Feed on




And said 9/11 might eventually turn in to that kind of tragedy/entertainment? Here’s a Titanic slide Burger King made.


I don’t generally judge a book by it’s cover, but I definitely judge them by their titles.

I really wanted to at least mention this book to everyone. I don’t know how many of you have heard about it, but this summer I definitely plan to read Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCaan. McCaan has addressed 9/11 by going back in time to Phillippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk across the Two Towers. I highly recomment watching at least half of this inverview with McCaan, because it’s awesome and inspiring.

Also, here’s a preview of the book.

ps.  you have to watch the interview to fully understand the title of this post 🙂

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Art is Art

I didn’t really pull myself together so well for my second presentation. It wasn’t as much of a mess as my first, but it still wasn’t where it should have been. I got called out for not doing what JGB had told me to do the last time: figure out exactly what I was arguing and defend it with good evidence and logic. Oh, and of course, do it all articulately. I think I was trying to tackle too much, and got carried away with things I wanted to talk about. This video showed Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, talking about so many different exciting things that I just wanted to touch on too many things. But the whole thing wasn’t a complete failure, because of what I got out of it. It further reminded me of things I need to work on. It challenged me to think. It caused me to form new outlooks and ideas about some of the things I had addressed and I’ve been able to make further connections.

One of the most important things we discussed that day was “bearing witness” and the level of its importance in the creation of art. It was so interesting to me how seriously some of us took bearing witness into account and how JGB strongly disagreed with all of us. The conviction in which he said it made me wonder. It made me think. Why? I’m sure he has his own very good reasons, and I’m more than sure he could explain himself very well.

It made me think about why I found it so important. And yes I had felt strongly about it, but suddenly I was like, why? Really, why!? I realized that I should take another look at it. And with that I began to change my mind, at least a bit.

The reasoning behind finding bearing witness important in the creation of art has to do with intentions. I find it so beautiful and inspiring when art–especially art which might cause great inspiration in others–is created by someone who’s experienced something devastating themselves. And yes, these types of works can be incredible, but there are flaws in this argument, which isn’t much of an argument at all.

I don’t think, any more, that bearing witness to something can create better art. I do however, still find intentions important. I feel as if that goes without saying though. If someone didn’t have a point to make then there wouldn’t be the art. Or maybe I’m wrong about that, because of all simple drawings and trash fiction and cliche hollywood movies. Those are all technically art, yes? But they don’t resonate with us, or do they? They’re there to amuse the most shallow and simple parts of our minds. If they resonate with us it’s because we are wishing for more–wishing for something that will encourage us to have intellectually stimulating conversations. Something that will tug at our hearts.

I’m getting off track here. I do think intentions are important for the creation of great art. And I actually do think the phrase “bearing witness” can be applied to it as well. Not in terms of being there, but bearing witness to what certain events have caused for humanity. Bearing witness to yours and others’ emotions. I think this is very important to creating great art. It must, of course, be coupled with great talent.

As a perceiver of art, though, I’m not sure how important, necessary, or helpful it is to look too far into intentions. Art is art. It’s meant to be looked at, read, or listened to. Either this perception will mean something to you, and maybe not. One should “take what resonates with him or her and leave the rest”. In The Submission, Claire made the mistake to begin to care a bit too much about whatever Mo’s intentions might have been. I love what Mo said in the end, when he’s asked what he would want to tell Claire: “Use your imagination”

Use your imagination.

It’s so simple and yet so important. He’s telling her that it shouldn’t matter. The Garden is the The Garden. Art is art. You can make it whatever you want it to be.  You can make it mean for you what you need it to. Because art is art. It is there for the taking.

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We happened to read and discuss The Reluctant Fundamentalist in one of the most stressful, anxiety-wrought, and confusing months of my life. The ambiguity of this book, the myriad possible interpretations, my own growing uncertainty, and the disaster that was my oral presentation only added to the crushing self-doubt that I was allowing to run my life. I didn’t know what I thought the point of the book is. More importantly, I couldn’t quite grasp what it means to me. The fact that I happened to choose it for my oral report highlighted the fact that I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say about it and, I think, perhaps I was reluctant. I was reluctant to take a stand because I was so unsure of myself and therefore lacked the amount of faith I needed to do so. I allowed myself to get terribly lost, but was able to find myself and my way before I sunk into a quicksand pit of doom. I could mull over the fact that I “could” and “should” have found the sunny path a lot sooner, but I don’t like to live my life with too many regrets.

It is easier for me to tackle The Reluctant Fundamentalist now that I am more sure of myself. I have a stance. It might not be the “right” one, but I don’t think that matters. An author might have a precise point to make, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to get it. Many will find their own meaning, their own point and stance which comes from the story. The most important thing, when I read, is to find something from a story that resonates with me. It’s why I do really love writing, because I am able to take something and make it mine in some way. I am able, if I do it well, to articulate something important about myself and maybe something important about humanity as well.

One of the biggest and, of course, inevitabl, debates at the end of the book is the question of what happens after the last sentence. Is that “glint of metal” really the holder of the American’s business cards? Is it a gun? Does Changez die? Does the American die? Who’s going to shoot who, and what’s up with that hulking waiter? But wait, does it really matter? Do we need to know what happens? In my opinion, we don’t. It’s impossible to know. What we do know is what Changez has told the American, and therefore what he has conveyed to us.

The fact that the book is told in dramatic monologue can trigger its readers to be a bit suspicious. Can we trust Changez? His words are the only ones we read, and the only thoughts are the ones that he speaks of in his story. Because of this, it is important to read between the lines. The words Changez uses, the way he phrases them, and the details he reveals all give us hints as to who he is as a person and as to what his motives might be.


I wrote all of that in March, right after Spring break. I ended up getting stuck and having loads of other work to do and it got added to the ever-growing “Things to do before the semester ends” list. Well, here I am, as usual, working with the deadline very close on the horizon. I’m not exactly sure what I thought my “stance” was, but I think I can figure it out from the quotes I typed up for myself and re-visit the discussion of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

We’ve all been in agreement that this novel showed the political and social tensions between the muslim world and the United States. We’ve discussed that it shows how both sides are both the victim and the aggressor. I’d like to discuss, though, how it is a way love story. I’m not exactly sure why it matters, but I think I will come to some sort of conclusion by the end of this post.

Changez reminds me a lot of myself in his different emotional stages. When he first meets and spends time with Erica he is full of irrational hope. “I felt–despite the presence of our companions, whole attention, as always, she managed to capture–that she was sharing with me an intimacy,and this feeling grew stronger when, after observing me struggle, she helped me separate the flesh from the bones of my fish without my having to ask” (29). He’s infatuated with her and everything she does like this continues to fuel this obsessive love. He is consumed by it.

“The powers of my blinders shocks me,” he tells the American, “looking back–so stark in retrospect were the portents of coming disaster in the news, on the streets, and in the state of the woman with whom I had become enamored” (93). When things begin to go awry with Erica after 9/11 he turns obsessively desperate and even more irrationally hopeful. He clings to her and never really gives up. When he eventually struggles to not get in contact with her he describes it has trying to get over an addiction. Even after she disappears, he still clings to her memory–imagining his life as it could have been with her.

