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The subject matter of how I have grown as an English major came across my mind most recently as I have received decent to really outstanding grades on my essays, reflections, and short paragraph papers.  Despite the easiness in my ability to write, however, I additionally found myself dumbfounded as I, or we, were introduced to a more concise and detailed form of writing during the course of English 190. Initially, I felt perplexed and even a bit of discomfort in realizing that there was now a new system of writing I needed to level up to.  The reason behind the discomfort was not because I did not think I could reach such a caliber of written works, but instead it was because I knew it required me reaching deep within in myself and taking hold of all tools that had been handed down to me throughout my English Major journey. It would also require a unique type of carefulness when articulating all content, from the top of the introduction towards the end of the conclusion.  Most importantly, I knew that my professors had gotten to know me, my style of writing, as well as my capabilities and that, of course, I could no longer do minimal work -my ethics as a writer was now being observed more intently. In addition to the actual system of writing I have attained, and still had yet to acquire, the literature I have come to know also became the key to helping broaden my horizons. Altogether, the professors, the authors, and the content  found within the literary texts have all been extremely useful in helping me gain insight on the world and all of its diversity, as well as foresite in helping me understand what my purpose as a future instructor entails.

Having decided to return to school back several years ago was a choice that was not difficult to make; more so, it was a critical one.  Being as I had begun having children at a young age, I was involved in a lifestyle and cycle that kept me intellectually stunted. However, writing, as well as my love for communicating in a way that naturally required critical thought, never left my thought process.  It was actually what saved me. At the age of 30, I left the dire circumstance I was in, and began a healing process that would require much more than just having fled it. It required that I re-record all that I thought I was incapable of; and one of the first goals I decided to embark on was returning to school.  Choosing the English major was never questioned; I already knew that it was the subject built for me. Thus, the journey began; and although I was coming in later as a grown adult, and had to began essentially at the very beginning of the English prerequisites diagram, I was not deterred. The local community college is where my English seeds were planted, and where my roots are currently.  Everything was a learning process -from having to learn how to type up my essays by way of MLA format, to truly understanding development, organization of essay writing to, but most importantly, how to write a thesis. Just as I had to learn the basics of writing, I began healing along with those basic fundamentals, layer by layer.

Eventually, and almost immediately, my capacities as a writer and academic began to shine through.  Within a year of schooling, I would apply to become an English tutor, as all of my grades thus far in the English department, consisted of A’s and B’s.  This too became another healing mechanism in addition to a self-teaching method in helping me understand all the intricacies of writing. In having to empathize with the students who were coming in and trying to relearn the basics of writing, or for those who were already at a higher level, it made me learn the importance in obtaining different points of view.  In addition to that, I learned how to become more tolerant as well. There was a diverse set of people coming into the tutoring center who had their own set of barriers: students with learning disabilities, English language as a second or third language students, recently released incarcerated students, mothers returning back to school after being gone for over a decade, and so many others.  Through that experience, I knew that much even more that the academic setting was my home, and that teaching others was my calling.

In 2016, I would graduate with an AA in English, and wait on the response from UC Merced, to see if I had been accepted.  A few months later, I received an email stating I indeed had. I was full of excitement as well as elation. And, I must admit, I was also quite nervous; but once I began here at the UC, there was no going back.  UC Merced would now become my second home. At this point, the healing process was at a remarkable stage as the roots I had planted at the local community college now had grown and flourished into a full bloom of confidence and well developed skills.  It was a great feeling being in a setting where others were of the same major, and that we would all basically be traveling through our journey together. Also, to be able to have more focus on the English study was an amazing experience. The first class I took was with Dr. Brakow in Medieval and Renaissance culture and literature.  I could not think of a more perfect way to commence my understanding of the English roots. I loved learning how poetry has been timeless, and even the content within it and the social issues written it those works have been timeless as well. While at times, I may have found myself confused at the language, or the heavy metaphors that were difficult to decipher, I eventually came to accept that I was not going to be able to fully understand it all and that that was okay.  However, what is important is that I take the time to critically analyze the content and its historical connections. The process is what helped me in interpreting other reads, and other literary texts because if I could survive reading medieval and renaissance works, I could learn to understand almost anything.

I found it important to place myself in an area as a reader, or audience member to some of the texts, in a way that removed myself from feeling a bias or even a personal problem with the content.  Indeed, many, if not all of the earliest of writers were either colonists, or campaigned for the colonization of a land, group, or culture they deemed unworthy or beneath them. It is not to say that I do not find it important to interrogate such works in a way that is peril in giving back voice to those who were silenced, but more so that I was able to interpret the texts in a way that allowed me to understand the social construct at the time they were written.  It made me understand the importance of applying my own personal historical lineage to my works. I am a person of color, a Chicana and it is important that I campaign for women of my same background, but also overall that I utilize my own personal experience and journey as a returning academic and give it back to my community. It is also important to resist and interrogate what is considered normal; to truly “read between the lines” of all that is being communicated around us, at an even more obscure advanced way.

Well, here I am about to graduate from the UC Merced. I want to say, “I made it,” but it is deeper than that.  My initial purpose in returning to school was to heal and recondition all the damage that had been done to me, and the some I had done to myself.  At some point in time, I forgot that I was trying to heal. I guess it was because, at some point I had finally reached that goal. The scars of my past give me strength and inspire me to talk about them.  Yesterday, I sat alone thinking to myself about my beginnings as an English Major, I realized that I went from having the passionate desire to learn and absorb all that was being given to me, to now having the well earned capacity to mentor, teach and help guide the current as well as future generations to come.

