Friday, May 23, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: On The Satanic Verses

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the last batch, from Team Wolverines, on Salman Rushie's The Satanic Verses. I wanted to start the course off with this novel, but the paperback wasn't available until later in the semester, so I decided to end it with a bang!


Mike leads off:

Over the course of this project I learned a great deal about the life and mind of Salman Rushdie. I learned first and foremost about the hardships that were placed upon him. For our presentation I focused primarily on the life of Salman Rushdie.

On February 14th, 1989 Khomeini, a Shi’a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. A fatwa is a death sentence that calls the general Muslim population to hunt and kill someone that a scholar decrees. Khomeini issued this fatwa without giving a legal reason for his judgment. So between 1989 and the present Rushdie has had 11 assassination attempts on his life. On a funnier note every year on February 14th Rushdie reports that he still receives a “Valentine's Day” card from Iran letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him.

Another interesting fact is that the fatwa didn’t suppress the book at all. In fact it glorified it. In mid-January after the fatwa the book flew off the shelves. In 1989 he sold more than 750,000 copies and earned 2 million dollars.

Now our team on the other hand focused on several issues. One was Rushdie and his political views on 9/11. We also focused heavily on his personal life. In class we discussed his love life as well. Apparently having a death sentence put on you makes you very attractive to the ladies. Salman Rushdie has had 4 wives in the last 30 years and all of them had been famous models or actresses.


Jen picks up the ball and runs with it:

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a very interesting read. Given more time to read it, I think I would have really enjoyed it. I had a hard time grasping everything within the novel because there was so much to absorb and not only was it the end of the semester, but I had to present on it and I chose to write a final paper on the novel. I would really love to give this book another chance and reread it because I know there is so much that I missed in reading it over such a short period of time.

After reading just the first few pages I knew I was in for an interesting read. I couldn’t tell yet if I was going to enjoy it or absolutely hate it. In the end, it was a little bit of both. It was rather enjoyable to read, but I got lost in the words sometimes. The dream sequence chapters confused me the most of anything and I had to go back and read them a few times. As I read, I jotted down important events on post-it notes and put them at the beginning of each chapter just to summarize what happened because I kept forgetting.

Salman Rushdie really crammed a lot of things into one novel, but I can easily see why this is one of his most, if not the most, successful novels he has written. Ultimately, I most enjoyed the idea of an ambiguous narrator throughout this novel. I am writing my final paper on the possibility of multiple narrators in The Satanic Verses and the significance of this. The narrator, although he only addresses himself as “I” a few times, is what kept me going while reading this book.

There are many instances where the narrator hints to us who he could be, but each of these instances hints at a different narrator. Although we will never know who Rushdie intended the narrator to be, I love that. Had the first line of the book been, “I am Satan and I’m going to tell you a story,” I don’t think the novel would have been as interesting. There is a lot going on in The Satanic Verses and the fact that the narrator never actually reveals himself is what made the novel so enjoyable for me to read.

I also really enjoyed the pairing of good and evil and the idea that they can be one in the same. Obviously we can’t have one without the other, but the idea that good and evil are one in the same leads to the idea that the narrator could possibly be God and Satan, or even a human. I am still exploring the many possibilities and I am really enjoying it. I know that I will never know exactly who the narrator is or who Rushdie wanted it to be, but the research on it and the quotes from the novel pertaining to it are very interesting.


Shane continues:

I think the most interesting things I discovered about Rushdie during this would need to be his perception of good and evil, the falseness of religion and the idea of judging based on appearances. Rushdie does a lot with good and evil--for example, Chamcha is, essentially, the devil. His physical appearances resemble those of a demon, but he portrays mostly good traits early after his transformation. Beyond the judging a book by its cover thing, Chamcha is mostly good. He doesn't get wrathful with his (ex)wife; if anything, he is more understanding than most would be. However, he does do his best to ruin Gibreel, who he feels hasn't earned his good fortune. I got the impression Rushdie feels people are inherently good unless they feel they have been unjustly wronged. Even so, Gibreel, after being ruthlessly ruined by Chamcha, saves his life from danger, even though he was the one who put him into it.

