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Notes from Class 9/21/10 (or Day Seven)

FatCatRex's picture

We began the class discussion on the topic of our recently submitted web papers. The four page limit felt too short for some, but Anne encouraged us to take the space we needed. Some raised the issue of how a publically posted paper caused them to write differently, as for a different audience. These papers are allowed to have more of our personal touch in them, yet are not just for our classmates but for a larger and unknown audience. Anne encouraged us all to take more advantage of the internet for our papers for both audio and visual stimuli.

Anne then went on to tell us about the faculty seminar in which she is participating on how to redefine higher education. The Friday seminar was led by Ken Bain, who told the assembled faculty that most students only engage in surface learning—doing what they have to in order to get by and ‘learn the game’ of each course. The relatively recent invention of grades was also discussed, and about how these motivate students.

This conversation raised the question of what kind of education is good training for our post-college, “real world,” lives. One student asked, isn’t traditional education good training for life? That is to say, we will not always be able to be in charge of our own academic destinies, as Ken Bain would hope for us. Making independent decisions and taking control is an important skill in any workplace, argued another student. Grades are a relatively recent arbitrary measure of success, which some students were particularly fond of, and others found to be limiting in that they could potentially be both discouraging and keep students from receiving real feedback. The idea of self-directed education is appealing, but the worry expressed by one student is the issue that we would only ask questions to which we already have answers.

From this idea of our own questioning comes the idea of questions for Solnit. How do we characterize the structure employed by Solnit? Did we know what to expect from her going into this book? The language she uses is beautiful, but the issue of its organization raised difficulties for some. Unlike the sporadic facts and quotations of Reality Hunger, Solnit has placed beautifully crafted essays next to each other—so beautiful in fact, some of us reported having a hard time figuring out how we got from one topic to another. Solnit’s writing reads like a conversation or a political statement like Reality Hunger, instead of a narrative. In this way, Solnit makes it possible for us to feel lost inside the text—which in her mind would not at all be a negative, and perhaps it is even on purpose.

Next we discussed the idea of place-based writing, as issue was raised with a California writing style. The example of LA Times versus NY Times was mentioned, and largely agreed with. The issue of place-based writing has to do both with geography and culture, neither is wholly correct.

Solnit also raised the idea of a generation under house arrest, a generation that isn’t allowed or doesn’t want to wander freely in the world. It was decided that Solnit is a bit of a ‘techno-phobe,’ and that she should have addressed the whole in narrative created by the lack of attention paid to technology. Even in our houses, for instance, we are more connected to the world than ever before—be that through World of War Craft or text messages or anything else.

Our final portion of class was spent discussing and creating maps of our lives, as map-making is another form of non-fictional representational form. First we mapped our lives within existing world and US parameters. Then we drew our lives from our own perspective and with our spaces in the world featured. Lastly we drew our terra incognita, or attempted to. Questions after this exercise were about how and if geographical representation feels like where we’ve been, and why perhaps the maps of what we don’t know, end up looking much like what we know (including that which we know is necessary for some as it is our only signpost of information). These exercises revealed our deep selectivity and desire to be and be a part of many places at once (or perhaps that was just me).

Anne pointed our attention to an artist that Solnit loved, who created his own shade of blue with which to drench the globe and thereby eliminate all national boundaries and borders. The name of the piece is ‘International Klein Blue.’

One student told a poignant story of being lost in a grocery store when she was little. To her, she remained obviously present (un-lost, if you will) the whole time as she wandered in the candy aisle. To her mother however, moving at all meant moving, even if it was to find more candy. The point here is that sometimes it is our being lost intellectually and physically, to others that matters, not our own assessment of presence of absence. Lost may not always be in our control or our perception. Perhaps it is merely a state of mind, as opposed to a physical state.

We concluded class with a question about what makes it good to be lost? Solnit certainly does valorize being lost, arguing that we shouldn’t always know where we are. We should be lost sometimes, and when we are, the best way to recover is to locate ourselves on a new, expanded map.  

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