Tutor profile: Nico C.
What is something about French culture that would shock an American?
How polite and formal you must be, even when asking someone for directions on the street. You can't forget "hello" "excuse me" "please" or "thank you"-- which, in America, can usually be ignored if you have the person's attention and they don't appear to be in too much of a rush.
Suppose a student writes: "I enjoyed this book. It was very interesting." What are some ways to turn this into a well-though-out, critical statement?
First, going off of the fact that they enjoyed the book, we can ask: 1. What did they like? Was it the characters? The setting? The plot? The way it was written? What parts of the story stood out to them in a good way? Next, we can figure out what parts they didn't care for so much. What parts irritated them? Bored them? If they were writing the story, what would they change? And lastly, how can they connect this to other stories, whether written or tv or any other format, that they know? What similarities exist? Why? Is this good or bad? Does it speak to something larger? Once we have a list of these answers, we can begin to put into into a statement that speaks critically about the work, as well as connecting it to larger cultural conversations.
How can fiction be used to critique, or debate culture and the politics of the intended audience? What are the parts of a fictional cultural critique that make it excellent, and how can it fail?
An excellent fictional cultural critique engages in three main ideas: first, it has to be clear in its message. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there’s no room for subtlety; but it has to be specific. What good is a critique on racism if, halfway through, it begins critiquing people’s responses to the racism they face? The reader will be left wondering whether the book they read was about racism or about people’s responses to racism—and oftentimes, with poorly handled critiques, the reader is left to wonder whether the author agrees with, or is in opposition to, the issue that was raised in the book. Secondly, the critique has to be applicable to the intended audience’s every day lives, at least in broad terms. A critique of slavery, for instance, has to include the effects of slavery on society that can be, on some level, recognizable to the reader: if the message of the book is simply “slavery is bad,” then it isn’t critiquing the ways in which, say, a society has been built upon, and benefitted from that slavery. Lastly, it has to be a well-told story that people want to read. The point of using fiction is because it is entertaining and widely-read. If the plot is simply a structure in which to put a cultural critique, it will be dry, boring, and without characters or a setting which is compelling to the reader. Instead, cultural critique has to be woven into the story so that it becomes part of a larger narrative that is worth reading outside of the understanding it provides of a social issue.
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