Responding to Silence Boisterously

One student’s amazing multi-media paintings in response to the myth of Philomela

#metoo The historic loss of Roy Moore in Alabama teaches us about many things, including the importance of listening to women, who are too often silenced. Each time I teach my class called The Sounds of Silence: A Biodiversity of Mute and Quiet Women in a World of Brutal Noise,*  I learn so much from my amazing students.

Some students wrote research papers, while others opted for conceptual art projects, like the one to the right which gives an alternative version of the Philomela myth. Students had us participate in human empowerment exercises, play tarot, and play the silence game. All of them had thought deeply about the amazing lives of women we had encountered.

One student, inspired by ETA Hoffmann’s story, “The Sandman,” brought a doll. We passed it around and wrote comments that women are often told, like, “Ew, you need to shave.”

My favorite!

Yet another student created a secret book with private letters that an anchoress might have sequestered away to have a tiny secret place to call her own.

One student took the tragic slave, Helga, from Grendel’s Mother and told her story in a poem delivered in a transfixing spoken word performance. It also made for a gorgeous artwork.

Spiraling beauty and tragedy

One student made the most amazing Tarot deck, linking the different cards in a brilliant way to the characters in our book.

She had great explanations for the links. Reading about Brimhild in my novel, Grendel’s Mother, got her thinking about magic and then Tarot. I love how she drew the figures taking the art and legends together.

Play them all!

Teresa de Cartagena as Hierophant
Philomela as Justice
Tereus as the Devil
The Hanged Women from Atwood’s Penelopiad
Lavinia as Wheel of Fortune

And to end of a happier note….

The Star, for Brimhild, who “hopes to change her society for the better, and…planted the seed in her adoptive family’s mind.”

Finally, on a fun note, one student also made a snow woman–named Antoinette for the main character in Wide Sargasso Sea. What if we made snow people for all our characters???

Mars Reyna’s “Antoinette” snow person!

* This is the course description:

This course looks at silent women, quiet women, and mute women. Sometimes their hush is self-imposed, other times it is violently forced upon them. Passing, they erase their race and gender orientation. Yet, even with their tongues cut out, women speak. Sexually violated, they insist on their story. Enslaved, they shape their ends. Philomela—raped and mutilated—survives as a mythic emblem of female voicelessness. Some texts we look at are modern novels that tell the stories of women denied their chance at speech—in feminist versions of Homer’s Odyssey, Beowulf, and Jane Eyre. In a variety of texts –from Roman myth, Icelandic saga, and medieval religious sign language texts to a cross-dressed female knight, victimized wife, and deaf nun—we will attempt to hear these quiet voices from the past and rowdily proclaim their vibrancy for their future.


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