‘Factfulness’ and the Freshman Convocation Lecture

This year’s Freshman Convocation lecture will be given by Sister Dierdre Mullan, who has served the global community in a number of notable capacities, such as working for the United Nations as Director of the Mercy Global Concern (MGC) and also as the Executive Director of the Partnership for Global Justice at the UN.  She is one the founding members of the NGO The Mercy Girl Effect, and in recent years she has worked with UNICEF, focusing on children’s and girls’ education.  Based on her considerable experience, Sister Mullan is well-positioned to speak about key global crises and, specifically, to enlighten us further about some of the major topics covered by Hans Rosling in Factfulness. In this Blog post I’d like you to draw connections between Sister Mullan’s lecture and the book itself.  And just as importantly, please offer a response that comments on Sister Mullan’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation event (on Thursday, Sept. 26th).  You might tell us, what did the speaker say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her lecture, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of your FRST 1002 class?  Also, what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  We are lucky to have Sister Mullan coming to speak with us this week, and I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about her presentation! 

On Language, Images, and “Reality”

For this Blogpost, I want you to consider the ways in which the language we use shapes the way we think and, in turn, I’d like you to ponder the deeper “truths” of an image of your choosing.  So, to practice both types of applied critical thinking, I want you to write a thoughtful Blogpost that is at least two paragraphs long.  Your first paragraph(s) should tackle the issue of language and reality, and the second paragraph(s) should address the “reality” of a particular image.  More specifically, here is what you should do for both parts:

Part One:  For this section, I want you to demonstrate that language does indeed serve to limit and/or shape our understanding of the world.  To do so, you may well have to get a little bit creative to come up with a suitable subject, and then make sense out of it.  To choose your topic, you might take a cue from our recent readings.  Thus, your discussion might do such things as:  examine “the use of metaphor” in a specific cultural discourse; explore “the invention” of a new term for a particular social phenomenon; assess the impact of the PC “word police” on modern language; consider the controversial “meaning of a word” in a particular usage or context; comment upon the distortion of “reality” in the language of politicians; address the ways in which vagaries of legal language might impact criminal trial proceedings; compare the impact of a translation or discuss the challenges of “code-switching” for a second-language speaker.  Once you have chosen your topic, your job is to illustrate the linguistic phenomenon in question and draw some logical conclusions about it.  A nice way to imagine this investigation, perhaps, is to see it as “uncovering the iceberg” – going deeper to illustrate ways in which the “reality” of the world as seen in various linguistic circumstances is merely just “the tip of the iceberg” and a more complex story remains somehow “beneath the surface.”

Part Two:  In the second section of your discussion, I want you to find and examine a visual image that somehow makes an argument, and that you deem to be interesting. By “interesting,” I mean that the image/video in question should have a degree of sophistication – it should be intriguing somehow and potentially effective at (persuasively) reaching its audience.  The visual “text” you choose to examine is entirely up to you. But, here are some general ideas of the kinds of visual resources you might choose to explore: a poster, photograph, political flyer, a piece of art, public graffiti, an Instagram image or Facebook post, or a comic strip.   Once you’ve chosen your visual image, your task is to explore and explain how the image works to persuade its audience.  In other words, your brief account will “interpret” the meaning of the image and explain how that idea is conveyed.  To do so, you might consider:  what is the image arguing, and how is the image making that argument through rhetorical appeals and the careful positioning and selection of different parts and details.

Online “Tour” of the Premodern World for 2019 Cohort of “Games of Thrones” Students

For class on Thursday, January 31, I have put together an online “tour” of the premodern world for those of you in my ‘Games of Thrones’ class.  This “tour” will proceed via a series of links which I have e-mailed to all of you separately.  In all likelihood, few of you in class have been to Europe or had substantial, visceral encounters with the arts and artifacts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Consequently, the basic intent of this activity is that I want you to “experience” the premodern world, at least insofar as that is possible through fragments offered on and through the internet.  Unfortunately, there is a significant difference between experiencing such objects and places firsthand as opposed to a mediated forum, but all the same, this activity will (I hope) help attune you to our period of discussion and get you immersed in the period in a different and insightful way.  In simple terms, in this Blog post I want to hear your (carefully focused) thoughts about the experience.  I’m hoping that your posting offers us some sense of both your intellectual and emotional response to the places, spaces, and artifacts under consideration.  By exploring the sites and material objects of this era and then writing about it, this activity will, hopefully, help you to recognize the relationships between time and place that are part and parcel of the very idea of the “premodern”, and in turn my wish is that you form some meaningful realizations about how specific places or works suggest certain ideals and fit in a larger cultural context.

Now, being even more specific in terms of the contents of your posting, I want you to respond to two particular “objects” of your choosing.  Your response should broadly be broken down into two sections, with each section at least a robust paragraph in length – but the more the better.  The first section should address a place or space, and then the second section should discuss a particular object or artifact.  You should select a place and artwork that really piqued your interest, or that you found especially powerful in some way, shape, or form.  Then, your response should offer some thoughts about just what these places/things seem to “mean” in your estimation.  On the subject of your place/space, which location have you chosen, and why?  What really stands out to you about it, and why is it so important and interesting?  More to the point, what does your chosen place/space suggest to us about the premodern world and the people who lived there?  Regarding your piece of art or other material object, you might track similar ideas and questions, as well as think about the minutiae of your chosen artifact.  For instance, who created it, and when?  What are central characteristics of that individual artists’ style, or how does this object suggest the stylistics of the day?  How do you think it would have been used and understood by individuals in premodern society, and how might we reflect upon it from a twenty-first century perspective?

Overall, then, what have you LEARNED by exploring your selected places/objects, and what do they seemingly TEACH us about the premodern culture(s) of Western Europe??

On “Single Stories” and the “Realities” of Language

For your second Blog post of the semester, I want to build on our work from last class, and also look forward a bit in anticipation of our work for class on 10/17.  So, with that in mind, I would like you to put together two sections of response here, which should be at least one paragraph each.  The first section should engage with the topic of language and reality, and the second section should consider the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known TED talk). More specifically, here is what I’d like you to do in these two sections:

Part One:  In this section, I’d like you to explore one of the age-old questions of linguistics and philosophy:  How does our language shape our reality?   In order to develop your answer to this question, you should try and provide a specific example of language and “reality”.  The idea here is to address the ways in which the language we use shapes the way we think and influences the ways we understand things like race, gender, sex, politics, commercial products, and a host of other topics.  To do so, you should discuss a particular example that illustrates specific ways in which language serves to limit and/or shape our understanding of the world.  For example, you might: address “the use of metaphor” in a specific cultural discourse, consider the “invention” of a new term for a particular phenomenon, assess the impact of the PC “word police” on modern language, think about the controversial meaning of a word in a particular usage or context, comment upon the distortion of “reality” in the language of politicians, compare the challenges of “code-switching” for a second language speaker, and so on.

Part Two:  In this section, I’d like you to respond to and extend Adichie’s ideas about “single stories” by addressing a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you might want to quote her TedTalk and use her specific words and ideas in your discussion.  As Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer questions of the following type (in some way):  What other stories are there in society but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader or global citizen perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?

Stockton University Students “Visit” Station Eleven

Thursday, September 27th is the date of this year’s Freshman Convocation lecture. On that date, we are very lucky in that we will be visited by Emily St. John Mandel, the author of Station Eleven. If you are reading this post, you are probably a student in my fall Critical Thinking course, and as such you have spent a lot of time picking apart Mandel’s novel in recent classes (not to mention writing a handful of journal entries in response to the book).  In terms of this book, my hope and expectation during Unit One has been that students will read the novel, and then attend this lecture.  With that in mind, for your first Blogpost of the semester I would like you to respond to Mandel’s talk.  Specifically, I would like two paragraphs of discussion about what you saw and experienced during the Freshman Convocation.  You might consider such things as:  In the wake of this event, what stood out for you?  What did you find enjoyable (or not), and why?  What did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her talk, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of our class?  How did this discussion enhance your understanding of Station Eleven in terms of its themes, characters, or style?  Also, looking at Mandel’s lecture critically, why do you think this kind of event is useful and important for all of you as First Year students at Stockton? Having spent so much time together reading and examining this excellent novel, I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts about Mandel’s visit to Stockton!

