Thursday
Mar052015

Clarity

Angela Woodward


 

Guaman—Good start on the draft. Some interesting ideas here. But you need to focus. As you revise this, think what are the two or three most important things you want to get across? And to reiterate (repeat) what I said in class—I'm not sure your choice of artifact is the best for this assignment. I'm afraid the hunk of hair doesn't lead to a lot that's really focused on the task at hand. Last year's lab monkey brought in a finely wrought key.

 

     I address you again, my king, as a prince myself, though a prince of another realm, until recently barbaric and without the light of our Lord. My mother descended from the royal house of Tocay Capac. She was raised before the coming of your people, and often described to me her early years, in order to pass the time of our imprisonment. We two, locked in our cell, discussed the peacocks that dragged their dusty tails across the compound where she spent her youth. So clearly did she describe the dress of thistle down she wore on her birthday that I would swear to you now that I had seen it myself, and fingered its softness. She taught me the songs the maids sang as they went about their cleaning, and imitated their mutterings as their rags swabbed in circles on the gleaming tables. When she was eleven or twelve, the king sent them a music master who placed the choir outside in such a way that in intervals between notes, the sounds of nature intervened, the hooting of the owls, the cries of the night heron. The music master sent all the servants' little boys into the fields to catch crickets. He sorted them according to tone, and then had them released in quadrants, the ones that scraped low notes all together in the north, the mid tones to the west and east, and in the south the few that let out brilliant, almost inaudible peeps. The music master caused to be constructed a fountain and artificial creek, around which he planted aspen trees. When the wind shook the leaves, their shivering overlay the bubbling of the water, and filled out the rests between phrases of the choir's song. He lined some of the leaves with silver so that the leathery shuffling transmuted to clinking. When these leaves fell, the gardeners raked them up, and the silver chimed against the metal tines. In this way, the music went on beyond the borders of the concert. Even when the workaday world gathered its strength and squeezed with all its might the hapless hedge shearers, the oilers of the man-pulled chariots, the girl egg-gatherers and potato diggers, the fish-net repairers

 

Guaman—Lots of good detail here. Some of this is really nice. I want you to think what your intro is supposed to accomplish. At what point should you introduce your cultural artifact? You remember we discussed this in class. You don't need to use the template I provided. It's just a suggestion. But it's hard for the reader to wait much longer, not knowing what the rest of the paper is about, that is, your artifact (hunk of hair). Remember the idea of the road map—asking for directions, providing directions, how if the guy just shrugs his shoulders and says "I have no idea," or if he tells you exactly where to go, but that's not the place you need to get to—

 

     I know it astonishes you, my king, that a people who did not know how to read or write could have produced such miracles of music and art in the dark days before your coming, and the coming of our Lord. In fact my mother's people (my father being a ledrehu, or butler, in the retinue of Alfonso, an orphan who had watched from a ditch the slaughter of his entire village. Blood ran across his knees, and he was struck speechless, a state which lasted for years, until one day)

     In fact we were skilled in reading the signs of the world, which communicated to us when to plant and when to harvest. Some specialized in the reading of caterpillars, and studied the wavelength of the hump of their walking. These learned ones were compelled to wander the paths and avenues of the forest in order to encounter the creepers in their natural progress. Others were professional spider-web interpreters, and these too spent their days criss-crossing deer trails and the edges of herb gardens in order to spot the cascade of dewdrops from the spiders' lairs. They tested the toxicity of their venom, catching sparrows and holding them immobile for the spider's approach. Even the uneducated read the soil, molding and crumbling lumps in their fists at various times of day. Infants could be set to this chore. Our university offered an advanced degree in the migration of birds, their boreal patterns, their influence on seeds beneath the

 

Guaman—It's really important that your introduction introduces the artifact. Begin with some description, so we can see it in our minds, and then give a few main reasons that the artifact is important. This can be about your people, or just about your family. It's okay to be personal here. What do lab monkeys, or your family in particular, think about the hunk of hair? What does it mean within your culture (or your own family)?

