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Notes Towards Day 22 (Thurs, Apr. 5): "A Thought Experiment"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
for Tuesday, read as much as possible of
Susan Orlean's 2000 text (what genre?),
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession;
we'll finish our discussion of it on Thursday,
and watch the film based on the book the week after..

come to class on Tuesday, as you did today,
having selected a passage for us to discuss--
(and a  question to prompt that discussion...
what interests/troubles/intriques you here??)

I doubt you'll forget, by Sunday night, to post your
end-of-week reflections on what we have been talking about!

sterrab's posting
of a Nova episode about The Illusion of Time:
"much of what we perceive about the universe is wrong"
(for ex, according to the laws of physics,
things can happen in reverse order)
we all experience the passage of time, but
Einstein realized that time can run @ different rates,
can be experienced individually, and is affected by
motion through space ...

see also Alex Juhasz, Media Praxis:
why I don’t whole-heartedly embrace the digital humanities...
The “field” does the amazing potentially radicalizing work of
asking humanities professors (and students) to take account
for their audiences, commitments, forms, and the uses of their work
... However, this turn is occurring, for the most part, as if plenty of fields,
... hadn’t been already been doing this for years (and therefore without
turning to these necessarily radical traditions of political scholars,
theoretical artists, and humanities activists)....

these added digital technologies have merely exposed that scholars were
always making things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines
and for special(ized) uses (and now actually have to be accountable for this).

II. On Tuesday, we began our discussion of Slaughterhouse Five

I had asked you to cf. it--as a "truth-telling"/non-fictional text--to Henrietta Lacks;

to think about it (alternatively) as an example of the genre of satire
[ridicule, that intends shaming into improvement-->
wit w/ the end of constructive social criticism];

as an anti-war manifesto; but also

to consider it as a genre of popular science writing, translating, in
particular, science's understandings about the block universe into
a form that is accessible to those of us who are not theoretical physicists;

it is also of course, a classic example of science fiction

[from Jessy, Hierarchy Among Genres:
there has been a debate about whether scifi is an autonomous,
independent genre or a derivative subgenre of utopia writing,
with utopia writing as being high literature and scifi being 'just'
popular culture....

I'd like to introduce the term 'speculative fiction', that is, fiction
which asks 'what if' ... more specifically, 'what if there were a
society, perhaps of human beings, perhaps not, which had this
difference - what kind of society would that produce? If society
were like that, what kind of people would it produce?' Science
fiction provides a frame for speculative story-telling...

In her commentary on The Left Hand of Darkness, "Is Gender Necessary?"
Ursula LeGuin talks about science fiction as a heuristic device, a
thought-experiment: "The experiment is performed, the question is
asked, in the mind . . . . [Science fiction is] simply a way of thinking.
One of the essential functions of science fiction is question-asking:
a reversal of habitual ways of thinking, metaphors for what our
language has no words for as yet, experiments in imagination."

When Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater are assigned to beds next
to one another, we learn that "They had both found life meaningless,
partly because of what they had seen in war....So they were trying to
re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help"
(p. 101).

We had also begun to discuss the form of the novel,
what sterrab cited Vonnegut himself describing as
appropriately "jumbled and jangled." I'd like to
talk about that some more (genre as content & form).

III. Let's look for a moment @ the full title:
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death,
by Kurt Vonnegut, a Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in
Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an
American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed
the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long
Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This Is a Novel Somewhat in the
Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore,
Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.

...before turning to the passages you've selected for our shared analysis.