Aug 24, 2013

Reading group guide to Demian

Reading Group Guide to Demian by Herman Hesse. In the 60's thru 80's, Herman Hesse was a staple among teenagers. 

Writing in the existential tradition of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and drawing on the teachings of Carl Jung, and upon his own experiences as a child and adolescent, Hesse presents a compelling portrait of an individual who finds within himself the means to resolve anxiety and inner conflicts and to perceive in the turmoil of his world the promise of a new, enlightened order. Hesse's classic novel has transfixed generations of readers with its dynamic vision of individual and social transformation.

I wonder how well the novel has aged and whether its coming of age story still connects with young people today. From what I've heard, the popularity has waned, but that doesn't mean it's worth forgetting. A quick review of comments at amazon and shelfari indicates that it IS a book that bears fruit when read again.


Teaching notes by Stacy Esch

Ernst Cassirer writes in Language and Myth that myth is a "miracle of the spirit" It's a mode of communication, developing simultaneously alongside ordinary language in our prehistoric ancestors. One of its distinctive features is that it doesn't necessarily refer back to an objective reality. It may refer to an internal, abstract, conceptual or emotional (invisible) reality. In as far as it tries to describe that which can't be known or named in an ordinary way-the mystical experience of God, or Gods-it's a language of symbols, of metaphors, a language of correspondence rather than reference.

Joseph Campbell, a leading scholar in the fields of mythology and comparative religion, explains that myth has four basic functions: metaphysical/mystical, cosmological, sociological, and pedagogical. 

Its metaphysical function is to awaken us to the mystery and wonder of creation, to open our minds and our senses to an awareness of the mystical "ground of being," the source of all phenomena. 

Its cosmological function is to describe the "shape" of the cosmos, the universe, our total world, so that the cosmos and all contained within it become vivid and alive for us, infused with meaning and significance; every corner, every rock, hill, stone, and flower has its place and its meaning in the cosmological scheme which the myth provides. 

Its sociological function is to pass down "the law," the moral and ethical codes for people of that culture to follow, and which help define that culture and its prevailing social structure. 

Its pedagogical function is to lead us through particular rites of passage that define the various significant stages of our lives-from dependency to maturity to old age, and finally, to our deaths, the final passage. The rites of passage bring us into harmony with the "ground of being" (a term often used by Joseph Campbell to refer to an unnamed, unspecified universal mystical power) and allow us to make the journey from one stage to another with a sense of comfort and purpose.

The mystical experience, the core spiritual journey that envisions God, has always been a tough experience to communicate. Some would say it's impossible to communicate. Others would say that this is the primary function of myth-to find a way to communicate whatever mystical insight has been gained on the journey: an understanding of the mysteries that underlie the universe; an appreciation of its wonders; the sense of awe or rapture experienced. Since these things can't be communicated by direct means, myth speaks in a language of metaphors, of symbols, and symbolic narratives that aren't bound by objective reality. Some believe that the mystical experience is what gives birth to metaphoric language, metaphoric thinking.

In our post-Enlightenment western world, we have decidedly turned to science to tell us what the "shape of the world is." Originally, however, myth performed this function, explaining the cultural history, religion, class structure, origin, even the origin of the geographical features in the surrounding landscape. Myth describes the shape of the world, and infuses each part of that world with meaning and significance. And though a mythic tale may seem literally false to us today, it was once considered true, and it still expresses a metaphorical truth. All myths are true in the metaphorical sense, according to Joseph Campbell.

Campbell explains that the sociological function of myth is to support and validate a particular social order. The myth will make it clear who is in charge, what ethical code is appropriate, what the institutional rituals will be. The problem is that these codes are fixed, like the natural order, for all time; they are not subject to change. If times change, as they have in the past several millennium, there's no recourse. Our myths, according to Campbell, are seriously outdated. Changing times require new myths, and since our times are changing so very rapidly, the myth-making function can't keep up. As a result, we are practically myth-less. Campbell believed that in modern times, we are in need of a myth to deal with the advent of the "machine." The machine, as a mythic element, may mean our tools, our technology, even the "state" (government). But it has such an importance in our lives now, that we need a story to account for its "destiny." Will the machine crush us or save us? Is technology our savior or our destroyer? Where is its place in the social order? What is its reason for being? Will we be master of it or will it be master of us? (Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "EPICAC" in Fantastic Worlds takes up this theme, in a humorous way.)