The biggest thing I took from The Satanic Verses is that Rushdie really doesn't like organized religion--he thinks it's a joke. Although it can be assumed he is targeting Islam specifically, the situation he represents with Mahound is very similar to the story of the Mormon faith, slightly disillusioned. Mahound checks with God to find out the legality and purity of certain decrees, but all he does is walk off into the mountains and return with God's decree. He makes, even more so than the actual Mormon story, religious figures to be con artists, intent on swindling and confusing innocent passersby.

I think you'd be happy to know that I actually don't hate Rushdie. The first chapter of his book is terrible--it's a torrential jeremiad of ridiculous stream-of-thought writing that not only confuses readers but accomplishes nothing. However, once I got into the story I found it compelling. I wish Rushdie had dropped his pissing contest with Islam, however, because I feel the actual fictional story (without religious dreams and flashbacks) would have made a better stand-alone novel than with it.


Tom concludes:

My original goal for my portion of the presentation was to present the essay, “Introduction: Reading Rushdie after September 11, 2001,” by Sabina Sawhney and Simona Sawhney. I was going to present their points and show the way in which Salman Rushdie seemed to be obviously affected by both the Fatwa put on him and the events of September 11th. However, I learned that essays such as this one cannot be taken at face value. It should never be assumed that anyone (even those who claim to be experts worthy of producing a collection) necessarily reads any author of fiction or political writings the same as any other person. They describe the shift between Rushdie’s pre and post political views and discuss them as if there is a huge contradiction from one to the other. However, upon reading some of the articles he writes that they cite in one light, and based on my own reading of The Satanic Verses, it seemed obvious to me that they were not reading him correctly. The quotes they used seemed out of context and unfair representations of what I felt were his views on the politics they discussed. I attempted to show this in my presentation but I didn’t feel that I had grabbed the attention of the class sufficiently enough to make them want to listen to me go on about something they hadn’t read. I wanted to present many more points of issue, but the class looked tired, uninterested (sans a few faces), and generally unenthusiastic about what I thought was an intriguing topic.

I think that I did a better job at bringing them into the discussion within our small groups and did notice that my presentation set the stage somewhat for the small groups to have some idea of where I wanted discussion to go. We ended up focusing on “World Policing” policies that are prevalent in western politics. We discussed the Kashmir conflict as Rushdie presents it and compared that to our own thoughts on the USA/Iraq issues that we have a closer association to. I did try to relate to the text somewhat; however, I was aware of the lack of reading that occurs near the end of semesters and felt good about not trying to get them to talk about the book more closely than they were able to.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Go Blue!

The Hamilton College women's lacrosse team just won the Division III National Championship! It's the first team national championship in any sport at my old college. I'm turning this blog Continental Blue in honor of their feat.

[Update: Here are almost 175 photos of the team's triumphant return to Clinton--see if you can find my dad on page 3.]

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team Shortstack on Kincaid and Devi

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the sixth batch, from Team Shortstack, on Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place and the first two stories from Mahasweta Devi's Imaginary Maps.


Here's Terry:

Although we covered two works for our group presentation I was most interested in Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps and decided to cover that as my contribution to the group effort. In doing my research I learned a lot about Devi as an author, the history of and present day India, and gained a deeper understanding of what she was trying to accomplish with Imaginary Maps.

One thing that really surprised me about Devi was that she did not come from the indigenous tribes that she is fighting for, but from a somewhat privileged background with literary parents. She writes with such a passion I assumed she had a stake in her struggle to get the message out that these people are being oppressed. It was a powerful notion to me that this was not the case; she simply saw a great injustice and decided to try to do something about it. In being both a writer and an activist Mahasweta Devi reminded me of Arundhati Roy, another powerful Indian author that I read this semester. Though I didn’t bring it up in class I found it interesting that they both received the Sahitya Akademi award, an organization supported by the Indian government. While Devi accepted the award, Roy declined. Although Roy is much more critical of the Indian government, I would think that Devi would make that decision also since the Indian government still bears some of the responsibility for many of the injustices she fights against.

I didn’t know anything about Devi before I dived into reading her work. Something that surprised me was that when reading Imaginary Maps I felt that these stories must be taking place in the 19th century, or at least the early 20th. The stories are so rife with themes of slavery and organized oppression that I felt like there was no way that they could be taking place in a contemporary country. I thought an industrialized nation like India would be making strides in human rights. I got a real sense of futility for these tribes because it seems as though the this practice of a hierarchical caste system and bonded-labor system are so entrenched in rural India that despite the fact that both discrimination based on caste and bonded-labor are illegal they still exist in society de facto. After learning about Devi and her activism I feel like she is a hero to the forgotten peoples of India, and I sincerely hope she experiences success in her struggle.


