Response to chapters 3 and 4 of sumara elan 8410 2 15-04

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Response to chapters 3 and 4 of sumara elan 8410 2 15-04

  1. 1. Hamilton 1 Buffy Hamilton ELAN 8410 Reaction Paper, February 15, 2004 Sumara, Chapters 3 and 4 “After this relationship is formed (between the reader and the text in the interstices), the text functions to announce a commonplace location---a collecting place---for ongoing interpretation.” (49) “…the actual commonplace is not to be found in the book, but rather in the relationship he has with the book.” (49) “But most of all each of them watches and is watched. They study one other. They try to read one another’s face, eye, hands, body. The search for the trace that will permit them some understanding of the other. All this is accomplished within the conditions of their thrown-ness----the condition of being together in a particular place at a particular time.” (53) But here they were shedding their skins. They could imitate nothing but what they were. There was no defence but to look for the truth in others. (The English Patient) “Self is not something within us, but it is something located in the collecting places of particular relations we establish with others within an experienced world of significance.” (79) “The relationship with a literary fiction, then, is not merely an escape from the reader’s lived world; it is a relationship, which, through the space opened up by the conditions imagination of the reader, becomes a transformative space.” (80) “Unskinning asks us to understand….Neither readers nor literary fictions can escape their prior histories of interaction in the world. “ (112). “Literary fictions always co exist and co evolve with and through readers, reading environments and histories of interactions among these.” (113)
  2. 2. Hamilton 2 Questions and Contemplations I am especially intrigued by the idea of relationships with books as being places of ongoing interpretation. What conditions of “thrown-ness” are most conducive to creating these places of commonplace location, and how are we “unskinned” in these places of commonplace location, in our relationships with books and our interactions with the world? How do reading groups such as ours unskin us in a way that reading privately may not? As I read over my found poem from my first reaction paper to The English Patient, a particular quote stood out for me in light of this week’s reading and Sumara’s thoughts on “unskinning”: But here they were shedding their skins. They could imitate nothing but what they were. There was no defence but to look for the truth in others. Of the many ideas and concepts Sumara explores in Chapters 3 and 4, this idea of “unskinning” or “shedding of skins” stood out for me. In The English Patient, Hana unskins the plums with her teeth to provide nourishment. In nature, animals such as snakes shed their skins to adapt to their changing size and to grow new skin that is revitalized and better fitted to their new form and self. For the English Patient and the snake, unskinning is essential to survival. Does this answer Sumara’s question, “So why read fiction?” (43). Our relationships with texts, other readers, our histories become common-place locations that allow us to shed our skins and to “rewrite” and “reshape” a new skin or “self”, a self that “… is not something within us, but it is something located in the collecting places of particular relations we establish with others within an experienced world of significance” (79). How do we “imitate nothing but what we are” while “looking for the truth in others”? This concept of unskinning seems to affirmatively answer my earlier questions from the semester that our relationships with texts help us write
  3. 3. Hamilton 3 ourselves, others, and the world around us in a never-ending circle of transactions that continually condition and influence each other. In Chapter 1 of his book Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child” (http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/nature.html). In the context of this essay, Emerson is advocating nature as a “commonplace location” for interpretation where one can contemplate his never-ending search for “truths.” For Emerson, the relationship with nature was a place where one could examine the self and construct an ongoing creation and glimpses of “truths” in life. For Emerson, to live truly was to life a life of questioning, reflection, and observation in order to continually grow and change. He looked for “truth”, elusive and constantly shifting like the sands in The English Patient, in nature. In other words, Emerson lived a life of inquiry. Reading fiction gives us that a place to “cast off” our “years” and to continually grow and emerge as a new self in our “new skin.” In Chapter 1 of our text, Sumara quotes Madeline Grumet: “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). What conditions of “thrown-ness” might make the journey less “dangerous”? How could we help students see relationships with books as life giving and revitalizing rather than treacherous and deadly? Just a temperature, hormones, age, health, and other factors influence the experience of skin shedding for a snake, what conditions of “thrown-ness” might be more conducive the experience of being “unskinned” by a relationship with a text, the world, and other readers? How do these commonplaces of location become sites of excavation of our selves? How is a relationship with a text similar (and dissimilar) to anthropology?
