2012 Tuesday Discussion Assignment 4

Discussion Assignment (Due by beginning of class next week)

*You will be required to post at least two thoughtful, well-constructed comments or responses in order to earn the full point value each week. Discussion posts must be copy-edited and proofread. Typos happen to everyone but a careful re-reading will allow you to rid your writing of most of them.

Please answer each of these discussion topics in a separate post. In other words, you should have two separate posts total. You do not have to do a third post in which you respond to someone else’s post unless you would like to.

  • Post 1. Of the two tweeted stories, “Some Contemporary Characters” and “Black Box,” which do you think has used Twitter’s constraints to greater effect? Why?
  • Post 2. In Reality hunger, on page 113, quote number 319, Shields, via his curation of this particular quote of Lance Olsen’s, posits, “Conventional fiction teaches the reader that life is a coherent, fathomable whole that concludes in neatly wrapped-up revelations. Life, though–standing on a street corner, channel surfing, trying to navigate the web or a declining relationship, hearing that a close friend died last night–flies at us in bright splinters.” In what ways do you think Black Box has captured this idea that life flies at us in bright splinters? Please give at least two examples from the text.

Please post your comments to the week 4 discussion page for your class. This page is for Tuesday night students.


34 thoughts on “2012 Tuesday Discussion Assignment 4

  1. In my opinion, I think that Rick Moody’s short story has used Twitter’s constraint’s more. I think the Black Box seemed more like a story than Some Contemporary Characters. Black Box made more sense to me and in each tweet, it all somewhat connected. I wasn’t quite sure what Rick Moody was talking about; I thought it was more confusing to me so that’s why I said it used Twitter’s Constraints.

  2. In Black Box, she starts off talking about people and it sort of evolves into more details of a person. “The first thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most important.” When you first see someone and meet them, you can’t go back after that. Once you see someone or meet them, it stays in your head. It all happens so fast and I think that’s what Jennifer is trying to say. The first impression happens so fast and once you get an impression, it stays with you. Life flies at us in bright splinters. That means that life goes by fast and every day is a brand new day and you don’t know what’s going to happen, so whatever happens it might come and stick with you forever and you didn’t expect it. “The goal is to be both irresistible and invisible.” You may plan your goals and dream of your goals but you never know what will actually happen;you may achieve them or you may not.

  3. Of the two tweeted stories, I believe Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” used Twitter’s constraints to a greater effect. Not only did it flow more than Rick Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters,” but Egan’s tweets were short and to the point. I think that is how Twitter was designed to be; short and sweet to get your point across. Even so, she did a wonderful job of tying it all together and I can only imagine how interesting it must have been for her followers to read.

  4. “Black Box” definitely captured the idea that life flies at us in bright splinters. I believe that means things are going to be thrown at us throughout life that we may not necessarily see coming, moments that will change our lives forever whether we’re ready or not. In the beginning, Egan says that “The goal is to be both irresistible and invisible.” So while we may not know what is to come, we can brace ourselves by being both of those things; ready, but not too sure of ourselves. Egan also says, “Never look for hidden cameras: the fact that you’re looking will give you away.” I almost think this was not meant to be taken in a literal sense, kind of that there was a hidden message behind this in that if we look too hard and try too hard to be ready for the unknowns of tomorrow, it will only backfire. We cannot try to get too ahead of ourselves and just go with what each day brings, no matter how prepared we think we might be, life will continue to fly at us in bright splinters.

  5. I think Egan used Twitter’s constraints to a better effect than Moody. Her tweets were composed in a way I think all tweets should be; concise, straightforward, and easy to read. I didn’t really feel like Moody’s story needed to be tweeted/Twitter was the best medium. It didn’t really flow and I thought the story was hard to follow in general. I felt the 140 character limit hindered Moody and helped Egan thrive. If Black Box was published in a more traditional manner, it wouldn’t have been as easy to read and not as interesting in general. On the other hand, I think Moody would have benefited from publishing his story in a traditional manner.