Here's Kelly Jean Doherty:

Out of the two books that my group presented I think that Kincaid had a greater effect on me. I had never really thought about what it meant to be a tourist, especially in a small and poverty-stricken place. I realized that what may be vacation to some is hell for others. It is not right to disregard customs of a place simply so that one can get away for awhile. The book was touching in that one sees how the natives may view the tourist. I will think twice about going to other places now. I may be more aware of the fact that I should be enjoying a place for what it truly is, not some sweet spot that has been made for the tourist by some western agent of travel. One would want to pick a place to visit carefully after reading this book. I certainly would! Kincaid is an amazing writer and I plan to read many more of her works.


And here's Paul:

I felt guilty about being a tourist a little bit. I always feel a little out of place not matter where I go in life. Now I will feel further out of place due to Jamaica Kincaid’s novel A Small Place. Ultimately, I feel overprivileged.

I enjoyed reading A Small Place. I liked it because it had this sarcastic wit to it. When I write an essay or a script I write with a sarcastic wit. It’s nice to see something like a sarcastic wit has survived. Having the right smidgen of wit adds to the ease of reading, making a read faster and harsher than before. The subject matter was also interesting.

Tourism is money. Money people tend to enjoy when they use it to buy things. Money can corrupt a people or government. I enjoy money. I don’t have much money because I am a stereotype of a college student. Though I did not make enough last year to pay taxes; I still felt guilty about having what little money I did have. I felt that white guilt that I rarely feel. I ultimately felt overprivileged. America is a little overprivileged. People in third world countries must look at America and think “They have so much food they're fueling their cars with it!”

I’ve ran out of things to say. The book is enjoyable and fast paced. The book is a real nice read. Perfect for any nice sunny summer day beneath a tree or reading location.


Up last (but not least) is Team Wolverines on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.

Friday, May 16, 2008

To the Virtual Barricades!

Picking up where the public intellectual/op-ed discussion at The Edge of the American West left off (last I checked), here's an op-ed by UUP president Phil Smith on the executive branch mistreatment of SUNY. Critical enough for ya? Or too conciliatory?

Guess Who's Got His Grading Done?

Not me. MacDougall. And he's got a fantastic series on concept courses going. I'll join in sometime this month, with luck! For now, you can check out my place-based Introduction to African American Literature and Culture, a model I cribbed from Kenny Mostern.

[Update (5/19/08, 3:39 pm): Nope, I'm still not done, but MacDougall has installed his third course widget thingie--this one will actually be (co-)taught.]

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team CHAcolate on Dictee

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the fifth batch, from Team CHAcolate, on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee:


Brian leads off:

Having now done the presentation, I definitely came to understand Cha’s work much more clearly and, in the process, came to appreciate it exponentially more than when had I read it on my own. In doing the research for my project, I read a few critical essays on Cha’s work and while they were certainly enlightening, they didn’t help my overall goal that much. This being said, I’m glad that I did read those essays because, even though my project wasn’t any better for having read them, a few of those essays really helped me to see what it was that Cha was trying to do.

The presentation was easy enough. Going through each section, figuring out what tied them to their muses; it wasn’t all that hard, sans one or two. But I got the feeling that a lot of students didn’t understand it at all, and that I was holding a torch for their journey into the first layer of Dictee. And in holding that torch, I illuminated the way not only for them, but for myself as well. Specifically, the sections on Love Poetry and on Astrology were difficult for me to decipher, but once I did, they became my two favorite sections of the book. Until I did such a close textual analysis, I had no idea that Love Poetry had these two stories, of St. Teresa and of Cha’s mother (and neither did anyone else in the class).

I wouldn’t say this is one of my favorite texts, but I’ll definitely be reading it again. Probably not for a while, since I went over it quite a few times in preparation, but some day I’ll definitely go through it again. And I think that’s what Cha wanted. She portrayed time as such a non-linear relation, that to read her book at only one point in my life seems counter-intuitive to some of the goals she was reaching for.


