Practice What You Preach; a tribute to skateboarding.

If you think upon something, settle on the idea, and proceed to not see it through you create a habit of not executing your own ideas. This will limit the development you can achieve in the future. The hardest part in trying to do something is starting; once you allow yourself to try, then things will run their course!

This is of course subjective, I am well aware of the difficulty involved in trying, because I have also found myself in positions where I have failed to live by my own word and desires; all it accomplished was lackluster regret. So what I proceeded to do, after experiencing the lackluster regret of not living by my principles and desire, was allow myself no time to enter my comfort zone: the cause of my lack of action. It is comfortable to feel safe, and often more than not, people believe that freedom from failure is safe. Because of this many people tend to avoid the uncomfortable situation of possible failure. This ideology is a mental constraint that will disable your growth in whichever field you are limiting yourself. I’ll use a quote from a previous post of mine titled Atychiphobia to explain this constraint: “ the scariest moment is always just before you start” (Stephen King).

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Preparation For Success

Once you allow yourself to try and find yourself in a position of preparation, you must consider how to appropriately arm yourself with the tools to succeed—this includes the use of any previous experience and an interpretation of the position or opportunity you are about to approach. This preparation might range from general practice to insightful thinking about the reason you are pursuing this position and how it will help you grow; it would prove beneficial to think reflectively upon your goal. 

For example, you might be applying to schools thinking about how to best prepare yourself for the environment you are about to enter. This might mean mental preparation for a new social environment or preparation for a less dictated environment—this means that you control your schedule and how you execute self-determined deadlines—much like the transition into college, which has more options than high school. Preparing yourself for a situation where you will have more liberty, will allow you to avoid large amounts of unreasonable procrastination and bad work habit, which might cause stress and stunt personal growth.

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The future is both terrifying and exciting; one hopes to succeed and accomplish their goals, but approaching the process and the possibility of failure is intimidating—the term for this fear and intimidation is Atychiphobia.

People often let fear and intimidation stop them from pursuing things that will develop their growth; they worry about the process and the negativity that may arrive as they attempt something they are not sure of. There is nothing wrong in worrying about the future; in fact, preparation for something is usually accompanied with a healthy amount of worry. But one should not allow themselves to be overwhelmed with ideas of failure, they should not even fear failure. They should persist because there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying. Should one try and fail as a result, they will hold no regret, yet gain experience that will enable them to try again with a higher chance of success—this is of course situational, I display these ideas for a situation where one is genuinely limiting themselves from trying, not where it might be actually unreasonable to try something. Though even in those circumstances, is it actually wrong to try when all you would be doing is leaving your comfort zone and avoiding possible failure? Continue reading “Atychiphobia”

Thoughts on Bias in Discipline Part 2: The Arts; Should an Artist’s Contribution To Their Art Be Separated From Themselves?

All disciplines share fault in the use of bias in their study—this is especially true when it comes to figures that have provided substantial movement to the discipline; typically, these are the individuals whose work we tend to study when we take a course. There may be omissions to several of the defining factors of an event or person, or there may simply not be a lot of coverage on the flaws and faults of the event or person. The purpose in the use of bias is to communicate selective values and positive moral judgments; this will maintain the discipline’s positive standing and prevent any discouragement from people who wish to study the discipline.

In an attempt to maintain the public integrity of a discipline and continue the study of a discipline, the dominant and influential figures that have provided substantial contributions to the development of the discipline are often depicted as unrealistic perfect beings—in my opinion, it should be a priority to properly teach about the figures that hold such weight without any omission to their biography; unfortunately, this is not the case. The bias toward individuals and events in history branches across several disciplines including: English literature, Western Music, and Western Art. The leading figures in these disciplines are often celebrated and solely recognized for their contribution, which creates the sensation that these individuals are flawless and perfect—interestingly, this image can be quite intimidating for disciples, which sort of works in contrast with the attempt to maintain more disciples with the bias towards the figures.


If you continue reading this post, I encourage you to ponder. Should things in a discipline be taught truthfully? Is there any validity in this approach to teaching? Should we still learn about these individuals? Is it alright to neglect these individuals and their large contributions to the progression of a discipline?
Warwick also had a fairly interesting question to ponder on, which was referenced in Joe Moran’s book Interdisciplinarity: “Is it not sufficiently attractive to ensure a voluntary attention to it”?

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Thoughts on Bias in Discipline Part 1: Bias In The Study Of History

In this entry, I will introduce the concept of bias within the study of history and in the study of several other disciplines which include: English Literature, Western Art, and Western Music. I will discuss my own opinion on questions like: Is it right to celebrate a person who has committed a terrible act? or is it proper to assign a misogynist or a racist individual as a role model and source of inspiration? I will also break this into two parts discussing bias in the study of history and then its connection to bias in other disciplines.


