Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Class reading for Week 5 and 6

Here is a selection of reading that we will be dealing with on Wednesday and Week 6, 5th-7th October:

Eric Liu's essay, "The Chinatown Idea"

We will also read some poetry by the great Gwendolyn Brooks, available here:
"hunchback girl: she thinks of heaven" (click here)
"the ballad of chocolate Mabbie" (click here)
"Boy Breaking Glass" (click here)
"Two Dedications" (click here)

Remember, we also have reading from your textbook! Consult your syllabus for the listing.

Summary vs. Analysis

For the purposes of this class, we have to learn not only to distinguish between summaries and analyses (easy enough), but also to control our writing enough to produce one and then the other. For the final exam they both carry equal weight, so you must be equally comfortable with both.

A summary is:
- Objective, meaning include as little of your personal opinion as possible;
- Brief, meaning 1-2 long paragraphs should be sufficient for a thorough summary;
- Concise, meaning that although short, it contains all relevant information from the original essay.

An analysis is:
- Subjective, meaning that your critical opinion of the original piece must be present;
- Not as brief, since you need space to develop your own arguments and reactions to/against the original text;
- Concise, because it is still important not to ramble on away from your point.

For the purposes of your final exams, your summaries must contain the following:
1. The full title of the article
2. The author's full name
3. The thesis statement (even if it is implied) paraphrased by you
4. A consideration of the various examples used
5. A consideration of the language -- what is the tone of the essay? Any use of jargon or particular linguistic quirks?

You must decide, as a critical reader and writer, what the relative importance of each of these points is. For instance, in some cases the language used will be crucial (ironic prose, poetic or lyric prose), and in other cases maybe the various examples will take up more of your time because they perform an important function in the essay. Use these 5 points, but be adaptable with them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Body Ritual Among the Nacirema" by Horace Miner

Good discussion in class yesterday! I hope that Miner's essay has given you all food for thought.
To recap, some key points:

Critical distance
-- When approaching any topic, you as a critic have to make the choice between passion and objectivity. How far will you think with your head, and how far will you go with your heart?
E.g., look at the Alvarez article – what are some of the approaches to her essay?

1. Adopt her suggestions as a way of thinking and writing;
2. Try to analyse her method of writing and see it as a series of steps (process analysis);
3. Try to see how she is manipulating you into a “collegiate” frame of address; analyse her tone and manner of writing.

So, we can use our critical lens to examine this, or any, essay and then form a critique of it from our position of critical distance.

Man, Culture and Society

What is the difference between "society" and "culture"?
Which is a product of the other?

Remember, the key idea -- even individual ants form themselves into societies, but only individual men come together in societies and have culture.

Some cultural institutions: all arbitrary structures in society such as Law, Morality, Religion, Art, Literature, and so on.

Reading Miner critically (use your Essay Toolkit from class 2):

Purpose -- why does he write this piece?
Audience -- who is he writing for? Other anthropologists, college students, laypeople?
Tone -- what is the tone he uses? Does it vary over the course of the essay?
Style -- how does he present his material? What is the purpose of the references he makes? What is the crucial need for the quote at the end of the essay?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"NACIREMA" by Horace Miner

If you've done a Google search you might have already found this article, but here goes a link to it:


Happy reading!

Alvarez reading

The Julia Alvarez How-To guide

What did you get out of the Alvarez reading? Today's class discussion brought up several interesting points or sections which stuck in people's memory.

Try to think of why a particular part appealed to you -- even if this question doesn't have a single clear answer.

"Be someone on whom nothing is lost" -- great line, right?

Method in Alvarez's article:

1. How does she use the "kernel" of a good idea? Look at the examples she gives (the poem inspired by what she read in Better Homes and Gardens, or the one she writes after visiting the UN to hear her mother speak). She explains her process of writing in these pages, but notice how different her finished product (the poem) is from her source material (the clipping).

2. How are you going to imitate her method in your own assignment? What are you going to do with the snippet you found about, say, a runaway horse in Central Park -- a short short story? A poem? A musing about how and why a horse came to be loose in Central Park in the first place?

Remember your Essay Toolkit -- what kind of response are you going to write for me? Think about form (simple essay? journalistic style? poem? story? dialogue? play?), style and tone (humourous? serious? facetious? matter-of-fact? sypathetic? unsympathetic?)

Think of yourselves as serious writers who are making a series of reasoned choices each time you write and submit a piece of work.

Finally, here is the homework assignment again, due Monday 14th Sept.:

Go through any of the ‘news’ sources around you – gossip, ads, free newspapers on the train, US Weekly, the Onion, or even ‘serious’ news sources like the NYT – and find one piece that catches your attention, piques your interest. Write a backstory for this piece from your imagination, without recourse to more information.


Hi. Welcome to the blog for NYCCT's English 1101 class with me, Prof. Banerjee.

I hope you find this space useful to review your readings, look for notes, discuss points of interest and so forth. Feel free to post comments, argue back and forth, etc.

Happy reading (and writing)!