Next up is Anonymous Student #4:

Although Dictee presented some challenging aspects while reading it, I enjoyed its culturally unfamiliar content. Cha’s writing style was difficult to grasp but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it. Writing in a narrative of post-colonial displacement raised an interest, and as I prepared for the group presentation I tried involving these aspects into the discussion. Though Cha’s technique was difficult to follow at first, it is evident that she had a distinct pattern in her writing which helped me to understand Dictee, as well as other texts I have been introduced to.

Cha’s technique raised questions dealing with underlying themes and symbols which were a bit complex to understand. I am used to reading texts with culturally familiar content so when I was introduced to Dictee, it was a bit nerve-wracking. Once I started to recognize her approach to alienate the reader so we might know how she felt, the more I actually enjoyed reading it. Although some readers may feel as though this style can be distracting from the message, I feel as though it helped me understand her point of view, and drew my attention towards her culture.

Cha has introduced me to a new way of approaching an unfamiliar style of writing. After reading, I discovered many meaningful symbols and themes just through her technique of writing. While Cha presented readers with perplexed messages, she was very successful in giving her readers a similar perspective when trying to adjust to an unfamiliar environment.


Bryna bats next:

Cha’s form of writing and style is what I found to be most unique in the book. As a group we divided into various stations to discuss various aspects of the book. Some of us brought in outside information and related it to the text. Others delved into a deeper meaning of the book or an artistic representation.

Through our group's presentation I learned several things. Most importantly, I gained support for my non-traditional approach to teaching, which I wish to implement in my own classroom someday. Our group has already received some wonderful praise on the discussion board. I personally feel that by shifting the focus to the students we allowed them to reach their own understandings. As presenters we chose to shift the focus off of us and provide students with a more hands-on, personal and student centered approach to learning and discussing the book.

While I do feel that lecture definitely has a place in the college classroom I chose to keep my teaching style that which I would use with my elementary students. Only the content I was teaching was changed due to the need to reach students at a college level. I am happy to report that the students in our class are wonderful, open-minded individuals who accepted our somewhat unorthodox stations with open arms.

The style of Cha’s book was probably the most interesting part of my personal reading. As I am generally a more aesthetic reader, the first things I notice when reading are the emotions the book generates for me. I then shift my focus to the more efferent standpoint. Not only did I love reading about such strong, amazing reading, but I loved the way I was reading about them. Through Cha’s word order, word choice, tone, punctuation I felt as if I was in her mind, thinking about and seeing what she was seeing. Due to the strong impact the style had on my interpretation of the book I quickly decided to have my students participate in stream of consciousness writing. After all, I don’t remember the exact figures but the percentage of details one remembers is significantly higher if they participate in it then if they hear it (incidentally it is even higher if they are forced to teach it--nice job, Prof. Simon).

So, back to my point, to begin I read a selection from the book itself (page 82, second paragraph). I feel that this paragraph is an excellent example of her style of writing. While, the events she is depicting are very dramatic she writes in a way that make you feel like you are seeing it. The students and I then discussed this reading and her specific phrasing and style. I then asked them to spend the next three minutes doing stream of consciousness writing. They were then free to share these if they chose to.

I really enjoyed Cha’s inclusion of poetry in her book. I felt it made it a far more interesting read. I decided to include poetry in my station. I chose poems by Maya Angelou (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”) Langston Hughes (“Dream Deferred”), Lucille Clifton (“I am accused of tending to the past”), and Shel Silverstein (“Forgotten Language”). I chose these poems specifically because I felt they could tie into the book. I asked the students to read their poem and consider the style, if they liked it and how it tied into the book.

To wrap up our presentation we did a found poem. We did this idea because that way even students who did not read could participate. I feel it is important that students realize how difficult the crafting of a style and a piece of literature can be. I hope this helped them appreciate even more how much Cha put into her work.

Overall, I have enjoyed this book more than any other. I enjoyed reading about such strong women. I feel that it is amazing how these women became leaders in a sense and still are today. I truly enjoyed the way Cha dealt with the suppressed language section of this text. I also enjoyed the way she discussed history. I feel the way she depicted several events was very vivid yet raw. She managed to produce a text about history that is both factual and artistic.