A common area of bias in education that most people might be aware of is bias or impartiality in the study of history. It is often the case that bias may hold an exceptionally strong presence in the notation of history; this strong presence means that history may be taught differently in different regions and cultures. The primary motive in the use of bias in the study of history is to control the outlook on the region or culture by those who reside in the region or are a part of that culture. An excellent example of bias in history is the Second World War. This is an area that may be taught differently in history classes of the United States than in history classes of Japan. The purpose is undoubtedly to alter the image of a villain or individual at fault for terrible actions; each nation wants their youth to look up to the nation as one would look up to a hero. In Japan, they may go over the extreme actions and the terrible fire bombings that the United States military committed and omit or alter the crimes or wrong doings of Japan and its military at the time. The same principle can be applied to the United States; US secondary and primary schools purposefully do not go into extreme depth about the bombings on Japan and the effects on civilians, but discuss the atomic bombings that ended a war. This bias in history applies to several events, including the fire bombings on the civilians of Japan by the U.S in 1945 and even the atrocious events of the Sino Japanese war of 1937 (Mariko Oi wrote an extremely enlightening article that will be linked down below).

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The Significance in the Origin of Discipline

Availability to a discipline’s origins, enables a disciple or follower of that discipline to internalize and efficiently wield knowledge provided through the origins—moreover, it allows them to understand the influences of the discipline and how it has developed. The use of archetypal work is useful across several disciplines; autochthonous material displays and presents excellent examples of fundamental techniques necessary in a discipline.

Johann Sebastian Bach

The disciples of music are one excellent example of individuals who learn their discipline effectively through the study of music and its history. Individuals who study music study not only the techniques involved in the analysis and composition of  music,  but also study the history, which presents the circumstances in which these techniques were developed, as well as how these techniques changed and developed as the study of music continued—simply studying the technique as it is today and neglecting its origins, would not allow someone to obtain an optimal and fuller understanding of  how it developed or why it developed and limit their understanding of technique in music.

In the discipline of music, someone might specifically study the shift from monophonic Gregorian chants—Gregorian chant were sung chants the Catholic church practiced in their worship during the Medieval period; the chants were always monophonic which means they were only one line vocal melodies without the use of instrumental accompaniment—to the development of harmony and polyphony, which means multiple voices sung at the same time, and the changes that would arrive with the Renaissance or baroque era (Grout, et al, 2019). Just as disciples of music would study the origins of their discipline, so would the disciples of literature or a specific science.  The concept of studying archetypal works can be applied to any discipline in order to obtain a more concentrated understanding of an idea or technique in that discipline—in literature, disciples study the history of literature, and focus on monumental influential authors in literature, just as disciples in music might study the music of Bach or Mozart. Continue reading “The Significance in the Origin of Discipline”

Thursday Theme – Spanish Pipedream

Today’s theme song in ENGL 203-04 is John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream.”

It’s the refrain, of course, that connects with our examination of Thoreau’s Walden:

Blow up your TV,
Throw away your paper,
Go to the country,
Build you a home.
Plant a little garden,
Eat a lot o’ peaches,
Try to find Jesus,
On your own.

Granted, neither TV’s nor peaches put in an appearance in Walden, and Jesus merits just a single passing reference; but we do get the railroad, the paper (in “Where I Lived” paragraphs 18 and 19), beans, and something like a personal search for God (“God himself culminates in the present moment …”).

More broadly, we get the idea that the good life is to be found in giving up “worldly things” (material wealth, fashion, gossip) in favor of a simple existence in harmony with Nature.

All of this is to say that one way to read Walden is as a member of the general literary category known as pastoral. Whether we call pastoral a “type,” “genre,” “convention,” or “mode” the point is that to invoke this term in an effort to understand Walden is to identify Thoreau’s work as a particular kind of thing; that is, to give it a certain identity.

But texts don’t have singular identities any more than people do. In our discussion of Walden, we’ve already seen that we can also identify it, in whole or in part, as a particular instance of several other types: social criticism (a category that arguably includes the words of Hebrew prophets like Amos as well as those of ancient figures like Socrates and Diogenes); the sermon; the useful lecture; the travel narrative; and, of course, autobiography. We could undoubtedly expand this list.

If texts can be identified in so many different ways, one might be forgiven for wondering if there’s any point in trying to pin them down with an identity at all. Aren’t we just forcing the amorphous stuff of human creativity into silly boxes?

Yet we can’t avoid the move to identify, for at least two reasons. First, in trying to understand a text, the first question we’re bound to ask ourselves is “What kind of thing is this?” The second is that writers themselves, like all creators, always begin from what has been created before them. They learn to write books by reading books. In building on the creative work of the past, they inevitably carry forward one or more traditions, whether they see themselves as doing so (and they frequently do) or not.

Identifying a work as this or that kind of work only gets us into trouble when we assume that the work has only one identity, and when we fail to recognize that identifying it as an instance of this reveals some of its characteristics (while obscuring others), and identifying it as an instance of that both reveals and obscures others. We only begin to get a full picture when we can see it as simultaneously this, that, and perhaps some number of other things as well.

