Reading Summaries

RS 1:

         In her Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar, Anne Curzan expresses her belief that it is unfair to ask students to critically question all of their work except the conventions in which they write. In other words, why is it acceptable to challenge all other subject norms except the English language? Why is English automatically inflexible with concrete rules people must abide by?  

         Curzan uses the word they to demonstrate her argument, “Current usage manuals typically tell writers that with a singular generic antecedent such as anyone or a student, they should use he or she, avoid any pronoun, or recast the statement in the plural” (Curzan 872). Curzan then explains that the same teachers teaching this rule often are hypocritical in the way they speak. One example being what a teacher might say when teaching their class, “If a student fails the final exam, they must retake the course” (Curzan 872). To break down this point, the teacher used the phrase a student, but still labeled such student as they. This contradicts the standard English rules which modern day students are expected to follow. If it is “grammatically correct” to label a singular person he or she, why would the teacher say they?

         Furthering, Curzan uses this point to address the contrast between written language and spoken language, which opposes such question, “Who says we can’t write they?” (Curzan 872). In other words, why is it acceptable to speak this way if it is “incorrect” when writing?

         In conclusion, Anne Curzan argues through many examples why she believes the English language should be challenged more often. She not only questions why the rules are the way they are, or why people automatically accept them, but she also demonstrates how to change a person’s modern day thinking.

Works CitedCurzan, Anne. “Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar.” Pmla, vol. 124, no. 3, 2009, pp. 870–879., doi:10.1632/pmla.2009.124.3.870.

RS 2:

            In his The Wonderful Mistake, Lewis Thomas believes that the invention of the molecule of DNA was the “single greatest achievement of nature to date.” He gives examples of everyday life evolving from what it used to be (to his belief, “what it used to be,” is a molecule). Some of his examples include the city of Paris, the horse-chestnut tree in his backyard, and even the great stairs in Yugoslavia’s Plitvice. Lewis uses these examples to illustrate how far the human species has evolved.

            Lewis believes that humans, even “molecular biologists,” could never have created a string of DNA even if the smartest team was put together. Why? “We would have made one fatal mistake: our molecule would have been perfect.” He uses this information to express that humans would have never thought DNA had to be able to make errors. “The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA.” Without Errors, Lewis explains humans would still be “anaerobic bacteria,” and there would also be no music.

            To sum those two points together, Lewis is essentially saying that although the string of DNA was not created by accident, the accompaniments that follow these mutations  (music, waterfalls, trees, or anything that exists today) are a spontaneous form of luck. Humans would have not been able to master this imperfect perfect creation.

            Lewis believes that evolution would have been stopped if humans had the chance to interfere with the mutations of DNA molecules. He believes that humans are perfectionists and would mess up the natural nature of them. He also argues that humans need to accept changes, because they are the result of constant evolution.

            Works Cited

Thomas, Lewis. “The Wonderful Mistake: Notes Of A Biology Watcher Incorporating The Lives Of A Cell And The Medusa And The Snail by Lewis Thomas.” Goodreads, Goodreads, 1 Dec. 1988, www.goodreads.com/book/show/2196923.The_Wonderful_Mistake.

RS 3:

In his Legal Arguments, What You Can and Cannot Say in a Court, Stanley Fish argues that the legal system is the way it is because of who understands and studies it. In other words, people who study the law (such as lawyers) comprehend the adversary system more so than a non-educated person. For example, Fish quotes, “the world of law is anything but natural; it is self consciously artificial, an interlocking set of conventions within which ordinary words bear special meanings that are recognized with ease by insiders but will seem opaque and obfuscating to outsiders.” In other words, Fish is implying that the legal system is not engaging in a cooperative search for the truth because it is instead a system that only selects professionals that understand.

            Because the legal system is determined by people who study law, this is why parties can “put forward the versions of the truth that support the outcome they respectively prefer and wait for the trier of fact to decide between them. It’s a rhetorical contest, a battle of verbal gladiators.” In other words, Fish is implying that because the people defending others are all educated on the same basis, they are able to apply a set of methods that may seem foreign to people who are naive. He is also implying that their arguments are purely just key terms (verbal gladiators).

            In conclusion, Fish argues that the American legal system possesses these very specific rules for valid reasons. Without a basis to go by, any one person would be able to argue in a court of law, which would defeat the purpose of the same adversary system according to Fish.

