Review of Week 9 (Oct 19) and Preview of Week 10
2:00 class (by Nikki Palazzo)
After dragging ourselves mournfully out of bed, our class resumed session post-fall break. Or, taking into consideration conversation from last week, fall “break.” We perked up during announcements and got back into the Intro to English Studies zone. Professor Seaman pointed us towards an additional reading posted on the blog for Monday, a “Media” section that was omitted from the older Theory Toolbox edition’s Culture chapter. She also brought Thursday evening’s event to our attention, a discussion of thing theory and stones by Jeffrey Cohen. We took a brief detour to indulge in an anti-Internet Explorer rant that may or may not have been a metaphor for life, after which Chrome froze. Woops! We went on to remind ourselves of some upcoming deadlines.
In this week’s Theory Toolbox reading on Culture, Professor Seaman pointed us towards the format of the chapter— culture as a whole way of life, and culture as a high versus low dichotomy. Culture is worth looking at because our previous conclusion necessitated a deep consideration of the culture prevalent to the time of a work’s publication. We expanded our understanding of culture as an anthropological holistic entity including the food we eat, even how it is eaten and when and with whom, our taboos, our marriage practices, our trading systems, our understand of art, our use of language, our personal identifiers, and the list goes on. This causes things like race and ethnicity—things we see as having strict and steadfast meanings—to be relative (or, dare I say, subjective) to the time and place. Brandon pointed out the vast differences of life for Italian and Irish immigrants a century ago versus today. Race and ethnicity point to our seemingly contrasting desires to have a shared culture and to have separate, smaller identities.
We began to delve into what American culture truly is. Blake pointed out the difference between that which is historically distinctly American versus what is culturally distinctly American. Focusing on the later, Erin argued that shared visions like the American Dream are cultural identities, which Brandon questioned on the grounds of a dream versus a reality. This brought us to the key notion the authors of TT seem to be pointing us towards, that it is difficult to put a finger on a national American truth though it might be simpler to pin down a national concept.
The latter section of this week’s reading lead us to a discussion of the hierarchal binaries of high and low culture. TT pointed out to us that the popular culture is not always the best culture. We read together Allan Bloom’s extreme division of high culture as worthy and low culture as frivolous. Bloom saw pop culture as the result of the work of good military, political, and educational people, all thrown away by a kid who takes it in mindlessly unaware of what made it possible. TT encourages us instead to balance out this total dichotomy to avoid what we referred to as an American societal destruction. We then read aloud Jeffrey Hart’s view of what is important in a college education. We agreed his view seemed to be centered on understanding America deeply before even glancing outside to ponder other countries.
“I know why it feels like four people are missing, Blake’s not here!” –Professor Seaman
“Where’d your hair go?!” Shaina
“It seems unlikely, in other words, that race and ethnicity found a cultural context, insofar as figuring out what “race” or “ethnicity” maens already presupposes a context; the very notions of race and ethnicity are already cultural constructs, understood differently at different places or sites.” TT 52
(In reference to befriending the English Department on facebook) “Only 63 likes! Please?” Professor Seaman
Excerpt of Allan Bloom’s essay The Closing of the American Mind on page 64 of the Theory Toolbox
“What we mean is dependent on our present.” Professor Seaman
Excerpt of Jeffrey Hart’s “How to Get a College Education” on pages 68-69 of the Theory Toolbox.
“Who doesn’t like Beevus and Butthead? What’s wrong with them?” Zach
Exclusion (in terms of cultural indetifiers)
Transcendental v. contextual
3:20 Class (by Austin Heustess)
In this Fall Break shortened week of class, we began by talking about the pending talk by visiting Medievalist scholar Jeffery Cohen. Prof. Seaman talked about the various areas of study that he does including: post colonial studies, queer theory, post modernism, and eco-theory. We were offered extra credit if we went to see his talk “Feeling Stone” at Arnold Hall on 10/20/11 at 7:00pm. In addition Professor Seaman extended the normal blog post deadline to Friday 10/21/11 in order to let students blog about his talk in addition to the readings and discussion we had for the class this week.
Next we were reminded that the revision of the response paper we turned in for class would be due on Halloween and that if at all possible we should do work on it before the Halloween party weekend so as to make sure we have time to do everything we need to do on in and not be saddled with it at the last minute. Also Professor Seaman gave us an overview of the next few weeks’ assignments after the revision is due: November 7 we have the preliminary bibliography of 15 sources due as part of our semester project and that the amount of work put into finding these sources will help tremendously later in the semester with the Annotated bibliography.
After we went through these housekeeping and announcements we got into the meat of the our discussion on the Culture chapter in the Theory Toolbox. This chapter and our studying it seems to be based on the idea that we need to have an understanding of the cultural influences, biases, and traditions that shape both the reader of the text and the writer who produced the text. The nationality, type of food that you eat, the entertainment you watch, and a hundred other factor go into the shaping of cultural identity and the Theory Toolbox is stressing the importance of being aware of the sorts of expectations that are violated or satisfied within a text based on the cultural traditions that are brought to bear while reading the text.
