Monster Poetry with Brian Morrison

by Keith Jackson

If you were one of the unlucky ones that missed the Digital Literature Review’s monster poetry reading, you can still read about it here! The reading featured Ball State English Department’s very own Brian Morrison and his manuscript of poems on monsters. He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University. He agreed to be the star of this semester’s first “DLR Presents” reading, a themed event held once or twice every year, showcasing professional work from Ball State and abroad. Our second event was held last Friday (March 31st) with Jeffrey Weinstock, Ph.D. You can expect a blog about Weinstock’s talk on vampires soon!

Before the reading, I asked Morrison a few questions. He discussed his writing process, how he chooses what topics to explore, what his inspirations were for writing monster poetry, and the project he would be reading from. Morrison was very open in his answers, and I have provided a few below. I will discuss the actual reading a bit later on.

Morrison first talked with me about how he approaches a poem. He does not always know what he’s going to write about beforehand, but he focuses on an image, or sometimes a line, to start things off. The poem forms over time,  over the course of two or three drafts. The ones that he read for the DLR were the result of a project he had started a few years ago. He did not know exactly where it was going at first, but he followed the idea of ‘false history,’ which means that he rewrote classic stories or historical moments. For example, he began to rewrite movies, like Frankenstein, in which the creature is a farmer in the Midwest.

After monsters entered Morrison’s life, he never let them leave. Writing has been a way of life for Morrison, and he used it to help cope with a difficult childhood. Writing helped him navigate through life and make sense of how chaotic it can be at times. To some extent, he says he is still doing it now. Like most of us, his love of monsters stems from movies he had watched. When he was a boy, he and his father found common ground in their love of horror films. They both loved the genre and movies like Jaws, Predator, and anything with werewolves. They bonded in this way, watching monster movies. Brian still watches them, and writing about them has been the most fun he has ever had. This passion resonated well with quite a few of his poems.

Right off the top, the very first poem he read reminded me of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, the monster expert, and his seven theses. Though Morrison’s poems explored several ideas, at the forefront was the political climate in America. Cohen’s first theory in particular resonated strongly throughout the entirety of the reading. In the first theory, “The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body,” Cohen says the “monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny dependence” (4). In this way, the monster exists to be read, to reveal, and to warn the reader. The monsters in the first few poems (which work together to convey one cohesive idea) manifest themselves in many ways. For example, in the second poem, fear morphs into a monster Ms. McCready keeps hidden in her basement, bringing it with her to city hall to vote. Though it is easy to blame Ms. McCready for allowing the monster she has only just revealed to influence her ideas, Morrison asks the question, “Can you blame them for caring more about the roads and the children? The taxes and the donors?” The monster Ms. McCready keeps in her basement represents a broader cultural anxiety – the anxiety of a country split into two poles.

Near the end of the reading, Morrison read the poem he had referenced in our discussions – the ‘false history’ poem about Frankenstein’s monster being a farmer in the Midwest. This was perhaps my favorite poem out of the whole collection, partly because of the setting (think rural and cornfields; think Indiana) and partly because this poem was false history. In the poem, which was hilarious and disturbing all at the same time, the monster expresses grief over his unruly appendages and the hard work of tilling a field. The life of a farmer is a lonely one, and Frankenstein’s monster is not devoid of emotion. He longs for friendly connection but knows he is a monster. The townsfolk shun him, consider him “Other,” something that does not belong. The poem closes as Frankenstein disperses his appendages throughout his fields to help the crops grow, ultimately accepting his role as farmer and nothing more.

Whether it is the monster we hide deep within us, the being that controls some of our deepest beliefs, or a twist on a classic story, Morrison’s poems were terrifyingly monstrous. The poems asked us to look within ourselves as a community and as a country. Within them, monsters were created to answer cultural fears and anxieties, to help make sense of the wacky world we live in. “Monsters ask us why we have created them” (Cohen 20). Morrison’s creations asked those in attendance to propose the same question: Why do we love monsters so much?  

 

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Ed. Cohen. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1996. pp. 3-25.

