The Beginning​ of Every Film Scholar’s Education

Figure 1: The Searchers

Casablanca. Citizen Kane. The Searchers. These are the films that made up the first year of my film studies education, but they are also the films that made up everyone who I know’s Introduction to Film Courses. My mom watched them in college. My dad watched them in college. Marlayne, a girl I met while studying abroad in Dublin, watched them in college. Every textbook that is meant to be read by people who have passed their intro courses references them.

What is it about these films that leads them to span decades and oceans of film studies students education?

At Muhlenberg, Film Studies is an interdisciplinary major taught by teachers across academic designations, but the canon of films that we are prompted to explore in our classes are still handpicked from the catalog of “good films.”

I’ve never met someone who made it through even two years of their film degree without watching Birth of a Nation. Why is that a film that after it has been debunked that it pioneered some of the techniques that it touted, that film scholars still hold in such high regard?

What is problematic what this way of teaching film?

It excludes almost the entirety of the last 20 years of filmmaking in favor of focusing exclusively on the past. While keeping an eye in the past makes sense for a class like Film History 1 and 2, a class like “Intro to Film Analysis” should cast a wider net when it comes to date range. They should pepper films like Her into the film canon. Her is a beautiful film that has immediate societal implications and plays with unique film tropes that are often glossed over in film classes like having a character that’s body is unseen. Similarly, Moonlight (Barry Jenkins), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler), Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki), Boyhood (Richard Linklater) are all films that have been around long enough to have published scholarship about them circulating around the film discourse community that emerging film scholars would benefit from watching.

I think by enriching the film studies cannon with some newer films will only make the students dialogue with the films stronger and will help strengthen emerging film scholars’ idea that films that are coming out now are still pieces of art and narrative that beg to be viewed through a film scholars lense.

Now, nowhere in this argument am I saying that we should throw away the classics. Films like Citizen Kane are important to show emerging filmmakers and scholars; they are exemplars of the genre. I just think our idea of what films should be celebrated and studied should be more global and inclusive and less limited and standardized.

يوسف‎ and Joseph

While at the most fundamental level, the stories of يوسف‎ and Joseph are identical, there are many similarities and differences in the ways they are presented to the reader.

Straight off the bat, the story of يوسف‎  has a different formal structure than Joseph. يوسف‎  opens with the words “In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.” This has an unexpected “Once Upon a Time” feel that was entirely missing in my reading of this section of the Bible.

Another huge difference between يوسف‎ and Joseph is their use of names. The story of Joseph gives nearly every character that makes it onto the page a name. This leads the reader to have to create complex, intense geologies and socioeconomic hierarchies of people within their head in order to understand the text. With that being said, I feel like it also gives the reader the ability to remember characters from the book other than Joseph by differentiating them, while يوسف‎  is much more general with its use of names, which gives the reader no choice but to be invested in يوسف‎ .

There are many little details that differ between the texts of يوسف‎ and Joseph. For example, in the Bible Joseph is described as “handsome” and “good looking” when the Egyptian’s wife tries to seduce him while in يوسف‎ he is said to have reached “maturity.” This change in language greatly alters my reading of the text and how I feel about the egyptian’s wifes act.

Additionally, both stories have interesting holes, twist, and turns. For example: in the Bible, the order in which Joseph was sold to the Midianites and Ishmaelites is very unclear, while this is bypassed in the Qur’an by naming the people who pull يوسف‎ from the well travelers who sold يوسف‎ straight to the Egyptian.

The last difference I want to illuminate between يوسف‎ and Joseph is the style of narration. In the Bible, the book is written in 3rdperson ( by someone not involved in the story). On the other hand, the narrator of the Qur’an is God. This creates the sense of an active God present through the entire text, while in the Bible, God who is sparsely mentioned seems far more removed from most of the action of this story.

In the Archives: Bibles and Other Books

Figure 1: Picture of Original Leaves from Famous Bibles (photo credit: Susan Falciani Maldonado)

I’m so glad that we took a trip to the archives for this assignment. It felt extremely comforting to move from working with material that I feel uncomfortable and out of my element interpreting, i.e. the actual text of the Bible, back to space I feel relaxed, i.e Berg Special Collections. Since my first foray in the archives Fall semester of my junior year, I have become something of an archive-a-holic, not only pulling archival materials into my classwork and professional projects, but also going to local archives in my free time.

I love the intimate act of deriving meaning from archival material, especially marginalia. This particularly stood out to me while I was exploring our copy of “A Week at the Fair,” in which the books the previous owner used the opening pages as a sort of pseudo-diary. Their notes provide a smattering of details about the places they went to at the Chicago Worlds Fair, the things they saw and the people they went with. Peppering pre-published material with writing makes it nearly impossible for readers to experience the text with any type of continuity, in regards to the original text, but it provides rich material that would otherwise be inaccessible today as these people are no longer here.

