By Edward Pate
Auburn University Montgomery
Dr. Robbie Jean Walker
14 Progymnasmata explained
Progymnasmata: What does this word mean?
In spite of a plethora of messy emotions and the din of rhetorical positioning surrounding the case of Elian Gonzalez, the FOX Network’s Morning Show managed to distinguish itself as an unabashed pro-Elian entity. Even prior to the government’s controversial removal of the child on April 22, the show’s newscasters referred to him not as "Elian" but exclusively and repeatedly as "little Elian," a moniker that violates every canon of journalistic ethics. It is the obligation of a news network, if that is indeed what it is, to report and uncover facts, however unsavory, but it is a violation of that obligation to portray a subject in obviously sympathetic and emotional terms. Even more egregious was the actual behavior of the newscasters. The striking Asian female broadcaster—the epitome of commercial multiculturalism—choreographed her facial gestures in time with the intensity of the news reports. Her utterance of the words "little Elian" were accompanied by a subtle maternal pout that simultaneously conveyed sympathy for "little Elian" and disapproval of government policy. This same policy was a constant source of aside jokes and diatribes by the Asian broadcaster’s white-male suited colleagues. In our entertainment obsessed culture, networks know the marketable value of MTV-like hype and emotionally laden programs. Certainly, such program formats have their place, but their place is not in the news.
The Elian Gonzalez case has generated a large quantity of high emotion and, in contrast, a remarkable number of "dry" speakers. For example, Janet Reno’s cardboard-like figure and droning baritone voice have been inescapable. How refreshing then to discover the newscasters on the FOX Network’s Morning Show. Obviously informed about Elian’s case, as well as the world around them, these men and women provide honest and human reactions to a situation that contains very human issues. Given that Elian Gonzalez’s case is one of high emotion for parents everywhere and the people of Miami in particular, why is it assumed that a lack of emotion evidences higher reasoning than does an expression of high emotion? Is it not possible for a well-reasoned process to yield a strong emotional response? It is argued that the emotions of Elian’s supporters, the FOX newscasters among them, are suspect because they manifest an agenda. The level-headed soliloquies of White House spokespersons, however, are no different. The FOX newscasters are to be commended for bringing an added dimension of feeling to a thorny, emotional issue. A journalistic practice that can maintain its integrity while demonstrating feeling is a more human journalism.
Greed takes many forms, but it seems incongruent to think that increased food production for the world’s rapidly growing population would be one of those forms. However, one of the most unsettling issues of our age is the production and use of genetically modified foods. A decade ago, these products were unavailable. In the United States today, half of the enormous soy bean crop and more than a third of the corn are products of biotechnology. These results are the handiwork of the international conglomerate Monsanto and its current C.E.O., Robert Shapiro.
Genetically modified plants are sterile, so the world’s food producers are increasingly reliant on Monsanto as the sole provider of seed. By extension, the world’s population becomes more reliant on Monsanto and its technology as time progresses. Additionally, biotechnology creates plants that are highly vulnerable to disease, which places the world’s entire food supply at risk on a continual basis.
Commercial farming is a reality—a growing reality—but it needs to be based on the long-term realities of natural systems and the perpetuation of those systems. The millions of genetic strains that naturally evolved in the plant kingdom do not exist by coincidence. As much as nature is romanticized, it is efficient to the point of ruthlessness. Genetic diversity exists for time-tested reasons, and those reasons are not corporate profit. Their purpose is survival.
It is said that it does not profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. Accordingly, it doesn’t benefit a corporation to gain all the profit and lose the world. Shapiro’s claim that his corporation is making a better world is simply corporate double-speak. If Monsanto continues its single-minded pursuit of profits in genetically modified plants, and if the proverbial dominoes fall in the right sequence, Shapiro may one day join the pantheon of anathemas composed of individuals such as Hitler, Stalin, and Pohl Pot. Assuming, of course, that any of us are around to take note.
On the outskirts of Tel Aviv lives a man named Mordecai ben-David, who considers himself chosen indeed among God’s chosen people. He takes pride in his wealth, his still beautiful wife, his healthy handsome children, his imported cars, and his fine home, which was built by one of Israel’s leading architects. "God is good," Mordecai often says.
