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Shake your meaning-maker

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So I’ve mentioned before that the final project in my class is a creative one in which students must occupy the position they’ve been analyzing all quarter–that of the meaning-making rhetor communicating something or other to a particular audience. Because I’m working with graphic novels, one of the ways I get them to think like a meaning-maker is ask them to find a song that epitomizes a particular book they’ve read. This exercise is far more difficult than it sounds, because it forces them to reflect upon (likely for the first time) what the lyric of their proposed song means and how that lyric relates to a book whose rhetorical and thematic complexity we’ve been discussing for weeks. It’s the perfect exercise:

It starts simple then turns fractal.

This quarter, I went with Craig Thompson’s Blankets as inspiration, which means the song needs to include equal parts evangelical Christianity, teenage infatuation, Künstlerroman, etc. No single song will perfectly reflect either Craig Thompson’s understanding of his own development or any of my students’ relation to that understanding, but the act of thinking through that mess will help them discover how they’d like their final projects to resonate with their intended audience.

All of which is merely a preface to my declaration that the song I thought best epitomized Thompson’s intent–in both lyrical intent and its relation to traditional form–was this one. (The lyrics can be found here.) I’m obviously playing a rigged game, what with me being the teacher and all, but the point is that I can make a very strong argument about how the thematic elements of that song communicate something very similar to the message of Thompson’s novel … and that I dare any of my students to proffer another case for a different song that’s stronger than the one they think I’ll make for mine. (Which means they’ll have to anticipate a critical response and plan their feints and parries in advance.)

Game on?

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  • SEK

    Should you desire, for reasons unrelated to this post, to tear me a new one, now’s the time and place to do so. I’ve asked my students to do the same, so a public shaming actually has pedagogical value. Come on, you know you want to …

    • elm

      You’re stupid.

      • SEK

        I appreciate that.

        • elm

          Anything for you, SEK.

  • JoyfulA

    Or simply a coming of age novel (= a Kunstlerroman)?

    • SEK

      Well, he’s an artist, and a Kunstlerroman deals specifically with the trials and tribulations with artist types when they come of age. (Yes, I know what that sounds like, but it’s not me: it’s the artists! They think they’re special enough to deserve their own genre.)

      • JoyfulA

        Well, at least German-speaking artists. We in the US don’t have a coming of artistic age genre (that I know of).

  • SEK

    (Also, because people seem to be reluctant to criticize me when they think it might be a trap, I promise this isn’t a trap. It’s an attempt to generate a comment like this one, to open more space for dissent in my classroom.)

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    My mind is instantly drawn to Neko Case as a starting point.

  • BradP

    This quarter, I went with Craig Thompson’s Blankets as inspiration, which means the song needs to include equal parts evangelical Christianity, teenage infatuation, Künstlerroman, etc.

    My mind went to Cashmir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens.

    Haven’t read Blankets, and I think there may be a significant difference in the message, but its a pretty tragic teenage love story dealing with the frustration of accepting God’s decisions.

    • Ben

      Even if it doesn’t fit the book at all Casimir Pulaski day is the right answer, because it is just awesome.

      • SEK

        Make it fit. Come on, Brad! Since when don’t you argue?

        • BradP

          Oh believe me, if I knew enough of the subject to drop a few buzzwords, phrases, and names, you would be wrong and I would be right.

  • Bill Murray

    I don’t really see where there would be any Evangelical Christianity in a Pogues song, although I suppose Reformation and the depradations of the English on the Irish might be included somewhere

  • Jeremy

    Never read the book, but sounds like Mellencamp’s Jack & Diane would fit pretty well. You got being 16, living in the bible belt, growing up changes things, etc.

    I actually used this in my class, before I properly read and thought about the words. Fortunately, Japanese middle schoolers don’t get the euphemisms.

    • dave

      Euphemisms? I guess only if you’d parse the whole song as

      Let’s fuck
      Let’s fuck
      Let’s fuck
      Let’s fuck
      Let’s fuck
      And run away
      And fuck

      Which is plausible, I’ll admit.

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