Reflective Essay

Before this class I had never experienced a course in which the students did the teaching. Since I was in a later group it was intriguing to learn from my peers and to hear from the presenters what they chose to be interesting about the Enlightenment. It was even more interesting to comment and listen to comments about all the topics that were discussed throughout the course. Though, us students having to bear the responsibility of teaching and grading was difficult to catch on to. It was definitely a good experience and I learned more in this course than I have in any other course. I am confident that because of the learning process I will actually retain a lot more information from this course than I have from other courses. I especially enjoyed working with Group 6 and witchcraft.

Every time I have had group projects it has always been a disaster. This wasn’t THAT bad. There was some missed communication and time restraints but we pulled it off, just like the rest of the groups!

I enjoyed the the blog post for week one the most. I think that blog post sums up what I was going to learn from the class. No matter the medium: texts, paintings, engravings etc.The Enlightenment was about letting go of tradition for the sake of tradition. It was a time when philosophers began asking the questions that still have relevance today. Almost everything around us today can be traced back in someway to the Enlightenment. Without pseudoscience there would be no science. If not for the original restrictive gender roles there would be no movement away from them today.

Most societal trends are associated with the previous trends, reflections. If we lose our nonage, forget our influences, we can understand more freely.


superstition fades

The trial of Maggie Nattrass was for the attempt to set fire to an occupied house for the second time. Nattrass was accused of this crime because of several fires that occurred in the house. Oddly enough, no one ever saw the fires, which had already been put out by the time the witnesses arrived to the location of the incident (Old Bailey). Susan Chipperfield, said in a testimony that the defendant, Nattrass, once told her “I don’t know, I am bewitched, everything I touch seems to catch on fire” (Bailey). But another testimony by Henry Brown, a builder that was a friend of the prosecutor, said “the blankets were smoldering – I asked her why she did it – she said ‘ I don’t know how I did it; I did not do it willingly’ –I said before the Magistraitet hat she appeared to be out of her mind – I asked her whether she had any illness; I thought she seemed insane – I think so still; I don’t think a sane person would have acted as she did” (Bailey). The testimony of Brown was well enough to blame the fires on Nattrass’ insanity. She was found not guilty of the felony arson charge she faced. Mr. Justice Hawkins declared that she was not guilty of intent to injure another because only objects were burned, but he also said that a separate trial may be in order to charge Nattrass with destroying “goods” (Bailey).

This case doesn’t mention witchcraft in the narrative but the suspiciousness of the fires is enough for Nattrass to think, if only for a second, that she was bewitched. The testimony of Henry Brown was apparently enough to throw out the chance of witchcraft and sorcery. This relates to what Lewis Scaife said in a Brief Sketch of Superstition, by the 1700s, “Sciences stepped forward and declared that it would investigate the superstition and wonderful claims of the magicians the rife, and as soon as the existing conditions were pronounced false the clouds were pushed further back and the light of the truth began to shine once more on a benighted world” (pp. 46-47). Nattrass’ trial was held in 1886 so this trial could be proof of the ongoing societal shift toward science as an explanation and away from superstition.

In George Burr’s Narrative of the Witchcraft Cases there is also a disturbance with fire that is not pointedly related to witchcraft. This fire is more suspicious than the fire in the case of Nattrass. This witness states there was a fire caused by lightening hitting the chimney of their home and setting leanto aflame. Philip Delano said that during the fire he felt a “violent heat upon his body,” though his clothes were not burned (Burr; 15). This does not have a direct correlation to witchcraft but the account of Delano is suspicious so it is included in this narrative with Burr saying that he will leave it to the reader to decide if they believe it is a supernatural occurrence; probably because this was published in 1914, the times had changed and science overwhelmed superstition.

Gender in the Enlightenment

Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Subordination” overall states that gender identities are a social construct. She says that drag is not the imitation of straightness; it is not the appropriation of a gender that solely belongs to one sex.