Ezra ben-Isaac, a man of humbler means, passes by Mordecai’s fine house on his way home after his day’s work in the fields of a nearby kibbutz. Ezra often walks by as Mordecai’s evening meal is being prepared. Ezra, who has no one to cook for him and whose greatest food luxury is some fresh lamb, delights in the exotic aromas that make their way through the windows of Mordecai’s kitchen, over Mordecai’s date palms and olive trees, and into his anticipatory, flared nostrils.
The first time Mordecai sees Ezra hungrily take in the smells from his kitchen, he is incensed. The second time he is livid. How dare he, thinks Mordecai, take something from me without paying me for it. The third time he sees Ezra, Mordecai decides to act.
He goes to his rabbi, tells him about Ezra’s "thievery," and asks for compensation from Ezra. The rabbi listens attentively, occasionally stroking his silver beard. He has known Mordecai for a long time and has learned to be patient with him.
"Before I can decide your case," the rabbi replies, " it is written that I must hear from Ezra."
When summoned, Ezra appears before the rabbi, his boots dusty, his shirt cuffs a bit frayed.
"Ezra ben-Isaac," begins the rabbi, "your neighbor, Mordecai ben-David, alleges that you have enjoyed the smells from his kitchen three times without compensating him. Is this true?"
Ezra, looking down at his feet, nods affirmatively.
"Very well then. As it is written in the Talmud, Mordecai is to be fairly compensated."
Upon hearing the rabbi’s words, Mordecai smiles and swells out his chest, stretching the seams of his Egyptian cotton shirt. Ezra, meanwhile, looks nervously around the rabbi’s office.
The rabbi reaches into his pocket and pulls out some shekels. He holds them out in his hand and shakes them three times, making a distinct clinking sound each time.
The rabbi looks first at Ezra and then at Mordecai. Then he says, "Mordecia ben-David, you have just been paid."
Moral: To each person is to be given his or her just and deserved compensation in kind.
Mental illness has slinked around the parameters of my family’s history like some dark, nebulous, hungry serpent. Its strikes have never been predictable, and it has exacted a particularly heavy toll from the women in my family. My great-grandmother, Zoë Bell, for example, was not trusted alone with her young descendants because of her rumored predilection for knives. My cousin Linda put a gun in her mouth and entered the belly of the dark serpent on the other side of the globe. Of this fabric of tragedies, odysseys, and victories, my Aunt Lee’s story has the greatest resonance for me. I think this is so because, for me, her story is ultimately a love story, and being an "incurable romantic"--by preference--I am predisposed to finding value in stories about the notions of love and beauty, universals that keep the world in motion and chaos at bay.
The youngest of my father’s four sisters, Aunt Lee’s given name was Annie Lee. Dubbed "Aunt Lee" by her nieces and nephews, the nickname eventually became the way everyone in the family addressed her.
In the only remaining photograph from her youth, she looks over her left shoulder, posed for the tight crop of a close-up. Her dress and pearls are the same color, a rich contrast with the color of her skin, which everyone called an "olive complexion." The acute geometry of her father’s Seminole features falls softer, more exotic on her cheeks and nose. Her thick, wavy, black hair reaches to just above her shoulder blades. She shows only a glimpse of beautiful teeth like a shy girl or an aspiring lady.
When she was in her sixties, gray-haired, overweight, wearing glasses and dentures, we kids would look at this picture, hung over her bed in an oval wooden frame, and say,
"Aunt Lee, you look just like an Indian princess." She would titter, say "Aw shaw," and clasp her speckled, ringed hands.
At fifteen, looking like a princess, she married Gary Powell, and they began life together on a farm.
At the age of thirty-one, the hospitalizations began. For Annie Lee. For depression. For schizophrenia, some say.
During one of these hospital stays, Gary sold most of the farm, bought a new truck, and drove north to Tennessee where he took up with a well-to-do widow. He left Aunt Lee the house, the old truck, and a note: "Do the best you can with what’s left."
Aunt Lee filed for and obtained a divorce.
Seven years later Gary reappeared in moonless darkness. He asked Aunt Lee to forgive him and to remarry him. Aunt Lola, the oldest of my father’s sisters, says that Aunt Lee and Gary cried that night, cried hard. Aunt Lee did not take Gary back, and she never remarried. She kept Gary’s name though. It is on her headstone.