By the time Changez is telling his story to the American he has reached his reflective phase. He seems more emotionally sound–more detached from his emotions for Erica and able to reflect on his feelings and actions. He has become aware of how he was. I’m curious as to when Changez reached this stage. I could see it being caused by Changez realizing where all of this had gotten him–to be seen as a terrorist. I don’t think he’s a terrorist, I just think that he accidentally fell into being seen as one because of where his feelings led him. When he publicly speaks out, quite passionately, against America he draws much attention to himself. Changez reflects that this was probably his ulterior motive. “I had, in my own manner, issued a firefly’s glow bright enough to transcend the boundaries of continents and civilizations. If Erica was watching–which rationally, I knew, she almost certainly had not–she might be able to correspond. I was tugged at by an undercurrent of loss when she did not do so.” He’s obviously still incredibly desperate–his passion unabated. Now, however, as he is talking the American stranger, he is calm and wise. He is able to look at his past self and understand his emotions, possibly so that he could learn from them. It is unfortunate that he found himself being seen as a terrorist because I feel as if he is emotionally ready to live his life without being attached to Erica. I think he hopes that the American will not try to kill him. He doesn’t know for sure if the American is there to do that, but he knows that it is a strong possibility. I wonder if Changez thinks his story might help the American see the real Changez–the Changez who was simply obsessed with a girl.

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A Submission of My Own

While reading The Submission, I was struck with a memory of an essay contest my senior year of high school. It was during the Ground Zero mosque debacle, and we were to write an essay on our opinions of a hypothetical mosque being built near the Pentagon. I was very confused about my own feelings toward the real Muslim community center (not mosque) being built near the remains of the World Trade Center. On the one hand, I was still hurt by 9/11 and thought it was insensitive and cruel – it was twisting the knife even further into the wound, so to speak. On the other hand, I’m a big proponent of religious freedom, so I couldn’t in good conscience say that this community center didn’t belong there. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but knowing me, I probably tried to skate by and said something like, “This is a sensitive issue that requires careful consideration of all parties and their feelings.”

That’s why The Submission resonated so well with me. I don’t like issues that are black and white. For a story to be told truthfully, the audience needs to hear all sides – which is exactly what The Submission had. It wasn’t just told from the view of a protagonist that everyone would love, or feel like they needed to love. It was told from six different perspectives. Here were six people to love or hate, and most importantly, six people whom readers had the chance to identify with.

I did some thinking about the character I related to the most, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s Claire. Although I didn’t lose anyone, let alone my husband, in the 9/11 attacks, there’s a lot more to her than just that. I understand her self-doubt, her silent anger, and most importantly, her discomfort with a situation that she knew had spiraled out of her own control. (I don’t think the poor woman ever had any idea of what she was getting herself into.)

I know a lot of people don’t like books with multiple perspectives. It can get confusing and muddled ,and frankly, most people don’t have the time to keep up with one point of view in a book, let alone two or more. But after reading The Submission, I truly think that more books should follow this format. It gives everyone a chance to discover the best part of books – understanding exactly what the characters within it are going through.

Art and 9/11

Throughout all my years as a student, I have been asked the question: What is Art? It seems like the universal answer to this question is that it is a form of expression, and as seen in this class, expression is often needed during times of tragedy. September 11, 2001 was a horrible date for the United States of America, one that quite literally stripped us of words. I believe those who were artistic enough, as well as a few who were not, found it much easier to place all of their feelings in another medium; Art. The books that have been read throughout the semester were all about 9/11, but they all had individual meanings and it often seemed that 9/11 was a background topic. In fact, many of them could have meant something different for each person who read them. I think that is the beauty of art: There is nothing concrete, it truly is interpretation. Although the artist obviously has a clear intention, that intention is not definite.

The title for this course was beautiful. Art literally rose from the ashes of 9/11, and I am sure that it will continue to do so for decades to come.

Thanks for such a great course. I learned so much, not only from JGB, but from everyone in the class. It always amazes me to see the interpretations of other people because often it shows me how little I understand about life. I can certainly say I feel more artistic leaving this class.

Until Next Year,

Kasey Stewart


While reading The Submission, I was completely insulted by the ignorance of the majority of the characters in the book. Although I feel like that ignorance represented the idea of Islamophobia after 9/11, it was still horrible knowing Americans really did have that reaction. For a country built on freedoms, it seems like the citizens of this country are always taking the freedoms from each other. Anyway, the actual point of my post is that although ignorance was a pretty strong theme in the book, when it came to Khan’s trial, the people who spoke for and against him all had surprisingly sound arguments (with the exception of a few). As the public forum began, it was in Alyssa’s point of view. As a journalist she was obviously very curious as to how the speakers were chosen, but “U.S. PEAK’s emcee … Winnie gave no indication of how the list had been assembled” (232 according to my nook). At that point, following the pattern of ignorance throughout the book, as well as shown during Khan’s speech, I thought all of the speakers would completely bash Khan. However, starting with Alan Bolton, the first speaker, the arguments were rather sound. Instead of being rude about the situation, he simply said he thought it was a bit insensitive. I think that was a lot better than other things that had been said prior to the forum and made his argument against Khan seem more valid. The next speaker was Arthur Chang, and he was for Khan. The fact that he had nothing bad to say about him was even more surprising than the friendly argument against the memorial. Debbie Dawson was the next speaker, and she obviously had something rude to say… The next person was Arlo Eisenmann. He was concerned that a garden was too fragile, which had nothing to do with the architect! Most other arguments for or against the design had been for or against Khan, not the garden. Anyways, I think my point has been made. I’m not sure if anyone else was shocked by the forum, but I certainly was. I think the list of speakers was fairly compiled, and I initially thought it would be rigged. The outcome of the book surprised me after this point because I really thought the garden would become the memorial.


Thank you, class

I just had one of those “I just need to start over” moments. My post was all over the place. I don’t know how much more together this one will be, but I’ll do what I can. I wanted to briefly talk about this class and how valuable it has been for me. I will always remember it in the ways it was challenging and interesting and confusing and overall one of the best experiences I’ve had. It could have been better. It could have been a lot better. If I had started the semester better in general, I might not have had my month-long February nervous breakdown. I might have contributed more in class, written more posts, and done better on those oral reports.     Not being able, really, to use excuses, my weaknesses stared me down. I felt intimidated by JGB and by the intelligence and eloquence of my classmates. I have the tendency to compare myself to others and therefore felt inadequate. But I’ve learned that this does absolutely nothing except waste time and energy. If you spend time feeling inadequate, then your chances of succeeding and improving decrease significantly. I’ve learned that it is better to remind yourself that you do have good ideas and you do have the ability to adequately articulate them.

It just takes willpower, diligence, and practice. It’s not easy for all of us, but it’s definitely possible. I was so thankful for Maria’s post about the lessons we can take from this class. I had had thoughts about most of what she said, but it was so nice to have clearly explained. Here are her main points, so we can see them again!

—Listen, form an opinion, defend it, and don’t be afraid to change it.

—Never, never, never, say, “I don’t know,” especially after you’ve said something that clearly indicates otherwise.

—Every presentation is a chance to take command of the class. Don’t let it go to waste.

—Say what you’re thinking, even if you’re not sure it’s a good idea, and recognize when you’ve said enough.

I feel as if I can relate to everything she wrote in that post. At first, as usual, it made me feel a little inadequate. But then I just decided that it’s so much better to just take it all as a learning experience. Maria’s list will always be there for me–for all of us. I can take it with me wherever I go and refer to it and I can add to it. Every failure or falter is an opportunity for growth. If your very intense teacher is asking you on the spot to articulate your ideas, to challenge yourself by taking a stance and defend it, it’s because he knows you are intelligent. He wants you to see it, too. He wants you to show him what he knows you’re capable of. And we should all want this for ourselves. We should want to do our very best. It is, though, easier said than done, and it is a constant battle.

This class will forever be remembered. It was my favorite in this crazy mess of a semester. It was the most interesting and exciting and caused me to have reading experiences I might never have had. And it opened up the gate to discovering related books that I want to read. It gave me a book-list–thanks again, Jenny! It gave me some of the most memorable discussions I’ve ever witnessed, so thank you, class.

