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Getting Lost in Complete Texts -- A Mid Semester Consideration

AyaSeaver's picture

 It seems obvious to me that we're probably going to end up excerpting works for the next part of the semester. Very few classes could reasonably expect anyone to--for example--read the O.E.D. but multiple groups expressed an interest in reference material. One of interesting issues for the form of reference is that they are not narratives written to be read as whole texts. 

And if we're going to be talking about parts of texts, I think it's important to pause and consider the nature of reading partial non fiction texts. 

When you think about it, most reference material works on a basis of selective information. Things like the index and chapter headings become more and more important. An interesting area of reference that we never quite got to, is textbooks. In an Eastern Humanities Class during High School we once compared history texts on WWII that were published and sold to American schools verses those sold to Japanese schools. Obviously there were some striking differences not only in how things were presented but in what was even mentioned. And Alan Brinkley's somewhat standardized AP US History Textbook also has interesting problems of form and content, he literally marginalize all cultural history and social issues into separate chapters.

I think we should be careful (and must be careful with the reading load we're looking at) to keep in mind issues of form and structure. For example, part of the goal and aim of nonfiction is often to convey and attain information--'fact'--but often times that means the narrative suffers or is even abandoned. 

The plan we are looking for does seem, to me, to lack a sort of over arching direction. We could not seem to agree on a question everyone wanted to ask but I think we should agree on questions that the texts and our conversations should confront. 

If we're tired of reality, what about fact? If fact is too hard to get a hold of, I think the conversation could come more often to the concept that the texts we are reading are or are not non-fiction. As tiresome as it may be, it's an interesting, basic, comparative structure for the discussion.

I do agree that sometimes we move to argument and some of the issues the reading for the rest of the semester address are difficult. Bringing 9/11 into the room is very similar to bringing genocide into the room--how are we going to move the conversation forward beyond our collective experience (if it is a collective experience because I'm not sure it is something we 'all experienced') and I think the way to move the conversation forward is to consider the form first, to try and avoid the sink hole of discussing the american-consciousness. (that at least is *not* what I want to do, and I didn't get a sense that others wanted it either) 

Since we're watching documentaries  think it's also important to note that the news (especially with the civil rights reading we're doing and the 9/11 readings) is also non-fiction and we may want to watch some clips or read some articles. 

Overall, I think we're working quite well. I'm afraid that sometimes the basic uncertainty of the answers we reach for the questions we are asking frighten or frustrate people and I think we need to be better at accepting that our conversation does not have to reach a concrete end. The answer to our questions, what is reality, non fiction, fact? Are probably not, as far as I am concerned, out there. The discussion brings us into a better perspective with our own knowledge and our readings not only for this class but for others. 

& this is the documentary that I have, mostly on DVD if people want to watch some of it in response to or to prepare differently for Malcom X. 



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