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?

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.

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).

Tragedy, the Monomyth, and Stories of Creation/Destruction

This week, we are working to lay important intellectual foundations for our class by introducing the classical theories of Aristotle (on the subject of tragedy) and the recent scholarship of Joseph Campbell (on the “monomyth” and the mythical hero).  To more fully comprehend the theories in question and the first mythical stories on the syllabus – myths of creation and flood/apocalypse stories from the ancient world – I want see how you can tie them together in a very specific way.  You have two options for this exploration.  1)  In the first case, you may apply specific ideas from Aristotle’s theories of tragedy to a specific myth (assigned for Wednesday) of your choosing.  I was particularly thinking that it would be interesting to see how the plot of your chosen tale fits certain “tragic” modes (such as leading toward a “catharsis”), or to consider how the characters fit Aristotle’s ideals – especially of the “tragic hero.”  2)  On the other hand, you might work with and through key ideas from Campbell’s influential scholarship.  If, for example, you would like to explore the notion of a “monomyth,” you might compare/contrast the similarities between several of the creation tales.  Alternately, it might be interesting to think about how a given story depicts the stages of the hero’s journey according to Campbell’s terms (i.e. separation, initiation, return).   For this first Blog post of the semester, it’s all about applied critical thinking – and it will be interesting to see what kinds of intellectual connections you can make by utilizing the ideas of Aristotle or Campbell.

On Alexie’s “Absolutely True” Account of Power in Today’s Society

Early in ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’, by Sherman Alexie, the narrator Junior comments that “I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” Shortly thereafter, he adds that “we reservation Indians don’t get to realize our dreams. We don’t get those chances. Or choices. We’re just poor. That’s all we are.”  Junior has an interesting story to tell, and his life has been deeply impacted by the difficult realities of life on the reservation. For those of you in my ‘Power and Society’ class Junior’s experiences speak in interesting ways to issues of power, such as the authority of the state, class and hierarchy, poverty, the politics of parenting, and the role of schools in adolescent lives.  Bearing in mind such issues, in this Blog post I want you to carefully respond to the common reading for Stockton freshman.  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 the illustrator’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation (on Thursday the 29th ).  Tell us, what did Ellen Forney say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her lecture, and 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, then I’d like you to do just that.  So, choose a particular moment in (or idea from) the novel and make some insightful connections between Alexie’s story and our course themes, or assigned readings.  To make these connections, you might quote from the book itself, and then discuss what Alexie seems to be saying and doing in your selected moment (relative to power and inequality), and why?  Also, what thoughts do YOU have about the subject – how do YOU respond to the power issue(s) raised in the novel based on your own knowledge or experience?

Applying the Ideas of Aristotle and Joseph Campbell

This week, we are working to lay more intellectual foundations for our studies by considering the classical theories of Aristotle (on the subject of tragedy) and the recent scholarship of Joseph Campbell (on the “monomyth” and the mythical hero).  And at last, we have gotten to our first mythical narratives of the class, myths of creation and flood/apocalypse stories from the ancient past, as depicted in various cultures.  Thus, to fully understand the theories in question and the first stories on the syllabus, I want see how you can tie them together in a very specific way.  You have two options for this exploration.  In the first case, you may apply certain ideas from Aristotle’s theories of tragedy to a specific myth (assigned for Wednesday) of your choosing.  I was primarily thinking that it would be interesting to see how the plot of your chosen tale fits certain “tragic” modes (such as leading toward a “catharsis”), or how the characters fit Aristotle’s ideals — especially of the “tragic hero.”  Alternately, you can work with and through key ideas from Campbell’s influential output.  If, for example, you would like to explore the notion of a “monomyth,” you might compare/contrast the similarities between several of the creation tales; on the other hand, it might be interesting to think about how a given story depicts the stages of the hero’s journey according to Campbell’s terms (i.e. separation, initiation, return).   It’s all about applied critical thinking here, and it will be intriguing to see what kinds of intellectual connections you can make and the interpretive suggestions you might draw out by utilizing the ideas of Aristotle or Campbell.

Welcome to the Art(s) of Ideology!

Welcome to the Art(s) of Ideology, a professor run, student driven community at Stockton College.  Here, we will discuss legends and literature, power and politics, and explore the past and present implications of significant texts and challenging ideologies.  The conversation begins now — please join us!