-Marcy Martinez

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Write It

Van Vang
Dr. Garcia
ENG 190 Senior Thesis
2 May 2018

Write It

I began this journey with an undeclared major unaware that my passion was within the words of every book I will ever read for my Undergraduate English studies. I spoke to my counselor at the time and she asked me what it was that I liked to do and the simplicity of her question made me realize the path I needed to take.

I am one who finds difficulty in expressing my mind and so I write it and I have put this to practice for as long as I could remember. I often hear words flow out of the mouths of other students as if the sun has risen and a flower has bloomed right before my eyes, and I sit there in the shaded corner knowing that the flower within myself wanted that moment to blossom. The sun would be set before I could ever get that chance and so I write it. I fill my notebook with notes of things I find interesting, of things my professors have said that I think is worth documenting, and of question I have that may never be answered.

I have become more self-aware through the years as the books pile up on my bedroom floor, as the ink of my pens runs dry, as the number of files take up more space on my computer, and as I begin to find my own voice. I take the readings that I have been assigned including short stories, poems, articles, and full length novels and I search for similarities to my everyday life. I always find some aspect of that piece of literature having some relevance to the current world in which I inhabit. I am able to pick up on references made in television shows and know exactly where it was taken from. For example, I was watching an episode of Smallville when Chloe Sullivan made a reference to the Liliputians and I knew she was referring to “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift which I had read in English Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century (1660-1837) Gone Global with Dr. Garcia. Another incident occurred at my workplace when my boss complimented several coworkers of mine, men and women, on their performances. With the knowledge I gained in Language and Gender with Dr. Hakala, I was aware of the patterns of same-gender and opposite-gender compliments. Though I become aware of many of the things I learned in my undergraduate education, I still cannot express mind with ease and so I write it. I take note of the number of times my education has made me aware of my surroundings.

One of my least favorite questions is when someone asks me who my favorite author is because I could never give an answer on the spot. I don’t think the ability to identify particular authors define a person’s taste and knowledge in literature. Having said this, I have been asked this exact question when I expressed my passion for reading and writing and my response was silence. Another student took that opportunity to chime in and names three authors that he liked and looked over at me as if I had never picked up a book. To that student and others alike, I ask them to flip through my notebook and find the names of all the authors of books I have read through the years and that is the answer to the question. I appreciate all writers and feel as though I cannot dismiss one author for another. I am an internal thinker. I have thoughts and I write it.

 

The William Blake course has opened my eyes to ways of systematizing. School is a systematizing experience. I grew up systematized by religion, and studied stories about God written by people who I assumed knew God. I learned more about myself than God in these experiences, but also because I can feel for Blake. Blake was a good Englishman, but he was scared of what was happening in the world, during the French Revolution. I’m not scared of anything, but because of Blake, I am reading his work at a higher level, like someone in an airplane, and it is because of Blake’s very humanizing in marvels of the beastial, read alongside allegorical characters, and with his settings of England and vegetated Jerusalem there is a literary resistance of the neoclassical; this statement about art and religion and history had me feeling the love between Enitharmon and her child, Orc, as his own morality became buried by the burning ravages of war and empire-building, and while I sat in our comfortable classroom, drinking Starbucks every, single Wednesday watching Milton get sucked off on the projector and Humberto lecture about ‘mental reptiles.’ Etymology and Blake’s symbolism collapse: Ross kept writing about Norse mythology for this very reason; facets of a white literature dominated not only this course but also my study of literature these last four years. Ironically, my white friends have no interest in hearing about literature. In the real world, obstreperous people mock people like us because for studying ‘pakistani feminism,’ but I think there are other discourses as well from which analogous reference to performance, art and literature can make sense of Blake’s currency of satirical and reactionary writing.

The first example of Blake’s career as an embedder made me think about my own process of creating gif art. The gif itself is a format for computing which consists of a hybridity in that it supports both animated and static images. Blake as an illustrator would have been enthralled with the gif as it lets you say so much, without saying anything at all. Meme ideology is so powerful that websites like Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica effectively mobilized Russian bots to target Internet users for manipulating the 2016 American elections with the presence of both animated and static images. Blake’s access to technology aside, his opening up of poetry to the world of political satire was technological in the sense that most of Blake’s counterparts were still writing boring pamphlets. Blake was sharp about standing out from the contemporaries, and I think his career and other biological factors helped him explore grandiosity while also dealing with the hopelessness of being a subject under authoritative control. Blake printed plates which expressed statements, contradictions, philosophical odes to the Bible, etc. In my weekly blog posts, I created gifs transforming Blake’s static images into lo-fi images containing glitch effects or color gradients. During the “Daughters of Albion” sections, I found that referring to other female poets helped focus on what Blake was trying to say about how he saw himself and his writing when borrowing classical figures like Beatrice and Dante. In these gifs I would add a purple gradient and bury it in the white color spectrum, then I would layer the color gradient behind any color matching a white color palette. This would create a glowing or subtle-glitch effect in which the viewer would not be too distracted by the transformations. Burying the purple gradient behind a white palette allowed the color to pop out only wherever the color white appeared in the image. By minimizing exposure of the gradient, the viewer also has an entirely subconscious and new focus on background images and colors that are not actually present, with the purple gradient- appearing only secondary to the original colors which Blake incorporated- within the borders of the dominating white palette (the page which frames the Blake illustrations was white and standard 10”x8.5” horizontal orientation). It is in the surrounding borders to Blake’s original work where he created vegetated imagery of Jerusalem. The tiger seems to be concerned with spatial, page arrangement, as he or she is crawling and two-dimensionally eluding the viewer’s gaze. Maybe because of this perception Blake had of the beast, we see animals in an entirely different way today, or maybe we do not care. The indifference of the scholar seems to be the crux of this course, as Blake himself was, ironically, not attuned to the conventions of Locke, Hobbes, Reynolds and the cast of conservative writers. His very attachment allowed him to build such a system which infamously sang about Los’ suffering. To create and to imagine is more than what we were asked for in this course. The task of identifying and responding to Blake became a challenge for myself as I often found myself saying the same thing, over and over and over. I wonder if this is what maturity looks like: repetitive, and in this context, self-deceived by superficiality of epic proportions. I have only just got in the water. I want to make love to the goddesses too, like Blake, but am satisfied with just capturing them on my iPhone photo app.