RS 4:

            In David Foster Wallace’s Television and U.S. Fiction, he points out that television is the best outlet for fiction writers to get their inspiration. To him, creators of fiction thrive off of human experiences, they are people watchers. So, the best way to watch people without actually interacting, is to see them on television. Even though they are lonely, they still crave sights and scenes.

            While Wallace believes that these creators thrive off of watching social settings, he also highlights that these same creators are introverted and are very self conscious. The following quote demonstrates this well, “the result is that a surprisingly majority of fiction writers, born watchers, tend to dislike being objects of people’s attention. Being watched” (Wallace 1). They, as an effect, resort to observing as their mechanism in which they can hide, the television becomes their safe place.       

            On average, Wallace explains that television is reported being watched “over six hours a day in the average American household” (Wallace 1). But, it is even higher for fictional writers. “For the television screen affords access only one way. A psychic ball-check valve. We can see them; They can’t see us. We can relax, observe, as we ogle” (Wallace 2). In other words, it is highly likely that a fictional writer will watch television often because it brings them a sense of peace knowing that they can watch without being judged back. It is an escape from reality, a comforting feeling.

            However, Wallace also points out that the social scenes being watched on television are not accurate at all, because they are staged and performed by actors. These are not things that are occurring naturally, they are designed to please the audience, which would be the viewers.

Works Cited

Wallace, D. (1993). Wallace, David Foster, E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S … Retrieved December 6, 2020, from https://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf

RS 5:

In David Foster Wallace’s written copy of the 2005 Commencement Address, he portrays the idea through multiple examples that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. To begin, the first example given features two fish swimming. When they pass another fish, who asks how the water is that day, the example ends with one fish turning to his partner and asking what the heck water is. This comparison evidently proves that humans are often oblivious to events happening in their everyday lives. While Wallace is delivering this speech in front of students graduating, he is asking them to twist the ways in which they think. “So let’s talk about the single most persuasive cliche in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think” (Wallace 1). He then proceeds to explain that this is not an easy topic to hear or follow.

In his second example, Wallace tells a story about two men at the bar discussing religion, one is an atheist and one is a believer. In which, the atheist tells the person of faith about his near death experience, and how God did not save him, two eskimos did. Although it is clear that at the end of this story, the eskimos could have been the very sign from above, the guy is dead set that his view is right even before telling the story. Wallace explains that he has a “blind certainty, a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up” (Wallace 2). The key to being successful, is to be open minded and allow new ideas to challenge your views. 

Both of these examples relate to the message in the beginning; there are some things people are so oblivious to, without even realizing it. The fish did not know he was in water, and he swims in it everyday. The man at the bar did not consider the option that the eskimos were sent there at that time specifically from God to save him. As a result, both of these main characters missed the greater picture. Wallace’s advice to the graduating class is to dive into things with no preconceived notions. An open minded person will be rewarded, no matter how difficult it is. 

Works Cited

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address … (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2020, from https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf

RS 6:

In Terry Eagleton’s Culture, he argues that the word culture is difficult to define as one term because it has many meanings that can be viewed by different perspectives. Specifically, he uses four explanations; “a body of intellectual and artistic work; a process of spiritual and intellectual development; the values, customs, beliefs and symbolic practices by which men and women live; or a whole way of life” (Eagleton 5). When he discusses these four meanings in depth later on, he makes it evident that they are all applicable to the word “culture.”

            Despite there being four different meanings for one word, Eagleton makes it very prominent that they are all important. With this in mind, the following questions arises when the alternate meanings conflict with each other, “does the culture of a people include its practical, material mode of existence, or should it be confined to the symbolic sphere?” (Eagleton 10). In other words, he is asking how to be certain of the meaning of which the words follow when there are different circumstances to every situation. What is the right method in which it should be classified as? Does culture mean tangible items or does it mean symbolic ideas? Essentially he is answering these questions in his following paragraphs.

            As answers to the previous questions, Eagleton is implying that because different cultures and societies have different meanings and uses of words, there is not one specific definition for it. The word is constantly changing as people evolve and give emphasis to it. People create reality for words, so in a sense they create different meanings for it too. The word culture is very versatile because of the way in which it has been brought up in divergent cultures. So, with that being said, Eagleton explains that the word culture means all four of the terms mentioned in the beginning.