September 2010

The first piece I read was on conferences by John Belk, which I think does a good job of pointing out some obvious things to keep in mind. Most importantly, that every conference is going to be different depending on the student. How is this not just plain common sense? Every student is going to be different, and some students are going to be shy and quiet and un-engaged because that student is going to want to be explicitly guided by his/her instructor.

Other students are going to have strong opinions and ideas, in which case, I believe, the better approach is to be passive and to use a socratic method of asking questions and playing devil’s advocate to get the student thinking about the project at hand. And of course, some students are going to benefit from a mix of these methods.

I also like the idea of conferencing 6 students at a time. I co- taught a hybrid class once of 40 students, and this is how the professor (my mentor) and I would handle conference. We ran the groups like peer reviews (where we sat in as a peer). Everyone passed his/her papers to the left and read the essay for about 10 minutes, and then everyone would take a turn discussing something about the essay (thesis, organization, etc). It was run more like a workshop, and I think this helps students for all the reasons Belk pointed out.

I enjoyed Dr. Moxely’s article on “datagogical” writing spaces (pedagogical space). I believe our writing space here has helped in my pedagogy as I have had the opportunity to read what some of my colleagues are doing, and in a lot of cases tweak (or in some cases completely change) my plan for a class.

I believe that language for students at this point is only the words they speak (and I think this goes back to the article we read discussing how students try to imitate a discourse community they are not a part of). Students, I think, only understand their world in this language, so when Sommers says, “the predominant concern in these definition is vocabulary. The student understands the revision process as a rewording activity” (198), it is because this is the way the students knows the world; this is why students, when they “revise,” only change certain words.

This is what Sommers points out, and now I realize why my students, all these years, only change the obvious mistakes I point out on their papers, and then change a couple of words, and rarely do they ever make any real global changes.

To counter this problem, I now ask students to highlight the changes they make and then to write a reflective essay on why they made the changes. In this way I hope to get students to think about the choices they are making about their writing, and to hopefully see revision is a “holistic” process, and I, hopefully, get the students to ask those question on page 204 that I am too tired to write out here. I feel giving the students guidelines will help them realize that revision is not only fixing a comma mistake or some other small problem.


Today’s class — well, I don’t know how it went.

I started class off talking about the importance of punctuation and proper formatting. I told my students that these are places where they can earn easy points, and then I showed them the importance of punctuation with asking them to punctuate:

Woman without man is nothing.

Put a colon and a comma, and man is nothing without woman, or use two commas and woman is nothing without man… I am too tired to write it out here.

I was hoping that this would loosen the class up. I even had students grab the marker and get up and do it themselves.

After this, I discussed the importance of the ad analysis project having a thesis, and that the thesis would be informed by the “lens” the student choses to use to interpret the ads. I asked the students for ads, picking one, I showed the class the ad then I asked them what they saw in the ad. As students began to raise their hands and state what they saw– I would throw the marker at them and tell them to write it on the board. After the ads were described, I then asked them to think about what kind of thesis statement they could come up with for the ad. Of course, everyone is reluctant to talk, so I reminded them that we had just studied the male gaze and woman in advertising and then proceeded to hint at them several ways of looking at gender and sex in the ads. Once some working thesis were discussed, I then tried to get the class to think of how they would develop the thesis through research.

Then I asked the class to look at the ad in a different light. We looked at the ad by seeing how class (socio-economics) were portrayed in the ads; we looked at how the ads portrayed health, etc…

With the remaining class time, we read a sample from the book, and I stopped at the end of each paragraph and asked the students to peer review the sample. They did a good job of discussing some lacks in logic in the article and identifying weak thesises. The classes (both of them) seemed a little bored, so I stopped a number of time and told that class that I was there to help them become better writers, and that if they felt that reading this as a class wasn’t working, that we could try doing some other things.

I just feel lately that I am not reaching the class. I need to start coming up with more more more activities. I need to start getting them free writing more, and I need to start thinking of class times broken down into 15 minutes spurts, and teaching the class the same thing every 15 minutes in different ways.