Since coming in contact with Blake’s knowledge, I also feel like the class and people in general have begun to turn against me, just for expressing love. I think that superstition often debases our intellect and faculties, but Blake knew this and tapped in to the power to traumatize human psyche. I feel like expressing my ideas has become something ghastly, because in our department it is scary to go against the grain. Religion and our parents coddle us with materiality and this takes away from the college experience. When people want to justify whatever certainties or validations their biases require, it suffocates your ability to push the envelope when coming in contact with forms of knowledge like what Blake has created. I wish we didn’t use binaries like ‘atheist’ or ‘radical’ in the year 2018, but it shows how far we still have to reach beyond what I think Blake was warning us about, much like the founding fathers envisioned in their forming the United States with a document which could be either loosely or strictly read as the Constitution. We have come a long ways as a superstitious people, but if there is anything to detest in academia, it is people who use forms of knowledge to build agendas, to sell books, and who knowledge. Human rights as a category in the midst of existential crisis can release us from these mental shackles just as Blake invests in allegorical readings for subjecting himself to contemporary and postmodern myths about religion, politics, and historical inventions. It seems like Blake was frustrated with 18th century trends of self-grandiosity, religious certainty and moral debasing grounded on so-called intellectual justification, and for that, I thank you.

Works Cited

  1. Christian, Bradley. “Facebook profile pic” editor Glitché. 2018. Web. <EzLivin.org/dingobrad>

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Ross Koppel
Dr. Garcia
English 190
2 May 2018

I transferred to this institution after more than a few years as a part-time community college student. The transition was not easy, but I had the wonderful experience of taking almost exclusively classes in my field after becoming a full-time student. To condense what I have learned over the last year and a half is not easy, but an attempt can be made.

More than anything, what I have learned in the English Department is to embrace ambiguity.

There are no right answers in the English Department. There are only compelling arguments. One of the most impactful lectures I experienced occurred during Spring of 2017. We were in English 033, studying Story of O by Anne Desclos. The professor had developed a reputation for being able to draw a single unifying philosophy from any given text. For the first time, he looked the class over and told us that he had no single unifying answer. Instead, we were provided with ten competing concepts, ranging from a Marxist analysis of labor in the novel to the argument that the eponymous O, a sex slave, was a neo-Christian messianic figure. To have a professor give ten competing conceptualizations of a text was an eye-opening experience. There are no right answers, only compelling arguments.

This was compounded by English 100, which offered many lenses with which to analyze texts. The structure of the class was excellent: one primary novel to be analyzed and many different techniques to analyze with. I quickly learned that each of these lenses were not simply techniques in a toolbox to use to write an essay, but competing, intersecting ethical approaches to literature. The Marxist approach pits labor against the narrative. New Criticism and Formalism analyze the techniques and tensions that authors use to create meaning. By way of contrast, Reader Response theory asserts that this alleged meaning inherent in a text is nonexistent, and it is the reader who creates meaning. I learned about Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction. Each of these Critical lenses represents its own ethos. Critical Race Theory analyzes racial tensions but ignores Asian people. Feminist Theory analyzes the role of women in literature.

Around the time I began learning these theories, I wrote a long feminist essay about the female archetypes present in Chicana/o folklore. Before diving into the English major, this type of thought would have been completely beyond me.

Around this same time, I will admit that I became so overloaded with information that I forgot what Literary Criticism is. I still have no idea, but at least I have a hypothesis. I call it “Mental Sorcery,” and I first experienced this while sitting in a lecture about Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad. As the goddess Dulness mounts her throne, an ape shows the reader its ass. This really is a marvel of close reading, and I still do not understand it, but the Professor explained it very well and I was convinced a year ago. In essence, Alexander Pope had just lampooned the portion of his audience that would take the time to analyze the text close enough to uncover this ape. That is to say, Pope had just lampooned Literaturists, English Majors and Critical Scholars. This little anecdote may seem pointless, but that is what Mental Sorcery is to me. Mental Sorcery is the ability to draw meaning from a seemingly meaningless text.

A number of weeks before being mooned by an ape, I learned from Thomas De Quincey about the difference between The Literature of Knowledge and The Literature of Power. Knowledge teaches while Power moves. My pet theory about what I have really learned in the English Department is that Literary Criticism is the ability to turn the Literature of Power into the Literature of Knowledge.

And then there was William Blake.

At one point, I thought I understood literature. I thought I had a solid grasp on how to be a literary critic. Then there was Blake. Not only did William Blake force me to use every little bit of close reading skill, every critical lens, and every formalist analytic technique I had learned just to find a little bit of understanding, but William Blake made me feel like doing this was fundamentally wrong. The English Department had made me Urizenic, but Blake set me free.

