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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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The "Five Eyes":
Some Ways to Start a Discussion

How do you "serve"?  What can you do when you are called on to start a thoughtful discussion or a new discussion thread about a film or a story?

Think of the following activities as five different ways of looking at a work, as five different entry points into discussion.  Be conscious that you have several options, that you have more than one set of "eyes" with which to look at the material under consideration.

To start a discussion or a new discussion thread about a film or story, you can:

These five intellectual tasks are linked in logical order and build in general from lower- to higher-level thinking skills. A good discussant will practice and master each of the "five eyes" over the course of time and consciously employ the appropriate one in a given situation.

Each eye should be represented in any comprehensive discussion.  When you or your class/group have looked through each eye, you have seen the film or story as a whole.

Also, thinking about what makes a good post should always include the idea of writing socially as well.

--Click on titles below for a few examples of each eye--

Hypothesize (state a purpose):  State what you think is the director's or author's purpose in a short, crisp sentence or two, and then proceed to elaborate on and support your hypothesis.

What's the director's or author's purpose?  That's probably the first question we ask about a work.  So think about the film or story in general and as a whole when you finish it.  What "idea," what "intent," does the director or author have in mind?  What "issue" does he or she want to raise?  What "concern" does he or she want to address?  What questions does he or she pose?  What is he or she trying to tell us through the work?  What "lessons" are we to learn through the work?  What do you think is the work's goal, meaning, moral, message, central idea, theme, thesis?

  • Look behind, look underneath the film or story for what you consider the director's or author's motivation.
  • Assume that the director or author is a serious artist, a serious intellectual, with "something to say."
  • Clearly state what you think the work is "about" or could be about.
  • "This film is about __________."
  • "The purpose [meaning, theme, etc.] of this story is __________."
  • "The message the author is trying to deliver is __________."
  • "The goal of this film is __________."
  • "The effect that this story has is __________."
  • Note: a hypothesis is always revisable as you and others do more thinking and discussing.

Analyze (examine technique):  Examine in detail specific examples from within the film or story that show the director’s or author's technique achieving (or perhaps trying but failing to achieve) his or her purpose.

Technique serves purpose.  It's how you get done what you want to get done.  It';s the way you get done what you set out to do.  It's the means you choose to accomplish your end.  So, show purpose in action.  Show purpose embodied.  In analysis, you divide the whole into its parts and then examine the parts.  In analysis, the aim is to explore the director's or author's craft not, as above in hypothesis, his or her ideas.

  • Look down into the film or story.  What's going on inside?
  • Assume that the director or author makes conscious choices about everything in the film or story -- that is, that, for the most part, nothing in the work is accidental.
  • What are the specific ways in which the director or author achieves (or tries to achieve) the purpose you have hypothesized?
  • What means does the director or author use to achieve his or her end?
  • How are the parts of the work related to the whole?
  • Why are certain parts, aspects, elements in the work?  What function do they serve?
  • Usually analyze first what you consider the major elements of technique, the ones that have the most impact in the work.
  • Aspects of a work that are problematic, that you can not readily relate to the director's or author's purpose, are fair game as well.
  • Think about the kinds of characters and how they are represented.
  • Think about the composition of individual scenes.
  • Think about how individual scenes are sequenced into a cohesive plot.
  • Think about the kinds of language used.
  • Think about the choice and effect of setting.
  • Think about the director's or author's style.
  • What do you see when you focus like this?
  • If possible, label or name the aspect of technique that you see, either using a term that you may have been taught or one that you have created.
  • Why is something there?  How does it fit the whole?  What does it contribute to the whole?
  • It might help to think about options available to the director or author.  What practical decisions did the director or author make?  How could he or she have done something differently?

Synthesize (compare with others):  Compare and contrast specific points about this film or story with other films or stories, seeking insights not apparent when viewed individually .

What associations does this work call to mind?  What do you recognize when you put films or stories together that you didn't when looking at them separately?  What new things do you see?  What do those new things mean?  For instance, do you perceive something differently?  Are other possibilities apparent?  Are similar interpretations possible?  Has something become clearer, murkier?  Has a previous notion solidified or changed?  In synthesis, you make a whole (your insight) out of previously separate parts (the two or more works with which you are dealing), rather than dividing a given whole (one film or story) into its parts, as you do in analysis.

  • Look up and outside the film or story.  Take a backward look across the course or at other films or stories with which you are familiar.
  • How does this film or story relate to or compare to other films or stories?
  • When you put them side by side, what happens?
  • When you look at one film or story through the lens of another, what happens?
  • When you weigh two or more films or stories together, what do they add up to?
  • When you choose works for meaningful comparison and contrast, what do you "see" by doing so?  What can you learn by doing so?
  • Is there some "spark" that occurs between this work and others?
  • Is there a specific verb that describes the new thing(s) you see?
  • For instance, does this film or story contradict, substantiate, amplify, enhance, illuminate, argue with other films or stories?  If so, what aspect makes a good, specific point of reference?
  • However, the best synthesizing always goes beyond the facts of your comparison to the meaning of the facts.
  • Any two things can be compared; the hard but most worthwhile part is assigning significance and value to the comparison.
  • In fact, seek only comparisons that produce "added value."
  • One-dimensional comparisons and contrasts are inert, non-combustible.
  • Synthesis should be more than simply putting two or more analyses side by side.
  • What is the meaning of the similarities and/or differences you see?
  • What "arcs" in your mind when you bring separate works together?
  • Why should you or anyone care about the similarities and/or differences?
  • Why did these similarities and/or differences register on your mindscreen?
  • Once you are several films or stories into the course, do you see some pattern or "meta-story"; developing across them all?
  • Can you make some generalizations from your developing vision of all the works you are studying?
  • Do you have some insights ("over-sights"!) that transcend individual works?

