Tag Archives: writing

Spring and All

I’m grateful for your dedication to exploring the materials we have been studying together since late January. I am feeling the need to recount exactly what you are responsible for at the midterm break. And I am going to share some of my thoughts on reentry as we are going to hit the ground running when we gather again on Tuesday, March 21.

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We know that it takes forty gallons of sap to render one gallon of sweet maple syrup. Might this process be a useful way for us to think about our work?

Most of you will have already completed most everything below. If not, here is everything I have asked for

  • Aspect Metacommentary First a clarification. . . . Send me your final edited version by email. An attachment is best but you can also just paste your work into the body of the email:
  • Move your draft version on the blog to a “drafts” or “process” or “thinking” or “ephemera” page on your blog. You might put DRAFT at the top of the page.
  • Below is an example from Savannah’s commentary that does an exemplary job with a descriptive accounting of each piece of writing with a concise description of the pieces. This is a good model:

This issue contains poetry from M. T. Buckley, Christine Smith, Jeffrey Katz, Barbara A. Holland, Sterling Kelly Webb, Andrew Darlington, Doris Wight, Joan Colby, Dennis Nicholas Hoppin, Karen Solstad, and Rick Smith.  It contains art work from Jean Segaloff, Marjorie Masel, Roger Camp, and one anonymous piece that was with permission from the Manchester Central Library.  This piece is a photograph taken by a freelance photographer in Manchester, England.

This issue has two essays, the first is titled “Corliss, Master of Power” by Frank J. Jones.  This brief piece offers a point of view into mechanical engineer, George H. Corliss’ power and public influence due to his invention, the steam engine in the mid-1800s.  The next essay, “Winning in the Sierras by Robie Darche,” is a bit longer.  It discusses the position of women in casinos as changegirls and cocktail waitresses, with discussion of keymen as well.  Another version of this piece is also found in Canadian Woman’s magazine, BRANCHING OUT.

A description and method of treating ­­­­­­“Sore Nipples” from Dr. Willich’s Domeftic Encyclopedia is found, as well as a place to order Edcentric Magazine.  Another advertisement for a monthly newsletter named Recon is included on the back page.

Some brief works of fiction are included including “Paradise,” by Gudanowska and “Karla in the Dark,” by Bettina Barrett.  Politics include Bureaucracy, Reform, and Intervention in Czechoslovakia. This is by George Shaw Wheeler, Lawrence Hill & Co, and focuses on events during 1968, including the goals of Czechoslovakian reformers and economics.

Still some sentence-level copy editing needed here. But a fine example of a balance between the specific and the general.

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This is where we will be in April
  1. Blogs You have at a minimum six blog posts
  • Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
  • Walt Whitman “Democratic Vistas”
  • Commencements (Emerson, Rich, Williams)
  • Adrienne Rich essays and Atlas of the Difficult World
  • Aspect (a research installment)
  • A final blog post on something that captures your learning arc in the first half of the course

You have been invited to curate all of your writing. Write in your voice, show your intelligence. Get away from general and flat words like “response” in your titles. “Know what you are doing and do it well.” (Remember, too, that the hypothes.is annotations you did/are doing on your peers’ blogs are designed to give audience feedback but also for you to look at other blogs and writing and to “resee” what you are doing in relation to others.)

On Tuesday I will read your blogs and assign each member of the class a midterm grade.

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Looking Ahead On Tuesday March 21 we will do the first of two classes designed to help you write out a project statement. Our class will be dedicated to sorting ideas and fielding questions about the final project. We will draft a project description and a schedule and our outcomes for the project. Before we meet, make sure you read the Blog Entry “Education for Socially Engaged Art” by Pablo Helguera, the Interview with Pablo Helguera, and look over the materials on Art and Citizenship at PracticalArts.

On Thursday March 23 we will do the second project statement workshop. Read Doris Sommer, Prologue, “Welcome Back,” 1-13, and Chapter One: “From the Top: Government-Sponsored Creativity,” 15-48, in the book you purchased for the course, The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (2014). With the Helguera, and the readings you did before break on government arts programs and sponsorship, this writing will give you a theoretical vocabulary and practical ideas for your work.

While brainstorming session yesterday Savannah raised the challenge of working without an assignment. That is, she suggested the need for some structure. That will be our work the week we return. We have some fabulous ideas (that kept a few of us talking for 30 minutes after class!) My goal for us at the end of our first week back is to have a very clear set of objectives for the seven weeks we will be working on the final project.