Madeline takes the baton next:

I loved Cha’s style from the first page. It was different and caught my attention right away. I read the first page multiple times, not out of misunderstanding but out of curiosity. Throughout the novel Cha is constantly making you think and apply your own experiences to hers. So far, this course I have been extremely interested in the barriers we come across. Cha places random symbols of what we can only assume is her original language. I thought it was important for our class to understand the suffering she felt from that barrier, whether they read the novel or not. I chose this theme for my station because although it was important to me, you could tell it was important to her with home many times she emphasized it and repeated it throughout the novel.

For my station, I tried to use elements that were important to her and her culture. I set up the station best I could with candles and flowers from Korea, such as orchids. I brought in magnolias as well which I have never thought was specific to Asian culture. I soon realized magnolias were on my Kimono and called my parents to ask if they did that on purpose knowing it was my favorite flower. Simple connections like these made me feel extremely close to Cha and her story and I tried to give the same blessing to our class. Ink is very messy so I came up with the idea of tea to draw with. I have actually had the privilege to attend a tea ceremony with a friend’s family. The idea of sacred family and tradition would be something Cha would value and appreciate when teaching her story. She also had an overwhelming theme of white, which gave my decision for paper (rather than traditional rice paper). “You remain dismembered with the belief that magnolia blooms white even on seemingly dead branches and you wait. You remain apart from the congregation.” (Cha 155). The theme of white is littered throughout the novel subtly through spacing and context. I threw that in to draw our class more closely into the book.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with how my station went. The class seemed to feel exactly what Cha was feeling and almost blinded by language in their own element: our English classroom. One of the wonderful things about this book I feel that even though it is short, I think I could do dozens of lessons on it picking it apart and never get bored. There are few books that I think share that quality.


And last but not least is Anonymous Student #5:

While reading Cha I found it to be very difficult to understand. More so because much of it was poetry and I dislike poetry. I have trouble understanding and following any poetry and Cha was even more broken and confusing than normal for me. Even though it was a frustrating and confusing read the first couple times I read it, I still enjoyed it. I found it interesting the way it was broken up in the sections then broken up again within the respective section.

I felt that this sense of brokenness was playing on the idea of a broken memory. Where a person has their own memories, but also stories of other people’s memory when suddenly something drastic happens and their life is up heaved. They may move so their memories will change or their lives may change drastically and once again change their memories. Until eventually the memories become intertwined. They become mixed and confusing at times--with occasional bouts of clarity.

Which is how I read Cha as on my second and third read-thoughs. The book became clearer each time I read it again. Much like someone carefully sorting through their broken memories to make them become clearer, I was reading the book carefully over and over again. The book may never be fully clear and understanding to me, but then again, neither will a semi-lost memory be fully understood.

I think Cha wanted to reading to feel this sense of brokenness. To feel what it’s like to suddenly be displaced; much like she was during the war. She had been happy where she was, living in Korea where she had been born, when suddenly she had to leave her home and start a new life. This book reads much like someone whose life has suddenly undergone a large change and had to pick up the dropped pieces and try to put them back together.

This idea of putting the pieces where they belong is represented well in the section Erato; the love poetry section. There are about two stories going on at the same time, and they are mixed together. The pieces are sometimes near the top of the page, the middle of the page, or more towards the bottom. It’s like trying to put the puzzle back together, but are unsure as to where each piece of the puzzle should go. The further you read the more you understand the puzzle and able to see the bigger picture. Then you are able to understand the pieces together and put them in their proper place.

So our group I felt focused more on this aspect of the book. Each having a different project and way of explaining the book--each a separate piece of a puzzle. Then we were able to bring each station together and together the pieces made a complete. While each part was good on its own, nothing was fully complete on its own. We needed each part to make everything whole again.

Much like Cha’s novel Dictee. While it may be confusing and difficult to read, it needs to be read as a whole. No piece can be removed or skipped over without thought or the bigger picture is lost. No puzzle can fully be completed until each and ever piece and placed in it.

So while Cha was a difficult read, it is also a very important read. To have a small understanding on what it means to be so drastically replaced. To feel that confusion within yourself and your memories. It is also an important read to understand how even the smallest piece of information or smallest memory is important for without it you lose who you are. You need each piece to be a whole person.


