identity richness. Within this hierarchy of value, they create a misconception that their identities are not valued.
Using short stories primarily by authors of color about characters of color, the teacher of this unit has an opportunity to present different points of view that are aimed to resonant with students’ perspective of identity. Students are to critically examine literature for identity foundations and departures within short story texts. Literature can be used according to poet, Dwayne Betts as “… the site that allows us to have conversations we don't usually have."
Not only are students able to use literature as an experiential guide of character identity conflict within literature but an opportunity to “try on the shoes (identities) of others” and vicariously experience their struggles. Students explore the relationship between the individual and the group identity issues, examine and evaluate methodologies employed by characters for their resolution, and assess the impact or the potential impact on identity.
The narrative—how we tell our story is “…the language of experience, whether it is ours, someone else’s or that of fictional characters...” (Cron 2012) It is how we transmit important information from one individual or community to the next. Effective stories capture, hold our attention, and transport us into the world of a character. (Zak 2013) It is through the reading of the short stories and the subsequent discussions that students acquire language of identity. By discussing the effects of events on the identity of fictional characters, students gather greater insight into their own lives. Students are challenged to examine the basis of their own identity formation.