From Formula’s to Arguments

If I were asked to describe how I move from evidence to interpretations, I would have to first ask, “What kind of evidence?” This basically boils down to the fundamental question of who I am as a person, which is quite a complex and ultimately quite long story. To understand how I form my arguments, you basically have to understand 2 things and how they interact with each other: my educational background, and my personal background.

My educational background can best be summed up as a scientist with a very heavy mathematical influence. Essentially, this paints the background for how I collect information, brainstorm, and ultimately turn this into concrete knowledge. To those who are unfamiliar with the scientific process, essentially it starts with observing the natural world, you make a hypothesis about it, devise a way to test your hypothesis, and then carry out the test to see the results.  It’s not a single process that occurs either, but constantly re-evaluating itself.

Some people think of it as a line, but it’s more like an eternal cycle, like life and death.

Understanding this model is essential to understanding how I form arguments from my observations, and if its limitations aren’t obvious enough to you yet, they will come to be quite apparent. The strengths of the scientific process are the ability to test your hypothesis against the real world. In the mathematical science of statistics, this is quite apparent in that you can make a hypothesis that a proportion of a population is one number, and then test to see if your data sample supports that hypothesis or not. You test your hypothesis, and the real world tells you if you’re completely off the mark or not because things actually happen and the results are easy to replicate every time.

So one might naturally ask, “What happens if you can’t test your hypothesis, and you are just forming an argument based on the reading of a text?” In such a way the weaknesses of my methods are illuminated. When my observations are words on a page it becomes more an exercise in reading comprehension than an exercise in formalizing an idea. I can’t form my argument, throw it out into the real world, wait for the author of the page to walk up (more so in the case of Shakespeare I suppose) and tell me whether I’m right or wrong. It’s this kind of subjective idea formulation that my education has left wanting, since so much of it has been a simple test of which number is the right number. It also doesn’t help that English had been my most hated subject before University!

So how in the hell did this even get to be the case? I used to be that student who would ask my English teacher, “What’s the point? It’s all subjective anyway when you can try and support any weird idea from whatever you feel like perceiving on the page that particular day.” We even admitted in class that how you’re feeling a particular day can change what you see during a close reading and what kind of arguments you might try to formulate. I had also not yet hit the stage of realizing that you can not like something but also understand what values it does possess. The best example would be of Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which most of the class has apparently agreed on hating, however I can still understand why it was successful and what it offered to the genre even though it wasn’t appealing to me, though I understood why it was appealing to everyone else in English class on that fateful day in 10th grade.

So why can I do now what I couldn’t then? Well, to be completely fair, I’m extremely different from who I used to be. At the risk of outing myself to the entire class who have probably noticed regardless how damned awkward I am by now, being transgender tends to have this really weird influence that can overshadow how you perceive nearly everything. It’s not as bad as it sounds, essentially all you have to understand from this is that everything was very logical, straight forward, and had very little emotional appeal. This lead to an inability to understand any of my peers, especially emotionally, and I had very little romantic distraction in my life which caused me to excel in the sciences as well as math. Whether a side effect of that period in my life or just a natural part of myself, I also had a nearly photographic memory which led to instant uptake of information, and at those levels of education you merely had to spit out what you knew in order to do well. This lead to terrible note-taking habits, little to no study habits, and synthesizing new information was very rare. Everything came from something outside of myself, partly for being dead inside.

Now that the little segue about my personal life is over, the pieces for understanding my argument formulation are in place. Now it should be easy to understand how I’ve historically pieced together arguments from a text or film, which is primarily what we’re being taught to do in class, and you can sympathize with the idea that these mediums are meant to touch and play upon your emotions, feelings, and natural senses far more than they were ever meant to present information or concrete ideas and facts. In this way, I have had very little experience with being able to correctly understand what a text was trying to do, or how I was supposed to feel. So how do I form arguments now that I can actually empathize with people, texts, and film?

Reads: “Use example pieces of clips to infer the style a director uses. Like stats take a few small pieces and make an inference.”

Essentially, I read what is on the page, and then sum up what I think are the most important parts by linking it to something I already understand. I build my knowledge like a building, and I can only learn something if I can add it onto previous knowledge I already have. This begins the formation of my arguments as any knowledge I already possess is the result of what is likely a very long internal scientific method-like process, as I only feel comfortable calling something knowledge if it can build on and expand on my previous knowledge. In the picture above, it’s obvious that I am comparing the methods of statistics to the method of looking at only small subsets of film to infer things about a particular director’s style in Shakespeare films.

 

Look at all of that literal translation..

However, as was mentioned before with the drawbacks of my methods, my annotations clearly leave much to be desired in what I might understand of a text. Literal translations of Shakespeare prose to modern English and meanings abound, but little expansion on the emotional features of the passage or what the words might make you feel. In this way, it might seem as if I’m blind to large portions of the text since I do not seem to expand on many of the features in the text like metaphor and simile. When turning observations into an argument, it is clear that this is a fault in my method that seems difficult to correct. As such, when forming the close reading paper, a lot of possible expansion or evaluation for the decisions made by Shakespeare were missing simply because I approached text written to appeal to emotion incorrectly in the past. Now, I feel those things everyone is talking about, but have no experience pointing them out and saying, “Hey, I know what that’s doing!”

