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Close Study of Text. Memoir and Culture as Representations of Identity. Core Text. Li Cunxin, Mao’s Last Dancer, Puffin Melbourne, 2005. BOS Context. Module B: Critical Study of Texts

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close study of text

Close Study of Text

Memoir and Culture as Representations of Identity

core text
Core Text

Li Cunxin, Mao’s Last Dancer, Puffin Melbourne, 2005

bos context
BOS Context
  • Module B: Critical Study of Texts
  • This module requires students to explore and evaluate a specific text and its reception in a range of contexts. It develops students’ understanding of questions of textual integrity.  Students explore the ideas expressed in the text through analysing its construction, content and language. They examine how particular features of the text contribute to textual integrity. They research others’ perspectives of the text and test these against their own understanding and interpretations of the text. Students discuss and evaluate the ways in which the set work has been read, received and valued in historical and other contexts. They extrapolate from this study of a particular text to explore questions of textual integrity and significance. Students develop a range of imaginative, interpretive and analytical compositions that relate to the study of their specific text. These compositions may be realised in a variety of forms and media.
  • Module B: Critical Study of Texts
  • This module requires students to engage with and develop an informed personal understanding of their prescribed text. Through critical analysis and evaluation of its language, content and construction, students will develop an appreciation of the textual integrity of their prescribed text. They refine their own understanding and interpretations of the prescribed text and critically consider these in the light of the perspectives of others. Students explore how context influences their own and others’ responses to the text and how the text has been received and valued. (Reread English Stage 6 Syllabus, p 52.)
  • Representation: the ways in which ideas are portrayed through texts
  • Textual integrity: The definition of textual integrity in the Stage 6 English Syllabus is:
  • "the unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value" (page 143
memoir or autobiography
Memoir or Autobiography
  • Memoir comes from the Latin word "memoria" meaning memory.
  • A biography or autobiography is a person’s life…a memoir is a “slice” of life.
structural elements of memoir
Structural Elements of Memoir









Focus on a brief period of time or series of related events

Narrative structure (storytelling elements including setting, plot, imagery, characterisation, foreshadowing/flashback, and irony and symbolism


Fictional quality

Higher emotional level/more personal reconstruction of the events and their impact

