October 2010

Reading Lu this week, I can’t help to wonder how someone writing about style could write in such an annoying style. What is it with all the “quotation marks?” And for a writing instructor, shouldn’t Lu know better than to start sentences with “and”, “so”, and to be specific when referring to the “Chinese” language? It is not that I am so old school that I say you can’t start sentences with “And”, “but”, or “so” (although, I would probably argue against the “so”), the problem comes in starting so many sentences in this way, especially when talking about style– is this Lu’s way of challenging the hegemonic discourse?

The other problem I have in Lu’s “style” is that I find it condescending to tell student’s that their mistakes (and I am sorry, but those are errors (oh no! call the P.C. police) are due to the student’s culture. Lu even points out, “The need to write for professors who grade with red pens circling all “errors” [again with the quotation marks] is also real for a majority of our students…” and later Lu says about her pedagogy, “It acknowledges the writer’s right and ability to experiment with innovative ways of deploying the codes taught in the classroom” (316), but doesn’t the latter sentence contradict the former? Students will not have the ability to experiment in their psychology classes or science classes or history classes– they will need to write coherent, grammatically “correct” sentences. So rather point out a mistake and say it is a multicultural “style” choice that can be improved, why not be honest and just say it is a mistake?

This is the problem with the P.C. postmodern world. Slavoj Zizek points this out with a lucid example that I will personally relate. When I lived in California, I would visit Miami every summer, and every summer, I had to go visit my 90 year old great aunt. This visit was awful. My parents told me, though, that I HAD to go. There was no negotiation about it; my parents told me “I don’t care if you like it or not, you are going to go see Tia Maria.” That was the end of it.

In today’s postmodernism, the progressive parents tell their children: “You know your Tia Maria loves you very much, and she does not get many visitors anymore. You also know that it would mean a lot to her if you went to go see her. It will only take a little piece of your day, and it would mean the world to her, but I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to give her this nice, little satisfaction.” The second choice is dishonest, and it seems to me this is the order that Lu is promoting.

Zizek’s video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjEtmZZvGZA

This takes me back to something else Lu mentions: “Why is it that in spite of our developing ability to acknowledge the political need and right of “real” writers to experiment with “style,” we must continue to cling to the belief that such a need and right does not belong to “student writers”? [First, don’t all the quotation marks undermine Lu’s point? Are we not really talking about real writers but rather “real” writers? Are they not experimenting with “style” or just apparent style? Are we not teaching “student writers” or… I dunno…]. I would answer Lu with what she says next: first the rules must be learned and mastered, and then you are allowed to bend, break, and experiment with them (or for style’s sake, maybe I should just say “experiment”, no?). I say this because when the student goes out to the world, he or she will NOT be allowed to experiment with their writing, and when the student writes a resume, fills out a job application, and writes a cover letter, experimentation will not be appreciated, so they better actually learn all the rules of grammar and academic style, and show me they know these rules, before they start to experiment with them.

In all this writing about writing, why does no one put any emphasis on reading?

I am an ESL student ( or at least I was throughout grammar school), and I learned English through Sesame Street and Curious George and Dr Suess books. I learned English, how to speak it, write it, use it, through reading it. Just like when I was an undergrad, I learned the “academic” discourse when I started reading academic essays and books. Does anyone talk about that in rhetoric and composition?

I am not sure how I feel about Summers-Brenmer’s essay, so I will leave it on the back burner for now.

I do want to look at Hughes’s poetry in light of Henry Louis Gates Jr. essay “Talking Black: Critical Signs of the Time.” At the beginning of that essay, Gates relates an anecdote of Alexander Crummell, where Crummell overheard soon to be vice president John Calhoun say “the the effect–‘that if he could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, he would then believe that the Negro was a human…”(2425)

Gates uses this to show how he would go on to master the master’s language, but that maybe it didn’t matter because “Calhoun, we suspect, was not impressed” (2426), but Gates uses this to argue that African-american intellectuals and readers should not be afraid of theory, stating “We must redefine theory itself from within our own black cultures, refusing to grant the racist premise that theory is something that white people”– and I believe this is also seen in Hughes’s poetry.

And I also believe that rather than (or maybe along with) Brenmer’s contention that Bebop is used as “…poetry specific to a time” that it is also used in this way that Gates wants to use theory: this is Hughes showing the master that he can master poetry and Latin and be just as erudite using Harlem as Eliot is in using England.

As I was surprised when Brenmer makes no connection between Eliot (Dante) and Hughes when she looks at Hughes line:

I never knew/ that many Negros/were on Earth/ did you?/ I never knew

Which seems to echoes Eliot eluding to Dante:

” so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

And it seems to be that Hughes is taking up the charge that Gates argues for. He can be just as clever as the canonical white men with his allusions and erudition. As Gates wants a critical language that is grounded in/ that springs from a Black vernacular, Hughes here is giving a poetry in such a way. Isn’t the first poem voicing this dichotomy? Juxtaposed to the literary African-americans writing about the black experience is the illiterate African-american relating that experience through song.

