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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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"FIELDING" RETURNS:
STUDENT WORK (3): THE RETURNS

So now we go to the second step in the process, the returns.  What kind of returns did each of the serves get?  Can I recognize use of the return options to keep the conversation going?  Has value been added to the conversation by the returner? 

1)  Student F

Student F's serve (Hypothesizing): "Death before Depth?"

Ishmael initially becomes aware that the whale has taken on a far-fetched array of meanings.  Ishmael tries desperately to understand the true spirit of the whale.  However, all of his attempts fail at one very large thing and that is a true and overall big picture with every detail.  The curious mind is proven to be an no comparison to the mysterious ocean because even Ishmael quotes that “Men cannot see the depths of the ocean.”  This strongly proposes that human knowledge is always limited in contrast to what is unlimited and infinite.  Moby Dick is a great example of this as his ways are unknown and trying to decipher and truly understand them are impossible.  The book makes the purpose of stating that one will know death before one knows depth.

My reflection on F's hypothesizing serve:

I have characterized F as a weak student, but she shows intriguing flashes of promise.  In the five eyes document I say that a statement of purpose should be expressed in a clear, crisp sentence.  In class I found myself saying that one way I judge an hypothesis post is whether or not I can pick out that sentence and underline it.  Do you have an underlineable sentence that contains your hypothesis about the work's purpose?  In effect, I say, gimme a soundbite!  Now F does that clearly here, and, in fact, gives us two soundbiteable statements, one poetic, one prosaic: "Men cannot see the depths of the ocean" and "The book makes the purpose of stating that one will know death before one knows depth."  And, I should note, that the "depths before death" title and idea are quite catchy.

Student P's return (building/disagreeing):

great point... but i also think that the book is glorifying the quest for "depth" as you put it.  i think there is something wonderful and unique about stiving to discover the undiscovered... and in some cases the undiscoverable (might have made that word up).  i'm not so sure that all of the men aboard the pequod knew death before depth either... if depth is simply to be 100% sure of something... ahab had achieved depth.  there's a saying that the most dangerous man to face is the man who has nothing left to lose... ahab WAS that man... he was totally consumed, all of his answers and reasons were personified by the great white whale... we may call him mad, or a lunatic, or insane... but the fact is that many of us on some level probably nevy him, because for most of us, that type of "depth" is unatainable... we will never be able or willing to completely give ourselves to a cause, especially one as seemingly crazy as his... i would argue that that gave him depth, and for him death was nothing more than a foregone conclusion...

My reflection on P's return:

I think P's return is excellent, both in content and style.  P gives F two new ideas to consider: 1) he builds on her idea by saying that the quest for depth is glorified, and 2) he disagrees with her idea by saying that Ahab experienced depth.  In both ways, P adds value to the conversation here at the second step in ways that I can recognize and correlate with the response options document.  P's return is enhanced as well by his internalizing references (how different Ahab is from "us") and by a certain eloquence even though the post feels like it was written spontaneously: "i would argue that that gave him depth, and for him death was nothing more than a foregone conclusion..."

Student B's return (agreeing/enhancing):

that's a really good point and you offer a prevailing overlying theme really really early on in the discussion for this book, which i personally think is impressive.  I'm not sure there's any more to say than that I completely agree with you.  The vastness of the ocean symbolizes the miniscule authority of man over anything.  It kind of goes back, in a way, to Red Badge of Courage, with the narrator finally being disillusioned (or "enlightened," however you want to look at it) about man's vital...or not so vital role on this earth.  Mortal insignificance seems to be a big theme in the books we've been reading, and I think that's part of what makes them such lasting classics, the way the epiphanies one gets from these novels is like reading a religious scriptural work and having a revelation about your true place on this earth.  what do you think?

My reflection on B's return:

B begins stroking F's "impressive" post with a "not sure" there's anything "more to say."  My sense is that B, as good a student as he is, feels a bit unsure here about how to proceed.  But he makes a couple of interesting moves.  The first seems to be re-state the theme of the novel in his own eloquent way: "The vastness of the ocean symbolizes the miniscule authority of man over anything."  Nicely stated.  A soundbite of his own.  Then, in a bid to move beyond simple agreeing to enhancing, he makes the comparison to the previous work in the course and even beyond that to a generalization about the entire syllabus so far in the neat idea about "the way the epiphanies one gets from these novels is like reading a religious scriptural work and having a revelation about your true place on this earth."  I give B a thumbs up for his agility in moving the conversation forward like this.  A second very worthy return to F's serve, I would say.