elements of memoir cont
Elements of memoir (cont)
  • Explores an event or series of related events that remain lodged in memory
  • Describes the events and then shows, either directly or indirectly why they are significant
  • WHY do you STILL remember them? ( we will study the concept of memory and how we store memories)
  • Focused in time (not long – particularly significant in terms of science and then the veracity of memory in memoir)
  • Focuses on problem/conflict and its resolution and why the resolution is significant in your life
expectations and assumptions
Expectations and Assumptions
  • The audience makes the assumption that something more visceral is or should be happening when someone sits down to write her own memories of events.
  • We expect an embodied relationship between memory and the person remembering; the story is already imprinted indelibly, even before it is voiced or linked, in the synapses of the teller, waiting for the appropriate moment to be made visible to another.
definitions from previous slide
Definitions from previous slide
  • Visceral: characterised by intuition or instinct rather than intellect
  • Synapse: a region where nerve impulses are transmitted and received, encompassing the axon terminal of a neuron that releases neurotransmitters in response to an impulse, an extremely small gap across which the neurotransmitters travel, and the adjacent membrane of an axon, dendrite, or muscle or gland cell with the appropriate receptor molecules for picking up the neurotransmitters
definitions you will need
Definitions you will need
  • Universalism: Universal characteristics – applies to all
  • Humanistic: Concern for human affairs, characteristics, values, dignity etc
  • Chronicling: A chronological record of events; To record or chronicle events
  • Propagandistic: Pertaining to propaganda or propagandists
definitions cont
Definitions (cont)
  • Partisanship: Devotes to one party or faction or ideology characterised by emotional or biased allegiance
  • Supernatural history: Complex phenomena in history that cannot be explained by natural or human events or recall – above nature- not necessarily occult etc, just the history that cannot be explained within the constraints of time, science etc
definitions cont1
Definitions (cont)
  • Secular: of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
  • Naturalistic: imitating nature  or the usual natural  surroundings; pertaining to naturalism,  especially in literature and art.
  • Philology: the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning; (especially in older use) linguistics, especially historical and comparative linguistics; the love of learning and literature.
definitions cont2
Definitions (cont)
  • Epistemology: a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.
  • Fallacy: a deceptive, misleading, or false notion, belief, etc: That theworld is flat was at one time a popular fallacy; a misleading or unsound argument; deceptive, misleading, or false nature; erroneousness.
definitions cont3
Definitions (cont)
  • Presentism: theories that suggest the biblical acts leading to the apocalypse are in the course of being fulfilled - that all history is leading to the apocalypse and end of the world and thus has been predetermined – fate and destiny
  • Dogma: a specific doctrine or theoretical or ideological approach
definitions cont4
Definitions (cont)
  • Cliometricians: the study of historical data by the use of statistical, often computerized, techniques.
  • Myopic: Shortsighted- one view, limited view of history
definitions cont5
Definitions (cont)
  • Deconstruction: a philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s. Applied to the study of literature and history, the theory questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality. Further, the theory emphasises that a text has no stable reference or identification because words essentially only refer to other words; therefore, a reader must approach a text by eliminating any metaphysical or ethnocentric assumptions through an active role of defining meaning, sometimes by a reliance on new word construction, etymology, puns, and other word play.
definitions cont6
Definitions (cont)
  • Structuralism: Suggests literature can be interpreted and analysed in terms of oppositions, contrasts, and hierarchical structures, especially as they might reflect universal mental characteristics or organizing principles
  • An approach to linguistics that analyses and describes the structure of language, as distinguished from its comparative and historical aspects
  • Post structuralism: a variation of structuralism, often seen as a critique, emphasizing plurality of meaning and instability of concepts that structuralism uses to define society, language, etc.
definitions cont7
Definitions (cont)
  • Modernism: as a movement in the arts, 1929, from modern. The word dates to 1737 in the sense of "deviation from the ancient and classical manner" [Johnson, who calls it "a word invented by Swift"]. It has been used in theology since 1901.
definitions cont8
Definitions (cont)
  • Post modernism: any of a number of trends or movements in the arts and literature developing in the 1970s in reaction to or rejection of the dogma, principles, or practices of established modernism,  especially a movement in architecture and the decorative arts running counter to the practice and influence of the International Style and encouraging the use of elements from historical vernacular styles and often playful illusion, decoration, and complexity.
definitions cont9
Definitions (cont)
  • Feminism: The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men. Has anthropological, sociological and historical theories underpinning the rise and perpetuation of the theory.
introductory questions
Introductory Questions
  • History: record of the past – facts – why is this idea limited or problematic?
  • Memory: perceptions of events, emotions, reactions – why are these important?
introductory questions1
Introductory Questions
  • Who records memoir? – Male? Female? – Cultural expectations and roles about who records and perpetuates or owns history or memories that are being recorded – think about the range of histories that converge with memoirs, autobiographies or biographies and who writes them; extremely gendered representation until the 20th century.
  • Whose perspective of memory and the history they represent is presented in the text?
  • Whose perspective is silenced?
  • What historical facts are presented?
  • How can the facts be verified?
  • How would we normally assess or evaluate the evidence? Do we change our expectations due to the cultural separation we have from the content of the text?
introductory questions cont
Introductory Questions (cont)
  • What limitations are evident in the recorded history Li Cunxin presents in relation to Mao, China and the ballet movement during the 20th Century?
  • What is Li Cunxin’s purpose in relating, perpetuating or manipulating the history of China, whether cultural or political?
  • Can we ever negate the historical context present in the text??