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Questionable Choreography

By Nikole Darnell

Since it premiered ten years ago, Fox’s dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance has cha-cha’d its way to the top with nineteen awards and sixty nominations (“So You Think You Can Dance: Awards”). The show has frequently been praised for its outstanding choreography, staging, lighting, and more. Married couple Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz, better known by their respective stage names, Pharside and Phoenix, are the award-winning choreographers for the show. Their intricate pieces generally feature a theme, especially their hip hop numbers.

In Season Twelve, the duo choreographed a freak show-themed routine for the top seven members of Team Street to Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.” While, at first glance, the number seems innocent and simply entertaining, one can definitely find problematic elements in it, from the choreography and costuming to the types of characters that the dancers are instructed to portray. There are stock carnival characters, such as a clown, a ringmaster, and a tight-rope walker. Then there are also more dated characters, like a strongman and a bearded woman. However, the dance also features a pair of conjoined twins, the only performers in the dance whose costumes refer to the circus’s dark history of exhibiting people with congenital disabilities. Is it really acceptable for the non-disabled to mimic the disabled? Representing conjoined twins as freaks undermines their humanity and, in this case,  makes them into something to be feared rather than what they really are– human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.

No matter what the role, the performer is made up to look dark and scary, indicating that this particular carnival is something to be feared. Every character in this piece is a little bit frightening, but the costuming and makeup choices definitely accentuate this in the conjoined twins, played by Dancers Yorelis Apolinario and Ariana Crowder. Their hair and costumes are definitely out of the ordinary, but the real anomaly is their makeup, which is done so that it appears that blood is running from the girls’ eyes. Of course, everyone is made to look horrifying, but the other costumes seem a little less so. Virgil Gadson, the dancer who plays the clown, wears a typical clown suit and makeup. Many people are terrified of clowns—Virgil’s appearance could have provided a perfect opportunity for the show to capitalize on terror, if that is what they desired. There are all kinds of designs for creepy clown makeup. After realizing this, it seems especially odd that the show would choose to make the conjoined twins’ makeup more frightening than the clown’s. After all, a clown makes the choice to become a clown. Conjoined twins do not decide to be conjoined twins.   

While other characters have choreography that matches their roles, Ariana and Yorelis are given moves that make their characters seem even more disturbing. At 0:23, Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge seems to lift the tightrope walker with only one arm. The tightrope walker, Jessica “JJ” Rabone, pretends to do her act from 0:59 until 1:09. The bearded lady, played by Džajna “Jaja” Vaňková, can frequently be seen stroking her facial hair. But for the dancers portraying the conjoined twins, the actions are very different. At the beginning of the number, from 0:00 until 0:13, Ariana and Yorelis mime activities that could actually be performed by conjoined twins until the ringmaster, played by Megan “Megz” Alfonso, appears to cut them in half. This part of the choreography is incredibly insensitive to those who are actually conjoined twins, given that it seems to deny the reality of their experiences., At 0:32, Yorelis is instructed to make a disgusting face while the rest of the dancers appear to unscrew her head. At 1:42, the girls join hands and run off to their final position, only to appear to be “re-conjoined.” Choreographing the girls to be split and then put back together is not only unrealistic and disturbing, but it reinforces common stereotypes about conjoined twins. For example, when “normate” people imagine being conjoined, they often imagine what they would feel like if another non-conjoined person were suddenly attached to them. This denies that being conjoined affects a person’s experiences and worldview. All of the other characters were given reasonable choreography, so why is it that the conjoined twins were made to look so terrifying?

It is important to point out that Yorelis and Ariana were simply doing the choreography that was assigned to them. They are actors playing a role and were trying their very hardest to win the show. There are plenty of other characters the show could have incorporated into the routine, such as a lion tamer or even some circus animals. In a society that is shifting towards a more accepting, politically correct world, it is appalling that no one else seemed to be upset that the dancers were mimicking conjoined twins in such a grotesque manner. This questionable choreography is another instance of how society fears what they do not know or understand and make it into something ugly or unclean. After all, conjoined twins are real people. They do not exist to fuel our nightmares.

 

Works Cited

“Pharside & Phoenix.” The Movement: Talent Agency. The Movement—Dance Talent Agency, 2015. Web. 16. Oct. 2015.

“So You Think You Can Dance: Awards.” IMDb.com. IMDb.com, Inc., 2015. Web. 16. Oct. 2015.

Writing about People with Disabilities: Teaching or Displaying?

