The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
Exploring the Significance of Diversity

Forum 8
Literature as Listening To / Telling Stories

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Username:  dscarpa
Date:  2004-03-15 18:57:51
Message Id:  8818
Su-Lyn has made an amazing point, we do seem to romanticize trust. But I am doubly impressed that she points out that it is possible to romanticize discovery as well. Although when I think "romanticize" the word "discovery" doesn't, usually, naturally follow. To romanticize is to generally ruminate over something more tragic, more ephemeral. I would like to toss out the idea that we don't readily romanticize discovery because we have a certain innate predisposition to it--its the Ayn Rand romantic in me, I can't help myself. And since we are predisposed this aspect of ourselves is all too close for us to notice (sort of like searching for your hat when it was on your head the whole time). I would argur that the drive to discover (and, similarly, learn) is so integrated in our makeup that we cannot separate ourselves from it, and, thus, have a great deal of diffitulty rationalizing why we do it, much less why we romanticize it.
Name:  Elizabeth Deacon
Subject:  Trust vs Discovery
Date:  2004-03-16 00:02:54
Message Id:  8826
Trust and discovery have something of a dichotomy going; they are both, I think, innate needs, drives, but they seem to drive in different directions, and we have to balance them out.

We need discovery, as Diane said above, we all feel irrepressable curiosity, and it' s probably killed a lot of people, but it's discovered fire too. On the other side of things is trust. We need trust to have something solid to place our feet on; children need to trust that their parents love them and will care for them, adults need to trust that the world has some echo of that love and care, which they often find in religion. We all need to trust that the chairs we're sitting in will probably continue to support our weight and the Earth is unlikely to be swallowed by fire in our lifetimes.

This, however, is where they meet. Trust and discovery may be facing in different directions, but either they start and the same point or they circle around to hit the same point eventually. They're based on a need for stability, which can come from blind trust that the world will not end and we'll be okay if it does, or can come from understanding how the world works and thus how it will end and when. So these apparently radically opposed thought patterns in the end come from one undeniable drive, and the only further question is which route, or what balance of the two, we will choose.

Name:  Kat
Date:  2004-03-16 00:56:24
Message Id:  8827
to turn away from the trust and discovery discussion for a moment (two words, by the way, that I never thought of as in opposition before), I had a comment, looking back, on the free will discussion.

As my parents always told me and my brothers growing up: "Indecision is a decision".

I think this was very powerful for me because it made everything that I did an act of my own will. This, similarly, applies to the future. I do not just "choose to", I also "choose not to." In lots of the class discussions, people talked of Free will as if it was Infinite will: i.e., the ability to choose to do WHATEVER you want, anything is in the realm of possibility. But I think that I have free will because I have the opportunity to choose between options, however limited they may be.

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Trust and theory
Date:  2004-03-16 12:40:49
Message Id:  8830

Kat, I don't think that either of us believe trust and discovery to be oppositional ideas. As Elizabeth pointed out, though they sometimes inhabit different spheres of experience, they necessarily overlap. Many discoveries are not a matter of serendipity, but the result of an undertaking that began in faith. Of the various appraisals I've heard of science, I think most interesting is the tension between the constant skepticism with which scientists must test established hypotheses against new observations (the practice of science), and the faith that at least some aspects of the world can be described and understood (what legitimates this practice). So even science (which I often catch myself thinking of as wedded to discovery) is not an opposition of the two terms.

But as I noted in my post, I was responding to an unbalanced conversation that strongly favored trust. However, I will admit that I unfairly indulged in polemic when I suggested that Orah was giving up on discovery. Romanticizing trust is one thing, dismissing discovery is not quite the same.

Orah, thanks for the clarification. I'm trying to expand your point about "philosophy" to Culler's "theory", so bear with me: What did you think of Culler's analysis of Foucault's theory of sex? Does that change the way we experience this particular "real thing"? True, not everyone has read Foucault, but we draw our experiences from many sources, including the way in which other people think, act.

Does theory touch our lives?

Name:  becky
Username:  rrich
Date:  2004-03-16 16:39:25
Message Id:  8842
to continue part of what we were talking in about in class today, in response to orah's question "who gets to tell her story?", i think that people can ABSOLUTELY be kept from telling their stories. those with power get their stories heard. those with power to a large extent determine what stories get told and to what ends. (hence prof. dalke's statement that when she was in school she and everyone else read huck fin as boys.) the prevailing stories or genre not only keeps some stories from being told out loud, so to speak, they can also shape or mis-shape people's stories about themselves as they are being made. ("...the conceptual framework in which we are brought to think about the world- exercises great power." Culler, p8, explaining Foucalt)

this was on my mind while i was finnishing up Dennett, reading about what cultural memes need to be destroyed or at least "put in a museum"- and someone else brought this up in class, sorry i don't remember who. but as i understand it, (it's very much a trite live and let live sort of thing) the stories/memes that are immoral are those that would stop other stories from being told, or drown other stories out.

the Word is a tremendous responsibility!!!

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  What are you Thinking about Literary Theory?
Date:  2004-03-16 16:44:40
Message Id:  8843

how nice to welcome ourselves back to Bryn Mawr and wake up from the roadside nap (?) that was spring break, with a story in a snow storm this afternoon. Am of course interested in hearing the rest of those comments which lay behind your raised hands towards the end of today's session--as well as your further thoughts/reactions to Jonathan Culler's Very Short Introduction to Literary Theory. How does literature and literary theory (as he explains it/as you understand it now) "fit" with or diverge from what you know of biological evolution? What role does (can?) it play in in the evolving story of our lives?

