Good Literature

On Wednesday I had an amazing amount of fun. I stayed home from class and work, and enjoyed a watching the mercury rise to 101 degrees on my thermometer. While I was sick, stuck at home, I decided to open up a book I started at the beginning of the semester that I have had to put on hold due to the semester’s work load.  It was Brandon Weber’s “The Red Circle: My life in the Navy SEAL Corps and How I trained the World’s Deadliest Marksman.”  I remembered that it was the book I shared with the class at the semester’s start when we all discussed what we had been reading at that time. This got me thinking.

We were had been asked what we considered literature, and what makes literature good. After all we have talked about this semester I reached a conclusion. Anything that can be considered good literature just has to engage its audience and affect them in some way. A book can make people laugh, cry, think, or just relax. With a temperature of 101 and being pretty groggy, anything I was reading that could hold my attention and relax me was considered good literature. Though I already love the book, writing, author and content, it would not have mattered if I was reading “Twilight” as long as it took my mind off my discomfort. Ultimately I think good literature is something that transports you to a place that is away from the real world. If the story can capture you to the point of forgetting  where or who you are, then that story was good enough to distract you from life. That is good literature. Maybe the books won’t be classics or the best novels in the world, but as long as it is good to someone it is good literature. So, literature, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If it means something to someone, than the literature is good in some way.

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Resume Nostalgia

As I looked over my resume, checking for mistakes and ensuring I had followed our professor’s advice, I could not help but to think about how much time I have put into obtaining a college degree. So much time, money, and countless years of work have been poured into a pursuit of higher education. It seems odd – no, funny – no, hilarious that one little piece of paper holds so much power in regards to my life. My personal story, the history of my education all mapped out on some parchment; baring all of me for any prospective employer to see and judge me. It seems ridiculous. How in the world could a small scribbling of text determine who I am as a writer, or how hard I am going to work for a company? I understand that a resume is a tool and a symbol of what I am willing to do or my work ethic and history, but it still seems silly. This however is not my main concern. I found reviewing my resume offered a greater sense of nostalgia.

Looking over my academic career and skills gained over the course of my life reminded me of all the good times I have had getting to where I am. Sure, not all times were good. There were a lot of deadlines, loads of reading and paperwork that sometimes seemed endless, and it has taken a long time to get here.  There were moments in which I wondered if college was ever going to end. Through and through there was one truth that stayed constant: no matter how hard things got, I would push through, make the best of it and turn a difficulty into something I learned from.  I realized that even the most arduous assignments were enjoyable parts of being an English major. I have really loved the work I have committed myself to over the past six years, and I am looking forward to continuing that work. I have to wonder if anyone else sensed some feeling of nostalgia while building their English resume…

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Book Ban

Banning books. Why the hell do we do it? I know our class does not personally ban books, nor do I mean “we” as English majors. I mean “we” as a society…as a collective body of people, why on Earth do we waste our energy banning books. We have spent an awful lot of time in class discussing the education system and what we believe should be taught in our education system/how it should be run. One of the things i believe we should stop implementing in our efforts to run and maintain a healthy and efficient education system is wasting our time on banning books. Sure, not every book is school appropriate or proper for every grade level, but does that mean we should slap a label on it stating “none shall read this book” is necessary? If a book has objectable content, then simply do not teach that book. Banning it will only incite conflict and create interest in the novel – not determent from ever reading the book. Banning books is just a way of publicly saying “we do not like his and do not want you to like it either.” Nazis banned books that were not part of their values,  do we really want to follow the Nazi play book? If you find a book objectionable than just do not read it, please do not waste the time of others by prohibiting literature.

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English Opportunities

                End of senior year is coming up fast. All this talk about job hunting and resume building is making it come up even faster. It is almost hard to imagine what I will do with myself with so many different options in front of me. Graduation has the potential to make us feel overwhelmed. I recently took a good kick to the gut by not getting recruited for the state police. I had everything planned according to being in the state police. It was a course of action I pursued heavily, putting in 110% for every bit of the strenuous process. In the end, it did not work out and now I have to start pursuing my contingency plans. After all I have been through with this endeavor, for it to fall out from under me is not ideal, but I still have other options that I would love equally. Hearing in class the other day such helpful tips from a knowledgeable expert was reassuring. It was nice to hear straight talk from a person who has been through all of this, and who is an expert in the field, about how to present yourself professionally as an English Major. Though things did not work out as planned – which in life they often do not –  knowing there are plenty more opportunities out in the world was pleasant.

