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Fear and Risk in Children's Literature

The constant messaging nowadays to "stay safe" seems at odds with most of the books written for children in elementary school. Fairy tales, adventure stories, and even classic and seemingly gentle books like "The Secret Garden," encourage children to face their fears, take risks and stand up for what they believe in, even if it endangers themselves.

How are today’s children to interpret characters like the Pevensies in Narnia, Lina and Doon from the City of Ember, or Parvana from "The Breadwinner," in the context of risk-averse messaging? Do these kinds of stories still reflect our values, and what kind of benefits do children get from them?

  • I love this topic and can think of other books to discuss, too. Really, you could make the argument that if a children's lit protagonist is an orphan or in a non-traditional family situation, or situation of any kind (and most are), they're already taking risks. They may already not be safe, through no fault of their own. And I love that about good children's lit. I sense you're afraid we may lose that, and I share your concern. If no one claims this, I'm taking it! :) – Stephanie M. 2 days ago
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  • I love this topic and can think of other books to discuss, too. Really, you could make the argument that if a children's lit protagonist is an orphan or in a non-traditional family situation, or situation of any kind (and most are), they're already taking risks. They may already not be safe, through no fault of their own. And I love that about good children's lit. I sense you're afraid we may lose that, and I share your concern. If no one claims this, I'm taking it! :) – Stephanie M. 2 days ago
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  • Could perhaps start with reading some of his lesser know work , plays i.e 'The Gardeners Son' – Yama144 6 years ago
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  • He’s certainly an interesting author. But this topic seems quite broad. Is there something specific about his work the author could focus on, like the type of characters or settings being used? – Stephanie M. 3 weeks ago
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Literature as an 'empathy machine'?

The phrase ’empathy machine’ was first used to describe the way that watching films can give the viewer an understanding of what it is like to be someone different (different age, gender, nationality, etc.). More recently, it has been used in reference to virtual reality technologies and their ability to allow users to ’embody’ someone else. The claims of both of these mediums as empathy machines rests upon their alleged ability to allow the viewer/player to understand and feel what others feel. This empathy is, of course, something they cannot get from their own life as they do not have the same shared experiences that the machine is allowing them to have. Thus, these tools as empathy machines are profound.

But, to what extent can literature be seen as a so-called empathy machine? Using a selection of texts, discuss how they can provide the reader with the knowledge necessary to empathise with those depicted in the texts. This could include fiction, where the reader is learning about the life of someone unreal. Or, it could be non-fiction, where the reader is learning of the life of a real person. Ensure that the specific empathetic qualities of literature are discussed. This might include literature’s reliance on imagination, or the way that written texts allow for lengthy and in-depth first-hand accounts.

The potential writer of this topic could provide an overall assessment; is literature more or less effective than film or V.R. in creating empathy? Why/why not?

  • Excellent topic. The writer may also may want to look into the potentialities of visual novels in creating this form of empathy. – Sathyajith Shaji Manthanth 3 months ago
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  • Very interesting, indeed. Gary Saul Morson has written a lot about this topic, insofar as he centers empathetic engagement as the core of his pedagogy (see especially: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9781618116758-011/html ). If we want to dig a little deeper, something that I'm curious about is necessity to frame it as a "machine," per se. This is understandable in the realms of film and VR, which undeniably have a "mechanical" component to their narrative transmission, but literature is significantly more analog -- especially if we're thinking of it in terms of the "text" itself, as opposed to the materiality of print media. Though I suppose a case can certainly be made that literature is a "technology" (if we trace the etymology back the the original Greek "teche"; Foucault's "Technologies of the Self" come to mind, if a reference point for more abstract uses of such terms is needed). I dunno, perhaps I'm being too literal, and should probably be ignored. – ProtoCanon 4 weeks ago
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  • Excellent topic. Within it, the author might also consider the different types of empathy. That is, there's a type of empathy that sounds like, "I have not been through this, but I can relate to something you are feeling." There's also a type that sounds like, "I have been through exactly this or something very similar, so I am relating strongly to your emotions and experiences, and may talk about them in relation to what we are both feeling." However, a lot of people only think of empathy as one kind or the other, so they either accuse others of having no empathy, or assume that empathy can't be found unless you have related personally to a given experience. – Stephanie M. 3 weeks ago
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literature
Write this topic