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  bible storeies, puns, melville and more
Date:  2004-03-16 16:56:29
Message Id:  8844
there's an old jewish midrash (commentary) that says that the lessons of the torah are learned in the space between the words. there's another that says that when the torah was given to the people at the foot of sinai it was emblazened in the sky with "black fire on white fire;" the signifigance of the white parchment, the white pages, is EQUAL to the inked words.
also, when i read anne's posting about miner and minor, major and major, knot not, hoarse and horse i was surprised at all those connections though english was my first language and i've been saying those words my whole life. but off the top of my head i could think of many connections like that in languages that i am learning. interesting example: in hebrew the root of the words KISS and WEAPON are the same. also, the words for TRADITION and WALK or GO are the same. interesting stuff. i'm usually thankful that english was my first language because (if i'm not mistaken) it has the largest vocabulary; i have much for choice as a writer: the ability to get close to essence/identity of the sensation/object that i am trying to describe. BUT i wonder if the more words (the less overlap of roots) makes there be less white space, less pun, less theory. english gives the writer more power, but limits the ability of the conjured images to expand in the reader's mind.
...stuff to think about...
ALSO, i will quote my religion prof again: "at the heart of all existence is an impenetrable absence." is he saying that there is a 'right' answer in literature, or is he saying that there is an abscence of 'rightness?' and FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY i can start quoting Melville: "It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all." (md p.20 norton's edition) damn straight it is, melville!
and some more oh so relevant melville: "Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore? But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God - so, better is it to perish in the howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!" (md 97 norton's edition)
oh man. talk about taking the words (i wish i had) right out of my mouth.
and i guess you would argue that Melville doesn't have absolutes, no ground on which to stand, nothing steady on which to cling. But, i think, rather, Melville clings to the impenetrable: that is his absolute. Ahab clings to that which he cannot penetrate: moby dick. and though he is thrashed to bits by the damn whale he hangs on because that's why he lives. and i think that is what we are all doing: we're not standing on firm ground, we can't stand on absolutes because we don't know what they are, and so the only thing we can do is TRY to get at them. or i guess eliot poises an alternative, " these are only hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses; and the rest / Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action, / The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation." ((i realize that he is also saying that the life, the movement, the breath, the incarnation is in the unknown, the second half of 'the gift half understood.')) maybe that's not an alternative, but an agreement that sprouts two different styles of life (writer vs. religious).
but i have no more time to think, gtg. i'm really psyched about talking about md with ya'all.

ps some jots of not so relevant melville, just hope for some company in appreciating this greatness; melville: "yes, there is death in the business of whaling - a speechless quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance." ahhhh.....

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  freedom and shuffling
Date:  2004-03-16 18:27:08
Message Id:  8845
and i agree with susan about the author not having authority over the meanings derived from her work. as a writing student i like the freedom that this gives me. i feel detached from what i write. can take on a different persona when i write: a kind of role playing. i am attached to the spoken word: your SEEING me say something ties my words to my Identity in your mind. but, in the secret space, alone in my room, i can pour words out that will not weigh down my self. i can be seperate from my words. when we speak words in affect they pin US, though we may be using them in an attempt to free ourselves. but when we write words other things are limited and NOT ourselves. but, i remember, words always fail ... so, maybe we trade in success for freedom. we chose to fail in life rather than be captured by the spoken word. interesting! (i think). I would rather be a failure than give up my freedom.

also, thought today about how we question whether anything is NEW or if everything is JUST a reshuffling of already present objects. and i'd argue that CREATION is not sublime, rather the beauty lies in the REORGANIZATION, the constant shuffle of our lives.
so writers cannot CREATE anything new, the dictionary is bound and sent to press, but the genious of the writer lies in her ability to reshuffle words.

((obviously i am making up for the posting deprevation over break. it was a nice rest stop, but now that we're rested the only way to make up for lost time is to speed ahead ... going 90mph.))

Name:  roz
Subject:  Meaning is What we Make It
Date:  2004-03-17 10:31:40
Message Id:  8849
While reading Culler I was absolutely thrilled of the theme: things mean what we make them to mean. I told Anne that the only reason I like math is because there is one set answer, even if there is more than one way of reaching it. When it comes to literature, there is never a set answer. More questions arise from answers, and it fractals out like the picture of the tree we saw in class yesterday. Meaning is what we make it to be. That makes me so happy, because a person can never be wrong if they are able to defend their own meaning. Coincidentally, this reminded me of AP lit exams. Remember having to analyze poems and prose? Finding the meaning in them was so difficult because what if it was wrong? I just wonder how it can be wrong, because Culler (whom I adore), says often that meaning in what the interpreter makes it to be.
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  tomorrow's class assignment
Date:  2004-03-17 15:10:35
Message Id:  8858

At Mary's suggestion, here's everyone's assignment for tomorrow's class: Come prepared to speak (briefly) about your encounter w/ Culler's text. What was added to you by reading it? What was taken away? What puzzles you? What do you find yourself pushing against? What do you know, now, having read his book, and what would you like to understand better?

What do you doubt? What do you believe?

Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Subject:  Dr. Seuss
Date:  2004-03-17 18:30:56
Message Id:  8861
I have some ideas/questions about Culler which I've written down but I will save for tomorrow in class-- Mary's questions are good ones and ones that have helped me realize that I really do have strong and unresolved feelings about literary theory- But I do think, to certain extent, Culler's book opened me up to accepting a deep or different understanding. I'm very much looking forward to class tomorrow.

