From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Assignments: Confucius (History, Theory, Text) Letter

[a] Text and illustration RF
Confucius: History, Culture, Text
History 310
Spring 2016

Preliminary Writing Assignment 
History, Theory, Text: The Letter
By choosing the letter format for your first writing assignment, I am asking you to build upon the skills you have already begun to develop in analyzing (and providing examples for) theoretical constructions and key elements of Confucius's Analects. You have already reached a point where you have some experience with “social theory” and "Confucius. Your job now will be to explain it to an intelligent non-specialist.
[b] Reaching, teaching RF

Teach it, really (think of the New York Review).

Letters from “the field” (or our modified “archive” of theoretical works on the syllabus) are a good way to refine your thoughts about ethnographic and historical study, and they are a useful medium for beginning the intellectual “framing process” that will accelerate as we move through the next two-thirds of the course. The letter writing exercise is especially useful while studying theoretical source materials, such as Marx, Weber, and Durkheim

The nonfiction writer John McPhee explains to his Princeton students that a letter is often precisely the solution to problems of interpretation or clarity—when in doubt, write to mother, he says. In this case, it is not a plea of “send money” that the letter contains, but a reworking, rethinking, and contextualization of your work. You need not limit yourself to kinfolk, but you need to think about who the recipient will be (ideally someone who will welcome a letter about “doing theory”).

You owe it to yourself to listen to this long interview with McPhee. At the very least, listen to the first two minutes. It is the very purpose behind this assignment.

Now start writing. Toward that end, you should pay attention to the following issues.

1. The letter needs to be “long enough” to get you deeply into several issues regarding Confucius and social theory, including particular approaches and a few examples.  There is no absolute upper limit, but I am going to make a lower limit of 3,000 words (about ten pages). Even if you are a very efficient writer (3,000 words is barely adequate), you will need this much “space” to give your reader a good picture of your work. 3,000 words (or a few more) is just about right. Include a word count at the end of our paper (e.g. “3,245 words” or Word Count: 3,245).
2. I am asking you to connect with a very specific reader, and to explain “Confucius and social theory” in a level of detail that she will find satisfying. You are the expert, and your “audience” is the person who will be reading your letter (I will, of course, be reading over her shoulder). I have found that this kind of assignment helps students to explain even abstruse matters, because the personal relationship they have with their readers demands an attention to patient explanation that is often lacking in more “academic” forms of writing, in which they assume that a professor already knows what they are writing about.

Your reader doesn't. 

Make it make sense.

3. You may approach your materials from any angle that you like, but you will need to “cover” at least the following items, no matter what order you choose.

          a. You must discuss the “what is social theory?” question at the heart of our    
              course. Provide your reader with at least a few ways of thinking about it.

          b. Give your reader a sense of what you have learned up to this point about 
              Confucius and the Analects. Use examples from your studies thus far.

          c. Finally, give your reader some sense of what it is like to “learn theory” while
              thinking about a classic text from China. Except for Max Weber, this was not 
              even common among our classic social theorists. What is it like? Explain. 

          d. You must have at least one illustration. Think about "the rhetorical role of 
               illustrations" in the New York Review of Books.
4. The best way to approach the writing process is in three parts (this is a friendly suggestion). First, jot down some notes for each of the “sections” of your letter. Second, using those notes as a guide, write a rough draft of the whole letter. Third, revise, polish, and refine.  

Voilà you will have something not unlike what Alexis de Tocqueville might have written about understanding a complex, foreign culture that baffled and enticed him 180 years ago. While your letter won’t be as long as Democracy in America, it is likely—if it is done well—to be much like Tocqueville’s rich and evocative letters back to his family about encountering people, texts, and institutions in a strange land called the United States. 

You get the idea. If you don't, just raise your hand and ask me (or send me an e-mail message). I'll be happy to help.
***  ***
Letters are due (in hard copy form) outside my door (MI 111)
by noon on Monday, February 22.

Add the word count and your box number to all papers!
[e] And then you may rest RF

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