(I’ll be posting more today, I promise.)

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Changez and Khan

As we discussed in class, Changez from The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Khan from The Submission share several characteristics as they explore their identity in the two novels. At the beginning of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez is not much of a conformist. While he wants to fit in at Princeton, he recognizes that his exoticism gives him an advantage,”…the non-Americans among us tended to do better than the Americans, and in my case I reached my senior year with having received a single B” (4).  When he moves to New York, he realizes, though, that he never became an American at Princeton: “I was, in four and a half years, never in America; I was immediately a New Yorker” (33). When he travels to Manila for his job, he tries to conform to the American ideal, for his own advantage: “I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American” (65). When 9/11 occurs. it represents a turning point in Changez’s identity as he takes pleasure in the destruction, pleased that America is finally falling victim to someone else for once. Once he visits his family in Pakistan, he fully embraces his Pakistani identity in America. The major thing he does is keep his beard: “It was, perhaps, a form of protest, on my part, a symbol of my identity, or perhaps I sought to remind myself of the reality I had just left behind” (130).

Khan, however, undergoes a different sort of exploration of identity. His identity stays mostly static throughout the novel. One of the turning points is when he decides to shave his beard off before the hearing.

“He had grown the beard to play with perceptions and misconceptions, to argue against the attempt to define him. If he shaved, would he be losing the argument or ending it? Was he betraying his religion? No, but it would look that way. Was he betraying himself? That question shook the hand holding the razor” (213).

He toys with his identity throughout the novel by keeping the beard, but it ultimately remains the same as it did at the beginning of the novel. The moment where he impulsively shaves off his beard suggests his choice to keep his American identity. Soon after the hearing, he withdraws from the competition. Then he decides to move to Kabul and eventually becomes a famous architect. I tried to find if there was anything mentioned in the epilogue about his beard, but there was none. I think he probably grew it back, because they were so much more common there than in America, and Muslims are more respected at that time, about thirty years later.

I think the symbolism of the beard, in both novels, is very important. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez grows and keeps a beard to show his new identity that he closely identifies with now. He then keeps the beard throughout the rest of the novel as he moves back to Pakistan. In The Submission, Khan has a beard at the start of the novel and then as he is pressured by outside forces to become more “American”, he shaves it off. The shaving seems to be an attempt by him to get rid of his Muslim identity, but it doesn’t work out, as he soon feels pressured to drop out of the competition altogether.


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About all of it, and broadly, because that is how I’ve been thinking about it: in broad terms. And think about it I certainly have. In fact — and I do not mean this in any hard core academic sense (though maybe I should profess otherwise) — I’ve thought and spoken about this class far more outside of the classroom than in it.  In all of this mulling over books and class discussions, and all of the ranting I did to Marta in between JGB’s class and Yoga (as well as at plenty of other times), I’ve come to a number of conclusions that I didn’t know I would.  I’ve realized things, the discovery of which I would not have cited as goals at the beginning of the semester.

At risk of sounding overtly touchy-feeling and abstract, I have to say it: This class has taught me things about myself.

I don’t know much more about what literally happened on September 11th, and especially not about its military aftermath.  Going into the course, those are both things that I felt ignorant of, and gaps in my understanding which I wondered if literature would help to fill.  Looking a the entire event as a college student instead of as an elementary school child is what has shifted and bolstered my understanding of 9/11, in terms of what it means to me as an American of this generation, as well as what it means to my country. Yes, this sounds ridiculously clichéd.  However, before this Honors seminar, it would have been anything but routine for me to examine September 11th to any extent beyond the superficial.

Growing up after the attacks, I saw the whole calamity — in addition to the war that I saw as its result — through the fogged lens of my parents’ politics, my own culture shock, and anger (mine and that of those around me).  Thanks to my family’s indirect commentary, I knew that it was wrong to talk badly about Muslims just because a few of them were bad.  I knew that George W. Bush was an idiot and a bad leader, and that war was not the answer. I knew that I didn’t have God or understand America the way that my peers did, and I was angry with their anger and with the ineffable injustice of all of it, with the violence that was always just beyond reach, just out of focus.  I didn’t understand cause and effect. Most of all, I didn’t understand the deaths. I know now that I can’t understand the way that so many people have had to, but it is that understanding to which this class has brought me closer.

This class has been about death.  I’m incredibly fortunate in that this is another topic on which I’m very inexperienced. The emotional insight that the readings this semester have provided into the lives of victims of the September 11 attacks is, I think, a powerful testament to the skill of the authors and the effect of art as a response to tragedy. Having taken this class, I feel that one goal of such art is to provide any given reader with an emotional connection to the event.  Certain books we’ve read do this better than others. Falling Man, for example, left me feeling disconnected from the characters as they had been from their own lives, whereas Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a veritable (if enjoyable) overload of emotion.  This is not to imply that DeLillo did not write a very effective novel, and nor did Hamid or any other author whom I would deem as less emotionally focused than Foer. Reminiscent of our recent class discussion on the scale of politically to socially focused novels, there is a scale of overt emotional expression that interlocks with other important aspects of response novels (for example, the idea of allegory or that of political commentary).

All of that being said, I have to reiterate that it is not the politics, or even the social commentary from these readings that most profoundly effected me, however well they were done (see The Submission, The Zero, or The Reluctant Fundamentalist, just as examples). It is the direct representation of the lives of human beings in the wake of 9/11. I feel that, through the multitude of characters presented to us in the class, from those in “September” and “Twilight of the Superheroes” to Aaron and Ahmed, to the slough of characters in The Submission, I can finally begin to understand what September 11, 2001 meant to America when it happened, as time went on, and what it means now to me, as an emerging adult, half a lifetime after the attacks.


Essentially, I wish that I could write some sort of rousing speech down in this blog post, forever immortalizing how I feel about this Honors seminar.  It has made me more aware of my own identity as an American and a human being. It’s been sad and engaging, and it’s made me appreciate the multitude of perspectives and intellects around the table and on the blog. It’s been illuminating, and I’m being corny.

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In the process of writing my final blog post, I came across something interesting.

Thanks, as usual, to the wonders of the internet, I found this.

Yes, that is a film version of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, set for 2013. And yes, Kate Hudson is Erica.

This is just one of those things that I had to post because I had absolutely no idea of its existence, and also because of our discussions about film adaptations, particularly in relation to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Am I the only one who didn’t know about it? If anyone wants to share how they feel about it, I would love to hear. Personally, after having discussed it so deeply (and, often disturbingly) in class, I’m a bit surprised that it was picked up to be adapted into film.

Also, check out the description and the current genre IMDb has it tagged as.


Oh, and I found a picture that is apparently of Erica and Changez from the film.

I had the pleasure of watching it through the browsing room window. Anyway.

The Submission!

I’m still not sure how much I like this book. Compared to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close it was much harder for me to get through. I wasn’t drawn in,wasn’t captured, by any of the characters. I think it’s probably because of how the book didn’t delve too deep into the emotions of the characters. In books like Extremely Loud the author creates a unique emotional tone with his or her writing style, word choice, point of view, and so on. Books like Extremely Loud pull me along in with their desperation and hope–their constant poignancy. Being an emotional person, I easily attach myself to the characters in these stories. I find myself empathizing with them–the author’s carefully chosen words tightly grabbing hold of me with their hope and desperation.

