Literary Kinds 2012
Welcome to Literary Kinds, an English course offered in Spring 2012 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.
Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.
In Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, a gutter appears in the form of the novel. Breaks between thoughts and ideas, rewinding time, switching settings are clearly shown by a "..." in between short stories. I'm not sure if the "..." break was used for formatting reasons, one of many possible icons of a break, or if it was intentionally chosen as an ellipsis to point at the untold information. Either way, it breaks the train of thought, filling up the missing storylines with blank space and a "..." for one to ponder. Sometimes, the breaks are used to fill in with an extra piece information, breaking from the flow of the story to note on a detail. It is also used to point at a switch in setting. It makes the reading very conversational, as if Vonnegut is just filling in on the story in conversation with random, not necessarily in chronological order, events. According to Vonnegut himself, the book is "jumbled and jangled...because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre" (pg.24). His intentions in the breaks therefore emphasize the inevitable lack of structure in a novel about a war, against war. The text break emphasize the blanked memories of Vonnegut and the other Dresden bombing survivor O'Hare as they try to reconstruct what happened and the information on the war that probably should not be shared.
(Digital Humanist, Katherine D. Harris tweeting on Hema's and my citation method)
Since my collaborator, Hema Surendrenathan and I have already presented this (at Re:Humanities), I'm posting this up on Serendip with hopes that it helps solve some of the questions surrounding digital citation and citation of discourse. We have produced the barebones of a citation that allows for more freedom with citation yet still gives credit to an individual scholar. As we have discussed the problems with citation in class, I wanted to put this up as a solution to perhaps, some of our problems.
Okay, my title doesn't necessarily match the post that I'm about to write BUT it cracked me up at the Re:Humanities conference on Friday. But I disgress. This weekend, I attended and presented at two conferences: Re:Humanities at Swarthmore and the Mid Atlantic Writing Center Association (MAWCA) Conference at Shippensburg University. I got a glimpse of the digital tools that are being implemented at various institutions in terms of student projects and at writing centers across the country and this experience has really made me consider the questions that you should ask yourself when planning on using digital technology. In this post, I want to really gear these questions towards using digital tools in academic writing which this class really allows freedom for.
"With freedom comes great responsibility"
I hate to be really cliche but this is starting to crop up as a theme in terms of writing a digital "webevent" (To borrow Anne's language). I've questioned my postition as someone who is media literate and I've started to realize that to become media literate, you need to start asking the right questions otherwise you will end up with some not-so-great papers. (Check out the link and find some of my experiments gone wrong) So here are some of the things that I will be thinking about in terms of writing digital papers:
So, I was sitting in my English class at Haverford, Topics in 18th Century Literature, and my professor shows us a website, The Brown University Women Writers Project. It's "a long-term research project devoted to early modern women's writing and electronic text encoding." One of the tabs on the site caught my eye- WWO Labs.
My initial reaction was, Oh Sh*t! My English Lab idea isn't as original as I'd hoped! I'm doomed! Then, after I recovered from my melodramatic thought-explosion, we explored the labs I found the Women Writers Projects Labs to be fascinating, fun, educational, and luckily, nothing like the labs I had imagined in my head- hallelujah.
Nevertheless, these WWO labs truly speak to just how broad the definition of "lab" really is. I implore you all to play and learn. You couldn't ask for a more direct link of science to literature!
Are quotes necessarily facts? For the most part I think they are. I have seen quotes as truths we can transfer into our writing in order to solidify our arguments (mostly in academic writing). However, this seems tricky because sometimes the context in which we use the quote(s) can alter such truths. Sometimes our statements (in writing) cause the misinterpretation of a quote(s) or of our paper as a whole. It is the writer’s fault the veracity of quotes is altered and therefore questioned.
These thoughts are willing to be challenged and polished in the near future.
I really liked Aliza's juxtaposition of Plagiarism to Tissue Sampling. Like I mentioned in class on Thursday, I think they're very much same processes. With that claim, I'm also claiming that our physical self doesn't belong to us.
