October 2016

It felt so good to read a book like How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move by Tito Mukhopadhyay because of how genuine it felt. I had never read something like this, and it felt so refreshing to read after the previous books we have read dealing with dark subjects and situations that didn’t seem very hopeful. Tito’s voice immediately resonated with me, his innocence and strength were always reflected throughout. You sort of felt like you were watching him grow up as the book progressed (and not only because he actually mentioned he was older in some parts), but because you could feel it through the words in the pages and the emotions they provoked. It was like climbing that staircase he loved so much, each step being a stepping stone in his life.

In last week’s class I mentioned identity and how language can shape the way you perceive the world and how it can also therefore influence the way you live your life. We know that sign language, a mode of communication, was a very prominent and important aspect in understanding the characters in We Love You, Charlie Freeman. The ability to sign allowed them to perceive the world and the events they experienced. I want to argue that the same happened with Tito. Yes, Tito has autism but that doesn’t define who he is. He has created his own identity with the way he communicates and the way he understands and interacts with the world. There was a scene towards the end for example where we learn that Tito has to understand and learn about physical pain and what it means to feel physical pain that really resonated with me. Tito writes, “To learn the sensation of physical pain, I had to mentally experience it. . . I now began to be more conscious of an upset stomach or a pain in my bones ” (I have the Kindle version so I’m not sure what page it’s on exactly, it’s more towards the end under the title Am I in Pain? Sorry!). When I experience pain I automatically know what it is, if I stub my toe I scream because it hurts, I don’t have to think about whether I am in pain or not. I’m conscious of the pain as it happens but Tito is not. He had to experience the pain by using my mind, and it was until he educated himself about what physical pain was that he began to understand it enough to be consciously aware of it at the moment. There is a correlation between his identity and the level of consciousness he experiences when placed in different situations. Meaning, that maybe because he had to learn more about what it means to be in pain his idea of pain is a lot more complex and informed than my way of perceiving and feeling pain because I don’t try to understand it.

I’m not sure if my thoughts made any sense in this blog post or what I want to get through but I decided to venture off from the blog option because I felt very compelled to speak up about Tito and how his story and way of writing, his language and experiences, really resonated with me. Through his words and language (modes of language too because of the poems) I got to see how he viewed the world. A view that isn’t limited by his autism but furthered by his desire to understand and question everything he knows and doesn’t about a world that no one really understands completely, yet he’s accepting of the unknown and he isn’t afraid to challenge it.

In my response  I would like to explore the little excerpt from the back flap of the book (the one where the author’s picture is included) that states this book “becomes a provocative and compelling exploration of America’s failure to find a language to talk about race.” I bring up this passage because this personally helped me understand the presence of the sign language throughout the story. There are numerous languages and modes of communication but for some reason this doesn’t seem to matter because this topic of race can’t be understood in any form of language or communication. It’s a topic that is so universal yet it can’t be contained or explained in a way that is understood, and because it is not understood it can’t be really solved. For some reason this personally reminds me of PTSD where the event the person experiences can’t be understood at the moment it happens or even after the fact. Therefore,  because it can’t be understood the event seems to be unresolved and it repeats and repeats in order to attempt to be understood and resolved. Personally, to me this is what racism is, a vicious cycle of trying to understand and resolve an event that seems to have no clear resolution. The book, I believe, seems to acknowledge this with the time frame from Nymphadora’s story and struggles in 1929 and earlier and the lives/memories of Charlotte and her family members. For example the readers are exposed to the hard life of Laurel whose family was “the only black family in a one-hundred-mile radius” in Maine (Greenidge, 56). We get to hear the stories and struggles caused by racism over a period of time.

I also want to talk about a very important part in the book when Charlotte tells Adia and Marie about the book she has just discovered, Man or Beast? and the response we get from both characters. Marie states, “Nothing about racism makes sense. If it made sense, it would mean it was real, it was the truth. Its ironic” and then further down she says “. . . you’re just as unreal as all of it. That’s why it’s not possible to ‘do anything'” (186). In response to her mother’s claims Adia says “We need marches and signs and we need to write to the outside papers” (186). This furthers my interpretation and connection to racism and PTSD, neither traumas make sense because racism is in fact very traumatic. Adia’s response reminded me a lot of The Invisible Man and the Brotherhood, the group the invisible man joined to fight for the oppressed and the failure it had within the members but also with the community it was supposed to help. Then Marie brings up the last point I want to discuss when she says that exposing the Toneybee “won’t shift anything monumental in our collective consciousness” (186).The phrase “collective consciousness” brings to light a phenomenon that challenges the belief that language and unity will change anything and it’s a really sad thought.  This presents the idea that both Greenidge and Ellison’s books present about a community of oppressed individuals/groups and the how racism is universally known and acknowledged yet it is so hard as a community to change something so unjust and cruel. That’s why I think so many problems are presented in both stories and no clear answers are presented, because it’s a topic that is so real that it wouldn’t be fair to take away from the reality by resolving it in the confinement of a 300 or 500 pages. It makes the readers think and want to act on it to help resolve it.

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