I’m sitting in British Literature II class ,a few days after the semester starts. It’s a survey course, and we’ve been reading through some dense poetry. CLIP and the summer seem like a distant memory amongst the flurry of lectures, tests, and papers. Suddenly, the professor goes on a detour about how a mentality of “it is what it is” just doesn’t work for poetry. He espoused a sort of poetic thought where metaphor, and the ability to interpret a piece of writing, is part of the revolutionary nature of poems. Obviously, this had me thinking back to CLIP and the idea rooted in the Ted talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, who said that people are multifaceted and can’t be encompassed by a single set of character traits. Adichi called this characterization “single stories.” An interesting phenomenon over the summer occurred while we grappled with unity and diversity. That is, the noun single story, was transformed into a verb. Through the term “single storied” it suddenly became an action. Our study of diversity lead to the realization that issues of inclusion and acceptance are not just “stories” which exist, but are indeed stories which are written and perpetuated by human beings. Even the concept of single stories suddenly became something more than just the original idea of a story. In this sense, our awareness of stereotypes opened us up to new modes of interpretation in regards to the plurality of our religion.
While in CLIP we related these ideas to people or groups of people, back in the classroom, the professor related these ideas to literature. When William Blake in “Mock On, Mock On, Voltaire Rousseau” said, “You throw the sand against the wind, and the wind blows it back again; And every sand becomes a Gem Reflected in the beams divine,” he was emphasizing the transformative nature of poetry as well as human cognition. It emphasizes a world where concepts, words, and images such as sand, can be thrown to the air, and transformed into gems, or reinterpreted, with a new understanding.
Blake however seems to say that with a single story, it is only sand, but when the act of interpretation is taken into account, the sand can be like gems, which in the second stanza Blake says shine in the path of Israel. The image of sand being changed to gems, and then illuminating the path of the Jewish people, is connected to redemption. Towards the end of the poem Blake states that particles of light, or atoms “are sands upon the Red sea shore, where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.” Here he infuses the simple notion of sand, with a sense of light and redemption, by the site of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. Ultimately, in Blake’s poem, there seems to be a strong correlation between redemption and the ability to reinterpret that which is thrown “against the wind.”
In CLIP this was particularly poignant, whether we were discussing the situation in Israel, or diversity within the Jewish community, it was clear that the medley of opinions and people from different campuses and backgrounds, formed a national identity (in the sense of Jewish peoplehood) that encompasses more than, as the popular song by Kansas goes “Dust in the Wind.” I don’t plan to collect dust in jars and expect it to turn into gems, but the poem and the program both strengthen the notion that, as intellects and individuals, we do not need to settle for the stereotypes or stories sometimes propagated by society. We can go from a place where “it is what it is” turns to “what is it?” or even “who is it?” and from there, the real work of fixing the world, and accepting the full plurality of our communities can continue.