[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover - Rebecca Skloot - racism, biography, medical science, segregation

Introduction:

About 40 years ago, an essay by Chinua Achebe was published that changed the way literary scholars talked about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In the essay, Achebe leveled claims of blatant, overarching, and thorough racism in Conrad’s time-tested classic about imperialism in Africa.

The ensuing devaluation of Conrad’s novella was not permanent, however, and Heart of Darkness remains a common choice for many higher-level high-school and lower-division university courses. But the conversations about it have changed, and now its racism is discussed and taught alongside the complexity of its visual imagery. Further, more importantly, in high schools across America Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, with its African perspective on imperialism, has also become a popular option for curricula.

The recent popular success of Rebecca Skloot’s work of creative nonfiction, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, may be seen as a further occurrence in the progressive recontextualization of historical objects and ideas; in Skloot’s case, the historical object is one of immense scientific importance: the HeLa cell. Just like Conrad’s novella, the importance of the HeLa cell is not diminished by the exploitation in its history, but that exploitation has become an integral part of telling that history.

Continue reading

[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

was last modified: August 12th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, c. late 1300s]
Puppetry and the “Popet:”

Fiction, Reality, and Empathy in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

 

Introduction:

Two weeks ago the topic of your Tuesday Tome was a piece of later medieval writing under the title of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I argued that aspects of Sir Gawain‘s structure (and treatment of character placement) serve as a window into the complex and proto-modern gender relations of the medieval period, and so people ought not, as seems rather common to me, be so quick to dismiss that period as some kind of primitive dark era of history.

Prior to that, I have also written on the insight into cyclical violence between factions that can be gained by reading Beowulf. Today I would like to continue this trend of showcasing the vitally relevant and fascinating discussions and lessons that can be gleaned from works of medieval literature by taking a look at what just one segment of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales reveals about Chaucer’s larger project of subjectification[1] across disparate social strata.

Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake - The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake

Continue reading

[Work: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, c. late 1300s]
Puppetry and the “Popet:”

Fiction, Reality, and Empathy in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

was last modified: January 21st, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (Pearl Poet), c. late 1300s]
The Green Knight’s Wife:

Space and Gender Relations in the Chivalric Romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

 

Introduction:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Illustration - Medieval, feminism, space, powerThe Tuesday Tome series has housed some light recommendations as well as some in-depth readings of classics; this article is one of the latter, and the work in question is very classic indeed: the late-medieval verse work Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. One of my many literary interests is how one can gain insight into an often-misunderstood and often-stereotyped era or group through literature, and there are few eras about which there are more misconceptions and simplifications than the middle ages.

In the study of literature, over the past hundred and fifty years or so, there has been growing emphasis on the significance of setting, and particularly on the relationship between space, whether natural, urban, or interior, and the thematic elements with which such study has always been primarily concerned.

There are now myriad papers on the cities in Dickens, the jungles in Conrad and Wells, and the rooms in the works of the Brontës. Such emphases yield valuable insights which should not be restricted to the past couple of centuries of literature. In the late-medieval chivalric text Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, space can be seen, as in the latter case of the Brontës, commenting on the nature of femininity and the human relationships between men and women which take place in that space.

Continue reading

[Work: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (Pearl Poet), c. late 1300s]
The Green Knight’s Wife:

Space and Gender Relations in the Chivalric Romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

was last modified: August 12th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

 

Frederick Douglass Sketch by M.R.P. - autobiography, sincerity, community

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Last week’s Tuesday Tome article considered Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and showcased the ways in which Franklin’s carefully crafted self-presentation acts as an extension of Franklin’s moralizing vanity. In contrast to Franklin’s project, I would like to put forward the perceptive thinker and stirring writer Frederick Douglass as a better candidate for the role of quintessential American.

The autobiography of Frederick Douglass, unlike that of Benjamin Franklin (which focuses entirely on self-improvement), seems to put forth the pressing concern of bringing about political and societal betterment. Douglass spends nearly all of his time decrying the atrocities and duplicities inherent to the system of slavery.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Continue reading

[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, 1791]
Acclaim Demanded:

How Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Manipulates the Reader

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin - autobiography, manipulation, propaganda

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin

To this day, the figure of Benjamin Franklin is evocative of something quintessentially American, as though a true American could be identified by the degree to which they approximate that figure. Readers of Franklin’s autobiography may scan Franklin’s mannerisms and qualities for confirmation of existing identities or individualized schemata for betterment. Franklin everywhere encourages people toward health, wisdom, and success.

In pursuit of this betterment-by-role-model, readers of Franklin find themselves urged to acknowledge a difference between Benjamin Franklin’s life and their own lives. Franklin operates within the society of his audience, aspiring to a tenuous conception of perfection. So, oddly, the apparently warm and wise figure of Franklin is involved in the manipulative presentation of his self as separate from both his society and his audience.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Continue reading

[Work: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, 1791]
Acclaim Demanded:

How Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Manipulates the Reader

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski