MaryBeth Monaco-Vavrik, Malouf Writing Post 9-1-19

“This question made me smile for a long time. Today, it no longer does. It reveals to me a dangerous and common attitude men have. When I am asked who I am “deep inside of myself,” it means there is, deep inside each one of us, one “belonging” that matters, our profound truth, in a way, our “essence” that is determined once and for all at our birth and never changes. As for the rest, all of the rest –the path of a free man, the beliefs he acquires, his preferences, his own sensitivity, his affinities, his life –all these things do not count. And when we push our contemporaries to state their identity, which we do very often these days, we are asking them to search deep inside of themselves for this so-called fundamental belonging, that is often religious, nationalistic, racial or ethnic and to boast it, even to a point of provocation” (Malouf).

This passage stood out to me in particular because I have had almost identical experiences as the one Malouf describes. When initially faced with this question, I also found it mildly amusing. I eventually came to the conclusion that this question was a microaggression. However, this passage elaborated further on this. I wanted to delve deeper into an idea that has persisted so much in my life as an Asian-American.

I thought I understood the whole of this passage, but at further examination, I was unclear on Malouf’s intention when he said, “As for the rest, all of the rest –the path of a free man, the beliefs he acquires, his preferences, his own sensitivity, his affinities, his life –all these things do not count.” At first, I interpreted this sentiment to mean when people require a simple answer to the question of identity, they want to ignore the complexities that life experience has on said identity. Through further analysis and contextualization, I came to understand that Malouf believes identity to not only be a result of ethnic, national, or religious factions, but a culmination of aspects of personality. I found this connection between personality and identity intriguing. Other humesters upon further discussion believed Malouf thinks identity is much more subjective.

I believe Malouf uses this passage to highlight the greater implications of people’s ignorance on the perception of human complexity– how in reality, a seemingly harmless question can reduce someone and disregard the essence of their being. This better underlines his overall point that people oversimplify the question of identity, but it adds more severity to the act.

I found this to be profound in the context of a point brought up in our Thursday lecture about our tendency to simplify others while maintaining our complexity. While we would never discount our life experiences as part of our identity, we are quick to discount the experiences of others for the sake of simplicity. 

Reem Fakhoury – Diderot’s Natural Law

I chose Diderot’s excerpts because when originally going over them in class, I could not find myself being able to understand his purpose. Therefore, when originally reading Diderot’s Natural Law excerpts, I found myself caught in his distinguishing between man and animal. Through one of his excerpts he focuses in on the difference between man and animal, and if these supposed characteristics are not applied to man, then he is therefore not man/human. After reading and focusing in on this excerpt I found myself sticking to this overall claim I believe Diderot was making which was defining whom he believed was actually human and ultimately, who he believed was worthy of Natural Law/Natural Rights. When allowing myself to focus in on this, I found myself allowing the belief that this was the main idea he was trying to prove, however in reality after re-reading and simplifying some of the sentences on my own, I began to realize in reality Diderot was validating those whom he believed were seen as less human or less worthy of Natural Law and rights being applied to them. After allowing myself to open up to the idea that Diderot wanted to redefine human and explain that the distribution of Natural Law and Natural Rights, his last statement in these excerpts began making sense, as he believed that these laws were for everyone and not a select group. This helped me connect to a question posed regarding Natural Law and who actually has them versus, who is supposedly granted them. 

Overall, in these excerpts Diderot’s purpose was to advocate for the use and application of the Natural Law and Natural Rights to all humans, as they are not and should not be exclusive.

Laura, The State of Nature

“To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their posses- sions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.” 

I chose this passage because it is central to the theme of Dr.Quillen’s lecture on Humanism. I found her lecture very intriguing but also puzzling for several reasons. I wanted to further explore the meaning and purpose of Lockes state of nature. Initially, I did not understand several things about Lockes concept of “nature”. The word nature typically defines all that does exist, especially that which exists without the use of human force. By this definition Lockes concept of nature proves unnatural because it does not exist in reality, it only exists in an imaginary space created by Locke. These two factors stand in direct contradiction with the definition of nature. Furthermore, Locke wrote with the purpose of discovering truths about the world, but how can he discover something about reality using entirely false information? Is the best way to learn more about the world not to observe the world as it is and as it has been? In my perspective, the only way to find objective truth is to draw on other objective truth. I divulged my thoughts about this passage to a stellar Humester, Gabby Morale, and her thoughts were as follows. Sometimes, the best way to understand what is true is to understand what is not true. In creating the hypothetical of the natural state, Locke reveals truths about the world through contrast with unreality. In analyzing the ways in which we have not lived up to the state of nature, we can understand how a flawed system of power led us to this state. By revealing the flaws of pre-enlightenment power system Locke set the stage for his own theory of power which is further explained through his discussion of the state of nature. This addresses the earlier posed question “What is the state of nature”? It is a hypothetical that draws on elements of the real world in an unreal way in order to expose the truth about political power.

