Rembrandt, "An Old Woman Reading," Art of Europe

Where We End:
An Exploration of a New Form of Reading and Writing

Story Evolution
Dixson/Ross/ Dalke

A conversation following on Grobstein's
Writing Descartes ...

George Fox, Featured at an Exhibit on "Assertive Quakers"

Once upon a time...
a group of Quaker college educators organized themselves into a group called Friends' Assocation of Higher Education (FAHE).

A little later in time...
several Friends who found friends there organized themselves into a writing group. One of them did much of her writing on-line; and it was essays of this sort--such as Where There is Gambling, There is Faith and Re-Thinking "Being" in the Promised Land--that she asked her friends to read and respond to. Their various and sometimes puzzled reactions to this kind of internet conversation are offered here, in the thought that they may be of interest to others. Perhaps they will illuminate some of the ways in which this sort of web work differs (intriguingly? usefully?) from the ways printed things work --particularly in the ways it addresses, and in what it asks from, its readers.


My first reaction is that I don't think I'm smart enough for this. Or maybe theoretical enough? I love truth embodied in story. Sheer ideas and definitions dancing across the page leave me dizzy and self-doubting. I love the shape of it, though. I really enjoy having a community discussing together. It's so good to have Sam in there, and then other people whose voices I can sort of place, or can't place at all, in what I know of Anne's community. The bringing in of printed voices works for me much of the time, especially since I've actually read a lot of these pieces myself. I like imagining the writers talking to each other, so drama is good. The multiplicity of forms is nice. Images help a lot. I can see that this is very successful as writing for its intended audience, who are clearly excited about it.


Clearly excited about it, but also as-clearly "rubbing against" each other as we try to find our way onto new ground. When Sharon says, for instance, "I've abandoned attempts to describe this difference in words, but here are a set of images..."; when Paul says that words are "more 'assailable,' more subject to common testing" than pictures are; when I offer "a (trial) description of what Serendip is 'about,'" and am cautioned that doing so runs run the risk of "cramping" the common story--we are enjoying the pleasure of one another's company, in the form of a public discussion in which any claim is liable to be pushed against and queried.


A source of dissatisfaction for me in reading other Serendip posts has been my perhaps obsessive desire to follow the hyperlinks, like footnotes in a text. I'd get lost in the referenced material and never find my way back to the post I'd started to read. So, for this exercise I decided to follow none of your links and base my experience on that. (Call it: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Web) I'm realizing that the Web may not be a good place for people who have a hard time letting a phone ring.

An observation based on both posts: You are a master at putting what you intend to say in context and a master (or at least you appear to be--since I haven't focused on the originals) at summarizing the essence of others' arguments/contentions.

On Where There is Gambling, There is Faith:

"but let's see where this goes. Something else interesting could turn up along the way...." So what is this form of writing and how can I be helpful to the author? Is this like journaling? Or a conversation? In editing most of my writing, my goal is to make it clearer or more likely to achieve my purposes in writing or give it a better chance of being read.

All the material through "Those are important matters for further thinking"-- the stage setting, if you will -- are beautifully and clearly structured. You have the hostess's gift of making all guests feel welcome and tantalizing them with the dishes to come.

Do you mean that Writing Descartes "has taken the risk" in a special sense or does this apply to all conversation? Is Writing Descartes different from Barbara's hallway conversations, where she takes the risk that participation in the conversation will not be worth her time?

Is Elizabeth the author of all the green text? If so, what comment am I to make? About your choice of what to quote?

I was caught off guard by where this post ended. I expected more thoughts about risk and faith. Is this all you intended, an invitation for others to jump in? The punch line was the passage before the Elizabeth quote? What cues did I miss that those familiar with this style of writing would have understood?


Yes, David, that is all I intended (and I think that's actually quite a lot): taking the risk of offering what I think (not knowing if there will be a return) and providing a place for others to jump in, to make their own offerings (ditto). So much of the "performative" academic work that I've seen (and myself produced) seems to aim for just the opposite: making a "closed" case, tying up loose ends so there is no space for others to enter and expand the conversation. What I most delight in, in this sort of web dialogue, is the way in which it can function as a springboard for further exploration. I talk about this more extensively in Science as Story: Re-reading the Fairy Tale. The argument there applies here as well: each story we tell, each statement, each claim, is useful insofar as it produces further observations, counterclaims, alternative stories....

No last words, here.

This actually sounds, to me, akin to the Quaker insistence on testing what one hears against one's own experience, and so being open to continuing revelation. As reported by Steve Smith in Minding the Light (2004),

"In a debate with clerics who were citing Biblical passages to support their claims, [George] Fox retorted, 'You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?'" Hearing this, Margaret Fell cried out, "We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves."


On Re-Thinking "Being" in the Promised Land:

"tragedy of what must inevitably be" Do you mean tragedy in the classical sense or some other particular literary form that is the opposite of comedy? Or do you, like the evening news, mean tragedy as bad things-- like death?

"What is the relationship between humor and thinking? And between humor and being? I can imagine (at least) three answers."You give two definitions and a statement about what humor can do. Help me understand how these are answers.

You are setting up "play" as the opposite of rigor (or at least claiming that those who espouse rigor would think badly of rigor)? This was one paragraph where I really felt I'd walked in in the middle of a conversation. Are you (here) equating play with humor --the element missing from Descartes' analysis? There's too much multiplicity of meaning for me in this section--like a poet who deserts me halfway through.

"Laughter lays the 'bridge' between"-- by creating a sense of distance? Brechtian alienation?

In the George Herbert Mead paragraph, I couldn't follow how the "former" was tragedy; the "latter"comedy. I don't quite know what to do with a phrase like "the humor which allows us to enjoy the growth that ensues" --either it resonates or it puzzles. Does responsibility for the outcome depend on the reader or the author, i.e., on what came before in the text?

"Laughing to keep from crying of course" is another phrase that brought me up short. Is it "of course" to everybody? to those in this play? to those in relationship with you? to educated (which canon?) beings, those in the know?

You end with "We not just exploring, in these dialogues, the right to laugh and to dance which Emma Goldman advocated; seems to me we're actually using the playful dance of laughter to create such space..." Does this scan? Do you want it to? Had I heard you say this in conversation, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. Reading it (particularly as a member of this writing group) I found myself worrying it like a dog.


So, to fill in some of those dots identified by the worried dog:

In Mead's terms,

So, when you ask, David, "where the responsibility for the outcome" lies, I'm saying (of course) on the reader.

On you.

Thanks for taking on that responsibility!

See on-line forum for continuing conversation and to leave your own thoughts.

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