By Sarah Keck

In freak shows, people with physical differences–such as conjoined twins, those with fewer limbs than the norm, and those who can perform unusual actions–are displayed for the public to gawk and stare at. Because their differences from the “normal” concept of the human are emphasized, they are made to seem inhuman to spectators. Displaying human difference in this way is clearly a problem. However, can this sort of dehumanizing display be done in writing, even though the only things writing presents to be stared at are literally written words on a piece of paper? Sure. Here’s why:

A few definitions of the verb “display,” according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, are “to put or spread before the view,” “to make evident,” and “to exhibit ostentatiously.” When writing about people with disabilities, writers are not literally displaying them for people to view (although people are capable of envisioning what’s written down in detail), but it is still a form of exhibit. Julia Twigg describes this in her article “Social Policy and the Body” in the book Rethinking Social Policy: “An emphasis on the bodily potentially demeans disabled people, presenting them as the rejected ‘other’ of the freak show, subject to…pitying gaze of the dominant society” (135). This emphasis on a person’s bodily “abnormality” can occur physically or in writing.

Twigg presents an example from her own research, in which she decided that a description would amount to a demeaning display. She was writing about a disabled woman whose caretakers did not arrive at her house at the right time. In the midst of writing that the woman wouldn’t just “eat, sleep and live but also excrete in the bed,” she stopped herself because that last detail would “expose and lessen” that woman (135). Readers should learn about disabilities, but their focus shouldn’t be solely on the disabled body to the point that they forget the disabled person’s humanity. Focusing on the woman’s body, in this case, could present her as animalistic because hygiene practices are one of things that we see as separating humans from animals, and, without a caretaker, this woman was denied access to these practices. Also, although excretion is normal and natural, it is considered private, and this privacy is central to human dignity.

In the play The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance challenges the dehumanization of disabled people in writing. Although the play is meant to be performed, the challenge comes through to a reader as well. In Scene 3, the main character, John Merrick, is put on display due to his body being disabled. Dr. Frederick Treves, the surgeon who takes in Merrick, describes Merrick’s body in his medical display:

…From the upper jaw there projected another mass of bone. It protruded from the mouth like a pink stump, turning the upper lip inside out, and making the mouth a wide, slobbering aperture…The deformities rendered the face utterly incapable of the expression of any emotion whatsoever…developed hip disease which left him permanently lame, so that he could only walk with a stick. (Pomerance 5-6)

Though this written display of Merrick focuses dominantly on his body, dehumanizing him, it is only a brief scene, and it is later criticized within the play. The majority of the play doesn’t center only on Merrick’s body. There are many scenes in which Merrick’s personhood is noted so that his body is not the focal point. A few examples would be when he cried at how Madge Kendal, a visitor, was the first woman to shake his hand (35), when he explained his purpose in building a model of St. Phillip’s church (38), and when he questions the standards Treves has regarding the display of women’s bodies in Scene 16 (55-58). Readers can learn in The Elephant Man that Merrick is more than his stage name. From being in a freak show to living in Treves’ care, Merrick goes from “freak” to “normal” in the reader’s mind. He is presented in writing as a human being, displaying qualities and actions of any human, as every person with a disability does.

In performance, the play takes this focus on his humanity further. Pomerance made it clear to focus on Merrick as a person in the play’s introduction: “Any attempt to reproduce his [Merrick’s] appearance and his speech naturalistically – if it were possible – would seem to me not only counterproductive, but, the more remarkably successful, the more distracting from the play” (V-VI). If an actor took the appearance of Merrick, the audience would only be drawn to the character’s abnormality, not to the humanity. Thus, it wouldn’t be different from a live freak show with Merrick on display. Pomerance doesn’t focus only on Merrick’s body in the script, so he doesn’t advise actors to take on the role literally in the production. But he does not ignore Merrick’s body either. He suggested using “projected slides” (VI) to give people an understanding of how Merrick appeared. Thus, once they’d gotten past their initial prejudices, the reader and viewer can come to an understanding of Merrick as a person with a disability, rather than a person in spite of his disability.

It’s not entirely possible to write about people without indirectly displaying them. The thing is, if what’s written about disabled people is meant to teach people about the feelings and experiences of those put up on display, then it’s not meant to be negative. They can be displayed in writing in ways that do not other them but instead educate readers.