What I really wanted to post was just how much I enjoyed listening to Anne's reading of Dr. Seuss-- I want to be read to again and am feeling very nostalgic although I don't remember Dr. Seuss being a part of what was read to me... or at least not the Cat and The Hat... or The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Perhaps Green Eggs and Ham. It was just so lovely to listen to this type of story. What I would have liked though was if the pinkness on the snow could have remained... But that would go against a cultural view... Cleaning up mess is good... one must clean up the mess... I wish that all of the little cats could have found something beautiful in the pink snow... Kids are taught that certain things are bad, (mess being one of them) when entropy is an inevitable process and so much of life is messy. There is so much uncertainty in life... Books could really help kids get used to this at an earlier age. But then one wouldn't want them to start coloring over the walls or anything like that. I always used to like going to my Aunt's apartment when I was little because it was so messy and there were art materials and sculptures and painting and things from the curb everywhere... And there was something about it which seemed forbidden. Being there was like being in a magical world detached from everything that was acceptable. She had a mattress on the floor at the time too instead of a bed and when I slept over there I thought it was just the greatest privledge ever to be able to sleep on a matress on the floor. In my house, everything had to be in its proper place, art projects were confined to specific times and locations... I had a play room... I think it's better if the world as a whole is a playroom for children (by children I think I mean every age). But again, it's not a cultural norm. See you all tomorrow :-)

Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-17 19:24:12
Message Id:  8864
one of the things i find most frustrating about literary theory is the fact that meaning is what you make of it. i'm extremely resistant to the idea of projecting all kinds of complex ideologies onto literature because i've found that the most elegant (simplest) explanation often serves the purpose as well as the most complicated theory. i understand why literary theories can often be useful lenses but its hard for me to adjust my thought process to include foucault and saussure.
Name:  emily
Date:  2004-03-17 19:25:20
Message Id:  8865
above post is mine.. forgot to add my name the first time oops
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-03-17 19:42:55
Message Id:  8866
reading two books at once is tough ... in this case the melville has kinda outshinned the culler (for me). but, when i try to focus on culler i realize how insightful he is.
when he wrote (siting Derrida), "the idea of the original is created by the copies, and that the original is always deferred - never to be grasped" reminded me of the begining of dennett when he talked about how darwin demolished the platonic notion of essences. he writes, " Plato's theory of Ideas, according to which every earthly thing is a sort of imperfect copy or reflection of an ideal exemplar or Form that existed timelessly in the Platonic realm of Ideas, reigned over by God. this Platonic heaven of abstractions was not visible, or course, but was accessible to Mind through deductive thought. ... no actual eagle could perfectly manifest the essence of eaglehood, though every eagle strove to do so."
so culler through Derrida (like melville and plato) is saying that there is an essence, but it is never to be attained though everyone strives for it.
the most interesting part of this section, for me, was: "its that her presence turns out to be a particular kind of absence, still requiring mediations and supplements." so even when we think we have penetrated the essence of a thing we realize that there is only absence. so, are we saying that there are essences? or not? still not sure. we realize that each author has an intention that she tries to convey ... and that intention is OUT THERE ... but, since that intention is impenetrable how much can it matter? is it the platonic ideal that we are all striving for? or should we stop trying to arrive at that essence and find another ... something?
Derrida's example of the beloved woman makes me wonder whether he is saying that the ESSENCE is a figment of the imagination: REAL or UNREAL, but either way unattainable.
((i think i really like Derrida))
also, i like, in the same section, the part when Rousseau talks about how he can hide behind his writing. i've always felt that.
it seems hard to really SEE people when they are bundled in the mandatory social graces of society. ((eliot: "let us go then you and i" maybe talking to himself ... you: the mask of social grace, and i : this real self the one who questions)) it's funny to think that the place where i can 'see' YOU and the place where you 'see' ME in the clearest light is through The Word .... detached ... sepearated by a compueter screen. so, we get back to derrida: he finds that in each other's presences there is a form of absence, and while the absence of each other in writing is more apparent do i dare suggegst that it is less than the absence when we are standing face to face???
Name:  simran
Subject:  Language, Reading, Culler and Barthes
Date:  2004-03-18 03:49:57
Message Id:  8871
This is in response to Orah's post where she said English has the largest vocabulary and she wonders if the more words results in there be less white space, less pun, less theory- thus giving the writer more power but limiting the ability of the conjured images to expand in the reader's mind. Just to play around with that a little, using one of my fave resources, the OED:

Orah quoted from Melville:

"Yes, there is death in the business of whaling - a speechless quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance."

I started by putting in the word 'death' in the OED Online:

1. The first is the most obvious way of understanding this word:
"The act or fact of dying; the end of life..."

2. The second made me wonder if it was an expression of isolation:
"The loss or want of spiritual life..."

3. The third made me wonder about his physical situation:
"Loss or deprivation of civil life; the fact or state of being cut off from society, or from certain rights and privileges, as by banishment, imprisonment for life, etc."

4. The fourth made me think about whose perspective this was from:
"Bloodshed, slaughter, murder..."

There are many many more, but these are the ones I thought to play with. I think that there is a certain truth in what Orah said, the more words, the more limitations on meanings. But even within these limitations, I want to point out that there are a plethora of meanings out there. Not just the ones we can find in the OED but the ones that speak to and provide meaning in each of us, in each distinct way.

