January 2010 Archives

Anyone Can Provide Some Truth

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In Plato's Phaedrus, the character Socrates says, "The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from 'oak or rock,' it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes" (From Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek's Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age page 362).  This excerpt really hit home for me because every year in high school we had to write a large research paper in English, and every year I found myself wondering what made all of these so-called experts more correct than me.  They were certainly better writers, but why could I not just prove my own point using the original text of whatever piece of literature I chose to write about? 

Of course, I see, and even then saw, the value of learning from those who came before me, especially those who specialize in a specific topic and who really are experts in their subject.  At the same time, however, I think that what I felt was similar to the point expressed by the character Socrates in the excerpt above.  What I was really wondering was why their "truth" was more true than the "truth" that I found when reading the play myself.  It seemed to me that people were so caught up in the idea of someone being an expert (i.e. did they have an advanced college degree) that they forgot that less formally educated people, including children, could have great, and even innovative, ideas too.  People, at least my teachers, worried more about "who the speaker was" than what the speaker was saying. 

This trend, although having its important place in research, seems to be slowly returning to those ideas expressed above by Plato's character Socrates, and I think this change is occurring through various aspects of the Internet.  Through online reference sites like Wikipedia, through activities like blogging, and through the general design and flow of information that is characteristic of websites, like links to other pages, knowledge is able to be spread by many different types of people in many different ways.  A young child is able to change the information on a Wikipedia page, for good or for ill, more types of people are able to exchange more information with other types of people, and generally communication of information has expanded to allow anyone with the necessary skills to participate. 

I think that Plato, in his dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus, is trying to point out less the value of truth in the spoken word, but rather the importance of thoroughly examining any so-called truth that one hears or reads rather than accepting it right away.  This wisdom is especially important for people now, for I could easily create a website with any information I want on it, say that I am the Professor of Math at _____ University, when in reality I can barely do Calculus, and someone would probably believe me.  This ancient text shows us today that we have as much reason to analyze the truth as scholars did then.  At the same time, the ease of usage and transmission of information via the Internet allows for more ideas to be spread by anyone, which is also a benefit to us.


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Translation and Homer's Iliad

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While reading the segment on Homer's Iliad in Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age by Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek, I noticed many similarities between their ideas about translation/transliteration and ideas that we have been discussing about the Qur'an in the Islam: Religion and Culture course I am taking.  In that class, we talked a lot about how Muslims usually read the Qur'an in Arabic, the language in which it was originally written, and how there seems to be something missing when we read it in English as opposed to when we listen to and learn to recite parts of it in Arabic.  Tribble and Trubek point out the same thing by including two translations and an original version in Greek.  Just by reading (or at least attempting to read) these versions of Iliad, anyone can see that they have different tones and each would appeal to different people. 

For instance, Megan discussed in her blog that she found the Lattimore version easier to comprehend, while she saw the Fagles version as "choppy" and "abrupt." However, the Fagles version appealed to me much more because it seemed to flow more smoothly.  Yet, for someone who could read and understand ancient Greek, the original might be preferred.  It is so interesting that people can have such different opinions about versions of the same story.  One person could dislike a translated version of a story they are reading, but could truly enjoy another version.  I suppose this is just one downfall of reading translations.

In my Islam course, we also discussed how these downfalls of translation affected versions of other faith works, such as the Bible, and wondered if any translation can ever capture the true meaning, tone, and structure of the original.  Unfortunately, despite this downfall, translation is often necessary to keep the story or work alive.  It seems to me that the best, although mostly unrealistic, way of reading any work is to read and comprehend it in the language in which it was written in order to receive the fullest understanding and appreciation for the work.


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If you'd like to learn more about Islam, this is a reliable website that my professor, Dr. Leap, recommended.   


Simple Paths, but Empowering Consequences

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"To read is to choose and follow one path from among those suggested by the layout of the text."

-From page 76 of Jay David Bolter's "The New Dialogue" in Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek's Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age

I had never really thought about the structure and the power of reading from a point of view such as Bolter's until I began reading this essay, even though, once understood, it is a very simple viewpoint.  I thought that the way that Bolter divided the development of the book and of reading into stages that were defined by the "path" the reader follows is a really interesting concept and one that we touched on in class.  He seems to identify the oral stage as linear, for obvious reasons, the manuscript and print stages as linear and hierarchical depending on the piece's design and the reader's interests, and the digital stage as networked that allows for multiple paths that may or may not intersect one another, yet are all connected in some way (75-78).  However, even though each stage depicts each of these specific characteristics, as Bolter points out, the reader still has the choice to follow his or her own path in the piece of writing.  I think this empowering idea shows us, as writers of all sorts, just how much power the reader has over our writing. 

Bolter's insight is eye opening.  I have skimmed pages and even chapters of books, have started a book in the middle, and have only read parts of books, as I am sure we all have.  However, I never considered how important this idea is to my own writing.  I would hope that anyone who would read something I have written would read all of it, not just parts of it.  I also know that I have written body paragraphs that are much better written than the introduction to that work, so I can see how the empowerment that comes with being able to choose what is read may mean that 1.) better parts of my work may not be read by my readers and 2.) that I may not be reading the most informative or interesting parts of others' works.  So, the power that the reader has is really great, but this power can also be not so great for both the author and the reader.   

I think Bolter's concept is not only empowering to us as professional readers and writers, but also to those who may have an aversion to reading.  As a future teacher, I am constantly looking for ways to get people to, if not enjoy, then at least to respect and value reading and writing.  Many of Bolter's points would be interesting to middle and high school students who are often searching for ways to express themselves unaided by adults.  I have found that, especially for these ages, free choice is sometimes the best way to excite interest.  Bolter's ideas about reading in this section have definitely made me think differently about how I read and write and how I will teach reading and writing to others.


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