 

Works Cited

“Display.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web.

Pomerance, Bernard. The Elephant Man. New York: Grove, 1979. V-VI, 5-6, 35, 38, 55-58. Print.

Twigg, Julia. “Social Policy and the Body.” Rethinking Social Policy. Ed. Gail Lewis, Sharon Gewirtz, and John Clarke. London: Open U in Association with SAGE Publications, 2000. 135. Print.

The Making of the DLR Part 3: Publicity Team

Hello and welcome to the third installment of The Making of the Digital Literature Review. The Digital Literature Review is created through the hard work and contributions of all of its individual undergraduate members. These members are divided into three teams (Design, Editorial, and Publicity) at the start of each issue, and collectively work throughout the semester in order to edit, produce, and publish the Digital Literature Review. The start of the school year begins with the teams studying a particular theme designated for that year, under the guidance of a professor. The next semester involves receiving submissions for the journal and readying them for publication.

In this post, we will cover the duties and responsibilities of the members of the Publicity team, as well as have the team members share their personal thoughts and experiences about the immersive learning class. They will cover the challenges they’ve had to endure as well as their triumphs throughout the semester as they collectively worked to improve the online presence and visibility of Ball State’s Digital Literature Review.

The responsibilities of the Publicity team:

  • Review submissions to the DLR blog
  • Ensure proper distribution of advertising materials
  • Post and advertise for events concerning the DLR
  • Maintain Twitter, Facebook, and blog presence

Responsibilities and course work as a student in this immersive learning class:

  • Study the material of the designated theme for the year
  • Assign blog entries for our DLR blog
  • Write for the DLR blog and possibly for the English Department blog
  • Create a capstone project

Our Publicity Team members:

morgan

Morgan Aprill (Team Leader), Senior

jeff

Jeff Owens, Junior

niki

Elisabeth (Niki) Wilkes, Senior

What was your best experience as a member of the Publicity team?

 

Niki: I really enjoyed working on the DLR blog. It was a project within the project, and it felt really good to be able to delegate what was going where. Having been in charge of that is going to be really helpful in my job searches, and just knowing that I have that skill now is great.

 

Morgan: I really enjoyed putting together the class visits we took part in. It was a great experience to reach out to potentially new members for next year’s DLR as well as trying to get more submissions for that issue. That was basically our main goal as the Publicity team.

 

Jeff: I’d say the whole class is the experience I focused on. The Publicity team was secondary to my experience as a student of our issue’s topic, “Slavery Now.” When we started concerning ourselves with issues of the representation of slavery, I really saw a change in myself, and that really just clicked for me. I know I’ll never be able to look at representation the same.

  

Share some of the challenges you faced as a Publicity member

 

Morgan: Just really making sure we chose the best ways to reach the most people was tough. We had to make sure we considered the audience and what was important to them so that we could be effective in our goals.

 

Jeff: In a setting like this, other people really depend on you, and that can be a lot of pressure. That kind of responsibility really makes you aware that if you aren’t doing your part, then other people are going to have a tougher time and will have to compensate for your fault. That really gives a real world feel to the DLR.

 

Niki: The hardest part of this class is that its structure is really not typical. I like all the structure of normal classes, so it was pretty tough to learn to be flexible and roll with the changing due dates. But I still think that this is a useful skill to have practiced.

 

 

What skills do you think you’ve developed with your team?

 

Jeff: Being able to know how to interact and communicate effectively with people in certain settings is so important. I’d say that in this class I learned how to interact in a professional manner even with people that I might know personally. I think that skill is really going to translate well to a career setting.

 

Niki: It was really interesting to learn all the different ways you can approach people about things. We were able to really get all the different social media platforms going, and make a lot of different people excited about the DLR and its projects.

 

Morgan: I think my communication skills really grew with this experience. Through social media and other public forms of communication, we were able to create and maintain a professional image. That’s going to be really important when I’m looking at careers.

 

If you’ve missed a prior installment of The Making of the DLR, check them out here and here.

If you’re interested in joining the DLR team for the upcoming issue, contact Dr. Joyce Huff.

Also, don’t forget to check out our webfsite, Facebook, and Twitter for more information and regularly updated posts.