See, Blake has this power. To understand Blake, you have to use literary techniques, but in so doing, you lose Blake. This is the ambiguity of literature in action.

I think I might be a little off topic. Literature and ethics are very closely intermingled to me. As I learn more about what literature is and what literature can accomplish, I learn more about what the world experiences. I have Literature and Human Rights to thank for that. On a more micro-level, literature is not just a view into the world, but a way of interacting with it. I have heard it said that the novel is a technology that organizes. The novel is an item that allows a polyphony of voices to come together. The characters, the reader, the author and the narrative itself all mesh together to create something.

More than anything, the more I learn about literature, the more I feel that I do not understand literature. The same can be said of ethics. The more I learn of the literary ethos, the less I feel I understand my own ethics. There are too many competing ideologies, too many critical lenses. There is an overload of information, and I have difficulty explaining anything anymore. To put into words exactly what literature has made me feel and think and why is a difficult task, but that’s ok.

Literature is supposed to help me understand the world, but instead, all I understand is that it is perfectly acceptable to understand nothing.

 

Of all the things I do not understand, I do not understand survey courses. I really don’t get the point. I don’t get how the literary canon is formed, I don’t get why the selected texts are selected. I don’t get why time periods are more important than genre, and I don’t think I have ever walked away from a survey course feeling like I understand what the overall lesson of the course was.

Alexis Blanco

ENG 190

Garcia

May 1, 2018

Reflective Essay

The concept of literature being full of depth and intrinsic themes was something that was presented to me in high school, but I took for granted. I did not think I would ever need to visit back passages and literary themes because in my mind, I was seeking to go into psychology. I wanted to help people physically and understand the complexity that lives within their minds. I did not realize that I was going to do that until I started delving more into literature and understanding its themes.

Although one states that usually college is the place to start talking about literature, but I remember the first time I truly felt connected to a text was when I read Sandra Cisneros’ A House on Mango Street. The last anecdote was something that I connected with as it states that one must go away and then come back for those who cannot leave. As a minority I have always carried that to heart as I have always felt that being a college educated individual does not give me privilege or power beyond those others who have not been able to obtain it. I did not want this college education to cloud my judgment, it told me to keep close to my roots and continue to keep close to those around my communities. They are still people, some of which who have not been able to escape their conditions and I should not allow myself to become corrupted by knowledge.

This shaped my experience throughout my college experience as I kept trying to educate myself remembering the last part of that anecdote about returning to ones roots. I started having a class with Trevor Jackson, a class that got me in the path to understanding the importance of short stories. I felt at home and it only took some time to adjust to this new idea that I wanted to become an English major. It made me seek out authors and others who were more than ready to be my teachers and talk to me about the problems with society. In fact, it was not until Enlightenment where I started to see the darkness within humanity and how this darkness was created to challenge what was established. This darkness was meant to illuminate the problems in society, a juxtaposition that William Blake would agree with. He sees opposition as true friendship.

Literature is complex and like humanity it speaks volumes about society allowing for readers to understand a deeper connection to it. I feel like literature makes us better people as they help to understand our problems through a lens that does not necessarily reflect us. We see ourselves in the reflections of others, or so I have hear from other people. In other words the narratives that we read only reflect our societal issues in order to open up and allow conversation about it rather than just take things as is. I felt challenged the deeper I delved into literature and my original perception about it of being open doors to new worlds was right. I was being taken to new time periods and new authors that talked about one subject and then others who talked about another, ultimately catching us up to everything that is occurring.

I started to write myself, using my skills as a writer to comment on different authors and themes that kept coming up, obviously for the grade but it put me in a position to understand humanity. It made me self-reflect because by writing, again I mention the grade, we place a piece of ourselves in the writing. We are shaping an idea from our thoughts and putting our own stance on it in order to give it life. It becomes public and places a foot in the door that allows us to enter a larger conversation of the topic. In the end  we stand by what we say and back it up from what we have experienced to keep this conversation going.

Being an English major, I hope to return home and finish up the ideas that Sandra Cisneros has taught me. Yet now she is not the only one I have who has mentored me, in fact I have other authors like Toni Morrison, William Blake, Gloria Anzaldua, William Shakespeare, and the list can go on, who have helped me to understand the world I live in. I do not want to stay ignorant to my world, I want to bring my knowledge to my community and teach them what I have learned in hopes of being inspired to also take this journey. For this is what this has been, a journey into an endless cycle of wisdom that only continues to grow with time. I can sit here and type out my thoughts but in the end I need to let others undergo this journey because it can only happen by doing. I am not done and others are not done so lets hope they can keep going. It is important to go through this journey of self discovery because the self is important to try and seek understanding.

Daniel Lizaola Lopez

Humberto Garcia

English 190: Senior Thesis

May 2, 2018

I wasn’t always an English major. I was lost in the vortex of societal norms and allowed the cosmology of my origin be originated by my environment. In high school, I was influenced by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his passions. For the duration of my career there, I envisioned a future wherein I helped my community through a medical profession, working towards bettering their environments. Therefore, I entered college with an eye on biology and chemistry.

However, I soon learned that it wasn’t my calling; I wanted to change the world, but that wasn’t my path nor my way of doing so. Though I knew what passion I had for literature and pedagogy, I was lost in a panic of self-doubt, frantically seeking approval from my peers for wanting a future thought miniscule and futile. Though—as all bad things do, with the right attitude—that stays in the past. When I told my mother that I chose to work towards a teaching opportunity, and not a medical one, she hugged me with a sense of relief that one does when sighing. This happened late into my college career, but entering my third year at University of California, Merced, I found myself immersing into the new life I set for myself.

