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Michael Faris

Michael Faris's Public Library

Aug 30, 16

"This is Water is the best commencement speech of all time not because it has transcended the formula, flattery, and platitudes that a graduation speech trades in, but precisely because it has mastered them. Wallace does not conceal this. He tells you what he’s giving you upfront. “Stated as an English sentence,” says Wallace, the moral of his fish-parable “is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”"

  • This is Water is the best commencement speech of all time not because it has transcended the formula, flattery, and platitudes that a graduation speech trades in, but precisely because it has mastered them. Wallace does not conceal this. He tells you what he’s giving you upfront. “Stated as an English sentence,” says Wallace, the moral of his fish-parable “is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”
  • I’m tired of the high cultural premium on sincerity, which has sky rocketed this election cycle. If sincerity is a virtue, its one I’ve never had or wanted, and one that would do me little good anyway. Praising a person for their sincerity too often means praising a person for having feelings, and feelings, for some reason, seem to count less when women have them.
  • Irony has nearly died this election cycle, with Donald Trump turning the sincerity fetish into orange-haired flesh, disabling irony by embodying satire. He has made sexism, racism, and Mussolini quotations brave simply by making them sincere. Donald Trump speaks truth to power—“power”  in this case being women, immigrants, and “the establishment”—and sincerity suddenly becomes the bounced check that might buy the entire country.

  • we continue to rely on a fairly conservative, product-oriented concept of creative and intellectual work. Even process pedagogy, embedded as it is in the American education system, is not so much a process as much as a slowed-down look at the progress toward a product, an accumulation of means toward an end.
  • When our students fail, we ask them to try again. We send them back to the same path they’ve trodden once, twice, thrice before, and we ask them to slow down, pay better attention, notice the right things. In this model, failure indicates that students have missed the signposts and wandered off into the wilderness, while success signifies that, given a particular prompt or rhetorical situation, students have deployed a combination of recommended strategies to arrive at a small range of “appropriate” destination. Put another way: success in writing—no matter what pedagogy you work with—is reached by achieving clear, recognizable goals in an efficient and inventive manner. Failure, on the other hand, isn’t any one thing but simply the absence of success, the silent, shadowy underbelly that frightens us into tugging at our bootstraps to “try, try again.”
  • I don’t want to propose methods for turning failures into success, to devise strategies for turning our frowns upside-down. I want to reconstruct failure in its own image. What if failure was its own process, but unlike “process-based” pedagogies, it led writers to nowhere in particular? What if a pedagogy of failure dropped writers into the wilderness from the start and asked them to make their own path?

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