On Movie Monsters

One of the articles assigned for you to read this week features the ideas of Leo Braudy, a noted English literature professor who has published widely on ghosts and monsters.  In a recent study, Braudy outlines four major types of monsters:  1)  The “monster from nature” who reflects our fears of losing control over the natural world.  2)  Monsters that reflect human concerns with science and its power.  3)  The “Jeckyll and Hyde monster,” doppelganger figures that represent the ways that many people live double lives, or have more than one “true” self.  4)  Monsters (especially those that somehow return from the past) that serve to interrupt our modern developments and changes.  For part one of your blogpost, I’d like you to discuss how a monster you viewed during your filmwork for this week fits within one of Braudy’s four over-arching categories.  Whether you choose a creature from a horror film or a “classic” monster movie, I’d like to explore how/why your chosen monster fits into one of these categories and thus works to “indulge our fears and desires” (to quote Braudy).

It is sad to say, but this will be your final blogpost of the semester.  Therefore, I thought this would be a good opportunity to make some final connections and draw some over-arching conclusions about your work this spring.  So, for part two, I’d like you, again, to discuss a specific movie monster you screened in preparing for class this week – but preferably a different beast than you considered in part one.  For this section, I’d simply like you to connect your monster to certain creatures, themes, and ideas we have covered previously this semester, and see what broad conclusions you can draw about movie monsters through these connections.  Since this is your last blogpost of the semester, how does your selected cinematic beast tie into some of the key ideas of the course, and what overall conclusions does it point to with regards to monsters and monstrosity?  That is the question I would like you to answer here.

Horror and Empathy in Gothic Literature

In a recent study, scholar Ardel Haefele-Thomas suggests that Gothic horror developed as a place “in which to explore ideas about race, interracial desire, cross-class relations, ethnicity, empire, nation and ‘foreignness’ during the nineteenth century.”  Gothic horror of the kind under consideration in class this week serves the complex function of giving rise to our fears, while also exploring and critiquing them.  As Haefel-Thomas comments, “these texts transgress monstrosity in the sense that they help interrogate the very idea of what is mon­strous, opening up spaces where we can read sympathy for others who are queer, who are multiracial, who live outside of the” norms of society.

For part one of this blogpost, then, I would like you to pick a character or scene from one of the excerpted works assigned for this week – ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘Ligeia,’ ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ and ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ – and focus on the horror embodied in/through that character or scene.  How, specifically, does the author create horror in the audience, and use it to play with the reader’s darkest fears? What ideas are in question here, and what social issues – or fears – are rendered problematic and indeed horrific?  For part two, I want you to flip that script and consider the ways in which gothic horror does not necessarily reject but sometimes welcomes the horrific monsters and their problems.  To borrow Haefele-Thomas’s words, in this section I would like you to consider how a given character or scene does NOT create horror but quite the opposite, opening up a space “where we can read sympathy for others” who are different.  In other words, how does this character, or textual moment, “transgress monstrosity” and view the monster with empathy, and to what end is this sympathy established?  If we are meant to embrace the monster somehow, why so — and how so?  What does this teach us?  I will be curious to see your responses to the ways in which Gothic horror creates fear and promotes horror, while also (sometimes) embracing those creatures that lead to horror and panic in the humans that encounter them.

Perspective(s) and Premodern Monstrosity

We have seen this semester that, in simple terms, monstrosity lies in the eye of the beholder, and one group’s monster is another group’s beloved master (or family member, etc.).  A number of scholars over the years have considered this issue of perspective, including the influential critic Umberto Eco, whose late work ‘On Ugliness’ explores the monstrous things that repel us. Eco examines what the attraction (and repulsion) is to the gruesome and the horrific, and asks:  is ugliness also found in the eye of the beholder?  With such ideas in mind, for the first part of your Blogpost I’d like you to address in broad terms the ways in which monstrosity is, in essence, “in the eye of the beholder” as it pertains to one of our recent creatures.  I would prefer that you address one of Shakespeare’s characters in ‘The Tempest’ for this part, but if you want to consider the impact/influence of perspective on an ancient or medieval monster studied before spring break that would also be OK.