This is the area Campbell felt we needed to expand into much more than we presently have. This is the aspect of myth that teaches us how to pass into and live all the differing stages of our lives. Our myths (as religion) give us rituals to live by, rites of passage to accomplish. We learn how to look at the world, at ourselves, from birth till death. Because he felt they were all true, Campbell believed myth could teach us important lessons about how to live.

To sum up: Myth is humanity's attempt to grasp the reason and the purpose for existence. Speaking in a language of metaphor and symbol, it creates vivid worlds and beings that, though they don't always refer directly to the ordinary world around us, still provide answers to our fundamental questions about the true nature of the world around us. Whether you believe in myth or not, you will probably agree that the spectacle it has created, its unforgettable language of powerful, evocative images, has fired our collective imagination for millennium. As Campbell explains, myth is the "homeland of the Muse." "It inspires the arts, music, poetry. To see life as a poem, to see yourself participating in that poem is what myth does for us."

  • Analyze "Genesis" to determine whether it meets these "four functions of myth" that Campbell describes
  • Compare/contrast "Genesis" and "The Blackfoot Genesis"

Using Analogy (exercise)

Definiition: an analogy is a comparison between things which are basically not alike but which share some kind of striking similarity.

Example: Falling in love is like stepping off a cliff and discovering you can fly.

Assignment: Practice using analogy by finishing several of the statements below-draw a comparison between the subject given and something you find strikingly similar. Be creative, colorful. Get our attention! Prepare to share at least one of your answers with the rest of the class.

Finding the right major is like….

Finding a good job is like….

Raising a pet is like….

When I was a kid, learning to ride a bike was like….

Learning to write is like….
by Stacy Esch

Using Comparison / Contrast (worksheet)

To get some practice using comparison/contrast as a rhetorical technique, prepare to write a comparison/contrast paragraph(s) based on one of the following topics (or come up with one you like better):
  • High school and College
  • Raising a pet and raising a child
  • Two career choices or majors you're contemplating
  • Two colleges you've considered attending
  • Two jobs you've had
  • Two books you've read, or two movies you've seen
  • Two close friends
  • Two teachers
Once you decide on your subject, follow the three steps below to help you practice using this technique.

STEP 1: Establish categories to focus your analysis.
For example, if you're comparing colleges, your categories might be curriculum, price, location, and social life.
Brainstorm and then decide upon several appropriate categories for your topic which will focus how you look at each subject. List them below:
STEP 2: Brainstorm raw material by applying these categories to questions about your subject.

Based on the categories you arrived at above, ask what is similar and what is different about the two subjects. Write down everything you can think of—you can rearrange it later.
Comparisons (similarities) between___________________ and_______________________. 

Contrasts (differences) between _____________________ and_______________________. 




Step 3: Assemble your analysis.
Now examine the points you made and compile your raw material into paragraphs. Write a topic sentence to focus your comparison/contrast; it should state your subjects and the assertion you want to make about them as a result of your analysis. After you write your topic sentence, write the paragraph(s) below. Attach extra paper if you run out of room.

by Stacy Esch

Practice Exercise: Comparison/Contrast Sample

"Learning to write is like learning to play a musical instrument."

STEP 1: Establish categories to focus your analysis.
Brainstorm and then decide upon several appropriate categories for your topic which will focus how you look at each subject. List them below:
  • The degree to which each one cam be an art form
  • The kinds of skills each one requires
  • The kinds of effects each can have on audiences

STEP 2: Brainstorm raw material by applying these categories to questions about your subject.