But I don’t have the energy half the time to do so…

It seems that Woolf is concerned with the perceptions of things, and not so much the things in themselves. Her views seem to coincide with phenomenological views, starting with Husserl, who attacks a popular psychologism of his time. Husserl does not think that logic can be reduced to mere psychology (which seems to be the attack that Woolf makes on Freud at the beginning of the novel); rather, the novel seems to be a phenomenological account meditating on experience and “meaning.”

Woolf seems to be concerned more with the way things appear and not in what things really are. This is seen throughout the novel as different characters contemplate “meaning”- especially the meaning of words, some examples are:
“Mrs. Ramsay did not quite catch the meaning, only the words” (12); “And to those words, what meaning attached” (24), and also pages 30, 38, 54,55, and about 11 other times (I didn’t keep a consistent count); Furthermore, this is seen in contemplating the table when no one is there to contemplate the table, and also in the way that Mrs. Ramsay’s art, as Lily realizes in the “Lighthouse” section of the book, is the ability to see the “…little daily miracles” (161) in everyday life.

It is this ability (as well as many others, such as Mrs. Ramsay’s contemplation on life and love, Lily’s reduction of Mrs. Ramsay to just that triangle, etc) that is the concern of Husserlian phenomenology. As we go along our everyday lives, we take for granted ‘the little miracles’ all around us. Husserl gives his method to seeing the world as it is given us, stating that all consciousness is consciousness of an object, and in order to see the object phenomenologically, “We put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude; we parenthesize everything which that positing encompasses with respect to being” (Husserl 1982, sec. 32). This bracketing is literally seen in the accounts of the Ramsay deaths. The idea, I believe, is to look at death phenomenologically. We are to bracket out any of our preconceived sentimental notions of death and contemplate them in and of themselves, alone.

This is the novel’s underlying concern– a bracketing away of preconceived notion in order to get to the object itself without any preconceived notions. The characters bracket out all of there thoughts on an object or experience of an emotions until it is left without meaning, which is why there are so many references in the novel to “what does it mean?” Mr. Ramsay in his work is concerned with this idea of subject and object, and for Husserl, there is always a perceiving subject. The novel itself is set up in a dialectic where the reader sees the subjective thoughts of the characters in part one, and then see the objective passing of time in part two, and then we get the synthesis of subject and object in part three.

Lily is seen struggling with these ideas as she is finishing her painting: “One wanted, she thought, dipping her brush deliberately, to be on the level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that’s a chair, that’s a table, and yet at the same time, It’s a miracle, it’s an ecstasy” (202). And, through phenomenology, the chair, simply, can be both, just a chair and a miracle.

No clever title here. This weekend if going to be (HAS to be big) on the work front. I want to get a bibliography going for my Literature of Childhood class.

I am thinking of look at The Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow, and I think what I want to do is a postcolonial reading of the text but also mix in an Althusserian reading. This poem was immensely popular, and I think that popularity came from the text being used as an indoctrinating tool by the Ideological State Apparatus.

There are two interesting currents here. On the one hand, the book taught millions of children to read, thus forming a community with a shared language (the text of Hiawatha), but the text is also a brutal pillaging of Indian tradition at a time when Indians weren’t really a “problem” for the U.S. anymore. This is all still muddled in my head, which is why I am trying to form some coherent idea about it here.

WA THINOG’O (or is it Cesiare?) talks about the “Cultural Bomb” which is when a colonial state comes in and takes over the natives language. The imperial power also forces its culture on to the natives and tells the natives that all of those native beliefs are “savage” and bad; therefore, the natives end up wanting to adapt to the imperial power and begin to think that maybe the imperial power is right– that maybe the culture the native is following is savage and bad, thus leaving natives to “freely” adopt the colonial culture. But what happens when the colonial power is using this Cultural Bomb on its own people? This is where the Althusser comes in. The poem becomes an ISA used to colonize its own people…

Well, see how it goes– today is a day of reading and summarizing.

I read about the seven principles to follow as a good teacher (you can look them up here), which are all great principles, but with one problem that one of my classmates brought up a couple of weeks ago, which is that as a graduate student taking three classes and tyring to find call for papers and write for those cfp, sometimes it is very difficult to have that (1st principle) face time with students, and it is sometimes hard to give feedback in a “timely” manner. Also, getting paid what I get paid to do what I do– well, it is hard to fulfill all of those principles all of the time. Of course, I try, but it seem overwhelming to teach the way I would like to teach and still keep up with all my grad classes and responsibilities.