The second part of your Blog is related, but will be a bit more narrow and specific in its focus.  In his novel ‘The Counterlife’, renowned American author Philip Roth (speaking through the perspective of the writer who is the central character in the book) writes that “The treacherous imagination is everybody’s maker – we are all the invention of each other, everybody a conjuration conjuring up everyone else. We are all each other’s authors.”  What Roth is subtly getting at in this passage is the fact that we all construct our own reality, and we all perceive the world as we will, serving as the “author” of the truths around us.  For class this Thursday, you will be reading excerpts from John Gardner’s masterful novel ‘Grendel,’ which tells the well-known ‘Beowulf’ story from the perspective of the monster. Next week, you will be writing a longer account where you explore and consider the point-of-view of a specific monster, so as a kind of practice for this kind of thinking – and also to fuel some preliminary thoughts about monstrosity and perspective that we can consider in class Thursday – I’d like you to consider how the view of a particular monster changes if he/she is seen from a different perspective – from the point-of-view of another character or person from his/her world, or through the vision of him/her themselves.  Lately, we have considered this in the form of the ancient Greek Idylls that offer us the view of Polyphemus the cyclops, and you will obviously be exploring Grendel for class today.  So, I’d like you to pick another monster that we have studied of late, and offer some insights about what they might say if they (or someone else from their world) got to tell their story, about how their understanding of certain actions and “realities” would differ from those around them.  Feel free to be creative here, if you wish.

Ancient/Medieval Monstrosity and the “Act of Fear”

In Michael Chemers’ brief account of the “act of fear” (found on pp. 10-13 of the Introduction to ‘The Monster in Theatre History’), he mentions the scientific view that fear is “a neurobiological response to certain stimuli” and then goes on to note that “not only what we fear but also how we conceive and define what we fear” varies from time to time, place to place, and person to person.  For the first section of your blogpost, I’d like you to quote something interesting that Chemers says about “the act of fear” as it pertains to literature, and apply this quotation to one of the monstrous characters and stories from ancient Greece and medieval Europe assigned for class this week. Elaborating on your thoughts, you might consider:  How does Chemers’ idea about fear connect up to the story in question?  And in this story, which character is afraid, what are they afraid of, and how does it impact their behavior? Furthermore, what does this representation of fear suggest about the writer or society that spawned this particular story?

In recent class discussions we have mentioned several times that Unit Two will simultaneously move us forward into the realm of imaginary monsters, but also backward in that we will make frequent connections between our make-believe creatures and the various historical ideas and “real life” monsters we examined in Unit One.  So, for some early practice using this kind of thinking, in the second section of your blogpost I want you to connect an imaginary monster assigned for this week with a specific “real life” figure or idea from our studies of these periods during Unit One.  In other words, what are some of the links you can identify between the creative and historical monsters of the ancient and medieval worlds, and what larger ideas or issues can we discover through these connections?

On Witches and Witch Hunts

On Thursday (2/8), you are going to be reading about the witch hunts that exploded in Europe and America during the Early Modern period. These were officially-sanctioned searches, inquisitions, and trials of individuals (mostly women) who were quite literally accused of being witches. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a witch hunt is “a searching out for persecution of those accused of witchcraft.” Key to this definition is the implication that those who were accused were, in turn, persecuted – typically because the accused were generally assumed to be guilty in such cases. Since the time of these historical witch hunts, the phrase has taken on a slightly different connotation in colloquial English usage. The dictionary also defines witch hunt as “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views.” For this blogpost, we are going to try something a little different, by having you work with our assigned sources about real-life witch hunts and then seeking to connect them to some modern-day “witch hunt” (in the non-literal sense of the term implied by Webster’s second definition).

In your post, then, I’d like you to draw out an interesting idea, a statement, or a quotation from your assigned sources on witch trials for Thursday. Explain why you think that notion is important to the understanding of the persecution of witches, who are some of the most famous human “monsters” of all time. Then, I’d like you to use/apply your chosen idea to some twenty-first century “witch hunt” that you know about, whether it involves a controversial politician, a fallen celebrity, or something from your own experience. The idea here is to carefully consider some of the ideologies and “group thinking” that defines witch hunts, and to connect the real-life inquisitions of the Early Modern period to certain closed-minded events and activities from our own day.

Connecting the Monsters of the Middle Ages

Our work this week is all about exploring the wonderful monsters of the Middle Ages. We started with a thoughtful overview of medieval monstrosity and its understanding, and then took a close look at the monsters found on a variety of premodern maps. For Thursday (2/1), we will take a look at a variety of monsters from a variety of contexts – travel writing, literary manuscripts, bestiaries, and different kinds of statuaries (gargoyles and Sheela-Na-gigs). Thus, I thought it would be useful and interesting to do some comparing/contrasting of some of these monsters, and see what comes out of it.  For, it is a truism of comparative analysis that by comparing different things, it enables the viewer to see these things in a different and more nuanced light. It is in that spirit that I want you to complete your comparisons for this blog post.