I was fortunate enough to have taken a course with Trevor Jackson—Intro to Short Story—and it was an experience I will carry along with me as I move further in my career. It was a lower division course, but the level of engagement and reflection within the class made it feel as if we were mini scholars. One text from that course that still sticks with me today is written by none other than Herman Melville: “Bartleby, the Scrivener”; a story of resistance and protest till death. Applying the autobiographical context to this short makes it even more powerful; Melville himself was having hardships with his publishing and was forced to write when/what he would prefer not to. Though it is lengthy and the language is no longer fresh, I would still love to assign this text to my future students for the practice of resistance to oppression—of course, identifying first what is oppression and what is mundanity. Ergo, my college career has been ultimately in reflection to what I can learn to teach others.

I was at my most impressionable when attending Dr. Hakala’s survey course of literary theories; and though she has an army of critiques against her, I learned best from her. Students come into college thinking they’re learning things they already know—simply refining them into a more cohesive sense of understanding what they know—but in this course, not only did I learn new material, I learned how to apply them, keeping in mind that that most texts are multifaceted. Therefore, a well-structured argument is of multiple critical theories; I learned that my favorite theoretical frameworks are: Marxist criticism and queer studies. With my future ahead of me, I was excited to learn so many ways to approach literature, for myself and for others. I passion to become the unorthodox professor/mentor that students feel encouraged to share their minds with one another, learning to refrain from the cautionary introduction of “I might be wrong…”

Professor Manuel Martín-Rodriguez (Chicana/o literature) told the class one day, to paraphrase: “if you begin a statement with caution, you discredit yourself before you’ve even made a claim.” From then on, I’ve made it my goal to always assert my thought, cutting out the passivity of an introduction; and this helped me in and out of school. It was around this time that I began to immerse myself in my community. Learning the struggles each writer encountered in their literary journey opened my eyes to how important we are to one another; it is through our communal efforts that literary movements advance. Notwithstanding, the course filled the empty hole that was my relation to literature and pedagogy. Hitherto, I hadn’t seen anyone of my color in my studies; and so, it was refreshing to read from another López. Although I’d love to thank the professor for influencing and motivating me to embrace my community and begin writing, I know he would defer his teachings to the actual writers we’ve studied. To paraphrase something else he once said in class: “it’s not my voice you’re hearing, it’s theirs”; and that has made all the difference in my ideals of pedagogy.

In my current senior thesis course, instructed by Humberto Garcia, I have found the style of teaching I longed for; each student is treated as formidable scholars and are given the respect earned. Notwithstanding, the professor has never failed to challenge the students, allowing us to showcase the skills we’ve adapted throughout the years. It is through this experience that we students reflect how each preceding course has enabled our ability to interpret text in a collegiate level. Dr. Garcia’s style of teaching was always inviting, challenging, and most importantly, an engaging experience; scarcely were the students ever felt they were being given a task that was out of their expertise—and this was mainly due to the careful preparation the professor applied to his lessons.

Ultimately, I take with me these lessons: always challenge the system that wrings out your labor; we learn not for ourselves, but for others; have faith in your arguments and refrain from cautionary introductions. I take all these lessons together in reflection of my career in its entirety, and I am confident in my near future as I work towards creating a healthier environment through pedagogy.

Sara Nuila-Chae

Prof. Garcia

ENG 190

2 May 2018

Reflective Essay for ENG 190

My cumulative experience as an English major was not terrible. I came into this major not knowing much about critical theory and the mechanics of prose, poetry, and the novel. I guess my experience coming into the major relied heavily on my feelings and the political agendas attached to those works of literature. I was totally oblivious to the mechanical aspect of literature and the structures and hierarchies present within them. I used to believe that good literature was mostly prose either found in YA Fiction or on some obscure Tumblr poetry blog. In my short-sightedness other types of classical texts that were “too academic” were dripping with Colonialism and pretentiousness. I guess you could say that I thought good literature was like a tornado, with no clear path and unable to be pinned down. However, over the course of these years I have learned about major schools of thought and interpretation, about the significance of historical, geographic, and cultural context, about the formulaic nature of rhyming poetry, and how the novel (but here I will argue, all of literature) becomes what Dr. Hatten argued “a form of technology” itself.

One of the most refreshing courses that released me from my toxic ideology was the class ENG 100, where students were tasked with learning the diverse types of literature theory in which the way literature is read is dependent on which schools you are utilizing. This became the beginning of my religious experience; I had not really known much about why I read some texts some way, and yet my peers and professors would read it another. I found out that I prioritized a New Critic approach, with maybe a little bit of Feminism; I saw things as an entity separate of the historical, geographical, and cultural context that accompanied it. I guess you could say that from that moment, I began to understand literature not as a Grecian urn, but rather within the architextuality, and historical, geographical, and culture context that it sometimes demanded. I believe the core classes we were required to take: ENG 101, 102, 103, 104 supplemented my growth tremendously, because it gave clues as to what the author might be trying to say in their allusions, their metaphors, etc.

