Thursday, September 27, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
What they DON’T do
What I WILL do
What my presumptions are, why these women, why non-fiction, why I will not consider the “change” (if there is a difference we might see it, if there isn’t one that is interesting too, and we won’t see that if we ASSUME that there is a change)
The intrepid author will set out her position in gender studies history – the different strategies (inclusion, exceptions, mainstream representatives) that have made it clear that women as a category were treated differently, but also that there were any number of exceptions to any rule based on that assumption. The list is long: novels ok because they are about the domestic sphere, upper class women ok because they are so powerful, early century ok because family was more important, religious women ok because they spoke for God – all these excuses and exceptions leave me confused and probably left them confused too
The two things most scholars have agreed on is that some sort of conceptual change occurred during the eighteenth century – where women at least rhetorically were relegated to the domestic sphere, and that gender is a useful category of study. The first assumption has been challenged by Vickery, Sweet and others, and the second I want to challenge in this work. I am not about to say that gender is not a useful category, I believe it has been vitally important to rethink our understanding of the past in terms of the experiences of different groups. What I am saying is that the use of gender as a category limits our understanding of the lives of individuals, who are always members of several categories, and gender is not necessarily the primary marker of identity.
In this work, I propose to look at a number of women to see how they related to the category of gender …women who in different ways demonstrated their willingness to transgress ostensible gender boundaries. I then look at how their strategies were received, and how their audience seemed to relate to the relationship between the individual and their gender.
Sweet suggests a plurality of overlapping models of family life (Ordering the World 113), and I want to suggest a plurality of overlapping models of identity … where sometimes gender, sometimes social status or class, sometimes political affiliation, determines the presentation of self of any particular individual.
This is why we need cubist history
where the author describes what different scholars have had to say about the past – the “facts” of oppression and the other facts and how to reconcile them – or not.
A) The change – why this is an interesting period to look at, with a growing
public and public writing, lots of claims about what that does to women retreating into the private sphere and how life is compartmentalized.
- B) Legal and official position – a discussion of citizenship, Shoemaker and Wiesner, against Gunderson
- C) Family life and the body – separate spheres and companionate marriages appearing says L Stone, not so clear says Wrightson, Karen Harvey against Thomas Laqueur and perhaps Fletcher
- D) More complications – business owners of R Sweet, anonymous lawyers mentioned in article, the not so separate spheres of Vickery,
- E) The literary field –( female) writers as professionals, Todd, Backschieder, Richetti duke it out with Bannett and others. For all the anxiety about female writers it does seem clear that women novelists were acceptable – see Cheryl Turner
- where the author introduces the women one by one and gives a discussion of their lives and works. There is an initial discussion of the implied author (Wayne Booth) and what we are looking for. False humility as a rhetorical device is discussed.
- Section one where Lady Mary is introduced. Lady Mary did not publish non-fiction officially when she was alive – what does that say – she was still very public – what does that say? Was she not intending to be taken seriously? How did she relate to her writing and herself as an author?
- Section two where the author introduces Catharine Macaulay and proceeds to do to her what she did to Lady Mary in the preceding section, but also talks a bit about the colonies and attitudes toward them Discussion of the differences between her early work and the later On Education that DOES have a gendered edge. Also continues the discussion of citizenship and how she could claim that role.
Attention is paid to Katie Davis argument that Macaulay’s position was undermined by her increasingly radical position and that her second marriage was simply an easy way of taking her out.
- Section three where the author (re)introduces Mercy Otis Warren and does the same thing all over again, continuing the colonial discourse. Is she meeker because she is American? How does she relate to the whole idea of republican motherhood?