Next up: Team Shortstack on Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place and two stories from Mahasweta Devi's Imaginary Maps....

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team Aoraki on Patricia Grace's Potiki

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the fourth batch, from Team Aoraki, on Patricia Grace's Potiki:


Ryan leads off:

I had studied in New Zealand last year and from that was immersed in Maori culture and history. The entire nation is bent on informing everyone about the Maori people, European Colonialism and present day racial struggles. Although New Zealand is still far from being a perfect example of cultural inclusion and race relations, they have gone to great efforts to inform both travelers and themselves of their history.

Having such a readily available wealth of knowledge while in New Zealand, I was surprised by the lack of information here in the United States. There were no critical essays relating to this specific novel of Patricia Grace’s. There was also a lack of information on the Maori people in general that left me resorting to old notes and books that I had acquired while in New Zealand.

Having noted this lack of information, I think what I learned most from this activity was that each country is very much concerned with the specific cultural and racial tensions that exist in each society within that country. The issues of a specific arena of race relations may not be pertinent to one country as they are to another. Giving Potiki the proper context for a reader who is at best vaguely familiar with the struggles taking place in New Zealand is difficult. The themes present in this novel--family, tradition, land and community--are universal but the context they take place within are wholly unique to the people grappling with these issues in Potiki. Although this lesson served as an introduction to “place” and identity in New Zealand, it also served to show just how difficult it is to create a dialogue when the material is very foreign and drenched in cultural nuances that can never be fully explained or taught.


Amanda follows:

By reading Patricia Grace's novel Potiki, I was able to better understand how it would feel to have your own home and culture be taken away from you. The novel did not seem as much directed towards the sense of conflict and ambush, but more towards the sense of culture and its people. Grace expressed to us what life was like for this small family or group of people. Roimata took the motherly role, encouraging others to tell their stories. Many details that were shown throughout the stories of these people included bites of the New Zealand culture. For example, Toko told the big fish story which directly relates to a spiritual story of the New Zealanders' past time, and also stories during the prologue express a variety of beliefs pertaining to sculpture and maturation among this culture. Grace allows us to easily access the personalities, and whole-to-part feelings about this place as a whole. She shows us that we also have connections with the people from this place. We can relate to some aspects of these people's lives, and that to which we have a harder time relating she has given us readable, or translatable, yet precise wording to let our minds seep into the lives of the characters. To further our experience with this book, she has not only let us into the minds of the characters and their culture but she has also indirectly asked us to question our own personal beliefs. Grace suggests that we contemplate whether or not we feel that places where cultures have been born and lived should be destroyed for more luxurious things. Is it right for people to destroy something that is of grave importance to another culture just so that they can enjoy themselves, and their own culture, better?


Alex concludes:

Reading Patricia Grace’s Potiki and focusing on the aspect of storytelling in the novel opened up a vast array of ideas to me. From the focus on this subject, the reading changed for me, looking at what the author may have wanted to do in presenting her material the way she did. I not only focused on the content of the novel through this, of which storytelling is a major theme of the entire novel, but also the form and storytelling aspects Grace herself used, in order to possibly bring the reader into a more storied approach to the novel.

Looking at the three sections of the book, I made out three distinct parts of the story itself, and that Grace broke up her novel into these three distinct categories changed the way I read Potiki. The novel’s three parts can be looked at in two distinct ways. The first is birth, life, death, following the life of Toko from his inception (with a small back story before his life), through his life, and ending with his death (and a short bit on his story from the afterlife). The other is birth, death and resurrection, following the small village that Toko is born into, from its first relation to the reader (birth), its destruction through fire (death) and finally its rebuilding (resurrection) with the help of others around the area and around the world.

The story also focuses around the initial pole of the Wharenui, beginning with carving of one who is not long passed, and ending in one who touched the lives of the entire village, but also had a special feeling about him, mainly based on his “special knowing.” The story begins in the prologue explaining how this post came about, was carved, and why, and states that it will be finished, but the time is not upon them yet, but there will come one who does fulfill the prophecy and will be carved into the pole. We as readers are led to believe that the carver did initially also have a knowing that led him to this, but we cannot know if he broke with tradition in order to make sure that this coming person would be able to be carved into the pillar, or if it was only a pre-knowledge of the one who was coming, that deserved to be carved.