  6. I think life definitely flies at us in bright splinters as Olsen says. A first example from Black Box is the quote “you must pull the cord at the right time”. The beauty is about to dissociate herself from her body, and it says the dissociation technique is like a parachute. Sometimes when life is coming at us so fast, just as it is for the beauty at this point in the story, we just need to “let go” and let life happen in front of us, which is what is happening at this point in the story. The beauty lets this event happen for the greater good of her country and to complete her mission. The second quote “locate your personal calming source and use it” means anytime we’re in a tough situation, it helps to take a quick step back and relax. We’ve all been in tough situations before, and I know it is always calming if the world is happening so fast in front of us to relax for a moment. Something as simple as taking a deep breath and thinking of the smile of a loved one can help to clear your mind and move through the situation to achieve whatever you’re trying to do.

  7. I believe that Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” used Twitters constraints in a more effective way because all of her tweets flowed together like an actual story. When I was reading Black Box, I didn’t feel like I was just reading tweets, I felt like I was reading a story. All of her tweets were like sentences and they all connected easily so that I could get a get picture in my mind from what I was reading and I think that is what is most important when you are reading something. Every reader wants to be able to picture what they are reading in their minds because it is easier to relate to and it makes reading a lot more enjoyable when you can picture what is happening in your head like a movie. This is why I think that Jennifer Egan did a better job at using Twitters constraints because although she only had 140 characters per tweet, she wrote in sentences, opposed to Rick Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters.” In Rick Moody’s piece, I felt like I was reading a bunch of bullet points. He wasn’t using correct sentence form and I felt like I was reading through someone’s class quotes or something. It wasn’t as effective because it was just confusing to follow and it didn’t flow like an actual short story does.

  8. I think that this quote means that life is a series of unexpected and changing events. You never know what can happen, and things in your life could change almost as fast as a blink of an eye but what is most important is how you react to these ever changing life events. The quote “People rarely look the way you expect them to, even when you’ve seen pictures” relates to this because even though you see someone in a certain way, doesn’t mean that that is how you are going to see them forever. People change, and life changes and nothing and no one ever stay’s the same forever. Also, the quote “fear and excitement are almost indistinguishable” relates to this because when there is change in your life, you are either excited to see what new opportunities arise for you, or you are in fear of how this new change will affect your life. As I said before, the most important part of change is how you react to it and you should never fear change. Life is always changing and it isn’t slowing down for anyone so you can either take the plunge, or you can sit back and let the exciting moments in life pass you by. There is nothing you can do about change so you either let it tear you down, or embrace it for what it is.

  9. I feel that Moody’s story used Twitter’s constraints in a more effective way. Although I think that Egan’s Black Box was an essentially better story to me, Moody’s followed more of a story line to me. It was more confusing at times at differentiating the characters, but after reading more of it the more it made sense to me. In Black Box, I felt like it was very random and difficult to follow, but very well written. All in all, I can conclude for that Moody used Twitter’s constraints better because it was more connected, shorter, and made sense more.

  10. I believe that in Egan’s Black Box she demonstrates multiple ways that coincide with Shield’s quote about bright splinters. For example, when she says, “Resist the impulse to construct what had just happened”. This is a very strong statement because since so many things in life come at us in these “bright splinters” it would take longer to digest what had happened rather than accepting it. I think that these bright splinters have different reasons depending on their context. They can be good, bad, ugly, or rare; it is the fact that we do not know that they are going t hit us. I also think that when Egan states, “Never look for hidden cameras: the fact that you’re looking will give you away,” can be taken literally and metaphorically. Metaphorically speaking, one can say that the hidden cameras are the questions in life that we look for and cannot find the answers; or when we do, they are like the bright splinters that just hit us.