- Section four where we meet Elizabeth Montagu, etc etc. Here the discussion will be different since she only wrote one text for publication – the rest of her public appearance is as a salonniere - was she seen as a hostess or an intellectual?
where we may run into some additional characters – Hanna More, Judith Sargent Murray, Mary Astell, Elizabeth Carter, Damaris Masham – as well as some male writers
- Bring back the discussion on the literary marketplace – how my women fit the norms and general expectations
where the author describes how writers/women/gender relations in general were portrayed by others and how her particular writers were received
- general media descriptions of women, gender, and public life – from the Spectator,
Tatler, Rambler, Annual Register, Gentlemen’s Magazine, Female Spectator, etc
- gender and satirical prints – how gender is performed, what roles women are made
to play and who is seen doing what (from merry milkmaids and widows to patriotic
wives and literary ladies) the background in types and puppet theatre – see Donald (history), McCreery (gender), Atherton (politics and the surprising number of female printers) … Brittania and John Bull as representatives of patriotism (what is going on here? – is this connected to the power struggle between the aristocracy and the middle class, French and British – i.e. manly middle class British values against foppish female aristocratic French – is this part of what Wahrman is saying, go back and check his class perspective)
- specific reactions to my women (reviews, diaries, articles etc)
- the question is asked to what extent audiences accepted the implied author
- how they were portrayed and what that might have meant
- are there distinctions between the prints, the gossip and the diary entries? Are for
instance the prints more dependent on general types with actual people exemplifying
them rather than making comments about specific individuals?
Chapter Five- Conclusions
Wherein the author reveals the implications of her findings as to gender as a category of research (take that Joan Scott), and proceeds to suggest how her approach can be further used and developed to transform historical studies – delivered with only a whiff of hubris.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
This is a desperately sad story about loneliness and quiet despair and the consequences of our actions and how they are different than what we can see as we stumble into the disaster.
Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench both inhabit their roles with an authority that forces the viewer to hear their characters, to reckon with them. The young man seems artlessly passionate, not even acting, which is perfect for a role where he is supposed to be visceral, not thoughtful. The husband is the only uneven note. Nighy does a good portrait and his pain is genuine and his anguish gripping, but we never quite connect to his person, we don't get close enough to relate to him on our own and we do not get enough information to know how we "should" relate to him. Maybe this is intended to demonstrate how Blanchett feels distanced from him - but we don't really get her reactions to him either ...
Other than that, and a certain aimlessness in the script, this is a beatifully acted, well scripted, delicately directed little gem.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Arts exuded order - static order. Order was also in the universe, divinely structured not for man, but only man, purportedly, could fully appreciate it. Ideas of order flowed back and forth between religion, humanities, science.
Joshua Reynold's Discourses describe artistic order and hierarchy, ranking the styles and subjects of art. At the summit was art modelled on the renaissance. Its epick style roused the nobler passions, based on severity - sober tones or bold, simple contrasts. From there we move down along the Great Chain of Being. Threats to this beauty came from Venice with nuances and light flickering that seduced the painter (these works were fickle, superficial, vain, etc - in language borrowed from Pope these paintings were all the bad of feminine).
More on the Chain - there is hierarchy of course, and balance (from top to bottom, from man being both spiritual and physical). The things below were - subjected - to those higher up. Many assumed this to be true, and that the drudges needed to be kept in ignorance to not be too miserable. People like Johnson, in Rasselas, questioned the resulting social stagnation - "the maxims of a commercial nations .... promote a rotation of property" (Johnson The Works)
Some - noting eg the importance of earth worms - saw rather the mutlifarious lateral relations of interdependence.
Foucault says this is when belief in the mysterious affinities linking all the objects in the world gives way to rational systemisation as per Linneaus (although some critics thought it was silly to base system on a few external criteria when clearly the truth is on the inside). People DID, though, look closely at the world to set up their systems - and some said it was an unsustainable theological fantasy to make unbroken linear continuity a part of the plan of the Creation (Blumenbach quoted on page 10)
What many hoped to find was that nature reflected a benevolent and perfect Creator - like Newton perhaps - but increasingly what they found was disorder and constant flux. Donald says this "was as closely related to concepts of the political order and of human destiny as the hierarchical 'Great Chain' had been" (11)
Buffon regarding nature and Smith regarding the economy are said to have had parallell systems of irresistible, opposite but self-correcting forces. More critical voices included Hume, who did not see an invisible hand keeping order and indeed thought that man created trouble for himself - "man is the greatest enemy of man", and Malthus, who presented nature not as abundant and ever-nurturing but as an "indigent parent who could not provide for all her fecklessly produced off-spring" (13). Then Darwin taking inspiration from Malthus, in a cross-pollination that as we have seen is the norm rather than an exception.