                I wish I would have had more experiences like this throughout my college career. Sure, I went to career meetings and job fairs, sinking a lot of time into researching multiple careers I found suitable. Aside from that, I never had another class offer useful and complete discussion about resumes or employment opportunities. It was nice to share that discussion in class during a challenging time.

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Graphic Novel

Persepolis arrived at my doorstep the other morning, and, to be completely honest, I had not a clue what to expect. Sure, as a class we discussed the basic details of the graphic novel while voting on what to read, even addressing information on the content of the story. I knew I would be reading the autobiographical story of a girl’s life in Iran and about the Islamic revolution, but I have never read a graphic novel before. To me, reading Persepolis was going to be a very unique first experience. Obviously, I have read comic strips, children’s books and excerpts of comic books before – but a graphic novel? It was going to be a new way of reading an entire story. So far, reading a graphic novel for the first time has been nothing short of fascinating.

The language in a graphical novel feels alive in a visual context not usually seen in plain text. Satrapi’s words are personal and concise in the comic style frames. Those words are activated by the images she has provided; the darkly shaded figures adding tremendous life to the text with artistic expression. The combination of her writing and the dark illustrations make for an intriguing visual/text experience. Reading this style for the first time has made me feel closer to the characters and their actions faster than I do while reading a regular book. It is just nice to have a visual representation of the story to supplement the text. Not to say there is anything wrong with the traditional way of writing, but the graphics have been enjoyable.

Another element of the graphic novel I have begun to really admire the tone set by the illustrations. Everything being shaded in little except for various levels of black and white adds a gloomy, foreboding feeling to the novel. Upon seeing the characters and the other drawings, one cannot help but to gain a sense of impending doom.

In conclusion, what I have read of Persepolis has provided me with a great first reading of a graphic novel. The drawings and language creates an unforgettable experience for the audience. I am excited to continue on reading this sad story of a girl growing up in Iran.

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Disposable Literature

Disposable Literature. This was a term that stood out to me during one of our most recent class discussions. What does it mean?

 Disposable literature, as we discussed it, classifies a certain genre of literature that is inexpensive in nature. Most of these books or stories are cheaply produced, distributed and written – the content of the writing often being as cheap as the material it is bound in. These are the books and short stories you might find in the subway or the outside of the pharmacy waiting room. These are the wham-bam books that, as Dr. Tange stated, they were so cheap  and poorly written it would not matter if you were to leave one of what you had just bought  in the very seat you were sitting in while reading it. This idea of bad literature being produced to be disposable is all fine and good except for one aspect: literature as a disposable entity. We have been raised to love and respect literature; taught the classics and share stories, such as Dante’s Inferno as timeless. The problem is, the concept of literature being timeless or classic becomes tarnished by the lowering of the standards for writing this disposable literature. It promotes the image of books as cheap – a means of passing time, or a temporary convenience.

Once again, the lowering of standards in order to produce quick, cheap books would be just fine, seeing that if anything exists there will be a low end of it, except for the fact it also encourages bad writing. Look at some of the examples of the most popular literature we have seen recently in the mainstream media. Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, A Walk to Remember are all examples of how the quickly produced, disposable books have started to make an impression on our society of what classical literature should be. Maybe I am just being a literature snob, but I have to say that it is somewhat disheartening when people stop caring about what John Grisham is writing and more about what story the “National Inquirer” is running at the moment.

In summary, disposable literature serves its purpose, but at what cost? Are we lowering our standards so much that we have lost sight of what creative, hard-working, talented writers are creating? Maybe we have even what people are capable of writing, because this garbage has floated to the top. What do you think?

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Long Blog 2

            Yesterday in class we discussed the idea of teaching ethics to students in schools. During our discussion, a series of questions, proposals and problems arose regarding the topic. Apparently it is near impossible to determine how to properly teach ethics effectively to students. You would think that a group of well-educated adults – especially students who are nearing the end of their academic careers – would be able to efficiently promote, or establish at least one concrete method of ethics instructions for younger students, but this task is much more arduous than it would seem.

            For starters, we all know that ethics cannot be taught to a person overnight. You simply cannot sit a group of students down in a classroom and say “Alright kids, today we are going to teach you how to be good. These are the things you need to do, and how you must act if you want to become a decent and productive member of society!” – send them home, and the next day they wake up model citizens. It purely does not work like that. If teaching ethics effectively, every educational institution would utilize the same program, and society’s problematic issues, such as crime, would most likely be greatly reduced. There are many reasons ethics cannot be taught in this manner, but for argument’s sake, we will only focus on a few.