Ian Rolls, Privilege In Conversation

“‘Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?’ Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very deterministic position— since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak… From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programs of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will see that you have earned the right to criticize, and you be heard” (Spivak, Questions of Multiculturalism, pg 62).

I chose Spivak’s passage on speaking as a person with privilege because as someone who has experienced the feeling that their input doesn’t matter because of their race, gender identity, or class I was confused why Spivak argues the refusal to speak is due to a lack of education. This passage, however, makes more sense in the context of Spivak’s argument that marginalized groups should not be left alone to advocate for themselves, because the problem cannot be solved only through self-representation. Self-representation and the demand for “authentic voices” (63) becomes a problem because those who are deemed authentic enough by society/academia/media can become tokenized and used to further inaction instead of solving issues. I started to understand why Spivak encourages people in positions of privilege to speak up because the duty to speak should not be only left to minorities, and that by educating ourselves and critiquing our positions as people of privilege, we obtain a viewpoint that is productive to bringing about change. I think this passage is fantastic at addressing the questions: what should people in the dominant group to help minorities, and how can people in positions of power offer productive discourse and ideas in the face of privilege?

Unit 1 assignment 2 Sode Smith


  1. “These days, we frequently hear that most people that have unconscious bias they think they don’t discriminate, but in real life they actually do. The laPiere study supports the opposite idea. People are more hostile to others in the abstract than when they meet them in person. As a rule, theretial discrimnais, when they come face-to-face with an actual person, actually don’t discriminate. Is much easier  to dehumanize the “other” when you don’t see a human face, when someone is reduced  a demographic identity. When you meet actual people and learn a little of their human story, you feel connection–and connection destroys dicrimination.” (chapter 5)

I chose Brooks’s section on human connection as a disturbance to instutional discrimination because it flipped my preconceived notions. What I struggled to understand was how recognizing an individual’s humanity could overturn implicit biases and how we dehumanize people simply because we don’t interact with them, thus turning them into the other. Just like LaPierre said, I’ve always had the notion that people are more likely to discriminate in person rather than in a hypothetical situation. On the news, my feed is full of stories showing these types of in person discrimination–a black woman denied services, a gay man beaten on the streets–showing that people are more likely to act on our biases when they are confronted face-to-face with the person who represents the sterotype. In fact, I know I’ve acted on these biases many times, like when I’ve crossed the street to avoid a ‘sketchy’ looking black man. It seems to me that human interactions actually provide us the opportunity to act on our subconscious biases. Why would I take time to interact with someone when I already know who they are based on my preconceived biases? But, after looking at this section, I realized the difference between a superficial judgment of a person based on biases, and an actual human interaction, getting to know someone’s story. A person is so much more than they appear to be; reducing someone to one characteristic is what allows us to assume things about them and openly discriminate, but this connection allows us to see them as a human being and not just a stereotype. I think that Brook’s says that “people are more hostile in the abstract” because of this dehumanization and reduction of a person to a stereotype. This passage completely blew my mind, emphasizing the importance of the complexity of humans and the issue of reduction to geographic identity. What Brooks is saying is that only once you interact with a person who is labeled an ‘other’ your biases with be destroyed. I think this passage means that genuine human interactions can overturn our biases since most interactions will disprove stereotypes. Brooks says that it’s easier to discriminate when someone is reduced to a geographic identity, because this affirms what we know to be true about a group of people, even if the bias isn’t true.

Catherine Chimley – The Question of Human Reason and “The Canary That Sings on the Skull”


We are humans, not rice, and therefore “we have not yet encountered any god who is as merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet. There is not a people in the world that behaves as badly as praying mantises.” We are the moral inhabitants of the globe. To deny this, regardless of our feeble attempts to live up to it, is to lie in prison. Of course there is cruelty. Cruelty is a mystery. But if we see the world as one long brutal game, we bump into another mystery, the mystery of beauty, of light, the canary that sings on the skull.