In The Submission, the emotion is chaotic. It’s diverse. Myriad emotions all jostling through crowded New York City streets. But Waldman only gives us bits and pieces. A hint of heartache here and an outburst of resentment there. A desperate cry for acceptance and tolerance followed by a stubborn shout fueled by resentful loss. The personal complexities of Claire and Mo are explored more than other characters, but my heart didn’t move for them in a poignant way. At certain times, through certain dialogue or narrative, I was moved. But as I read the book I did not feel a strong emotional pull in a certain direction.

Despite not being a page-turner for myself, I do appreciate how the novel was written. In class we discussed how Waldman has written a very journalistic novel which, of course, comes from her experience as a journalist. She was a reporter in the years after 9/11 in NYC and was also sent to Afghanistan. She explains in this interview that she came to experience events of the aftermath from all sides–perspectives constantly shifting. Readers experience this in the Submission. One minute a reader will be experiencing Mo stubbornly refusing to explain himself  and then suddenly shifting to the perspective to stubborn Claire who will stop trying to get Mo to tell her what she wants to hear.

Despite all of their differences they do have that one thing in common–that stubbornness. It is the same for basically every character in the book. They all refuse  to back down from their stances and refuse to see things from other perspectives. But then, as we discussed, they often submit to social pressures. There is no true listening and true attempt of understanding. There is only blind stubbornness and blind submission when one feels pressure from the world.



Characters in this novel spend so much time trying to not give in to the wishes of others that they often lose themselves. One particular example of this is Mo and his beard:

“He had grown the beard to play with perceptions and misconceptions, to argue against the attempt to define him. If he shaved, would he be losing the argument or ending it? Was he betraying himself? That question  shook the hand holding the razor.” (213)

Mo has become so invested in how others perceive him. In moments like this he’s given in to pressures and expectations. He’s no longer doing things because he wants to–because it is true to his heart–but because of how he wishes to respond the the public. Both the decision to not shave and to shave show how he was almost allowing himself to be “reinvented by others, so distorted he couldn’t recognize himself” (293). Truly, I think, he was even contributed to the process. Mo fell in to the trap, into the reinvention of himself. However, he shows that it’s possible to get out of this. He shows that its always possible to return to yourself. “And so he had traced his parents’ journey in reverse: back to India, which seemed a more promising land” (293).

-To answer his question of “would he be losing the argument or ending it…was he betraying himself?” can be answered with Claire’s statement on page 88… “If you let them change you, they’ve won.” And so Mo lost the moment he began to grow his beard. He changed himself to “argue against the attempt to define him.” Therefore, he’d already lost himself–before he even entered his submission to the contest.



-Back to the journalistic writing style. Waldman creates a very accurate portrayal of society in how she presents each character. Bits and piece of each character are shown. There are so many diverse and chaotic emotions and opinions  and they are all truthfully portrayed. Because of this, the book doesn’t seem to have a specific emotional pull. It’s more just social commentary, as in, this is how the world is. We are all complex and emotional human beings, but that complexity and emotion is hardly ever explored by others. It is often ignored. We are blind of partially blind to each other. Like journalism, we only see a portion of what is there.


I’d love comments on this, because I’m not sure how clearly I’ve made myself. I’m a bit sleep deprived, just like most everyone on this campus. I’d love to have some discussions through comments, though, if anyone would like to.

I’m also probably going to write another short post on this book, but for now I need to move on to another one of my main posts. I’ll either be posting next about The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Things They Carried/Bearing Witness, or Let The Great World Spin. You’ll just have to wait and see! oooh suspense. oooh sentence fragment. oh my. I’ll also be writing a post about this class in general and how much I learned from it/how grateful I am for it–for JGB, for these books, and for all of you and your wonderful ideas and words.

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The  further I read into Amy Waldman’s The Submission, the more fitting I found the title.  Not only do the multiple definitions of the word “submission” explained by Charlotte in her presentation apply to the novel in different ways, in addition to the meaning of the word “Islam,” as mentioned by Maria, but the book itself is comprised of one submission after another.

These various submissions occur on a multitude of levels over time, but there is hardly a cessation of submission to be found in any phase of the plot of The Submission. At the novel’s beginning, as I mentioned in class, the reader witnesses an impending submission on the part of certain jury members.  This first surrendering is necessary for the novel to truly commence, and is seen in the character of Ariana and those who support her and The Void.  In the face of Claire’s then-passion for The Garden, those jury members submit. From, then on, all of the characters experience the act of submitting in one way or another.)

Sean submits to the disappointment of his parents, particularly his mother, as he campaigns against Islam for her approval.

A minor, though marked example of submission occurs on page 69, when Paul inevitably submits to his son’s requests for money.

Claire submits to the distrust that surrounds her, pushing in on her.  “Can you live with never knowing the answers to those questions?” (161).

Asma is perpetually submitting to the American government and society as an illegal immigrant. in the aftermath of Sean’s scarf-grabbing stunt, to the violence that erupts around it.  At the end of the novel, she submits to pressure to move herself and her son back to Bangladesh.

There is a multitude of examples of Khan submitting, in a variety of ways.  Of course, he submits his design to the competition for the memorial. He also submits to the expectations of frightened, reactionary Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim, if in different ways.  In a disheartening spirit reminiscent of my prior blog post, Khan actually remains rather strong-willed throughout the majority of the novel until, for example, the end of the novel when he cuts his hair to go to appear in court (213).  Even more specific is a moment which struck me very strongly as a submission — a nearly pitiful relinquishing of pride — when he is searched by security at his own hearing. “Dizzy, Mo felt the beginnings of shock at this indignity on this day” (214).

Even Alyssa is found constantly submitting to the driving need to coax incendiary information out of people, submitting to deadlines, stereotypes, and her work.


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As you know, throughout the semester we were recommended books by our professor, and sometimes, fellow students. About mid-way through the semester, I started keeping track of our reading list. Eventually, it morphed into a list of songs, movies, and tv shows, too. The following is that list.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening, what it’s about here

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther, what it’s about here

The Mountain Goats, “Dance Music” Lyrics here

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, what it’s about here

Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum, what it’s about here

The Wizard of Oz, what it’s about here

William Faulkner, Light in August, what it’s about here

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, what it’s about here

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, what it’s about here

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, what it’s about here

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, what it’s about here

Joanthan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated, what it’s about here

Robert Olen Butler, Severance: Stories

Source Code, What it’s about here

Annie Hall, what it’s about here

Blue Velvet, what it’s about here

Room with a View, what it’s about here


Tim O’Brien, The Things they Carried, what it’s about here

Long Overdue

This is categorized under The Zero and that’s exactly why this post is so long overdue. It’s on page 150 when Paul is talking to Remy about making movies out of their 9/11 experiences.

He says everything goes through this cycle of opportunity: first inspirational stories, kids and animals, shit like that; then the backdrop stories, he called it the home front… and then the big money — thrillers. (Walter, 150)

So, I got curious. What kinds of movies have been made since 9/11 and how accurate is this “cycle”? In my research I found movies like Fahrenheit 9/11, Unit 93, World Trade Center, Remember Me, and, of course, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any rhyme or reason to the pattern of movies following 9/11. It is interesting, though, that you can find all of the categories Paul listed being represented by the videos I found.

Since I can’t talk a lot about the pattern in these movies and why I think that is, I’ll instead give brief commentary on the movies in this list that I have seen.

Obviously we’ve all seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so I’ll start there. I thought the movie (not related to the book) portrayed and experience I could imagine a boy like Oskar having. The longing and desire to overcome his father’s death seems accurate. The estrangement between him and his mother is plausible. Overall, I think this movie provides a very real image of what recovering from 9/11 would be like. Not to mention, it’s about “kids and animals, shit like that” (Walter, 150).