And this seems to be the center of “Theme for English B” where the language is displayed as a communal property, and not just the white man’s: “so will the page be colored that I write?/ Being me, it will not be white” because the language that the Black student learns in class will always be the hegemonic language of the white man, but if the Black student is mastering the language, then won’t the language be “colored”?

But is this the crux? Eliot is white from Boston living in London, reading Dante, so his language, his poetry, will be “white” and Hughes is in Harlem, living in the city, surrounded by the Blues and Jazz so his language will always be colored by these experiences. Although, maybe it is too simplistic to say that the only real difference here is actual, physical location.

We are ruining children with education:

Class on Tuesday, Oct. 19 (my birthday) went fine. I collected all the rough drafts and then shuffled all the papers and randomly put groups of three together for peer reviews.

I have been sick since I got back from my conference, so I am glad that I didn’t have much actual teaching to do today.

Thursday will be conference day, and I got to come up with what I will be doing for the google generation project. I guess more reading in class and analyzing paragraphs and writing; from the responses I have gotten in the mid-semester survey, this seems to be something the students like. Of course, half of the class really likes something the other class hates. You can’t win.

I am almost done with my bibliographic essay. Last night as I was proofreading, I thought to myself that maybe I should get a source to two more if possible, and just like that, I come across this amazing site that has EVERYTHING I could have used about 6 weeks ago when I stared this project.

Now I am in my office, and I will finish this essay and start on the essay for Hiawatha next class. I just don’t have the energy anymore, so I just want to get done.

The Ninth Elegy
Rainer Maria Rilke

Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? . . .

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too. . . . .

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

And so we keep pressing on, trying to achieve it,
trying to hold it firmly in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded gaze, in our speechless heart.
Trying to become it.–Whom can we give it to? We would
hold on to it all, forever . . . Ah, but what can we take along
into that other realm? Not the art of looking,
which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
The sufferings, then. And above all, the heaviness,
and the long experience of love,– just what is wholly
unsayable. But later, among the stars,
what good is it–they are better as they are: unsayable.
For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he bings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window–
at most: column, tower. . . . But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing. Isn’t the secret intent
of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,
that inside their boundless emotion all things may shudder with joy?
Threshold: what it means for two lovers
to be wearing down, imperceptibly, the ancient threshold of their door–
they too, after the many who came before them
and before those to come. . . . ., lightly.

Here is the time for the sayable, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness. More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.

Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one,
you can’t impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe
where he feels more powerfully, you are a novice. So show him
something simple which, formed over generations,
lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze.
Tell him of Things. He will stand astonished; as you stood
by the ropemaker in Rome or the potter along the Nile.
Show him how happy a Thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even lamenting grief purely decides to take form,
serves as a Thing, or dies into a Thing–, and blissfully
escapes far beyond the violin.–And these Things,
which live by perishing, know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within–oh endlessly–within us! Whoever we may be at last.

Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn’t it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?–O Earth: invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent command?
Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win me over–one of them,
ah, even one, is already too much for my blood.
Unspeakably I have belonged to you, from the first.
You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
is our intimate companion, Death.

Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
grows any smaller . . . . . Superabundant being
wells up in my heart.

translated by Stephen Mitchell

I haven’t posted anything in a while because I have been so busy. It makes me feel bad because my students suffer when I am too busy; although, I got to say, I have been pretty good, I think, about “teaching.” I went over paragraphing with them using a really interesting technique I learned in my practicum class.

I had students come up to the board and list their favorite sandwiches, and then explained to them how they wouldn’t mix ingredients in the sandwich, so they shouldn’t mix their paragraphs. I think the students had a good time, and I think they might have just learned something.

After this, we went over thesis in more details and desperation writing: We looked at a particularly bad piece of writing and mined it for good content; then we went over and compared that good content and discussed some possible thesis that could be written.

This all ended with looking back at the bad piece of writing (and now with a strong thesis), we created a reverse outline and began to re-write the essay with better focus. Tuesday they have their peer reviews, so we’ll see if any of this stuff about writing sunk in or not.

In other news, I went to the RMMLA and presented my paper on “Sonny’s Blues”–I posted a rough draft of this paper here— It went well, and New Mexico seems like a cool town. I did love the food; it had been so long since I got to eat some real, authentic, fresh Mexican food.

Back to reality again, I am broke, and I need to get some stuff done. My teacher cancelled class on Tuesday to let us work on our project, so I hope to be done with this thing by Wednesday morning. This is all I have the energy to share today. With things kicking back up tomorrow, this week should be blog and reflection filled.

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