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Spring 2006 and Fall 2005

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Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 
Ralph Waldo Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity

PRINTER FRIENDLY

Socrates said, “Know thyself,” and no has taken that more to heart than one of America’s great revolutionary individualists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, an original liberal from Massachusetts, or the Sage of Concord as he was more commonly known in his day. He wasn’t the handsomest man alive… but his message made him more famous and more popular than any American Idol.  He said things like:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.”

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Emerson, like no other, entreats us to trust ourselves, to become aware of ourselves—that is our innate capacity and power and we must use it (Rollo May makes a similar point in “On Becoming a Person”).  We must pay attention to our inner voices, our inner lights, not ignore them, push them aside. “To envy others is ignorance” and “imitation is suicide,” Emerson declares. Such strong language to try to convince us how necessary it is to look within. Is he right? Are there consequences for not looking within, not listening to the quiet voice inside?

The voice outside, the blaring megaphone that is our pervasive mass media, is in opposition to the individual, drowning out that quiet lone voice.  It’s constantly putting pressure on us to conform, to be like everyone else (in our “group”). Fit in. Be like us. Come in our house. There are a million keys for sale. Emerson:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members….The virtue most [requested] is conformity….Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”

The only answer is to cherish your own mind, your own voice:

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

The way Emerson makes it sound, conformity is the enemy.  Why does he consider it so nasty to conform?  Doesn't conformity fulfill our need to belong?  Don’t we all deep down want and need to belong to a group that’s bigger than ourselves?  (Maya Angelou explores this in her poem, “Alone.”)  Here we come to the interesting, very nuanced questions.  Is any amount of conformity dangerous?  If that were true, how could we have social structures?  Look at Emerson’s pictures on these pages.  You can probably point to some convincing evidence that he was okay about conformity in some matters; so, when does conformity become too much conformity?  Why, despite the evidence that he himself has agreed to conform to certain obvious social conventions, does he make conformity out to be such a terrible thing?  

It’s obvious that although he conformed to conventional social expectations in some ways, Emerson associated too much conformity—and that is an interesting question: how much is too much?—with a kind of "herd" mentality.  The sheep are in this part of the meadow so I better go and stand there, too.  The birds are flying this way; I better not get left behind.  Uh-oh, the lemmings are jumping off the cliff, so I’d better jump, too. There’s something repugnantly mindless and undignified in behaving like a herd animal when human beings are capable of making individual choices.  A human being ought to exercise his human faculties—intelligence, creativity, individuality.  Conformity in all things, especially the things that matter most (what are the things that matter most to you?) would be a sign of lower intelligence.  

If Emerson has a problem with conformity, perhaps it’s because he believed:
  • Too much conformity robs us of our most authentic, most human selves.  For example, what if you made your career choice based on the belief that acquiring wealth is the ultimate goal of one’s career?  That certainly is the dominant message that most of us get from our culture when we’re young and impressionable.  You are conditioned to want all the nice toys and things that only money can buy. What if you made all your decisions based on that idea alone, and never discovered a more meaningful, individual reason for choosing a career? Even if you choose to believe a career is all about acquiring wealth, at least you made the choice, you didn’t just blindly accept it unthinkingly.
  •  What the larger society, large institutions, call “good” may not be. What if their motives are less than pure?  To be sure, you have to discover “good’ and “bad” for yourself.  For example, the mass media tells me we’re fighting a “good” war in Iraq.  Should I unthinkingly adapt that view, or look into the matter myself and decide whether it’s a justified war or an immoral war?  Do I support it simply because the government tells me to, or because I believe it’s doing good?
  •  Any fixed, static doctrine coming from the outside is likely to have trouble adapting to your unique experience.  For example, if you think in today’s world it makes sense to practice birth control, you may bristle if your religious institution orders you not to.  But ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself what the right path is.
Nothing can take precedence over the voice from within. Emerson was convinced that if you believe in yourself, you’ll gain the confidence of the world around you. Society tends to label as “bad” anything that is different.  Protesting the war is “bad for morale.”  If you want to “support the troops” you have to support the war.  If the inner voice is telling you the war is immoral, then in “society’s” eyes, that voice is “bad.”  It may even be, in George Bush’s lexicon, “the devil’s voice.”  Emerson might say, then so be it.  Accept it nonetheless.  Must it really be the “devil’s voice” just because it’s saying something different, in opposition?  Emerson recognized that it is far too easy for simple notions of  “good” and “bad” to masquerade as one another, to be mistaken for one another; people can become too easily impressed by the costumes of external power, forfeiting their own internal powers.  It’s with shame that he recognizes “how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.”

Because it’s likely to rumple some feathers, nonconformity isn’t the “easy way,” as Emerson realizes when he says: “Nonconformity would whip you with its displeasure.” (An extreme case is the short film, Skin Deep (which we may view in class), but we all have our war stories, times when we resisted conformity and paid some price for it.)  Emerson asks, where does all of that disapproval come from?  He suggests it comes from the people who are most conformist and pressure you to conform as well.  But, in Emerson’s view, these people are about as strong and morally upright as leaves in the wind, doing and thinking only as the newspaper directs them.  These are the people, in today’s society, who follow the whims and directives of the mass media, and rarely put an ounce of deep thinking into any of their opinions.

Emerson’s view of the individual is dynamic. We are creatures of growth and change.  We are responsive to the world around us; we accumulate experiences, adapt to them, synthesize them, regenerate and renew ourselves.  And in the process, sometimes we contradict our previous selves.  Walt Whitman is one of our great American poets, and Emerson’s contemporary.  He was in fact discovered by Emerson. Whitman wrote, in “Song of Myself”:

    “Do I contradict myself? Then I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.”

To be afraid of growth, afraid of change, seems antithetical to everything we are. Individuals grow and change.  Conformists supply and maintain the status quo.  If, as individuals, we fully embrace the process of growth and change, it’s almost certain we’ll contradict ourselves at some point.  Emerson encourages us not to be afraid of that, to wear the “flip-flopper” badge as one of honor:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.  With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to day. —“Ah, so you shall be misunderstood.”—Is it bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagorus was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

 

 

 

     

 


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