assignment 2-1: preliminary observations about “Back to the Land”

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

14 thoughts on “assignment 2-1: preliminary observations about “Back to the Land”

  1. Towards the middle of the article se starts to talk about the land of California. She asks the questions “Should we? Shouldn’t we?” this article is trying to say that we should focus more on living off the land and eat organic food instead of at the fatty and greasy fast food restaurants. By asking the question should we or shouldn’t we, she really ties together the whole message. This question makes us stop and think if what we are doing now is really the best thing for us. Making us ask ourselves, “Should we? Shouldn’t we?”

    The shoes really stand out to me. In the frist photo I didnt really notice the road until I saw the second photo from a differnet angle. To me the shoes had a meaning. The shoes seemed to be getting ready to walk across the road to begin another journey which she did. I think the reason that she put these two photos in is because she started and ended one journey but then began another from a different perspective.

  2. Some interesting facts that stuck out to me when I read the “Back to the Land” was the title for starters. Before reading I asked myself what could this article possibly be talking about, when I read it i found the title interesting because its describing how we should go back to the land. Starting with the farmers and how they naturally grew food that was healthy and safe for them to eat. I also found the way he organized her story interesting. She started off with the farmers then went into a few facts about how fast food can make you gain weight and cause many health problems, further on she discussed how many schools and farmers grow their own food in their own garden and cook to eat as a family like they did in the 60’s.
    Some repetitions I noticed in the reading was the shoes and how she said she was traveling to a new state or farm in her mind. I also noticed a binary, saturated/organic foods. Overall the reading was clear, I understood everything that was said and it made me think twice about the type of food I chose to eat. Not only for my health but also for because history started off, Kalman stated “we could think small and shift to a new (old) way of growing food and eating and being. Something that would make our founders happy”. I agree with that fully.

  3. In Back to the Land, one repetition that I noticed was food and how fast or slow paced it can be. A line that gave me an impression of the whole story was, “The Fabric of our lives is bound in the food that we eat and the way we sit down to eat it. What is going on now?” The article is trying to tell us that farmers live a simple, organic life with healthy food, while fast paced city people eat greasy, fast food. Land is our domain and we choose to do what we feel is democratic. It seems they want us to believe that the traditional ways of farming is best and what our founding fathers would want, instead of the sped up values of today.

    One anomaly that stood out to me was the picture of the shoes on the sidewalk. It is talking about this woman walking across the country in hope of a better life. It turns the article in a new direction, as if she had stepped out the fast paced world back into the traditional ways of her country. She wants the values to show her founding fathers that she still believes in the simplicity of farm life and the benefits of organic farming. She is starting and ending a journey.

  4. PART 1
    When I was reading “Back to the Land” one of the main things that stuck out to me was that there were a lot of pictures with children in them, eight to be exact. This stuck out to me because there weren’t as many pictures of adults as there were children. I think that the message was that the children are the ones who should be changing their eating habits rather than adults. Too me I was thinking that she was trying to put more emphasis on how children are eating.
    One of the strands I found was how she kept bringing up the words; organic, fresh, healthy, natural, & nutrients. All of these words were to describe organic food. I thought this was an important strand because the whole message in the text was about how people, more so children, should go back to eating foods like they did during the founding of our country rather than all the greasy, fast food many people eat today. The strand was referring to how good and whole organic food is and trying to promote people into eating healthier or at least get them thinking about what types of food they are actually eating.
    PART 2
    An anomaly I thought would be how the picture of the waiter is blurred. In a way I think it was blurred for a reason. In my opinion I think it was blurred having a meaning of how waiters don’t exactly know what kind of food is used or prepared before serving it to a customer, yet alone if the food was grown organically or not. So I thought the picture was an anomaly even though I think it relates to the rest of the text and pictures in a way. Pictures are worth a thousand words and are able to be interpreted in many ways, that’s just how I thought it may relate.

  5. One thing that I think is repeated throughout the piece is the fact that wherever she goes, or whoever she meets, they always offer her food, and they eat together. It seems as though she has the luxury of sharing life, with these people she meets, through the food they provide her. She talks about how she goes to California, meets different types of people and records how they eat through pictures. She talks mostly about how we can change the way we live by doing simple things. Maira Kulman is smart, because I believe as well that food is important, and sitting down for meals can make people change and effect how they grow up.

    One anomaly I found in the piece was the picture of the girl holding a sign that says “ Which is more powerful, love or hate?”. I believe that is am anomaly because having such a young girl knowing the difference between the two and knowing how to explain the two, is odd. That elementary school as a whole is an anomaly to me because the children work on vegetable and fruit gardens. Most elementary schools are just learning how to add or write in cursive, but this school is learning how to make food in a smart way. I agree with this school, however do they have normal day to day lectures on sciences, maths, languages, etc. I don’t know if having such an out of the ordinary school is a great idea for such young kids.