I watched Fahrenheit 9/11  right after it came out and I remember mostly being confused and unconcerned with all the big people issues the movie dealt with. As with all of Michael Moore’s documentaries this one is very opinionated (though that’s probably too weak of a word). IMDB says “[Michael Moore is] famous for his provocative populist documentaries that are unapologetic attacks on social wrongs, including those he considers callous business corporations and opportunistic right wing politicians.” This movie deals with his beliefs that the government manipulated the events of 9/11 to be used as cause for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’d consider this to be a meat and potatoes movie dealing with the events surrounding 9/11.

The only other movie I’ve watched on this list was Remember Me, which, for those of you who have also seen this movie, know it starts it as a pretty typical romance. However, (SPOILER ALERT) it ends with Tyler Hawkins’ death in the 9/11 attack. My friend who is four years younger than me went to see this movie in theaters with her mom and little brother when it first came out. Her mom was incredibly upset because she was caught off guard with the closing scenes. She wanted a warning because she wouldn’t have taken her daughter and son to watch the movie had she known. This movie is hard to categorize because it deals with kids, is about the events in a life leading up to 9/11, and is a thriller when you begin to notice the signs that 9/11 is coming. I remember showing my mom and when she saw the date “Tuesday, September 11, 2001” on the blackboard she started to cry. This movie is one of the sadder movies of those that I’ve seen.

On a completely unrelated note, if you’re looking for more 9/11 centered reading after this class, here’s a list.

What’s in a Name?

yes, this is "downtown" Truckee in winter

In reading the Submission and working on a public speaking project about math and science until 3:30am I remembered something from high school. I went to a charter school, as I’m sure most of you know, which means I had classes three days a week, math for two hours a week, science for three, college advising for one, and gov/econ for one hour each week as well. My classes rotated like a college schedule with math and science Mondays and Wednesdays and the other classes on Tuesday. We were held to state standards exactly like public school (because charter is public) and so if we missed a day of math class we were rapidly falling behind. You all probably also know that I come from some place with crazy amounts of snow each year, more than 200 inches each year on average. So, we had something like seven snow days that impacted our math class days. When we had snow days the math classes were to refer to certain Khan Academy videos in place of being taught the lesson.

The Submission, of course, is about a man named Mohammed Khan. The website we used in high school was started by Salman Khan. Based on the title of my post, you know this blog will be about names. Khan, who created the very helpful tutoring website obviously shares a last name with Khan, who created a very controversial 9/11 memorial. To me it seems if both of these are positive acts. One helps children understand something they can’t get a grasp on in class, the other helps children mourn the loss of deceased relatives. Khan Academy is well used and supported. I suppose there are probably some radical christian homeschooling mothers who refuse to use Khan Academy because it might have a Muslim influence, but from everyone I talked to about it back in Truckee, everyone fully supported the website and thought it was great. What then, is the difference between Khan getting a positive response and Khan getting a negative one?

It could solely be the obvious ties between 9/11 and someone with a last name like Khan. But because Mohammed Khan has the name he does, does not make him a terrorist of course. Citizens know this because they’re clearly willing to put their kids in front of a computer screen for 45 minutes while they watch math videos of things parents don’t understand. The masses are not assuming this is brain washing, they think it’s something beneficial. When the masses see Khan designed a garden in the book, they assume it is Islamic and like constructing a heaven for those who hijacked the planes.

I think this means, and I’m barely figuring this out now, as I type, that the tie between Mohammed Khan and the extreme uprising that resulted when his submission won is not based on his name. It can’t be. Or at least, solely it cannot be. Instead the response to his victory is one that occurs because of a multitude of reasons. It is because of his skin color, his lack of response to their question of fear (is it an Islamic garden? are you religious?), his name, and the event that the memorial was created for. The ties between who he is and who brought the buildings down is far too close for the comfort of the masses in the novel.

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The Next Generation

Throughout the course of this year, I have certainly learned one thing: September 11, 2001 is not a date in history, it is a date that is still very much ‘alive’ in the hearts of Americans. Although this year was the 10th anniversary, and  a valid reason to celebrate, or rather commemorate, it still seems odd to me that 9/11 is as widely discussed in terms of a current topic as it is. This concept was the inspiration behind my second oral report topic. I wanted to research how 9/11 is taught to children who were not alive ten years ago. It seems like when learning about a topic in school, it would be considered a history lesson, but my observation about 9/11  is that it will be many years into the future before 9/11 is history. Therefore, my approach was to interview three different schools – one in South Carolina, one in Virginia, and one in New York. I wanted to see if their lesson plan approaches were a-typical of a history lesson or if 9/11 was deemed something higher.

Here are my results:

Lugoff, South Carolina –

I was in third grade at Lugoff Elementary when the planes hit the Twin Towers. All I can remember was Mrs. Hopkins, my teacher at the time, ending out lesson and cutting on the television because an announcement came over the intercom to do so. Over the years, I have always kept in touch with her, and to this day she remains one of my favorite teachers. Therefore, when I emailed her asking for help with the project, she was all too thrilled to respond. Now that my rambling is over with, I can actually explain what my old school does to teach 9/11. As I expected, 9/11 is not taught as a history lesson; it is something that my school commemorates on a yearly basis.

Lynchburg, Virginia –

I feel the urge to start this off with “Unfortunately,” which could be an entire discussion on its own. Anyways, the Lynchburg school that I looked at was completely tied to standards, which do not include 9/11. Although they are not commemorating the event like South Carolina, Virginia has deemed 9/11 as ‘non-historic’ as well. If it were already considered an event in history, it would be included in the state standards.

New York, New York –

I am not completely sure whether I was surprised about the ‘lesson’ for New York, or if it was what I expected. However, 9/11 is a much more discussion oriented topic rather than a lesson. Each year on September 11th, or the closest school date to the 11th, the teachers of an elementary school in New York briefly talk about it with their students and ask if there are any questions.

These three responses were extremely different, and I became exceedingly frustrated that they differed so much because I thought my project was now pointless; that this was something that cannot quite be discussed yet. Then, after a bit of thinking I developed a theory as to why they differed. I believe that is mentioned in New York because it happened there. It is something extremely intimate to New York, and therefore deserves to be mentioned.  However, connected with this idea of intimacy, is the idea that 9/11 is a touchy subject. Therefore, it is discussed with great caution. Lynchburg is just far enough away that it is not a ‘required’ thing to commemorate, but it is just close enough to respectfully avoid. As for South Carolina, I believe we are far enough from New York that 9/11 seems like something unreal, and therefore it is commemorated with great respect.

Although that seems like a lot now, it really was not that much. Therefore, I also googled “how to teach children about 9/11” and came up with the New Jersey Curriculum. So, here is the link to the entire article, although I’m sure you will not want to read ALL of it, it was very interested and you should at least take a peak at it.


This is also a news article talking a bit about it:


Sorry there were not a lot of pretty pictures to make all of this information a bit less painful. Hope you enjoyed this post (:



This might sound like an overly harsh snap judgment, but I feel that The Submission displays an extraordinary lack of what I would describe as intellectual and emotional progress in the lives of its characters.  What’s more, this cannot be accidental on the part of Waldman. In fact, I believe that it is a vital aspect of the novel and one of its overlying themes.

There seems, at the beginning of the story, to be abundant room for positive growth in the minds and lives of multiple characters, as well as in the plot itself.  Indeed, by writing this post, I do not mean to say that this type of development does not occur, and certainly not that there is no character growth at all.  My point is simply that the commencement of the novel calls for optimism, and that Waldman proves this optimism to be unwarranted (if she does not go further still in bringing the idea of hope itself into question).