Also, when Culler asks what is literature, he gives the example of pulling a line out of a recipe book:

"Stir vigorously and allow to sit five minutes."

Then he went on to explain that much of literature is the context it is placed in but the problem with that is that there is always a wider and wider context...yadayada, you know what I'm referring to. This reminded me of an essay by Roland Barthes called "The Rhetoric of the Image." The questions he is trying to answer through this essay are: "How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond."

He discusses the messages transmitted to a shopper (who I think of as a reader!!) while scanning the labels on packages of a 'Panzani' advertisement- Seems like marinara sauce in a can. The picture on the label is of some packets of pasta, a tin, some tomatoes, onions, peppers, a mushroom all emerging from a half open string shopping bag.

Barthes describes the first message the shopper receives as the linguistic message that is transmitted through the text on the actual label. The sauce, called 'Panzini' connotes something Italian. Then he goes on to the more coded messages present in the image...messages we can only read because they are assumptions that society makes. This makes me think about the context about which Culler spoke. To quote a fantastic description of this act of reading from Barthes:

"This particularity can be seen again at the level of the knowledge invested in the reading of the message; in order to 'read' this level of the image, all that is needed is the knowledge bound up with our perception." =)

For those who are interested, I quote the passages below:

"Putting aside the linguistic message, we are left with the pure image...This image straightaway produces a series of discontinuous signs...the idea that what we have in the scene represented is a return from the market. A signified which itself implies two euphoric values: that of the freshness of the products and that of the essentially domestic preparation for which they are destined. It's signifier is the half-open bag which lets the provisions spill out over the table, 'unpacked'. To read this first sign requires only a knowledge which is in some sort implanted as part of the habits of a very widespread culture where 'shopping around for oneself' is opposed to the hasty stocking up (preserved, refrigerators) of a more mechanical civilization. A second sign is more or less equally evident; its signifier is the bringing together of the tomato, the pepper and the tricoloured hues (yellow, green, red) of the poster; its signified is Italy or rather Italianicity. This sign stands in a relation of redundancy with the connoted sign of the linguistic message (the Italian association with the name Panzini) and the knowledge it draws upon is already more particular; it is a specifically 'French' knowledge (an Italian would barely perceive the connotation of the name, no more than he would the Italianicity of tomato and pepper), based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes. Continuing to explore the image, there is no difficulty in discovering at least two other signs: in the first, the serried collection of different objects transmits the idea of a total culinary service, on the one hand as though Panzini furnished everything necessary for a carefully balanced dish and on the other as though the concentrate in the tin were equivalent to the natural produce surrounding it; in the other sign, the composition of the image, evoking the memory of innumerable alimentary paintings, sends us to an aesthetic signified: the 'nature morte' or; as it is better expressed in other languages, the 'still life'; the knowledge on which this sign depends is heavily cultural [yayyyyy Barthes, I love this guy!!!]. It may be suggested that, in addition to these four signs, there is a further information pointer, that which tells us that this is an advertisement and which arises from both the place of the image in the magazine and from the emphasis of the label...
"Thus there are four signs for this image and we will assume that they form a coherent whole, require a generally cultural knowledge , and refer back to signifieds each of which is global (for example, Italianicity), imbued with euphoric values..."

Ok, now would be a good time to put this over-worked mind to rest and go-to-bed. 4 hours seems like verrry little suddenly!! Goodnight...

Name:  roz
Subject:  To Mary's Question
Date:  2004-03-18 11:01:39
Message Id:  8872
At first reading Culler was confusing. I found him to be very flighty and strangely opinionated, but as I continued reading, about halfway through the book, I started to see his point of view and I loved it. I don't find myself pushing against anything. I've been very open minded while reading and my idea of "meaning being what we make it to be" was fortified by his arguments. Frankly, I enjoyed it and am glad I "had" to read it.
Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-18 12:40:25
Message Id:  8875
it isn't relevant, but i feel compelled to note:

Moby-Dick is alot like Heart of Darkness in that it is so much more than a story about the sea. Both are cultural comments with deep philosophical undertones that show up every few pages or so in dense, cryptic packages of language. While I don't love most of the book I keep reading to get to these extremely meaningful observations that seem to fit some tiny place in my heart.

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  infinities and limits
Date:  2004-03-18 16:47:48
Message Id:  8877
Rich small group discussion today (as usual). Thanks to all (as usual), will trust others to fill in (as usual), but wanted to remember one thought, maybe make it available to everyone. Sticks in my mind because it relates to something I wrote about a long time ago in a deservedly obscure paper called "From the Head to the Heart ...".

The general idea, relevant to thinking about biologial evolution as well as cultural evolution as well as agency/free will is that "infinite" is not the same thing as "unbounded". There are an infinite number of points (intemdiate values) between 0 and 1 but that infinity is "bounded", ie there are points between 1 and 2 that are not included in the infinity of points between 0 and 1. In the obscure paper I called this situation of infinite but limited possibility "bounded variance". It is also, I said then, a property of words/concepts/categories, as for example "tree". There are an infinite number of different things meant by the word "tree", but there are also things clearly outside that set ("dogs", "cats", etc).

In the context of biological evolution, I would argue that the future of any given kind of organism is appropriately characterized as a situation of "bounded variance". An elepant has very low (or zero) probability of evolving into an ostrich, but there are nonethless an infinite array of things it might evolve into. I suspect the same holds for cultural evolution, what exists at any one time sets some limits on future developments but leaves nonethelss an infinite array of different futures within those limits. And, ta da, the same seems likely to me to be the case for personal agency/free will. Being an NBA basketball player was almost certainly outside the infinite set of things I could have become as a kid. Or at the very least, outside the set of relatively easily reachable things.