The Making of the DLR Part 2: Editorial Team

Hello and welcome to the second installment of The Making of the Digital Literature Review. The Digital Literature Review is created though the hard work and contributions of all of its individual undergraduate members. These members are divided into three teams (Design, Editorial, and Publicity) at the start of each issue, and they collectively work throughout the semester in order to edit, produce, and publish the Digital Literature Review. The start of school year begins with the teams studying a particular theme designated for that year, under the guidance of a professor. The next semester involves receiving submissions for the journal and readying them for publication.

In this post, we will cover the duties and responsibilities of the members of the Editorial team, as well as have the team members share their personal thoughts and experiences about the immersive class. They will cover the challenges they’ve had to endure as well as their triumphs throughout the semester as they collectively worked to improve the content and accuracy of Ball State’s Digital Literature Review.

The responsibilities of the Editorial team:

  • Review submissions to the journal for quality
  • Send acceptance/refusals to authors
  • Copy edit accepted submissions to the journal
  • Review and copy edit the DLR in its final stages

Responsibilities and course work as a student in this immersive learning class:

  • Study the material of the designated theme for the year
  • Assigned blog entries for our DLR blog
  • Write for the DLR blog and possibly for the English Department blog
  • Create a capstone project

Our Editorial Team members:

esther

Esther Wolfe, Team Leader, Senior

sadie

Sadie Brown, Senior

nikole

Nikole Darnell, Sophomore

caitlin

Caitlin Dashiell, Senior

kathryn

Kathryn Hampshire, Sophomore

bryce

Bryce Longenberger, Junior

isabel

Isabel Vazquez, Junior

 

What was it like building the Editorial team and putting into practice your process?

 

Esther: We really wanted to build on the foundation from last year. This year it was more about making the process more efficient. It was especially important in training the new members in our editorial process: creating dress rehearsals, and training processes.

 

Nikole: Some parts of the process could get overwhelming considering that you would have to show up to class on certain days and copyedit huge sections of text. I mean it’s feasible to get it all done, but just be ready to work hard when you come into the team.

 

Kathryn: Even though I knew this was the team I wanted to be a part of, I didn’t really know what to expect. It ended up being a lot more than I did expect though, and that was just really exciting as the year progressed. I thought it would be a lot of copyediting, but it turned out to be a lot more than that, which was really great.

 

Isabel: It was great to see such a large group working together to achieve one goal. Especially since I was able to still voice my opinions and be heard when I thought somethings should be changed. It’s a real confidence builder to know that I could polish my new skills and apply them to a real world experience.

 

So how did your team overcome the big challenges during the course of the year?

 

Kathryn: Well one of the big things we worried about was how to keep our documents straight. We were really concerned that our system wouldn’t be efficient enough. Fortunately we came up with a great folder system that really helped us get ourselves organized and keep all the various versions of documents separate.

 

Bryce & Kathryn: We can talk about how tough it was to work on our peers’ submissions to the journal.

It was an issue that really came up a lot. We had to make sure we remained professional and respectful because some of these papers were from people we see every day. Everyone was really thorough and approached each paper so carefully and honestly that I think that everyone was able to accept that we had made the right decisions.

We knew that every factor we could think of was considered and our decisions were made based on that.

 

Isabel: I think the most stressful part was just not having any idea what to expect. I’d never really done any immersive class work before and so this whole thing was a completely new experience to me. By the end of the semester I felt a lot more confident in my abilities, and I know if I need to do this type of thing again, I’ll have no problems.

 

Discuss some of the best things you experienced on the Editorial team.

 

Esther: I think another thing that might be challenging about the editorial team is that, even if you try, you can never anticipate all of the things that are going to pop up. So we just tried to make sure we had a protocol in place about how to react and deal with those things that just popped up on the day-to-day basis.

 

Isabel: It was really cool if I was struggling that I could approach the other members and get help. That really helped when I was learning to sculpt this level of academic work and to tailor it to a specific audience.

To see more of The Making of the DLR, check out the first installment and the last installment covering the two other hardworking teams.

If you’re interested in joining the DLR team for the upcoming issue, contact Dr. Joyce Huff.

Also, don’t forget to check out our website, Facebook, and Twitter for more information and regularly updated posts.