 

     In fact our scholars foretold the coming of your people, looking into the fire they saw signs that there would be deaths of great kings in Castile, uprisings, hunger, thirst, death, pestilence, war, or a good year or a bad year. And thus they knew of Castile and thus they called the said ancient ones Vira Cocha, from the first people, descended from Adam and from the multiplication of Noah of the flood. You wonder how it can be that our races were conjoined in those distant days, but the sun is our father, the same as your own. Our mother, though, was not the sea foam, but a piece of string hanging from a branch. The wind stirred her, and rustled and annoyed her to such an extent that she tied herself in a knot. From this knot dropped the first people of Piru, my mother's mother's mother's mother. Still we tie and knot ourselves in the evening, by the fire, on the rug, under the stars, in rooms lit by lamps, at dawn when we wake from a dream and draw our threads through each other, your skin so soft, my luscious, my knee between your thighs

 

Guaman—I'm getting a little confused here. Pardon me for being an outsider, so to speak, but my understanding is that you are a lab monkey, and the hunk of hair is supposed to represent something to lab monkeys. I'm starting to get the feeling that this isn't your own work. And we can have different representations of what we mean by our own, but if you've just copied and pasted something, you don't know how easy it is for me to Google it and find that out, and in that case, I absolutely cannot give you credit! I explicitly explained that you don't need to do any research for this paper, beyond talking to family members. Let's talk about this.

 

     And thus Pompey and Julius Caesar and Marcos Flavius and Glavius, Aristotle, Tulius, the said Greeks, and the Flemish, and the Galicians, all declared and wrote, "This is the season and year to know when to plant." But our people entrusted our knowledge to knotted strings, and with our curiosity, wit, and ability, we were able to read these strings even in the dark, to run our fingers over the ridges and gauge the distance between the knots, and to determine the repetition between figures. Such dread did Pizarro's men feel on beholding our scientists writing messages in cord that they caused all the strings to be burned, and chopped off the fingers of the poets and astronomers. The women too were punished with amputation because they had been accused of reading their children in the night by running their hands over their scalps. Eventually they carried their babies on their backs, the grandmothers, such as survived, hoisting the infants with their teeth into the carriers the mothers wove with their toes, My mother wept every evening before going to sleep though she faced the dawn firmly, having had her own mother replaced with a dry wire replica wrapped in a towel for comfort

     (blood of his whole village stained his legs a dark purple. When the Lord's men found him, he could not speak, until a young man in the court, used to carrying the waiter's tray—they were so proud that their servants had servants—cried out, "This is Mequon's son! I know him!")

     The days passed in a slowness I cannot express, the shadows moving across the floor under the spell of our eyes, while on cloudy days, nothing at all moved but our somber breath, in and out, an endless rebraiding of air and flesh, while the clack of the guards' heels whispered, grew stronger, and faded away, each passage down the hall momentous, the slap of the tray through the slot even more so, yet subsiding quickly to that engulfing quiet

     To my father the friar presented a book that he claimed would tell him to forsake his gods. The friar placed it on his hands, but it lay dense and still, the leather enclosing the unruffled pages. How quiet the book is, said my father. I hear nothing. Is it in the gilt along the edges? my father asked. That twilight glint, does that tell me to forsake the sun? Inside, said the friar, the black within. But to my father, the book would not utter a word, and he let it drop to the ground. Desecration, they cried, and instantly

     They cut off the men's arms and left the limbs cluttered around them as they stepped forward. The sound of the men screaming and retching, he wrote, the heavy plunk of the flesh hitting the stone floor, the drip and spout of blood audible and filling the air with its iron tang They raised the swords again and sliced the breasts off the women, holding them out by the nipple and sawing upwards amid the piteous cries of the young children, over 1500 under the age of seven assembled in the gallery to watch the slaughter of their parents and their

 

Guaman—It's really hard for me to respond to this. You need to look back at what this particular assignment is supposed to accomplish, because I can't say you're accomplishing it. What I've been trying to get at all term is clarity, which comes not only from putting your sentences together well, but getting your ideas in order, deciding what you need to say, and then making sure that what you've got down makes sense not only to you, but to someone else who isn't you and doesn't have your background with your cultural artifact. So if you go on not telling us what the hunk of hair is—so far you have not mentioned it directly at all—then you still haven't done the first thing you're responsible for. Again, I don't see how I can give you credit for this, and if you take the zero for it, I can't imagine how you're going to pass the course. Let's talk after class, because something here is just not working.