Internalize (take your own pulse):  Open yourself up to the film or story and look for important issues and experiences with which you can identify and which can help you relate to and interpret the work.

"Enter" the work.  Let the work "enter" you.  Ask yourself what the main or most important issues in the work are.  Ask yourself what the main or most important experiences the characters are undergoing are.  Now, do these issues and experiences have personal resonance in your interior world or contemporary relevance in your extended world?   In other words, in what way are you or those around you connected to the central concerns of the work?  Is there something in your personal experience or in the public world around you that relates to the essence of the work?  Is there a real-life context for the work?  Can you identify in some way with the issues or the characters?  Do you see the issues or the characters in some way operating in your culture?  Is there empathy?  Is there a "shock of recognition"?  Are you stirred?  Most importantly, however, does that personal identification help illuminate the work?  Can you bring some personal identification to bear on understanding or appreciating the work?   On the other hand, if you did not identify with the issues or characters -- if you felt no personal connection, if you see no connection with the "real" world -- that is interesting and relevant too.  Why do you suppose that is?  For instance, is the work dated?  Does the work have a false conception of human nature?  Has your experience in this area been limited?

  • Look inside yourself.
  • Play the film off your own experience, beliefs, feelings, needs, dreams, desires, imagination.
  • Hold off on discussing or summarizing the film or story in detail here; assume the other discussants are familiar with the work.
  • It is your experience, your beliefs, your feelings, your needs, your dreams, your desires, your imagination that we want to hear about.
  • This is the place for the "I" -- tell "your" stories in detail.
  • Tell "stories" from your life and the world around you that relate to the work.
  • Is this a film or story for “you” and/or “your time”?
  • Was there a theme or scene or character or issue that made this film special in some deeper way for you?
  • Did the film "speak" to "you"?  Were you “touched” in some way?  Did it “click” with you?  Did you feel “moved”?  Did you "learn" something?  Why or why not?
  • If you sense no direct connection, perhaps ask what you would have done faced with a similar issue or experience characters face in the work.
  • Give detailed personal examples, personal anecdotes, personal incidents.
  • This is the space for personal instances from your life, about those you know, or from your society. 
  • This is not the space for extended summary or analysis of the work -- assume that we know the work and say just enough about it to trigger the connection with your story.
  • This is the place to swap life stories.

Criticize (evaluate):  In this last eye, take a substantial critical position on the film or story as a whole or on some significant part of it -- make an evaluative claim about an important matter susceptible to various interpretations and argue it.

Usually it is best to wait till you have thoroughly considered a work from the other eyes before you criticize and evaluate, so that you have the firmest foundation and widest perspective for your judgment.  Meaningful criticism is not a hair-trigger, off-the-top-of-your-head reflex.  Criticize and evaluate only after study, thought, meditation, reflection, and discussion with others.  It's best to pick a subject to evaluate that has some controversy, some "edge" to it, rather than something obvious or trivial.  Most importantly, it is crucial that you articulate the principle or point of reference that is the basis for your evaluation.  Create a clear frame of reference against which to evaluate.  And, lastly, assume a skeptical audience whom you must convince.  You are not simply voting or proclaiming but persuading.  This is the eye where you show traits of wisdom and good judgment.

  • Look both inside and outside both the work and yourself.
  • Is the work good or bad?  Does it succeed or fail?  Do you like it or not?
  • Are some parts of the work weak or strong?  Did they succeed or fail?
  • Where is the work effective, where not?
  • In reference to what principle or standard are you making your judgment?
  • Good and bad are determined in reference to something – some standard, some rule, some law, some code, some tradition, some practice, some usefulness, some authority.
  • So, what is your principle or standard, your point of reference?
  • Then, take a stand.  Form a judgment. 
  • But back up your stand: state the criteria for your criticism.
  • What is the basis for your position?
  • "This is good, because __________."
  • "I didn't like the ending, because __________."
  • When criticizing and evaluating, you must always give the "because."
  • The "because" is the most important element of evaluation.
  • If there is no "because," there is no meaningful and legitimate evaluation.
  • And you must always keep giving the "because" till you absolutely can't go any further -- exhaust the levels of "becausing."
  • Evaluation needs to be grounded to be genuine.
  • Don’t simply assert (no evidence or reason, no "because") but argue (evidence, reason, "because") your judgment.
  • The goal is persuasion