“Of persons, faculties, actions, etc.: Quick, sharp, keen, subtle, shrewd, esp. in small matters.”
“He enjoyed talking to her because she was an argute conversationalist and could keep up with his wit.”
Today’s post comes from Dr. Gellar-Goad, Assistant Professor of Classical Languages
You’ve probably heard this potent rhetorical question somewhere. It’s the slogan behind the famous comics-turned-movie Watchmen, it’s the title of an episode of Star Track: Next Generation and of a Hitler novel by Edwin Fadiman, and it’s quoted by pundits across the political spectrum, often when addressing issues of national security and government powers. It even has its own entry on Urban Dictionary, and the Latin original — quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — has a Wikipedia page devoted to it.
It’s like the perfect indictment of Orwellian, 1984-esque Big Brother government, right? If the watchers are the guardians of our republic, who keeps them accountable?
Well, sort of. The Latin quote is real. And the translation is accurate. But what’s missing is the context for the quotation, and it’s a context that might just blow your mind. Content is everything, if you ask the editors of BuzzFeed. But if you ask a classicist, conTEXT is everything.
The context for quis custodiet ipsos custodes is the sixth satire of the Roman poet Juvenal, who wrote in the late 1st or early 2nd century ce. In this extremely long poem, the satiric narrator — a fictional version of Juvenal, sort of like the fictional blowhard version of Stephen Colbert from The Colbert Report — is focused exclusively on Roman women, and how terrible and disgusting and especially how morally and sexually depraved he thinks they are. (Like most ancient men and many modern men, this Juvenal character is a misogynistic pig.)
Our “watchers” line pops up in a discussion about how respectable citizen men’s wives will try to have sex with anything that moves in their house besides their husbands.
The solution? Put guards (custodes, “watchers,” where we get our word “custodian”) at the door. But the wives will just bribe the guards — with sex. So now the watchers are in on the wives’ adulterous adventures. And who will watch the watchers?
So we’re not talking about national security, or big government, or spying or neighborliness or accountability or independent media. We’re talking about a crazy chauvinist’s fear that he can’t trust his No Adultery Task Force because they’re too susceptible to adulterous bribery.
Context kinda changes things, doesn’t it? And the issue of context is crucial not only to the discipline of Classics but also to successful academic work and to better thinking and living more broadly. The nerdiest subgroup of classicists, Philologists, are at core all about the context, asking “what does this word mean in context?” and “how do meanings change based on how words are used in context?”, while any archaeologist will tell you that one of Indiana Jones’ most criminal acts (besides appearing in the fourth film) was removing ancient artifacts from their physical context.
Thinking about context — rather than about quotes or facts or artifacts presented with none of their surroundings or history — leads to a more accurate, more nuanced, and better understanding of things. So when you’re writing a paper or making an argument, watching your evidence isn’t enough. You’ve got to watch the watching, by watching the context, as well.
A recent opinion article from a news source out of Cleveland claimed just that: “first-year college writing courses matter.”
The author went on to share the benefits college students gain from their first-year writing courses saying that, “good things happen in First-Year Writing classes. And none of them involves a red pen.”
“Through the give-and-take of group work, the active participation in class discussion, and the discipline of engaging in reflective, sustained thought about significant ideas, life lessons come. By December, the students are not who they are in August.”
Now that many of you have a few weeks of your first-year college writing course under your belts, what do you think?
Whether you’re starting your first week of classes as a first-year student or you’re back for your final year (or a victory lap), we are so glad to have you here for a brand new semester!
We’re getting ready to open the center with limited hours on Monday August 31, and we will have the new schedule posted soon.
In the meantime, why don’t you make yourself comfortable and getting better acquainted with the Writing Center:
– Set up your WC Online account.
– Browse our blog, The Active Voice, and get a better sense of the things we find interesting and useful.
See you soon in ZSR 426!
“The pretended refusal of something one keenly desires.”
“He pretended to hardly notice her, trying not to catch her eye during WRI 111. It may seem that he didn’t like her, but in reality, he really wanted to ask if she’d be his valentine.”
“accismus, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 11 February 2015.
And speaking of valentines. We’re selling handmade valentines all week in the Writing Center! $5 a piece and all proceeds benefit the YMCA Literacy Initiative.
Happy Friday Wake Forest! Here’s a peek at our week.
– Monday, in conjunction with ZSR, we shared some great research hacks.
– On Tuesday, we shared some cool writing tips for NaNoWriMo.
– We added another word to you vocabulary on Wednesday.
– Thursday we shared a few yoga exercises you can do at work (or in class).
Have a great weekend!
“A dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a hodge-podge, a ragout.”
“Using what she had on hand, she was able to cook up a delicious gallimaufry that would have impressed even the most experienced chef.”
“gallimaufry, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 2 September 2014.
Folks at WFU, including faculty in the Writing Program, are gearing up to celebrate contemplative pedagogy with a few upcoming events focused on that topic.
But what exactly is contemplative pedagogy?
According to professor Eric Stottlemyer:
Contemplative pedagogy incorporates the practices of meditation and introspection in the classroom in order to enhance the cognitive skills of students, to deepen self-awareness, and to foster empathy, creativity, compassion, and communication. Instead of focusing exclusively on student acquisition of material knowledge, contemplative pedagogy addresses the whole student, and emphasizes a balance between mind and body, intellect and emotion, and the classroom and the larger world. It also provides students with the means and the skills to manage stress and to locate a set of personally-defined ethics that might provide meaning to the student’s life.
Although this concept might be new to use, it draws on ancient practices to enhance the learning environment.
So what might this look like in the classroom? Brown University lists a few great exercises that faculty can use to bring contemplative pedagogy practices to their students.
Come back next week for a peek at the upcoming schedule of events.