The "at the very least" may be the hook to personal agency/free will as "skybook". I suppose I might, if I had been able/willing to commit myself to it, have tried to change the social category "NBA basketball player" in such a way as to make it accessible to me. And had I succeeded in doing that, I would, as a personal agent, have changed the "rules of the game". And THAT, I think I would argue, would be equivalent to actually bringing something new into the world, by "intent" rather than by cranes and evolution.

Would that have been good or bad? For me? For other people? Maybe THAT's where one has to stop and remember that "the Word is a tremendous responsibility".

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-03-18 23:56:36
Message Id:  8880
been thinking a lot about becky's great responsibility of holding the power of the Word. the other night (in a desperate act of procrastination) i went back over some of my posts from the fall and spring of last year. there was a lot of stuff out there that i kinda wish i hadn't put there. and was kinda wishing that i could take back my words, rephrase them or something. it's scary to think that these words i'm writing are being engraved ... maybe forever. i'll never be able to take them back. i feel as though i'm fitting myself, caputing, peircing myself with my very words ... the words that i am trying to use to free myself are enslaving me ...
wish life could be more fluid.
there's an interesting difference between the written and the spoken word. the human memory is not a perfect, unfogetting instrament (i don't think ... am i wrong in saying that ... i don't know much about the brain or memory) and so when we implant the spoken word into someone's memory it is not permenent and will die with the person who holds it. but, the written word can live beyond the speaker and beyond the listener. that scares me.
makes me think that maybe i don't want that responsibility ...

but, i do.

reminds me of the kundera i quoted to you a while back.
about the heaviness of life verses the lightness of life. and though it hurts, i think i'd rather life to be unbearably heavy rather than unbearbaly light. i want meaning .... i don't want to dissipate ... i want to matter .... and so i write ... and crucify myself to my own words ....

that's it for now ...have a great weekend.

ps clarification from dr. rabeeya: the mistranslation he was talking about was when people equate the greek word Logos (at the begining of John) with the hebrew word Amar or Milah (speak, word) which is found at the begining of genesis. amar/milah does not imply an entity along side God, but rather is really just a word ... rabeeya was saying that when it is a mistranslation to say that The Word of John can be found here in genesis .........

pps was very interesting to think today about how we are OBLIGATED to tell our own stories to stop harmful stories from being told ... and i stand by my example of the US in WW2 ... yes, the US gave money to the allies, but it was cop out money ... money so we wouldn't have to give the help that was really really desperatly needed to stop the genocide. and FDR DID know what was going on over there ... he knew and chose not to do anything ... bad choice, buddy.

ppps it's very hard for me to conceive the infinity of possibilities WITHIN a context. humm..... in our consumer culture we are told that we have a infinite amount of possibilities for which to chose ... we are offered an infinite amount of choices of jeans and shirts and coffee and beer and cars ... but the context of consumerism seems so limiting .....we're told in society that we can be anything that we want to be, we have free will, the ability to chose in life, but that ability to chose is only within a context, and we cannot chose anything outside that context.
i still think that our free will is limited.
that math equation seems so so counter-intuitive.

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  picking through the rubble
Date:  2004-03-19 03:32:37
Message Id:  8884

Our section, too, talked about "bounded variance," but w/ reference to the infinite-but-limited set that is "literature" (thinking about all that might be contained/all that might be excluded in that category). Reading Paul's comment, I realize that Kat had already described for us the way in which this concept is also useful in helping us to understand free will: we cannot choose "anything in the realm of possibility," but we do always "have the opportunity to choose between options." Thank you Kat, thank you, Paul.

In our group's attempts to define what literature (and literary theory) is, I was perhaps most struck by Emily's offering: "an event" you can "lose yourself in" (she didn't say this, but I will: it is an event of the soul). I told my group that I am moved by literature, and moved to be a literary critic because I want to understand what it is that moves me. As I also told them, I jumped Al Albano, @ last Tuesday night's Beauty symposium, for "cheating," by creating two categories of "beauty": those things that moved him-he-didn't-know-or-care-why, and those things (like a mathematical theorem) that have a fine explanatory power. I wanted the first category (for me, in this context: literature) to be illuminated by the second (in this context: literary theory).

In the Beauty forum, Jan Trembley (who edits the Alumnae Bulletin, and has long kept me good company in thinking through such questions) asked whether Al's categories A and B might be described in Kierkegaardian fashion as "aethetics" and "ethics"-- which are then synthesized into a "religious mode: living out a faith which derives its power from the capacity to take a chance on what can't be verified by rational means." Jan's query put me in mind, in turn, of a conversation Paul which conducted, several summers ago, w/ Jeanne-Rachel Solomon--which I joined in and said (anticipating the space we are now occupying):

while the experiential unconscious work of religious life can nurture a sense of interconnection, the self-reflective conscious work of academics accentuates a sense of separation between the self and the world it observes...the insistence on our capacity to "reflect on/conceive the possibility of other than what is"...will exacerbate the sense that all of us, as knowers and seekers, are separate from life's larger patterns.