  11. I liked the way both Egan and Moody used the Twitter format for their stories, but I definitely liked the way Egan used it in “Black Box” better. The way she formatted it made it seem like we were hearing her thoughts, she often repeated specific thoughts like, “Remind yourself that you are receiving no payment, in currency of any kind, for this, or any act you have engaged in.” I think you get a better insight into who the person is and what she’s like. Where as the way Moody used it in “Some Contemporary Characters”, you only knew really what the two people thought of each other.

  12. Bothe Rick Moody and Jennifer Egan effectively used the Twitter restraints; however, I believe Jennifer Egan utilized the Twitter restraints to a greater effect in “Black Box”. Each statement was clearly stated and easy to follow. One of the most enjoyable and hated features of Twitter is the limit of 140 characters. With this restraint, the author can present various tweets that are related or even separate thoughts. In “Black Box”, nearly each tweet embodied its own story but entailed enough detail to provide a visual. On the other hand, Rick Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters” was an on-going story that could easily be published as a short story, but he did not take advantage of Twitter’s purpose of randomly changing topics.

  13. In “Black Box”, Jennifer Egan presents various scenarios that suggest “Life flies at us in bright splinters” (Shields 113). Splinters are usually categorized as an unpleasant sharp object broken off in a part of the human body. As for Egan she states, “If you are within an earshot of his conversation, record it” (13). The conversation was not intended for you, just as a splinter was not intended to puncher your body, but you must take note of what happened or what was said and continue on with life. Another example Egan uses is: “If your limbs are sore and your forehead scraped and raw, don’t dwell on why” (32). Each day, we are faced with new challenges we must overcome in order survive the day. Splinters batter the body, along with daily struggles, but one cannot stop and dwell on the negative. One must continue on and use the bright splinters as a testament.

  14. I believe that “Black Box” used Twitter’s constraints to greater effect. I believe that being able to tell an entire story with an interesting plot in 140 characters or less is definitely a huge challenge. “Black Box” was able to state interesting facts while linking each tweet together in a creative way. Throughout, the story seemed to almost seamlessly incorporate important advice to the reader; at the same time, a story was being told. Although at times the story seemed to jump around, I think the use of detail and the overall plot was very effective. Rick Moody’s, “Some Contemporary Characters,” was easy to follow but I don’t think that his story had as great of a plot as “Black Box.” The story was very choppy, and didn’t flow as well as “Black Box.”

  15. I believe that “Black Box” used Twitter constraints for effectively. Jennifer Egan used the 140 character limit in a way that made sense and made her story even better than it would if it were just a narrative on Microsoft Word. She made each tweet an individual thought, so they sound interesting separately, but make sense together in a story. Although the story was a bit long, and though to read with separate columns, I think that Jennifer Egan used the Twitter constraints in an interesting and effective way.

  16. Sheilds’ quote about bright splinters is very related to “Black Box,” because life comes at you quickly, and the narrator explains this many times. “A boat departing at high speed will send a vibration trembling up through the soil.” All of a sudden her “Destination Mate” has left her, and she must act accordingly, even though it was unexpected and not ideal, like a bright splinter. “Should you be perceived as an enemy, prepare to defend yourself at the first sign of physical encroachment.” This relates to the splinter quote because we need to always be prepared for what life is going to through at us, ideal or not, and that is a huge fact of life. Things are going to happen, and we can’t control it. We can only act accordingly and hope for the best.

  17. I agree with most that Egan’s “Black Box” made better use of Twitter as a platform than Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters.” I feel that Egan did a better job of embracing Twitter’s character constraint and using it to her advantage by compressing the story into “bite-sized morsels,” allowing for a much more enjoyable reading experience. Moody’s piece is arguably more thought-provoking and possibly more enriching, but for the ADD-ridden folks who peruse Twitter every minute of the day, Egan achieves more than Moody does.

