October 20, 2005


I never want to do that again. Two Watson presentations in four days is a bit much . . . I don't have enough creativity to go around. On Monday I joined Paige, Ashley, and Randy in a 30-45 minute presentation over Deconstructive Literary Criticism in . . . well, Literary Criticism. Tonight I joined Randy and Gallagher in a 30-45 minute presentation over Wisdom Literature in the Bible in Reading the Bible as Literature. In the end, I dumped virtually every ounce of creative innovation I had into presentation one, and tried to let the momentum from that sail me through presentation two. It almost worked. We got a 100 on the first one, and a 92 on the second. I guess I'll briefly outline the two presentations.

For the first, Paige gave a devo over our tendency as Christians to "deconstruct" the Bible, taking verses out of context and ignoring historical and literary factors to make the text say whatever we want it to say. This was followed by two metaphorical representations of what deconstruction is not.

Randy and I donned signs which read "Deconstruction Critic" and Paige donned a sign which read "Famous Author." Taking up a notebook labelled "Great Work," she approached Randy and I (who had sunk to all fours and were prowling forward in as feral a manner as possible) with much trepidation. She gingerly held the notebook out at arm's length, whereupon we snatched it from her, and, with many savage snarls and growls, proceeded to tear it to shreds.

Next, Ashley came over and we gathered on one side of the room. I distributed dish towels and Paige distributed small glass plates to all group members. Then I pulled four hammers out of the crate and passed those out. We wrapped the plates up in the towels, and commenced to demolish them with the hammers. It was all very satisfying . . . but that's beside the point.

Ashley then stood up and gave an excellent summary of what deconstruction actually is while the rest of us passed out brownies. In case anyone doesn't know, deconstruction essentially attempts to take a literary text and reveal its inconsistencies and the subjective, hierarchical ways in which it uses language in order to point out the text can viably hold an infinite number of conflicting meanings. If that doesn't seem to make much sense, don't worry. Not even deconstructive critics seem to know what they're about half the time.

After that was over, Randy and I, standing in for deconstruction and formalism, respectively, attempted to portray the disagreements between these two opposing schools of theory through a scripted argument. The turn of phrase of which I was most proud was when I had the deconstructionist refer to the text as "an artificial construct of the hierarchical subconscious categorization of your binary language modalities." It sounds like total BS and doesn't seem to mean anything, but at the same time, its exactly what a deconstructionist would actually say. No wonder everyone complains that their writings are impossible to understand.

Anyway, the debate quickly degenerated into random name-calling, and . . . Well, this is probably a "you-had-to-be-there" gag, but I'm gonna tell it anyway. Randy and I had planned and practiced this joke several times, but we wanted to make it look like a complete accident. I wasn't confident of my ability to do this because it required me to bust up laughing, and we practiced so many times that I wasn't sure I could find it funny anymore. It didn't actually prove to be a problem.

I called Randy "crazy nonconformist!" He called me "self-deceiving traditionalist!" At this point, I snatched up a padded staff (taller than me) that we had borrowed from a friend. Holding it as low down as I could, I waved it at him (as suggestively as possible) and yelled, "Hack!" He responded immediately, "Freud! Fraud! . . . Fraud!" The script clearly called for him to say "fraud" and it was obviously what he had meant to say, but he passed it off perfectly as though he had just made the textbook definition of a Freudian slip. All I had to do was completely lose my composure and collapse, laughing, into the nearest wall, and the entire room broke up.

It took the better part of 60 seconds for us to pull it back together, and as we were about to begin again, Watson piped up from the back with, "Now that had meaning." I began again with the insults, and when we got to "fraud," everyone started laughing again, even though Randy said it perfectly the second time. That was when I knew we had won.

Moving on, we then gave a brief overview of some of the major figures in the field of deconstruction, and went into the "Deconstructive Magic Act" with "The Amazing Randy!" (and his lovely assistant, Paige) . . . "They will deconstruct a text before your very eyes!" We used Philip Larkin's "This Be the Verse," which was ideal for our purposes. Nevertheless, I was a bit nervous about how the class might react, and we prefaced the piece with a disclaimer/word of warning.

