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.

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!

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 the Dangers of “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want to build on our work from last class by “reading between the lines” and working to analyze and examine 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 deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known 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 using for your final writing assignment of the semester.

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 here, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the wake of the controversial 2016 presidential election, 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 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.

“Reading” Art

Artist Francis Bacon noted directly that “Everybody has his own interpretation of a painting” and he is also quoted as saying that “I don’t believe art is available; it’s rare and curious and should be completely isolated; one is more aware of its magic the more it is isolated.” Bacon has had a famously contentious career, and his work would be a fine choice for a critical reading exercise.  A week ago in ‘Readings’ class, we spent a day analyzing and interpreting photographic images.   For this final Blog post of the semester I want to do a similar activity, or at least to practice similar skills – a focused type of reading that is especially important for some of you doing your final projects on the topic of art.   In this case, I want you to choose a favorite piece of art and “read” it, examining its various parts and details in order to “deconstruct” the artwork and make meaning out of it.  To do so, you might refer to the photography handout given to you in class, which provides a series of cues and questions you might ask when “reading” an artistic image of this kind.  For your Blog post, I want you to think critically about your chosen piece of art and “interpret” its cues as you deem fit, providing us with two detailed paragraphs of analysis and discussion.

Reading Between the Lines (or, the Dangers of Single Stories)

For this Blog post, I want you to “read between the lines” and work to analyze and examine the material that is NOT found in a story.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis, and the aim here is for you to:  1)  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon the ideas of Chimamanda Adichie in her well-known TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”  2)  Practice your skills in critically reading a story of your choosing – skills of the very kind you will be using for your next formal writing assignment.  With these goals in mind, here’s what I want you to do for your Blog post:  First up, I want you to pick out a 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 (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  To borrow from Adichie’s words, in reality “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, 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 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??

Interrogating Social Identity

In recent ‘Readings’ classes, we have been considering the challenges of “stereotype threat” through the ideas found in Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi. In hand with that exploration, we have been introducing the Critical Thinking concepts of ‘paradigms’ and ‘assumptions’. This Blog post is an extension of that work, and in many ways the hope is that you tie these various threads together in some way by offering up your response to your Interview and, in that response, negotiating the assumptions and paradigms at hand as well as exploring the stereotypes or “threats” felt by your interviewee.  As mentioned on the assignment sheet, your task is to explore the experience of someone with a different set of social contingencies than your own, and to report what you’ve found in an insightful way.  So, taking into consideration the additional details found on your assignment sheet, please present your interview and share your thoughts about just how we ARE all living “under a cloud” (to use Steele’s terms) as a result of our identity contingencies.