feeling overwhelmed. The required reading felt daunting and it seemed like the expectations put upon students were rather high. I remember having the impression that a lot of my learning would entail simply memorizing and regurgitating facts and ideas. I had concerns about the amount of writing expected of us. As I explained in my "Guided Self-Placement" essay, I started this course without having had a great deal of reading and writing experience.
I feel that this course has enabled me to write and think more critically and formally. Previously, I was not aware of the necessary tone that academic essays had to take and that it's appropriate to omit colloquial phrases and words such as "like." In fact, I would still say that I sometimes have a tendency to write in too much of a conversational tone, and have to be particularly watchful of that in my writing.
I found that the task of writing multiple drafts, while it was a great deal of work, helped me to fine tune the argument I was trying to make and illuminate further points I hadn't yet realized. When I started the course, I wasn't aware that there was a symbiotic relationship between reading and writing. Addressing this relationship in class and paying attention over time to things like tone, structure, figures of speech and punctuation, I feel like I've become a more careful reader. At the same time, the dense texts that we tackle in class demand so much from the reader. Sometimes I find them lucid and engaging. Other times I find them plain daunting and very difficult to understand. For example, the first time I read the article, "Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body" by Susan Bordo, it was hard for me to elucidate the larger message that Bordo was trying to get across. After our class discussion a great deal of the article was much more comprehensible and I began to understand more clearly some of the more salient points that Bordo was positing and their utmost validity. For example, Bordo points out the absurdity of 1997 New York Times Style magazine article entitled "Overexposure" where the writer bemoans the fact that it seems like celebrities no longer have any private parts and that their value will be measured through superficial assessments only (Bordo 175). I can only echo Bordo's response when she succinctly says:
But, pardon me, he's just noticing this now? Actresses have been baring their breasts, their butts, even their bushes, for some time, and ordinary women have been tromping off to the gym in pursuit of comparably perfect bodies. What's got the author suddenly crying "overkill," it turns out, is Sly Stallone's "surreally fat-free" appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair, and Rupert Everett's "dimpled behind" in a Karl Lagerfeld fashion spread. Now that men are taking off their clothes, the culture is suddenly going too far (Bordo 175).
I felt that a great deal of the Bordo article was echoed in some extent in the Foucault reading we tackled on "Panopticism." For example, Bordo quotes Simone de Beauvoir who claims that men possess women via their gaze and absence from a lover can pervade women with a dwindling sense of identity. Bordo compares that with Sartre, who stated that the "Look" that others exert signifies the hell that these same people represent (Bordo 172). Both of these statements have a certain degree of overlap with Foucault's vision of the Panopticon. The Panopticon is a Hades form of surveillance; it is the all-seeing, all observing eye meant to impose an expected behavior over all members of society. Even when there's no one watching there's the sense of someone watching and the possibility of someone watching (Foucault 201). This is evocative of Simone de Beauvoir's allusion to the sense of dispossession that women feel when not around the gaze of their lovers. De Beauvoir's statement implies that when women are under the gaze of their lovers they feel a stronger sense of identity and purpose, as if the lover's gaze imposed that sensation, similar to the imposed form of correct societal behavior by the Panopticon. Sartre states it rather bluntly, saying that the gaze and all the expectations and implications interwoven with it, are simply torture. This has a more literal overlap with the nightmarish aspect of the Panopticon's unflinching gaze.
Bordo even echoes a certain extent of Panopticism in her own behavior. In her candid relay of discovering an eye-catching photo of a man in his underwear for a Calvin Klein advertisement, Bordo admits "I made a screen-saver out of him, so I could gaze at my leisure" (Bordo 168). However, we can assume that being a writer, Bordo spends a lot of time at her computer, so gazing at her leisure, quite possibly could mean gazing at him rather frequently. Bordo even analyzes the model's posture, saying that in combination with his lack of eye contact with the camera and thus, the spectator, are "…classic signals, both in the "natural" and the "cultural" world, of willing subordination. He offers himself nonagressively to the gaze of another" (Bordo 170). So much of the young man's stance is evocative of the vulnerability and submissiveness of the typical citizen in the Panopticon.
Tompkins discusses this to a certain extent in her article "Indians": Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History," where she discusses something similar to the gaze, referring to it instead as the problem of point-of-view in conveying an experience. "The problem is that if all accounts are determined through and through by the observer's frame of reference, then no one will never know, in any given case, what really happened" (Tompkins 185). Tompkins uses her frustrations with the wielding diverging accounts of Puritan-Indian relations in Colonial New England. Every version she reads is wildly different, as if they were discussing completely separate historical periods. Tompkins theory speaks to how the individual experience is so different, that each perspective and viewpoint is also diverging. This implies that perhaps the formal model of the panopticon with the central tower or main mode of surveillance is inherently flawed because it's just one view or perspective of numerous possible others. Approaching the Foucault reading again after having read the Tompkins article makes it seem that if there were several Panopticons, or to go back to the original example, if there were several towers in the center of the prison, they might all have dramatically different versions of what was happening on a day-to-day basis with the prisoners.
As a reader, I think I've improved immensely in how I regard a text and if it seems overwhelming at first, I don't discard it immediately, in the excuse that I simply can't understand it. Instead, I put a check next to ideas that I like or ideas that are crystal clear to me and I underline the parts of the article or essay that still aren't clear. I find that my biggest area of difficulty involves extremely academic jargon. For example, in my first essay on Jane Tompkins, I cited the line where she claims, "If the accounts don't fit together neatly, that is not reason for rejecting them all in favor of a metadiscourse about epistemology" (200). I still get tripped up on phrases like that. With a writer like Tompkins she still often rephrases a complex idea into simpler terms, though not always. Similarly, I found myself at a disadvantage throughout her article because she kept referring to post-structuralism, without defining her terms clearly or making a strong allusion to what this might be. I find things like that to be somewhat of a stumbling block because I need to interrupt my reading to look up these terms, with a slight feeling of inferiority -- that I should already know these terms -- and a desire that the writer would just simply say what she means.
After reading a lot of texts in class that I ordinarily would not have been exposed to, I feel that a strong area of interest for me as a reader are more articles that examine prevalent phenomena in pop culture from an academic standpoint. Once I had read Bordo's essay on the male body a couple times, I really appreciated her ideas and how she was able to harness something like the advertising of designer clothes and how the bodies of celebrities and models are portrayed in the media, into something so intellectually fertile. In fact Bordo's description simply of the gaze of male models in most high fashion ads, a gaze which I usually just found annoying and overly posed is one which reeks, as she says of a hyper-real version of masculinity, one which essentially perpetuates stereotypes that go all the way back to the Ancient Greeks (Bordo 188). Bordo states that in a nutshell these advertisements cajole men to: "Be a sturdy oak" -- represents the emotional equivalent of "face-off masculinity": Never reveal weakness. Pretend to be confident…