  18. The quote from Shields’ anthology fits “Black Box” to near perfection, straight from the get-go. The first grouping of tweets talks about the importance of making a first impression, and the tactics needed to achieve that. The grouping finishes with, “When you succeed, a certain sharpness will go out of his eyes.” We encounter “sharpness” in everyday life. Individuals with no connections are often uncaring or hostile to one another because we have little trust in those we do not know. Connecting with one another causes our reservations to dissipate, and social media can be a way to help in that process. Egan writes about this kind of hostility-to-comfortability again in grouping 23 on page 8, where she describes the art of a formal handshake and what the rhetoric behind it implies.

  19. Egan’s “Black Box’ did a better job of using twitter constraints, because even though at times her story was hard to follow she did a good job of keeping my attention. Twitter has a 140 character limit and whatever you tweet has is meant to get attention and gin followers. Her story was a lot catchier because of the format and context. Egan used the space she had to say a lot. Each of Egan’s statements creates another story and I couldn’t stop reading. Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters” did a great job of using the space constraint, but my attention span is incredibly short and he didn’t manage to grab it quick enough like Egan did.

  20. While both, Rick Moody and Jennifer Egan, used Twitter brilliantly to convey their intentions, I found Egan’s “Black Box” to be more accessible and entertaining. The way she used the format functioned as an advice column as well as words of wisdom. The thing with “Black Box” and “Some Contemporary Characters” is that everything must be read in order or it loses its effect completely. I think an interesting Twitter story would be something that fully encapsulates the function of Twitter as being a pithy, stand alone statement as well as forms a narrative, that is, a story made up of stand alone statements.

  21. “Your train is ongoing; you must learn from each step you take” In Egan’s “Black Box” she captures the idea that life flies at us in bright splinters. When she states that you train is ongoing, she means that things always happen in life, good and bad and you pick up and keep going because life doesn’t stop for you. Egan also states, “You are an ordinary person, taking on an extraordinary task.” This extraordinary task is life, and once again it doesn’t pause for you, it comes at you fast and you take it in strides. Honestly, I believe Egan wanted to just say, shit happens! Take it and keep going.

  22. Life does indeed fly at us like bright splinters. Twitter, being an uncoventional medium for fiction, allows for an author, such as Jennifer Egan, to exploit unique ways in which to tell a story. Egan shows us examples of how life, and everything involved with it, is ephemeral. “Black Box” is laced full of moments where you can’t dictate how everything will end up, but instead you need to focus on what is happening at the moment. For instance, the line in Box 1, “If you’re having trouble perceiving and projecting, focus on projecting” shows us that people are often conflicted about how one should act or behave at a given time, but Egan suggests to simplify and prioritize. Also, when talking about the Dissociation Technique, she mentions severals times about one being tempted to do something. For instance, “You will be tempted to pull it when you feel him start to move against you from below” shows us that life is not cut and dry. Temptations, very serious and often seductice temptations, are always around and we must navigate our lives around these by doing what we seem best. Egan is simply offering her advice as she seems fit.

  23. Agreeing with most, I believe that Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” displays constraints created by Twitter much better than Rick Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters”. Although they both used the main constraint of no more than 140 characters per ‘idea’, with Egan’s I saw a greater ability to read each individual post as a tweet. Moody presented an entire story with each line able to fit into a tweet, whereas each line of “Black Box” could be viewed as an individual tweet itself.

  24. I believe “Some Contemporary Characters” by Moody used Twitter’s constraints to greater effect. I think the story as a whole flowed better than “Black Box” and made more sense. Moody created a story between two characters that intertwined within the tweets only using 140 characters. “Black Box” was written well, but it seemed choppier and harder to follow at times.