Context however wasn’t the only thing that I learned. Perhaps you can lump this with context, but structure also proved to give me a backbone (literally). When I took ENG 57 (Intro to Poetry) it was if I was taking math in an English class. I would have never guess that poetry could be so formulaic, and that even the structure of the poem could hark back and reinforce the content of the poem. I think I had become a bit of a modernist on how I viewed structured poetry: it was too restrictive…How could I say what I wanted if I was forced to follow rules? And yet, somehow those rules nuanced poems (I had never given much thought to how the methodical choice of plosive words to mimic bombs going off in a poem about war)! Structure presented poetry to me in a way it had never: something that was as creative as it was restrictive. I believe structure manifests itself in novels and other forms of literature as well: as a bildungsroman, a mystery novel, a human rights novel, a post-modern satire, the list goes on and on.

This all sort of segways into my final point about how literature is a type of technology. There are so many discourses working in a single piece of literature, so many structures interconnected, providing these chorus of voices that go back to the conception of words themselves. It is ever aware of its history, its presence, and all the things that culminate together to become a piece that’s revolutionary. I don’t mean to extrapolate, but that’s probably what Dr. Hatten meant in probably fewer words… literature is a technology, a machine with connecting parts that produce something magnificent. But I don’t mean to say that literature is some lifeless computer that must follow these rules and these parameters or else it can’t be good literature. On the contrary, literature is almost always attempting to defy the machine, to create new components and revolutionize the methods used to write. It refuses to be pinned down, but that’s what makes it intelligent. It has personality… and a life of its own too.

I was going to sit here and talk about how much I’ve become indoctrinated. I think I could talk about how literature somehow made me more empathetic to marginalized people and now I’m going to write a novel about more marginalized people because I am enlightened into infinity. It’s so easy to say that literature made you more sensitive to the problems of this world, that much is obvious. Why else should we read if not to explore a reality that is not our own? Why read if not to have our myopic lens be briefly widened? Literature has always been to expand the horizons of our knowledge. My problem has never been that I couldn’t relate and pity those that were marginalized, but rather that I couldn’t appreciate the aesthetic nature of literature. I didn’t pay all this money to learn how to empathize…I paid all this money to learn the ways I could evoke empathy from my audience. So, and here’s the conclusion: if I was to summarize and abridge what I’ve learned this past three years into a comprehensive sentence I would say this. I learned that literature wasn’t just a garbage dump for my feelings and political ideologies, literature is in many ways like a machine, that relies on technicalities, mechanisms, moving parts, but also paradoxically an anti-machine, that weaves together the raw emotion and words of the human soul. They work parallel to each other, with and against, producing something truly beautiful that moves an audience.

Bittersweet

Kimberly Martinez-Melchor

Humberto Garcia

English 190

May 1, 2018

From the Sciences to the Arts:

Timeless English Literature

 

Coming into my freshman year here at UC Merced I had a plan already set in stone; I was going to study human biology and obtain some sort of medical internship during my time here which would help carve my path towards a successful journey into medical school. Originally my career goal was to become an OBGYN to help expectant mothers through a safe and healthy pregnancy. However, after miserably failing the general ed. classes¾including biology, I realized that I was simply interested in medicine because of the salary and not because I felt a genuine passion for the study of medicine. I wandered around different fields trying to scope out what other majors had to offer course and career wise. Afterwards, I was introduced to journalism and was instantly drawn to it because I had always enjoyed writing throughout my life, as well as having advanced skills in writing. Unfortunately, UC Merced does not offer any type of journalism program so I decided to stick with English as my major along with professional writing as my minor. Initially, I thought majoring in English was going to be a breeze because reading and writing had always been my strongest area throughout grade school. In addition, I believed that my “advancing” writing skills was going to help me easily pass my classes…and here I am a soon to be graduate English major admitting that I was very wrong.

The first English class that I started with was Katie Brokaw’s Literature of Childhood, in which we studied many works of children and adult literature that utilized the idea of childhood

to reveal larger themes of race, gender, etc. At the time, I found it quite difficult to be able to draw these complex themes from such a simple children’s book. I was baffled after hearing other classmates’ close reading and responses which discouraged me of my own interpretation and analysis because I thought it wasn’t “good” or “smart” enough. Afterwards, I never really felt confident enough to participate so I tended to be the person who just listened to everyone else’s inputs. However, after reaching my upper-division courses I knew I had to break out of that fear because my success in the class heavily relied on my participation by further engaging with the literature as well as the discussion in class. One of the classes that really helped break me out of this fear was Dr. Hakala’s Engaging Texts class in which she introduced the many literary theories and criticism that would help me further read and analyze texts in various lenses. Although this was by far one of the most challenging courses I took as an English major, I genuinely felt that paring novels/poems alongside certain critical theories really helped me understand how each theory could be used to read and analyze any work of literature. By the end of the course, my interpretation and analysis grew stronger as I began to gain knowledge behind historical time periods in which a piece of literature was written in. I also developed a keen eye to detail that aided me to read any piece of literature and be able to extract certain themes that helped to reveal universal issues.

As my confidence in my close reading skills became stronger, my writing skills also began to thrive. One of the major difficulties I had towards the beginning of my study in English was being able to craft original arguments for my papers. Although my analysis seemed to get stronger, when it came time to argue that analysis into an original argument I struggled immensely; I always failed to answer the “so what” part of any thesis. What helped me overcome this weakness was not only peer feedback sessions that most of my English professors would

offer prior to a due date of a paper, but also going into office hours to further discuss what exactly I was trying to argue in my paper. However, I also pushed myself to do this on my own by asking myself why my position was worth arguing and why it was important amongst literary scholars and theorists as a whole. One particular course that really helped me develop this particular skill was Humberto Garcia’s Senior Thesis class. Due to the fact that the major assignment in this course was our senior capstone paper (which is currently still in progress), because it is a lengthy paper we really had to carefully develop our position in a precise manner that not only showcased our close reading and analytical skills, but also crafted an original argument engaging us in the conversation amongst other scholars that have written on our specific research subject. Throughout the semester, I was able to collect research articles relevant to my subject of interest (William Blake & The Invisible Woman) and respond to these theorists while adding my own insight or viewpoint.

