Friday, September 21, 2007

"do you ever think . . .

. . . that they are just reading too much into things?"

raise your hand if a student has ever said this to you or to a class in the context of a discussion (i'd say "asked this" but it's really a statement, a rhetorical question). it happened to me yesterday. it happens a lot more in Utah than it did in Florida or in Arizona (conservative states, to be sure, but still . . .). i have over the years tried to find temperate ways of responding to this question. yesterday, i responded by telling my student that, "no, if this is your argument, it's weak" (she was asking if this "they read too much into it" statement could form her thesis in a summary/analysis paper addressing an essay about sexism in Sesame Street). i tried to frame my response as a matter of "what goes on in college," but also "what a thinking person does" and "what being a critical consumer of cultural texts is about" and "what being an intellectual human being/citizen is about" . . . etc., etc.

all fine, with a bit of frustrated harumphing from my student and a small handful of other students. but then, i had to admit to her that, yes, there are times when i (we) simply must "turn it off." and maybe this is what distinguishes me from the serious scholars i know and respect and work with and have been admonished by (apparently, if i buy into anything "3rd wave" i'm not a real feminist). wow. it's funny how some of the greatest minds become so settled in their convictions. oboy. is that the mark of a "great mind"? a firm and unwavering conviction? because if that's so, i'm screwed. t-o-t-a-l-l-y screwed.

but so maybe she (my student) can/should write from that (weak?) thesis (??)

so but what i meant when i told my student that i sometimes turn it off is that life is hard and complicated and that if i lived through my convictions to their fullest potential, i would probably be alone, on a craggy knoll, eating lettuce and meditating -- heartfelt prayers for a humanity i can't imagine, in any of my most sincere intentions and efforts, affecting -- unto eternity.

is this a naïve ambivalence without value? i'm not so sure. i'm planning to read a paper my colleague recently gave on Levinas as a way of intellecutalizing my hunch, and then to read Levinas and think about it some more, and in the meantime, make the art i enjoy making and try to sometimes just watch The Hills because that's my guilty pleasure (Lauren, come on, stay away from Jason. and Heidi: Spencer? Really?!) and maybe say a thing or two in the margins of a paper that maybe helps a student along and love my husband (the other night, he sat reading the Phil Steele Football "Bible" while i scanned the Victoria's Secret Catalogue; intellectuals, we be) and then sometimes watch The Hills Aftershow at 5:00 a.m. because facing the day's roster of intellectual projects to which i feel compelled is simply just too much at 5:00 a.m. and i need to "turn it off."

Honestly, i think that when i mentioned i'm on Team Lauren, i may have won over a few students :)


Kafkaz said...

Students are just so darned smart.

Yes, you should tell them--yes! YES! Writing, thinking, critique, analysis--all of these things as they unfold in college--tend to be about reading into things, and reading into them as deeply as we possibly can. Of course, you could point out, sometimes a big yellow bird is just a big yellow bird, but then again often (like a red wheelbarrow can be, if you develop the knack of looking at it just so) it's so much more. And that's what college is all about: gaining access to the so much more. If you encounter Big Bird in a writing class and *don't* come away with a few feathers stuck in your hair, then you are missing the point, missing the fun, and missing out on a key thing: reading is all about reading into. The surface is for sissies. Dive in, drink deep, read. Plus, you could point out, ruffling the feathers doesn't have to be a matter of going negative. The feathers in your hair could be from flying, hugging, climbing into nests, conducting friendly pillow fights, or any number of things. You don't have to pluck the poor bird clean to read him (or is he a her? a quick peak under the feathers might solve that myster!) better.

And then, having mastere the art of reading much into things, you can start writing much into things, which is a nice corrective to most of the world's approach, which is to write (and read) far too little into them.


bonnie lenore kyburz said...

oh, i just now read this! thanks Kathy. what a fun response ;)

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