Such interchanges were common among the many conflicting ideas of order, and each structure was internally incoherent - we are looking then, at several, flawed, attempts at ordering the world. This is organised as follows (list of chapters and content).
CHAPTER ONE - J.D. Clark:
"Providence, Predestination, and Progress: Or, Did the Enlightenment Fail?"
Basically Jonathan Clark says that divine providence as an explanation of the course of human affairs (private lives and politics alike) remained a vital and mainstream explanatory model. I think he also says that when people moved away from providence is was as often as not toward chaos, not scientific rationality ... Finally, scientific rationality and providence were not, initially, at odds with eachother - they were often seen as the same (e.g. Newtion's view that we see God's hand in the laws of nature).
There is a discussion of how miracles are less seen as events where God overules the laws of nature than as a fortuitous confluence of individually natural events = providence. I think the underlying debate is as to the nature of God - if all-powerful he need not tinker constantly with his creation, but then if people have free will God needs to clean up after their bad decisions. On the other hand if people do have free will - is God still omnipotent?
At times he seems to go off his topic and just generally discuss the kinds of debates on order taking place in the eighteenth century - his long term goal seems to be to argue that the Enlightenment wasn't secular, not modern, and that the focus on order and structure was invented as a straw man in the nineteenth century by people who were questioning everything sacred. And the only thing they managed was to question themselves.
Chapter two - Frank O'Gorman
"Ordering the Political World"
Looking for an overarching model of the political order in 18th c Britain - the old idea that there is a stable and solid political order is misleading. The Whig interpretation has held though, and it "emphasized both the constitutional legitimacy and historical continuity of the political system." (p 84)
Standard interpretations have been:
1) J Clark saying Britain in the eighteenth century was dominated by the forces of monarchy, Anglicanism and aristocracy - an ancien régime - a confessional state.
2) John Brewer said England was a Fiscal-Military State - acknowledging that Britain depended on parliamentary supply and presenting Britain as essentially secular.
3) A social interpretation by eg Borsay, Corfield and Paul Langford that emphasizes the growth and importance of the middling classes. Complements Brewer rather than Clark.
4) Linda Colley has described how a Protestant-based patriotism emerged to protect the nation against its other - France.
All of them seem to assume the order was stable - working from Jack Plumb's lectures in the 60's where he claimed that in the 1720's England achieved political stability after decades of strife. Whigs had won over Tories, court over country, executive over the legislature and electoral franchises had been narrowed. Finally, the independence of London had been curtailed and Scotland and Ireland been pacified. (p 87)
there are problems with the stability thesis:
1) growth of oligarchy and expansion in the executive is said to have created INstability under William and Anne but stability under George I and II?
2) Plumb claims electoral patron subdued their constituencies - but this is not the case, as many seats were contested later and the size of the electorate increased
3) Walpole believed there were threats everywhere -Whigs, Jacobites, France
4) Plumb leaned on Habbakuk's theory of the growth of large estates - didn't happen. The GENTRY prospered, not the aristocracy.
5) Plumb said Whigs were in control - but the Tories were a constant, serious threat - and many Tories were also Jacobites and ready to renounce the Hanoverians.
6) and Church-state relations in Scotland and Ireland made for instability
7) and Plumb did not look at local issues - local gov't had worked through the instabilites of the 17th C and just kept on going, not noticing much difference in the 18th
8) Plumb doesn't say how long it is supposed to have lasted [maybe until the colonies were lost?]
What really IS there is rebellion - dynastic, imperial, and religious (p 89) - additionally there are a number of plots and crises (p 90). Also, no other country has this kind of constant crises or rebellion going on, OTHER countries are much more stable. In France, things are quiet before the revolution - except the riots, but riots in Britain are much bigger. Only in Poland can we see a country whose history "manifestly exceeds that of Britain in the vulnerability and persistent instability" (91).
One of the general problems is of course terminology - what do we mean by stability and crisis? Plumb's definition is too wide and there is no other agreed upon. Stability is when people believe gov't is legitimate and this belief is consistent with general beliefs so people continue to assent to gov'ts authority. The opposite happens when people feel alienated from the political order - a "crisis of legitimation". O'Gorman says this happened on a number of occasions in 18th c Britain.