Overall, developing these skills was NOT an easy process; it took long nights of reading, writing, and mental break downs after feeling like my interpretations were not good enough. However, I came to learn that it is all a learning process and although my knowledge and understanding has widely expanded after the course of four years, I am still and will always continue learning and developing these skills.  I now know that English literature is by far an amazing yet challenging field of study¾one that is timeless through its universal themes. I have completed my bachelors in English Literature with full acknowledgement that I chose the right major for me.

p.s, I no longer have the desire to pursue a career in Journalism. English literature, particularly William Blake fully capitated my academic interests and I now plan to attend graduate school in the near future, with an emphasis in Blake Studies.

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. (Blake, 75).

Works Cited

 

 

Lynn Johnson, Mary & Grant E., John. Blake’s Poetry and Designs. W.W. Norton, 2008.

It all began with my seventh grade English teacher, Ms. Leon. Your typical Los Angeles bipolar weather: a mixture of cold wind with hot sun rays beaming right at your skin. Class resumed right after nutrition. I recall her standing at the center of the room, everyone’s eyes glaring at her presence. She began pacing back and forth, back and forth before saying anything to us. “How many of you know the amount of power your writing has?” she asked. Nobody raised their hand. “How many of you realize that a simple manipulation of a word or phrase can alter the meaning of your sentence?” Again, everyone remained quiet. “Whether you realize it, your words, phrases, sentences have the power to make people think and make them see things your way.” I consider Ms. Leon an inspiring woman who ultimately pushed my interest in the English Language Arts. I never paid much attention to how much of an influence literature has on society and its readers; the power behind every word and phrase, the diverse set of emotions readers are able to feel simply through a writer’s word choice. I wanted my writing and my work to have that type of influence on people. I wanted readers to feel as if they were actually living and experiencing what I was writing, I wanted to evoke emotion from them. If my writing carried sorrow, I wanted that sadness to penetrate onto the paper; if my work carried happiness, I wanted my readers to sense that joy simply by reading the words I produced. I wanted my words and phrases to speak for themselves.

I wasn’t always an English major when I began my studies as an undergrad. Certainly, taking courses like Writing 10 and Core also didn’t help towards changing my major any sooner. It wasn’t until I took English 101 with Professor Brokaw that I began to listen to the literature. Even though this course consisted of a lot of old English texts – with authors like Shakespeare and Milton – Professor Brokaw always helped us analyze these intricate piece of works. She made, what seemed like “hard” and “boring” material, engaging and easy to understand. Most of all, she had her own unique way of connecting old texts written during Shakespeare’s time to modern times. Themes we discussed in these texts began to connect to the times we live in now (an attribute that wasn’t seen in Writing 10 or Core). What’s more, she was one of the main Professors who helped me understand the difference between analyzing a piece of work and summarizing it. Through her guidance and knowledge, interpreting texts became easier. By using textual and contextual evidence, it became easier to build off of one sentence, phrase, or word and engage with it for a page and a half. A task I considered difficult at a certain point became doable. The main thing I noticed – and ended up appreciating – from the English 101 texts was the significant amount of emotions writers had in their writing. For instance, the work of Shakespeare carried a significant amount of mixed emotion. From comedy, to love, to sorrow, and dark humor, these emotions these types of genres are supposed to evoke from the reader were evident. I cannot explain what I’m trying to say other than works similar to Shakespeare’s had meaning behind it. I’ve read works by Charles Dickens, Oscar Wylde, and Charlotte Bronte (to name a few) and, as unfortunate as it is to say, they failed to have the same emotional impact as the works assigned in English 101 and Gasp 103 (Advanced Shakespeare taught by Professor Brokaw). Despite some of the literature not having a deep impact on me as a reader, as a writer, I was able to grasp onto some of the writing techniques and choices I saw in literature. Being exposed to different types of literature, you begin to see the writing style between writer ‘A’ and writer ‘B’. Being exposed to different types of literature and writers allows you to see what you may and may not like as and whatever you do like, you can use it to your own advantage.

Because I’m required to take other non-major courses, I found interest in taking classes that deal with Sociology. Something I wasn’t aware of with these types of courses was the amount of writing and analyzation demanded. To my advantage, I’m able to use my analyzation skills whenever I’m asked to write a response paper regarding reading assignments. I’m able to decipher as something as small as a phrase or idea and apply it to the big picture of the reading; I’m able to interpret something miscellaneous and get to the big picture without losing my main point. It becomes extremely easy to begin to summarize inside of analyzing an assignment – which, thanks to my English courses – is something I’ve improved on. Furthermore, my major has allowed me to play “devil’s advocate” whenever we have debates in my other classes. I’ve learned that whenever you make an argument, to make it easier on yourself, try to think of what those who may not agree with you would say to contradict your ideas. This forces you to use your critical thinking skills and push yourself into further developing your ideas. Another major problem I would have whenever it came to writing my papers were transitioning sentences. For me, it’s difficult to smoothly transition from one paragraph to another without having it sound “off.” However, Professor Hakala would often give us pointers on some techniques we were able to use to make the transition simple. However, despite these past four years taking English courses, I still find myself running into trouble here and there. Because I was once in a position where I didn’t know where to begin, small exercises that would involve us to analyze texts and write a response would be extremely helpful in our lower division courses. Pushing us to say more about a piece of work would also improve our critical thinking skills with our knowledge.

