“Both sides suffer.”

I do not recall, now, who said this to me during the Dialogue under Occupation conference that ended yesterday at Al Quds university in the West Bank. She was referring to Palestinians and Israelis. The same could be said of any situation involving violence, whether systematic in nature (by policy) or apparently random (individual emotion). Violence is evidence of encounters between institutionalized limits and human (in)capacities.

A month ago, during midterm examinations, there was a bomb scare at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I (temporarily) teach writing to first-year students of all majors and third-year students majoring in Communication. Both classes have regular assignments to write in weblogs, either their own or responding to something I or other students have written. I am trying to shape the skills of starting and continuing important conversations through modeling and practice.

“People need to adapt to cultures and changes in society because the future will not slow down for anyone. Our discussion, like no other class I have ever been in, is not discussed face-to-face but literally through wires and appears in a blog where I can see fellow classmates input, written and not spoken” (ConfusionisEasy, Comment 10).

The contrast between the threat of violence at a university in the U.S.and the threat of violence anywhere in Israel/Palestine could hardly be greater. A series of assignments has led to a question challenging students in the junior class on Writing as Communication to integrate three apparently different “texts”: the film Babel, our curricular engagement with the concepts of “writing as communication” and “communication as culture,” and what first-year students wrote about their experience of the bomb scare. Approximately one third of the students in the first-year writing course mentioned the bomb scare as a figurative event in their day; the remaining two-thirds did not. This ratio is information, but I do not know what the statistic means – if it means anything at all.

The juniors have done a great job with this assignment. 🙂 I am proud.  Students had the most to write about the film in comparison with the ritual concept of communication (as culture) and the new information in the post, serendipity: we have spent more time thinking and writing about the film. “We’re learning to ask questions at the right times and right places, and our discussion shows it” (metalcircus, Comment 11).

Rocketsredflair conveys a certain mood, “After being in Steph’s class for what, 20 years?…” (Comment 6), concerning the labor of learning. 🙂 Ciaobella draws out rocket’s implication of the passage of time:

“In regards to Babel, I believe that this course was carefully planned out around it. The movie haunts us; we watch it one day, then a month later, what do you know, it’s back on again! Finally, another good chunk of time later, we finish it. Watching Babel in increments illustrates the way in which the writing process works. You take steps, ask questions, target an audience, everything is done through phases, just as the movie was” (Babelbabelbabel…BLAH).

Hippo86 suggests, “By not seeing the entire film at once, every time we go back to it we have no choice but to ask questions” (Comment 9). “[W]atching this movie has taught us about looking for clues when they are not so visible and clear cut. Anything can be read for social, cultural, and communication cues” (anon136, Comment 1). Not only this, but “…the signs that do exist in the world of babel, are often misunderstood by someone” (elr6, Comment 8). Metalcircus says Babel is “a valuable film to view…as it threw at us communication in every way possible: day to day dialogue, global communication, even communication without words” (Comment 11).

Elarsix elaborates, “Why does babel keep coming up?…because babel presents gigantic miscommunications on a global scale (Comment 8). “[A]n important thing to focus on in relations to the movie Babel and our curriculum’s need for semiotics,” writes hippo86, “is the general human need to be understood; to get their meaning across” (Comment 9).

“The discussion between … topics is based on what links them” (Carmella7, Comment 2). The skill of asking about and recognizing the linkages is improving (hopefully right in time, hehe, for the final papers!) “[Now],” writes shininginthewind, “many people actually undersatnd the meaning between writing, communication, and culture” (Comment 3). As for the bomb scare, “”…there was alot of un answered questions the day of the “bomb scare” in herter….all our reactions to this scare where different and the Eng112 class are learning to ask these underlying questions where as our class is helping in defining them” (Carmella7, Comment 2). Shining continues, “Writing is a form of communication and communication is differet based on the culture it comes from. At the same time however, Communication can also change a culture” (Comment 3). As I emphasize repeatedly (!), writing itself – the expression of thoughts or feelings – is not enough: “Without the feedback from others my writing is nothing (kmb04, Comment 4).

All feedback is information. As with any information, the feedback itself means nothing until we interact with it: “I’ll be completely honest. I do not see a discussion within ‘Babel for COM375.’ What I see is people blogging very similar things, but not participating in the understanding of the topic as a community” (elr6, Comment 8). I agree completely. Assignments are just that, tasks to satisfy the teacher that learning is actually happening. There is an analysis of the word “discuss” in a book called Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. The author, William Isaacs, diagrams the concussive nature of words said (or written) that bounce off of each other like billiard balls on a pool table. He probably got this idea originally from quantum physicist, David Bohm.

What matters, pedagogically, is “…the aknowledgement of different forms of communication and how they can all be fitted nicely together despite their differences” (rocketsredflair, Comment 6). Babel illustrates this, as “…people from different areas of the world effect eachothers lives by only two peoples interaction when an exchange of a rifel as a gift of thanks changes fifteen others lives” (confusioniseasy, Comment 10). The meaningfulness of such chaotic interactions is up to us to decide. “There are no Jobs. I know more and more people who graduate and end up working in coffee shops and restaurant kitchens. Seriously, WTF? Not only is America going nowhere, it’s getting flushed down the tubes” (elr6, Comment 8). The problems loom large; what are we going to do about them?


The “comments” cited throughout are all to the single post, serendipity? capturing a moment.

The title of this post, “connected by a single gun,” is a quote from hippo86 (Comment 9) paraphrasing Aisforastronaut (Context is Key in Babel).