The first time was w the Glorious Revolution, then w the installation of George I, then the Jacobite uprising in 1715, then end of peace w France 1741) at the time of the War of Austrian Succession and the fall of Walpole (1742), and then the Jacobite uprising of 1745-6. After that the Jacobites were done for but stability was not to be had ... things just got worse with the rebellion of the colonies and the American war of independence (1776-1783). The conflict raised serious issues about legitimacy and loyalty and subjection. Add to this the county associations under Christopher Wyhill and the Gordon Riots in 1780 and it is clear the whole country was mad the whole time.
Then we get ten pages of the different crises and how they were handled - in the end O'Gorman says that the crises did not break the country apart but rather served to strengthen the cohesion of the country (104). The issues that caused instabiliy were solved and stability grew - the problem of distance, of dynastic inheritance, of loyal opposition. Darly on people were frightfully disloyal -
MY NOTE HERE - this says they were perhaps doing something else? that they were not being disloyal to England but loyal to their religion, that they were not disloyal to the king but loyal to the idea of monarchy ... I think that is a really interesting question - what US did people feel like they belonged to, and what did that belonging entail. I do NOT think that O'Gorman shows instability - I think he shows exactly what others have been talking about - a nation that was stable enough to deal with so many crises without falling apart.
Chapter four - Rosemary Sweet
"The Ordering of Family and Gender in the Age of Enlightenment"
Although patriarchy was questioned - the family was still an organising factor. "The institution of the family and the distinction between man and woman were seen to be God-given and 'natural'; they were the basic determinants of order in eighteenth-century society and, as such,not open to question" (112). Lawrence Stone's classical discussion of the separation of spheres and other key features of 'modern family life' should be given up in favor of a "plurality of overlapping models of family life" (113)
Nuclear family? some maybe, but experiences are widely divergent. They existed before and kinship models kept existing. Publications of antiquarian family history, establishing family kinships, persisted (117) THey may have been 'cultural residue' (Raymond Williams) but still important (118).
The family and polical culture (check out Lewis Namier ...) Recent research has found:
a) neat theoretical distinction between public and private spheres breaks down when tested against the lived experience
b) the importance of the family - particularly in informal politics, which was a lot of it. (120)Campaigners would target women as well as men and women were expected to help out and were vital conduits of information
Women worked for the family, not themselves, but then I guess so did men ...
Family interest and Corruption - familial interest and involvement was questioned as symptom of corruption - please note this was at least in part a class issue. Pigott and others used gender to point out the immoral mores of the aristocracy and to question aristocratic privilege. Family influence continued unabated - but it was being transformed into a different kind of political force, "one of the points where the unreformed system was most vulnerable to attack" (122)
Urbanization: a challenge to the family? Conservative moralists such as Byng feared the loss of distinction and privileges due to birth and breeding, and looked upon the growth of urban society with horror" (123) ... "but the concept of the family amongst the middling sort should not automatically equate with a simple model of individual autonomy and private domesticity, or the rejection of the obligations due to wider kin" (123) - RICHARD GRASSBY has shown that "half of business partners came from immediate family or kinsfolk, with no decline towards the latter end of the period" (124) There are though, some studies that show a shift toward friends and neighbours instead of kin ... Kin and networks based on occupation, politics, religion and neighbourhood coexisted!
Separate Spheres, gender roles and the nuclear family - aristocratic connections of kinship did come under attack but some of the other claims are weak. Judith Lewis has argued (in line with Stone) that aristocratic women were forced to withdraw, Thomas Laqueur has claimed that we went from one sex to a two sex model of gender and women were defined in terms of childbearing (127). "This mode of thought, it has been argued, produced a discourse which was able to 'stabilize and maintain a social order of gender inequality', even as the traditional foundations of patriarchal theory were being undermined" (127).
It IS true that women found themselves excluded from some professions, but in many ways "the tidy transition that is supposed to have taken place in early eighteenth-centuryy thought is considerably less clear-cut than some interpretations have suggested" (128)
KAREN HARVEY has shown that two-sex and one-sex models exist parallell to each-other in both seventeenth and nineteenth-century literature. Numerous historians have shown that affectionate love existed long before the 18th century (129) [Keith Wrightson I believe is one].
