Each week here at Superstition Review, we like to showcase the talents of our interns. This week’s piece comes from Samantha Allen on her recent discussion with author bell hooks.
Feminist writer and cultural critic bell hooks visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus to speak about race and gender in a historical context. Earlier in the day some of our staff at Superstition Review were given the opportunity to participate in a small group discussion with bell. This discussion covered everything from the recent ban of ethnic studies in Tucson, to the novel The Help, to evangelist Billy Graham’s changing religious views. A prominent theme of our talks centered on the idea of community. “Communities,” she said, “are what give us the strength to live our convictions even in the face of hostility.”
As bell illustrated through stories from her personal life, these “communities of resistance” aren’t always free of conflict. She shared stories about the people in her life who have acted in ways that are harmful to her and to her views, all the while doing good by supporting her in her work, or by making great strides towards promoting racial equality. She called this contradiction “multiple intentionalities” – when people or groups do both harm and good. How do we cope with these contradictions? Do we ignore the good in someone’s actions because they have also done wrong? Do we overlook the unpleasant qualities so we can continue to idealize them as saints and angels? We live in a binary culture that has no place for contradictions. bell hooks used a story about a conflict in the humanities department at Berea College, where she teaches, to discuss how the inability to deal with multiple intentionalities can become an impediment to building communities of resistance. Even when the goals are the same, it’s easy to be divided by our differences.
This message of importance in building communities of resistance seemed to resonate deeply with everyone in the room. It’s no secret that Arizona has been the battleground for a number of contentious political issues in these past couple of years. The actions of our state legislature have given Arizona a particular reputation for intolerance, one that conflicts with the values of the Humanities Department at Arizona State University. The ASU Humanities department celebrates diversity and the commitment to social justice. The very act of getting together to discuss these issues with bell hooks is a step toward building a similar community here in the heart of Arizona. Although this state is mired in ideological conflict, it’s important to remember to act with loving-kindness, as bell pointed out in our discussion. No one is black and white; no one acts in only one direction. The concept of multiple intentionalities is particularly applicable to the current cultural climate in Arizona.
In the end, the discussion with bell hooks left me with this thought: as artists, writers, and readers, it is our job to tackle these contradictions in life. The human tendency to do good with the right hand and harm with the left is, perhaps, the very thing that drives us to create. How else can we make sense of ourselves and our world with all its contradictions if not through art? I’m thankful to be a part of the community here at Superstition Review, where our interns, contributors, and readers are all committed to the art that makes sense of our crazy, convoluted world.
Northern Michigan resident Tim Flannery is an artist whose work is deeply influenced by his surroundings. Living and working in the Upper Peninsula, his photography often captures the idyllic beauty of this place, which is defined by its dense forests, its Great Lakes, and its long, harsh winters. On his website, Flannery states, “during the long winters I find that my work becomes more convoluted…As the winters drag on the images start to take on a surreal feeling.” Indeed, this is evident in the pieces that will appear in Issue 8 of Superstition Review this December, particularly his painting “Twig Man.” The palette is awash in grays, and looking at his painting I can’t help but feel the sense of confinement that comes with being forced indoors. I can only imagine that Flannery completed this particular piece during the coldest days.
Flannery’s passion for the Upper Peninsula is not confined to his artwork. When not working on his own art, he edits Art on Ice: Digital Magazine of Art and Culture in the Frozen Upper Peninsula. His magazine covers a wide array of subjects in the arts, including articles on everything from literature to dance to dining. What unites these subjects is a strong sense of the contributors’ regional identity, and like Flannery’s own art, the work in this magazine is clearly influenced by the thick forests and ever-present cold. Coming from Arizona, where Superstition Review is based, it is particularly interesting to explore how environment shapes art, since the Sonoran Desert and the Upper Peninsula are about as different as two environments can be. It is a pleasure to glimpse another part of the world through the work that reflects its identity.
Here’s what Superstition Review interns are currently reading.
Corinne Randall, Poetry Editor: Right now I am currently reading my FAVORITE Shakespeare plays, Othello. Like all good Shakespeare tragedies it has a sad ending but it’s powerful through and through.
Samantha Allen, Art Editor: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s a blend of literary fiction and sci-fi, a character-driven story about “Snowman” — formerly Jimmy — who appears to be the last man on Earth. Through Snowman’s flashbacks, the reader sees a near-future image of a North American city segregated into the slummy ‘pleeblands’ and the enclosed communities owned by corporations engaged in research on genetic modification. Though Atwood includes some seemingly-fantastical elements in her novel, her research is so thorough and impeccable that through her narrator’s detailed explanations, the outlandish feels entirely realistic. Her emotionally intense prose and air of scientific authority make Oryx and Crake a very compelling read.
Ljubo Popovich, Poetry Editor: I just got into Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. I recommend his long novels: The Savage Detectives and 2666. Also his collections of short stories are excellent. The one I read was Last Evenings on Earth. He writes about lives of writers in South America and Europe. He founded the poetry movement InfraRealism in South America and is considered the heir to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary triumphs. I also read Masuji Ibuse’s collection of short stories, Salamander and other stories. This Japanese writer is [rather] unknown in the United States. But his historical novel Black Rain, about the events leading up to and following the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is considered one of the greatest novels to come out of Post-War Japan. His prose is very easy to read and very beautifully rendered, even in translation.
Jake Adler, Art Editor: Guyland by Michael Kimmel. It’s a sociological study about how today’s boys in college are failing to grow up, thrusting themselves deep in frat life and “guy code.”
Tana Ingram, Fiction Editor: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. It’s about a day laborer, Robert Grainier, in the American West at the start of the twentieth century. The book follows Robert through difficult trials of his own set against the changes taking place in the country as “progress” sweeps the nation. Johnson does a good job of transporting the reader back to this turbulent time and place in America’s history.
Marie Lazaro, Interview Editor: Just Kids by Patti Smith. So far the way it is written is beautiful and the story is easily captivating. It explores a new side of Patti Smith, gives insight to the personal relationships she had with her family during her childhood and gives a look into her bond with Robert Mapplethorpe.
Art Editor Samantha Allen is a senior at ASU majoring in English with a concentration in fiction writing. After graduating in May, Samantha plans to teach English abroad before pursuing an MFA in fiction. She is currently working on her first novel and a series of short stories and hopes to begin publishing her work next year. Samantha believes that art in all its forms is an essential expression of what it means to be human, and she is happy to have the chance to promote art in a digital world. This is her first semester with Superstition Review.
Click here to watch Samantha read an excerpt from one of her stories.