Portfolio Reflection Letter

Dear Portfolio Assessment Committee,

Honestly (shrug), I was not looking forward to this class at the start of the year. I have always been the type of English student who cringes at the thought of rhetorical analysis, book group discussions, and papers that connect themes across an array of literary texts. For me, this takes away from the naturalistic process of reading a text and formulating my own ideas that connect to the world around us. It was apparent, early on, that this class was going to be different. When Ms. Taneja (my teacher) introduced the syllabus, she began by asking us what our thoughts were on borders. Borders I thought to myself, were simply a physical barrier that divides two communities. But then I began to think beyond the scope of what a border literally is and began focusing on different types of borders. I left class that day realizing that borders affect our lives in such a vast number of ways, we just never stop to ponder this.

What improved the most about my writing ability during this course actually had little to do with my writing style, diction or syntax. Rather, the processes I took in order to craft my pieces are where I saw the most growth. In general, I have a tendency to overwrite because I often feel as if I am unsuccessful in getting my point across. I believe this occurs because I never really have taken the time to sit down and develop a strong outline prior to the start of my writing. The key word here is “strong.” I had always put together some variation of an outline for my writing pieces. However, many of them have been extremely simplified with ambiguous ideas. In my first blog post titled “writing processes,” I crafted a very basic outline. In my first paragraph, I wrote down two bullet points that I wanted to include: “information on different genres” and “writing web.” Looking back, I can see not only how unproductive these points were with streamlining my writing process, but also how vague and unhelpful they were in developing a concrete plan moving forward with my writing. To be perfectly honest, and this is a testament to how poor my writing process was early on this year, I forgot what a “writing web” was. I have since matured and grown with regards to the outlines I create for my writing pieces. In order to build a sturdy house, the foundation must be firmly cemented into the ground. The same goes for writing. You must have a substantial blueprint of what you plan on including in your work. For my last assignment of the year, this reflection letter, in my outline I made sure to break up each paragraph with specific key points and then sub-points that were related to those key points. Likewise, I even titled each paragraph with regards to the focal point. This way, when it came to actually writing my piece I knew exactly what I was intending on including for each portion. For the introductory paragraph of this letter, the outline reads: “Discuss my initial thoughts on the course” with sub-points that read: “whether I was excited or not to enroll in this course,” “my previous experiences in English courses” and “what was I intended on getting out of the course at the end of the semester.” It is evident that this outline is much more detailed and directed towards the progression of my letter as a whole compared to the outline I drafted for my first blog post. As a writer, my writing process was something I worked to amend greatly throughout this course and I believe I successfully accomplished this. In the future, I will continue to craft detailed outlines for my writing assignments, aware of how important they are in producing a strong written work.  

I was never fully aware of how important genre is in dictating the path you chose towards producing a written piece. Genre heavily impacts your tone and writing style and, depending on the specific genre, can vary drastically. For instance, If you are exploring a historical artifact and its relevance to a particular community, you may choose to maintain a very formal tone when discussing it. You may chose to present facts regarding this artifact and describe how it impacted those who were affected by it. On the contrary, if you were writing a satirical piece, a formal tone would not necessarily be appropriate. For my analysis of the incident “Bloody Sunday” I wrote with an impartial and more serious tone. For the piece I was analyzing, the genre was non-fiction and was made up of evidence obtained from historical documents. I understood the significance of this event and did not want to undermine its importance by including my own personal opinions and voice. In describing the author’s overall purpose for  writing “The Principal Conclusions and Overall Assessment of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry,” I explain that “this deeply rich and invigorating documentation of the events that took place during ‘Bloody Sunday’ provides audiences, through an unbiased report, the ability to reach their own conclusions on the events they perceive took place.” Although “wordy” and at times uninteresting, I believe this demonstrates the style of writing that is often associated with this genre. For my assignment on Toba Tek Singh, the genre varied greatly from the “Bloody Sunday” assignment. As a result so too did the writing style. In Singh’s quest to uncover his true identity, I wrote that, “I [Singh] along with the rest of the world cannot reach a middle ground here.” First off, I have included personal pronouns. I understand that I am not trying to present information in an unbiased manner and therefore will include directly how I am feeling. Second, I have chosen to create a connection to an outside source (the world). This means connecting the ideas presented in this literary piece to the ideas presented in other literary works. This is something that this genre allows me to do, but in the analysis of “Bloody Sunday” did not. Lastly, I keep it simple; aware that more words does not necessarily mean a clearer way to get your point across. Genre dictates the tone you write in. In “Bloody Sunday” the tone was very formal, in Toba Tek Singh the tone was less formal. As a result, there are a variety of things that are deemed appropriate and inappropriate to include in these particular written pieces.

