Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Existential Degu Teaches…Close Reading 101

This is the first of a series of guest posts from Jean-Paul Sartre the Existential Degu (JP). Sister Moonshine carried out some dérives (psychogeography trips) with me in the past, and it is not until now that JP has carved out his own niche in helping me with my research and teaching.

How to Carry Out a Close Reading

We will be starting off this series, of applying analytical methods to interpreting texts and images, by undertaking a very basic close reading of a short sentence. The above image was an Xmas present to Tina (my human guardian) from a close friend. It’s a make-up bag/pencil case. The bag is pink and white with a zip, and has an image on it of a silhouette of a degu (you can see it is full of stuff and already being used by my human). We will be doing a close reading of the text on the bag:

“The more I learn about people the more I love my degu”

STEP 1: Read and Highlight

Read the sentence through a few times, allowing oneself to ruminate on its meaning. Highlight the key words:

“The more I learn about people the more I love my degu”.

Carry out an interpretation/translation of these words:

Learn = to acquire knowledge or understanding of a given object, process or situation

People = generally considered to be humans (aka primates)

Love = affection, attachment, keen interest, bonded relationship

Degu = an exceptionally cute (often misunderstood) rodent, sometimes called a squirrel or rat, but more closely related to a guinea pig (can sometimes be a ‘pet’)

STEP 2: Read and Translate

Now you have looked more deeply into the meaning of the key words you can re-read the sentence. Take into account your newly acquired knowledge and situate the key words within the other words of the sentence. Ask yourself such questions as:

  • Who is the ‘I’ in the sentence? Is it the sender or receiver of the gift, for instance? What can we say about this person? Is it a more generalised ‘I’ that could apply to a number of persons?
  • What does ‘my’ mean? This word implies ownership, but, also, it can mean an association with. How can we establish which is correct?

So, if we were to do a straight forward interpretation (just using different key words), we could say:

"The more I understand humans the more I am attached to my pet rodent"

STEP 3: Context and Reinterpretation

Context is very important for undertaking a close reading. The more one understand about what is going on in regard to the text, and what surrounds it, the more one can understand it. For instance: circumstances, history, the socio-political milieu, and so on, should all be taken into consideration. Here are some facts, that as the degu being discussed, I am privy to. They are also things we would not know, outside of this post, and form the context of the situation:

  1. My human believes that animals, while not ‘human’, are ‘people’ (in science the term is ‘personhood’ and some scientists and philosophers now believe this is the case, although plenty don’t – see the Nonhuman Rights Project for discussion on court cases in this regard).
  2. The ‘I’ in the text is my human guardian and the ‘degu’ is myself.
  3. My human owns the make-up bag.
  4. And, more importantly: My human has named me after an existential philosopher who was famous for saying “Hell is other people”. This is often taken out of context and misinterpreted (even though, in the context of the situation under discussion, it works quite well). What the quote is actually about (very simply) is our relationship with the Other and the subject/object dichotomy that comes into being with the gaze.

So, having done our research (understood the meaning of the words, translated the text, and got to grips with the context), we can now (perhaps) understand it to mean:

"The more I understand about my place in the world and my relationship with others, the more I appreciate how unique my connection is to Jean-Paul Sartre the Existential Degu"

Well, thank you for checking out my post, humans. I am planning on doing a basic deconstruction in the next ‘The Existential Degu Teaches…’