Yes, it's a scary thought. But I really don't believe that we own ourselves. At a molecular level, what makes you, you, is your DNA. Even if you have different mutations that are unique to only you—or your family—the fact remains that 99% of your DNA is similar to every other human being's DNA (Stix). Only 1% of your DNA is different from your next door neighbor, your professor, or even Obama. Thus, our DNA, the building block of the self, is collective property. If we all have similar DNA and it’s the same for everyone, it’s not really yours. It’s shared, collective property that you really don’t have any rights to; if scientists want to take your DNA, your consent is not needed.
Wil Franklin just shared with me a rather remarkable New Yorker piece by Jonah Lehrer, The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? (December 13, 2010). I urge you all to read it, and bring your reflections to class, or post them in this space...
Today’s discussion on Skloot’s intentions behind sharing a “melodramatic story” inspired me to continue the discussion. Since “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is mainly composed of Skloot’s findings about HL's cells and family and the process of obtaining them, she might have wanted to appear more relatable. The details she provided may have made some readers transport themselves to that moment in her life. Emphasizing certain things made her story more truthful for her but not necessarily all readers. I wonder if her desire to tell the readers about her investigation was genuine of was it heightened by a marketing scheme…
So all week I've been trying to piece the last few classes together and I think I've gotten somewhere...let's see what I have.
My focus has been on Game of You. I've been captivated by the idea of the locks and what the key could be. The first key hole we see is followed by the title page. The word "you" appears on the page outside of the title which is something I found really weird. Then I wondered, could the key be "you." We were struggling to find a point of the book. I mean, Barbie has this fantasic adventure and yet she wakes up and doesn't remember anything in it. The readers are left looking for some change in her, and yet does she really have one? A key hole appears at the end of the graphic novel as well. So Barbie hasn't yet learned to unlock whatever it is that lies behind that locked page. Neither have we. Perhaps the artist/writer is trying to remind us of that.
The idea that Barbie had not remembered anything when she woke up reminded me of the radio lab on memory. Barbie does not remember anything so did it really happen at all? The book makes the readers think that it did because Barbie mentions how her friends are not talking to her as much anymore but regardless, we do not know how Hazel and Foxglove are recalling the events, we don't even know if they remember everything.
The radio recording "Listening Beyond Life and Choice: The Civil Conversations Project" reminded me that I have to speak up in class even when I do face the faintest disagreement. Frances Kissling, a dedicated activist on ProChoice abortion, refrained from speaking about women's rights to an abortion and focused on the underlying problems of discourse between two entities with different ideologies. In her years of activism, she was faced with the lack of constructive dialogue between her ProChoice side and the ProLife activists and described how there may not be a possible common ground when there are deep differences between two groups. One has to acknowledge their position in a debate and have the "courage to be vulnerable with person who you disagree with".
Although I was not in complete disagreement with the "dreams as a reality" discussion in class on Tuesday, I did however was very questioning (in mind) about the topic. I sat back and listened, trying to understand how one classmate may think of dreams as a reality (of multi-realities?). In reference to Kissling's radio discussion, there was no way for me to set a common ground for understanding when I did not share my (slight even if not deep) differences and idea on the topic.
Once again this week, I find myself inspired by Kobieta. (I hope you don’t think I’m picking on you since I often comment on your thoughts, I just find that you inspire me to think further about the questions that you raise.)
In class, Kobieta asked why is the truth important? I think many of us can look at the issue of truth and find that there are many truths, not one, and that they are dependent on how we interpret a situation. Certainly our memories seem true, but after listening to the radio lab, we learned that we reinvent our memories each time they are recalled, so maybe they are not true. And since we all have different perspectives, we see different truths in the same experience (i.e. we all hear the same words in class but may not agree on how to interpret them, what they mean or what the implication is.) So if 100% truth doesn’t exist, then how could it be important?
