Weekly Review 12: Apr 5, 7 (by Ford and Patrick)
We began class on Tuesday by discussing the upcoming sample body paragraphs that would be due next week. We began by discussing the importance of what our sentences actually do, or what their purpose is. We talked about how it is going to be challenging to write a sample body paragraph without writing the rest of the essay first.
This brought up some discussion about how we’ve been taught to approach the thesis paper in the past by essentially coming up with a thesis and then writing an essay and coming up with ideas to support our original claim. William referred to this as “The Six Paragraph Essay”. In response, we discussed how this is a problematic way of approaching an essay because you are coming up with a claim before you give your evidence. In contrast, Professor Seaman mentioned that the paragraph should be coming together as we understood the issues presented in our research. We should be looking for a smaller point that could reside in a larger argument, and focusing our sample body paragraph on that.
We looked into these issues through two in-class examples. In the Frankenstein example we saw that the text had a lot of evidence quoted from sources but it didn’t organize them in any cohesive way. We found that the author was barely doing more than taking evidence from sample annotations and working them into an essay. Instead, the author should be more focused on making the paragraph into a personal understanding of the subject. Instead of just planting information on the page, we should be discussing the arguments in a way that we understand them. The author of the Frankenstein essay had put some information together, but he/she had not synthesized them so that a claim could be made about their understanding of the subject.
In the second example we looked at how the author had more efficiently written a paragraph that could be contained within a larger essay, and we could predict what point they were going to make next. The transitions worked very well in the early part of the paragraph. However, we had a hard time deciphering later what the author was actually trying to say. We noticed that this was the result of some poor transitions between sentences, and Professor Seaman noticed that just one “But” could have really made the argument come out of the page. Many students talked about their negative preconceptions of conjunctions such as “But” and “So,” especially when using them at the beginning of a sentence. Professor Seaman argued that many of these preconceptions are also problematic; the goal of our sentences should be to express our ideas as clearly as possible even if that means using sentence fragments, or beginning a sentence with words like “But”. Of course, we need to be demonstrating our skill with grammatical conventions before we break them, or our reader won’t know how to interpret fragments, etc. Overall, we need to be making sure that the relationships between our ideas are as clear as possible.
At the end of class, we began briefly describing the differences between postmodernism and poststructuralism. Professor Seaman began by claiming that when we talk about postmodernism specifically, we are talking about cultural products. Things like TV shows, movies, and visual art can all be products postmodernism. Post structuralism is more about the theory behind these types of cultural products. We discussed how post modernism works in the sense of its meta-awareness. Meta-awareness is basically the text’s awareness of itself. We talked about how this works in almost a comedic fashion in Seinfeld, where the show is basically aware that it’s a sitcom and takes humor in many of the genres clichés. Professor Seaman also brought up the old Sprite commercials, where the commercial took no effort to hide the fact that it was an advertisement trying to sell Sprite, and how it became humorous and appealing through its outright self-awareness.
On Thursday’s class,we opened with the unresolved discussion from Tuesday’s class about poststructuralism. To start, we attempted to recount what our definition of each was and what the difference was between them. We came to the consensus that the difference between them is that postmodernism, versus modernism, is the process rather than product. This was what we gathered from the Theory Toolbox, page 127. Following this defining process, we recalled our examples that we used to describe this idea. Seinfeld and Exit through the Gift Shop were among these.
But then the conversation shifted with a question from Prof. Seaman with a question on style. We were struggling with the concept of irony in association with many of the postmodernist works and the word “disjunctive” arose. We were pointed to the middle of page 126 of the Theory Toolbox where it says that there “seems to be a certain sense of style shared by many of the things labeled ‘postmodern,’ a sense of disjunction.” This conversation led into one about the unsettling quality about postmodern works in how it deliberately does this. To relate this idea of postmodernism back to the topic of the class, which was post modernism compared to post structuralism, we attempted to define poststructuralism. After much conversation, we came to the conclusion that poststructuralism assumes that there is a structure which people recognize that then fails, while postmodernism only deliberately confuses and unsettles the reader. We then looked at a couple of examples with an Andy Warhol picture, showing class and other constructions.
After this conversation concluded, we moved to the topic of postcolonialism. We began with the question of “what is postcolonialism,” to which we answered that it is “the critique of our colonial past.” Prof. Seaman pointed out that this phenomenon didn’t come around until the last 30 years, which was encouraged with the realization of the products of colonialism. While postcolonialism believes that colonialism is extinct, neocolonialism believes that it actually never ended, that it is a process still going on. Places like Iraq and Afghanistan were examples brought up but never expanded upon; however, they are good examples of topics of concern for neo-colonialists. In further explanations of postcolonialism, we were pointed to a quote at the bottom of page 144 of the Theory Toolbox about the British official who said that because he was more educated, he was “more humane, more just” than the natives who must willingly submit to them because of this acknowledgement.
The end of class was mostly a conversation on a liberal arts education and how we, as students, felt about the direction of the humanities. The traditional conception of liberal arts and/or the humanities is that it empowers the mind by the theories and concepts that it has acquired over time. It believes that the humanities improves the human condition by building moral and philosophic knowledge, thus empowering one to go and improve the condition of mankind. Mainly, the question was focused on CofC and how we felt about our education.
Then the conversation turned to differences. In this conversation we determined that all differences are based on context, and that all contexts are vital to interpretation. We were then pointed to page 160, where it says, “differences are no more essential than the meaning that is produced in contextual interactions between readers and the cultural texts and practices they read.” With this in mind, Prof. Seaman went on to say, from Theory Toolbox, that there is no authentic self because these differences are made from our culture, and are therefore not inherently meaningful, and asked us to consider the implications of that poststructuralist view. This was the final point of the class before Prof. Seaman dismissed us for the weekend.
“Broadly speaking, constructionists believe that gender and/or sexuality—particularly the dichotomies masculine/feminine and homosexual/heterosexual—are social artifacts learned behaviors, products of language and culture, whereas essentialists believe that they are natural or innate.” Bedford Glossary (79)
“Poststructuralism: The general attempts to contest and subvert structuralism.” Bedford Glossary (399)
“Structuralism, briefly defined, is a theory of humankind that… attempted to show systematically, even scientifically, that all elements of human culture, including literature, may be understood as part of a system of signs.” Bedford Glossary (399)
Preview of Week 13:
Before class Tuesday you will submit your Sample Body Paragraphs. In the background this week you will continue working on your Annotated Bibliography, which is due Friday night in OAKS.
Tuesday we will begin class with a workshop on abstracts, which will center on the expectations of the proposal that you will be writing for your Big Project. I will bring some examples that we will analyze and discuss.
We will then move on to our final critical reading from Beidler’s collection on The Wife of Bath’s Tale. We’ve taken New Historicist (Patterson) and Marxist (Finke) approaches, and now we will see what a Psychoanalytical approach “does” to and with the text. As before, you should be prepared to discuss Ross Murfin’s introductory material on Psychoanalytical Criticism and then Fradenburg’s essay on the Wife.
Thursday we will finish up our reading and discussing of Theory Toolbox with its chapter on Agency. As you read this, return to the chapter on Subjectivity early in the book and think about how these two concepts seem to be related by the authors, and how they may serve as bookends to the other chapters in the book.
Friday you will submit your Annotated Bibliography in OAKS by 8pm.