~ Wednesday, January 05, 2005 ~
What? I *am* writing!
It's Dead Week at RRC, which means I have two 10-15-page papers to write and two giant Hebrew finals that demand studying. So, like any sensible person, I'm getting right to work, cleaning my room, catching up on e-mails, and posting for the first time in half a year. Rose-Colored Glosses, taking sporadicality (sporadica? sporadity?) to new heights.
Adele's poor little ethernet port gave up and died some time ago, so in order to gain access to my sticky, sticky interweb, I've been using a high-speed ethernet adapter that plugs into a USB port and hangs out her back end like an off-center beaver's tail. Not very pretty, but I found the piece on e-Bay for like $15 and was just ridiculously pleased to snag such a good deal...and it died last weekend. Hmph. I used that opportunity to start taking full advantage of my wireless-capable router by replacing that dead beaver tail with the elegant duo, a wireless card and adapter. Kind of like an early birthday present from hahorim sheli, and what a birthday present it is. I really really like being able to [not] work on my papers wherever I want, not just at my desk. Somebody should welcome me to the 21st century. I'm only a few years late.
One of the papers I'm not writing right now is for my Christianity class, a required course at RRC. We all attended two Christian events of our own choosing (the vagueness of the term "event" is intentional, to allow for latitude) this semester, and the first we discussed in class, around mid-semester. The second is to be material for the final paper--not so much a presentation and analysis of what happened (that was what we did with Christian Event #1) as a presentation of how we experienced it. That's RRC for you. I'm not sure the two are all that different for me--I tend to direct my focus externally and try to pay attention to what's going on, rather than directing my focus internally and figuring out how I'm doing as the event goes on (I mean, what am I going to do, go to Mass and take my own pulse every 5 minutes?)--so my experience tends to be as close to "what happened" as I can make it, with (of course) the inevitable rouge (or whatever)-tinted filter through which I inevitably see things. So I suppose the "write about your experience" thing isn't really so egregious an assignment, even if it does seem to be kind of non-academic in its thrust. Still, and this is the main thing that bothers me, the assignment seems a bit like it would lend itself to telling a long rambling story without a clear conclusion, rather than lending itself to, say, applying the material we've actually been studying in class to a real situation. Why isn't the prompt, "Analyze the event in light of one or two of the texts we studied"? Why do we have to do this "talk about your experience" business? What, a rabbi has to be in touch with her feelings or something? Grumble grumble don't wanna psychoanalyze myself grumble just wanna be a student and learn stuff grumble grumble.
Come to think of it, I'm going to have to figure out a different plan of attack for both this paper and the other one I'm not writing right now, for my Reconstructionist Thought class. I had a long conversation with my professor (let's call her Madame Grandvent) after class today (yes, class today, and yes, it's *that* kind of Dead Week) trying to figure out exactly what it was she wanted from us. Apparently our paper for that class is supposed to be an answer to the question, "What is Reconstructionist Judaism?" but it's not supposed to be a paper. It's supposed to be a Talk we would give, but written down. It's supposed to be simple and easily comprehensible and light and sugary and fluffy and not too complex (lest we should commit the cardinal sin of causing our hypothetical readership to break their heads open trying to think), which is exactly the way I -NEVER- write papers. Apparently everyone here has it in for the academic style or something.
The other problem is that there are so many aspects to Recon'ist Judaism that I can't possibly talk about all of them in depth in one paper, even in one 15-page paper. Maybe three or four aspects. I asked Mme. Grandvent whether she wanted us to focus on prayer, or community, or halacha, or God, or social action, or Torah study, or healing, or spirituality...? She kind of smiled and said, "Yeah, those sound good." *boil* The first paper I wrote at Stanford, for my fall quarter IHUM (Freedom and Eros in Philosophy and Art--best IHUM ever, by the way), I vividly remember Stephan Käufer, our section leader (who seems to be currently teaching a course at Franklin and Marshall, right here in PA, quite similar to the one I took with him at Stanford...cool), instructing us to narrow our thesis to a "laser-like focus" (let the ls roll slowly through your tongue!) because otherwise our papers would be too wide in scope and grow large, awkward, and ungainly. The wider the scope, he taught, the more impossible it is to prove the point stated in the thesis...and so the more precise the thesis, the clearer and better the paper. That's what good writing is, but that's not what she wants. It's as if Mme. Grandvent is asking me to write fluff. Insubstantial sugary fluff, stretched out to cover every topic possible, nearly falling apart, it's so thin, but that's okay, because as long as you stand far enough away, no one will see the holes in the writing.
That's not what Reconstructionism is about! It's NOT some happy little ragtime onestep. It's Argentine Tango...subtle, and complex, and not necessarily immediately graspable, but it's deeply attractive to people who are willing to keep coming back to it, willing to sit and work through things and really try to figure them out. At least, that's the aspect of Reconstructionist thought that's interesting to me. And that's the way I want my paper to be...I want to capture that complexity, to choose two or three intricately related aspects and conduct an in-depth exploration of them and only them, replete with delicate points, complex ideas, intricate interrelations, and ultra-compact language, and then conclude with something fancy*, but thisassignment, apparently, wants nothing to do with that kind of carefully crafted writing. No, we have to take that beautiful complex tango and present it as if it were no deeper than a onestep, which just isn't true.
The other thing that's disturbing me about this is that we (my entire class and I) are beginning to think that nobody really knows what Reconstructionist Judaism is. Mme. Grandvent certainly doesn't--she spent part of Wednesday's class reading to us from a debate that occurred over e-mail in which various leaders of the movement (including her) were struggling to hammer out just what Recon'ist J'ism's core values were.
-Is it the non-supernatural theology?
-No! That was Mordechai Kaplan's thing, but it's not essential to the movement! Today we value deep spirituality above all else!
-What do you mean, not essential? How can you call Mordechai Kaplan's theology nonessential to his own movement?
-How? He didn't care about his own theology anyway--look at how many different, opposing ones he had! He only cobbled some makeshift theology together so that he could use it to unite and revitalize the Jewish people!
-What do you mean, didn't care? Of course he cared; why else would he have spent so much energy trying to figure it out?
-You're wrong; what matters isn't his particular theology, but rather that we all should struggle to figure out our own theology. To adhere to his instead of formulating our own would be absolutely anti-Reconstructionist!
...and so on.
*sigh* This is going to be a difficult paper.
*I just remembered that that was another Käuferism; later in the quarter, when he was preparing us for the in-class multi-essay final and trying to help us believe that we really had no reason to worry, he demonstrated how to answer a sample prompt: "Just start by introducing the topic with a sentence or two, say how Plato defined the soul, put in some transition, tell how Nietzsche defined the soul, show how they're different, and then do something fancy," he said, flicking his wrist carelessly. It was the "do something fancy" part that had me worried. It was years before I decided I finally understood what he meant by that.
Current Music: I still have Poet's and Sprite's wedding waltz in my head, from playing it on the accordion earlier today.
~ prattled by Miriam at 8:46 p.m. [+]
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