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Notes Towards Day 17 (Tues, Nov. 5): Experimenting with Point of View

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gather in separate classrooms; A&M to bring 1/2 sheets of paper and tape

I. seking's medical leave...

II. The 12th Annual First Person Arts Festival

November 6-16, 2013

Christ Church Neighborhood House and other venues in Philadelphia, PA

For a complete listing of all events, go to

Use code “BMC” for 20% off your ticket purchase.

Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 267-402-2055.

III. despite promises, we've had our last conversation about NW....
Yancy should consult nightowl about "37,"
Everglade should read Tessa's paper about why people don't change,
Kate should look @ Ava's about agency, etc. etc.

IV. "close reading" our experiences @ Eastern State Penitentiary,
beginning w/ some p.o.v's other than our own....
taking 5 separate (1/2) pieces of paper apiece, use each one to
describe Eastern State, in the best/fullest/most insightful
sentence you can manage, beginning each page with "from the point of view of..."

1) one of the Quaker reformers who envisioned Eastern State,
in 1829, as an environment for isolation, contemplation and reform
2) Samuel Brewster, an uncooperative prisoner who was sentenced,
in 1835, to five years in Eastern State
3) Thomas Roe, a Philadelphia journalist who visited the prison in 1856
4) a contemporary American citizen with an interest
in America's identity as an "incarceration nation"
5) you in the cell this weekend.

Get up and tape our accounts on the board. 

Roam around and read them silently.
Return to your seats, asking one student to read each of these "collective first drafts."

Have a conversation about what this exercise revealed/what we notice:
What difference does point of view make?
Do different p.o.v's = different lenses?
Does each p.o.v represent a single lens or multiple ones?
This is what a first draft should "shoot for": spilling over, getting it all out there...

There are of course multiple other p.o.v.s available to us, many of them in the public record. In 1842, for instance, the famous English author Charles Dickens visited Eastern State and wrote a damning review of the experiment: "I am well convinced that [the Pennsylvania system] is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who devised this system of prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentlemen who carry it into execution, do not know what they are doing....I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body....In every little chamber that I entered, I seemed to see the same appalling countenance...[one convict looked] as wan and unearthly as if he had been summoned from the grave....[another] dejected, heart-broken, wretched creature [represented] the picture of forlorn affliction and distress of mind."

In rebuttal to "Mr. Dickens' sentimental tirade against eremitic imprisonment," the Pennsylvania Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy published a confession by one of the female inmates Dickens had described: "I feel very well here. They treat me with much kindness. I have learned here to read and write, and pray. It is sometimes lonely here, but now I am accustomed to it. I have been very bad: I wil surely try to live like a good girl, if they will give me a chance" [from Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, pp. 239-241].

From Eudora Welty, On Writing (via Brain Pickings): Point of view is ... a product of personal experience and time; it is burnished with feelings and sensibilities, charged from moment to moment with the sun-points of imagination. It is an instrument – one of intensification ... it is temperamental.… The writer always seeing double, two pictures at once in his frame, his and the world’s... and he works best in a state of constant and subtle and unfooled reference between the two....One of the most important things the young writer comes to see for himself is that point of view is an instrument, not an end in itself, that is useful as a glass, and not as a mirror to reflect a dear and pensive face. Conscientiously used, point of view will discover, explore, see through – it may sometimes divine and prophesy. Misused, it turns opaque almost at once and gets in the way of the [writing].... It is a practical assignment, then, a self-assignment: to achieve, by a cultivated sensitivity for observing life, a capacity for receiving its impressions, a lonely, unremitting, unaided, unaidable vision, and transferring this vision without distortion to it onto the pages ... For the [writer] to be unwilling to move, mentally or spiritually or physically, out of the familiar is a sign that spiritual timidity or poverty or decay has come upon him; for what is familiar will then have turned into all that is tyrannical.

What more might you say about your own p.o.v./experience there?
[How is this useful, as an instrument? Where might it turn opaque?]
How might it contrast/enter into some of the others we have named?
What others haven't we even begun to explore? (an economist, an architect, a neighbor, a family member...?)

Ask five students to each collect all 13 sentences from one "p.o.v,"
to type them up and post them on Serendip by midnight tonight.

By 10 p.m. on Wednesday, each of you should
* review all of the sentences from each of the 5 p.o.v.'s supplied by our section
(you may enjoy those created by the other section, but you are not allowed to work with them)
* make a collage/mosaic/essay out of a selection of these,
* using ONLY the sentences your classmates have provided, in the form they have written them;
* you may use none of your own (we are hereby forcing you to experiment with using other p.o.v.s).
Cut and paste this material into a short (several-paragraph) essay
about "reading Eastern State," and post this by 10pm [note earlier time frame;
this is to give your writing group partners time to work w/ what you have done].

This will form your second draft for the next paper assignment, upcoming this weekend.

We have organized you randomly into writing groups:
Anne's class:

Mark's class:

* By classtime, print off the paragraphs written by the other members of your writing group,
 and mark what they have done in this way [another version of the "text-rendering" we did in
the early weeks of class]:
** circle what interests you,
** box what puzzles you/what you are curious about,
** underline the introduction of each new lens, and
** write a word in the margin identifying the p.o.v. it expresses.

We will use these markings as the basis for small writing groups,
in which we will help one another towards the next web event,
due this weekend, on "reading Eastern State."

* Also by classtime, read the chapter, "Urban Friction," from Jonah Lehrer's 2012 book Imagine: How Creativity Works, now available in our password protected file; come ready to  "rub up" what he says, against what we have said about Eastern State.