  • Why do we revise or create revisionist histories?
  • How might the historical context, political ideologies and cultural markers add to or take away from the textual integrity of the text?
introductory questions cont1
Introductory Questions (cont)
  • Who records memory?
  • What differentiates the memories from history?
  • Is all history memory?
  • What is collective memory?
  • What is national memory?
  • How does national memory differ from personal memory?
  • Does every individual have the same memory of history or an historical event?
introductory questions cont2
Introductory Questions (cont)
  • What histories are examined- Chinese ancient; Chinese 19th and early 20th century; Chinese mythology and its influence on history and national memory? Chinese American immigration; defection; Communism; Cold War politics; Cultural Revolution
  • How effectively does Li Cunxin use his structure to emphasise the significance of history on his own and others’ memories?
introductory questions cont3
Introductory Questions (cont)
  • Why do we reflect upon our memories?
  • Why do we record our memories?
  • How do memories contribute to identity – Family? Personal? Gender? Social? Political? Historical?
  • How could our - or others - interpretation of memory be assessed as unreliable?
  • How could our – or others – interpretation of history be assessed as unreliable??
  • Can we have biased memory in the same way that we can have biased history?
where to from here
Where to from here?
  • Critical Reading Theory
  • What is ‘critical reading?
  • Critical reading is a vital part of the writing process. In fact, reading and writing processes are alike. Both require us to make meaning by actively engaging with the text. As a reader, you are not a passive participant, but an active constructor of meaning. Exhibiting an inquisitive, "critical" attitude towards what you read will make anything you read richer.
critical reading theory
Critical Reading Theory
  • Prior Knowledge + Predictions = Comprehension
  • When we read, we don't decipher every word on the page for its individual meaning. We process text in chunks, and we also employ other "tricks" to help us make meaning out of so many individual words in a text we are reading. First, we bring prior knowledge to everything we read, whether we are aware of it or not. Titles of texts, authors' names, and the topic of the piece all trigger prior knowledge embedded in either our learned or semantic memory. The more prior knowledge we have, the better prepared we are to make meaning of the text. With prior knowledge we make predictions, or guesses about how what we are reading relates to our prior experience. We also make predictions about what meaning the text will convey.
critical reading theory cont
Critical Reading Theory ( cont.)
  • These factors lead to critical reading:
  • Previewing
  • Annotating
  • Summarising
  • Analysing
  • Re-reading
  • Responding
critically reading mao s last dancer
Critically Reading Mao’s Last Dancer
  • Previewing:
  • Reading around the text – biographical briefs on who Li Cunxin is, where he has come from, why his text might be of value or relevance to us and in what ways can we use the knowledge to learn what we need to develop depth in our reading, interpretation and understanding of text… for this course, for the HSC, for university and, to be more knowledgeable members of a global world.
critical reading
Critical Reading
  • Annotating:
  • The process of annotating allows us to engage fully with text. Using post-its as you read, using coloured tabs for thematic or specific language foci will allow you to refer back quickly to those areas of the text that inform your study.
  • As you read the first time you might become aware that some aspects of the text impact on you more than others – place post-its on these pages.
  • Go back to these pages at the end of your reading session and write down, mark out quotes, place tabs if the writing has something you want to ask a question about, or demands research to fully understand its context. Never gloss over what you do not understand, each time you find yourself not engaging take a break, go back and evaluate what you have read and why you are disengaging and determine whether it is a lack of interest or lack of understanding. Evaluate why you are responding to the text in such a way and reevaluate why you are studying the text and what you need to do as a critical reader.
critical reading1
Critical Reading
  • Summarising:
  • At the end of each chapter you should be writing a summary of what has been divulged to you as the audience – and its effectiveness.
  • Use the questions for each chapter as a guide here; once the questions have been answered then you will have read the text closely and can determine themes, issues, ideas, specific use of language, historical veracity, use or reliance or veracity of memory etc., which all interrelate and define the textual integrity of the text.
critical reading2
Critical Reading
  • Analysing:
  • The questions you have been provided with will assist you to develop analytical skills. At this stage in your senior studies you are still developing your understanding of why we analyse and knowing what questions to ask of a text are not necessarily in your repertoire.
  • Use the questions to analyse the text closely and then in future study you will know what questions to ask of a text – especially important when you have to select related material which is not taught in class.
critical reading3
Critical Reading
  • Re-Reading
  • You will find you have to go back and reread sections of the text many times to determine its meaning.
  • Do not miss this step as your reading will change each time you learn something new. You will find new meanings, have new realisations due to a contextual understanding from research or explication in class. Re-reading must become a routine part of your study, not just for English, but across all subjects. You will never glean full meaning from initial reading or limiting your engagement to a once only glance of the text.
critical reading4
Critical Reading
  • Responding:
  • You will be required to respond to this text in several ways:
  • You have been asked to create a memoir that has cultural meaning relating to your own life experiences – this is a response to the learning you have done in reading the text and completing some historical research into how Li Cunxin’s Chinese background influences his personality and identity.
  • You will be required to write a memoir using your learning from this text. Analysis of a provided excerpt of the text with selections of your own from the text will require close attention to the way language is used to: shape and construct meaning; challenge your ideas of childhood, family, nationality, patriotism and work; allow us, as readers, insight into the impact one man’s experience can have on our own interpretations of self and others.
  • The questions in your study guide will allow these aspects of critical reading to be developed.