The only thing that seems to show a glimmer of hope for me in understanding how to expand and evaluate Shakespeare is when I watch Shakespeare on film. Having some background in film, and understanding how the decisions a director makes influence the audience, gives me the ability to recognize not only what is being done on screen but also why the director chose to do it that way and the effect it’s supposed to take on the audience. When a director fast cuts, I understand that they’re trying to create a sense of urgency or fast paced action and chaos. When a director shoots a character from below, I understand that they’re trying to make the character seem imposing or authoritative. I’ve gotten used to the effects film has on myself, and so I seem more comfortable explaining why I see something a certain way than if it were on text. I’d like to actually include the following excerpt from my film review to demonstrate this idea.

“Well, with that the movie pretty much draws to its conclusion, and the director seems committed to the idea that Richard had no regrets even in his last moments. Just one of those movies where everything is a parody to Hitler and Nazi Germany and – wait I forgot this was a Shakespeare film. I’m not sure if the director intended it, since there is indeed a standoff between just Richard and Richmond (Who happens to be the one challenging Richard’s crown), but it ends up feeling fairly Hollywood as it wraps up. I mean my one complaint would be the amount of lines Richmond lost in the film from the text, since he seems to take up the reins as protagonist. It just felt like you were on a boat with Richard, he was the captain, and he struck a rock and now you’re sinking with him and there’s no lifeboats and you have this cocky Richmond fellow just staring at you from his ship with his smug grin.”

Examining this up close, we can break down my formulated argument and actually do our own (quick) close reading, of my own text, to see how I formed it. One thing that stands out immediately is a particular theme in my own writing when I put forth an opinion I feel is subjective, and again the idea that repetition is important in close reading turns out to be true as well with my own writing.

“… and the director seems committed to the idea that Richard had no regrets…”

I’m not sure if the director intended it…”

“… ends up feeling fairly Hollywood as it wraps up.”

“…since he seems to take up the reins as protagonist.”

“It just felt like you were on a boat with Richard…”

The use of words that indicate an appeal to emotion, such as feeling, felt, and seems, all are a sign of my inability to be completely sure about how I feel about something. Feeling things is quite new to me actually, so I have these qualifying statements to indicate how unsure I am about something. I even mention that I’m not sure in the above statement! The rest of my film review contains an almost impressive amount of these qualifying statements of insecurity, even when they are likely not needed. This is because it is a subjective viewpoint I am putting forth, and so my analytical mindset seems to feel the need to qualify these statements. What would happen if I was putting forth a view I felt was objective?

Understanding this model is essential to understanding how I form arguments from my observations, and if its limitations aren’t obvious enough to you yet, they will come to be quite apparent. The strengths of the scientific process are the ability to test your hypothesis against the real world. In the mathematical science of statistics, this is quite apparent in that you can make a hypothesis that a proportion of a population is one number, and then test to see if your data sample supports that hypothesis or not. You test your hypothesis, and the real world tells you if you’re completely off the mark or not because things actually happen and the results are easy to replicate every time.

This is an excerpt from.. well, this. Earlier perhaps, and well out of my mind after I had written it originally. What happens if I perform another casual close reading?

“… they will come to be quite apparent.”

“In the… science of statistics, this is quite apparent…”

Nowhere in the excerpt do we see any qualifying statements that indicate being unsure or not confident in the answer, and instead I have the repetition of the words “quite apparent”. As such it might seem like two different writing styles entirely, and this dichotomy of construction is likely rooted in whether I feel like the argument is based on objective evidence or subjective evidence. If it’s not apparent already (oh look I did it again..) I don’t often go back and check the frequency of certain words in my writing. This preserves what I would call the natural features of my writing, and in a way displays my character.

So, how is it that I form the arguments then from the evidence? For my film review, I watched the film and then went back over the scenes I felt were most crucial to the film and gave my natural subjective opinion. While I may have went over it for coherence sake and to make sure each paragraph made sequential sense rationally, very rarely do I edit something that is out of place. Often times, I look at where it would fit better, and move it, only correcting grammatical errors as I value preserving the natural features of my writing. This is because I write my thoughts down verbatim, and I like to preserve the original stream of thought as much as possible, and in context. Else I delete the entire paragraph entirely and decide it’s brain garbage that I had to get out there but has no purpose entirely. The downside to this is my writing style is very unrefined and informal, leading to very long pieces that need to be trimmed and have small connecting paragraphs inserted between the original pieces so that it maintains logical order. With all the drawbacks to the way I form arguments however, it’s so far proved valuable in my primarily scientific and mathematical studies. So like it or hate it, I may be too stubborn to change it now.

 

Works Cited List

The Scientific Method. From The Scientific Method as an Ongoing Process., by ArchonMagnus,  August 7 2015, <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scientific_Method_as_an_Ongoing_Process.svg>,

Shakespeare, William. King Henry V. Ed. T.W.Craik  Routledge, 1995. Print

Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare and Film : a Norton guide / Samuel Crowl. Ed. Julia Reidhead. W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Print

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