Trouble Shooting1

Earl Jackson, Jr.
Hysteria and Paranoia Seminar
University of California, Santa Cruz
Spring 1997

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Trouble Shooting Page

Earl:Here I will cite passages from response papers whose problems, conceptual, strategic, grammatical, stylistic, or whatever type, reflect tendencies among students so that by dealing with these particular instances of such problems here, we can reach far more people who will also benefit from these exchanges. The responses here are not quoted in full; the writer’s of these pieces will always be anonymous. I „mix up“ passages from several response papers here – and many times a paragraph or two will be taken from otherwise good papers. In other words, there is nothing shamefull or shaming in any of your work appearing here. It’s just another way of using the Internet more effectively in this kind of „troubleshooting.“ In insert my critiques in brackets and blockquotes, and the color of my text will distinguish it from the student’s text.

Excerpt from a student First Response Paper

Actually, I would like to respond to your question in class yesterday about femininity. When you asked us what femininity is, I couldn’t answer because I don’t know. As I thought about it later during the day, I realized that I should have asked „well what is masculinity“. It is a dual relationship and thus the one determines the meaning of the other. I further realized that I should also have asked which definition of femininity you wanted.

[Earl: The above paragraph and the two below are almost entirely in the conditional and subjunctive moods! „If you had asked . .. I would have answered . . .“ Before setting off in this kind of speculation ask yourself what your point is in doing that. Just as I had warned some people against letting their metaphors do their thinking for them, don’t let verbal moods displace concrete, accountable engagement with specific situations, questions, issues.]

Earl: Ironically, and this is what interests me in your response, your use of the conditional/subjunctive in some senses is rather apt, since you are describing an irreal past: I never asked the class to define „femininity&quot>;. I asked about feminine sexuality!

If I had given the stereotypical answer I would have said that femininity is „passive, soft, nurturing, domestic, emotional, irrational, concern with outward appearance, soft-hearted, clean and tidy, nagging, prudish, manipulative, etc.“ and that masculinity is „active, powerful, emotionally detached, dominant, logical, highly sexual, messy, decisive, violent, aggressive, etc.“ According to the stereotype, the two must be stark opposites with no shades of gray. I don’t agree with these stereotypes and then wondered that if I don’t fall into these categories, what is femininity to me? I see aspects of both [Earl: both has no antecedent in this sentence] within both sexes and feel that men and women are more similar than they are different but society enhances
and enforces the differences, and at the extreme does not allow the aspects of one into its „opposite“ other. I don’t think there is any clear answer to this question, as there are none to any question, and due to this ambiguity society tries to cram people into their „place“ within the


Three Points to Think about here:

1. Let’s think about what you want to be addressing here and find a way to that other than this detour – the if i had answered stereotypically it would be a stereotype – is a tautology, and a particularly alienating one since it is describing its own circular truth about an event that did not take place. To see what i’m driving at – replace „sterotype“ with some language or other. You could just as easily have written: „If I had answered in French, my sentences would have contained nouns that had gender, and more definite articles than the same sentences in English would have.“.

2. The conclusion of the above paragraph has two confusions that are sufficiently prevalent among students that i’s good to point them out here – You say that stereotypes aren’t true and nobody knows what femininity and masculinity are. But you see both &quotfemininity“ and „masculinity“ in both sexes. How do you see something in anything that you cannot define, and whose everyday conceptions you have rejected?

3. There’s no clear answer to any question? Is that true? And here you seem to think our inquriies are to lead to permament ambiguity or resigned confusion. Not at all. Certainly we are admitting more ambiguity into certain discussions than tradition understanding of those issues had at one time or other permitted: but we are not championing or aiming for ambiguity. Some ambiguities we focus on to clear them up, not to wallow in them. And – this is the most important point I’ll make here – we must remember the difference between ambiguity and complexity.