Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

I am currently working on a number of posts focusing on Module A: Texts in Time and Area of Study: Belonging. I am interested in the kinds of posts my readers would find useful. If I get enough votes for a particular topic I will add it to my “to write” list. You can also make suggestions in the comments for anything that’s not included (for example, Preliminary HSC topics and texts).


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Belonging is the new HSC Area of Study but it’s more than that, it’s a fundamental human need. I tend to conceptualize belonging in the negative, to think of the outsider, of the person who doesn’t belong. I always identified with those characters in books, with Erika Yurken in Hating Alison Ashley, with Elspeth in The Obernewtyn Chronicles and with poor ignored Anne Eliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Each character was competent in her own way but out of place within their family, school, society. What made them not fit? What made these characters square pegs in round holes? For Erika it is simply a matter of perception, she thinks herself better than (or different from) what she is and, when she finds herself, she finds that she fits exactly in her own place. Anne and Elspeth are both out of place because they are extraordinary. I was always attracted to this idea of not belonging because of being special.

I love this quote about Belonging:

Belonging is a circle that embraces everything; if we reject it, we damage our nature.
The word ‘belonging’ holds together the two fundamental aspects of life:
Being and Longing, the longing of our Being and the being of our Longing.
– John O’Donohue

It is what we are and what we want to be all wrapped up into one. In this module I’m looking forward to exploring the idea of belonging to a Place as well as to groups, communities and families.

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This is a summary of the entertaining discussion which was presented to Preliminary Extension classes earlier this week. My personal favourite part was when a teacher (who shall remain nameless), postulated that every text is overtly political and a student (also nameless) replied: “that’s why I’m happier than you”. Many thanks to Rob and Will for sharing their thoughts and manifestos with us. Please feel free to respond.

1.‘The ‘Text, Culture, Values’ course is ‘simply a way for the Board of Studies, or indeed our beloved English Department, to instruct us about what meaning there is in the text, without either studying the text closely or accurately, or allowing us our own interpretations… In high school the meaning of a text is dictated by the institutions that determine the curriculum… [T]he downside is that, because you spend your essays arguing a position that the marker is already quite familiar with -because he was the one who dictated it to you – there is very little room for originality or need for precision in your argument.’

2.‘I believe that all works of art have an inherent value and meaning in and of themselves. This meaning is an absolute, invariable quality that does not alter according to context and audience. It is an eternal quality. Thus, a text has an integral value and significance in and of itself, fully realized and separated from any concerns of reader, as the author intended it.’

3.Every individual has the right to read or study the text and to form their own conclusions as to what the meaning of the text is – and, of course, everyone has the right to express their opinion on this issue. However, some of these opinions will be wrong. This is an area which is often subject to confusion; people think that everyone having the right to express their opinion is the same thing as all opinions being equal. All opinions are not equal; some opinions are wrong, some interpretations are wrong.

4.I believe that the purpose of art is to entertain. Not to deliver a message, not to express a point of view, not to provoke discussion, not to give voice to our society’s concerns. … The only valid purpose of a work literature, or indeed any art form, is to entertain its reader.

Will Haines

1.Literature is a way of thinking in and with language, mainly, though not always, about the human experience. It is not merely a code of communication, helping an artist to communicate his own feelings, but actually to create experience and give it to an audience, because in the very conception of experience within words its inherent quality is improved/given form/given meaning.

2.It is stupid, I am afraid, to claim that literature’s overwhelming purpose is to entertain, or to give a message, or to explain, or to make a comment. … Establishing the value/meaning/purpose of literature as being something outside itself is redundant and undermines the thing itself – it functions as a form of knowledge in its own right and on its own terms. Speaking about it in terms of its ‘use’… askes us to operate in a way that degrades it. Literature doesn’t (or shouldn’t) serve a utilitarian purpose – it is not itself motivated. Rather, it motivates those who create and respond to it by enabling them to think in a certain way.

3.The kind of meaning literature supplies transcends all immediate or ‘relevant’ ideologies, systems, methods, trends or issues. Such concerns eg racism, sexism, etc can be the subject without being the object. It is essentially epistemological in nature, meaning it deals with how we know things. It is interested in observing something we feel we know, and then explaining exactly what that thing is, and why we know it. Before you can know anything, you need first to identify and understand the faculties and cognitive abilities of the knower; these literature shows in operation. It is thus less about what there is in the world than it is about how we, as humans, understand what there is in the world.

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Storytelling is a socially acceptable form of lying in which the author (liar) and the reader collude in order to create a safe place for the story (or lie) to flourish. The reader, although aware of the tale’s fiction, willingly participates in its propagation, often retelling it to other willing marks. According to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, this retelling is inevitable:

For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system, it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the inkpot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.

Although, in truth, stories are lies, they are also – through the fact of the conspiracy which exists between authors and readers – important cultural artefacts that reveal a deeper truth about the nature of culture and how it is constructed.

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