For now, my response to Savannah’s question: In general, our project will celebrate, and investigate, examples of cultural production in which art and interpretation are flourishing in the open space of democracy. Each of you will be working with an object (or collection of objects) or a project or performance or social interaction of some kind. Our work is to build a language through which we can represent, celebrate, and consider the place of this work.

Enjoy spring break!

 

Two Jobs of Work

You have two jobs of work to complete before spring break: curating your blog and working on the Aspect Magazine project.

Curating Your Blog It is imperative that you are working on your writing. The schedule for this work is up to you. But you need to keep in mind that between class on Thursday March 2 and class on Tuesday March 7 we will all be annotating your blog with our thoughts and suggestions.

We have had a late February thaw, and the rivers in New England are at flood stage. Yet a few of you appear to be caught in an eddy. You need to get back out into the flow. Please read the most recent posts, “Linguists and Contenders” and “Feeling Thinking Doing.” These posts are offering some organizing commentary and metacommentary on our intellectual work. We have read a lot of material, and there are stories to tell about those materials. As you go back over your writing, makes notes on what you wrote and how you can now see what you have written differently. You have read a lot. You have been thinking. And we have talked about your writing–in class and in our conferences.

To borrow a formulation from the poet Ezra Pound: You have broken wood. Now it is time for carving.

Your reflection (reading over what you have completed) and shaping, or curating, the writing on your blog will prepare us for 1) reading all the course blogs and annotating them using “Open Space of Democracy” group on Hypothes.is and then 2) participating in a “Blog Charrette” where we will exchange ideas, play with options, and further refine your writing.

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Working on Aspect Magazine On Friday I met with the College Archivist, Rodney Obien, who is looking forward to welcoming you to the Keene State College Archives. On Tuesday Rodney is going to talk about his work as an archivist and talk about cultural work of archives. And he will introduce you to some of the materials in the Social Justice collection. (Remember, class will meet in the Mason Library Archive.)

We will also turn our attention to Aspect Magazine. We will make the paper copies of the journal available for browsing on Tuesday and Thursday. You will also receive a digital copy of two issues of the journal. We will then introduce you to a method of abstracting information from a document in an archive.Using a template I will provide, you will be responsible for creating “metadata” for two issues of the journal. The document you produce for each journal will be published with the digital copy of the journal. Your work will be available for anyone, including graduate students, professors, and independent scholars, doing research in the archive. And you will receive credit as a Contributing Editor on the web site.

Before Tuesday have a look at the Description of the Aspect Magazine project on the Projects Page. Reading the materials on the Aspect Magazine Project site before we meet will give you additional context for your work. In brief, Aspect magazine (1969-1980) was the creation of Edward J. Hogan, of Somerville, Massachusetts. Hogan was a history major at Northeastern University in March of 1969 when he launched a magazine featuring social and political commentary by a small group of university students. Hogan subsequently expanded that magazine to include poetry, fiction, graphic design, and literary news and reviews. Aspect published many writers, poets, and artists that represented the “Boston Scene” of the late 1960s and 1970s.

For Thursday I have assigned some reading that will further your understanding of the intellectual and creative collective of people involved in Aspect, Leora Zeitlin’s compilation of materials in “Remembering Ed Hogan” (1998)

Linguists and Contenders

Closer yet I approach you
. . .
We understand then do we not?
What I promis’d without mentioning it, have you not accepted?
What the study could not teach—what the preaching could not accomplish is accomplished, is it not?

—Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

On Tuesday I planned to debrief the individual conferences—sharing some of the conversations about the thinking and writing you are doing in this course. When I arrived in class Mitchell and Kerrin were talking about the challenges of wrestling with the archive of documents assembled for the course, on the one hand, and composing a well-put-together short-form essay that will engage a reader, on the other hand.

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It was a productive place to begin. What followed was a question. I asked, “What useful information about thinking and writing did you take away from our first conference last week?” What I recall bringing to the table was Savannah’s note to self. She told me in our conference that she has read one of blog posts in the category “Method,” titled Habits of Mind. In that post I talk about the kind of intellectual habits that can lead to productive work:

Success in this class begins with an interest in what you are doing. Once you get interested you will be ready to think about what and how you are learning in school.

I go on to say that “effective writing is a product of interest and engaged learning and below you will find five areas of work for you to consider as you write.” These areas of work include curiosity, creativity, openness, and persistence. Approaching learning in these ways, Savannah reminded herself, can make all the difference.