One of the areas where I saw the most improvement over the course of the year pertains to my ability to synthesize the ideas of others in order to supplement my own beliefs. In my documentary review on “5 Broken Cameras” I successfully utilized the ideas presented in the film to support the themes that I felt were apparent. I noticed very early on in the documentary that Palestinian film director Emad Burnat presents his son’s growth and development alongside the increased hostility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the conflict progresses, we see Gibreel (Burnat’s son) grow as well. In order to demonstrate this overarching theme, I knew I would need evidence from the documentary to support my beliefs. In the very beginning of my review, I state that “This film quickly attempts to develop a relationship between the audience and Gibreel, a relationship that only strengthens as the film builds.” By driving home my thesis at the forefront of the assignment, it gives audiences a clear understanding of what to expect while they continue to read. I realize, however, that making these claims are only just claims without any supporting evidence. That is why during my review I explicitly recounted scenes that demonstrated the ideas of my thesis in full effect. For instance, with regards to the increased animosity surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I made the point that the Israelis “infiltrate Burnat’s community” and in the process “are extremely non negotiable.” Immediately after these statements, I reflect upon a scene where members of the Israeli Army arrive at Burnat’s home seeking his arrest. In brief, during my review I describe that they “rambunctiously entered his house while he was eating and refused to leave.” As the course progressed, I learned the value and importance that evidence brings in supplementing your ideas. Without any evidence, these opinions are simply your own personal thoughts. However, with quality information driving home these ideas, we suddenly view these ideas as much more impactful and valid.
Overall, I believe I grew greatly in these three areas. Not only do I feel more confident about my writing, but I feel as if my writing can actually have an impact on those who read it. I have since learned the valuable role a well designed outline can be in my overall writing process. I can determine exactly what I want to write and order these ideas exactly how I would like them to appear in my assignment. My usage of rhetoric and awareness of genre allows me to adjust my writing style in order to captivate audiences. Depending on the specific genre, I can tune my writing style (use more ethos if it is a formal piece or pathos if it is a more personal piece) in order to ensure that those who read my writing are fully aware the ideas I am trying to communicate. Lastly, I have learned to properly integrate the ideas of others to support my own individualized opinions. Aware of potential biases, I made sure that there was credibility behind the ideas of others and use this as evidence to supplement my own beliefs. With regards to borders, I would like to provide a few closing remarks.

I never really thought much about borders before this class. I believe this stems from the fact that I don’t live significantly close to an international border. Ironically, up until our discussions of borders I did not realize that my entire life has been spent encapsulated within a border. I grew up in the snobby and affluent town of Westport, CT. If you didn’t own an iPhone or wear the newest Vineyard Vines apparel you were considered “weird” and would be alienated. More importantly in my realization that I lived in a “bubble” was the fact that my high school was 97% white. I had never been exposed to a diversified community until I arrived at Emory. My eyes were instantly opened to a world outside of luxury and privilege. Here, students come from all walks of life. Here, all continents (except Antarctica) are represented. Here, all styles of clothing are acceptable. I had never before been surrounded by such an array of individuals.It is a melting pot. This sudden epiphany during the first week of school was very liberating for me. I was so brainwashed and conditioned to my style of life back at home that I was unaware of the outside world beyond Westport. There was a mental border that was standing in the way, preventing me from thinking beyond the scope of my life. Just 10 minutes down the road from me lies Bridgeport, a community with one of the largest wealth gaps in the country. I was so blind to the lives of others outside of my town that I never realized people do suffer. Borders are infinite and have a large impact on everyone’s life, whether you realize it or not.