My overall reflection on the returns:

I'm interested to see where F will go fielding these returns, for it occurs to me that fielding a disagreement may be "easier" than fielding an enhancement.  The fielding of a disagreement would seem to write itself:  you either agree or disagree with the returner's point and gather reasons or evidence accordingly.  But what do you do faced with an enhancement?  The returner has basically agreed with your serve, and I suppose that your ability to field the return (without "re-directing" the conversation, of course) may depend on how stimulating the additions are.  It's worthwhile to think about whether the "enhancer" should keep in mind the possible "dead-end" quality of such posts and should seek possible ways to lubricate fielding the return in ways more sophisticated than B's "what do you think?"  Yes, worthwhile thinking if there are strategies specific to a fielding and volleying stage post that might not be so applicable to a return -- and hence that the response options document might be modified.  But maybe the rhythm of an enhancing volley would be to just keep adding positive points to see how much evidence, say, there is for a point -- like, ok, here, I've added some, now, ok, see if can you add some more, and, ok, good, now what you added made me think of even some more, etc.


2)  Student B

Student B's serve (synthesizing): "Synthesizing in UTC"

While this is the first post, I'd like to "synthesize" at this point because the burgeoning frienship between Ishmael and Queequeg is highlighted so early on in the novel.  Ishmael seems to be a very different sort of Christian than the ones we see in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It was really noteworthy to observe how Christians can very differently skew the meaning of the Bible.  In UTC the Bible somehow proves that a stance of racial intolerance (or, should i say, black intolerance especially) is a justifiable view.  Slaveowners say that they endorse the principles buttressing slavery because it says they can in the Bible.  Ishmael on the other hand, goes out of his way to worship "the savage's" idols, and his reason is because he'd expect Queequeg to do the same for him if Ishmael were kneeling before Jesus or the Holy Cross.  The spin the slaveowners gave on christianity in UTC, looking at it from ishmael's angle, verge on sacrilege ... they totally undermine the value Christianity's message.  Looking at it this way, does anyone agree with me that, ESPECIALLY after reading UTC, Ishmael's character should be seen as a much more noble character?  And, i guess, it's safe to say that the slaveowners looking like even bigger freaking idiots, seeing as how they interpret the bible's message to mean the lowest, most self serving possible thing, right?

My reflection on B's synthesizing serve:

B does a classic synthesis post here.  He looks at one work through another, one character through another, and has an important realization.  Moby-Dick is a first person narrative, and it is important to take stock of Ishmael, and, by association, Queequeg, since so much of the early part of the book (this was a post for the first class) is about him and them.  Ahab and his quest do not enter till the story is substantially launched.  B advances a view that not only ennobles Ishmael but Queequeg as well, for Ishmael's actions must presume worth in Queequeg's culture.  This is an imaginative, provocative comparison, I'd say. 

Student P's return (disagreeing/building):

i don't know if we should look at ishmael as so much more a mobler character... b/c i feel that none of these characters are truly characters... rather they are merely representations set up by melville to work through different ideas... but i DO see what you're talking about with ishmael and queepueg, i just think it goes beyond them.  the pequod is teeming with diversity.  different cultures, races, ethnicities... and they're all working together for a common goal... almost unfathomable considering the day in which moby-dick was written!  so i do think that we should give someone a pat on the back here, but i feel like it's melville and not ishmael.

My reflection on P's return:

P begins with disagreement, but I am glad he dropped that point almost immediately.  The fact that the characters are allegorical is too literary or too far removed or something -- it just doesn't seem bound to engage a good response from students at this level.  But then, nicely, P agrees ("i DO see what you're talking about") and builds ("i just think it goes beyond them").  It seems to me that P bumps B's point from its specific focus on a character or set of characters to a generalization about the overall intent and import of the novel.  All of a sudden we are in a bigger league.  Good.  B has been given something to think about.

Student F's return (agreeing):

I agree that Ishmael should be seen as a more noble character when viewing him in that regard.  I agree with your points and your comparisons.  The slave owners definitely look like even bigger ignorant morons especially when looking at their perceptions of the Bible, haha nice work.

My reflection on F's return:

Ooooo, typical F: I agree . . . . I agree . . . . nice work.  Period.  I say again, as I have said before in reference to F and other agreement posts, sometimes agreeing is necessary (let's say for successful exposition of a very daring idea), and sometimes it's all we can think of doing (we live in a fallen world and our idea bank will inevitably run dry), but when it's an habitual mode, then there's trouble.  This is an habitual mode.  This is trouble.  F is not exercising sustained intellectual vitality, and in a community of learners situation like this one her group members will be casualties as well.  I will be interested to see how B fields this one, but I suspect that his only mental exercise will be how to circumvent a dead end -- if he is even motivated to do so.