Ask what is similar and what is different about my two subjects based on the categories you arrived at above. Write down everything you can think of—you can rearrange it later.

Comparisons (similarities) between learning to write and learning to play an instrument
1. when you do it well, it's an art
2. it's a skill you acquire with time and patience. Process is as important as end-product when you are beginning to pick up the skill.
3. learning the scales is a lot like learning structure. It's what you personally do with these foundations that makes your writing stand out.
4. like music, good writing has "color" and "tone"-it can evoke emotion.
5. like music, good writing can be created collaboratively (though this is less common).
Contrasts (differences) between learning to write and learning to play an instrument
1. Unlike music, writing evokes thought as well as feeling.
2. Unlike music, it's usually created solo rather than as a group effort. The closest analogy is the singer/songwriter who's been traveling alone his or her whole career. Sometimes
3. Unless we are professional musicians, we don't need music skills on a daily basis; writing, however, is something we use in a variety of practical ways in a variety of environments other than leisure. 
Step 3: Assemble your analysis.
Now examine the points you made and compile your raw material into paragraphs. Write a topic sentence to focus your comparison/contrast; it should state your subjects and the assertion you want to make about them as a result of your analysis. After you write your topic sentence, write the paragraph(s) below. Attach extra paper if you run out of room.

Do you see where the paragraphs below use the subject-by-subject method and where it uses the point-by-point method?
Even if you've never tried to learn a musical instrument, you can probably relate to the way learning to write can be compared to learning a musical instrument. They both require a set of skills and both, when they're performed well, can be considered an art with power to greatly move audiences. 
In the first place, learning any musical instrument can be a grueling process, but once you learn to play competently, you're rewarded by the beautiful sound of music at your fingertips. Once you gain control over the notes you're trying to reach, and the tones those notes create, you can consciously set a mood, create an atmosphere. You can make people dance for joy or make them weep. But you don't gain that control overnight. Learning an instrument requires a big time investment, a lot of patient practice. Your fingers have go over and over the same positions as you learn scales and practice exercises that increase dexterity. The sounds you produce may be ugly at first: discordant, disjointed, off rhythm. But through continued practice you'll begin to play more smoothly, with greater feeling, and with fewer mistakes. Pretty soon, you'll feel like you've arrived. You can play. 
Similarly, writing well is an art in the sense that it has an "aesthetic" experience to offer us-when we're finished we may have created something truly beautiful. Reading a good piece of writing, we can experience its truth and beauty. It has the power to affect us intellectually, emotionally. But learning to write well is a skill we can acquire only through time and patience. In the beginning, "process" is as important as "product." While we're learning drafting, revising, and editing skills, our first attempts may be fumbling or unfocused, incoherent, and full of error, but if we keep practicing the fundamentals, before long we get the hang of it. Concepts like structure, unity, coherence, development, style, and syntax aid rather than intimidate us. They provide the solid foundation upon which we express new ideas. 
Writing and making music aren't always similar. In a few key ways, these skills are more different than they are the same. First, whereas music and writing both have the power to evoke strong feeling, writing is probably better at making audiences think. Second, whereas music is often created collaboratively, writing is often created solo. Even when writing projects are collaborative, individual writers often work separately on unique tasks and then assemble the group's work into a whole. They rarely do the work of writing face to face with other group members, though they may seek advice and feedback from group members. Finally, the biggest difference between writing and making music is that, unless a person is a professional musician, we don't use music skills on a daily basis in the variety of environments that we use writing.  

Given that learning to write and learning to play music can be so similar, it makes sense to evaluate a writer's skills at the end of a course rather than at the beginning. It isn't what students know when they start that counts, or even what you know along the way; it's what a student can do by the end that really matters.

- by Stacy Tartar Esch

Introducing Analogy and Comparison / Contrast

"Being in love is like stepping off a cliff and discovering you can fly."

What kind of statement is that? Do you know?

