Category Archives: Blog Project Prompts

Blog Post #2: Cute Things

What makes one thing cute and another grotesque or uncanny? Some of the authors we have read so far suggest objects have inherent properties that make them “open” or “closed,” (Prown) or “masculine” or “feminine” (Czikszentmihalyi). Can something be inherently cute, or is cuteness a property cultures or individuals project onto objects? Beatrice Marovich poses these and other related questions in her essay on “The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals”:

[S]ites like BuzzFeed Animals remind us, daily, of the powerful authority of cute animals, who do cute things that make us stop everything and just look. Researchers are already trying to unlock the enigmatic secrets of this “Power of Kawaii” (Japanese for “cute”). It appears to hold valuable treasures—such as the ability to turn humans (who look at pictures of cute animals) into more productive workers. There are interesting questions to pursue here: what is this “power”, in the first place? Where does it come from? Why does it work? But I won’t pursue them now. Instead, I want to suggest that there’s something in this alleged power that seems to leave animals vulnerable to becoming talismanic. Continue reading Blog Post #2: Cute Things

Blog Post 1: The Importance of Abstract Ideas

At the beginning of John Maguire’s essay, “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” I thought that the author was presenting an interesting writing method based on focusing on physical objects. I found it interesting at first, but then, as I was reading the rest of the essay, I realized that yes, giving examples might be an important skill, especially because it demonstrates that the writer have a wide knowledge and a fervid imagination, but at the same time, focusing too much on artifacts in counterproductive for the overall quality of the writing work. This is obviously my opinion; however, I am convinced that the use of only one specific method or strategy to write a paper is not sufficient, and while giving examples is certainly useful, and sometimes clarifying, it is not always necessary. The specific type of assignment give to the student is crucial in deciding how to write something, and this appears to be a detail that Dr. Maguire does not take into consideration. As I said, citing artifacts is not a bad strategy at all, but drawing from one’s ideas, beliefs, and real world experiences is much more important. Convincing the reader of something by telling an episode that has actually happened is more effective than convincing the reader with a list of objects. Also, Dr. Maguire is too severe in judging his students’ skills, and this is demonstrated by the fact that he cannot prove what he is claiming with statistics, percentages, or charts of any kind of the overall  scores reported by his students. He only cites a conversation which he presumably had with a colleague, and for one who stresses so much the importance of artifacts, this example does not look sufficient to support his statements. He also judges harshly his students’ grammar, which is not exactly pertinent to the theory he carries on in the essay. In addition, it is true that abstract ideas come from objects, but it is also true that abstract ideas can generate various examples. This inverse path is not considered noteworthy by Dr. Maguire, while I believe it is an interesting theory. In the essay, there are a few instances of object-based writing. If Dr. Maguire wants to emphasize the advantages of this writing style, he should probably add several more tips on how to write with artifacts in mind, because this is not very clear from the reading of the essay. This reading reminded me of Dr. Czikszentmihalyi’s article, “Why We Need Things,” as the latter underlines how physical objects are a consequence of modern society, and not always (if never) a good thing. “It goes without saying that one consequence of our evolution as cultural beings has been an increasing dependence on objects for survival and comfort” (20). He adds: “It is difficult to understand our psychological dependence on objects as long as we hold the belief that humans are naturally in control of what happens in their minds” (21). In my opinion, that is the reason why ideas are very important, and writers should defend them rather than relegating them in a corner like old shoes. I believe Dr. Czikszentmihalyi agrees with me as, on p. 28 of his article, he states: “If one develops control over the processes of the mind, the need to keep thoughts and feelings in shape by leaning on things decreases.” Therefore, writers should fight this dependence on objects instead of fostering it.

Post #1:The Power

It’s very interesting to see how objects are projected, and used as a  vital skill in writing. I can clearly see the benefits- and how useful it will be in developing and creating good writing skills.  I have always struggled with my thoughts.  For example,  When learning to write papers and essays, I was encouraged to use one particular format, which was not completely bad . But it limited my imaginary skills.  In my opinion this put limits on my input.

In the article “Style as evidence” he pointed out that “Objects can mean different things to individuals at different times and ages”. I totally agree. At some point in my life I felt more attached to objects. However, at this point I’m more interested in health and all the things that money can’t buy,

However, I do agree that using objects to describe: or create ideas. will work well. I also feel that this style of writing should be implemented when teaching basic writing skills.

After,  reading these articles. I do see how people identify themselves with objects. Personally, I can’t find any particular object that makes me feel horrible. I feel like I’m in control of my own thoughts and actions. Objects, might briefly remind me of a time or moment in my life. Besides that , I decide my own mood and control my own feelings.

I’m far from offended,about  comments made by the author in regards to student writers. I feel school is a place people go to learn and develop good skills.  Positive, constructive criticism is very health, and I welcome it.