If humans are naturally reflective, then academics are just professionalizing and systemizing what all of us do anyway: thinking about what is happening to doing so we repeatedly intervene in and interrupt the more assured sense of interconnection that can emerge in ...religious explorations ....might [there] not be ways to both "experience unconsciously" and "reflect consciously" on that experience, without reinforcing the pronounced sense of division, separation and abandonment ...? Does an insistence on the "distinctive Such-ness" of each of us prevent us from seeing our interdependence? Or is it rather precisely that distinctiveness which makes us valuable to, and so interdependent on, one another?

The image that brought me to confront this question was Paul's description of the meteorite which he wears as a reminder that "all life on earth is inextricably interconnected with entities and events elsewhere in the universe....An appreciation of the importance of the relational...." What struck me most about this talisman of "interconnection," of course, was its cataclysmic quality: when a meteor and the earth come together, the juxtaposition is inevitably a violent one. But it is also ...inevitably a productive one, because in the process of destruction, space is created for new connections to emerge.

In this early-morning moment, that's my current definition of literature: a cataclysmic event, one that disrupts what we think we so-settle-edly-know... and literary theory helps us understand how to pick through the rubble, find it beautiful, make it new.

Whew. Thanks all.

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  and if you're still awake...
Date:  2004-03-19 03:41:24
Message Id:  8885

On a lighter note, following Elizabeth C's observation, "I think it's better if the world as a whole is a playroom for children (by children I think I mean every age)" see both Serendip's Playground and Playgrounds and Classrooms, a piece written by Brooke Lowder in one of my classes a few semesters ago.

Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  my theory about theory
Date:  2004-03-19 09:08:00
Message Id:  8888
Anne wrote: "we cannot choose 'anything in the realm of possibility,' but we do always "have the opportunity to choose between options.'" It seems to me—as I think about thinking—that we not only have the opportunity to choose between or among options, we MUST choose. Ever notice that, when your brain encounters an external question, it seems compelled to come up with an answer (either internalized or enacted)? Didn't you just come up with one in response to this one ;-)? So, how does that play with 'free will?'

Yesterday's class was a bit odd—I gotta say. I did not make it across the bridge (sploosh) from our free-form conversation about writers' responsibilities or what we should/should not (I hate the word 'should') allow to tell, to Culler. But I am curious—what was the connection?

Literary theory still leaves me cold. Theory is for readers, not for writers. How many readers ever encounter the concept of theory? Are writers concerned? I question the motives of a body of scholars whose purpose seems to have been to apply an arbitrary structure to what others write—and how a reader should engage with "literature." So many of the important "structuralists" sprang forth concurrently during the sixties, which was a time of free-wheeling criticism and questioning about academia, both science and the humanities... I can't shake the feeling that theory arose as a knee-jerk reaction—a justification of sorts—from the humanities side of the house.

Which further tweaks my antennae...during the height of theory development (60's to 80's), culture then was so starkly different from culture now, that I don't see how we can pick up these notions without first asking if they are still relevant.

And I couldn't help but compare Culler to Dennett. It seems to me that each tries to tidy up everything (in their respective spheres) by applying one big Archimedes' Screw: algorithms for selection versus algorithms for interpretation. I am suspicious of slick fixes and grand schemes. Aren't you?

If anyone is interested in more (easy reading) about theory, Terry Eagleton's book "After Theory" is super. He sets up the context for context. Have a whale of a weekend '-)

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-19 13:36:44
Message Id:  8895
ok, i relaize we aren't even ready to touch on melville yet, and i apologize, but the text is begining to make me think about my next paper. in fact, i think i could probably get an entire paper out of this idea. so i thought that i could put some ideas down and hope for a response.

this book strikes me as intensly homoerotic. i find it most apparent in the description of the narrator sleeping beside his friend (there is that descriptive paragraph about their legs overlapping and intertwining and the acknowledgement of an intimacy between the two) and when the narrator talks about sperm (pages 322-333). because these instances in the book seem so insistent i find myself transferring that same eroticism to other parts of the book that might not otherwise seem sexual. perhaps its just because all of melville's descriptions are so moving that i am misinterperting his general emotional tone as something more. but it seems to me that this is a theme that seeps into every part of the book and which is confirmed by the more obviously sexual references like the ones that i noted above. either way, i'd be glad to hear what anyone else thinks. does anyone know of an analysis of the text that argues my point?

Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  in response to Diane
Date:  2004-03-19 16:48:36
Message Id:  8901
Hi Diane,
Regarding your question about Melville and Moby Dick, check some of the writings on the homoerotic relationship (according to their letters etc) between Hawthorne and Melville at/around the time this book was written...just google it and you should find quite a bit of fodder.
Name:  Student Contributor
Subject:  A Homoerotic Reading
Date:  2004-03-20 20:52:48
Message Id:  8917
American men during most of the nineteenth century could publicly express an unashamed, passionate love for members of their own sex. During this period, the passionate love that existed between men did not translate to a sense of abnormality or repulsiveness, nor did it translate to a sense of disinterest in females. In other words, men could have passionate relationships with other men and not be labeled effeminate, unnatural, or perverse. While romantic, passionate friendship was largely thought to be a phenomenon that only occurred between female friends and female characters in novels, there is strong evidence supporting this special kind of friendship existing between men in both reality and in literature (Ishmael and Queequeg, no doubt). This leads to the belief that Melville was secretly writing a story about male lovers. The absence of females only enhances this reading; their absence eliminates any sort of competition or distraction for those males seeking a romantic friendship in other males.