Gary eventually married a widow with some land, says Aunt Lola.
Aunt Lee kept a cedar chest at the foot of her bed that contained some of Gary’s clothes along with other artifacts from her life. Until she died, some thirty-five years after the reunion with Gary, she would now and then take his clothes from the chest, wash them, starch and iron them, and put them back in the chest neatly folded.
"She loved that man all her life," says Aunt Lola as she sucks back a tear.
"Love is a rigorous thing," wrote Bell Hooks, an African American feminist and writer. Her observation brings a reality and a balance into a subject often relegated to sentimental hyperbole and wishful thinking. Hard work, moments of confusion and indecision, heartbreak, self-doubt, and pain are as much elements of loving someone—a friend, a lover, a child, a parent, or a sibling—or some thing—a career, personal values, or an idea—as are those "fuzzy" sentiments captured on greeting cards and in moments of media-generated rapture. Popular sound bytes, such as "Love is a many splendored thing" or "Love never dies," do not depict a complete reality. Sociologists claim that this lack of balance in popular conceptualizations of love is creating an essentially loveless culture where love is no longer readily expected to be found or to be given. Committing to the rigor of love as pointed out by hooks, rather than being seduced by expectations of continual ego caressing and feel-good, quick-fix scenarios, may provide and restore the much needed balance in what we know as the experience of love.
"Hope never dies in a true gardener’s heart." To garden is to experience all of the cycles of life, and hope is an inevitable part of this connecting experience. From the anticipation of the first daffodils of spring to the emergence of a new flower to the digging under of "unsuccessful experiments," a gardener gains insight into the cyclical nature of life. To garden is to build, but it is different from architecture where "unsuccessful experiments" become unproductive ruins or eyesores. The process of gardening is more aligned with the scientific maxim that matter is never destroyed but only changes form. Dead plants, for example, become food for new flowers over the course of time. Famed gardener Penelope Hobhouse said that it takes two hundred years to make a garden. During these centuries of planting, uprooting, medicating, waiting, and appreciating, the one sure flower is that of continuing hope.
Feminism is one of the most powerful, constructive and potentially beneficial movements of the last two centuries. It supersedes racial, ethical, and cultural boundaries, and it proffers greater individual freedom from artificial constructs for both genders. As French feminist Helene Cixous wrote, "Accepting the other sex as a component makes [men and women] much stronger, and—to the extent they are mobile—very fragile. It is only in this condition that we invent." It is little wonder then that the works of women writers are enjoying such popularity and have such resonance around the globe.
Critics of feminism argue that the women’s movement is essentially "anti-men," "anti-children," and "anti-motherhood." To regard feminism as anti-anything, however, is to misread its intent. Feminism is not opposed to men, children, or motherhood. What it does reject are neo-Victorian values, such as the idea that children are the exclusive responsibility of women, that constrict both men and women in gender-assigned roles. Feminists acknowledge a more enlightened view that parenting and the fulfillment of personhood are collective responsibilities that require the contributions of both genders.
In a patriarchal culture, feminism is indeed radical, and "radical," by and large, is relegated to the status of a pejorative.However, the word "radical" was once applied to bathing, inoculations, public education, and many other sociocultural systems that are now deemed beneficial and essential elements of our culture. Like these elements, feminism has a positive contribution to make to the human experience if we are willing to remove our blinders and see fully.
I learned recently of an unique service available from Celestia Corporation. For $22,500.00 Celestia will transport a lipstick-tube-sized capsule of a person’s remains to the moon and deposit it on the moon’s surface as a final resting place. Given the allure of the moon for me, upon learning of this, my imagination waxed romantic with the idea of a portion of me—albeit a small portion—closer to the stars than I have ever been and covered by moondust for all millennia.
Concomitant with this romantic interlude was the thought that the $22,500.00 price tag would ensure plenty of space between my lipstick tube and the others that would be jettisoned to the moon by Celestia. However, it occurred to me that the average price of an automobile is about the same as that of Celestia’s service, and if people are willing to pay that much for transportation, how much more do they value the disposition of their final remains? Given the number of cars in the world today, the moon may be in danger of becoming the earth’s largest dump. When one considers the current scarcity of landfill space for international metropolises, this danger is an imminent one.
