Response paper to chapters 1 and 2 of sumara

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Response paper to chapters 1 and 2 of sumara

  1. 1. Hamilton 1 Buffy Hamilton ELAN 8410 Reaction Paper: Sumara Chapters 1 and 2 February 11, 2004 Reactions to Acknowledgements and Chapter 1: A Life That Includes Reading As I waded into the opening sections of this text, I heard reverberations of our conversations from recent weeks as well as my past coursework on literacy as inquiry and reader response theories. The first statement in the acknowledgements immediately grabbed my attention: “Both reading and writing are communal acts. Just as the “private” reading is illusory, so too is the single-authored text” (xiii). This statement seemed to echo ideas I explored in last week’s extended response paper. Sumara’s observation that, “Memory is a collective phenomenon: past events can only be understood within the space between the remembered event, the present moment, and projections of what might be” (3) reminded me of our discussion about memories, and I began to wonder how do we “re-read” and “re-write” memories and if this continual process might be similar to the way we “re-read” and “re-write” reading experiences with texts. Sumara’s assertion that only one thing constitutes the act of reading, “…the experience of reading as it becomes part of our remembered, lived, and projected lives” (5), seems to parallel his concept of memory.
  2. 2. Hamilton 2 What stood out the most for me in this chapter is the idea of Sumara as one who sees inquiry as a way of life and how the experience of reading and being a reader is an act of inquiry, exploring the known and more importantly, the unknown. If reading experiences allow, “…the reader to eventually perceive and interpret her or his world differently” (9), then I do believe the English patient’s assertion that “Words…have a power” (The English Patient, 234) and that through acts of reading, we become “communal books.” Sumara relishes the journey of inquiry and allows his questions to lead his experiences and practices as both a reader and a researcher. One other parallel between this chapter and our reading of The English Patient intrigued me as a reader as well as a secondary classroom English teacher. Sumara shares Madeline Grumet’s beliefs about reading: “If reading is a passage between the public and the private world, the journey is fraught with danger. To give oneself up to the text is to relinquish the world in order to have the world; it is a birth and a death. And so it should not surprise us to find a child wary of reading, reluctant to follow that line across the page without knowing where it leads” (9). In my first reaction paper to The English Patient, I was struck by a passage that is in some regards similar to Grumet’s comments: The unlikelihood of Hana and Kip being together is further impressed upon me when Ondaatje writes, “If he could walk across the room and touch her, he would be sane. But between them lay a treacherous and complex journey. It was a very wide world”(113). This quote is especially intriguing to me---what IS it that makes this journey “complex” and “treacherous” for Kip?
  3. 3. Hamilton 3 I think that all of us in this class “paste and glue” bits of texts and experiences as readers into our “communal books of self” just as the English patient did with his book of Herodotus. As experienced and passionate readers, do we view our forays into books as “dangerous” acts or “focal practices”? As I stated last week, I enter a book one person and exit it a different person; sometimes those changes are dramatic, and other times they are subtle; often, though, I don’t realize the transformations until later (is this like the concept of memory alluded to earlier?). The idea of reading being an act of birth and death of an organic self is fascinating to me. My question though is this: Why might the journey of reading be perceived as “dangerous” and “treacherous” for students? Is it because, as Sumara discussed, they are ingrained to view learning as a fixed, sure process in which certainty, not uncertainty or a grappling with the unfamiliar, is cherished? Derrida’s idea that “…the reader does not exist before the work, but is invented by the work through her or his engagement with the work” (33) works for me, but how do we convince the powers that be and even our own colleagues on our hallway that our students should be “…engage with texts that permit some sort of self-interpretation, some form of re-invention” (33) rather than adhering to the prescriptive approach to reading experiences? Those of us who would like to practice a pedagogy and curriculum that is organic and that of “lived experiences” of teachers, students, and texts as opposed to the deified “standards-based” curriculum that pontificates objective learning outcomes in a
  4. 4. Hamilton 4 vacuum struggle to help students imagine a life as a reader that embraces the unknown and the unfamiliar. Chapter 2: Schooling the Literary Imagination “…a question…an intriguing space of indeterminacy- --is left for the reader. Furthermore, the reader is invited into an experience that is always and forever in the process of being lived through. Although our lived experiences have beginnings and endings, the literary text is always in process. It waits for the reader to become engaged with it.” p. 25 Sumara explores some deceptively simple and intriguing questions in this chapter. I especially enjoyed revisiting concepts relating to the works of Iser and Rosenblatt as I thoroughly enjoyed reading works by these two figures last year in READ 8990 with Dr. Fecho and some of our present classmates. Three ideas that stood out for me included: 1. “It is not necessarily the quality of the text that distinguishes the experiences, but, rather, the conditions of reading and the intentions of the reader” (28). 2. “At the same time, this formulation itself calls into question the distinction between efferent and aesthetic. Are these two terms really distinct from one another? Or might we say that one depends upon the other in the playful interaction between reader and text?” (p. 28). 3. “Is it possible that the schooled context of reading is preventing Tim from accepting and accessing the fictive, and at the same time, the imaginative? Is it even possible for the imaginative, subjective, aesthetic,
  5. 5. Hamilton 5 formulative, iterable reading to exist in a setting that valorizes and validates the real, paradigmatic, efferent, communicative one? Is it possible for the culturally announced form of the literacy fiction to function in school settings in the way in which they must in order to perform their transformative work? These are important questions for they begin to address the issue of what I means for the literary imagination and the school curriculum to co-exist” (p. 41). These ideas and questions speak to the heart of my independent research reading in which I am exploring the history of literature curriculum and what influences have shaped it (and failed to shape it) over time. I am increasingly finding myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” as I try to plan learning experiences that fit with my teaching philosophy that is informed by both my studies of theoretical frameworks and my praxis as a classroom teacher. I often feel frustrated because the principles of my philosophy of an inquiry stance on literacy conflict with the rigid standardized assessment driven curriculum that is imposed on both teachers and students. What is said and not said in this schooling environment? What is privileged, and why? I am especially intrigued to explore the question of the blurred boundaries of efferent and aesthetic experiences with texts! Over the last year, I had come to perceive them as being opposite ends of a continuum, but I am eager to explore whether these terms are really a binary concept. Where is that “space of indeterminacy” in our classrooms, and how do we as classroom teachers create reading experiences that invite students to see reading as an organic, dynamic “lived through process” when the current environment reduces reading to a chore that usually results in an objective test in which some “authority” has
  6. 6. Hamilton 6 determined THE “right” and “wrong” answers? How do we create a culture of learning that values our cherishing the “gaps” and “ruptures” (32) of a reading experience? How do we foster conditions and purposes for reading that invite students to embrace the unknown and take that “dangerous journey” and being comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing where that “passage” will lead?

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