Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 10

Learning Journal Activity -- Quotable

This writing prompt asks you to choose three of your favorite quotations and tell us something about them. If you know who said the quote or if it relies on a specific historical context, then these are things you should obviously tell your readers (however some quotes are only attributable to "anonymous" or "unknown"). Along with any general information, you should also say something about what the particular quote means to you and why you decided to share it. Quotations can be inspirational, thought-provoking, urbane, and sometimes just plain silly, but presented on their own they can sometimes be lost on your audience unless you set the stage. Your writing on each quote does not need to be more than a few sentences, though you are certainly welcome to say as much as you like and some quotes may require providing more information.

Below is a sample I have put together using quotes from famous authors, but don't feel like you have to follow along similar lines -- the sky is the limit, but do try to keep it PG 13. If you have any questions about this activity, send me an email at my mun dot ca address or leave a comment below.


"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying." -- Oscar Wilde

Wilde, the author of the famous book The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), is perhaps equally well known as a Victorian era socialite and quick-wit, whose flaunting of authority ultimately landed him in hot water. He was imprisoned as a result of a libel charge he initiated against a member of the aristocracy, and the affair ended with his conviction on the charge of sodomy. During his trial, Wilde was typically flippant toward the prosecutors, and perhaps may have heeded the implicit advice in the above quote: think before you speak. After being released from prison, Wilde went into self-imposed exile in France, where he died penniless at the age of forty-five. This quote serves as a reminder that no matter how sharp we may think we are, sometimes we are our own worst enemies.


"When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep." -- Ursula K. Le Guin

Along with being a prolific, award winning author of science fiction and fantasy novels, such as The Dispossessed (1970) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), since her university days Le Guin has been an avid social justice advocate and activist. In recent years she has even taken on the internet giant Google over its plans for a digital library, which she feels disregards the status of authors and any copyright claims they have in their work. Although her politics is, at least in principle, against the idea of copyright altogether, Le Guin has fought on the grounds that the author's associations and guilds have given up what little control (and access to funds) writers have in the digital literary marketplace. The quote above, which originated well before the advent of the internet, is a statement on activism, but is also now a quote that can be understood in an ironic light, since Google is undoubtedly the information gatherer par excellence.


"2 + 2 = 5" -- George Orwell

The novel 1984 (published 1949) by George Orwell contains many enigmas, such as the phrases "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." But aside from this, perhaps no other notion from the text has left such an indelible mark on the modern consciousness as the seemingly poorly done math equation that in fact turns out to be perfectly correct. It is a sample of what Orwell calls doublethink, which is part of the contradictory logic ruling the dystopian world in the text. It is a willingness to hold an irrational view in order to fit in, and extends to such a degree throughout the narrative that what is "true" becomes merely a matter of perspective. This doublethink is presented in such a convincing way that many people admit that upon finishing the book they have convinced themselves that the answer is really five (or that it makes little difference if it is "actually" four). Examples of doublethink abound in our everyday lives, though of course most of them remain within the realm of assumed, unquestioned truths. Conveniently, even if I was to indicate an example it would likely make so little sense that it would seem I am the one who has the math wrong.


Assigned Readings and Overview for Week 10 

This week we will be examining two short stories, Chinua Achebe's "Dead Men's Path" (269-71) and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" (163-71). The theoretical lens through which we will be discussing these stories is the extended metaphor: allegory. For some background on this concept, please have a look through the write-up on allegory posted on my blog at this link or through the tab at the top.