Ramiform Reading #3: October 25, 2015

Image by Patrick Gannon, from his Wood • Sea • Stone collection.

A regularly published list inspired by Dave Pell’s superlative Next Draft.


In case you missed it on Sisyphean High, here is the current version of our course calendar:

In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

It will be maintained through Google Docs, where any updates are visible immediately. Use it to track what we’ve done at the end of each month, from classroom discussions to Sisyphean High posts to Medium essays. The dates planned for these Ramiform Reading entries are listed, too, although they are obviously subject to change — this is the second one to land on a Sunday, not a Saturday, and the next set won’t be uploaded until November 14.

On to the ramiform work for the week. In this edition, we’re looking at coffee habits, psychopaths, and Halloween.


① That Fourth Cup May Have Been a Bad Idea

This is one of many articles covering a study released in early October. This one, written for Jezebel by Marie Lodi, takes a conversational tone in its introduction and ending, but sticks primarily to a presentation of the facts. Compare that article to this one:

The same kind of informal tone dominates, but it’s the approach that is worth your analysis. Ria Misra, after linking to coverage of this study in her opening paragraph, goes on to explain the “big problem with how the researchers got their data.” The crux of her essay is that the researchers made an assumption about how people talk about their dietary habits. Unlike the first article, Misra uses logic and personal experience to cast doubts on the researchers’ data. The criticism is softened by the conversational style (e.g., “So should you start testing any new friends by casually offering them a radish, before moving any further? Possibly!”), which is a strategy you can borrow.

One last article on coffee:

This comes from The Onion, and in addition to describing many of my mornings, it offers you the change to read some satire. Satire is misidentified and misunderstood regularly, because it is often conflated with any kind of mocking or sarcasm.

Satire requires sustained irony, often parody, to criticize society or human nature. The Onion parodies a news organization, which lets the site deconstruct everything from how blithely we talk about caffeine consumption to euthanasia and teen apathy:

The best ETA work you can do with humor is to force yourself to look past the superficial joke. What’s the real point being made? What deeper part of us or our society is being mocked?

More excellent satire can be found in their sister sites: Clickhole, which is an absurd parody of Buzzfeed and its derivatives; and StarWipe, which mocks our cultural obsession with celebrities.


② More Alligators to Feed

Our Halloween-inspired unit, “Alligators of the Mind,” can be found in full on Sisyphean High. Here is one of the required readings:

This essay, by Warren Ellis, was reformatted and photocopied for your classroom use, which is the way of most high school (and college) courses. I encourage you to read the original post, if only to see the comments left — that interaction is always missing when we convert texts to a packet.

Something else interesting is happening with the optional texts for this unit:

These have been stripped of any online context — removed from their sites, edited for content — and then given to you without any links back to the sources. They haven’t been photocopied. And all that has been done to raise the framing question for those three essays:

In a high school setting, is it enough to censor the profanity in an argument replete with it? Should the profanity be left uncensored? What about violent imagery or sexual analogies? In general, to what extent should the material we read in school be modified for content?

You see, these are some of the best texts I have for teaching rhetoric and style. They grapple with the same issues as the central, required essays you will read. Some of them even reference those required essays explicitly. Yet I have taken the time to censor, obscure, and marginalize them.

Naturally, doing all that means you’re more likely to read them. It’s called enantiodromia in psychological circles and the Streisand Effect online.

Attached to the reading are questions about rhetoric and style that will absolutely help you learn how to write and to read more effectively:

If you choose to tackle this high-level ETA work, I will help you deliver proxy feedback to your peers. If you choose to discuss the nexus of censorship and rhetoric in my presentation of these texts, I will offer you radial feedback in class that you can then relay to peers.

Finally, because it is mentioned in the required work for our Alligator unit, here is Ebert’s zero-star review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo:

This review does away with the film itself in the first few paragraphs, and then it spends some time deconstructing and responding to an argument made by Rob Schneider, the star of Deuce Bigalow. Ebert’s takedown rests on how appeals to ethos — in this case, appeals to authority — can be tricky and sometimes self-defeating things.


③ Finally, Why We Do What We Do

This article has been cross-posted to Sisyphean High, and I can’t imagine it won’t appear in some of the upcoming guides to grade abatement. It was published recently — just a day ago, on October 24 — and collects dozens of links to other articles. In terms of structure alone, it would be a good test of your ramiform reading skills.

In terms of content, of course, it fits our work even better: This is an echo of everything we have been practicing and preaching. These are the skills and traits of grade abatement. In here is the repeated call for people to have better communication skills, especially in writing. And the most important skill you’ll need to get a job? Empathy.

There is little ETA work to be done with this Lifehacker piece. Instead, what you can do is to connect these skills to the ones we have been practicing. You can send your peers articles that echo the expectations of this course. You and a small group might challenge yourselves with one of the methods outlined here.

And, most importantly, you can read this to rest a little more easily, knowing that there is a method to this madness.