The version of the bible that I explored in the library was also impossible to explore with any sort of continuity, in regards to its original text. As seen in Figure 1, it was not one single text. It was a collection of “collectible” bible clippings that were brutally torn out of there homes and sold at an elevated price. This raises important questions of; What pages get cut out? and  Who picked these pages/ decided they were worthy of permanent displacement?

 Notably, as I flipped through the pages, languages, texts, sizes, and chronology, I realized that this system of “book box” lies somewhere in the middle of the book -> scroll continuum because once you flip a leaf over it is hard to go back and find it because it gets buried in a pile of subsequent leaves.

Additionally, the actual content of the pages was mostly impossible for me to interpret as they were written in vastly different languages/scripts from the Haikian and Greek alphabet, see Figure 2, to English and Vulgate Latin.

Figure 2: Leaf from Pickering “Diamond” Greek Testament (1828 AD)

This forced me to rely of other textual material such as pictures, which were only present in a few of the Leafs, in order to interpret any of the original text’s intended meaning. This transported me back to Jesmyn Ward’s picture interpretation focused childhood reading of the Bible that she described in her article, “I Was Wandering. Toni Morrison Found Me.”

Ultimately, this trip to the archives only succeeded in tending my passion for navigating archival material, and I’m excited to return later in the semester.  

Reading the Bible for the 2ndish Time

I’m sitting in my childhood bedroom, with its black and gold walls covered in relics of my past life, about a foot away from my great grandmother’s porcelain (trying not to think about the entomology of that word that I just learned in Dawn’s class) cross rereading the line “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words” over and over again. It feels strange for me to hear these words read in my own voice, or I guess thought in my own thoughts, when the last time I encountered them they were being spoken by Calista during Sunday service at Muhlenberg. 

I have become used to hearing the Bible that way, delivered to me through the medium of other’s voices prepackaged with a lesson relating to life during week #2, week #5, or week #15 of the semester. Before college, I hadn’t been to a church for any reason other than Christmas or a funeral in over 10 years. I know my preschool was in a church and I used to go to the same church for Sunday school, but for the life of me, I can’t remember any of it. So, the only time I encountered any biblical text in my formative years, was during choir and at voice lessons, where I would sing about whole sections of the Bible mostly unaware of their meaning or context. So, in going to college and starting to go to church again, I was confronted with this huge text that everyone in the room seemed to be much more intimately familiar with than me. So, I resolved to take it in, piece by piece, and learn what I could learn about it at service, but in doing so, I became familiar with the Bible as this out of order, cobbled together quilt of other people’s voices. 

I didn’t realize this was strange until the first time I was tasked at actually reading a passage from the Bible on my own for your class, Religious Migrations. The words don’t feel the same being read so far away from the stained-glass windows and slowly burning candles in the center of Enger Chapel. The (psalms?) feel like a piece of scholarship from a community that I am yearning to understand, but haven’t quite fully gotten the hang of the discourse yet. I’m constantly trying to figure out where or who or why things are happening, and in doing so it makes it harder for me to distill the meaning of the text.  

In summation, I feel uncomfortable reading the Bible, in order, by myself, and I don’t know what that says about me. 

Class Summary from Class #4 (9/6)

The class began with Peterson re-counting Aurora’s first writing. She chose Steve Job’s commencement speech as her “story that made a difference.” The ways that the speech connects the dots between love, loss and death showed her that everything that she’s goingthrough has happened for a reason and life tends to make more sense when looked at in hindsight. Also, while death scares her, recognizing that it will happen has been a catalyst for her to make big decisions. The class thought that her use of quotes lends to a good structure and positioned the speech in a way that made sense to the reader and was easy to follow. Dr. Albert also noted that the way that she said that she was nodding along while she was reading the speech is an interesting way of affirmation. Then, Connor attempted to have Lynn or Sean read their stories and Mason tried to read his story, but his laptop died.

So, Juanita volunteered. She talked about the memoir The Glass Castleand how it has made her feel inspired to publish something one day because of the way it was both cathartic and therapeutic for her to read and made her question things that she had previously thought. Another powerful aspect of reading the story for Juanita was the fact that she read it with her family and had somebody to talk to you about it with. The class thought that books with shared meanings are better, and Dr. Albert pointed out that it’s the same thing with Toni Morrison’s books that make you rethink things.