The primary example of this phenomenon occurs in the character of Claire.  At the beginning of the novel, she is portrayed as the most open-minded member of the jury.  In fact, in a sea of subtle to blatant bigotry, Claire Burwell is the novel’s shining advocate for acceptance.  Upon learning that the architect of the winning design (the design she chose) is a Muslim, she pushes for his acceptance because “Tolerance isn’t stupid,” but “Prejudice is” (18).  This very same woman ends up being the person who, near the end of the novel, speaks out against accepting Mohammed Khan’s design.  Over the course of the novel, the reader is given an unexpected view of human response to pressure, prejudice, and loss via Claire’s character: we are shown a woman who goes from blind advocacy of what she seems to view as the underdog to one who finds herself fearing and distrusting that same figure.

As for Khan himself, it could also be argued that he does not evolve in an what would be seen typically as a satisfying manner.  He is stubborn, not because he has set out to champion a cause, but simply because he feels entitled to the credit he earned.  Saying this, I do not mean to imply that Khan should not seek validation for his winning entry; in fact, I admire his persistence.  But the fact remains that he rests both stubborn and secular, as well as, oftentimes, indignant.  In fact, when Khan does change,   this change manifests in him cutting his hair and his beard in order to appear less offensive somehow. This is hardly inspiring or motivational.

Combined characters such as the reporter, Alyssa, who continues unscrupulously down her career path, I can’t help feeling that Amy Waldman is making a point through her characters’ lack of anticipated epiphanies and compromises.  That point, I would propose, is that, in terms of how Muslims are viewed by the media and general public, there hasn’t been truly proactive compromise post 9/11 America. This might all seem incredibly obvious, but I was still intrigued as I read her novel.  In fact, there would hardly be a reason for anyone to be engaged in the story if none of us believed that there was potential for change.  Waldman sets the reader up to seek in the text what Americans have not yet been able to find.


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Allegorically Gardening

It is surprising to me the number of times allegory is directly mentioned in Amy Waldman’s The Submission. Typically, in other novels the reader has to find the allegorical meaning hidden within the text. For example, when one reads The Reluctant Fundamentalist one can eventually see that the name Erica has an allegorical significance as a representation of America. While this allegory is noticeable within the text the author makes no attempt to highlight it to the readers, or to stress its inherent meaning. Rather the reader is expected to come up with his or her own explanation for what the name Erica means. This gives the reader a great deal of freedom in developing his or her own individual interpretation; but,  it also gives the reader a lot of room to “put words in the author’s mouth” and give the author credit for ideas they may or may not have meant to imply. Waldman takes a different approach that allows her to use allegory, but in a way where she can convey her message more clearly to her readers—she openly mentioned allegory through the remarks Claire makes.  Waldman’s blatant use of allegory makes her point clearer and more direct to the reader, allowing for no potential misinterpretations.

The following are two examples of how allegory is explicitly mentioned, and how the direct reference makes the meaning of allegory clearer.

“She wanted him to have died believing that he would live. The Garden was an allegory. Like Cal, it insisted that change was not just possible, but certain,” (11).

Here, the garden has an allegorical meaning that implies growth and change. In her relationship with Cal, he was the optimistic one; the one who thought the glass was half-full, and the one that thought change was bound to happen. But when he died Claire lost all her optimism, and was reluctant to see any change at all.  For her the garden represented a place to heal as well as a place to see change happening. A garden is never the same for any long period of time, it is always changing.

  “I’d like to talk about the design a little. To me the wall framing the garden, the wall with the names, is an allegory for the way grief frames the aftermath of this tragedy. Life goes on, the spirit rejuvenates—this is what the garden represents. But whereas the garden grows, and evolves and changes with the seasons, the wall around it changes not at all. It is as eternal, as unalterable, as our mourning—” (216-217).

Here, the wall itself is an allegory for grief. It symbolizes the walls individuals put up in their minds, to mentally block them from thinking about an unpleasant topic, or having to deal with the grief of loss. It is trying to illustrate that while the garden represents our lives changing and becoming rejuvenated, the wall represents that our emotions are still entrapped in grief and mourning. This speaks to the attitude of our country today. Even though our country is like the garden in the sense that it has grown, changed, and rejuvenated its spirit since 9/11, we are still walled in by our emotions. While as a whole our country seems to have moved on and returned to daily life, we still continue to mourn the loss of life that day and the names of those that we lost will forever be written in stone.


The Inside Job

When I first started my presentation on 9/11 conspiracy theories, I was a little uncomfortable. While it was a subject I was interested in learning more about – admittedly I’m kind of weird and love learning about things like this – I also felt horribly un-American. Maybe I’m too quick to place trust in authority, but I couldn’t get behind the idea that my government (our government, actually) had done this to boost the economy. It was silly and offensive and frankly, I considered finding something else to do my report on.

By the time I was finished with the presentation, I had a new outlook. I still won’t ever be able to say that 9/11 was an “inside job,” but after looking at the evidence, I see how it’s easy for others to believe that. Of course, as obvious by my presentation, I hadn’t even bothered to think about why people would believe that evidence – not because I didn’t care, but because I just didn’t know. The only reason I had was, “There’s evidence and maybe that’s all they need.”

I liked hearing the reasons everyone came up with for why 9/11 conspiracy theories hold the weight that they do. There are people who like to feel smarter than everyone else, there are people who take comfort in hearing the worst – it’s true. That might not be how I feel, but it’s important to understand that there are those who do, and that’s why they believe things you or I would (and do) consider to be outlandish.

Interestingly enough, the subject of conspiracy theories came up over the weekend. A friend of mine at another college had watched something on a typical guy channel (you know, Discovery or National Geographic) and was going on and on about how I “really needed to see this documentary” because “it was kind of cool.” I was surprised by my reaction. Before working on this oral report, I’m sure I would have dismissed it and/or called it ridiculous. Instead I settled in to watch this program on how the measurements of a Boeing do not coincide with the measurements of the hole in the Pentagon.

I still had a snide quip every so often, but it was much easier to see after I had done my own research.


9/11 Elegies

Warning: This post will be long.

To start, I began my project with the crazy notion that I could speak for twenty minutes on what an elegy was and why it had anything to do with 9/11 specifically. I ended up google-ing “9/11 elegies” and finding a wide variety of mediums. A lot of people were deeply moved by 9/11 which can be seen by massive amounts of bad poetry and photos saying “We will never forget.” I started my project by talking about one of these examples where a writer named Francis V. O’Connor wrote a poem called Birds of Fire. Throughout the poem the words of terrorists, children, and victims serve as breaks in the text. The poem is long – 13 parts long, to be exact. And, “it’s not very good” (JGB). However, nobody said you have to be good to write, especially in emotional times.

Robert Pinsky wrote the next poem in my presentation, a poem simply called 9/11. The poem is a little odd in the fact that it has an almost sarcastic tone to it. We don’t expect each individual line to follow the one before it. The transitions between lines are abrupt and startling. Pinsky was Poet Laureate when the 9/11 attacks occurred and was asked to write this piece for the Washington Post. The tone of this poem was completely different than the tone of O’Connor’s poem.

Philip Rostek works with a multitude of mediums and for his 9/11 elegy he used music. The video I intended to show to the class can be found here. When I searched for a musical elegy, this was the first piece I found. Not only that, but there were a good amount of videos with this song being performed in schools. Middle schoolers and high school students played this song for a recital to commemorate the attacks. Other videos showed professionals playing on school stages as children sat on their gymnasium floor watching. I think this is interesting because of all that schools do to keep 9/11 such a secret. After seeing Kasey’s presentation I find this even more interesting because the teachers here are clearly presenting 9/11, but it makes me wonder if they’re actually teaching about what happened and if they are, how they’re teaching it. As something positive?