3)  Student P

Student P's serve (Internalizing): "migraine material"


moby-dick is probably the coolest book i've ever read.  i've taken philosophy classes, psychology classes, sociology classes, and a whole lotta english classes, and this story built around nothing more than a whale hunt has prompted more deep thought and introspection than anything from any of those other courses.  unlike some (most?) of you, i have never read moby dick before--surprising i suppose to make it to my senior year as an english major and pass over one of the truly great works of american literature, but i'm glad i waited.  i don't know if it would have done the same thing for me in high school that it has done for me now.  like professor g, i had a lot of thoughts focusing on "what's important in life?" when i read this.  the trip, the journey, the expedition, the adventure... isn't THAT what life's suppossed to be all about?  it sounds so corny, but i think that that's how you really "find yourself", and on one level, this is a story about ishmael finding himself.  there is a consitant theme of lonliness present in the text as if everyman is an island.  and they are on an island both literally and figuratively... sitting alone on a ship in the middle of the earth's great oceans... out there a man is left with pretty much nothing else besides his own thoughts.  i know i'm rambling but i keep getting new ideas, so i apologize, just try and stay with me as long as you can... this is a story about being extraordinary... whalers weren;t content to settle for a normal, boring life on land... and these whalers aboard the pequod are special even amongst the other whalers because they are chasing something that others wouldn't even dream to chase... mad? crazy? insane?  maybe... but maybe they are the only one's truly living... maybe the novel ends with "orphan" because ishmale was orphaned by ahab and crew by not drowning with them... maybe they died the ultimate deaths... maybe there are no actions that seperate anyone in life... even the richest men die... but maybe there is something that seperates men in death... in a way ahab became part of his obsession... i could go all night with this, so i'll save you anymore of a headache and stop.  i guess i provided a lot to talk about, and at the same time nothing to talk about (b/c it's all just metaphysical rambling)... i told you this was the best book i've ever read.

My reflection on P's internalizing serve:

Well, now, I wonder what I thought I was going to get when I dreamed up this internalizing category??? Something like this?  If I didn't imagine this, I guess I should have.  For in many ways this is the voice of the true internalizer.  P gives us some autobiography; then the important points of reference to Ishmael, loneliness, and the journey that trigger a litany of the kinds of "deep thought and introspection" about the nature of life the book stimulated; and finally apology and humility as the passionate stream of consciousness ends. Hmmm, at this point I'm wondering how I would handle my own assignment in this case.  Does internalizing lend itself to extended discussion and conversation?  If so, how?  I'm especially anxious to see further developments on this thread.

Student F's return (agreeing):

I loved your post it was great.  As a Sophomore, I had never before read the novel having always heard about it.  Classics are truly classics for a reason.  While I did not LOVE the book especially to the extent to which you enjoyed it, I definitely found it compelling enough to captivate my attention and challenging in that it leaves the reader with much speculation.  I really liked your thoughts in your post and I think you are right in your cheesy definition of what life is supposed to be all about.  Interesting thoughts on Ahab and death.  Never thought about it that way before and I see where you are going with what you are saying...or at least I think I do?  Again, much speculation but your theories are cool.

My reflection on F's return:

I was afraid of this.  An agreeing return.  Straight and simple.  Ok, this is F's stock response, I know, but I have been kind of haunted by the fear that agreeing is about all you can do with an internalizing serve. Like "Wow! P, good for you!"  I'm not sure how P can field this return.

Student B's return (disagreeing/re-thinking):

it seems like we can say that melville was glorifying the characters lives and everything, but i don't think this book is about celebrating life.  well i dont think that yet.  I think there's a lot of anger in this book, while certain parts like, like queequeg and ishmael's relationship, are uplifting..your post open my eyes to a different way of looking at it.  guess i need more time.

My reflection on B's return:

Hmmm, quantitatively not much of a response from the good Student B either.  Was he a bit stumped about how to respond?  He offers a tentative disagreement.  But, essentially, what is most evident is that he is struggling.  On the one hand there is anger in the book (but he provides no elaboration or explanation), yet on the other the relationship of the two early main characters accentuates the positive (not explained either, but this is the subject of his own serve).  Now, I wish B had talked out these poles a bit more, developed the tension he sees a bit more.  That might both set P up to better field his return as well as helping him move toward a resolution of his struggle.  Interestingly, though, B indicates that P has opened the door to some re-thinking, which has not occured yet, but to which he is receptive.  Maybe that provides the angle for P to play upon as he fields the return.

My overall reflection on the returns:

I have been wondering if "internalizing" should stay one of the five eyes.  I think it's the shakiest of the five. It just may not be a very discussable mode.  But perhaps the way to think about this is to remember my mantra and focus on what we're doing as "conversation" as well as "discussion."  We ought to be able to have a conversation about a person's inner ideas, shouldn't we?  If P said these things over a beer or a burger in a conversation with a good friend, the response wouldn't be "check, please," would it?  Above I speculated on how I would perform my own assignment.  Maybe one thing to do is to ask about what other books caused a similar reaction.  Or what book before reading this one seemed to touch inner passion. Or what outcomes seem to be developing as the result of this reading.  Hmmm, here I seem to be moving toward questioning as an instinctively natural response to an internalizing post like this.  This subject definitely needs more thought.  But my sense is that if internalizing stays as one of the eyes, that it especially may need some examples of successful returns to guide students.