Sincerely,

Chase Gornbein

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Reflection Letter Outline

Paragraph 1:

  • Discuss my initial thoughts on the course
    • Whether I was excited or not
    • My previous experiences in English courses
    • What was I intended on getting out of the course at the end of the semester

Paragraph 2:

  • Overall experience/thoughts on this year’s class
    • What I learned about myself as a writer
    • My switch from long over-exaggerated writing to clearer and more brief work
    • Do I feel my writing has improved

Paragraph 3:

  • Borders
    • My initial thoughts on borders before taking this course
    • How/what made my definition change
    • My new definition of borders and how they impact individuals

Paragraph 4:

  • 5 Broken Cameras
    • Discuss the writing process for this documentary review
    • Had never written a movie review, let alone a documentary review before
    • Discuss going to the Writing Center twice, what they taught you/said you should revise
    • The amount of work/effort you put into the piece
    • Even had your parents read it
    • Final draft
      • How you came about deciding what to keep in and what to take out from rough
      • Do you believe borders impact Israel and Palestine/how do they?

Paragraph 5:

  • Final research project
    • Thoughts on multimodal
      • Do they convey your thesis more clearly
  1. Thoughts on using story maps for the first time
  • Difficulties with the software
    • Had to visit the ECDS twice
  1. Overall did the project convey messages about borders impacts on communities

Paragraph 6:

  • Conclusion
    • How proud you are of your work
    • How you’ve grown as a writer
    • Borders have helped you see how communities and people interact in a different light
    • Final overarching theme

Reflection on “Borders”

Coming into English 181 this year, the idea of borders and the impact they have on the lives of individuals never really crossed my mind. I grew up in an affluent community in southwest Connecticut. My high school was predominantly Caucasian, 95% to be exact. Everyone here wears the same Vineyard Vines preppy button downs to match their brand new Sperry topsiders. My parents always referred to my town, Westport, as a “bubble” because everyone was systematically coded the same way. Everyone was constantly competing with one another for the best grades, the newest apparel, and the most updated iPhone. It never resonated with me until our discussions about borders began, that this “bubble” my parents were referring to was in fact an example of a border that was present in my life. I however, had been so programmed to live life in this idyllic community that I never thought anything of it. This “bubble” presents a border that encapsulates my society and alienates it from the rest of the world. It blockaded me from seeing the very diverse, less affluent community of Norwalk which borders Westport. Likewise, it prevented me from seeing the community of Bridgeport. Only located only 10 minutes away from my house, Bridgeport is home to the largest wealth discrepancy gap in the entire state. This “bubble” I live in prevented me from observing the lives of those so different from mine, however so close in proximity to me.

We have talked about a variety of different types of borders throughout the school year, however, the two main types that stand out to me are both physical and mental borders. We have seen physical borders separate communities, creating two diverse cultures on opposite sides. These borders can create everlasting conflicts and disputes over land and resources. In the documentary “5 Broken Cameras,” we were able to experience first hand the aftermath of Israel’s decision to build a barrier infringing upon Palestinian land. There were physical encounters that left many people injured and even more dead. We also saw how borders impacted the lives of individuals in Ireland. In the report, “The Principal Conclusions and Overall Assessment of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry” we witness the recount of the events that transpired on “Bloody Sunday” and the severity of these events. All of this violence and animosity between the two social groups present, has stemmed from the fact that there is a border that has divided these two communities.