I think what’s important about the truth is its potential. The truth allows us to make predictions and provides us with certain expectations about outcomes. The truth is defined as something that has a basis as a fact or belief that is commonly accepted, so if everyone is on the same page (i.e. we have common agreement on the truth) then we can make decisions based on predictable facts. Even if we can’t agree on the truth either within ourselves or with others, I think it’s important to strive for it in order to make better sense of our world and how we choose to interact with it.
After skimming through “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, a group of glossy picture pages assembled at the middle of the book caught my eye. These are pictures of HL’s family and where she was raised etc. arranged in a chronological order. I asked myself why all these images had to be in the middle of the book and not in different sections(for the sake of the chronology established by the author). I believe this assortment of pictures in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” could’ve been better organized so that it could be a more efficient “break(s)” in the reading. As a reader I would’ve preferred to know a little bit about the life of Henrietta the woman during her lifetime before reading about Henrietta's cells. (Glossy pages 1-3) and implement the remaining glossy pages at the end of the section the author makes reference to that particular event (s) instead of putting them all in an additional “Where are they now?” section (about her family) which would only apply to glossy pages 7-8.
I must admit that I enjoy having pictures interrupt my reading for the purpose of enriching my experience.
It was reallly cool for me to learn about the science of memory and forgetting this week from the Radio Lab that froggies so kindly suggested for us. But, I think I focused more on the memory part rather than the forgetting part. I've always had this idea that in our brains, we hold some type of ruler, or at least linear object that contains the fourth dimension of time. In this ruler, the things we've done, the things we are doing, and the things that we have been predetermined to do (I guess this bit was heavily influenced by my faith) are already set, and it's just a matter of where the pointer (also part of the ruler) is at that determines what we experience. When we are recalling a memory, the pointer just sort of goes back in time through that ruler to "play out" our memories. The pointer has one flaw though, it can never move past where you are now; can't play the future.
I'm just going to post this before I lose this train of thought. I'm really interested in what we talked about in class today about the construction of all of our memories. This made me think of how we constantly mediate everything that surrounds us. I'm going to ground my thoughts in examples and what I'm looking at are class notes:
This is an image of my class notes from today. (Admittedly, they are not as comprehensive as my notes usually because I'm running on four hours of sleep.) If I wanted to tell someone what happened today in class, I could look at these class notes to prompt me. However, reconstructing from this data would be different from the "actual" discussion that we had today because I mediated the points that intrigued me personally. I also included other things that helped me understand the discussion. For example, I have references to other theorists that helped me think through the thoughts in my head. Therefore, if I were to reconstruct the "reality" that happened today, it would be near impossible to "tell the full story".
At the end of class today, Anne asked us whether or not Barbie should be held accountable for the the terrible things that happened in the physical world as a result of her dream world...after all, Barbie, like all little girls, was just fulfilling her dream of becoming a princess, and that dream was the product of a collective society. I struggle to accept this line of thinking because it makes me feel powerless.
"The brain does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life"
A better title for this would be: "Your Brain on Stories," but still cool, I think.
I was having a conversation with a friend about "A Game of You" by Neil Gaiman and found myself having difficulty explaining the plot. Not because I hadn't read the text but rather, because it was just to bizzare. I had to preface everything with "oh God, okay, this is weird but....". (Especially when I had to talk about Thessaly cutting George's face off and nailing it to the wall.)
Although I didn't particularly find myself drawn right into Gaiman's world unlike others in the class, I do wonder how it is that Gaiman, among many other authors, construct this world that (some) readers can get fully engrossed in. Reason and logic are suspended as a reader encounters this fantasy world. While this is the nature of fiction, I can't help but wonder what the boundaries of fantasy are.
This made me think about the genres of "fiction" and "non-fiction". I looked up a definition that young children are taught which is akin to the definition that was laid out for me when I first started to read:
Fiction - The books that are made up by the author, or are not true, are fiction.
Non-Fiction - Books that are non-fiction, or true, are about real things, people, places, events.