Due date: Monday 9/19
Format: Leave a comment on this post
Length: At least two paragraphs: one for “patterns” and one for “anomalies”
For this assignment, you will be working towards an interpretation of “Back to the Land” by doing the following three analytical activities:
- Notice significant parts (divide the piece up) and observe how the parts are related to each other and to the piece as a whole
- List patterns of repetition and contrast
- Look for anomalies –- things that seem unusual, that seem not to fit the pattern
Before you get started on the written part of Assignment 2-1, read the DK Handbook pages 18 – 19. This very short reading is about the difference between “Composing to Learn” and “Composing to Communicate.” This week, we will be focusing on “Composing to Learn” activities. Although the DK Handbook says that “you have no one else in mind” (19) when you are composing to learn, in this class we are actually learning together — so please keep your classmates in mind as your audience this week. Later, in week 4, we will shift to Composing to Communicate, and you will write for an audience who is not part of our class and who has not read the texts you are interpreting.
1. Notice and Focus
Read “Back to the Land” by Maira Kalman on pages 81 – 127 in the Course Reader. As you read, circle and mark things that stand out to you. While you read or after you read, take notes on what you observe. This activity is called “notice and focus.” You have already practiced these steps in Assignment 1-3. Do the following in your notebook:
- List as many interesting, significant, revealing, or strange details about the text as possible. Remember that even small details can be useful as evidence in rhetorical analysis.
- Choose the three details that you think are the most important for understanding the text.
- Write a paragraph to give reasons for why these three details struck you as the most interesting, significant, revealing, or strange. Ask how these details contribute to the argument of the text as a whole, or how the details relate to each other.
2. List Patterns
Then, look for patterns of repetition and contrast in “Back to the Land.” This process may seem directive or forced at first, but just stay with it for now until you get more familiar with how the process works. Use a separate sheet of paper to make your lists. The final step of the process will be part of your written comment. You already have these steps in a handout, but here they are again:
- List repetitions — details or words that repeat exactly and write the number of times you see the repetition for each.
- List strands. A “strand” is a grouping of similar details or words. Be able to explain the strand’s logic—what holds it together? For example, polite/courteous/well-behaved. That is a strand of similar adjectives. Similar shapes/colors in an image could also be a strand.
- List organizing contrasts (for example, open/closed, normal/strange, black/white, masculine/feminine). These are also called binaries.
- Binary oppositions are sites of uncertainty, places where there is struggle among different points of view. Finding binaries can help you find what is at stake (for the composer and the audience) in the text.
- Binaries are often oversimplified for the sake of convincing an audience. The either/or strategy (making a distinction between two things) is a particular rhetorical move. Part of your job in an interpretation is to analyze that binary critically and perhaps try to refine and reformulate it as something more complex than either/or.
- Select and list the two most significant repetitions, the two most significant strands, and the two most significant contrasts. The formulation of primary repetitions, strands, or contrasts can reveal what the text (and the text’s composer) is about and interested in. This exercise often leads to a next step: what the text (and the composer) is worried about or trying to resolve.
- Select one repetition, one strand, or one binary that you take to be the most significant for arriving at ideas about what the text communicates. Write one paragraph explaining your choice. Give reasons for why you think this pattern is the most important.
> Post this paragraph as Part 1 of the assignment.
3. Look for Anomalies
After you have looked for patterns, it can be helpful to search for anomalous details — those details that seem not to fit the pattern. In this second part of your post, write a paragraph about anything that stands out. Write about anything you noticed but couldn’t list as a repetition/strand/binary in the “patterns” process above. Anomalies — while they can be annoying — are important because noticing them often leads to new and better ideas. If you have trouble finding an anomaly, you could write your paragraph about anything that is missing. What does the text leave out or omit, and what are the implications of this omission? Is there any other aspect of the topic that the writer seems to be avoiding? Obvious or subtle omissions can be anomalies because they defy patterns and expectations.
> Post this paragraph as Part 2 of the assignment.
Remember to keep an open mind and suspend your judgment when you are doing “notice and focus,” listing patterns, and finding anomalies. For now, you are just trying to gain access to the world of “Back to the Land” and understand what Kalman is saying/arguing in this piece.
To summarize, this assignment is a comment of at least two paragraphs:
- Explanation of one repetition, one strand, or one binary that seems most important for arriving at ideas about what “Back to the Land” is arguing
- Explanation of anomalies or things that are missing from the text