More meta moves that matter

Last week in “Fluid Readers, Fluid Texts,” we looked at Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. If’s worth noting that in their effort to offer practical guidance on good academic writing, Graff and Birkenstein quickly and naturally make the shift we’ve described in previous discussions as moving “up one level of abstraction.” There’s simply no way they can argue for the value of their practical advice without getting theoretical, without getting “meta.” They don’t call attention to this move, but it’s there all the same. In the first paragraph of their introduction, they describe writing as a particular kind of activity – an activity, like playing the piano, shooting a basketball, or driving a car – that is learned and that can be broken down into a sequence of “moves.” Not all human activities are of this type.

Behind that first paragraph, then, lies the theoretical question “What is academic writing?” – a question to which the answer is no more obvious than the answer to the question, “What is a text?”

Graff and Birkenstein go further: the move-based activity that writing most closely resembles – perhaps is simply a form of – is conversation. To categorize writing this way is to imply answers to some related theoretical questions: What’s the purpose of academic writing? How, exactly, does it work? By what standards can we distinguish effective from ineffective writing?

We can think of Graff and Birkenstein the theorists as looking for a way to represent the activity of writing, as trying to build a model of it. These are useful words in general for thinking about what the activity of theorizing is. (And to choose them is, of course, to theorize about theory. There’s no end to how meta we can get!)

We spent the last part of class looking at the Lindsay Ellis video on film studies that Taylor posted. We saw that Lindsay Ellis’s argument seems to make many of the “moves” Graff and Birkenstein describe – that her argument fits their model of argumentation quite well. We also saw that to make her argument, she, too had to move up one level of abstraction; she, too, had to theorize. Her main theoretical question – What makes a bit of culture (whether a poem or an action movie) worth examining closely? – is one of the most important ones we can ask as practitioners of criticism.

Thursday theme – Waters of March

As we turn to consider Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say, our theme song for today is “Águas de Março” (“Waters of March”) written by Antonio Carlos Jobim (aka Tom Jobim) and performed here by Jobim and Elis Regina.

For Graff and Birkenstein, academic writing, at its heart, is a conversation, and, more generally, “writing well means entering into conversation with others” (4th ed., xiv). In their introduction, they quote the philosopher Kenneth Burke’s famous description of “the world of intellectual exchange” as a kind of un-ending conversation at an interminable party.

Here’s the full passage from Burke’s The Philosophy of Literary Form:

Where does the drama get its materials? From the “unending conversation” that is going on at the point in history when we are born. Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
(1941; 2d ed., Louisiana State University Press, 1967, 110-11.)

It’s interesting to consider Graff and Birkenstein’s use of Burke alongside Alasdair Macintyre’s claim, which we discussed in class, that “conversation, understood widely enough, is the form of human transactions in general” (Michael Sandel, ed., Liberalism and Its Critics, New York University Press, 1984, 133).

By putting the activity of conversation at the heart of what makes humans human, Burke and Macintyre are pursuing a line of thought that grew out of the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe (especially in the writings of J.G. von Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt). Interest in the origins of human language and in the relationship between language and culture led for some during this period to a re-definition of human identity in general: it wasn’t the capacity for reason (as Aristotle, for example, had supposed) so much as the capacity for language that separated human beings from other animals.

(It’s interesting to consider the fluidity of human identity at this scale. Not only does each of us, arguably, possess an identity that changes over time, but the various attempts to identify a defining characteristic of humanity as a whole means that it may be useful to think of humanity as existing in a variety of “versions.” Wikipedia’s list of names for the human species is instructive here.)

Macintyre describes conversations as “enacted narratives” (133), highlighting the way our conversational engagements often represent the unfolding of some kind of story. This way of thinking about conversation fits his definition of human beings as “story-telling animal[s]” (138). Graff and Birkenstein treat the subcategory of academic conversation as a kind of game characterized by a fairly circumscribed set of “moves,” but there are clearly narrative elements in their conception as well, as evidenced by their quotation from Burke and their advice about “putting in your oar.”

But the Regina-Jobim performance perhaps suggests something even more fundamental about conversation than its narrative element, something about the sheer pleasure to be found in conversation’s back-and-forth dynamic, even when it doesn’t involve an exchange of ideas with what Macintyre calls a telos – that is, a projected goal. If you look at the song lyrics (in either English or Portuguese), you see that Regina and Jobim are simply taking turns running down the items in a list; they’re not conducting the kind of conversation Graff and Birkenstein have in mind at all. There’s no advocacy here, just the pleasure of moving the song forward by taking turns. At the same time, they’re clearly singing to each other, not just trading off. You can see it in their gestures as much as you can hear it in their voices.

I get the same sense of the pleasure inherent in the interactivity of conversation – prior to and apart from its intellectual content – watching this video of a nonsense conversation between twin babies that went viral in 2011. As a basic human activity, conversation doesn’t seem to be entirely about the content of the words.