Butler says later in her work, “In a way, the presence of heterosexual constructs and positionalities in whatever form in gay and lesbian identities presupposes that there is a gay and lesbian repetition of straightness, a recapitulation of straightness – which is itself a repetition and recapitulation of its own ideality – within its own terms, a site in which all sorts of resignifying and parodic repetition become possible” (Butler).

From this quote it is clearly explained that straightness cannot be an “original” because there are so many other sexualities that are not only the opposite but sometimes completely dissimilar.

“A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” by Jonathan Swift is about a prostitute coming home from work. The poem illustrates how a woman is only beautiful with make-up and dresses. The scene of Corrina waking up after a night of prostitution is full of disgusting images:


“A wicked Rat her Plaister stole,

Half eat, and dragg’d it to his Hole.

The Crystla Eye, alas, was miss’t;

And Puss had on her Plumpers p—t.

A Pigeon pick’d her Issue-Peas;

And Shock her Tresses fill’d with Fleas.”

Butler would respond to this poem by Swift in a less than admirable way. Swifts poem speaks of how when an ugly woman takes off her make-up and other beauty aids she is no longer beautiful. Swift’s ideal of womanly beauty is artificial. Swift demonstrates that there is a certain type of beauty associated with women. Butler would respond to this by saying that it’s not the artificial aids that make a woman beautiful – it’s not even that she’s a woman – beauty is not related to the gender or sex of a person. The same is exemplified in Swift’s poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room.”

“But oh! It turn’d poor Strephon’s Bowels,

When he beheld and smelt the Towels,

Begumm’d, bematter’d, and beslim’d

With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim’d.

No Object Strephon’s Eye escapes,

Here Pettycoats in frowzy Heaps…”

This part of the poem explains how Strephon can no longer forget his experience the inside of a woman’s dressing room. Strephon can no longer even think about a woman without mentally experiencing what is underneath all of the artificial aids that woman use to live up to the womanly beauty ideal. Butler would say that there is no true ideal of womanly beauty because the gender role of women is a social construct.

How to become enlightened

I think that human beings can achieve enlightenment. René Decartes said in his Fourth Meditation, “As well as knowing that I exist, at least as a thinking thing, I have in my mind an idea of corporeal nature.” I agree with how Decartes describes that humans have souls and bodies in which those souls reside, more simply, humans exists in dualism – the metaphysical and the physical existence. To achieve enlightenment, I think, you have to have a mental self, as opposed to a physical self, in order to become enlightened in the way that Immanuel Kant describes, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.”

So, I disagree with Julien Offray la Mettrie who said in Man a Machine, “Our only way to discover the true nature of man is a posteriori, i.e. on the basis of empirical evidence, trying isolate the soul, as it were disentangling it from the body’s organs.” La Mettrie only thinks of the human as what can be seen, he doesn’t believe that the mind is separate from the body. In la Mettrie’s mind humans cannot become enlightened. Because I agree with Kant on the method of enlightenment I cannot agree with la Mettrie about man as only a machine.

As for a method to achieving enlightenment I do not agree with Decartes’ idea of personal self-fulfillment. Kant’s method of achieving enlightenment is that we much shed our nonage, meaning that we must set aside all things we think to be true in order to question them all to find out what is actual.

While I do agree with Decartes that enlightenment is a personal and individualistic definition, I also think that there is importance in having institutional support to benefit intellectual property. When there is institutional support more people are willing to shed their nonage because they know that any original thoughts that come out of such will be protected as their own. John Milton is a proponent of inscribing author and/or printer’s names on texts but argues that it is not the duty of the government to decide what citizens get to read. Milton said, “And as for regulating the Presse, let no man think to have the honour of advising ye better then your selves have done in that Order publisht next before this, that no book be Printed, unlesse the Printers and the Authors name, or at least the Printers be register’d. Those which otherwise come forth, if they be found mischievous and libellous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectuall remedy.” I agree with Milton that texts should be regulated by author and printer but that the public should be allowed to decide what ideas are “infectious.” o While thinking about Kant’s idea of shedding nonage to become enlightened, it is important to also think about Milton’s suggestions about the freedom of press. When there is freedom of press more people are willing to attempt enlightenment and possibly create original ideas. Even more important is that the public has access to any documents regarding these ideas.