Blog Post #1: Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?

In The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas, John Maguire graces the readers of The Atlantic with a negative generalization about student writers based on a group of college freshmen that Maguire states, “lack certain skills that were common among college freshmen 40 years ago.” While Maguire fails to articulate the exact list of skills, he does, however, present what he deems the sole answer to better writing: writing physically!

While I’m sure that many of my classmates would take issue with such a broad generalization of student writers, I’m not offended. The fact of the matter is: many incoming freshmen can’t write (I was one of them); however, I take great issue with Maguire’s logic as to WHY these students can’t write well.

Maguire’s solution to students writing well is using more concrete nouns, yet how does Maguire expect young writers to rid their writing of abstractness and write physically, when Maguire can’t explain physical writing to his students without being abstract? When asked to define concrete nouns, Maguire responds, “It’s something you can drop on your foot.” Even as a senior philosophy major that has taken many upper level writing courses Maguire’s retort sounded a bit vague, so I did what any college senior would do “40 years later”…I Googled it!

(The following is the result of my Google search)

You experience concrete nouns through your five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. If you cannot see, hear, taste, touch, or smell something, it is not a concrete nounConcrete nouns can be: Common nouns.

Now, if I were Maguire’s student, I’m now just as confused as the first moment “ drop on your foot” left Maguire’s mouth. In the sentence: “There is a smell in the living room,” smell is a concrete noun, yet I can’t drop a smell on my foot. The fact of the matter remains that the writing problems students face are far more complex than Maguire would like to acknowledge.

Turning from his pedagogical position, Maguire’s characterization of physical objects seems to align with that of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi’s proclaims that, “ [e]very artifact is the product of human intentionality, but that intentionality itself is conditioned by the existence of previous objects,” which is similar to Maguire position that “all abstract ideas derive from objects.” Although Professor C goes a step further than Maguire by attaching a temporal value to physical objects, one still arrives at the age old philosophical question: which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Given every object is preceded by an abstract idea, the resulting inference is either an infinite regress or, for those of us who believe in a deity, the abstract idea known as God. Thus, Maguire has committed what the philosopher Nietzsche refers to as Confusing Cause with Consequence, abstract ideas don’t derive from physical objects… physical objects derive from abstract ideas. At the foundation of Maguire’s position rest a misrepresentation of not only college writers but also of physical objects. Writing embodies a synthesis of physical objects and abstract ideas. The reason many freshman arrive to Maguire’s class without the ability to write well is the lack of basic writing skills being taught in lower grades. Writing physically isn’t the answer, better teaching is!

Blog Post #1: Grounded, From a Student’s Prospective

The idea of writing about objects isn’t a novel concept. If one looks at the work of academics everywhere, one could see how this principle is used to enhance their work. The terminology and imagery behind the idea is novel, however, which is what confuses students in my opinion.

Students today are being torn in different directions. You’re good, you’re great, you’re terrible, you’re not as hot as you think you are. For every class there is a different set of rules to follow. And up until a student gets to college they are never taught about the importance of audiences, which are those instructors expecting different things from the student. No one told us about that basic principle, so we learned to sheepishly follow a five-paragraph format and hope for the best.

Personally, nothing specific comes to mind when I hear “write with objects.” Objects can be everything, which is the point of that word choice, but  that initial uncertainty is enough to stunt any work from a fledgling writer. Trust me: I’ve been one of those writers so crippled by doubt that I barely manage to meet a word requirement.

The best advice I was given about academic writing prior to university was a lesson in the rule of three. For those of you who don’t know, the rule of three is where you can’t have an idea in a paper without three pieces of evidence to support it. The idea is to create something that’s harder to knock down. I envisioned a good paper in this model to be like a stack of cards, but glued down (looks delicate, but really hard to pull apart.)

Having that idea, having that image of how a paper should act helped me tremendously, but it took longer than it should have to get there.

I think a clearer way an educator can express what they want from their students is to say, “You have this idea. It’s not working because it’s not grounded.” This includes the theory of objects, just taking it a step further, I think. It adds action to it, makes the object more tangible because the object can affected. The writer is allowed to have both the concrete feel of the object but still retain that an idea is being pushed forward in a meaningful way.

I think Maguire was on the right track. But he also needs to realize that without other educators with the same opinion and understanding on objects in writing his vision of objects in the classroom is likely to just stay a dream. The dialogue about teaching writing needs to continue, and I think there needs to be more leniency on certain subjects.

The goal is to teach good writing. An educator can do that through both theories, as long as the message explicitly addresses grounding your ideas. It’s easier to do that with objects, but we need to focus on explaining the whys at the same time we teach the hows.

Ground your argument for either theory and let’s get back to writing.


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