RR2: Borges’ Babel

In 250 words or more, put yourself into this bewildering situation Borges describes in the impossibly vast catalogs of the Library of Babel. All human utterance–past, present, future–is in the Library, yet so little makes sense…and that which does makes sense is also tragically inaccessible. What would that mean for you, especially when one of these randomly-formed texts makes up the justification for all that you have done, that book which “vindicate[s] for all time the actions of every person in the universe” (115)?

Alternately, critique the story by way of explaining its situation with language & meaning. How does the writing style–reserved, distanced, an academic sort of reporting–seem to suit especially well the very situation it describes? Could the story be written in a different style (e.g. one that’s more lively, less compact & contained) and still create such a bleak future for all that we have written and said? (What if the internet were to play a role–how could the story be told then?)

RR3: Patriotism & Perspective

Choose two authors from this week’s readings and compare the various aspects of their writing. For instance, how does Davy Rothbart’s tone–casual, colloquial, and obscenity-strewn–reveal similar qualities in his characters and himself? David Foster Wallace, the other nonfiction writer of the week, also writes without formality or pretension, and his descriptions of his neighborhood–the endless green fields and lawns seething in the sun, the house which everyone assumed was abandoned mysteriously sprouting an American flag–lead us to a certain understanding of his neighbors even before introducing us to them. How does he do this; what are some of the more telling details he provides that can be contrasted with Ruthbert’s characterization, say, of his friend Chris, the car thief from Canada?

You may also choose to discuss how Sontag’s criticism of American news networks’ and the general wave of public opinion of the events of 9/11 relate not only to Wallace’s essay, but to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech: what are some of the difficulties of maintaining a strongly patriotic stance in the face of such controversies?

RR5: Slanted Language

In each of the following assignments, the emphasis is on slanting and the impressions and implications of your choice of words and the very facts they will describe. This is a process of selection, setting things down deliberately to reveal opposing angles on the same subject — whether that is a person, place, event, situation, or circumstance — controversy, discovery, study, public opinion, foreign or domestic policy, cat, dog, or politician. So long as your previous assignment (RR4) worked directly with a syllogism, you will have isolated one instance of a general trend that leads you to a certain conclusion — you have designated the man on the subway as someone with chalk dust on his fingers, and then concluded that he is a school teacher. Well, now it’s time to show other sides to the story: the man on the subway has bloody knuckles. What you know about bloody-knuckled men is that they’ve just been in a fight. You conclude that this guy with bloody knuckles has just been in a fight . . .

Onward, then.


For this assignment, try working with the same subject that you used in RR4. Next week you will be encouraged to develop the topic still more with RR6 — by which time you will have much of your Essay 2 already written. Come up with a brief paragraph (3-5 sentences) for each approach to the same subject, just as they do in the textbook starting at page 349, in regards to the dog, Toddy.

1) Balanced Presentation

2) Facts Slanted Against

3) Facts Slanted For

The different ways a cute little obnoxious dog can be represented, in slanted and yet factual reporting, all depend on the qualities the author focuses on — or the light in which these qualities show up.


Slanting by Use of Charged Words

Create your own dueling paragraphs like the two about Corlyn, which start on page 352. One is favorable, the other is negative, though they follow the same pattern — it’s just that the facts have changed. The criteria is the same — essentially, it’s a poetic rendering of two Excel charts that track opposing qualities of the same individual.

Though if these facts change so dramatically from one set to the next, are we still talking about the same person? Can your topic — it could be a person, place, issue, what have you — be delineated in such blatantly contradictory terms? Perhaps you could start by changing the details in your major and/or minor premises, which would give you a different conclusion. Either way, one of these renderings will likely describe or imply — in factual terms — your particular view of the subject.