Enlightenment occurs individually but there are sociopolitical factors that influence the readiness of humans to become enlightenment by shedding their nonage.

Letter VII

Letter VII is a letter from King Charles I to his Queen. The King is in London negotiating a treaty with Parliament. He is writing to the Queen telling her that the negotiations are not going  well. The King is very affectionate in his letter using “dearheart” and “without thy company I can neither have peace nor comfort within myself.” He reassures the Queen that even though there has been little progress in London with the treaty that hes commissioners are capable of standing their ground and achieving a compromise.

Then the King admits that she does have right to be worried about him being in London because of those with the same persuasion as “Percy.”

“Percy” is actually Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland. Percy is the highest ranking royal official that switches sides and becomes the King’s opposition as they work on the treaty of Uxbridge.

The last two sentences of the letter are very personal. The King is telling the Queen how much she means to him and how because of his love for her he will do his best to end the war. For 17th century England, reading these private letters could have sparked even more controversy toward the King and the power the Queen held over him. During the times the Spanish Catholic Queen was allotted influence in the King’s decisions, Englishman and women might not have enjoyed that so much because the law of the land demanded Protestant beliefs. But looking back at the events from modern day it more or less just seems like a sweet text message the president might send the first lady to catch her up on how his day is going.

If we were able to see the messages the president texted or emailed the first lady, with the government shut down in effect, some U.S. citizens might be feel, “why is he texting when the government is shut down?” Others might feel that this act makes him more relate-able to the public. As the annotation says, “They may see here in his private letters what affection the King bears to his people…it comes from a Prince seduced out of his proper sphere.”

Modern examples of government exposes are, in effect, similar to the King’s Cabinet Opened. The actions of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are modern and concerning international problems that come with progress, but the end reactions of the public are similar.

The information Edward Snowden took with him overseas is incredible. The fact that a man — without a high school diploma, who worked for a contractor that was hired by the NSA to compile mobile phone information — was able to take all of this private information out of the country shocked citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world. The controversy is: Snowden was capable of selling or giving away government compiled information. The fact that the NSA is even compiling this information, which was news to most U.S. citizens. And that every day, average American citizen had access to this information.

The reactions by the public are similar to those reactions of the King’s Cabinet Opened. Citizens found out information that the government thought to be private, for the sake of the people. This time it’s our own private information and not the King’s but reactions are the same. Citizen’s wanted to know how this is even legal, like English men and woman wanted to know how it was legal for the Queen to be Catholic. The ideal that so long as we follow the rules (laws), the government’s job is to protect its citizens, is being threatened in both cases because the government is not following the rules that the citizen’s understand as laws they must also follow. Whether it is invasion of privacy or adhering to religious law, when the government undermines the knowledge of its citizens all hell will break lose.

Race as a social construct

The timeline we made in class on September 17th gaging the racial events that led up to modern day designated race as a social construct. Humans were not created with the idea of race. We do tend to categorize and stereotype the people we meet because it is easier for our brain to process information in such a way. But race and racism are social constructs in that they are not necessary in defining who we, ourselves, are but are necessary in defining ourselves in relation to the people in the world around us. Race helps us re-orient ourselves.

Woman’s role in society is another social construct of modern times. The 1950s was the epitome of the housewife ideal. When feminism came into full force after the ’50s the single working woman proliferated. But the working woman also is a social construct because it is only an opposite. Because the current ideal of a successful woman is just the opposite of the Victorian-influenced 1950s housewife a woman’s role in society remains a social construct similar to race.