Preparing to teach on the subject of storytelling, around which the novel is very tightly wound, helped focus exactly on that, the main theme of the novel, and opened up many possibilities for thought and different things to focus on throughout the text. It was also very interesting to see how Patricia Grace went about telling her story, her form of writing and narrating, and her ability to get her ideas across. As the book deals with local customs, traditions and myths, it is impossible for us to separate Patricia Grace and the story she tells, but it is enlightening to see how Grace manages to tell the story, creating stories nested within the story.


Next up: Team CHAcolate on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee.

Friday, May 09, 2008

E for...?

Lumpenprofessoriat has bestowed upon CitizenSE its first-ever bloggy award thingy. If I had time to figure out how to display it, I would; same for supplying relevant quotations from The Scarlet Letter and The Holder of the World on alphabetization. But what this really reminds me of is when I first arrived here as a shiny assistant professor and E was then used in place of F, which is how I'd grade my blogging here lately. But thanks for the vote of confidence, LP, as well as for the links! And even though I consider everyone on my blogroll "excellent," I agree that recommendations carry more weight when there are fewer of them, so here are my "best of the best" right now:

Is there no sin in it?: for general awesomeness and also for this
Mixed-Race America: for bridging academia and Blogoramaville and for engaging her commentariat so patiently and thoughtfully and kindly
verbal privilege: just because
How the University Works: for bringing to Blogoramaville what he brought to the world of electronic journals when he co-founded Workplace

Thanks to everyone who participates in this meme for helping spread the word about exceptional blogs that everyone ought to be reading (except this one, which deserves to remain the obscurest in Blogoramaville!). Ah, now I got it: E is for "exception"!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: On Naipaul's A Way in the World

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the third batch, from a team who named themselves Wiggityx4 Wack and lead a great discussion on V.S. Naipaul's A Way in the World, despite their struggles with the text (and views on the author!).


Kate writes:

This project was an interesting one. The book my team presented on was Naipaul’s A Way in the World. This book, when I read it, was very confusing to me and I really had a hard time putting it together, just as the rest of the class did. The reason it was so hard for me to connect to and understand was because of how he set up each story. He introduced us to a character, got us slightly emotionally attached, and created the potential for the reader to become more attached. When this would happen he would change from the story of that author to the next story about another author, starting the pattern all over again. To try and thread these stories together, and figure out their commonalities was the most difficult part of the reading. Because of the lack of understanding it made it hard to see how he even ended the story. I wasn’t sure what his overall message was, or what journey Naipaul was supposed to be taking his reader on.

While working with my group, and discussing how this book could possibly be strung together these life stories of these men made it a little clearer as to where Naipaul may have been trying to head. While our group was discussing it I realized that maybe he was writing this story to not only point fingers at these people for everything they have done wrong, but to himself as well. He could have been trying to find his way in the world.

Another thing, more factual, that I learned while doing this presentation about his literature was that it was marketed as an autobiography in England. This helped me to see the pattern within the book and how he may have been trying to structure an individual’s life and ideals within this alleged book that appears to be built of short stories.


Danielle White writes:

In all honesty, I really hated Naipaul’s A Way in the World. It was the most difficult book for me to get through in this class, aside from Texaco which was also a tedious read. When I started the book it seemed like it would be fun to read, because I liked the stories Naipaul tells in the text. However, my joy in reading Naipaul was short-lived--it dwindled before I reached chapter 3. When he started talking about LeBrun I got really bored, and the chapter consisting only of dialogue between two people later on was probably the worst part in the book. Naipaul really doesn’t know how to keep his readers engaged in the text.

I expected Naipaul to develop on the individual stories within the text a lot more, especially the story about the man visiting the village and being led by the two boys--that was interesting. I thought Naipaul was going to go somewhere with that, and tell a story about how his homeland used to be through those people. Instead, he attempted to write about how his homeland had changed in an incredibly abstract way. He didn’t explain how any of the people in the stories were really connected--there was no connection between any of them at all, as far as I’m concerned. If I had more background knowledge on the matter, I might have found a connection, but it was Naipaul’s mistake to assume that his readers would have that much information prior to reading his book. I only read this book because I had to for my presentation; If I picked up this book to read for fun over the summer or something, I would have put it down shortly after beginning it.