I chose this passage because I felt that it encapsulates an important facet of Morrison’s philosophical approach to evil in the world, a question that I have been grappling with lately. How could she still believe in “mysteries of beauty” when the entire beginning of the passage describes the atrocities of slavery and the hopeless nature of waiting for humans to change? It was difficult for me to rationalize these two views as simultaneously true, and I wanted to conduct further research into Morrison’s view and inspiration. I first researched the quote at the beginning of the passage, which is from Annie Dillard’s 1974 narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I had little knowledge of Dillard, so I continued by researching her beliefs and how she could be connected to the ideas with which Morrison is grappling in the passage. Dillard spent much of her work in an effort to understand the nature of human suffering and the possible existence of a higher power. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,she explores the nature surrounding her Roanoke, Virginia home in an effort to discern the identity of a god that would create such a place. Although Dillard seems to primarily explore the Christian theology, the narrative enters into the question of creation from Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Inuit theological perspectives. Through this research, I was better able to understand the quote and Morrison’s intended implication in its usage – despite the atrocities that humans commit, human mercy and kindness cannot be denied. The connection to the philosophy of predestination is also interesting, relating Dillard’s ideas of mercy to the violence described by Morrison at the beginning of the passage and trying to reconcile the two.


I feel that Morrison utilizes this passage in order to emphasize the idea that morality is a human responsibility and to decry the moral escapism that philosophies of predestination enable. Although the sections prior to this in the passage express a more hopeless view of human evil, this ending section allows and encourages efforts to change the narrative through human action – to become the “canary that sings on the skull.” Despite her view that these actions could never erase the stain of atrocities that humans have committed upon each other (specifically actions during the period of widespread enslavement of peoples of color), Morrison leaves a philosophical opening for the existence of human goodness viewed not as a god-given gift, but a mystery equally as unexplainable as the mystery of evil. Through the passage, Morrison simultaneously exhorts the audience to experience the full weight of responsibility for the evil in the world while also confirming the responsibility of humankind to utilize its ability to reason in order to make a positive change in the world. Morrison confirms the human right to reason and asserts its corresponding responsibility – finding our way back to the mystery of light and beauty despite our inability to control the mysteries of either evil or good in the world.


This passage addresses the question “Why have human beings been given the ability to reason?”

Unit 1 Assignment 2 by Harrison Sparks

What is very much a question for me at the moment is that if you are constructed in one particular kind of language, what kinds of violence does it do to your subjectivity if one then has to move into another language, and suppress whatever selves or subjectivities were constructed by the first? And of course, some people have to pass through this process several times. And a small gesture towards beginning to understand this would be to create a demand for multi- lingual anthologies within Australia. There is an incredible and disproportionate resistance to presenting the general Australian public with immigrant writing in English even, but to have it in conjunction with the remainder of these repressed languages seems to be another battle which still has to be fought.

I selected this passage because not only was it very dense, the diction and vocabulary were complicated and unfamiliar. I had very little understanding of any non major points in the passage at first but after breaking down sentences and unfamiliar uses of words like “subjectivities” in particular, I began to find a clearer meaning which I viewed as the culture that comes with understanding a language and the shock it would put on someone to be put into a different language for everyday life. 

I think Spivak discusses the problems an individual faces when learning a new language both internally and the societal rejection of them altogether, in order to connect it to the idea that choosing only one person or even a small group to represent another group of people in reality will never be able to represent the whole group accurately especially when there is such resistance to immigrant writing that’s even in english.

I believe that this passage answers the question of identity by illustrating the fact that it is what the society you live in sees of you (and your people) that make it, highlighting the need for the words of individuals like Spivak to be heard in order to prevent dehumanization.

Unit 1 Assignment 1 by Alex Weinman

Group B:

Q: How has the branding and clumping of people based on race been so institutionalized throughout the history of America?

Agree: All three writers/speakers agree that personal agency and individuality is often stripped from groups of people solely based on their race or ethnicity.