My first English course at UC Merced was taught by Instructor Trevor Jackson, at the time I was still trying to fulfill the expectations my STEM oriented mentors expected from me, these expectations being to pursue a career in STEM. I was a disoriented Biology major, that realized I was so much happier and whole in my one English class than I was in any other class. I vividly remember reading in Jackson’s class The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (Ursual K. Le Guin), Signs and Symbols (Vladimir Nabokov), and A Good Man is Hard to Find (Flannery O’Connor). Short stories like these began my exploration of ethical conundrums, and the love for literature I had hidden. In this class I learned to not look at people as one-dimensional entities of good or evil, but as people who were so alone in the universe that their decisions were often complex and although their decisions were often seen as terrible they were contextually justified. Often, these decisions were influenced by trauma, fear, terror, sadness, and every spectrum of the human psyche. As a young adult, growing up on my own for the first time, these ideas helped me be less harsh on myself, and the people around me.

Franz Kafka continues to be one of my favorite authors. His short story In the Penal Colony still lingers somewhere in my mind. Kafka’s works, which were so concerned with the complex nature of law, and the brutality of the obsession with punishment, changed me as a reader. I, again, saw people as incredibly flawed, but my antagonism for them was hindered by the understanding that punishing people would not erase the harm they caused others or themselves. I never wanted to see myself through the lens of the officer in Kafka’s story, I didn’t want to be someone so self-absorbed with self-righteousness and obsession with religious concepts of justice that I would go to the ends of the world to punish others. I think this turned me into a more ethical person, by making me a person less obsessed with the ‘ethical’.  In the words of my favorite show “Better Call Saul” (a show about moral conflicts and the tension of what the ‘right thing’ is) I’m ‘morally flexible’ when it comes to conflicts now. I understand that there is no simple sinner.

Literature also taught me to enjoy books that were foreign to my perception of the world. Victorian Literature, for example, taught me how much I could love a genre so far removed from my experiences and my life. East Lynne (Ellen Wood) and The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins) taught me the definition of DRAMA, and sensation literature. The aesthetic’s qualities of Victorian Literature, especially Great Expectations (which I will admit is not my favorite Dicken’s novel) did have the most beautiful concise descriptive of setting I have ever read in my life. In this course, Doctor Hakala also became one of my favorite professors I’ve ever had, her dedication and enthusiasm pushed me to be a better student. She was a voice of accountability and asked for deep analysis that was not surface level, she invited students to look beyond simple plot and symbolism, and taught me how to understand the implications of such an era that marginalized woman and restricted them to the domestic sphere.

Chicanx Literature courses taught me more about myself, and taught me to see Chicanxs as readers and as educated people. Which I suspected, but had forgotten to embrace after only reading about people that didn’t look like me. Luis Valdez’s Teatro Campesino was my favorite book for a semester. As a daughter of farm workers, and someone that was familiar with the hardships of living in America as an immigrant, I loved texts like Y No Se Lo Trago La Tierra by Tomas Rivera because they gave voice to people who had never had their stories written, people like my parents who weren’t what academia or the canon saw as interesting or worth praise. I know that these stories were worth being told, and I’m so thankful that these marginalized texts were so complex and nuanced, perhaps even more than canonized work. Text such as Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez & N. Saporta Sternbach Puro Teatro: A Latina Anthology, also showed me how Latinx woman had a voice and agency over their lives and their sexuality. It also taught me to question my Mexican culture, but to not demonize or reject it for Anglo culture. In this way, I further learned the ethical conundrums that exist as a feminist of color. How our loyalty can not only lie with one community because there are issues in both the feminist community and the chicanx community.

Being an English major also taught me to cry. W.E.B Dubois The Souls of Black Folk was a text that I remember reading and stopping to marvel and think ‘This is…the most beautiful and most sad thing I’ve ever read’. I think there are few narratives that in my heart come even close enough to this book, that taught me about how physically and psychologically evil/deadly racism is, and how the veil of race has not stopped existing in America.

As for writing, I’ve hated every writing class I’ve had to take in my undergraduate career, and I will stand by that statement till the end of time. Every writing class I took was Urizenic in nature, and I think my English classes taught me more about being a writer because you only become a better writer when you actually read. I don’t think my writing skills have developed singularly through any writing class I’ve ever taken, but I think they’ve actually simply developed as my abilities to analyze text and find nuances within said texts have grown. I think that has made me a better, more thoughtful writer and person.

Ending my English career taking a thesis based on the literature of William Blake has been one of the most genuine experiences I’ve had. I actually love Blake. I think “Opposition is True Friendship” is my glued to the back of my brain whenever I want to argue with someone. I also love how Blake was both a writer and an artist. He shows, to me, the duality of the artistic mind and ability. He also represents the marginalized and the quieted. I don’t think I could have written a thesis about William Blake and Satanism with so much encouragement and positivity in any other school or with any other professor than with UCM and with Doctor Garcia.

I don’t know that I’m a more ethical or better person because of literature. But, I do know that I’m a more understanding person than the cold/defensive freshman I once was. I’m also more open minded, a tad bit more articulate, and more fulfilled. I always think about James Baldwin’s quote to illustrate my journey with literature: “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive”. I don’t think I’d be able to live so many lives or exist in so many places while not moving if I had not nervously decided one day in the academic advising office that I wanted to be an English major.

-Beyanira Bautista