Marriage: Romantic Ideals and Pragmatic Reality ... upper class folks seem to have some element of romance, but much more of parental suitability, middling sort folk seemed to often consider the partnership, co-dependency ... (see eg Hunt) - hard to find any direct changes in emotional register depicted in sources ... clear that although there was general agreement that adultery was wrong, positions were changing and thetre were increasing numbers of divorce, esp. after 1770 (130) = also "adultery was becoming a social problem rather than a religious offence" (130).
It is difficult to know what to make of print culture evidence - what exactly does it mean? And that sort of reasoning also sidesteps the issue of "whether gender weighed more heavily than social status or class in determining an individual's identity and experience" (130)
there is also the yawning chasm between prescription and practice - "recent research has cumulatively built up a picture of the widespread participation of women in the urban economy that blurs the clarity of the distinctions that historians have traditionally tried to draw" (131)
The deal is that women were always also all these other things - and depending on what they were doing they would use whatever was their strongest suit - "I qualify for this position/authority/whatever because of X" ... X is never their gender, being a woman was almost never the basis for authority - and it was often a the basis for devaluation and humiliation. When you wanted to question someone you would use their weakest suit - and that was often gender ... but in between those two situations there were many when gender did not come up, where other criteria already had decided. Those who had a number of strong suits did not have to discuss their gender as often - they had other capital. The question then becomes if gender is always seen as the weakest suit to take someone down with?
"fluctuating and contested nature of masculinity" (131) - one change "that can be attributed to the code of politeness was a diminished tolerance for violence". the values of politeness were often those associated with women so there was a fine line to balance on
and btw, the importance of family was relevant to men too - "private, domestic virtues of a man began to have an increased bearing upon his public persona, whether he was a statesman or a military hero" (132)
Finally - as you have seen things were complex - the model of big change and separate spheres is too simple, older patterns were still viable and the terrain contested - note that the model is not the reality - the ideal type shows the pattern, not any individual truth. (133)
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Last week we saw the latest Bourne movie - very well made and some fun spy stuff - scary implications of always being watched by big brother - interesting that Bourne got to feel bad about killing people, compared to True Lies and others were killing bad guys is not like killing at all. Matt Damon is good and so is Julianne More - really good.
Modern American History of Ideas born at lunch w Arthur Lovejoy, George Boas, and Gilbert Chinard when a club was proposed. It was formed on January 24, 1923.
Pre-history w Aristotle, "universal histories" by Polybius, Vico, Kant and Schelling, discussions of Zeitgeist, Denkstil, and world-view, as well as e.g. cassirer and begriffsgeschichte.
Lovejovian history of ideas "involves an interdisciplinary approach to the indetification and tracing of certain "unit-ideas" as they find expression in a wide range of cultural fields from philosophic systems to literature, the other arts, the sciences, and social thought." (1084)
In 1940 they founded the Journal of the History of Ideas. Isaiah Berlin, Rene Wellek and others have been on the board, a number of academic programs have been founded as history of ideas programs, and the Dictionary of the History of Ideas was published to spread the ideas.
The paradigm work is of course "The Great Chain of Being: A Study in the History of Ideas" (1933). The unit ideas of plenitude, continuity, and gradation were followed from Plato to the early nineteenth century on the trail of the "single pervasive complex of ideas" embodied in the title. I guess here the idea of the great chain is that it encompasses everything, that it gives continuity over time and that it provides a hierarchy for the world? - at least this is the idea until the enlightenment and romanticism kills the unity of the universe.
Lovejoy says HOI is more specific and less restricted than history of philosophy, coz the units studied are different. He wants to study unit-ideas, the constitutive element of all the larger systems, creeds, and -isms. Macksey says Lovejoy believes the unit-ideas are finite in number and persistent through time - which makes it questionable whether an actual unit-idea has any history at all?