Not only have we observed physical borders throughout the course of the year, but we have also encountered mental borders. In the novel “Borderlands,” author Gloria E. Anzaldúa becomes reprimanded and alienated from her society for being a homosexual. There is not a concrete barrier that separates Anzaldúa from the community she was raised in for the duration of her life, however, as a result of sexuality she became an outcast. People’s thoughts and ideas can land one on the opposite side of a mental border; separating them from their families and loved ones.

Reading literature can be imperative in understanding borders and how they impact individual lives. Books can present information in the best possible way: uninterrupted it. You as a reader cannot argue with a book. Yes you may disagree with them, but the ideas presented in the book will be there, unless you decide to stop reading. Therefore, books open our minds to themes and ideas we may have never considered without rebuttal. For example, you may disagree with Jamaica Kincaid’s perception of tourism in Antigua in her novel “A Small Place,” however, unless you come in contact with her, there is going to be no way that she knows you disapprove. Literature helps us come to terms with certain issues because it presents them in an indisputable way. You may be able to pick out hints of bias or ideas you disagree with, but you are forced to continue reading it, opening your mind to ideas from another point of view.

My final take away of borders is this. There are borders present in our society that go unnoticed every single day. Do not only interpret a border as a physical barrier dividing two separate communities. There are borders in our lives that you would not even think twice to categorize it as such, however, they are there. As humans, we are gifted with the ability to adapt. Be apprehensive of these borders and work to adapt around them, or with them. They are ever changing and you must be the one to keep up with them, not vice versa.

Annotated bibliography

“East Indian” essay from the book Literary Occasions by author V. S. Naipaul

Naipaul, V. S., and Pankaj Mishra. Literary Occasions: Essays. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. In the essay “East Indian,” from the book “Literary Occasions,” author V. S. Naipaul illustrates through story telling an unforgettable encounter he experienced with a man native from India. Naipaul questions what constitutes as a true identity and how colonialism has impacted many cultures and societies. Naipaul draws upon common perceptions of former explorers and imperialists such as Christopher Columbus in order to attempt to define regions where land is inhibited. While Naipaul notes that Trinidad, a small island located in the Caribbean Sea, has not been heavily influenced by Hindu culture, he fails to include much about the country’s rise as an independent nation. This explains why Naipaul was so alarmed by his shocking encounter with this man on his flight; highlighting how rare it is to experience an Indian who is from Trinidad. If you are looking for a heartwarming tale of two individuals from diversified cultures coming together, than this essay may not the right resource from you. Rather, it details how globalization and colonization have helped countries to separate and distinguish their own natural identities

“Planetarity” chapter from the book Death of a Discipline by author Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia UP, 2003. Print. In the chapter “Planetarity,” from the novella “Death of a Discipline,” author Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak describes how she would like to redefine comparative literature. The chapter points out the idea of Planetarity and how capitalist powers must be taken down. Spivak declares that everyone who inhibits the world is closely connected with one another and their actions will produce repercussions that may be costly. Although the author describes the parallels between globalization and the pre-colonialist era, she fails to acknowledge that during these differing time periods individuals had different motives for why they did what they did. The author declares that cultural studies are heavily invested in new immigrant groups which is why she seeks to move away from this base and target older minority groups. This essay is a good resource for those interested in observing a new perspective on comparative literature and how it should be redefined through the author’s eyes. However, this is only a starting point because it remains to be one of the very few literary pieces that publicly displays the necessity to transform comparative literature.

Final Project Proposal/Abstract

 

The topic of research that I would like to pursue pertains to one simple question: How do physical borders separate communities and define individuals? “Simple,” however, may not be the correct word to describe such a question. This proposal for research is in fact very complex with a lot of underlying variables that may influence the answer. For example, why was the border built in the first place? Does the border divide two communities that were once connected? Or even, does the border divide two separate nations from years of hostility between one another? I believe that there are two kinds of borders in this world, physical and mental. Mental borders are much more individualized. They do not affect an entire community, rather an individual’s thoughts and perceptions of life. Researching mental borders would be very introverted and difficult to grasp entirely. Physical borders on the other hand have been seen throughout history and have impacted our world greatly. One prominent issue in today’s society conflicting the United States is its border with Mexico. This relates to immigration, a heavily debated topic in which the border is a centralized point of discussion. I believe by researching physical borders and how they have impacted separate societies will be pivotal in understanding differing cultures. We may be able to understand what culture would be like if a border was not built to divide two separate nations. The concept of a physical border and its effects can be confusing to understand. Through my research, I plan on learning more about a border’s impact on society and what we can learn from its impact.