Also, I’m all for learning as a team effort (it is in a community, discussing ideas with friends and professors that I was able to write my thesis), but at the undergraduate level, at times, one person is doing all the work and the rest of the group just sits back.

This folds into the quiet students question, I believe, along with issues I am working on as a fairly new instructor. I am trying to find the time to truly engage students and to have students engage with each other. Sometimes, I find this hard when students don’t talk in the classroom (which, thanks to the article, now I see isn’t as bad a situation as I thought it was), but still makes me wonder sometimes if students aren’t talking because I am a bad teacher. I did find this, and I hope to use some if it when I can.

The last piece (​Teaching Composition: Elbow, Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment pg. 387-406) was my favorite, and I really like the way one of my classmates explains it: “One interesting idea I gained from Berthoff is the uselesslness of asking students “What does this mean?” Instead of asking questions that merely ask what something is, we should be asking them to think about the forms a certain writer uses and how he or she achieves meaning through his or her use of language​”

I told my students the first day that I was going to make them all little philosophers in the true sense of the word: lovers of wisdom. Now as I start the ad analysis essay, this is perfectly stated. The question is not what does something mean, but how does it mean. To illustrate how composition and philosophy and their own majors intertwine, I plan on maybe showing them this:

I hope this will get them thinking of “how” something means, not what it means. And after the readings for the bibliography, hopefully they are already thinking about how “facts” change.

This is the second time I read To the Lighthouse, and this time I am noticing the humor more. Woolf does an excellent job of subtly making fun of her characters’ pretensions while still writing a moving and dramatic novel.

I, personally, especially like the way she pokes fun of psychoanalysis, but I believe that this would be a fruitful way to read the novel. There is plenty of sea imagery in the novel for there to be a Jungian reading of the unconscious, and Freud is sprinkled throughout the text, but I would like to look at how Woolf (symbolically) castrates, in a Lacanian sense, all the males in the novel, especially Mr. Ramsay:

Standing between her knees, very stiff, James felt all her strength flaring up to be drunk and quenched by the beak of brass, the arid scimitar of the male, which smote mercilessly, again and again, demanding sympathy.
He was a failure (38)

This is juxtaposed with the Fisherman’s Wife story, which is another man who has been symbolically castrated. The phallic object is in this case symbolically signifying power. Joel Doer says two important thing about the phallic object that apply here:

“The subject never stops trying to justify his possession of the [phallic object]; at the same time, he assiduously claims he does not have it– when, in the end, no one has it”
Doer goes on to explain why ‘no one has it’
“The phallic object is above all an object whose nature it is to be a signifying element” (Doer 85-87).

Mr. Ramsay, in his insecurity, is left castrated, and he worries out loud to his wife that he has lost his phallus, “He was a failure, he said” (Woolf 37). If the phallus is a symbol of power, then it is seen here how Mr. Ramsay, the arid scimitar, looses that power in his insecurity, but then Mrs. Ramsay takes over the phallus and wields it more effectively, putting order to her world, “And then she said to herself, brandishing her sword at life, Nonsense. They will be perfectly happy” (Woolf 60).

Zizek explains symbolic castration by saying, “This gap between my direct psychological identity and my symbolic identity (the symbolic mask or title I wear, defining what I am for and in the Big Other) is what Lacan […] calls ‘symbolic castration’, with the phallus as its signifier” (34).

This is precisely what occurs over and over again. Mr. Ramsay, who wears the mask of the great intellect, master philosopher, is caught in the gap between this image of himself and his almost crippling insecurity and vanity. Tansley has only his dissertation, and when he can no longer speak about it (as is seen when he goes into town with Mrs. Ramsay), he become “impotent” in a sense. This is why the children and Lily see him as rude.

At the dinner party, Mrs. Ramsay, as the symbolic holder of the phallus, gets to impose order (and in a sense meaning) on the party. After a rough start, after the men have been castrated (Tansely is forced to, finally, not talk about his dissertation; Mr. Ramsay, once again, fails to exert his power, and doesn’t speak up when the other men are talking about politics), there is a subtle sense of hope in the passage.