The moon belongs to the people of the earth, not corporations. Corporations are not driven by a sense of community, and it is an unfortunate truism of human nature that actions to remedy a dilemma usually occur only after that dilemma has become a crisis. Accordingly, rights to the use or non-use of the moon should be relegated to the authority of the United Nations and not to commercial enterprises that are interested only in increasing bottom-line profits. A moratorium against development, dumping, or any other private venture on the moon is needed until an international policy, which benefits all of earth’s citizens in regard to these issues, is developed by representatives of the world’s governments. To be effective, such a moratorium must have "teeth," and these same governments must promulgate and enforce persuasive sanctions against corporations or nations that violate the moratorium.
Proponents of development and free enterprise argue that the moon belongs to no one, and accordingly, its resources should be available for exploitation by those entities and individuals with the resources to do so. This position, however, is familiar rhetoric. This argument was employed by European nations to dominate over two thirds of the globe and to introduce African slavery into this country. After all, Africa, India, and Asia belonged to no one—just savages, according to imperialists. This same argument was used to develop the Western regions of this country during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the time, that land, despite the presence of millions of natives, belonged to no one in the opinions of speculators and businessmen. This argument has more recently been applied to this country’s rivers and oceans, many of which are hopelessly polluted and lifeless. The potentially invaluable resources of tropical rain forests are now caught in the horns of this same ongoing argument. The consequences of this line of reasoning are obvious: a license for exploitation for the benefit of a few, the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and indigenous cultures, and a host of other historical and contemporary social and environmental ills.
The moon is a community resource; it belongs to all people. It is an integral part of mythology, literature, art, and the collective imagination. In other words, it is part of some of those things that represent human beings at their best. We deserve a continued, untainted view of our one satellite. In the future, when children ask me what the dark spots on the moon are, I want to answer, as I do now, "Craters and valleys." I do not want to have to answer instead: "Oh, those dark spots are piles of garbage." Even more, I do not want to be faced with the question, "Can you tell me what the moon was like?"
When introduced at a downtown Manhattan party, he reached for my hand with fingers as long and elegant as his name: Juan de Villa de Moros. John of the house of the Moors, a reference to an ancient hillside fortress near Buenos Aires.
Juan takes pride in his Argentinean heritage. When I asked him why he persisted in calling me "Eduardo," he answered, "You have the rhythms of a tango. It is rare in Americans, you know."
The son of a Buenos Aires doyen and from a family of almost incalculable wealth, he never makes a point of these things. He does, however, delight in sharing tales of family eccentrics like Aunt Albalis who allows her pet Lippizans to join her for high tea on the southern patio of her villa.
After almost a decade of living in a "Look at me!" culture, I found his attitude refreshing, startling, and even a bit suspect. This lack of preoccupation with convention and the privileges of status permeates his life. Take fashion for example. He is as likely to show up dressed in Armani as a mid-calf leather skirt and logger boots.
Whatever Juan wears, it is upstaged by his looks. Beauty is a drug for me, and though our friendship has continued for over five years, I still find myself somewhat stunned and intoxicated by the physical manifestation of his genetic code.
Our hair is almost the same color, somewhere between the spectrum of aged brass and a winter lawn, but his courses with the crevices and waves of a Michelangelo marble. Only slightly darker than his hair, his hazel-green eyes glint like twin slices of tiger’s-eye even in the most subdued light. His skin is a perpetual bronzed-ochre, which makes his milk-colored teeth even more dazzling as they emerge behind fleshy, sensuous lips. And they emerge often, easily, graciously. Above the lips is a perfect ski-slope nose: "I got it from an Incan princess," he says and flashes that smile.
Pretty boys are common and handsome men many, but a beautiful man is rare. Women collect around Juan like filings around a magnet. Except for the times when we were hanging out or traveling together, I never saw him without a bevy of at least three precursors to the angels of Victoria’s Secret. "It is my burden," he says with mock seriousness, purring the "r" and flashing that smile. Another friend Gabriella opined, in her inimitable Milanese accent: "Juan is like a candle on a terrazzo at night. He can’t help what creatures are attracted to his flame."