According to Macksey - Lovejoy's emphasis on this anatomizing process tends to foreground continuity over discontinuity, since "the seeming novelty of many a system is due solely to the novelty of application or arrangement of the old elements which enter into it" (4). (Macksey page 1089)
According to Macksey - Lovejoy then describes some unit-ideas - most are of the following types: implicit or incompletely explicit assumptions, or "more or less unconscious mental habits" , "dialectical motives", "types of metaphysical pathos", "sacred words or phrases of a period or movement" and, more explicitly, specific propositions or principles (eg the Great Chain)
TWO OF THESE TYPES DESCRIBED BY LOVEJOY ARE ESPECIALLY USEFUL TO ANYONE ATTEMPTING TO ACCOUNT FOR THE NON-RATIONAL SUBSTRATE IN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY; the "dialectical motives", which are the mental tics that form the characteristic turns of reasoning or assumptions of an individual, school, or even generation; and "metaphysical pathos" which is Lovejoy's term for the emotional 'charge' of certain words or phrases (Macksey page 1089)
Then three important aspects of the recurrent phenomena -
1) same presuppositions or operative ideas in diverse provinces of thought and different periods
2) the role of the semantic transitions and confusions
3) the internal tensions or waverings of the mind of almost every individual writer
Innovation is to Lovejoy a matter of recombination of the basic elements of thought
Development in France - histoire des idees much like academic source study but also the Geneva School. Georges Poulet - is more concerned with the concepts we think with than the things we think about.
Development in Germany - "several rival versions of conceptional history in the generation after Dilthey, notably Friedrich Mienecke's Ideengeschichte" and eg Gadamer. Also , the exploration of commonplaces, "sacred words and phrases" in Ernst Robert Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1953)
Development in Britain - Isaiah Berlin. Where Lovejoy stresses continuity of unit-ideas, Berlin "is characteristically drawn to new or emergent ideas" (1092)
Next generation in Britain were Quentin Skinner and John Dunn. Skinner says neither context nor the total insistence on the autonomy of the text is enough. And compare this to the scholars (old-school history of literature folks) v critics (new school new criticism folks) debate.
Then we get to practical applications which have been various. Lit scholars have learned to be cautious about periods, many confusions have been cleared up and disambiguations taken place.
Many second generation studies have wandered beyond particular eras looking at such things as progess, primitivism, biblical covenant, etc
Then we get to fruitful objections such as are described in eg Lovejoy's The Great Chain of Being after Fifty Years by Daniel Wilson (1987).
Spitzer who wanted a synthetic method that allows the historian to comprehend the 'totality of features of a given period or movement' " (1094)
Mandelbaum who wanted to distinguish between continuing ideas and recurrent ideas.
Mink who ?
Foucault who was tireless in his attacks (no, it is not that I don't describe what they are, it is that Macksey doesn't - silly man), but had certain similarities:
a) committed to a vigorously cross-disciplinary approach
b) identified and studied the profound break in thought separating the E from Romanticism
c) more interested in the CONSTRAINTS on thought at any given period than in its flow
what is an idea?
define causality and influence?
discontinuities or paradigm shifts?
meaning and value?
This really is not a very good article - there are many claims and very few examples to support them. There is no way to figure out from this how different scholars see the history of ideas as a discipline and what it is supposed to be doing. For instance, at the end Macksey says that the linguistic turn has significantly altered the way in which readers how approach the conceptual formulations in Lovejoy's narrative - no shit, Sherlock - but he says not a word about HOW the approaches have been altered. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
Today is reading - reading - reading.
I have to find out about cubist history!
James asked me
a) why are these women interesting as anything other than exceptions -the problem lies in the question. If we attempt to find the majority position and use that as an ideal type, even knowing that that is a model and not the terrain itself, we miss something vitally important - which is the RANGE of possible positions. I want to explore the boundaries of the conceptual landscape and to do that I have to find the edges, where the inside THIS pushes up against the outside THAT.
I am looking for the edge pieces.
Saying that someone or something is an exception and leaving it at that is not good enough - not all kinds of exceptions are possible, so we need to understand what kinds of exceptions are possible and perhaps even expected and what role they served and yadi yadi yadi.
b) why I need to do more than one woman, since I am not going to have enough to do something representative anyway. Apart from the constraints of reality (time, energy, bla bla) that keep me from the representative, I still think four are better than one, because four might indicate patterns versus just a simple axis. If they all use the same kind of strategy then the range is possibly two dimensional, a matter of degree. If there are more than one strategy, the complexity of the field increases and we will have to keep going a ways before we can know how the edge pieces relate to each other ...