Novels with complex structures

Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves is probably the most famous oddly structured book. For the most part there’s two separate narratives; the narrator’s own story is told in footnotes, the main body of the text being the discovered critical analysis by Zampano of a non-existent documentary film about an ever-changing house. Zampano’s also blind, btw.

It’s a little bit gimmicky, but at times the Zampano essay is stunning, with some of the most memorable sinister moments in modern literature.

Beside House of Leaves, I was surprised by the twist of the plot and development in these books:

Abraham Verghese: Cutting for Stone.

Orhan Pamuk: Museeum of Innocence. (This is a love novel, and you may not like this genre.)

Benito Perez Galdos: Fortunata and Jacinta.

Theodor Kallifatides: In her Gaze. (First written in Swedish, but it is translated into some other languages. I do not know if English belongs to them.)

Selma Lagerlöf: The Story of Gösta Berling. Repeatedly some one will predict an event that is easily seen to be impossible, unless supranatural phenomena are included. And then the event does occur, but because of perfectly natural causes.

Arnold Zweig: The Fight Over Sergeant Gruschka. (In WWI Gruschka is a deserter from the Russian army and had been living in a German P.O.W. camp. He had escaped. What he is most eager to avoid is to be send back to this camp. A woman eventually advises him how to avoid that – but he will actually suffer worse outcomes.)

  • Really interesting topic! I would add The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Different narrative voices intertwine and the font plays a really important role too. The Dick and Jane story at the beginning of the novel is written 3 times - one normally, one without punctuation and one without any spaces between letters. Worth reflecting on what that is supposed to mean. And the book is structured by seasons, comparing the Dick and Jane vision of spring, all nice and pretty, and the afro-american's reality of spring in the 1960s - rape and violence. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez' A hundred Years of Solitude. – Rachel Elfassy Bitoun 6 years ago
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  • What about Faulkner? I'm thinking The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. – Kristian Wilson 6 years ago
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  • I'm thinking Scandinavian crime/mystery-thrillers and their impact on modern fiction (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). – Thomas Munday 6 years ago
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  • The structure and themes of Cloud Atlas could be another book to consider for this topic. I find the puzzling feature of the structure of linked stories or novel-in-stories to be intriguing and feel it could be inserted into this topic. Some other linked story novels include: Circus in Winter by Cathy Day. Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. – BethanyS 6 years ago
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  • Interesting. But would you mind explaining what are the questions this topic is going to answer/any potential central argument? For example, what the authors are trying to do with the unusual structures? What messages do they convey? I would also suggest to look a bit into the history of the novel. – Ka Man Chung 1 month ago
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Plato's Cave and the Construction of Reality in Post-Modern Texts

Analyse post-modern texts according to Plato’s cave and suggest how reality is constructed, commenting on its relevance and need in our modern era. Compare to classic texts where reality wasn’t as much of an issue. Why is it so important for us to have a constructed reality presented to us? Why can’t we go out and explore our own reality?

Suggestions of texts:
Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland
The Matrix
James Dashner – the Maze Runner
Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

Or any texts that have a constructed reality within.

  • I can see this going in so many different directions. Having just recently read Susanna Clarke's novel "Piranesi" I can also see how this theme would be really popular now, reflecting the various isolations of our pandemic circumstances. A writer may want to lean into some classic Jean Baudrillard/simulacrum, or Jean-Paul Sartre to compare differing ideas about how isolation distorts reality. – Grimoiria 1 week ago
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What Makes a Scientist

Dr. Henry Jekyll, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Doc Emmet Brown, Dr. Walter Bishop from Fringe, and characters like them throughout literature and film are categorized as "mad scientists." Sometimes it’s because their science is taboo or outside what society believes is even possible; sometimes they’re suspected of madness or some other kind of mental illness; sometimes it’s both. Why are these characters appealing to audiences, even if they’re not well-liked by the fictional societies they live in.