            The issue of free will is one of the biggest determining factors as to why ethics cannot simply be instructed. Every human being on the planet, no matter their size, race, religion, sex, origin, or social, economic or psychological status is born with the gift of free will; to act, do and say what we want, when we want, and where we want no matter what. As a community, we establish laws; certain boundaries we say people are not allowed to cross in attempt to keep order and fairness. Despite these helpful laws and guidelines, free will makes it so a person is still able to unlawfully break those boundaries if he or she chooses to do so. This is true with anything in our world regardless of the stated consequences. For example, you can tell a person that good personal hygiene is important to maintaining their health – that if the person does not brush their teeth every day, their teeth will rot out of their skull. With the person knowing this, they may still decide they do not want to brush their teeth, and will most likely eventually experience dental problems. The same theory applies to theft. You can warn a person that theft is wrong and a punishable offense, however they still may choose to steal and go to jail. All decisions are products of free will. This makes the effective educating of ethics difficult, because no matter how many times you tell a person what to do, or how to act in order to be an ethical person, they may still choose to ignore that advice; to break those laws. That does not mean we should not enforce the law, or that we should not try to teach morals or ethics, it just means that it is a factor which increases the overall difficulty of the pursuit – that we must look for a variety of courses of action.

            Another major issue with successfully teaching ethics is the environment in which children and students are raised. Many subjects and important life values are taught or can be obtained at school, but a disruptive home life can ruin everything. A child could have a perfect school year, having the best teacher in the faculty and the most caring classmates, and learn about ethics every single day, but a negative home environment also teaches the child about life. If the student is raised in a home environment in which elements like domestic violence, drugs, dishonesty, racism, or theft are present or acceptable, the child hold a higher risk of also viewing these acts as acceptable – maybe even perceiving them as normal household functions, despite what he/she is taught in the classroom. Sure, some people grow up with these things and choose to be the opposite of their parents, but reversal does not occur in every case, or even the majority of cases, and it certainly does not mean those events did not leave a lasting impression on them. Without a healthy environment for children to grow up in, their perspectives will be forever skewed, because they know that people are capable of doing rotten things, and somewhere within them they too are capable. So, even when sterling ethics are taught in the classroom, a home environment can destroy it all. I will still comment, that this is not a reason we should still not try to teach ethics, it just makes the effective teaching of the subject harder.

            Another, and possibly one of the greatest of obstacles for the effective teaching of ethics in the education system is the question of perspective of ethics is the correct option to teach. We live on a planet of millions of people, all holding varying perspectives and ideas of what being an ethical person truly is. These perspectives of ethics are formulated by factors such as origin, history, culture, religion, economic or social status, and the list goes on. No two people are going to have the exact perspectives on ethics, no matter how similar they may be. Religion is a huge factor, as well. Religion, if immensely important to a person, has the power to sway person’s mind in a vote any day of the week. It as if what a person’s religion dictates them to do or believe trumps logic in even the ugliest of civil rights battles. For example, a peer in class brought up the issue of homosexuality and how it should be viewed or taught as an ethical subject. He furthered that inquiry with which perspective do you teach: a secular vision or a religious vision, because the two tend to vary greatly. When it comes to homosexuality, there are religious groups out there who promote caring and love to all every day, and then turn on that logic in a heartbeat when it comes to homosexuals. So when you throw factors that people feel so strongly about into the mix, like religion, it muddies the water and it is impossible to get people to agree on what perspective is going to be the right one to teach ethics to our students.

            Ultimately, it is near impossible to just sit down and point our finger at one solid method and proclaim “this is the way we need to teach our students ethics in schools and it will work!” I wish we could, but we cannot. What we can do however, is teach ethics through leading by example. We need to ensure students are being taught (and raised, if we can help it) in safe, healthy and ethical environments every single day. We can do this by creating comfortable classrooms and communities were values of courtesy, integrity, respect, honesty and selflessness are upheld. We need to create environments where people act within these values, in which people care for one another and look down upon racism, sexism, and dishonesty. We need to teach ethics by example, not just words. That is the only way I can think of being effective in schools when it comes to teaching ethics, if there is a better way, I hope we can find it.

