Blog Post #1: Our Relationship with the Materials

In his essay, John Maguire asserts that “it’s all too easy for students to float away on abstract words.” That seems to be a valid statement because I also happen to be one of them. Even about ten years ago, students used to get writing topics on solid objects that were either assigned to them or objects they found and chose to do. However, as time went by, students tend to be given more creative, abstract writing assignments. The more we spend time on abstract materials and ideas, the more I think we become weaker when it comes to physical materials and hard evidence, which goes along with Maguire’s characterization of student writers today. As students, we are given more formal academic writing assignments, which is supposed to include citations and other hard evidence to support your idea, but as Maguire states, “Student papers are often unreadable not only because their grammar is bad and their sentences incomplete, but also because they are way, way too abstract,” which I found to be the most interesting in his essay because this whole time, I thought most papers were graded badly because of incorrect grammar and fragments. During my years in middle school, high school and even college, the most difficult object I have encountered was and still is the internet. Although it may be the best way to research and the best source of hard evidence, I have always had trouble with it. The reason is simply because as much as the internet has good information, I knew it also had as many good misinformation, and I did not know how to differentiate them when I had to write a good research paper.

While Maguire emphasized on students shifting their attention to more physical materials rather than the abstract, Mihaly Czikszentmihaiyl and Jules David Prown examined the balance between the physical and the abstract. Czikszentmihaiyl’s essay was interesting because he looked more closely at the relationship we have with the objects. He warns his readers, “if we do not achieve a better understanding of things, we may find ourselves entirely in their thrall.” He also asserts that “most of the things we make these days do not make life better in any material sense but instead serve to stabilize and order the mind,” as he emphasizes that our dependence on objects is not only physical, but also psychological, which is very true when we think about our relationship with television or cell phones today. We feel lost and uneasy when we lose our phones or when we leave it at home one day. Without us realizing it, we have slowly become an object ourselves that depend on other objects to feel whole again. Prown, on the other hand, reminds us that abstract materials correlate with physical materials. In other words, he means that there would be no abstract materials if there were no physical materials, and there would be no new physical materials without abstract materials. In his essay, he noted that the word, style, reflects values of the individual and of the society that produced the object. There would be no “style” if there was no society or an individual to base that from, and without a certain style, that individual or that society would not be able to be identifiable. After reading all three essays and putting these different perspectives together, I realized we should balance our focus on both physical and abstract objects instead of falling too deep only on one side (the abstract world), which can be dangerous because not only does it limit our writing skills and brings bad grades, but also has the possibility of tilting the balance of our relationship with the objects, thus making us helplessly dependent on the abstract things.

Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

In his essay for The Atlantic, “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” John Maguire argues student writers and writing instruction are too focused on abstract ideas. In fact, he contends that “[s]tudent papers are often unreadable” (His words, not mine!) “because they are way, way too abstract.” Rather than asking students to grapple with abstract ideas from the outset, Maguire argues writing teachers should instead get students to focus on the physical world, and let the abstract ideas emerge from that emphasis:

An alternate approach might be to start the course with physical objects, training students to write with those in mind, and to understand that every abstract idea summarizes a set of physical facts. I do, in fact, take that approach. “If you are writing about markets, recognize that market is an abstract idea, and find a bunch of objects that relate to it,” I say. “Give me concrete nouns. Show me a wooden roadside stand with corn and green peppers on it, if you want. Show me a supermarket displaying six kinds of oranges under halogen lights. Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered.”

To some extent this course, with its focus on material objects or “artifacts,” puts Maguire’s assertion to the test. Continue reading Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

Dr. Robin Wharton | 25 Park Place #2434 | Office Hours: M/W 9:30 to 10:30, T/Th 2:30 to 3:30

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