An analysis could include comparing them to real-life scientists like Galileo and Copernicus who were considered "kooks" but turned out to be right. Also, consider how driven these characters are to prove their theories, even pushing moral and societal boundaries – if they weren’t actually mad before, they can more easily be perceived that way by the end of their story.

  • Hmmm, intriguing. You might begin exploring this topic with what it meant or means to be "mad," both in past eras and now. For instance, Jekyll, Frankenstein, and even Brown were considered "mad" for their eras but would that be true now? If so, is that because of their methods? Should scientists be expected to work within certain boundaries so they and their work will be acceptable to society, or is that too much like "playing God?" I think you have a lot to explore here and look forward to reading a full article. – Stephanie M. 1 month ago
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The Legacy and Influence of Juan Rulfo

This article explores the life and writings of a reclusive giant in twentieth century literature, Juan Rulfo. While authoring only one novel, _Pedro Páramo_, and one short story collection , _El llano en llamas_, Rulfo achieved extreme fame and admiration from other writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and established himself as a pivotal influence on Gabriel García Márquez. This text will address and analyze the basic plot and themes of Rulfo’s work, and educate readers on a lesser known great Mexican author.

Aspects of Rulflo’s Pedro Paramo to consider,
The:

1.)environment where the story takes place. A brief overview of Mexican geography, culture, literary history, Catholicism/purgatory, and the Day of the Dead.

2.)disjointed and fragmentary nature of time which adds to the dreamlike quality of the novel.

3.) lack of chapters and signifiers of who is speaking, forcing the reader to fill in the missing information on their own.

While reading the novel, you will probably see how all of these themes intersect and amplify each other.

Regarding the influence of Rulfo on García Márquez, it would be good to look into what García Márquez himself said about Rulfo and his writings. There are also parallels that can be drawn between Rulfo’s town of Comala and Marquez’ town Mercado.
These are just recommendations and are by no means definitive guidelines. It would be best for you to use your own discretion and aesthetic discrimination while exploring and contemplating these great texts.

  • Hi, J.D. thank you for the feedback. I think MLA style guide says to use _ in digital environments where italics are unavailable. I attached a link as an example of this advice: https://style.mla.org/underscore-instead-of-italics/ – kurtz 3 months ago
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The death of Romanticism

The emphasis today is on getting through the day and we forget to romanticize life. Why have human beings lost connections with nature and self?

  • Discussing literary critic John Ruskin's ideas of the pathetic fallacy could work when building an argument around the emotional connection between nature and self. He noticed that the people in art (including poetry) had disappeared. As in, people were less frequently being depicted in art during this time. And so instead, human emotions were being assigned to aspects of nature. More than this though, he proffered that it was the emotional state of the human reflected into the natural aspects of the artwork. You can find this practice in the poetry of Keats, Wordsworth, and most of the big six. (This is a very rough summary of his argument, of course, Ruskin's book Modern Painters would be the text to refer to for the far more eloquent expression of his idea). – Samantha Leersen 4 months ago
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  • Romanticism isn’t necessarily dead, but rather it’s bland and not as interesting anymore. – kyeferreira 3 months ago
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  • The contemporary man is rejecting romanticism objectively. Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau has not emphasized that there would be a day when we lose our connection with naturalism, but they have glorified romanticism enough to imply that. – metamorphicrock 3 months ago
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  • This is a particular kind of Romanticism called Naturalist Romanticism. This narrows this topic somewhat in its own right but whoever decides to write this may benefit from further narrowing. I would recommend looking at a particular nation’s naturalist literature of the Era. The richest would be the United States (c. 1820-1900), the United Kingdom (1798-1837), and France (1789-1914). – J.D. Jankowski 3 months ago
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