The Making of the DLR Part 1: Design Team

By: Isabel Vazquez

Hello and welcome to the first installment of our blog series, The Making of the Digital Literature Review. The Digital Literature Review is created though the hard work and contributions of all of its individual undergraduate members. These members are divided into three teams (Design, Editorial, and Publicity) at the start of each year, and they collectively work throughout the semester in order to edit, produce, and publish the Digital Literature Review. The start of school year begins with all the students studying a particular theme designated for that year, under the guidance of a professor. The next semester involves receiving submissions for the journal and readying them for publication.

In this post, we will cover the duties and responsibilities of the members of the design team, as well as have the team members share their personal thoughts and experiences about the immersive class. They will cover the challenges they’ve had to endure as well as their triumphs throughout the semester as they collectively worked to improve the image and design of Ball State’s Digital Literature Review.

The responsibilities of the Design team:

  • Create flyers and handouts for the DLR and Gala event
  • Create flyers for recruiting new members every school year
  • Format the compiled journal for publication
  • Work with InDesign, Photoshop, and other Adobe Creative Suite applications
  • Choose, take, and edit photos for purposes within the journal
  • Create an image design for the cover of the journal

Responsibilities and course work as a student in this immersive learning class:

  • Study the material of the designated theme for the year
  • Write for the DLR blog and possibly for the English Department blog
  • Create a capstone project

Our Design Team members:

Daniel Brount, Team Leader, Junior

daniel

Isaha Cook, Senior

isaha

Alex Selvey, Senior

alex

What made you decide to be part of the Design team? What parts of it sounded appealing?

 

Daniel: I really enjoy design, especially as far as trying to find the proper visual representations for things. It’s really interesting to think of different ways to represent something as complicated as slavery and to then translate that representation into something visual through InDesign. It was hard to think about how you represent slavery visually without causing any triggers or doing anything too one-sided? We didn’t want to make the visual aspect of the journal to seem too far in the past or too much about abuse, because there’s so many different elements to it.

 

Isaha: I decided to join the Design team because it gave me an opportunity to enhance my skill set in design and making images. I’ve had a lot of time over the years to practice with writing and editorial processes; that’s why I was gravitating more towards the Design Team just because I had already explored other elements of publication and here was this new world of design that I was learning about. This also would give me more skills to take and apply in a real-world job. I feel like I’ve become a more rounded individual; in terms of that, I can do the editing and also come up with a fun or a very serious design.

 

Alex: I joined the Design team because I had a bit of an interest in Design but wanted to improve my skills and learn more. Also, I really just wanted to learn to communicate with people effectively through visual media.

 

What kind of projects and work do you perform on the Design team?

Daniel: Last semester we worked a lot on the general image of the DLR. We updated our logo, made it look a little bit cleaner, a little bit more modern. We really reworked our entire website to try and build something that would really represent our professional aspect and the fact that we do have a different theme every year. We didn’t want it to look like just one thing. For example, the original design really played up that year’s theme, so that’s all that you saw on the website. Then we decided that the design we came up with could really stand the test of time. There’s a space on it where you can put the banner for that year, so you can still see what the theme is for that year without the whole website screaming “Slavery Now” or “Hauntings” or “Freakshow.” That should be pretty good for future years, so they don’t have to redo the website again.

And the rest was just advertising, doing the flyers, figuring out the exact layout of the inside of the actual journal itself, which involved questions, again, of how one best portrays the topic of slavery. We talked a lot about what colors we wanted to use, because we didn’t want it to be just black and white. What colors can we get away with? We didn’t want to use red because it makes you think of blood, and we didn’t want colors that seemed too racially focused. So, we went with a blue-gray theme. It was very neutral; it added vibrance to an otherwise potentially blank slate.

 

What do you most enjoy about being part of the team?

 

Isaha: I believe that focusing on making a professional presentation, especially with all of the documents and media we had to create over the semester, for me, was what I liked the best. Being a part of the team helped me realize that this isn’t something that I’m creating for just my teachers’ or peers’ eyes, which is something that you don’t really get in other college courses. With this, you get to think about who is going to happen upon our website and download this product that we worked so hard on, who is going to see all the things that we’ve done over the semester? To me, that was a driving force, to keep it really professional and just do the best work that I possibly could.