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            Recently in class we read Orhan Panuk’s novel, My Name is Red. During the time in which we were reading and discussing this Turkish novel, it was impossible to not notice how many of the novels that have been written over the past twenty-some years contain characters who seem to be created more and more in the image of corruption or dysfunction. As the years pass, it is becoming more frequent for an author’s characters to act as if he or she emerged from a dystopian sector of dark reality, and Pamuk’s characters in My Name is Red.

            Most of Pamuk’s characters are troubled, lost, confused, or are deceitful and corrupt out of a desire for personal gain. Black is overall a decent person, but is troubled by his admiration/obsession for Shekure, to the point of making irrational decisions. Meanwhile, he is attempting to solve a murder related to Enishte’s secret book, adding a very dark element. Then there’s Shekure whose major problems lie with her missing (most likely killed) husband, and being a single parent. Her problems are furthered by her dilemma of who to marry in order to protect her family, seeing that her close relatives are being killed off by an unknown murderer. On top of that, Pamuk has created the rest of the miniaturists, who are pretty shady and messed up characters. Dysfunction is a trend in these characters’ traits, and seems to be a trait that is growing ever more popular within recent written works.

            If you were to look at a timeline of dysfunction being represented through characters in novels over the past 100 years, you might begin to see a steady pattern of increased dysfunction as time progressed. Take George Orwell’s novella, Animal Farm, for example. Published in 1945, the novella tackles the Russian Revolution and the chaos that ensued, ultimately leading to the failure of a fair and equal society. Though the novella was meant to portray real life events, its characters are riddled with corruption, and the community dashed with dysfunction. The pig representing Lenin is not everything the farm desires, so he is betrayed and run off by the pig representing Stalin, who is only worse. Many of the more politically involved animals are corrupt, seeking self-gain, while those representing “the people,” such as the horse and sheep, are more innocent and naïve. So, overall the novella contains some interesting figures; some good, some bad. Then we jump to Heller’s Catch-22, 1961, in which the volume of people who are off the page has increased. Almost the entire cast is crazy. The higher-up military officers have no clue what to do, and are leading their men to their deaths out of greed and hypocrisy, the mess officer is a power hungry trader, one pilot practices crashing to escape from the war, and the main character is slowly going mad at not being able to leave the Air Force. Only a few people, like Nately and the Chaplain, are somewhat sane, and they are often killed or shuffled of the page. Jump to 1996, Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club, was published. There is not a single character in that novel who does not exhibit at least a good sized shred of dysfunctional behavior. Every person in that novel is malicious, or a figment of the main character’s (whose name is never stated) imagination, or deeply troubled in some way. It all goes down to the main character who has split personality disorder and is criminally insane. Not a single person in that book is quite right with the world.

            Overall, I think we are going to be seeing a lot more of this trend in future writings. I believe as time goes on, writers are going to try and grab our attention a lot more by making their characters more and more dysfunctional. What do you think?

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Literature As We Know It

            One of the things I have found most interesting in our class discussions so far is the eclectic array of literature that is referred to every class period. Not a single class period goes by without at least three different pieces of literature being brought up as a reference to the conversation we are having in the classroom at that time. When our discussions are so thickly based around life and multiple perspectives of human interaction it is an amazing experience to witness how literature so effortlessly intertwines with every life situation we can think of to discuss. The correlation between literature and life is so breathtakingly obvious that it makes the content of literature more fascinating, more relevant with every reading. This realization has brought me to a series of conclusions.

            The first conclusion is that literature is more than a product made by mankind (or womankind, for that matter, but let’s not argue semantics). Literature is a re-telling of life; our stories, so to speak. Literature is how we document the lives of others or our own. It is how we express our emotions and tell the history of humanity through factual recounting or fiction. Every reference we make to a story or famous novel in class holds some sort of a relevant connection to our debates, which in turn relates to a discussion about life. If literature is constantly being connected to life, the correlation between life and literature must be stronger than just coincidence. It is as if our literary works are more than a way of entertainment, but a fashion in which we document the human experience.

            The second conclusion stemmed from the first. If literature is a tool we use to document our lives, or other’s life stories, then we (specifically writers) must be moved by a story or experience so much that we feel compelled to write it down and share it with the world. This is where the authors’ magic is manifested from: the human experience. Most of the novels, stories, articles, and every other bit of literature have been derived from life in some way, shape, or form. If this assumption is accurate, then how much of the literature we have examined is based from actual life? “Animal Farm,” for example, is one of the world’s greatest satirical novels; yet is a chillingly accurate recounting of the changes of power in the USSR. If one of the most powerful literary works of fiction is a retelling of history, than what about other novels? Could they too be rooted in history or real life events?