Dominic shared a different personal story about his sophomore year, which had a moral of getting help when you feel sick. The class discussed whether or not this was a valid response to the prompt. People said things ranging from “something you went through becomes a story” and  “by telling a personal story you give someone a piece of you” to “the fact that this was event  happened on Muhlenberg Campus made us as readers feel closer to the story.”Dr. Albert left us with a question “what is it about the word structure/ content of the story that makes you feel so close to it?” and we moved on. 

Then, we started talking about the piece “By the Letter ?/ Word for the Word?.”

We discussed Canon text, specifically the Bible. As an opener, we talked about our understanding of the piece and many people said that certain parts were confusing because they referenced unfamiliar texts. It also seemed unanimously agreed upon that prose was easier to understand than our pervious reading by Eliade. 

Then, we brainstormed a list of words that were important to the text, such as: Canon, translation, teachings-Torah, exclusive and inclusive decisions, authoritative, validity, language, evidence, and inspired.

Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that Canon is not a decision that is made through deliberations. It is a decision made by God, and which text he gives onto us. So, by studying what certain people believe to be canon, we are given insight into what stories are being told in certain periods of time and the norms and morality of the time. This allows us to better understand the group’s intentions- why they are doing the things that they are doing. 

Examples of Canon that we listed were: the 24 books of the Bible, the 22 books of the Bible, the Torah, and the Masoretic text.This led into a discussion about order and why it matters how it provides context and chronology, which diverged into a discussion about translation and the choices that translators make specifically about the Vulgate, which is the Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, in which the church approved it as being translated correctly

This moved into a discussion about Qumram, the location of the dead sea scrolls, which were found about 50 years ago. They were from the time Jesus and show that many things about their canon were exactly the same as ours, but some are completely different from the cannons that we now embrace today. This allowed scholars with flimsy evidence the ability to use solid evidence to back up their claims. (aside: the scrolls were found buried under the sand and are not nicely ordered)

Other helpful terms from class: 

The New Testament is the Christian extension of the Bible

Apocrypha might look or feel biblical, but it is not biblical like the Maccabees 

We finished class with a quote from page 150 starting with “All the holy writing defile the hands.” This is an interesting section in the written down oral Torah in which the people talk about the collection of the written Torah. We didn’t have time to expand on that though and may return to it next class. 

Why Do Stories Matter? (Free Write #1)

  1. They are a way of listening to people who are no longer here and a way for generations to pass down their knowledge to people after they’re gone.
  2. They are ways of examining the texture of our world concretely and abstractly, in order to derive deeper meaning from it and to care more about it.
  3. They are a way of examining and dismantling societal norms.
  4. They are a source of pleasure, enjoyment, happiness, and solace.
  5. They make you feel something by writing them; they are a way for people to make public what is normally private or confined to their thoughts.
  6. They shape the way we see the world around us.
  7. They transport us to new places and worlds that we don’t have the means to travel to or never you never truly existed.
  8. They invite us to be insiders we would otherwise be outsiders.

Longing For a Shade of Green that Doesn’t Exist Here (Weekly Writing #1)

Edna O’Brien wasn’t the first author to stir my soul with her stunning prose and vivid imagery, but she was definitely the most recent.

I arrived in Dublin, wet and jetlagged, completely unaware of the river of arts and culture that runs through the city. I didn’t know that while I was there I would be faced with more stories and methods of storytelling than ever before: readings of translated poems from Malta at Oscar Wilde’s house, cold readings of plays about the AIDs epidemic at Dublin’s gay theatre festival, experimental plays about the consequences of consumerist culture, and Quebecois folk music retelling stories that are older than the building I’m sitting in to write this. Dublin is a place that encourages voices, young and old, to share their lives through the medium of their choice .

I also arrived in Dublin just in time to witness the glory that was The Country Girls at the Abbey Theatre. The impact this play had on me rippled throughout the rest of my time in the country. From late nights spent dog-earring page after page of my copy of The Country Girls Trilogy in an effort to escape my closet of a dorm room to traveling to UCD to view some of the materials that reside within the 592 folders of their Edna O’Brien archive’s collection, just for the chance to sneak a peek at her many, many drafts and rummage through some of her ephemera to in the penultimate month of my trip actually getting to see Edna O’Brien speak live at Mansion house accompanied by two harpists playing Joyce poetry (even though I didn’t have a ticket and somehow got lucky enough that this woman named Sylvia gave me her extra ticket while I was in line), Edna O’Brien became an unwitting cornerstone of my Dublin experience. And by extension, her words became a vessel through which I could better navigate and understand my own life experience. 

And now that I’m home in Pennsylvania, some nights, when I find myself forgetting the feel of the Irish grass beneath my feet or the sound of the Magpies that greeted my ears too early in the morning, I open The Country Girls, and suddenly I’m back.