Monday, September 19, 2011

First blog assignment - due 9/22/11

Jon Ronson, Chapter 3 - "Psychopaths Dream in Black and White"

What I'd like you to do for this assignment is essentially a version, in miniature, of what you did with Gawande for your second short assignment. It's going to be a little trickier than it was with Gawande, and that's on purpose. (Having you do hard things is good, sometimes.) It'll be harder because Gawande was, in fact, putting forth a particular argument about health care, whereas Ronson is presenting a narrative, a history, with a less focused main point.

What I want from you is two paragraphs. The first one should give a brief abstract (a summary) of the chapter. Start with a sentence that is the most important thing the piece does. ("In this chapter, Jon Ronson . . .") Then quickly explain the major points the chapter makes. Again, this should just be a short paragraph; don't let yourself get too bogged down in the details.

The second paragraph should be your reaction to it. This is one of the "rougher" chapters in the book, in terms of describing violence and other nasty things, so if you want to comment on that here, feel free. Other than that, what struck you about this chapter? Did anything seem particularly strange, or interesting, or confusing? What questions do you have about what he describes?

I'll give you an example of what I mean, using the Silko reading we did earlier as an example. Essentially, this is what I'm looking for (the first paragraph is even a little longer than is maybe necessary). Do this, but with Ronson.
In Leslie Marmon Silko's "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective," the author is interested in explaining how her particular cultural background affects the way she experiences storytelling. Silko explains that, for the Laguna Indians, all language is a kind of storytelling, because all words are connected with history and culture. She emphasizes that this is not just through traditional folk stories - though they are certainly important - but also through new stories that are created, which help to build community and family shared experiences. Silko's audience appears to include not just her original listeners - as the piece was originally intended to be spoken, not read - but, ultimately other readers in other places. This is apparent by the way she invites her audience to reach across multiple times, places, and cultures, and to think about the ways in which language, via storytelling, can unite us.

I find Silko's argument really interesting, though I think in a lot of ways I already relate to language in the way she talks about. I'm really interested in linguistic origins and how words and themes are interconnected. One of my old housemates, introducing me to someone, once said, "This is Otto. She doesn't actually have conversations, she just quotes random obscure stuff and then laughs at herself." I was pretty embarrassed that she was right; this is sort of a more generous way to think of it - that always having things remind you of other words or lines or stories is just a really integrated and communal way to experience language. I guess I'm still curious as to what degree other people experience this as well.

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