  25. “Black Box” certainly has the characteristics that life flies at us in bright splinters. Throughout the piece, Egan reminds us that we need to focus on the moment we are living in rather than looking to the past or longing for the future. In a quote in box nineteen, it reads “Avoid excessive self-reflection; your job is to look out, not in.” The quote is saying you should not spend too much time focused on what you have already been through, but to focus on what is going on. Things in life come at us fast and disappear just as quickly. “Follow your instincts while bearing in mind that we must and we will, hew to our principles.” A quote from box 37 saying to stick with our principles. These bright splinters are going to happen at the worst times and the best times. We won’t always be ready, but if we follow our instincts and our principles we will be able to get through them like everything else in life.

  26. Olsen’s quote in Shield’s book complies with the idea of Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box”. This story fully demonstrates Olsen’s idea that all of life “flies at us in bright splinters.” Throughout the entire story, the narrator is detailing each specific thought as important, even though it wouldn’t seem as important in everyday life. For example, in box 7, “The directive ‘Relax’ suggests that your discomfort is palpable,” shows that the narrator is viewing every physical movement and word spoken as an almost hidden message during the conversation. In box 44, the narrator states, “There is no harm in this,” talking about the Dissociation Technique accidentally being used. This quote somewhat exemplifies the quote from Olsen that life wraps up in a neat revelation. The thoughts displayed by Egan prior to the quote in box 44 above are concluded with reasoning in said quote. This shows that life does in fact fly at us in bright splinters, with the bright splinters being the conscious thoughts and milestones in our minds, and life being everything that happens in between.

  27. After reading both stories, I felt “Black Box” used the 140 character limit more effectively as a short story than Moody’s story. While both successfully completed a concise thought in each individual tweet, I felt more satisfied with the culmination and finished product of Jennifer Egan’s story. Moody’s piece was also very interesting, but it lacked the continuity and direction of “Black Box.” Egan’s story was also slightly easier to follow than Moody’s work, making for a much smoother read.

  28. In many ways, Egan conveyed the idea of life flying at us in bright splinters in “Black Box.” I feel this can be seen where she said “You are an ordinary person, taking on an extraordinary task.” Having a smooth, successful life with no problems or tragedies is not a realistic expectation. No matter what happens, life will never slow down or wait for you to catch up; it is up to individuals to overcome the obstacles they face and move on. I also saw this point proven in a quote from block 4 that reads “when you know that a person is violent and ruthless, you will see violent ruthlessness in such basic things as his swim stroke.” I like the way the quote accurately describes the reactionary nature of individuals who have trouble coping with the obstacles thrown at them in life.

  29. Jennifer Egan’s story (to me) was more interesting, but overall I think Rick Moody’s seemed to be more in line with Twitter and the constraints that it sets. Contemporary Characters did something different to you than Black Box. The constraint was very noticeable, and I think it was interesting how Moody alternated between the girl’s point of view and the man’s point of view the entire time. At first I was a bit lost, but I think it made the story that much more interesting.

    Maybe the structure of Black Box would appear to fall in line more with Twitter and its constraints if we actually read it off Twitter. I think Contemporary Characters would have a similar feel regardless of if we actually read it off Twitter or not. Another possibility of why Moody’s work felt more true to the constraints of Twitter may have been the situation. With their alternating thoughts constantly coming at the audience, it felt like it was a trip inside two people’s minds coming at you in a news feed. Black Box felt more like a cohesive narrative, but some parts of it used the Twitter feel better than others. I think the main thing that Twitter did to help Egan’s work was that it limited her characters. This forced her to use more short power sentences as opposed to a problem some writers have of using too many long sentences (and that can sometimes cause the reader to get bored and not focus as much).

  30. I thought Jennifer Egan’s story was much more compelling than Rick Moody’s, which may be why I’m a bit more biased to say hers fit the constraints a lot better. They both definitely fit the constraint of 140 characters, but Egan’s worked better for her, in my opinion, than Moody’s did.
    The quote from Reality Hunger very directly relates to a lot of the quotes seen in Egan’s “Black Box.” For instance, I really enjoyed the line, “If your limbs are sore and your forehead scraped and raw, don’t dwell on why.” It’s not necessarily how it happened, but rather the fact that it did, and so very quickly, too. Also, Egan said, “People rarely look the way you expect them to, even when you’ve seen pictures,” which goes to show you that people are always changing, whether it’s been several years since you’ve last seen them, or from the last few moments between you taking the picture to uploading it.