Like Ro suggested, there is much evidence that a curious relationship is thought to have existed between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote to a friend "I liked Melville so much that I have asked him to spend a few days with me". Visits were made, letters were exchanged, and even books were dedicated to each other (not surprisingly, Moby Dick is inscribed to Hawthorne), but for reasons that can only be surmised, the pair ceased communication in 1856, only about two years after they had met (if I remember correctly). Highly distraught from this failed relationship, it can be argued that Melville turned to his fiction the question of how men might form lasting emotional relationships with each other.

Ishmael has his first intimate moment with Queequeg at the Spouter's Inn where the two are forced to have to share a bed. At first frightened by his "savage" appearance, Ishmael then notices that Queequeg's "countenance" had "something in it which was by no means disagreeable". Underneath his "unearthly" tattoos, and "hideously marred" face, Ishmael could see traces of a "simple honest heart". Most confidential disclosures between the two took place as they lay next to each other: "Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg – a cosy, loving pair" (A Bosom Friend 57).

In terms of evolution it would be interesting to think about why such behavior between men was considered part of society in the nineteenth century, whereas now we have labels: gay, homosexual, male love, etc... Ishmael and Queequeg were never read as lovers until recently. Was Melville intentionally writing about male lovers or are we, the readers of the 21st century, bringing our own meaning/reading to the text? (Personally, I think we are bringing this new reading to the text and that Melville never intended it to be so...of course, who knows, right?)

Name:  Meg
Date:  2004-03-21 12:17:37
Message Id:  8920
In class on Thursday we discussed the importance of being able to tell your own story, despite the fact that it might not be a pleasant one for others. There was an argument about whose stories should be told. In reading Melville this question kept popping up. Why does Ishmael get to tell his story (through Melville). Why is it not a different whaler, or does Ishmael represent a general type of person. It is strange to think that we accept this story to be told versus others. Moby Dick is considered a story that many people should have heard of, and know at least some of its basic background. Yet why is this much more important than a paperback murder mystery, or romance novel from the same era. Why did this story persist while others did not. What makes Melvilles tale acceptable to be told, and read continuously for over a century. It also ties in to Culler's discussion of what makes literature. It's just fun to think about.
Name:  daniela
Subject:  Happiness is...
Date:  2004-03-21 12:45:07
Message Id:  8921
Comments: be able to live not simply exist. Dreams, courage to play with life, and an aversion to the predictable type of life are the prerequisites for that.
With regards to the issue of happiness, Melville implies that it is the conscious part of the brain that imposes barriers to achieving this. Those who abandom their dreams end up in another "ice palace made of frozen sighs" (25)
In other words, the consciousness makes begets dreams and helps muster courage. Yet, it is the force that generates fear and all other sorts of mental weakness and thus, undermines one's vital powers. So, in the pursuit of happiness, the one's greatest enemy is one's self.
Name:  daniela
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  a typo
Date:  2004-03-21 12:47:42
Message Id:  8922
sorry everyone. please ignore the definite article in the last sentence of my posting
Name:  reeve
Date:  2004-03-21 14:25:03
Message Id:  8925
I'm compelled by Anne's definition of literature as cataclysmic and violent, partly because my initial reaction is to disagree. But what can I use to substantiate this aversion? hmmm...If I were to argue that literature unites and expands, would I also have to admit that it displaces and that it relies on deconstruction in order to reconstruct? Is there a nondisruptive kind of literature that distills/holds meaning, or is there inherent motion in literature that necessarily results in production. If literature is always creating something new, than how can we define it? I guess that connects to the idea of being infinite but bounded. It also reminds me of my tendency to resist the idea that humans have skyhook capabilities and can bring something new into the world that was not previously a possibility- if randomness and the order that has arisen out of randomness are always producing and responding to random change (always creating something new) than how can we draw that boundary at which the infinitude of possibility is transcendable by humans? It seems more and more like a question of whether or not one is willing to locate what we experience as intention within that bounded infinity.
Name:  Susan W.
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-22 00:34:28
Message Id:  8935
I had my meeting with Prof. G the other day and he asked me to share my story concerning my own educational evolution surrounding "the 5 paragraph essay" ( I know this is diverting from the forum postings so far, but if I dont put this out now, I know I will forget).

So here goes...

I was born and raised on the East Coast of Canada. There we learned how to write essays in a very linear style, just like in the State. You were to present a thesis in your paper, and throughout the next 3 - 4 paragraphs, develop your argument FOR this thesis, defending it, expanding it.

Well my senior year of high school I moved to France for a year, and had to adapt to another style of writing essays, very differnt from the previous one. In France we were taught that you shouldn't just have one thesis in your paper, and that you shouldn't be trying to defend just one point of view. They follow the dialectic form of writting ( i think thats how you say it in English..) basically: a thesis, an anti-thesis, and a synthesis, plus intro and conclusion. You try and refute what you are saying and are in a state of constant contradiction (sort of). You are taught to think in a more cyclical fashion rather than the North American linear fashion (the battle between these two forms is still wreaking havoc on me and my grades in university... grr...)

So anyways, what do you all think? I think it has alot to say in terms of the different ideologies of the countries, but in terms of the word and thought, which do you think is "more worth it" (to quote Culler, if I may in this instance)?

Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-22 11:18:02
Message Id:  8938
Susan wrote,"in terms of the word and thought, which do you think is "more worth it" (to quote Culler, if I may in this instance)? "

Well. hmm. interesting.
Yes, the two approaches to an essay speak volumes about the French affinity for discourse and argument.

