A few propositions: Creative writing can collectively stream our consciousnesses, can offer us streams to drink, can help us explore our landscape of encounter. Writing, for college students, can be the most tightly surveilled, controlled, and pre-structured of spaces, and it can simultaneously become a free space of encounter: ideas, cultures, self-constructions, knowledge-constructions and deconstructions. Lastly, authors author selves as well as works, worlds, and cultures.
BClines: a new web space, contributes to freedom of expression in the age of internet democracy: In 2012, student Nicole Eitzen Delgado proposed and developed the web site that is now our online creative journal, BClines. The web site has come to function as a student-directed space publishing diverse written, visual, and mixed media expression. Works include the traditional creative writing genres of poetry, fiction, and drama, but also include photography and visual essays, films, and music videos. Eitzen Delgado earned internship credit for developing and editing the publication space. She successfully negotiated linking the publication to the institutional list of publications. (To find BClines, go to www.bethelks.edu, then click on “news & events” and then “publications.”) She then negotiated a disclaimer distinguishing the expressions of creative works from institutional standpoints; while the difference may function as a form of tension rather than create a free space, a wider range of works can therefore be included.
In its first year (2012), the online journal received 6, 257 views in 16 different countries. In the second year (2013, with Anthony Gonzalez co-editing), BClines received 3500 views (2900 views were from the United States and the other views were from 35 different countries). By mid-2014, the all-time total of views has reached 20,593 (from a total of 85 countries). The majority of views come from somewhere in the U.S. Fifty-five contributors so far have published 126 total works. Contributors include students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Bethel.
The BClines archive is an open body of literature available for all to read, and the numbers above suggest they are widely read (although I suspect I am not gauging numbers well in the global context). I like to think of the online journal as an expression of a campus community largely experiencing encounter: it is a palimpsest, an artifact upon which a small liberal-arts college with a diverse body of learners inscribes its many identities, or at least leaves layers of traces. I suppose a palimpsest implies a greater number of years of traces, so I shall hope that the online journal persists into a long future. The majority of students on campus are non-Mennonite, with a dramatic range of diverse origins. I find myself reading the archive of published works to inquire into how cultural identities are constructed or destabilized in some productive sense, as college writers shape and reshape identities, and are shaped by a community context. How many works might offer or resist a conscious construction of or resistance to an identity of origin, such as a Latino or a Mennonite identity? How many reconstruct gender or class roles? How many might offer an expression of Mennonite ideas in confluence with other cultural ideas, in change, under pressure, or with links to traditional concepts? How many works might be responding to contemporary experiences of a Mennonite dominant culture on a campus with a strong twenty-nine percent presence of self-identifying minorities? Could the interaction across culture groups and even frictions among them be generative of creative expression? I think of the ways faculty and students and staff challenge each other to revise our views of gender, race, and class, causing what I hope are productive tensions and ways of questioning. I think of national and state communal contexts influencing our environment. I notice in the press increasing references to Ku Klux Klan activity in Wichita, for example, and I wonder how our Kansas communities view whiteness in relation to an increasingly diverse multicultural population in the national landscape.
When I looked at BClines today, the first image I saw was “Cynda,” a painting by Samuel Agoitia. I decided to try to read the image as an expression of a campus undergoing encounter: the composition offers a foreshortened arm with tree branches and roots as veins, and the veins then perhaps bloom into organic flower imagery. However, what could signify blooms also appear to morph into a sculptural image evocative of Inca or South American architectural imagery as the inner-armature of the arm. I see a cross-fertilization, a cross-cultural cross-pollinating civilizational encounter with roots and growth in the representation of human anatomy.
There is much stimulating creative work archived in BClines that I feel drawn to interpret, but I shall stop here and encourage all to read around on BClines. Check out “Painted Faces,” a visual essay by Elizabeth Akins, for a Dia de los Muertos-inspired look at portraiture that evokes transformation, cross-cultural connection, and the kind of close-up focus on makeup that has the power to remind us of our own costuming and transformation of self in our daily habits. Check out all the works with “Thresher” in their titles, for a rich imagistic mix of cultural encounter signified in a campus identity.
Another kind of space for creative expression: Senior thesis projects (now archived in the Mennonite Library and Archives)
I have been surprised this year by the number of senior thesis projects in which Literary Studies majors setting out on critical journeys of analysis then end up writing creative subsections that become, in effect, contributions to the body of literature they are studying.
Seriously and wondrously, indeed, Martin Olson heroically read Homer and latter-day, intertextual literatures involving ongoing epic encounters (that’s right, the Odyssey actually has never ended: the wanderer is still wandering). Then a new chapter started, from the point of view of Cassandra, and her stream of consciousness, her epic Greek mythological mind, started interrupting and shaping encounters on an American highway roadtrip. I perceive Olson’s channeling and streaming of Cassandra to be his construction of a self with a classical humanist consciousness, constructing a self with language shaped by early humanist writings. I notice that I perceive this writing as contributing to the body of intertextual Homeric literatures, and perhaps even one-upping James Joyce’s Ulysses, in which the stream of consciousness streams the fluid cognitive perception of the moment. Read “Tearing Out the Pages of Homer,” now available via the database of the Mennonite Library and Archives.
Seriously and wondrously, Nicole Eitzen Delgado delved into literatures that have not been studied or interpreted enough, the hippie-era literatures of the youth movement of Mexico in “Multilingualism, Intertextuality, and ‘Otherness’: A Study of Mexico’s 1960’s Literatura de la Onda.” After tracing a literary heritage and set of formal characteristics of the literature, she explored the multicultural constructs of identity in the literature. She dug into a theorist of borderland literatures and identities, and followed Gloria Anzaldúa’s mention of the divine within, a supernatural presence correlated with indigenous religious elements. The larger context was the influential construct of identity that Anzaldúa has made available as a positive idea of multiracial being: “mestizaje – meaning the `confluence of two or more genetic streams with chromosomes constantly crossing over’ − as their primary form of identification” (47 citing Anzaldúa, Borderlands 77). Wondrously, a sustained prose poem emerged from the senior thesis, with a bicultural German-American-Mennonite-Mexican narrator directly addressing her divine consciousness within, her Divina Mestiza. The creative power of coming to terms with one’s own mestizaje and Mennoniteness, and choosing to define that as an internal plural pattern rather than a schism, feels truly awesome.
Seriously and wondrously, Rebecca Epp carried out an oral history project with a grandparent who had emigrated to Canada from a region in the Ukraine experiencing, variously, anarchist bandits, and dispossession of Mennonite villages by Russian and German armies, with many national boundary shifts. As Epp followed up on the oral material, and wrote and researched the following year, the thesis turned from a personal excavation of her family’s involvement in major world historical events, and became a sustained meditation on the fluidity of the boundaries of the real and imagined in a historical context (closely paraphrasing her comments in her thesis on p.5.). “`That was the Time of Terror with no end in sight’: Reimagining History and Memory through Fiction” interweaves a historical essay with a cycle of short stories from the points of view of marginalized voices (refugees, women, children). The total cycle of short stories is laid out in relation to changing borders and multiple voices, with major themes of destabilized identities and of women needing to carry out many acts of translation: languages, identities, and gender roles (after men disappeared in the historical events).
Current creative expression reviewed here leads me to meditate on the diasporic character of Mennonite history and of cultural encounter in the landscape of a college campus. I tend to see our campus creative expressions as inviting us to re-author selves and groups, reimagine gender roles, and re-imagine culture not as narrowly genealogical, but translated and written.