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October 4, 2013

Complexities of Literary Violence


Banners for Democrats of Clark and Ballroom Dance. Democrats are liberal. Dance is art. Liberal Arts. Heh. Photo by Alexis Charney, because I couldn't make it focus right.

Banners for Democrats of Clark and Ballroom Dance. Democrats are liberal. Dance is art. Liberal Arts. Heh. Photo by Alexis Charney, because I couldn’t make it focus right.

As faithful readers might recall, I had a presentation this week in Contemporary Literary Theory. I was kind of scared because there are a lot of graduate students in that class and they’re all way smarter and have read way more books than I have, so the idea of teaching them stuff on a topic that they probably know way more about than I do was a little alarming.

But I got super lucky. Because my presentation was on Althusser.

Althusser is a Marxist critic. Basically, he looks at literature in Communist terms, talking about the historical, economic, and classist issues at play in any given work. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but I can sense myself losing my audience already, so I’m going to gloss over the finer details.

Luckily, my sophomore year, I took Revolution and Political Violence. This was a class that both fulfilled my Global Perspective (for Clark’s Program of Liberal Studies) and counted toward my minor. So because I took this class, I’ve got a pretty firm understanding of what Marxism is and what Althusser means, and I can use words like “proletariat” and actually know what I’m saying.

I’m also taking Complexities of Urban Schooling this semester. We’re talking about how students of certain cultural backgrounds can struggle in schooling. We recently did a reading on how some students can become convinced that an inability to excel in school might just be their destiny. This narrative gets students dejected, and this is how the status quo is maintained. The reading, of course, advocated for ways to reverse this circumstance.

This problem that was presented in Complexities of Urban Schooling was Althusser’s main point: people are convinced to think a certain way, and they follow the system. Whether or not I agree with this doesn’t matter, this blog post isn’t about Althusser, it’s about how I came to understand Althusser. I took something that was super confusing and scary and challenging for me and I was able to make sense out of it through my other classes. That introduction to Marxism from Revolution and Political Violence gave me the historical and theoretical reference that I needed, and Complexities of Urban Schools gave me a real-life example of the theory that helped me rationalize it.

This is how the liberal arts work. The idea is to take a bunch of different classes so that your education is informed from a bunch of sides.

But you, the skeptical reader, may say, “But I take a bunch of different classes in high school and it’s annoying because like I really hate chemistry.”

I hear you on the chem thing. The way the Program of Liberal Studies works at Clark is that you don’t have required courses, you have required perspectives. So, as a political science student, I may take Weapons of Mass Destruction for my science perspective, so that I can understand these weapons that are so important in the world’s political landscape. I’m not just taking Bio 101 and calling it a day. The liberal arts are about pulling from all different disciplines in order to supplement your own education.

My liberal arts background got me through my Literary Theory presentation. Intro to Symbolic Logic (Formal Analysis) has helped me construct formal, logical arguments for my English papers. Roots of Political Theory (Values Perspective) filled out several essays that would have fallen apart otherwise. Introduction to Hebrew (Language Perspective) has come in handy in looking at a German Bible from 1700. Seriously.

I’m not sure where I would be without this background. I pull from my classes on a daily basis; they’ve gone far beyond being “requirements,” they’ve fundamentally changed my educational experience.

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