 Is it so inconceivable that possibly every single bit of written literature is grounded from some aspect of life? If so, what does that conclusion mean? Could it mean that even pieces of fiction could be samples of documented history? 

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Long Blog

            What is cultural literacy and why is it important? I would identify this as the focal point of our class discussions during the past few sessions. One thing that I found most interesting were the reactions people gave to Hirsch and his in your face style of opinionated writing. Many of us saw him as tackling the issue in a manner suggesting his opinion was the only way, and to think of the subject in any other fashion would only prove our inept and absolute lack of cultural literacy or intelligence. I, for one, say screw Hirsch and his pompous opinion. He is interesting, and brings to light an important, engaging issue that we have all had fun talking about, but I have to state that I believe him to be wrong.

            Hirsch states that we must all, as humans, pursue cultural literacy by loading ourselves with as much knowledge as possible. In this respect, I believe Hirsch is correct. Maybe it is not our moral duty or obligation to cram cultural literacy into ourselves in the fashion Hirsch has described, stuffing our brains by studying what has been described as the “5,000 essential things,” but I do believe people should collect knowledge as they progress through life. Cultural literacy should not be something that is learned through simple research or study; cultural literacy should be gained by interacting with different people and experiencing new situations. Cultural literacy is a matter of personal capital, meaning it is a subject that builds or wises a person’s character. It is a collection of stories, experiences, examinations, and situations that enriches us, teaching us humans how to live and survive with one another. The only way to obtain true cultural capital is by living an interactive life with others and trying to understand life or cultures through our experiences with different people. Sure, you can go online and Google how people live in Georgia or China, or what kinds of activities take place during celebrations in the Hindu religion, and gain all sorts of information, but will you really know what those cultures or people are actually like? Sure, you can sit down, open up a dictionary and spend 48 hours studying or memorizing every single word Webster’s Dictionary deems part of the English language, but will you truly understand the meaning of the words if you do not venture out and converse with people?

            If gaining cultural literacy was as easy as sitting down for a week and studying texts or the internet, everyone would do it, and our world would be a much more boring place. The exciting thing about life is that we get to experience one another for who we our; examine each other’s differences and learn from one another. Once we start to learn from each other and our capabilities and experiences, that is when we begin to grow. It is through this growth that we gain personal capital, or as Hirsch would say – cultural literacy. If we could sit down by ourselves and become culturally literate, then what would be the point of sending our children to school at a young age, not releasing them until they are into young adulthood? To gain cultural literacy we have to be shoved into environments with people of different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, race, and religions. In those environments we need to interact, discuss, witness and share our lives, and that is where the learning process begins. I would like to ask Hirsch why he thinks education systems offer study abroad programs, or extensive field trips to new places. These activities are not simple luxuries being offered as vacations for students, no! These are opportunities we gave each other to enrich ourselves and better understand the world, how to communicate with one another, and gain new perspectives about our universe. You cannot get that hands-on experience in a classroom, or online, or a text book. Some things – many things for that matter – have to be learned through our senses. We need that extra push to get us out there to feel, taste, touch and smell. We need to experience the lives and cultures of other people by seeing what life is like up close with them. That is why we send people to school; to gain knowledge and build character through social interaction with a diverse group of people. Students are not trained in culture literacy only to be sent to school to communicate, they are sent to school to learn that content, because life itself is a learning practice.

            You see, cultural literacy is not about cramming information into your head until you feel like you can simply go on out into the world, a new, competent human being. It is takes years and years and decades of hard work, study and social interaction to become truly culturally literate. You have to experience different people and places. Live the lives of your friends, neighbors and enemies; take a walk in the shoes of the impoverished or third-world citizen if you want to actually understand the world and be able to communicate with others effectively. You cannot simply open a textbook or webpage and learn everything there is to know about a place or culture without actually experiencing it for yourself. It is only when you have gone out to see the world that you gain cultural literacy. Hirsch might believe we can become culturally literate through study and regurgitation, but I say nay! If you want to be a worldly communicator you have to get there by living with others in the world. Though Hirsch is correct in saying cultural literacy is important for us to communicate and survive, he does not understand that cultural literacy is gained through communicating and surviving.

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