By Lily Davenport
On the afternoon of Friday, September 4, a collection of student poets, storytellers, essayists, and musicians filled the living room of the newly christened Writing House, overflowing from the chairs and sofas to the staircase and floor. Though a heavy concentration of people clustered around the goat cheese, crackers, and grapes spread out on the kitchen counter, most of those in attendance had come for a less corporeal type of nourishment. They had come to hear their fellowwriters read aloud from work published in the 201415 Mountain Goat, Sewanee’s studentrun literary magazine since 1925.After a brief introduction by Sara Kachelman (C’17), the editorinchief, who urged the audience to take extra copies of the Goat and “plant them places,” the reading began in earnest. Catherine Campbell (C’18) opened with a performance of her song, “The Mountain Goat Hymn,” followed by Bea Troxel (C’15)’s “Delta.” (Troxel, who was not present, had asked Campbell beforehand to sing her piece.) Allie Horick (C’15) followed, reading an excerpt from her personal essay, “The Lionfish,” and Nathaniel Nelson (C’17) read one of his two poems in this issue, entitled “Not Even Looking.” Lily Davenport (C’16) read from her nonfiction piece, “Stereoscopy,” and Becca Hannigan (C’16) sung “Why It Has to End” with accompaniment from the same guitar employed at the opening of the reading. Laney Wood (C’18) concluded the session with an excerpt from her story, “Mr. Ross Observes the Cosmos.”
Kevin Wilson, who coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate at Sewanee and (together with Dr. Matthew Irvin, of the English and Medieval Studies Departments) supports the administrative needs of the Goat’s student staff, described the changes that have taken place in the Goat since the mid00’s: “In 2007 or so, the issues were really just flimsily stapled together — there was no art, no songs, and the Goat was really struggling.” Since then, however, “we’ve had a succession of great editors, who have built on one another’s work… The Goat showcases voices that will be a part of literary history one day.” Perhaps the final word on the 201415 issue’s quality came from Brian Reiss (C’17), who remarked that, in addition to the current Goat possessing “a vastly improved style and content” from years previous, “a stack of five makes the perfect bludgeon.” Should the enterprising reader wish to investigate either of Reiss’s claims, a great many copies of the Goat are still available in the Writing House livingroom.
People, languages, and the gown
By Quang Tran
According to the 2010 SGA Constitution, the Order of Gownsmen is charged with the task of “maintaining the spirit, traditions, and ideals of the University of the South.” Why, then, change the name to “the Order of the Gown”? As the August 27 discussion held in Blackman Auditorium, the informal conversations I have had with peers, and the recent failure of the referendum demonstrated, not enough people were convinced by the name change initiative.
Alec Hill (C’16), the current Order of Gownsmen President, pointed out both in his initial email proposing the name change and at the discussion that “the current name [the Order of Gownsmen] is gender exclusive… One of Sewanee’s most special traditions is awkwardly out of step with modern social standards.” Yet this begs the question: how can a name itself be “out of step”? The organization was named “the Order of Gownsmen,” and so doesn’t tradition call for us to leave it be? Moreover, does anyone really intend to exclude women when they refer to “the Order of Gownsmen”?
The key lies in a simple comment offered by Dr. Bill Engel of the English department during the same discussion: “language is never innocent.” When pressed for further clarification, Engel referred to the works of Russian Formalist Mikhail Bakhtin, celebrated Brazilian critical theorist Paulo Freire, and American linguist Edward Sapir, among others, all of whom seemed to be reaching at the same strange insight about people and language: “the way we think and view the world is determined by our language” (the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). In other words, language is the lens through which we view the world. As such, our thoughtless use of certain words can be considered tantamount to our endorsement of particular world views, whether unsavory or not. This is obvious in the case of the use of derogatory terms to refer to minorities, but applies to seemingly innocuous instances such as the attachment of “men” to the end of the name of a organization (for it to apply in any serious regard to the former case, even). One might be tempted to argue at this point that intentionality is what differentiates these two cases, but the simple truth is that words by their very nature can have unintended consequences.
What world view do we want to endorse by the name of our academically elite Order of Gownsmen? The reality as again pointed out by Hill is that “the Order was founded 96 years Photo courtesy of Richard Milby (C’14)before Sewanee went coed.” Just as the university was exclusionary then, the name chosen for this new organization was also purposefully chosen to be exclusionary. Engel points to the following statement by Bakhtin: “[language] is populated overpopulated with the intentions of others” (Bakhtin 1981: 294) [Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays.]. The world and our university have made considerable social progress since those days. Are we, this new generation of Gownspeople, prepared to move on as well? Indeed, we should regard the name change as a moral imperative. Which side of history do you want to be on when your children open the books fifty years from now?
The beautiful thing which I will now reveal to you, is that you’ve advanced my position through the simple reading of this text and its opposing piece, by choosing to engage in this argument and grappling with these difficult issues concerning people, languages, and the Gown. I again point to the invaluable insight of Dr. Engel (strange is it, that we have a thing or two to learn from our professors?): “Critical reflection on the language we use is essential to the health of a vibrant intellectual community, such as Sewanee. That we have discussed this issue critically and with due reflection (whatever the result of the vote) is therefore, in my estimation, a good and ethical thing for us to have done.” Ultimately, we are the people and the community we choose to be. To me, there is no tradition more sacred to our beloved Sewanee.