  31. In “Black Box,” there were many instances in which the story captured the idea that life flies at us in bright splinters. First off, I believe this statement means there are so many things that happen to us in our lives that we have no control over. These experiences “fly at us in bright splinters,” and we have to learn to deal with them in the best way we know at the time. Each experience we have in life whether it’s good or bad helps determine the type of people we turn out to be. As stated in “Black Box,” “Experience leaves a mark, regardless of the reasons and principles behind it” (39). The experiences we have that come with no warning are often the ones that leave the greatest mark in our lives. “Your training is ongoing, you must learn from each step,” goes along with the idea that we must learn and grow from everything that happens in life (15). Later in the story, the narrator explains how, “We can’t tell you in advance what direction relief will come from” (43). This goes along with Olsen’s quote in the sense that there is something unknown that is going to happen to the character in the story. The character must be prepared to deal with whatever is thrown at them and move on with their life.

  32. This is a very interesting quote. This can be seen in Black Box a lot. The structure of the story and how the plot evolves isn’t exactly linear; there are lots of times where she is either doing some very descriptive scenes of nature, or when she is describing how her character feels. When something sets in that furthers the plot, it is usually significant (as opposed to other stories where there can be whole pages that continue to describe the entire scene as a “coherent…whole”). For example, on page five (box 15) she breaks away from the main story (where she was just trying to listen in on his phone conversation while he was on the balcony; that scene is a good example of “bright splinters”) and begins most of this part with “You will reflect…” The repetition becomes strong and gives you a sense of her backstory and significant splinters of her past, her relationship with her husband back home, and what it means to be a spy. I think some of what the quote is trying to say is that sometimes life is boring and we’re not always having these nice events that run into each other that you can always make sense of. Sometimes it’s dull, and other times it’s crazy.
    Another example from the text where this happens is the hostility of the new host’s “alpha beauty” (page 10, box 29). This encounter provides short, detailed splinters of life that is flying at this spy, trying to make sense of it all. She induces a sense of empathy from the alpha beauty in a calm manner to disarm the situation.

  33. Black box did a better job of using the constraints. I like how it read in the second person, and how it sounded like a sort of instruction manual. Moody’s story I felt was a little less engaging, and as someone who would be reading this on twitter, I wouldn’t feel any remorse simply unsubscribing. Black box, mixed plot and instructional tips in a way that was pretty compelling, and I was glad to find page after page of reading.

    Black box maintains a lot of internal and external discourse throughout, and I think that the chopped up way the plot is delivered to us, gives the piece life. It isn’t a clean, a to b to c story line, instead it’s broken, contorted, and sparsely detailed. Life as a series of bright splinters means that the only details that attach themselves to our memory are the ones that are bright, happy, or painful. Save for the focus points, the rest of the detail (i.e. time, weather, color of the tiled floor etc…) is essentially unnecessary. When our protagonist finds out that she has been disassociated with her body while lying in the bottom of the wet boat is a sharp splinter of information. When she finds herself stranded on the island, left by her mate, that is a splinter of hard information. These details are like the mile markers on a trail; though they aren’t the trail themselves they signify important places, and unforgettable landmarks that make the line on the map memorable.

  34. I think in many ways “Black Box” shows that life happens in “bright splinters.” It’s shown from the beginning when she says “the first thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most important.” Saying that for most it only takes thirty seconds for most people to get an idea of what kind of person you are. Also when Egan says “Kindess feels good, even when it’s based on a false notion of your identity and purpose.” I think it shows how people’s relationships, even if their fake, make us feel less alone in our fast lives.

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