Omi and Winant’s “Racial Formation” says, “Everybody learns some combination, some version, of the rules of racial classification, and of her own racial identity, often without obvious teachings or conscious inculcation … Race becomes ‘common sense’ — a way of comprehending, explaining, and acting in the world.” This statement adheres to the idea that we cannot simply “do without” race. It has become part of our global society. I would love to say it is not necessary but if we were to do away with race we would, consequently, have to do away with the history of our world. There would be no way to explain history without racial issues. If the Civil Rights movement were erased from history books and an entire generation was raised unaware of race, they would be just that, unaware. As a society it is better to be aware, enlightened, of the negative history from which we came, than to know nothing of it, to not know that we are currently evolving.

Ideas brought forth by the Equiano reading include the thought that no matter the skin color, it is the actions of the first impression that render a prejudice. Equiano had never seen a white colored man before. This is not what scared him. What scared him were the actions the men took. “Every circumstance I met with, served on the render my state more painful, and heightened my apprehensions, and my opinions of the cruelty of the whites” (Equiano). Even in the relatively modern times of slavery Equiano illustrates the idea that race is a social construct. He had never before seen a white man and it was not the color of the skin that alarmed him, but the cruelty of the white men to black men and other white men.

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” written by Judith Viorst, reads exactly how it sounds from first glance at the title. Alexander, the main character, has a bad day, from gum in his hair to seeing kissing on TV. When reading this as a child I remember thinking “his day DID stink!” A rereading as an adult allows for time to step back and have an analytical viewing of the text. Even as a child reading this picture book I took away the real world lesson that everyone has a bad day, and at the end it’s just that, a single bad day, or several, in the grand scheme of things our bad days will never be worth more than the good days. My parents never censored the media my siblings and I ingested. After analyzing the readings for this post I believe that the article by Barber is an article that every parent should read.

Barber explains that shows like Adventure Time and Louie “break the boundries of story telling.” This sentiment completely makes sense. The typical Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers was boring to me as a child. Knowing that I was supposed to learn something from the show created a feeling of animosity toward the shows. The thought that the story telling devices of Adventure Time could lead children to be attracted to seemingly odd story telling devices in the future is awesome. I enjoyed shows like Rocco’s Modern Life and Ah! Real Monsters when I was a child. I also enjoyed “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Viorst’s picture book is not a typical happy-go-lucky children’s book, it contains one bad event after another, yet, somehow, Alexander survives. We must go through the bad to appreciate the good. This is reminiscent of Blake.

“How can the bird that is born for joy  Sit in a cage and sing?  How can a child, when fears annoy,  But droop his tender wing,  And forget his youthful spring?”

This stanza of “The Schoolboy” examines the sentiment that promotes the wildness and creativity that is innately in young children. Children should be allowed sufficient time outside of the “cage” to make mistakes and learn from them. Both Viost’s and Blake would agree that the containment of a child from the ugliness of the real world is not conducive to their learning and growing experiences. Locke would be inclined to say, “… therefore I cannot but prefer breeding of a young gentleman at home in his father’s sight, under a good governour, as much the best and safest way to this great and main end of education…” If disregarding the fact that during the time this was written by Locke the ideal of schooling was simply to learn, whereas now it’s a social project; I can imagine that in modern times young boys can gain a sense of virtue from attending school strictly as a social project than could be learned in a strict schooling environment of the Elightenment. Because of how it has changed, Locke would agree with the idea that children could grow and gain virtue from the modern “educational” environment based on the statment he makes that education can be sacrificed for virtue.

Strasburger’s article said “most parents, developmental psychologists, policymakers,
and educators would agree that children are not the same as adult.” That may be true, but children can learn from media the same as adults. Alexander in “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is an example of media that children and absorb unsupervised and potentially take away a hard life concept.

In modern times children’s shows and books have expanded in volume so much that parents have a variety of options in choosing what their children can watch and when. But when children attend school in modern times there is no parental control to what they coudl be exposed to by other children. The bottom line is that, like Blake, children should be allotted creative times to explore new and adverturous ways to learn. But also, like Locke, children should learn greatly from virtue rather than the “educational” system. Some of the same information dispersal techniques suggested by Locke and Blake are enacted in modern times, but definitely regenerated into the different circumstances of our times.