Such an approach is not unfamiliar to us, linguists and contenders, as you will remember:

Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not on a few coteries of writers.

This passage from the end of “Democratic Vistas” is a touchstone for your work this semester. The work of meaningful reading, thinking, and writing calls for students with “supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves.” Meaningful work is engaged work, and engagement leads to agency.

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What I attempted to explain in response to Kerrin and Mitchell is that the tension between process and product, between learning and sharing what you have learned, is inevitable and productive. That is, the challenge of writing weekly blog posts is the challenge of integrating your process of discovery—the quickening of mind when you make a personal connection, the thrill of immersion in thought—with the satisfaction of finding a form for your thinking.

My challenge to you as thinkers and writers in an upper-level college course is to build on what you have learned as writers in school. The opportunity for you now is to build from a more responsive or reactive mode of intellectual engagement (say, responding to an assignment prompt that I create) to identifying your own assignment, task, or purpose.

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This is a blog post about method-a way of doing intellectual work. It is a blog post about taking seriously this kind of work and that makes visible the constraints both students and teachers face when trying to do this work in classrooms and institutions. And it is an emerging essay that in inspired by one of the touchstones of our work together, Walt Whitman, in this case from Section 4 of the poem “Song of Myself”:

Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and city I live in, or the nation,
The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and new,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am, Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.

-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

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Your blog is a powerful tool not because it is technology or even because it is a kind of bridge between your thinking and your readers. It is a passage where you will meet head on your challenge of claiming thinking and writing as your own.

But to release the potential of this idea suggests an additional step. One way to take this step is to begin with a series of questions. What would a writing class look like without assignments? That is, is it possible to imagine a college-level class with no assignments? How would you keep your mind humming? How would you move your mind and motivate your writing? Your role as student would surely look different. Might we be imagining the “the difference between acting and being acted upon” Adrienne Rich elaborated in her commencement at Douglass College in 1977, “Claiming an Education”? Might we be making the connection back to Emerson’s song of self-trust, or between your responsiveness and your ability? Here is Rich again:

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.

And might these reflections shift my role as teacher? Well, they do. And they have. This is why I was motivated on Tuesday to go back over the weekly writing schedule I set up for us this semester:

  • On Tuesday you are responsible for writing about what you are reading. However I have challenged you to do much more than “respond” to the reading. Instead you are finding and pursuing a question or questions that you have identified in the readings, or as a result of the course readings; and you are attempting to establish yourself in the ongoing conversation about the experiences of living in a society ostensibly organized around democratic ideals and norms
  • In the luxurious span of time between Tuesday afternoon and Sunday evening you are in conversation, with yourself, with others. You have space to engage in your own conversation with yourself as you reflect on what you have written, and allow your thinking to develop—clarifying your thought and its significance (for you and others who might read what you have to say), contextualizing your thinking (in the text, across texts, in social and cultural and historical contexts), and building confidence (authority) for what you have to say. You also have our conversations in class to situate, inform, and complicate your emerging stake in the conversation
  • And by Sunday you should have come closer to getting it right. The “it” here is your thinking as well as the form of your thought in writing: to challenge yourself to make a contribution to (and not incidentally to enact) the ongoing conversation about democratic culture

Yet the schedule includes one more step, a step we talked about in class on Tuesday: building your sequence of short-form essays into a body of work—a sequence, collection, or anthology of writing that has consistency and integrity.

For this reason, over the final two weeks before spring break, your work will involve reflection (reading over what you have completed) and shaping, or curating, the writing on your blog. And to this end, before we meet on Tuesday March 7 we will read all the course blogs and annotate them using “Open Space of Democracy” group on Hypothes.is. The Tuesday class will be a “Blog Charrette” where we can exchange ideas, play with options, and work toward your own integrated intellectual digital space.

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First and foremost this work is designed to sharpen your tools, or passing along tools you might not have been fully aware are in your workshop: reading, thinking, writing, collaboration, and so on. We are using the blogs to enact an extended conversation about protocols of study, or methods of doing work with texts and cultural contexts. We are reading documents and probing the intellectual and cultural history of the United States, making connections, “upbuilding” to borrow a word from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

You are also, finally, participating in a course that begins with a less familiar idea: that a course in College is an ongoing intellectual project. This is why the course is organized around more than a list of texts, questions, ideas, and histories, as all good humanities courses are. It is organized around your contributions to an ongoing cultural project of understanding and making meaning.

Another way of saying this is that we are doing the work of democracy-“Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.”