In our discussion we focused on the split in the American identity that has started to emerge between the melting pot homogenization of the different subgroups within the country and the quintessential American rugged individualism that is so often associated with the personality of our nation. The twin controlling metaphors for much of this discussion were the melting pot (or stew) and the salad bowl. There was a lot of pushing at the traditional view of a homogenized, shared culture. We looked at a passage in the book about the 1960’s perspective on shared culture through the limited number of television channels that everyone watched and were about to talk about the next day around the water cooler. Now, these shared cultural touchstones are less common. Cable television, internet sites like Hulu and Netflix, and a thousand other way to receive culture dilute the idea of a shared culture and seem to favor a more open-ended and individualist kind of culture. We asserted that there were many different cultures now and that we-that is college age students- favor this diversity and the many different ideas that come from them, whereas in the past a more melting pot mentality would have been dominate. Melting pot 0/Salad Bowl-1.
We then moved on briefly to the high and low culture section of the chapter, though we spent much less time on this (much to the pleasant surprise of Professor Seaman). In this section we talked about two quotes, one on page 64/65 and the other on 66/67 that really codified the feelings of some people about the difference between high (canonical) culture and low (popular) culture. The class almost universally disagreed that the devaluing of popular culture was not productive and that while the more canonical text should be preserved, it shouldn’t be at the cost of disregarding the more mainstream.
Theory Toolbox Page 55: The dream of articulating a common cultural identity remains strong nonetheless-for example, the dream on writing the great American (or Mexican or Scot or…) novel remains a powerful pull. But we might wonder, what would such a book look like? Who could be a “representative” American within the vast array of cultural subjects who fit that description? Who would or could be the protagonist of the great American novel? It seems an impossible question to answer, insofar as American “culture” is already a “multicultural,” a “whole” made up of a lot of people who would otherwise have little or nothing in common.
TT page 64 (from The Closing of the American Mind): Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of the philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of the martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secretes of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying; And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs wit orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music; In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.
TT page 66 (from “How to Get a College Education” in a September 1996 issue of The National Review): Select ordinary courses. I use ordinary here in a paradoxical and challenging way. An ordinary course is one that has always been taken and obviously should be taken…The student should be discouraged from putting his money on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary cross-textuality.
Thus, do take American and European history, an introduction to philosophy, American and European literature, the Old and New Testaments, and at least one modern language. It would be absurd not to take a course in Shakespeare, the best poet in our language…
I hasten to add that I applaud the student who devotes his life to the history of China or Islam, but that…should come later. America is part of the narrative of European history.
If the student should seek out those “ordinary” courses, then it follows that he should avoid the flashy come-ons. Avoid things like Nicaraguan Lesbian Poets. Yes, and anything listed under “Studies,” any course whose description use the words “interdisciplinary,” “hegemonic,” “phallocratic,” or “empowerment,” anything that mentions “keeping a diary,” any course with a title like “Adventures in Film.”
Also, any male professor who comes to class without a jacket and tie should be regarded with extreme prejudice unless he has won a Nobel Prize
Melting Pot-A homogenized view of American Culture
Salad bowl- A multicultural view of American Culture
High Culture- Culture that is considered the ‘best’ would include canonized works or works that are well regarded by an intellectuals.
Low Culture- Popular culture that is usually considered to be less important or interesting than the high culture favored by intellectuals. In recent years this bias against more pop oriented works has begun to dissolve.
Preview of Week 10 (by Dr. Seaman)
This week, you have no formal writing (Essay 1, Essay 2, or a revision of either) due. So take the time to do some research toward your preliminary bibliography due on Nov. 7. You’ll receive your graded Essay 2 on Tuesday, to get to work on your revision due Monday, Oct. 31.
Monday, we’ll discuss the Ideology chapter from Theory Toolbox, which should tie in quite easily with some of our discussions from Wednesday on Culture. As in that chapter, the authors present two possible ways of investigating Ideology and choose one to pursue in the chapter. Why do they choose this particular conceptualization of Ideology as their focus here? Consider, along the way, why it might be useful for our purposes in English Studies to consider ideology. We’ll also discuss the section of TT on Media that I posted in PDF form on the blog site.
Wednesday, we’ll have a workshop day. Part of it will be spent workshopping your second essay, the Response to Tompkins’ argument. You will need to bring two hard copies of your essay to class. Bring the most current version, not the original one, if you’ve done some revision to it (which I hope you have). Please don’t print up a copy with my comments in the margins; that doesn’t help your reader focus on your writing.
The other part of the workshop will focus on producing an annotation for an annotated bibliography, including generating correctly formatted works cited entries for a range of types of sources. You will read, before class, a section of the MLA Handbook to help with this.