  6. Rachel Hegland

    While reading Back to the Land, a sense of independence, community, and modesty overwhelmed me. The short story expressed the value for democracy, an appreciation of life, and for the world. In consequence, Back to the land was determined to debase the nature of capitalism and elitism as well.
    The reading stated, “Do the wealthy have access to the really healthy food while the less affluent do not?” or “Can giant agribusiness shrink, while true organic farms grow? Can the elitism of a farmers’ market shift so that the organic farms can be subsidized and that prices are reasonable for all people?” These questions shame todays’ societies that run on capitalism, where a chain of “worthiness” depends on money and social status. This system undermines the essence of democracy and all that it stands for. “I see sheep. I see little Bo Peep. But that is not the way it is really?” This is an anomaly, seeing that the story of little Bo Peep would not seem to tie in with the story of organic foods. However it does depict capitalism quite effectively. In this symbolic reference to today’s “superior” society, we people are nothing but mere sheep and Lil’ Bo peep is capitalism herding people who are all in pursuit of money. “The fabric of our lives is bound in the food that we eat and the way we sit down.” The family’s today have lost the value of the warmth of togetherness at the table and the appreciation for food. Food is no longer a unifier as it once was and instead kids are drinking soda for breakfast.
    “I see a woman who I know is a bit out of her mind. I like her. She is walking in a kind of trance, going from tree to tree, stopping at each one to look up at the leaves.” This scene of the woman appreciating fall and its beauty is an anomaly, yet exemplifies what people today see as crazy. There is nothing wrong with a slower pace of life. The writer meets people who still use horse drawn plows and people that grow food without any pesticides or additives. “…less fastly fastly and more slowly slowly. We could think small and shift to a new (old) was of growing food and eating and being. Something that would make the founders happy.” Equality is our inherent value that the founding father first imposed. It is something that America has lost over the last hundred years, and this text is a protest that America has lost its way.
    There is one particular repetition in the text and that is, “Once again, I walk across the country. In my head.” Perhaps this indicates reminiscing, or evaluating history of our country. Perhaps the In my head part leads to an indicator, an indicator that power lies within the mind, not within the pocket. I say that because the first time that line is referenced, the writer talks about walking off the excess, the excess of fatty fat foods and what not. However he does not physical do so, but mentally. The writer evaluates the fast food epidemic and how conceptually he can change it.
    I would say the “Land of cows” idea would be binary, only because the writer changes from protest of capitalism and bad fast food diets, to advocating vegetarianism. The writer asks an open ended question that ambiguous in the sense that the reader had no idea it was coming.
    The text prompts the reader to think again on what they eat or what they value. It is a powerful position objecting to what a lot partake in today; the consumption of fast food and striving for more money basing our self-worth upon it. However at the end of the day, the writer wants the reader to realize that democracy intended equality in a different sense than money but in happiness.

  7. PART I: One repetition I noticed in Back to the Land was that the whole reading was based on how people should go organic. The title gave that away because going “back to the land” would be growing our food organically not eating all the processed fast food. I found it amusing that there was a picture of a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich with the phrase “every suburb,” because it is very rare in this day in age to go into any town without seeing a McDonald’s. Another repetition that stood out was how many pictures of children there were. This reading, I believe, is trying to convey the message of; this generation of children should be looking at changing their eating habits.

    PART II: Something that stood out to me from the beginning of the reading was the shoes. In the beginning of class you (Mrs. Sullivan) pointed out the pair of shoes and how the way they were facing could have meaning. When actually reading I believe that the way the shoes faced had a huge meaning. In the first photo the shoes are faced the opposite way as in the second photo, this meaning that when they faced to opposite way in the second photo that, that was a new path to go towards going organic.

  8. In the beginning Kalman starts out with someone walking and compares walking fast to fast food. From there she goes on to say there is fast food everywhere and how you need to walk to California to walk off all the fast food people eat. From there she starts to talk about California in general. The pictures are telling a story that keep going on and on that relate in a very small way. Throughout the whole series of pictures it is talking about food “should we? shouldn’t we?”. I think the pictures are showing us the difference between fast food and more healthy foods. This really makes us double think what we are eating.

    I think what really stands out to me is how at the beginning of the pictures she has a person walking. It made me feel like when I was looking through all of the pictures that, that person was telling me a story. It seemed like they were traveling the pages with me to show me what types of food are really the good choice to eat. At the end there is a paragraph that sums up what america could be if we made better decisions. I think it was a lot of helpful to start of the story with someone walking and having it end with such a strong message at the end.

  9. Christian Lucier

    It was interesting one the amount of pictures they had of children they had for they’re pictures. After realizing it I came to the conclusion that the children were being used to show that children should be considered more when trying to change eating habits and also because it seems like in this day and era it is the best way to get people to realize that children need to eat healthy and effectively. Considering the major amount of fast food ads that children see and are exposed to, its crucial that children see more ads and commercials about eating healthy or else the trend won’t be broken.

    The pictures showing the shoes switching positions is a version of an anomaly because i still feel very baffled what the purpose of it is. When you look at the first picture and then switch to the other picture I didn’t come up with any purpose in why they were there in the first place. If she is thinking about this in her head why isn’t she in the shoes if she’s the one who wants to walk? its a pair of empty shoes and doesn’t show signs of moving so the pictures defeat the purpose of the quote.