 

Was it difficult to balance this project along with other classes?

 

Alex: At times, it could be. But in general, this class is pretty comparable to an average workload of a normal class. Having work days in class is really helpful, however. At times it seems like it could be more, but in general it’s about the same as a regular class.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the Digital Literature Review teams, look forward to our upcoming installments of The Making of the Digital Literature Review featuring the Editorial and Publicity Teams!

If you’re interested in joining the DLR Team for the upcoming issue, contact Dr. Joyce Huff.

Also, don’t forget to check out our website, Facebook, and Twitter for more information and regularly updated posts.

Giving a Voice to the Choiceless

By: Caitlin Dashiell

Hidden in plain view, captured prisoners and soldiers of the Nazi army comprised the inhabitants of three internment camps known as Auschwitz in Germany during the Holocaust. Siphoned back and forth between death, prison, and forced labor, Auschwitz’s imprisoned individuals were made to identify as Jewish, or with ethnicities or social classes determined by German Nazi standards to be equally inferior. Marked as inadequate for the human race, these individuals were brought into the triad of camps to be traumatized, enslaved, and often fatally poisoned within gas chambers. This narrative of the Holocaust is known by individuals around the world, whether they lived during the time of the Second World War or not, because of how it embeds itself into the cultural narrative of many countries globally. As these horrors border on the surreal, passed down because of trauma often impossible to comprehend, it takes the accurate communication of memory to keep the events of the past living. Opening on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the “Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz” exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH takes on this challenge of memory transmission, offering representational personal belongings from once-captive prisoners in Auschwitz, in tandem with the personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors, and now Cincinnati residents, Werner Coppel and Bella Ouziel. Through this strategy, the Freedom Center not only represents an event of trauma, but transmits the story of the Holocaust to those who can only understand through the absorption of these communicated memories.

Told chronologically, “Unlocking the Gates” conveys the story of a man and woman living through the trauma of the Holocaust, from their initiation into the camps to their escape. Visitors walk past what architect Peter Zumthor would call “surrounding objects,” which make the otherwise blank walls and floors echo with the narrative being communicated (54), and come to screens displaying videos of Werner and Bella telling their stories. The physical artifacts and candid verbal narratives come together to express and transmit how a person can be stripped of his or her identity and reduced to what Werner calls “consumable raw materials.” Werner and Bella tell their stories, acting simultaneously as a voice for themselves, and for those that have been silenced.

Broken into stages, and communicated through groupings of objects and their location in the exhibit, artifacts and screens are split into structured rooms connected by corridors, and are paired together in correspondence to each phase of life in Auschwitz, as noted by the exhibit’s narrators. The initial set of items speaks to the fears of those targeted individuals who were unable to escape who they were. Books, paper ephemera, and embroidered tokens of being marked a Jew sit in glass cases, serving as objects that attest to the Nazi’s destruction of people’s lives and identities. The Jewish people were identified through markers on their homes, their clothing, their passports, and often on their businesses, objectified through physical signs of banishment. These indicators became the first level of identity erasure for the Jewish people.

Moving into the second spatial construct of the exhibition, visitors start in a corridor which details the process of capture for the Jewish people. As Werner explains in the video at the end of the corridor, “When I got off the train, I heard ‘women and children to the left: men to the right,’” which would become the last words many heard before the Nazi’s silenced the voices of those who entered Auschwitz. Visitors are transported back to the moments preceding Werner’s capture through the use of present-day spatial constriction within the exhibit, as well as visuals that signal entrapment. Here, visitors to “Unlocking the Gates” see the birth of identity erasure, as images and ephemera of individuals boarding train cars coat the walls of the exhibit. This progression through the tight corridor and into the exhibit signals how the exhibit shifts the visitors’ focus from the process of initial emotional destruction and mental degradation in the camps to that of physical erasure and trauma. Not only are the Jewish people, in addition to others identified as inferior to the German race, stripped down to a single term defining their worth, but their understood environment is erased from their lives.

