About Christina Angie Leon

Dean's Teaching Fellow at Emory University

Yun Cho Blog 5

I really enjoyed the diversity of narratives and styles of the novels we read for the class. Each work really drew me into the lives and visions of the characters, especially Breath, Eyes, Memory, No Telephone to Heaven, Zami, and Before Night Falls. The distinct voices and narrative structures provided me with a very intimate and lucid insight into the lives of the characters. After finishing a novel, I feel almost exhausted yet fulfilled in having absorbed a lifetime of emotions and experiences. I really enjoyed how in No Telephone to Heaven, syntax and punctuation was deliberately played around with to truly capture a distinctive voice and style.
I also liked that we watched the movie of Before Night Falls, which I think depicted the book well. As a memoir, the book does reads more like an autobiography than the other novels. However, I feel that the style itself captures an essence of Reinaldo Arenas’ personality, since he seemed to be someone who enjoyed going out into the world and experiencing as much as he possibly could. He liked to meet and interact with so many different people and get involved politically in such a direct way. In comparison, Edwidge Danticat in Breath, Eyes, Memory seemed to filter life experiences more through her memories and metaphors. I think they were both very politically and socially observant in their relative contexts, but in very different ways of perceiving the world, which is manifest through writing style and voice.
Sexuality was definitely emphasized in all four novels and was a major theme that drove the narratives. Personally, it enriched my conceptualization of sexuality and intimacy considering the multiplicity of ways one can view and experience them. For each of the main characters in the book, sexuality meant way more than a mere physical pleasure. Each of them pointed to a notion of sexuality more concerned with the intimacy that is inevitably attached to sex. They write regarding sexual experiences to dive deeper into how being a sexual being in the world influences their relationship to specific individuals and the larger world around them. I think this is an effective way to get a more nuanced and phenomenological understanding of human sexuality and intimacy, which undeniably are a major part of the human condition. I wonder how my absorption of such various ways of interpreting sexuality and intimacy will subtly affect the ways in which I experience them in the future.
The performance art pieces we saw and discussed were quite bold and made me think about the subject matter they represented more deeply. It really was rather jarring to view the caged couple in the context of a museum setting. I wonder myself how I would have reacted to the performance if I didn’t already know it was an act put on by the artists as satire. I personally think that this kind of performance piece better captures what art is about compared to the way museums display and exhibit art in a more traditional sense. With the history of the institution of art, it makes sense to me how performance art would emerge as a kind of critique of that history and institutionalization. I think the cage performance being placed in somewhere like the American Museum of Natural History conveys a much stronger political and social message than on the street. The artists attempted to critique colonialism in a much more affected way, considering the direct implication of the audience in real time, compared to addressing the subject matter through writing or painting. I am interested in learning more about performance art and hope to see more performance pieces in the future as an audience-participant.

Samantha Jacques (Blog 2)

“I do understand. You are usually reluctant to start, but after a while you give in. You seem to enjoy it” (196)

In Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory the sexual desires of the Caco women, Martine, Tante Atie, and Sophie, are haunted by testing for purity and rape. Sophie and her mother specifically mirror each other, or are Marassa, in their inability to have sex comfortably. Sophie and Martine’s sexual history are similar in the sense that they have both been sexually violated and feel pressure to sexually satisfy the men in their life to keep their companionship.

Martine and Sophie’s lack of desire comes from the same place of having their sexual experience tainted. Martine’s sexual experience is tainted by a rape that she has relived every night due to continuous nightmares. Sophie’s sexual experience is tainted by the testing she had to go through at her mother’s hand. Sex is not enjoyable for them because it is linked to an emotionally damaging event. Even though the women do not desire sex, they desire companionship. Cultural pressures have led them to the belief that to maintain the companionship of the men in their lives they must provide them with sex. They feel so obligated to provide sex to their male companions and are so desperate to keep them in their lives they suffer through sex. In the midst of their pretending the men in their lives are blindly naïve and hopeful that the sex is actually enjoyable.

When Sophie returns from Haiti and is questioned by her husband, Joseph, why she left she is blunt about the fact that they were not “connecting physically”. Joseph does not realize that he is not understanding Sophie’s inhibitions towards sex at all when he counters that she seems to “enjoy it”. Moreover, rather than being sympathetic, through his eyes the situation is overdramatic and comical. He wears a thick robe to bed rather than regular pajamas. For Joseph, this is a grand gesture, this is his way of exemplifying that he is understanding. If they were to touch Joseph claims that he would not be able to resist Sophie and this is the best way to police his behavior. However, were Joseph were truly able to understand Sophie’s feelings he would understand them not having sex is bigger than the issue of desire. It is an issue of psychological damage and sexual exploitation. Joseph not only lacks an understanding of the mental duress that Sophie is under but, also the larger implications of what sex is. For Joseph, sex is only an expression of desire and skin contact. For Sophie, sex is attached to guilt, shame, and humiliation.

Martine’s lover Marc is similar to Joseph in his lack of true understanding. Marc is aware of the nightmares that Martine faces yet engages in sex with her anyway. Moreover, he wants for Martine to have the child that she is carrying. Martine’s pregnancy for Marc seems to be about his desires for a child rather being able to comprehend the implications it will have on her health, and ultimately her life. Similar to the story that Grandma Ifé told about the man wanting a virgin bride so badly he mistakenly kills her, Marc desperately wanted a child and in the end also lost his lover.

Danticat expresses the cultural expectations of men and women in the relations between Sophie and Joseph as well as Martine and Marc. Their relationships both include women who are willing to suffer in silence for the sake of keeping a man who is clueless to their own needs. Additionally, she highlights different types of desire. Desire is not only an expression of sexuality. It is about companionship and intimacy beyond just the act of sex.