Did you guess "analogy"? You're right, it's an analogy, a comparison… it says one thing is like another thing. They're not exactly the same, but they're alike in some important, significant, interesting way. If I'm writing an essay to explain what it's like to be in love, I want to come up with statements like this one if I possibly can. Do you know why?
  • Well, one obvious thing is that I'm trying to describe what I mean by "falling in love." I may be thinking that my audience doesn't really know what it feels like, or doesn't know what it feels like to me. So rather than leave it to chance, I'm trying to paint a really clear picture. Some people might have the mistaken impression that being in love is a ho-hum kind of experience, like putting on an old pair of shoes. But that's not how I see it, so I want to find a way to make readers understand how I see it, since it's my writing, my paper. I want to find a way to communicate that exhilaration, that sense of liberation, excitement, and even empowerment…. And I want to communicate in the most vivid way possible. I could use all of those abstractions, but they won't say as much or be as clear in the end as that vivid analogy.
  • Another reason might be that this kind of thing just sounds good-it's colorful and creative; it might get my readers' attention, make them want to read more.
  • Maybe the reason is that I've learned that comparing something new or unfamiliar with something old and more familiar can help readers grasp obscure, difficult, or abstract subjects more readily.
If you make these kinds of statements in your writing, I hope it's because you're learning, or you've learned that "analogy" is a great rhetorical technique that works.

Analogy and comparison/contrast are two rhetorical strategies that are very closely related to one another—both are immensely useful when you're writing an analysis, and these notes will address both.

So first of all, let's spell out the definition of analogy, the first technique we're considering:
An analogy is a comparison between things which are basically not alike but which share some kind of striking similarity.
One thing that's great about using an analogy in your writing is that it can be fun. A well thought-out analogy can really make your writing stand up and sparkle that little extra bit. You have to try using them, especially if you never have before. You just have to get the feel of being a little (or a lot) creative and see what comes out. Consider a few more examples:
Learning to drive can be a marriage of convenience or a red hot love affair.
  • Some people think it's just a practical skill, but others are really transformed by the freedom they feel when they realize they can cover great distances. More than a few young men have been known to fall in love with their cars. Maybe a few young ladies, too.
Analyzing an advertisement can be like reading a poem.
  • Every detail in a ad has more than its literal meaning. Images and text are meant to suggest way more than seem to say on the surface. That's essentially the way poetry works, using language for connotative power, its ambiguity.
Writing a personal essay can be like shooting a home movie in your imagination.
  • As you recall the event, you get to be the director-you choose the scenes, the sets, the wardrobe, the characters. You recreate the whole thing so readers can share in it.
Now it's time for you take a try at it. Complete the worksheet on using analogies.
Just a few more words about using analogy, before we move on to our next topic-comparison/contrast.
  • Sometimes analogies are just one-liners and you don't need to say any more. The point is clear, and you're done. You've said a lot in just a few words. Other times you may find you want to spend an entire paragraph, or even several, pursuing an explanation of your analogy because it's so rich, like a gold mine of meaningful comparisons and contrasts. In your textbook there's a selection that especially illustrates how an analogy can extend over several paragraphs. Check out Annie Dillard's "When You Write" in The Prose Reader. (p. 644, I believe)
  • Using analogy is a very natural way to explain something new or difficult to your readers. When you use analogy, you're building on experience they most likely already have. And that's the natural way we learn, according to basic textbook learning theory.
BUT, at some point, analogies will always "break down." They break down in the sense that they're not really true. Falling in love isn't really like stepping off a cliff (it just sometimes feels that way). The feeling might be similar but in reality is it's not the same. So, it can be very instructive to explore where exactly your analogy falls completely apart-in other words, where your two subjects contrast rather than compare. This is where analogy and comparison/contrast overlap. Because when you do a longer or "extended analogy" you are likely to become aware of both similarities and differences between your two subjects.

Now, I know you read the chapter I assigned, and I know you're aware that closely related to analogy is another rhetorical technique—comparison/contrast.