John Waddell’s Rising sculptures put an interesting spin on what we’ve been learning about all semester: falling. We’ve read a book titled Falling Man, read another book about a boy obsessing over his father’s death and how perhaps he was one of the victims who jumped. We discussed in detail in class a sculpture that looked like it was modeled after a falling form from the towers to moment the woman’s head was making contact with the pavement below. Waddell’s inspiration behind this project was that he was sick of hearing about falling. The picture to the right shows two figures, which can be viewed a few different ways. The artist’s intention was to have both people lifting into the sky, one reaching for the other as they ascend. I think the top figure is in a contorted position much like someone falling would appear. Also, the figure below looks as if she has slipped out of the man’s grasp and is now falling into the below.

Dark Elegy is a sculpture project by Suse Lowenstien. She made the sculptures as a portrait of grief of the mother’s suffering the loss of their children. The project was inspired by Pan Am Flight 103 which was hijacked and crashed killing all of the passengers aboard. Many college students were on the plane including Lowenstien’s son.

I’m not an artist by any means, nor do I claim to understand art in any way. Linda Tharp painted a series she called 9/11 Elegy. I picked her artwork for this project because she is a New York resident. The pictures, in my humble and probably wrong opinion, represent different stages of that day and the recovery process. The first photo is of buildings, towers almost, reflecting in water. This could represent the dissolving of the towers. The second and third images could represent the sky and smoke as the buildings fell, and the final image could be how Tharp saw the buildings as they went up in flames.

To conclude this post, (and you’re all thinking, “FINALLY!”) I have a few words to say on Ejay Weiss and his 9/11 elegy. Weiss watched the 9/11 attack out his apartment window. He titled his piece “9/11 Elegies: 2001-2011” and there are 12 images in all. His project was very emotional for him because the attack took place so close to his home. The images concretely show the attacks and Weiss’s thoughts. In on painting he even includes dust from ground zero which he gathered a few days after the attack. About his project Weiss says, “I didn’t want to paint these. It’s catharsis. It was the only way I could continue.”

In short, there’s nothing that can be said briefly about elegies, especially the ones pertaining to 9/11.

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Well, I know this exact scenario didn’t actually happen, but doesn’t The Submission sound like a souped up version of what could have happened during that whole “mosque at ground zero” thing? 

I remember there were those two distinct sides: one side believed it was disrespectful to have an islamic worship center in the vicinity of Ground Zero, while the other side believed there was no connection between the mosque and the fact that it was near Ground Zero. But there were some of the same things being said about Islam as what was being said by the protesters in The Submission. “They’re trying to make this piece of land Dar al-Islam!” Debbie said. “Their goal is to impose Sharia, Islamic law, wherever they can, including the United States,” read a newspaper.

The building of the religious center near Ground Zero caused some people to believe that Muslims were trying to spread their “evil” religion. When people who did not mind the building of the religious center pointed out that Muslims have every right to practice their religion, just as Christians do; some responded similarly to what Debbie said in the novel, “For generations immigrants came to this country and assimilated, accepted American values. But Muslims want to change America–no, they want to conquer it. Our Constitution protects religious freedom, but Islam is not a religion! It’s a political ideology, a totalitarian one.”

If you happen to not recall this huge ordeal that actually happened, here is some proof that is freakishly similar to what is said about Islam and Muslims post 9/11. Oh, and remember that part in the book where supposedly the president of Iran supported Khan? Yeah, people thought Ahmadinejad was funding the “Mosque at Ground Zero”.  The Submission was published in 2011 and the mosque debate happened in 2009, so it is possible that this may have influenced Waldman’s novel.


People like Sean Gallagher are the reason I am disillusioned with the world. Granted, he is the last child of a tired mother. Granted, he is damaged. Still, in The Submission, he is the voice of the ignorant mob. This comes across most clearly on page 129 when he challenges Paul Rubin over Mohammad Khan’s right to build the memorial. Paul tells Sean that Khan “has rights, including the right not to be denigrated for his religion,” and Sean comes back with “What about my rights? The families’ rights? The victims’ rights? Don’t they count for anything?” as if this whole debacle isn’t about how much store should be put by the families’ feelings, prejudiced though they may be. Sean’s word choice is revealing. He uses the term “rights” in a context where “feelings” would be more appropriate. The “right” to which Sean refers in one I have heard a lot about in American politics since I started paying attention to the news years ago. It is our “right” to have our own way. Our right to get what we want. Politicians are fond of telling constituents that their rights are being denied when what the constituents are actually angry about is that they aren’t getting something they want. Even in America, it is not actually our right to drive whatever car we want or to pollute as much as we want. We should not confuse that which we want with that to which we are entitled, and we are entitled to a lot less than we tend to think we are. But people are inherently selfish and arrogant, and politicians are inherently manipulative. This assertion, that it is an American citizen’s right to have whatever he or she wants, has therefore become an easy and convenient way for politicians to gain power. However, that is in the short-term. The longer-term trend is different: in this way, the leaders of the free world are becoming the followers of the lowest common denominator.

Ground Up

Thanks again to Yahoo! news, I’ve come across something that I think relates quite strongly not only to the entire semester we’ve spent in this class, but also quite specifically to The Submission, as well as Verena’s presentation on her visit to New York.

The link I clicked on reads “See new World Trade Center rise in minutes,” and features a two-minute time-lapsed clip of the construction of the new tower (which began six years ago and is anticipated, according to the article, to be finished in 2013 or 2014).  I am reminded quite strongly of plot elements of Waldman’s novel — Kahn’s profession, the rebuilding and commemorating of the site — but am also put in mind of the end of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, when Oskar makes a reverse flip book of the man falling upwards into the tower.


Even discounting direct connections to our class readings and discussions, the clip (linked below) is fascinating to watch.

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The TV show “All-American Muslim” was a reality show on TLC that showcased five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan, one of the largest Muslim communities in the country. It aimed to show how Muslims were normal Americans and dispel some of the “Islamophobia.” This seems especially apparent in one of the show’s taglines, “One nation, Under Suspicion.” To me, this tagline really serves to show the show’s true purpose: to capitalize on Islamophobia. In the ten years since 9/11, Islamophobia hasn’t changed much. If anything, it’s only gotten stronger. The network might be trying to get rid of some Islamophobia, but at the same time, television is a business. They want to try to get the highest ratings possible.

The network that aired it, TLC, has been known to incite controversy with its different reality shows, like Jon and Kate Plus 8, Toddlers and Tiaras, and Sister Wives. Sister Wives caused a lot of controversy, and Toddlers and Tiaras continues to cause controversy all the time. Controversy, though, makes people watch the show, because they want to see what all the controversy is about. This leads to higher ratings. So I’m sure that TLC thought of this when they decided to produce this show, especially when it led to so much success with their other shows. Even though it was a ratings success, they had too much of a negative backlash from different organizations, so it was canceled. Has anybody in our class watched the show? What do you think about it?


This post is in response to Sarah’s oral report, so clearly I’ve been sitting on it for a while and I apologize for that. Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish/Basque writer, presented an analysis of human motivation regarding living and dying that I show below in chart form.