This is followed by the scene in which Mr. Ramsay wants Mrs Ramsay to tell him that she loves him, which shows Lacan’s idea of the subject as always lacking. As one who contemplates the metaphysics of subject-object, Mr. Ramsay seems to need the objects outside of himself in order to create his own sense of self, which is always lacking and always never sure of that sense of self. For Mr. Ramsay, the table in the room when no one is there to see it is still there if the subject is thinking of it, I would guess.

If I had more time to think and words to write here I am sure that the Lighthouse can fit easily into this symbolic order.

…I have none.

I have never identified with anything too closely for too long. It seems that I have always felt the outsider, even among friends and even with family. I don’t know if it was (is) just some romantic notion on my part, or if there is more there. I have always felt adrift in life.

— on a side note, I believe this to be one of my failures in relationships with women. I, now, understand Woody Allen’s use of the Marx joke that he would never join a club that would have him as a member, but I also think that this has to do with desire and how desire works. We always want what we can’t have; anyway, this is a huge digression and fodder for another post later–

Now, though, as I am older, and now as I find myself in the midst of so many people so different from me, I find myself latching on to “identity.” This is the first time since my early teens that I find myself among people with completely different background; the first time I find myself the minority in a really really long time. And now, maybe because of this, maybe because of nostalgia, maybe because I hate when people “outside” try to speak to something you know so intimately, I find myself “identifying” with my old “home.”

I suddenly feel myself more Cuban and from Miami than ever. Although in the past, it didn’t really matter to me. I spent a lot of my early twenties trying to “find myself”- trying to reach some kind of at-one-ment, whole(ness), but then I found Eastern thought, which began to put cracks in that idea. Why was it I wanted to identify so much with something? What kind of completeness could I find or even fulfill? I began to realize that the idea was to realize that there is no wholeness or completeness; I realized that that idea was a delusion, it was an attachment I had to this life, it was a delusion that leads to material pain, and that I had to get it out of my head.

Once in grad school, I began to read more philosophy concerning this aspect of identity. If words were never fully present, and words were the only way to know anything, then how could I ever be present to myself, much less to an other? Once again, I began to shake off ideas of identity and embrace a Albert Camusian idea of the absurdity of life (and even with a God, I still couldn’t see knowing what the “meaning” was, so I was still left in a meaningless world) and I embraced at least knowing that the world is absurd, that I have no identity, and that I could still be freely happy.

And yet, I just responded to someone who posted an article from a socialist magazine praising and defending the Cuban government. My response was then responded to by someone telling me that “I didn’t know shit about Cuba”- which, I think, is kind of funny. Because in a sense, I don’t know shit about Cuba, but then again, do I know more about Cuban living in a Cuban culture, having Cuban parents and family, hearing stories from people who have been in Cuba, than some white kid from Tennessee? But why do I care? That is the real question…

I am never going to convince this gringo that what Castro and the Cuban government has done to its people is a crime against humanity, and he certainly will never convince me that the Cuban government is in any way, shape, or form good or right. Additionally, I don’t even identify with being Cuban because all I know of Cuban is the second hand stories I get from family that lived there years and years ago.

Yet again, though, it made me angry. It really got under my skin that some dude, out there, so rudely attacked my beliefs, which is why I never get involved in these conversations about politics or religion because they usually end badly.

The other thing that happened though is that while I never though of myself in any political terms/identity, I find myself more and more drawn to ethics specifically, and more generally politics. A part of me feels that if I am going to be in school for these many years learning stuff that some of the stuff I learn should be an ethics and a politic.

I browsed my modest library of books and am drawn to wanting to read Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls; I also want to read Jose Marti poetry, and I want to become better educated about the past and what happened in Cuba… I feel a pull towards these things that “should” define me. Now that I am away from it, I feel more Cuban than ever. It would surprise me if there is a single Cuban (and maybe 2 Spanish speakers in total) in all of the English graduate program here…

So fine, maybe I don’t know a heck of a whole lot about Cuba (because I was born in California and went to high school in Miami), but, I think i know a little more than “shit” about it…

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