  4. 4. Hamilton 4 Responses and Thoughts: Possibilities for a New Vision of Literature Curriculum and Teaching Pedagogy • “Truth, always, already, forever depends upon everything; there is no universal truth, no fixed meaning, no bottom line, no last word. It is conditional, contingent, shifting, elusive. No single author of truth, no single reader, no single interpreter” (74). What struck me most from this reading is how our current system of public education is completely contradictory to the concepts and ideas advanced in these two chapters. This reading has only fueled my interest in my focus questions for my independent reading as I explore how literacy and learning seem to have evolved from acts of inquiry and organic rewriting of knowledge to a prescriptive, authoritative system that seems to privilege few and exclude many. Why and how did our curriculum and system of public education become about fixed meanings, single truths, and “authoritative meaning”? This reading causes me to wonder what high school English classrooms would look like if we were to view reading and texts as these places as “commonplace sites” of interpretation of our multiple selves and the world. What would our literature curriculum look like if it indeed became pedagogy of “reading as embodied action”? Would more students begin to view reading as something that could help them “read” the world and themselves rather than as a horrendous chore of text explication and a frustrating endeavor of trying to figure out “the right answers”? How This Reading Speaks To My Prior Reactions and Responses • “Reading requires moving, locating, and relocating one’s self in relations to a co emergent world. It is the continual bridging of newly opened spaces—gaps---that make themselves presenting the ever emerging intertextual fabric of lived experience.” (78) • “The act of reading is not something that is merely added to a collection of experiences; it becomes synthesized into our consciousness.” (79) • “Self is not something within us, but it is something located in the collecting places of particular relations we establish with others within an experienced world of significance.” (79) • “The relationship with a literary fiction, then, is not merely an escape from the reader’s lived world; it is a relationship, which, through the space opened up by the conditions imagination of the reader, becomes a transformative space.” (80)
  5. 5. Hamilton 5 In earlier papers, I posed questions of how and why texts read us and write us, and these readings seemed to speak to those questions. After revisiting these questions after our last class meeting and contemplating my experiences as first-time reader of The English Patient, I began wondering more about how acts of reading contribute to our identity and construct a “communal” text of ourselves. How do acts of reading “write” the “texts” of ourselves and help us “read” the world? How do acts of reading “write” us as actual readers? What powers do words have to construct readers and how they read the world? In what ways do we become “communal histories” and “communal books” through acts of reading over time? Implications For Me As A Fledging Researcher In his article “Interpreting Identities: Advancing Literary Anthropology as a Research Method at http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/cpin/cpinfolder/papers/sumara.htm , I am wondering if Sumara’s use of literary anthropology is a research method I would like to explore in my studies as a doctoral student/researcher as well as a classroom teacher? How do you go about choosing works of fiction to read alongside works of theory and philosophy? Chapter 3 Key Ideas • “So why read fiction?” (43) • “Print literacy significantly alters the way cultures are organized.” (44) • “Pedagogy of storytelling supports ongoing cultural preservation and cultural revision.” (44) • “For Herodotus, to be a historian was to be an inquirer” (46); his work became a collecting place for important cultural knowledge. “Ongoing interpretation” • English patient’s book: an extension of self-identity. “There is no doubt that as we read, we write.” “Our engagement with books is dialogic; as readers we converse with books.” (48) • “After this relationship is formed (between the reader and the text in the interstices), the text functions to announce a commonplace location---a collecting place---for ongoing interpretation.” (49) • Tracing: peering into others to bring us closer to ourselves. Tracing is a part of reading. (51) • “Can a collective mind and collective self exist?” (53) • Condition of thrown-ness (53). • Sartre: “The consciousness that we have of ourselves, of each other, of our relations with each other does not belong to us. It belongs to the situation we share with others in the places that contain us. This is not only true in our lived interactions with others in the world, it is true of our imaginative ones such as those we have with literary fictions.” (57) • “The trace represents our history of interaction in the world” (59).
