Monday, January 17, 2011

Dena Baab: Response to Valerie Fox's The Glass Book

Critical Thinking Essay by Dena Baab, written in conjunction with an English composition course at Florida State College Jacksonville, Fall 2010. For the "Thought Block" prompts, please scroll to the bottom of this article.

I chose to write this essay on the suggested alternate writing, The Glass
Book
by Valerie Fox (The Glass Book: http://www.zenzebra.net/fox/glassbook-lite.pdf). After reading “They know about fish”, I must admit I
was a bit confused by it, and wondered if I just wasn’t having an open
mind.

Thought Block #1 - The kinds of scenes and ideas that come to mind don’t
really even make sense to me. When I read “people adopt them as pets
and put them on TV”, I first thought of aquariums. Then I began trying to
widen my view into a different perspective. If they were speaking of
possibly a TV show or documentary, I felt like the “tables and desks with
things on them called computers” was maybe referring to all the people
and paperwork involved in putting together a TV show. It wouldn’t be just
about the two fisherman anymore.

However, I still feel like I might be off-base about this story. In a different
direction, I’m thinking that maybe the debacle is some form of debate and
this is two government officials. I think what’s makes the fisherman
authentic is their down-to-earth appearance and ability to appear as
heroes. People will believe what they want to hear and follow those that
tell them exactly that.

I feel to be authentic is to be real, genuine and honest. You have to BE
these things, not just act that way. Eventually, the truth will come out and if
you are just acting a part, people will see you for what you really are. You
can be honest without being brutally honest and hurting people’s feelings.
If you are genuine and true, it will show through and people will not only
see it, but feel it as well.

Thought Block #2 – In “Well Met”, I felt like I was watching a scene unfold.
I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what will happen next. I think
each specific “snip-it” draws my attention . The entire piece reminds me of
an actual dream, because you are zipping around from place to place to
person to person. You’re always trying to get somewhere, or find
someone, and you usually wake up before you accomplish that. The kind of
stories that seem to fit these poems might be children’s books. Maybe I
am way off base here, but the poem just makes me think of Dr. Suess
stories and other children’s books. The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and
Ham read much the same as “Well Met”.

Thought Block #3 –The places mentioned that might be in a collision course
with each other are somewhat extreme. The woman in the hotel room
scantily clad, to the church at St. Anne’s. In “A True Story, everything is
back and forth. “He is her salt and she his pepper”. The reference to
romance and war shows so much contrast, a person doesn’t know which
end is up. The woman’s getting older and the man’s getting younger. Which
way do we turn?

I think the gist of these stories says a lot about the world. There is
tremendous chaos and confusion, but there is also a lot of good in the
world and people who strive to do so. Yes, there are people who are
carefree and don’t really care what happens, but I also think maturity about
things comes with age. When you are young, you don’t really care or
understand ways of the world as much. Wisdom comes with age.
However, some people never grow up or gain the maturity expected of
them to be responsible adults and positive members of society.

BACKGROUND
Podcast: http://www.beyondutopia.net/podcasts/glassbook.mp3

If you're familiar with Valerie Fox's work, you know her work takes the reader to an intense, new world of associations, connections, and reconfigured perception.



Writing Assignment / Journal Based on Valerie Fox's The Glass Book

Step 1: Please respond to the following questions and observations. Let your thoughts flow, and do not worry about complete sentences or grammar. You may make lists and your thoughts can be fragmentary. The goal is to free-write, which may involve free association.

Thought-Block 1: In "They Know About Fish," what kinds of scenes and ideas come to mind? How might the work evoke notions of reality television or a documentary? What is the role of the viewer in making the fishermen authentic? What do the fishermen themselves do in shaping a notion of authenticity? What does authenticity mean to you in this situation? Write a few sentences about what it means to you to be authentic.

Thought-Block 2: Which prose poems make you feel as though you're watching a scene unfold? What are you, the viewer or reader, doing? How is your attention directed to specific elements of the scene? Does it make you seek to find a story to tie all the elements together? When do you first find yourself looking for a story to make sense of it all? What kind of stories seem to fit these poems? What did you expect to see? Investigate Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Thought-Block 3: List places where the characters in Fox's writing are in a collision course with each other. What will happen? What does the impending encounter reveal about each? What does it say about the world we live in? What are the locations they're in? What is the context? How does the fabric of reality hold up with all of this investigation into relations / places / encounters? Do you sense a strengthening of the people (or the places)? Or, an increasing fragility of the people? If you were to write a version about an encounter in an odd place in your life, what would it look like?

Step 2: Read your thoughts. Then, expand them. Revise and edit for clarity, but do not remove the vital spirit, the essence that flows forth. Then, share your thoughts on a blog, or turn them in as an assignment for a course.

Step 3: Create your own prose poem / writing. As you do so, visit the notion of "fu" -- the Han dynasty form of writing that blended poetry and prose. Here's a rather incomplete article on Chinese poetry, but a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_poetry

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