Maynard Mack's magisterial biography of Pope
Richard G. Williams, Librarian and Archivist, Mapledurham House
Thursday, September 06, 2007
The series appears to be published by Florida State UP and the general info is:
ISSN: 1092-0013; LCCN: 96-640299 ; sn 95-31874
just in case ...
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Why we refuse to keep handing you facts to memorize - the facts aren't as certain as we like to think, there are, for instance, three possible dates for when WWII began - 1937, 1939 and 1941. In addition, you have to be able to evaluate the facts, to see which are reasonable and which demand further inquiry or are only valid under some circumstances. Finally, at some point you should be able to start creating your own knowledge and you can't memorize something that doesn't exist yet.
Why we make you work in groups - it has everything to do with the topic above. If you are simply expected to memorize facts or principles, then a group will only help you if the other members know things you don't, things that are not in the book. But since we want you to figure stuff out, to evaluate arguments - to have arguments, you simply must have people to have those arguments with. Imagine a court where the same person was both prosecutor and defense attorney ... Voila, group project.
Why you will probably sometimes have to do more than what is required on the syllabus - we don't know what you know and don't know now, only what we want you to know and understand by the end of the semester. If your background knowledge is limited somewhere - we just expect you (without saying anything to you about it) to go figure it out. If you need to use a dictionary or an encyclopedia or read an extra couple of books to understand the stuff that IS required, we expect you to go read that extra stuff. We don't require that you do certain things, but that you accomplish certain things, however you do them.
Keep in mind that we are trying to teach you content, but also skill sets and methods; not only the historical data (who did what to whom and when) but how to DO history - not only what other philosophers have said but how to CONDUCT a philosophical argument - not only what this or that biologist did or found, but HOW they did it and how you can REPLICATE it and do your own research that confirms or questions what s/he did.
When you are bored because you know most of it, the challenge becomes to notice the things that you DON'T know, figure them out and figure out if that changes the things the things you did know.
Make note of the brave souls who do this in a different language. If you have taken a foreign language you know how hard it is - some of your classmates are doing that every day, everything they do is in another language that they have had to master or are still working on. It is HARD, also because joking is terribly difficult in a foreign language and so you become less animated and you only speak when you have to, because it takes so much out of you.
James, Michelle, whoever else I gave the URL to - if you read this - remember you only have to look at the stuff that is actually about the dissertation .. the rest is just me biting my nails.
James - one thing I did not talk to you about yesterday - about thinking and feeling. Descartes and so many others distinguish between thinking and feeling and believe we can separate out what we think about ideas from what we feel about ideas, or rather, when it comes to the history of mentalités, how we think ideas and how we feel ideas. I believe that is a false dichotomy - I think thinking involves feeling. Adam Smith seems to have been on to something along those lines when he talked about sympathy and the role it plays in our thinking about the world around us, or perhaps to think about things as PART of the world around us - a different perspective to be thinking from (imagining what it must be like in your shoes, or if I were in your shoes ..). The neurologist Antonio Damasio has written a book - Descartes' error - wherein he describes how we use emotions to think (we use emotions to decide what things are important to attend to and what can be ignored - we use emotions to fasttrack thinking into categories and to quickly find likely relevant other information (a sort of heterarchial tagging system). So, assuming that model is viable - any discussion of thinking and the categories of thinking would have to have some room for a broader understanding of thinking that does not see feeling as its ugly stepsibling.
Stuff like this - random blabber - will be tagged as OT. Stuff that is more relevant will be tagged according to some system I will try to come up with below:
DISS - the stuff itself
BIBLIO - readings
TODO - lists
conferences - places, groups, topics,CFPs, etc
money - grants, fellowships, travel,
research - places, contents, howto's,
admin - software, sorting stuff, tools I need or how to use them
OT - off topic stuff - rants, random ideas, conversations and moral outrage
PRECIS - just what it sounds like
Get it? Got it? Good! (Danny Kaye - but what movie?)