As for which is "more worth it," I think that IT DEPENDS. Think of literary form as just another way to constrain a story--sometimes leading to clarity and impact, sometimes not, if you apply the wrong one. The French form of essay (point and counterpoint) makes me think of writing a sonnet (pick whichever style you like), which has a decided 'turn' in its argument before the end. The turn is required as part of the form. OK, there are no "sonnet police" last time I looked around the creative writing department...but still, IT DEPENDS on what you want to tell AND who are your target readers. For me, writing is about the reader.

In the end, though, don't both forms of essay require a conclusion, a singular position? I would hope that how you get there is not so important --whether you go in a straight line or circling around some intermediate arguments--as long as the development of a position is clear and sound.

It is a very interesting question from the point of thinking about bounded variances and what is "allowed" ....maybe versus what is optimal...and who gets to decide.

Name:  cham
Subject:  meaning and stories
Date:  2004-03-22 14:17:21
Message Id:  8939
i think Student Contributor has hit upon such an important point that i always try to remember when confronted with anything (i.e., whether it be literary or non-literary in nature)that invites critical interpretation or analysis: the idea that "meaning" (in a definite or distinguishable form) found in stories (or anything else for that matter) is not necessarily implicit or concrete. we discussed this idea in class last week, after we were treated with a reading of dr. suess, but i feel that it is an important point to reiterate here in the forum. in a way similar to Student Contributor's description of our 21 century homoerotic reading of melville as "bringing this new reading to the text", i think that it is important to remember as we encounter literary theory as well as other constraining(?)or systematic approaches to interpretation, that these too are simply alternative "meanings" being OFFERED and not ASSIGNED. they are there if we CHOOSE to incorporate them into our own interpretations of text, but they certainly do not prescribe or even arrange "meaning" (i.e., as if this were even possible).
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Date:  2004-03-22 16:58:33
Message Id:  8944

Susan, that IS a fascinating point!

Leads me back to Thursday's conversation, during which I wondered aloud that listening to stories and sharing your own (counter-)stories are reciprocal responsibilities: by participating in one activity, you are obligated to participate in the other.

It seems that the French way of making an argument better serves the interests of listening to the stories of others and telling your own. Granted, however, it's also a rhetorical device, bringing up disagreements in order to address them, thus strengthening your point.

On the one hand, maybe it allows us to be more flexible in our thinking: through our encounters with counterpoints, we can be more open to other stories and to changing our own. Perhaps that would minimalize the feeling of being "enslaved" by our words (as Orah mentioned) in the linear consistency demanded by the American essay.

On the other, it also opens the possibility of twisting the words of others in order to serve your own story, which really defeats the purpose of listening altogether.
Name:  Heather
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-22 23:29:19
Message Id:  8952
First, I wanted to respond to the idea that the Word, or telling your story, is a big responsibility. Although I can definitely see how OTHER people's words carry a lot of weight and social responsibility (like the Media, politicians, or child pornographers on the internet), I can't really think of having that kind of responsibility myself. I mean, I don't think that anyone can tell the effect that their words are having until afterwards, or from a perspective other than their own. I guess I am thinking about responsibility negatively-that it could have a negative effect on people. And I don't think that anyone would speak if they already knew the negative effects their words would have. I guess it did make me inspired, when thinking of our responsibility to tell our differing stories to counteract negative ones instead of censoring them.

In class someone said that we have a responsibility as a reader to respond to text-in listening we have responsibility to tell our own stories-and at first, in class, I was slightly dissappointed with myself that I didn't have any criticism of Culler. I found everything that he had to say very insightful. Then I was talking about this with someone out of class, how I almost never respond to text in that, it takes me longer to formulate opinions about the text because I am still inside it. I think dialogue with the text is important, but I don't think that "believing" in the text first is a bad thing. It reminds me of a dialogue we were having at the beginning of the course: Grobstein said he never believed in stories because he always wanted to be open to others, and Orah (I think) said that she found it more useful to believe in all stories. I'm reiterating it badly.

The thing I found most thought-provoking in the forum is what someone said about what is "more worth it"?-linear, more western stories or more cyclic (french?) stories. I think that there is "a bounded infinity" of ways to tell your story, and that it is a shame that our society only values print, and "linearly-told" ones at that. I don't think that the only valid stories are those that, as Ro says, clearly and soundly develop a position. I think academia could benifit by allowing multiple ways to express stories. By limiting the validity of the methods available to tell stories, we are not letting people tell their stories.

Name:  Elizabeth Deacon
Subject:  Style
Date:  2004-03-22 23:37:33
Message Id:  8953
I find myself quite pleasantly surprised by _Moby Dick_. I was expecting a very dense book with the antiquated word patterns and speech habits that make books half its age difficult to slog through, but Mellville's writing style flows very well. It does have some antiquated working, and I imagine it will get more dense once it gets to the "how to whale" part, which I'm told is very detailed.

I've always found writing style fascinating. I used to think that older books were automatically hard to read because the language and frame of reference had changed so, but I realized that books from as recently as the '50's and '60's just sound different, and it isn't only because of the different social context. So I decided that there was some change over time in the way people word things and string their ideas together. But again, I've realized that old things, like _Moby Dick_, can flow quite well through my mind and I can get the jokes occasionally, whereas I've run into style problems so severe I couldn't finish books written in the 1950's.

I can't tease out exactly what it is, but my brain just seems to process certain writing better than others. There's some age difficulty here, but I can peer through the odd words and see the character's personalities and the humor in the situations they get into, I can read the story. I don't think it's just a good versus bad writing thing, because I've run into many clearly well written books that I just can't wrap my brain around. Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

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