As it relates to this class, each character we have read about can, through his or her actions, be categorized as wanting to live, wanting to die, not wanting to die (but not sure about living either), or not wanting to live (but not sure about dying either). I have listed a few characters below:

  • Brian Remy becomes increasingly apathetic throughout The Zero as he realizes that the events in which he participates are beyond his control. When, during the “interrogation” of Bishir Madain, he decides to “just drink until this all went away… this seemed like a good strategy” (Walter, 254), he behaves like someone who does not want to be (negative apathy). He is not quite ready to kill himself, but he withdraws from his life to an extreme degree.
  • Oskar Schell gives himself bruises when he has very heavy boots. Marta compared this bruising to a suicidal act, which I think is valid, especially in this context. The bruising is an act of not wanting to be bordering on wanting not to be. Oskar feels so much pain about his father’s death that he doesn’t know how to deal with it all. However, Oskar displays an incredible amount of agency for someone his age throughout the novel, so it can be argued that he belongs wholly with those who want to not be.
  • Keith Neudecker seems throughout Falling Man to be trying to get over what happened to him. He seems to want to be there for his wife and son and to let them be a part of his life, but he also doesn’t quite understand how he feels or what he’s going through. He ends up drifting through his own life. He doesn’t want to die, but he has forgotten how to live, placing him with those who don’t want to not be.


…and a very fast three years they’ll be. Keeping that in mind, this post is meant to contain some advice for you all on how best to take advantage of the time you have left here at Sweet Briar. I’ve learned a lot from observing and (occasionally) teaching this class, not only about how to be a better teacher, but also about you all as students. And while I generally only have good things to say about you all, I also have some advice to offer. It isn’t so much about changing what you don’t do well, but about becoming even better. Essentially, I’m pooling together what I’ve observed about your class, as well as what I’ve learned from my own experiences here, in an effort to give you something useful as you move forward in your undergraduate careers.

I considered writing this as paragraphs of text–somewhat like an essay–but I really do love bullets, so I decided to go with those instead. It makes the text look more digestible, and since I don’t know yet how much I’m going to write, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to take some precautions.

  • Listen, form an opinion, defend it, and don’t be afraid to change it. The beauty of classes at SBC is that they are, for the most part, discussion-based, which means that they are only as good as you make them. It also means that having opinions is certainly welcome, if not expected. However, the best discussions are those based on informed opinions. We all know what it’s like to be in class with blindly uninformed opinions being tossed around, and, thankfully, this was not one of them. So, after listening to different viewpoints and assessing them, expect the teacher–or another student–to challenge it. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong, and it doesn’t mean you have to change your opinion (yet). But it does ask you to reconsider what you believe and either strengthen your argument, or alter it. There’s no shame in changing your mind if you’re doing it as a result of your own conviction.
  • Never, never, never say, “I don’t know,” especially after you’ve said something that clearly indicates otherwise. This was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a psychology class. If you pay attention to any discussion in class, you’ll notice that most students, at one point or another in the discussion, say something smart and then falter at the end, resorting to a mumbled and hardly audible, “I don’t know.” They’ve basically just said, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, so please disregard everything I’m saying.” Truth is, you all are way smarter than that. We don’t know everything, and, especially in literature, we know very little with certainty. But that’s the whole point of a discussion. It’s not to reaffirm our uncertainty in knowledge, but to assert what we do think and discuss its validity. There’s no use reminding others and ourselves that nothing is certain and that we’re not even sure of what we think we know. Say what you think and own it. Don’t ever belittle your own thoughts or ideas.
  • Every presentation is a chance to take command of the class. Don’t let it go to waste. Presentations are one of those great opportunities to really push yourself with your research and then show everyone–teach everyone–about what you’ve been working so hard to do. As one of my professors said, “Own the space.” Just because the class discussions tend to be informal, doesn’t mean that your presentations have to be. Obviously, you don’t need to come in wearing a suit, but it’s worth running through your presentation at least once, even in your head, before the day of your presentation. It makes a world of difference in how confident you are and appear, and how well you transition from slide to slide. It’s like telling a story. The sentences you say should flow naturally as you progress to the next slide. Your ideas should be logically connected, and if they’re not, your audience is likely to notice. Also, presentations are a chance for you take control of the class, so don’t waste it. There is no such thing as being too prepared, or having too much information, or pushing yourself too hard. Rest assured: if you don’t push yourself before the presentation, not a single professor will hesitate to do so in front of the class. Your choice.
  • Say what you’re thinking, even if you’re not sure it’s a good idea, and recognize when you’ve said enough. I never used to talk in class. Seriously. Never. It wasn’t until I took PSYC 302 (Developmental Psychology II…highly recommended), where 25% of my grade was participation-based, that I felt the need to speak up. There was no way I was letting my silence get in the way of my grades. I made it a rule to say at least two “smart” things in class a day. Essentially, I figured if I wasn’t going to speak as much, I should at least make the things I say count. The amazing thing was, the more I talked, the more exciting the class became, the more I learned, and the more I wanted to say. It sounds cliché, but I swear, it’s true. Eventually, even after meeting my quota for the day, I would have more things to say, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say them. That class, single-handedly, turned me from a student who never spoke to the student who spoke just enough without dominating a class. For the students on the other side of the spectrum, realize that just as there are people who always have something to say right away, there are those who have things to say, but take longer building up to them. Trust me, I used to be one of those people. It’s important to recognize that just because someone doesn’t speak up right away, it doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. It’s a tough balancing act–knowing when to speak and when to let others speak–but it’s much easier when you’re more aware of and sensitive to it.
  • Make connections across the disciplines. As a future teacher, this is where I get most excited. Our classes are divided into departments, but there are an infinite number of connections you can make across them. Remember that not everyone has taken the same classes as you, so the more information you can bring to the table from other classes, the better. You’ll be amazed at the connections you can make, and at the discussions you can help spark. Even if the connection is incomplete, offer it to the class with the hope that someone else can help fill in the missing link.
  • Take advantage of office hours. I won’t belabor this point, but your professors are amazingly intelligent. No exaggeration. Learn as much from them as you possibly can.

Truth be told, I could probably come up with more points if you wanted me to. And, while  some of these points may not apply to you, believe me: I thought of every single one of you when I wrote this, so there is at least something on here that I hope you’ll take with you after this class. These next three years will fly by. With one year already (almost) under your belt, you can probably imagine that the next three will be some of the most amazing years you’ll ever have. Make the most of them. I wish you all the very best these years have to offer you, and hope to see you around campus next fall.


While listening to “You’re Missing” in class on Tuesday, I didn’t really think it was addressed to a specific person. I felt like he was addressing everybody who had lost somebody in the attacks. The lyrics, “Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall, Mama’s in the kitchen, baby and all…” and some of the following lyrics describe things that every American has experienced at one point in their life.  I’ve been exposed to a lot of Bruce Springsteen from my dad, so I know that he usually addresses the typical Americans in most of his songs, so that’s how I listened to this one, having heard it for the first time on Tuesday. Springsteen is also from New Jersey, right by New York, so I think he would have been deeply affected by the attacks, especially since they occurred so close to home. I’m sure he also knew people that were either in the buildings or families that were affected by the attacks.

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Spoiler Alert

Bruce Springsteen “You’re Missing” with lyrics :

As I stated in class after we listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “You’re Missing,” I was reminded of something from The Submission. Although most of you have not read it yet, the connection I made is pretty simple. Basically one of the main characters in book, Claire Burwell, lost her husband during 9/11. The loss of her husband has left her to raise their children, one boy and one girl, on her own. Although the little girl, Penelope, is too young to really remember her father, the reader gets the impression that William is greatly effected. Anyways, to get to my point, there is a really special scene in the book in which William has a bad dream that his father could not find his way home. Therefore, Claire sets him and Penelope up with this Hansel and Gretel like task to create piles of rocks from ground zero to their house. While listening to “You’re Missing,” I could really picture this scene, especially when lyrics “children are asking if it’s alright, will you be in our arms tonight?”. It was almost movie perfect. Personally, I think if The Submission ever becomes a movie, that song will definitely be in the soundtrack for that scene.

The scene occurs on pages 88-91 (according to my nook), so you should comment and tell me whether you agree or not! (:

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