“Planetarity” Summary

 

Indian scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak describes her views on a new comparative literature in “Planetarity,” a chapter from the short novella “Death of a Discipline.” Spivak illustrates her beliefs on the importance of reading, clearly citing that, “anyone who believes that a literary education should still be sponsored by universities must allow that one must be able to read” (71-72). This concept, which may seem quite obvious, undermines the idea that people must be able to act independently. This translates into something much greater than simply being able to read, but rather the power individuals have in being able to act independently. Spivak outlines the globe to be “our own computers,” this means that “it allows us to think that we can control it” (72). The concept of “planetarity”  circulates around the idea that globalization is driven by capitalist demands for resource extraction and profit. This ignores the earth; the living space that we inhibit. Spivak attempts to recreate an image of ourselves and of our lives that will allow us to overwrite the globe.

With regards to globalization, Spivak understands that there is a long history spiraling around the topic. Globalization touches upon colonialism, colonialism and postcolonialism. It is truly an abstract concept to grasp your hands around. The planet, on the other hand, is concrete and ecological. If humans wish to share it with the rest of the world as one cohesive entity, alongside other species, then we need to imagine it not as a place to put our capitalist markets. However, this must also be a place where we can keep our mind and our soul in a safe haven. This is the concept of “planetarity”.

In Spivak’s efforts to recreate comparative literature, she observes that “cultural studies is heavily invested in New Immigrant groups” (84). She seeks to move away from this base and touch upon older minority groups such as African, Asian and Hispanic. Ultimately, Spivak sees the necessity to highlight the postcolonial era as imperative for the new comparative literature she writes about creating.

The idea of a new comparative literature is one that has been pondered and contemplated for decades now, however few have attempted to prescribe a method of actually writing for a new comparative literature. Spivak does so in “Planetarity” in efforts to trump “an era of global capital triumphant” (101).

 

Reflection “5 Broken Cameras” Documentary Review

This assignment was the first movie review I had written before, so to say the least it was extremely difficult. I did not necessarily know what to include in a movie review, so I tried my best to provide a sufficient amount of summary along with an analysis of that summary. My first draft did a successful job of analyzing the movie, don’t get me wrong, however it did not do any justice in “reviewing” the film. I have never been one to read movie reviews, I dictate my decisions to watch movies based on the trailers. That being said, writing a review was unlike any form of writing I had done in the past. I went through the process of writing this piece as follows.

As I mentioned earlier, my first draft had been more of an analysis than a review. I had a thesis in my first draft, and I tried to find specific examples or scenes from the documentary to supplement my thesis. This is not what a movie review is. I did not include any personal voice (and for that matter include any personal pronouns) and I did not include any persuasion. Both of these are vital in any successful movie review. After meeting with the Emory Writing Center twice, I was able to eliminate much of the unnecessary analysis I had included in my piece. I revised my thesis to be more of a central focus of my piece, not so much a thesis. Not every scene I mentioned in my review had to relate directly to the thesis, rather it connected more to my overall thoughts on why I liked the film.

This piece definitely helped me as a writer because it forced me to work outside my comfort zone. Instead of analyzing a text or a piece of literature, something that I am very accustomed to in an English class, I was forced to provide a little bit of my own personal touch and flare. I believe that this opened my eyes to using my personal voice in an effort to persuade an audience, something that is new for me and something I would like to work on during future writing assignments.