Disagree: Stevenson, with his speech, seems to disagree with the Morrison and Brooks in the way that he believes this long-rooted issue can be quickly and effectively solved with kindness and spirited efforts. The two authors appear to believe this issue is much more difficult, and will take more complex solutions, to solve.

Unit 1 Assignment 1 by Basil Wiering

Group B

What is the solution to humanity’s divisions, and what role does identity play in this process?


Context is invaluable, authentic empathy leads to reconciliation, and assumptions of identity are unnecessary and dangerous. Brooks takes it a step farther on the prior, asserting that even rooting too deeply down in one’s own identity, or at least isolating yourself within it, is equally dangerous.


The authors would disagree on the role of hope. One is literally focused on the relationship between hope and redemption, while Morrison denies the rationality of hoping. She cites our tumultuous history in regards to nuanced thought and inclusive action promoting diversity and combating hate and ignorance. However, she addresses the presence and importance of the grace, beauty, and harmony available to everyone, which to me signifies some acknowledgment of the importance of hope.

Unit 1 Assignment 1 – Jamie Aciukewicz

Group B

Question: By thinking about people as a group, is individual identity inherently lost?

Agree: Humans make assumptions about groups of people, regardless if it is true about the entire unit. This, in turn, leads to the dehumanization of the individuals as they are part of the larger group and thus, they “must” share the same characteristics as the other members.

Disagree: There is, in fact, individuality in a group, but depending on which side of the group you are placed, it is difficult to realize the differences. When in the group, it is much easier to see the uniqueness of each person, while outside of the group it is very hard to not see the unit as a single entity.

Unit 1 Assignment 1 by Jordan Satch

Group A

Q. To what extent can one determine their own identity despite the environment they live in? (political, social, geographical…)

Agree: All 3 authors agree that stories are told by those in power, those who have the opportunity to speak. Identity is multi-faceted and cannot be determined by one factor. Identity can be affected by the powerful particularly with how stories are told. The generaralisation of immigrants is problematic (eg Africa as a country, or the tokenisation of immigrant speakers)

Disagree: Maalouf discusses the hostility that immigrants can receive for embracing their cultural roots, whereas Adichie was expected to fit in to her national stereotype once arriving in the USA. They seem to have different theories on why cultural identity is still an issue today, whether it be a lack of education or an active choice. 2

Unit 1 Assignment 1 by Olivia Harper

Group B

Question: Does identity free us or confine us?

Agree on: Personal stories and human interaction break break down preconceived prejudices.

Disagree on: The effect of political leanings on prejudice.

Unit 1 Assignment 1: Catherine Chimley

Group A

Question: How does media representation (or lack of representation) of marginalized groups impact the perceptions of those groups by the members of the groups and others?

Agree: Adichie, Maalouf, and Spivak would all agree that inaccuracy or generalization in depictions of marginalized groups denies the diverse experiences available to members of those groups. The authors would also agree that this denial of identity causes ignorance and even discrimination by non-members of the particular group, citing a variety of examples to justify this point. All authors clearly describe the negative impacts upon members of the marginalized group upon comprehending either a lack of representation or inaccurate representation. Maalouf asserts that generalizing a variety of experiences into a single identity is dangerous and could lead to dehumanization and its dangerous societal implications. Adichie describes her inability to comprehend that people in her group could have a place in literature when, as a child, she is unable to find representation of her marginalized group. Spivak describes the profound disrespect of the Australian literary community’s acceptance of the Irish Nino Culotta’s writings as an accurate depiction of the experiences of an Italian immigrant as well as the impacts that lack of value for true stories would have on an actual member of this group.

Disagree: The authors differ in their views on how this media culture of generalization should best be remedied. Maalouf seems to insert his own personal experience into the narrative of immigrants as a whole, advocating for members of multiple cultures to act as bridgebuilders between their different groups, embracing the dual parts of their identities rather than being forced to choose one option. Adichie suggests improvements in cross-cultural diversity by the empowerment of members of a single minority group, as she describes her ideal of libraries filled with the words of African authors and writing labs teaching people of her particular group how to express their experiences. Spivak suggests that action by non-members of marginalized groups in order to research the struggles of these groups and “earn the right to critique” their own privileged status would allow for further positive representation of marginalized groups in media. Each of the authors asserts their own personal viewpoint when confronted with the issue of media representation, and these points are different from one another – much as the experiences of the different authors are not homogenous.