  6. 6. Hamilton 6 • “It is this personalizing of our interactions and relations with others that forms the trace that marks the body” (59). • Experiencing sense of self: 1. Self is never imprisoned in the body 2. Without the relations of others, we cannot really have a sense of self. 3. The importance of historical “collecting “places for the knowledge which has emerged from the interactions of selves can be more clearly understand; texts chronicle world-human relations, and the desire that infuses these. (61) • Concept of “Jouissance”----sexual, spiritual, physical, and conceptual….a playful eroticism. (62). • “Is it the ability to notice the presence of an absence that we really value?” (64). • Re-organization of the familiar (64). • Excitement of knowing something but not everything; “sense of only becoming lost will we be found” (66). • “The joke in the relationship between the reader and the literary fiction is the vanishing horizon. Although it exists, it can never be reached, it can never be grasped. Jouissance.” (68). • “If the reader is not able or not willing to engage in the construction of meaning, there will be no relation formed between reader and text” (69). • “Significance of the marks is always unstable” (71). • Desert----covering, re-recovering, uncovering permitted no mapping of the desert. The truth is never fixed---it shifts suddenly. The self becomes nomadic; it defies boundaries, categories, names” (72). • Truth, always, already, forever depends upon everything; there is no universal truth, no fixed meaning, no bottom line, no last word. It is conditional, contingent, shifting, elusive. No single author of truth, no single reader, no single interpreter (74). • I am still confused about the concept of “Chora” p. 76 • “Reading requires moving, locating, and relocating one’s self in relations to a co emergent world. It is the continual bridging of newly opened spaces—gaps---that make themselves presenting the ever emerging intertextual fabric of lived experience.” (78) • “The act of reading is not something that is merely added to a collection of experiences; it becomes synthesized into our consciousness.” (79) • “Self is not something within us, but it is something located in the collecting places of particular relations we establish with others within an experienced world of significance.” (79) • “The relationship with a literary fiction, then, is not merely an escape from the reader’s lived world; it is a relationship, which, through the space opened up by the conditions imagination of the reader, becomes a transformative space.” (80)
  7. 7. Hamilton 7 Chapter 4 Key Ideas • “The stories we tell about ourselves and our experiences reflect our history of interactions with others in the world” (p. 85). • “The relationship with the literary fiction must be considered a “real’ experience that contributes to an individual’s history of interactions in the world” (p. 85). • “Reading, whether it is done for private or public purposes, must be understood as not only the re-creation of the self, but of the various systems to which that self is bound” (p. 87). • “Although I was having an individual experience with each text, I was also experiencing the reading of one text IN RELATION TO the others and WITH OTHER READERS. In a sense, all of these readings became one” (91). • “Again, there seems to be a deliberate forgetting of the way in which all of these previous memories and experiences are altered by the ongoing action among persons and texts in the school classroom”(p. 92). • Idea that the traditional view of evolution of “survival of the fittest” is not accurate; instead, the idea that living entities determine their environment and "structural coupling”; “a living entity survives not because it has developed an ideal form but, rather, because it has developed an adequate form to allow structural coupling to continue. Structural coupling, then, can be understood as an ongoing dialectic between living entities and their environment where each simultaneously determines the other”(p. 93). • Concept of “natural drift” (p. 94); biology does not wait for an optimal solution, but a “best fit.” • “Cognition develops to serve the world” (p. 99). • “Truth does not exist IN the world but is continually fixed and unfixed in our ongoing relationships WITH a world” (101). • Knowledge is not embedded in the world or found through introspection; knowledge emerges from our ongoing interpreted action in the world (102). • “Our experience of living teaches us how to see” (p. 103). • “It is not the organism best suited to an existing environment that has the greatest survival potential; it is the organisms with the greatest range of flexibility that will likely be able to maintain a relationship with an ever-changing environment” (104). • “Our genetic heritage, therefore, is inscribed with previous worlds. Genetic material is not merely a blueprint; it is a collecting place for history, much like the English patient’s commonplace book” (105). • “Unskinning” • “Reading doesn’t just change the way we think and act; it affects in every way who we are. And if reading affects who we are, it necessarily affects what we know and what we do. WE could say then that the experience of reading has not altered us phenomenologically; it has altered us biologically” (108). • “Is it possible that generations of engagement with print text has changed us biologically?” (108) • Iser---meaning is extricable from the lived experience of reading; we are continually in the process of responding to our own reaction to the text---after awhile, it is unclear whether it is the text or previous responses to the text which have the most influences
  8. 8. Hamilton 8 on kinds of meanings evoked; different from Rosenblatt that meaning is in the transaction between reader and text.” (110-11) • “…literary readings co-emerge with the experience of readers reading as situated in a perceived world of significance. Location of reading matters…becomes part of the act of reading” (112). • “Unskinning asks us to understand….Neither readers nor literary fictions can escape their prior histories of interaction in the world. “ (112). • “Literary fictions always co exist and co evolve with and through readers, reading environments and histories of interactions among these.” (113) • Endpoint of reading can never really be defined p. 113 • p. 114 • “Just as the literary fiction begins to bodily live without our own experience of the world, we begin to live in the very body of the text….there is not fixed truth in the literary fiction, in the reader, or in any meaning that occurs through reading. Truth simply becomes understood as whatever allows successful structural coupling between a human subject and a world that allows an imaginative reading to continue.” (115). Truth as slippery, unstable, ever evolving. • “Understanding is always in the process of being fixed and unfixed.” (115) • Concept of understanding and site of interpretations in the gaps.

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