Because the exhibition forces visitors to continue to progress claustrophobically through tight spaces and corridors, visitors gain a greater level of clarity about the approach taken by the Nazi army to control the intake and distribution of bodies into Auschwitz. Taking this even further, visitors to “Unlocking the Gates” are drawn to wall displays that convey and transmit some of the dialog of the Nazi enforcers within the camps, with one army general commenting that “shooting became a strain,” indicating how, as time went on, the Nazi mentality went from using brute force to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality with the transition to the gas chambers. The Nazis made use of deceptive language and actions to sanitize themselves, and the greatest abuse of power became the manipulation of once harmless constructs for the benefit of the “master race.” Even through infrastructure as harmless as the railway system within Germany, the Nazi’s utilized these lines for transport to Auschwitz, taking advantage of an existing infrastructure for the supposed betterment of the race, shuttling “inferior” individuals (often) to their eventual death in Auschwitz. Through the language and conveyed memories of this exhibit, representation becomes transmission, with visitors interacting with memories through the startling dialogue that catches individuals within the physical architectural boundaries of the exhibition. Visitors to “Unlocking the Gates” now possess a richer internal understanding of the past, as communicated memories impose themselves on visitors through language and visual indicators of trauma.

The final portions of this exhibit not only touch on, but uncover in-depth, the process of forced labor and escape within Auschwitz for Werner and Bella, as the exhibit also presents the personal objects and struggles of this man and woman specifically. Werner and Bella look directly into the camera to speak, giving life to their personal belongings, as only the potency of words and language can. The Nazis took things that were necessary, though maybe not beautiful, and bent them to their will, infecting the social structure, the infrastructure, and the consumable goods with the blood of those not included in the “master race.” However, what Werner and Bella tell us through their accounts of labor, as they approached their opportunities for freedom, is that their work and daily activities were never done without losing sight of how to make it out alive. As read in a letter written by a mother on one of the trains into Auschwitz: “remain free people, and observe everything with open eyes.” Perhaps this heightened perception and observation was what assisted Bella and Werner in surviving. Though this woman may not have survived to return to her children, her words live on through this exhibit as a testament to how language and written memories offer a unique perspective on historical events. Emotionally charged, this exhibit merits praise for how it transports visitors back to a time of captivity and constriction, while still keeping them with one foot firmly in the present.

“Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later” is one city’s way of remembering a time of incommunicable strife and trauma. Drawing parallels to American slavery, and what are commonly considered acts of enslavement, “Unlocking the Gates” demonstrates the systematic oppression and inhumanity evident in the structuring of Auschwitz. The decision to incorporate this exhibition into The Freedom Center was grounded in learning about and reflecting on historical events that challenged the strength of the human spirit amidst extreme oppression, as explained by executive director Sarah L. Weiss. The victims of the Holocaust and the concentration camps of Auschwitz were defined by their ability to act as a piece of a machine, stripped of freedom, and devoid of the ability to make choices. In an attempt to educate visitors and offer reflection on the events of the past, the chief desire of The Freedom Center in the display of “Unlocking the Gates” is to communicate the security of freedom “in all its forms,” whether this be through testimony, representational physical objects, or the power of the written word (“Powerful Exhibit”). Communicating memory through personal testimony and tangible objects is how this exhibit makes its mark on modern day discourse regarding slavery and institutional oppression.

Though the American public cannot directly or accurately understand what going through this process of erasure and rebirth entailed, what can be communicated is how these events can be included in our national narrative, in order for us to understand trauma and slavery outside of traditional definitions. These transmissions of memory can be used to develop how we better understand and react to our own trauma, in addition that of other countries, to strengthen how the memory of events of global impact are incorporated in our society. Here, transmission of memory and language through spoken and written form, as it relates to personal objects, serves as an aid for our collective memory; giving way to how we interpret the experiences we have not lived through. The exhibit ends with both Werner and Bella offering their thoughts 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, and as each of them speaks, voices tense, they talk about looking back after 70 years. Now with scars, tattoos, and, most importantly, families, Werner and Bella are reminded of where they have been, what they have achieved, and how survival is rooted most deeply in the retained memories of what is good.

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Works Cited

“Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later.” The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinatti, OH 45202. 7 February 2015.

Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres: Cultural Environments, Surrounding Objects. Reinach: Birkhauser, 1998. Print

“Powerful Exhibit Shares Local Stories of Despair, Hope and Loss During the Holocaust.” National Underground Railroad Freedom Center . N.p., 14 Dec. 2014 Web. 13 Apr. 2015.