  10. Part 1

    In “Back to the Land” I was struck by all of the details; the photography, handwriting, detail within description, the kids, the people and of course the food. However, the parts of the text that helped me understand it completely were the photographs and the speak of children vs families. Within my family, I have always eaten meals with my brother and mother or father (as my parents are divorced). Once I entered the public school system and saw that not all families were like mine, I was shocked. So hearing about children creating meals, eating them, and cleaning them up together really tugged at my heart. Especially when I saw the line about “philosophizing” that’s definitely something that should be done with family, over a good meal. I also loved the photos of food, and speak of visiting farmers and talking to each about their specific type of farming. Food is the single most important thing across the world…to me, at least. It’s something that can bring everyone together in a positive way. Although I love each and every detail of this specific text, I wonder why the author put such a heavy emphasis on it all, and chose to write of food, fruit, vegetables and farms. The title “Back to the Land” could have gone many different ways. Why food?
    One of my favorite parts of “Back to the Land” is the contrast of a farm in the midst of a school in New York City. The school claims to be putting a farm with fresh fruits and veggies growing in a space that is now a parking lot, which is a contrast within itself; soil/cement. Although the contrast seems a bit out there it definitely works with the rest of the text, since the writer is moving across the country visiting different farms (see the two photos of the same pair of shoes sitting on the curb of a city block). As well as different places where food is made, whether it’s a McDonalds or a kitchen where children prepare their own food. I love that part of the text and photographs; it all has a common theme but is very diverse in content, following a strand of food via farmers and schools, but all differing in place and purpose.

    Part 2
    I don’t see much missing from the text, the only piece I wonder about in the text is the part with the woman looking up at the leaves on p. 118. I understand how that works with the cohesiveness of the piece, but it also has me wondering more about the writer, is she a young or old woman? “Is she acting this way because she drank soda for breakfast her whole life?” Although comical and a valid question, I feel that it is a question of a young person. What gets me the most is that the whole piece IS cohesive, and all parts of it work together to create that cohesiveness. So as I look for anomalies and find one or two, I also think that the anomalies are what make this piece so quirky, original and real.

  11. To really understand this text I feel the reader must focus on three key details. The author begins and ends the passage talking about the ideas of the founding fathers, and how they wanted the United States to be an agrarian society. Meaning that people live off the land, by growing their own food. The author mentions how the wealthy are the ones eating “good food” because the less affluent are unable to afford it, a key detail the author is trying to draw attention to. The author shows progression towards an agrarian society by spotlighting her visits to “edible schoolyards” where children grow, cook, and care for their own food while enjoying homely sit-down meals. I found these details to be interesting as well as crucial to the purpose of the writing.

    One repetition I found to be the most significant would be the author’s use of democracy and how she bases her main ideas on the connection the founding fathers had between an agrarian society and democracy. I think she uses this to produce a feeling of guilt as well as honor in the reader. She wants the reader to respect the original ideas the founders of this country had intended for it.

  12. Part One:
    “Back To The Land” focuses on very pro-organic ideas. The author, Maira Kalman, includes photographs, her own writing, and various words to accentuate her beliefs. The most prominent pattern in her writing would be the use of strands. Strands are groups of words that are held together because of its similar meaning. Kalman uses words such as organic, fresh, farms, land, country, natural, value, local, simple, nutrients, plants, gardens, healthy, growing, and happy. This pattern is the most significant because it influences the reader to acknowledge his or her eating habits. When these words are put together it accentuates how bad eating poorly is for not only the consumer but the Earth as well.

    Part Two:
    Popularly, the photographs of the shoes facing different directions seem to be an anomaly. But what I believe is missing in this essay is cost. Kalman does not address the expensive cost of eating healthy- let alone organically. While trying to research the differences in prices between organic and non-organic food, I didn’t come across an exact number. That is one point missing from this essay. It’s clear that if people had the money they would invest in nutrient-rich healthy foods but Kalman fails to recognize this aspect.

  13. After reading “Back to the Land”, I noticed that Kalman was trying to convince her readers to eat healthy. She kept using words like “organic” and “nutrients”. I felt like she was repeating the things that she felt were most important to keep in mind for a healthy eating habit. Second, in the text she would compare fast food prices with organic food prices basically saying tht a burger is just as much or almost more than a bag of grapes which makes no excuse for a person not to eat healthy. The last thing I noticed was that not only did she address the children, but their parent as well. She showed the pictures of children and how they enjoyed the life of an organic eating habit.

    However, Kalman addressing the parents didn’t seem like the best idea because a parent might get offended. They might feel as if Kalman is insulting their parenting skills when it comes to how they feed thier children. No parent is going to want to told how to raise their child.

  14. Maira Kalman main focus in her editorial “Back to the Land” was to eat organically, she doesnt just write about it but uses pictures that people can see to get her point across. I think the use of her repetition of pictures is a very powerful statement. She has several pictures of children, though they are different she still repeats the message of children eating healthier and working as a community could make a better society. Also, with the pictures of Bob Cannard, Michael Pollan, and Mickey Murch demonstrates the agricultural community and that it is done throughout the nation.

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