My group for the presentations presented on A Way In The World by V.S Naipaul. This novel was a challenge to read as well as a challenge to present. My group and myself were all in agreement that the novel was hard to follow due to the short stories throughout the novel that did not really connect to one an other. The novel itself started out great in my opinion and my group members thought the same. Then the more I read the more I become confused at parts. Even though I was confused by parts of the novel I did however find certain parts interesting. An example is when Naipaul met Lucas and Mateo as well as when he talked about Lebrun. We had a lot of interesting information about the author and his life that I believe helped explain what type of a person and writer he is.

I am the type of reader that is kept intrigued by what’s going on when there are short story formats in the books I read. I thought that this novel was going to be interesting because the format in which the author decided to write was like short story format. However I was disappointed because all of these ”short stories” he had in this “novel” had no real ending or even ties to one another. The author chooses to write his “novel” with lots of unanswered questions. Teaching this book I believe came as a challenge. I am an education major and I feel like even reading this as an undergraduate college student I was lost and confused about certain parts of the “novel,” so how could other reader’s fully grasp what Naipaul is trying to say in this writing? This book to me seems more of a biography of what he did through out his life not really a novel.

The author uses his own format of writing which I do respect as a future educator with a minor in English. He is using a technique of writing that is maybe a little iffy. This may spark some people’s interest in the novel itself. Naipaul writing of the novel can generate interest in others because it is not written like other typical novels. Teaching this to the class was not all that easy. I knew that we were dealing with a difficult novel. This is one of the reasons we had our peers getting up out of their seats. This gave them the opportunity to see what others had written. In the classroom when this type of round-robin writing and answering questions written goes on, there is a chance for the students to learn from each other. The students can walk around and see what other groups or individuals had written; this may spark a questions or comment of their own. That is why we choose to do the posters with groups getting up and answering the questions.

Teaching to just the students can cause them to lose their interest however if you have the students teaching each other by round-robin answering of questions, new questions can be sparked and new topic on a piece of literature be formed as well as implemented in the classroom discussion.


Here's anonymous student #3:

Before I read A Way in the World by V.S. Naipaul, I really thought I would like it. I heard many good reviews of the book, so my expectations were very high. I thought it was going to flow like a typical novel would. I did not have a clear idea of what it would be about, but I did start reading the book with an open mind.

Just a couple chapters into the book I knew it was not what I anticipated it would be. I was surprised to find out how disjointed the book was. The chapters did not seem to connect. Though his writing style is very beautiful, it was very hard to follow. Even after class discussions and my group discussions the book still did not seem to come together well for me.

I thought maybe our group research on Naipaul might shed some light upon the book and his writing style. Unfortunately, I discovered many interesting things that may have tainted my outlook of the author and the book more than they already were. My group’s research revealed Naipaul to be a pompous, egotistical, self-indulgent man. We were able to uncover many of his dark secrets. He was unfaithful to his wife and quite a womanizer. He had a woman on the side for many years. He also expressed no care when his wife passed away. Worse yet, he seemed to be happy his wife was out of the picture.

Another unbecoming quality Naipaul possessed was his harsh criticism of other writers. Someone in our class discussion brought up the point that he seemed to be a hypocrite in his critiques. This is a major reason his criticism was not well received. His inflated ego was undeniable. He seemed to think he was not given the credit he deserved.

Though I hate to have Naipaul’s personal life interfere with how I read his story, I have to admit it did not help my already unfavorable view of the novel. If anything the negative “dirt” that we discovered about Naipaul seemed to give me a little more perspective on the novel and his writing.

One question I considered after reading this book was what genre I would classify it with. I believe that it should have been marketed as a collection of short stories. The chapters seemed to be very independent of each other. I think if I had anticipated a collection of short stories I would have a greater appreciation for the book.

I find it very interesting that this book was marketed as an autobiography in England. I think readers would be very disappointed reading this book if they had a preconceived notion that it was an autobiography. It would seem to be a very roundabout way to write an autobiography.

I believe that my high expectations of this book were somewhat shattered when I discovered the disjointed structure it encompassed. Though he had a beautiful way with words, his chapters drove me crazy. Its choppiness made it hard to follow and I was constantly hoping to find the missing link.


OK, on deck is Team Aoraki on Patricia Grace's Potiki.