In general, I want you to complete two separate comparisons for this assignment.  For the first, you should compare the monsters of medieval maps to some form of monstrosity assigned for class on Thursday. Try and be as specific as you can here, perhaps even identifying a specific monster from a specific map (as opposed to some other, specific creature assigned for class) so that you can really hone in on the details and their implications. For your second comparison, I’d like you to compare a monster from Gerald of Wales’ ‘History and Topography of Ireland’ with a monstrous beast (from the medieval bestiary), gargoyle, or Sheela-Na-Gig. Again, try and be as specific as you can in your comparisons. Whatever monstrous entities you choose to compare, your analysis should amount to at least two in-depth paragraphs in which you explain your comparison, offer some observations about the monstrous entities you have selected, and then attempt to draw some conclusions about them.

On “The Plinian Races” and the Monsters of the Natural History

For your first Blogpost of the semester, I’d like to do a few simple things to get you thinking about the assigned reading for 1/25, and also to do some additional work with the important “monster theory” of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen.  So, for this first test-run on the course blog, I’d like you to do two specific things (which should amount to at least two robust paragraphs overall):

1)  In his chapter on “The Plinian Races,” John Block Friedman makes some interesting comments about the (supposed) monsters of the ancient world, particularly from the perspective of the Greeks.  He includes a variety of examples of human groups (from India and Ethiopia) who are understood (or, rather, misunderstood) by ancient authors as having mysterious, monstrous qualities.  He also offers some analysis of these beings, and draws some interesting conclusions about them.  For part one of your Blogpost, then, I’d simply like you to offer a specific quotation from Friedman’s discussion that you feel is especially interesting or important.  Then, discuss it by explaining what, specifically, is so intriguing about your chosen quote?  Why does it seem so noteworthy as a window into the culture (and monsters) of ancient Greece and Rome (or India and Ethiopia)?

2)  For part two of your response, I’d like to do a bit more work with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s influential essay “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”.  Here, I’d like you to apply ONE of Cohen’s theses to ONE monster outlined by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History.  If you apply and use Cohen’s ideas as a way to explore or understand Pliny’s varied discussion of monsters found both on land and in the oceans, what connections or ideas arise by using Cohen’s model?  The point here is to further enhance your understanding of Cohen’s complex essay by working closely with it and using it to help you understand another complex piece of monstrous writing.

I’ll be curious to see what you all have to say for this first Blogpost of the semester!!

Myth-Making and Fantasy in (Post)Modern Film

Since the earliest years of the cinema, fantasy has been one of the most common filmic modes — and it is no coincidence that many (or indeed most) fantasy films feature significant elements of myth and/or tragedy.  For your final Blogpost of the semester, you have three options: 1) Returning your attentions to the early days of the cinema in America, pick another popular and influential film from, say, sometime before 1970.  Much like with have done with the ‘Wizard of Oz’, I’d like you to consider:  just how does the film fit with some of the key archetypes or heroic adventures we have seen so far this semester? What are the “mythological” elements of your chosen film, how does it fit with the monomyth, and what lessons does it teach?  Be specific and detailed in explaining your answer.  2)  In the wake of our fun-filled screening on Friday of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’, it would be interesting to hear some more words on the mythological (or tragic) elements, characters, or themes of George Lucas’s influential film.  However, given that we spent our time on Friday with the original ‘Star Wars’ film, it might also be especially interesting to see you address some of the ideas, heroes, or magical symbols in one of the other ‘Star Wars’ films that we did NOT watch in class.  Alternately, you could do something similar with the ‘Star Trek’ series if that interests you.  3) Finally, what do you make of the myth-making in J.R.R. Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and/or the Harry Potter franchise?  Since it is your final Blog of the semester, I have deliberately left this prompt a little bit open-ended, but I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on some of the most famous (cinematic) “myths” created in the (post)modern world!

Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Film in Early America

In recent classes, we have been examining fairy tales from the European tradition.  Now, we are moving into folklore and “myths” from our own country of America, and getting closer and closer to our own day and age.  Historically, there are countless “tall tales” from far and wide in the fledgling United States, and the folktales of our land are simultaneously exceptional and unusual while also being discernibly connected to prior tales and traditions.  America is also home to Hollywood, which established new legends and myths during the rise of the cinema in the early twentieth century.  To examine these uniquely American developments, you have two options for this Blogpost:  1)  In response to the stories assigned for Monday (11/13), you should identify and choose a significant theme, idea, or image from a specific tale that you find to be particularly intriguing as a window into the beliefs, behaviors, politics, or social developments of early America.  Then, I’d like you to do a little research into the historical time period in question and the issue in question as it relates to that age.  Next, move on to examine the issue as it appears thematically in the story and offer a brief interpretive analysis of just what the author seems to be doing by way of rendering that issue for the reader in this tale.  As it relates to your chosen social subject, just what is the “moral of the story”?  2)  The second option for this response is intended for all you movie lovers out there.  On Wednesday (the 15th) we will be discussing one of the most famous movies of all time:  The Wizard of Oz.  In the story of Dorothy, this film may offer a new kind of hero for a new age.  On the other hand, Dorothy is simultaneously a hero of old, with traits that are kindred to those of the great heroes of ancient myth, such as Odysseus, Aeneas, and so on.  With this in mind, your second option is to consider how, specifically, The Wizard of Oz connects with some of the key archetypes, traits, behaviors, or heroic adventures we have seen so far this semester? What kind of hero is Dorothy, exactly?  How is her story similar to – or different than – the myths of old?

Comparing Fairy Tales, Old and New

In both the German and English-speaking worlds, the most influential collection of premodern fairy tales was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was originally published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  Grimm’s tales offer fascinating resources for considering various historical subjects from the early nineteenth century, but especially topics revolving around childhood, gender, family, class, and socioeconomic hardship.  It may come as no surprise, therefore, that these themes are writ large in what has become the most famous series of fairy tales ever produced: the various films by Walt Disney and his company that are based upon earlier fairy tales.  On the date when this Blog post is due, you will be moving past the Grimms and Disney to consider how several well-known literary authors have re-imagined fairy tales for a modern audience, especially for a more mature and cynical twenty-first century reader.  And in class we will be watching clips from several films that work in a similar manner, taking well-known fairy tale material and offering a modern spin on it.  For this response, then, I want you to have a little fun with these various tales, which ARE simultaneously meant for entertainment while also being intended to intrigue and educate readers/viewers about certain moral ideas.  I thought it would be interesting to see what might happen if you precisely and directly bring specific tales from different times into conversation.  Thus, I want you to somehow compare a single, specific story (or character) from Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a particular movie (or character) from the Disney universe.  OR, you could compare one of the modern literary versions — or even filmic reimaginings for adults — with either Grimm’s tales or the Disney fairy stories.  You might consider:  What are these stories and versions about, and in what ways are they notably similar and different?  What did you find shocking or surprising in these stories, and why?  Do these “texts” ultimately suggest different ideas and definitions of “fairy tales”?  How/why so?  Finally, what is the “moral” of the story for your chosen “texts”, and more importantly, what social or political ideas relative to the various time periods in question do your selected stories seem to subtly highlight and comment upon?

Comparing the Knights of the Round Table to other Medieval Mythical Heroes

In a way, this Blog post is meant to introduce you to, and invite you to practice, skills that you will be using for your upcoming Hero Paper – which will be a comparative account of a premodern mythological hero (or theme, etc.).  For this Blog, then, I want you to compare a specific character from Malory’s Morte D’Arthur with a character from another text we have read lately in Unit Two.  So, you could compare King Arthur or one of his companions (Lancelot, Gawain, Guinevere, etc.) to such figures as Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Sigurd, Roland, Thor, Culhwch, Deirdru, and so on.  Whichever figure(s) you choose to use as the basis of your comparison, the key is not just to note that there are similarities and differences at play but to illustrate them, and investigate them.  In so doing, you must demonstrate how bringing your two characters together reveals something about them (their beliefs, behaviors, society, etc.) that would not have been clear otherwise.  Thus, much like your second major paper, this response is asking you consider how bringing the two characters helps to illuminate their (respective) meaning and significance; it highlights why it is important to read them together and explains what gets learned through this comparative and analytical negotiation.

Applying Adichie’s Ideas About “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want you to practice “reading between the lines” by analyzing crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow pointedly from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk).  In general, the goals here are for you to:  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon Adichie’s ideas from her popular lecture; and practice your skills in critically reading a notable historical or political story – skills of the very kind you will be working with for your Unit Two projects.