Comparison and Contrast
Comparison and contrast is what you are doing when you become aware of and begin to formally note the similarities and differences between things brought together for examination. When you compare, you find similarities, when you contrast you find differences. Analogies were mainly for making comparisons, but comparison/contrast implies that there's some significance to discovering and understanding both.

Let's use a really simple example first.

Here's an apple and an orange—I'm comparing them and they're both round, they both have skin, and they're both sweet. On the other hand, they're different. One is red and the other is orange; one is divided into sections and one is not; one has a hard skin that's not edible and one has a softer skin that is edible. They are similar and different at the same time.

Of course, unless you're looking at something simple like apples and oranges, you won't discover important similarities and differences unless you look closely and think hard about your two subjects. Most of the time, similarities and differences are more subtle, maybe even somewhat invisible until close inspection, and you'll have to look really, really closely. And, unlike comparing and contrasting apples and oranges, there's more of a substantial point to be made, some kind of conclusion to be drawn, at the end of those observations. If it was just apples and oranges we were working with all time, we might find ourselves asking—so, they're similar and different? So what? What do we learn from that?

So it seems appropriate to say a few words about why we do comparison and contrast, why it's such a useful rhetorical strategy to have around. Why it isn't all just a waste of time, a lot of hot air, like comparing apples and oranges.

The fact is we use comparison and contrast for all kinds of profound intellectual reasons, and for a lot of practical ones, too. It might be that we're trying to decide in some way between two things, and we're using comparison and contrast in order to evaluate which one is better, or more suitable in some sense.
  • Which college should I go to? (categories: price, location, curriculum, social life
  • Which career should I specialize in? (categories: interests, abilities, job market)
  • Which one of these sources would be better for my research paper? (categories: credibility of information, quality of the publication, author's credentials, currency…)
  • Which of these DVD players should I spend my hard earned paycheck on? (categories: specs, features, appearance….)
  • Which candidate should I vote for in the election? (categories: experience, intelligence, policies, character)
Well, you get the idea! No matter what the question is you're trying to answer, if you're doing comparison/contrast, your process for figuring out the answer is the same. You probably do it unconsciously. At some point you establish some clear criteria, some set of questions, or what your textbook calls "categories" to work from (see above). Then, your comparison and contrast takes shape as you apply your categories equally to each of your subjects. How they compare and contrast leads you to a draw a conclusion that reflects what you've discovered by your analysis—sometimes your conclusion is an evaluation about which one rates higher.
Once you've observed the similarities and differences you find most interesting or revealing, or instructive, then you can think about how to present your findings in writing. We'll see that there are two options available, and they apply to writing paragraphs or to structuring an essay as a whole, depending on how large of a subject you're working with. The options are "sequencing" (a report of your observations that proceeds "point-by-point") and "chunking" (a report organized into two or more large "blocks" or "chunks").

Remember, the whole process started long before you thought of writing. It started with analysis. With questions and observations. Before you even start to write, you know three things:
1. Your "categories" or "criteria" for comparing and contrasting (your criteria, or the questions you use to focus the way you will look at each subject).
2. Your specific observations (the specific answers to the questions you posed).
3. What you learned by comparing and contrasting (the conclusion you draw, the evaluation you arrive at, what we know that we didn't know before).
You read all about this in The Prose Reader (chapter 6)!
Let's take one of the analogies on your exercise sheet. It isn't that difficult to demonstrate how analogy can overlap into a full-fledged comparison/contrast analysis.

A comparison/contrast analysis involves digging for similarities—that's comparison-and differences—that's contrast—between your two chosen subjects. Suppose I want to explain the comparison I came up with for the last analogy exercise on your worksheet.
Learning to write can be like learning a musical instrument.
Personally, I find these two learning situations are analogous ("analogous" is pronounced with hard g), and I can compare and contrast them at length (see the sample practice). Are any of your own analogies good for comparing and contrasting at length?

Well, you should be set to practice this strategy. Pick one of your analogies, or use one of the suggestions on the worksheet. Go there now. 

by Stacy Esch