The poem begins "They fuck you up, your mum and dad" and contains an additional f-bomb later on. No one objected, however, and the deconstruction proceeded without a hitch. Watson later complimented us on our choice of text and deconstructing prowess. The poem had been entered into the Power Point slide word by word and we had filled the entire thing to the brim with animations of all kinds so that we could literally tear the text apart in front of them. I will withhold further details for now as I intend to reproduce what we came up with as my journal for this theory. It'll show up on here eventually.

After that, we ended the presentation with a little audience participation. We had gotten Uncle Doug to take his circular saw and slice a phone book in half for us, and had then wrapped it with wrapping paper and labelled it "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." At this point, we got Dr. Solganick to come to the front of the room to "deconstruct the text." He was, as planned, unable to tear through it on his own, so I divided the class into their groups and went around with special instructions for all, as follows:

-Two groups of four were divided in half. Two people in one were to yell, "male!" and the other two would respond with, "female!" while the other group would go back and forth with "black!" and "white!" This symbolized the binary oppositional hierarchies within the text.

-Two groups of four were to wave their arms back and forth, chanting "Yes I will, no I won't!" repeatedly. This symbolized the inconsistencies within the text.

-One group of four was to turn upside-down in their chairs to symbolize turning the text on its head.

-One group of four (our guests, including Moore, Sharpton, and Martinez) was split into the four corners of the room, "marginalized" if you will, and had to approach the center of the room, waving their arms and chanting "centralize!" in unison. This symbolized, obviously, the idea of drawing attention to the marginalized details in the text.

When all of these got going at once, at my direction, the effect was noisy and chaotic . . . exactly as I hoped. I let it go for about 10 seconds, then cut everyone off and directed attention to Dr. Solganick who, with the aid of the class and a bit of physical effort, managed to rip that massive chunk of book completely in two. Cheers and applause followed, and our presentation ended.

Fast-forward to Thursday: This one can go much faster, cuz it kinda sucked. Paige, Ashley, Randy, and I came in first and pulled up our first Deconstruction slide, pretending to do the same presentation from Monday over again, since it went over so well the first time. Gallagher came in almost immediately and chased us out with the padded staff. Randy shouted "Freud! Fraud!" as he left the room. Randy and I changed into academic robes while Gallagher, who was already wearing them, gave a devo. We borrowed robes from Drs. Johnson, Solganick, and Hummel, 'cuz we thought it would be appropriate to a presentation on Wisdom Literature. Our doctoral robes were greeted with much appreciation.

I re-entered the room wearing a large, blue, Mexican sombrero, and Gallagher and I argue briefly over whether it was "funny" and "clever" or not before I gave in reluctantly and traded it for Dr. Solganick's poofy blue doctoral hat thingie. Gallagher then talked about the essentials of Wisdom Literature and we moved into Proverbs.

A few days before, Gallagher fed the book through the Markov Chain generator, which essentially picks a random word from whatever you feed it, then selects a random word from the list of words that follow that word, and repeats this cycle until you tell it to stop. From this we selected a number of humorous "proverbs" that sounded almost real and mixed them with actual proverbs. We were then ready to run our game show, "Bible or Blasphemy," hosted by "The Amazing Randy!" (and his lovely assistant, Gallagher). We used the exact same Power Point slide we had used from the other presentation.

The class failed miserably (mostly on purpose) at selecting the real proverbs, and were branded heretics, fit to be burned. Randy presented on the salient points of the book of Proverbs and we moved on to Ecclesiastes.

I gave a brief presentation on the prominence of Ecclesiastes and its themes in our literature, citing "Parker's Back" by Flannery O'Connor, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, "The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot, "Nothing New Under the Sun" (from Homer Price) by Robert McCloskey, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and "Ozymandias" and "Mutability" by Percy Shelley. Then Gallagher talked about the important facets of the book itself.

Finally, Gallagher discussed the book of Job and we ended with an epic limerick which Gallagher and I had written on the book itself. We posted signs up on the board labelling the different parts, and moved around under the signs for each speaking part so people would know who was talking. That was basically it. We were underprepared, and while we had some pretty good gimmicks, overall we were not pleased with our efforts. We were happy to get a 92, and glad when it was over. I'll try to post the limerick soon, 'cuz I really am proud of it.

I'm tired. Goodnight.

Posted by Jared at October 20, 2005 11:59 PM | TrackBack