With these goals in mind, here’s what I would like for you to do in your Blog post:

-For your topic, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  OR, as an alternative, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the world of politics in the age of Trump, that would be acceptable as well.

-Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you should quote her talk and use her specific words and ideas somewhere in your discussion.

-As Adichie says, the truth is that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):  What other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??  To answer these questions will likely require a bit of research, and the key is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story” that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big picture” in regards to the situation in question.

Truths about ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’

The 2017 Freshman Convocation lecture will be given by Ryan Holiday, the author of ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying.’  If you are in my Critical Thinking course, you will have spent some class time exploring some of the key ideas in the book.  If you are in my ‘Myth’ course, you will not have studied it directly, but the hope and expectation is that you have read it, since this was asked of all incoming freshmen.  In fact, Holiday’s book might actually speak in interesting ways to myths and myth-making (when seen from a twenty-first century perspective).  Whichever class you are taking, in this Blog post I want you to carefully respond to the common reading for Stockton freshmen.  Your response may do one of two things (or both!), and should be at least two paragraphs long:  1)  Offer some commentary in the wake of Holiday’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation (on Thursday the 28th ).  Tell us, what did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about his lecture, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of your class?  Also, what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about this talk!  2)  If you aren’t able to attend the lecture or would simply rather discuss the book itself, then I’d like you to do just that.  So, choose a particular moment in (or idea from) ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ and make some insightful connections between this text and our course themes, or assigned readings.  To make these connections, you might quote from the book itself, and then discuss what Holiday seems to be saying and doing in your selected moment (relative to truth, lies, and journalism) – and why?  Also, what thoughts do YOU have about the subject – how do YOU respond to the issue(s) raised in the book based on your own knowledge or experience?

On Violence, War, and Peace in Sophocles and Homer

The significance and influence of the works of Homer and Sophocles cannot be overstated, and there is no doubt that the ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Oedipus Rex’ are both masterpieces of world literature.  These texts are crucially important examples of Greek mythological writing, but are also highly interesting when seen as political documents of a kind, texts about war and peace, kingship, imperialism, xenophobic hatred, and so on. Although the violent conflicts depicted in these works are fictional, they may well have been inspired by the real-life fighting that was persistent among the city-states of Greece.  Therefore, in this Blogpost, I want you to think about the ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Oedipus Rex’ not strictly as a mythological texts but as political documents, as creative acts that negotiate the day’s crises of power and authority.  To do so, I want you to address a particular war-oriented theme – such as violence, hatred, justice, mercy, authority, surrender, and negotiation – and examine that theme as presented in a particular speech or passage from the ‘Odyssey’.  Then, I’d like you to do the same with regards to the political content in a vital moment from ‘Oedipus Rex’.  In your discussion, you might bring the two texts into conversation and, at minimum, should identify the central issue(s) of your chosen lines, and detail the challenges and logic of the characters regarding the subject.  You should also feel free to offer some thoughts about what YOU think about the topic within the context of these stories (if not the culture of Greece more generally).

The Epic Gilgamesh vs. the Myth(s) of Hesiod

The Epic of Gilgamesh is widely recognized as being, perhaps, the earliest masterpiece of world literature.  Hesiod, who wrote his Theogony hundreds if not thousands of years later, is widely credited with helping to establish the immensely influential tradition of Greek mythical writing.  One of these is an anonymous text carved onto clay tablets using cuneiform script, while the other is often seen as amongst the earliest examples of alphabetic literary writing.  One of these works was mostly hidden from view for over a millennium and is from the ancient, mysterious, and often undervalued society of Mesopotamia; the other comes from the later, well-documented, and widely praised culture of Greece.  Yet despite tremendous differences of time, place, subject matter, and textual form, there are some remarkable similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Theogony, not to mention some telling differences.  Thus, I’m interested in seeing what might happen if we bring these ostensibly distant and divergent works together in very precise ways.  In particular, what might get revealed about the differences between early “epic” and “myth” by comparing, for example, the trials and tribulations faced by Gilgamesh with Hesiod’s tales of his favorite god Zeus?  To see what might come out of a focused exploration of these two monumentally important work, please pick two characters (one from each text) and compare/contrast them.  What does this interaction suggest about the characters themselves, and more importantly, about key elements of each masterpiece (if not their respective societies)?  What does your comparison reveal about the two works, and the two different types of work in question (i.e. epic vs. myth) ??