Though these qualities can add up to a self-absorbed, even rapacious personality, Juan remains an Old World gentleman. Manhattanites abhor any appearance of servility, but drop something, and Juan is the first to bend down, pick it up, and return it with that smile.
He never seems ruffled by the patronizing, sometimes belligerent attitude of many New Yorkers toward non-Americans. When confronted by this prejudice, he flashes that smile, which usually melts the competition straightaway, shrugs with his entire lengthy torso and says, "No habla Anglais."
While living in Manhattan, whenever I was in a jaded state of mind, dishing everything and everyone, Juan would flash that smile and say, "I think that I shall have to start calling you Edward."
I hear that jest mostly over the telephone now—"E-mail is for amateurs, Eduardo"—but the accompanying memory and effect of that smile is just as vivid.
Somewhere in my travels I heard that our friends are the truest reflection of ourselves. I hope that is true.
Medea contemplating her murdered children:
Horrible red flowers spring beneath their peaceful faces. These same flowers grow from my hand, a mother’s hand. Giver of life, I have also taken it, and none of my magic can animate the spirits of these lifeless innocents. Never again will their tiny arms encircle my neck or their laughter bring the music of the spheres to my ears.
That vengeance is sweet is a lie. I may have wounded Jason’s heart with these murders, but I have utterly damned my own soul. Forever I am cursed. I will spend my remaining days in the body of a woman that cloaks the wretched and empty soul of a gorgon.
Though agriculture is the largest industry in the states of New York and Alabama, other similarities between these two states are few. Alabama takes its direction from its citizen’s morality, which is largely conservative and homogeneous. New York State is driven primarily by the liberalism and diversity of its largest city, New York City. Alabama is hot; New York is hype. Alabama is black and white. Every imaginable natural skin color—and even a few artificial ones—are visible every day in New York’s metropolises. Alabama is about cars (and trucks). New York is about art. Alabama is about community. New York is about competition.
In the gloaming the itinerant spirits of Druids must gather at this site, beneath the chartreuse parachutes of young oaks. It sits atop a hill, and as with many sacred places, only those who make the effort to climb will see it. The ground is woven with gnarled, wrestling roots and flat, broad sidewalks running in random directions like huge, gray, inebriated tubers. Round cement tables and crescent-shaped benches, mostly broken, lie about in piles reminiscent of forgotten ruins on the hillsides of Mediterranean countries.
In daylight, the magic and mystery of this place are invisible. Located on the western side of the campus of Auburn University Montgomery, sandwiched between student dorms and the university center, only dorm residents commonly encounter it. To casual passersby, it can easily be mistaken for just another neglected public space.
Absent the sun, however, the dorms become subdued, modern Stonehenge-like slabs. The globular perimeter lights, rigid and meticulous, stand silent sentinel. Beyond the oak trees' new leaves, the crowded parking lot is an expanse of glinting, half-buried crystals under a fluorescent nighttime sun. The to-and-fro of student life is absent. Only occasionally does a silhouette meander by, or a cyclist, body arched like a bow, whoof past on glistening, spinning, black-rimmed wheels.
Absent, too, are daytime sounds. The adagio hum of insects, punctuated by sudden staccato silences, monopolizes the ear. From time to time, a horn blares, or a glass door opens and closes nearby with exclamatory sighs. Disguised in the oaks, a bird trills tentatively in the dark like a shy poet. Beyond the sounds of the bird appears the wavy, black horizon, and beyond that break the crescendos and diminuendos of distant traffic.
In this environment, painted with the brush of darkness, the rare respite from the day-to-day can unfold. Sit long enough, and it can feed and replenish the hungry naturist’s soul.
Writing is the passageway, the entrance, the exit, the dwelling place of the other in me--the other that I am and am not, that I don't know how to be, but that I feel passing, that makes me live--that tears me apart, disturbs me, changes me, who?--a feminine one, a masculine one, some?--several, some unknown, which is indeed what gives me the desire to know and from which all life soars.
To write is always to make allowances for superabundance and uselessness while slashing the exchange value that keeps the spoken word on its track. That is why writing is good, letting the tongue try itself out--as one attempts a caress, taking the time a phrase or a thought needs to make oneself loved, to make oneself reverberate.
Robbie Jean Walker
Nada AbiSamra's Progymnasmata
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