Midterm Exam HUM 3255: Modern Humanities

What Would a Good Answer Look Like?

Recall that the exam looked like this:

Do three of the following four questions. You will have the whole class (50 minutes) to write this exam. The best answers will be well organized, well written, comprehensive, and to the point. The test is worth 20% of the final grade. Please use the blue UCF exam booklets, 8.5 x 11 size. Please make sure to write your name on the booklet, and if any of your answers are out of order, make sure to number the pages.


1. In which ways are modernism and individualism mutually supporting, and in which ways might they be at odds?

2. How would Freud and Kierkegaard analyze Bladerunner, from the point of view of our sense of self?

3. How could modern technology be linked with the modernist self? With modernist social organization?

4. The following is from Sorrows of Young Werther, 47-48

"We often complain that there are so few good days and so many bad ones," I began, "but I think we are wrong to do so. If our hearts were always open, so that we could enjoy the good things God bestows on us every day, we should also have the strength to bear the misfortunes that come our way." - "But we cannot control our dispositions," countered the vicar's wife; "so much depends on the body! If we feel unwell, nothing will please us." - I conceded the point. - "In that case," I continued, "let us consider ill-humour a disease, and inquire whether there is no remedy for it." ... "Ill-humour is just like indolence; in fact it is a kind of indolence. We are inclined that way by nature, but if we only have the strength to pull ourselves together our work goes wonderfully and we take real pleasure in what we are doing."

What would Freud say about Werther's position, and about the vicar's wife's position? What would Kierkegaard say?

There are several things to note from the beginning. First, I asked for 3 of the 4 questions. Quite a few people did all 4, which meant in some cases that insufficient time was devoted to the questions I actually read. I read the first 3 questions I come across in a paper, and ignore the last one.

Second: Since you had the questions in advance, I assumed that you had worked out well organized answers. Many of you did, but some of you didn't. You shouldn't have to think about what the question means, when you get it in advance. You should be able to come in and begin writing immediately.

Third: How should you prepare for a test in which you have the questions in advance? There are a few things to note on this (and it will be relevant to the final as well):

a. Figure out what the question actually means. Many people didn't ask what was meant by "individualism", for instance, in the first question. That's central, and there was a web page on that question alone. As with a paper, or any other academic issue, determining the question is absolutely crucial. Many answers were vague because the writer didn't really know what the question was. How do you determine what the question is? Define the central terms (and some of the incidental or connecting terms as well). Try to state the question in other words, and note if there is more than one formulation of the question.

b. Check to see what the resources might say about the question. In some cases, we may not have addressed the specific question in class. That's done on purpose - part of a humanities course is to see whether you can think about new material using the tools and ideas developed in class. But the parts are all there. The best answers will make clear reference to the material of the course, while answers that are not as good will be more vague about those ideas and tools. Most of the questions look like they can be written off the top of your head, but they cannot, and I can tell if that's what you're doing.

c. Talk to others. I know that many of you did this, and it helped. You can at least determine whether you have the same view on what the question is asking.

So, let's look at what some answers might be.


1. In which ways are modernism and individualism mutually supporting, and in which ways might they be at odds?

What's the question? We could take it apart - there are really four questions here:

  1. How does modernism support individualism?
  2. How does individualism support modernism?
  3. How is individualism at odds with modernism?
  4. How is modernism at odds with individualism?

Words to define:

  1. Individualism: There a web page, here, on different senses of individualism. They're not all the same. Recall that we've talked a lot about individualism in various contexts through the course. I argued that there's a sense of optimism toward individualism, but also some problems associated with it - alienation from society, the reduction of all human activity to the will of the individual, the tendency to ignore that individual choice happens within social context.

  2. Modernism: This is, of course, the whole point of the course, and we've developed different definitions. Some of them are here. The safest version of modernism to use is the Enlightenment version. You could also use the idea of the metanarrative.

  3. Support(ing): This is a (purposely) vague term. You'll have to interpret it. What are some synonyms? "Produce", "cause", "assume", "enable"...there are certainly more. You'll have to pick one.

  4. At odds: Also a vague term. It could mean "undermine", "contradict", "work at cross purposes with"

So, how can this question be answered? Well, if you assume that there are really four questions, and if you are clear on your terms, you can tackle the issue more easily.

1. How does modernism support individualism?: You could discuss the ways in which our optimism toward our own capabilities makes us less likely to take religion and tradition seriously. We stand on our own. We believe that everything is accessible by our reason, by which we mean our individual minds.

2. How does individualism support modernism?: Remember that I argued that there was a rise of individualism early in the modern era. Luther thought that we could all approach God on our own, and Hobbes thought that we could enter into social contracts on our own as well. As we engage in these actions, we come to realize the scope and limits of our freedom. We try to make things such that we are as free as possible. Our individual action therefore supports a central tenet of modernism, which is freedom.

3. How is individualism at odds with modernism?: You could talk about the ways in which the promise of modernism serves to alienate the individual. Large capitalist projects require that we fit into their structures. Individuality is more difficult in a world of large bureaucracy and large corporations, no matter what they might want you to believe.

4. How is modernism at odds with individualism?: Modernism can require a version of social engineering (remember some of the utopias we talked about). People may have to sacrifice their own interests for the well-being of the modern state or society.



2. How would Freud and Kierkegaard analyze Bladerunner, from the point of view of our sense of self?


In general, this question was done the best of any on the exam. Here's an example of a good (student) answer:

Were Freud and Kierkegaard alive today, in a world of machinery and A.I., they would certainly face difficult, unprecedented questions concerning the sense of self. How would Freud approach the false memories of the replicants? Would his same theories on human pasts apply to these machines? What would Kierkegaard make of the human-imposed restrictions on the replicants? Certainly these replicants have great potential. Is this a second generation of levelling?

While none of these questions can find positive answers, we can glean from their works the different opinions that might have been held by these two individuals. I think Freud would have found memories to apply in the same fashion with replicants. Many of their actions would derive from their false childhood. What of the sex drive? As evidenced by the movie replicants were certainly imbued with one, but is it as instinctive? Is it that primal, inexorable urge human beings are subject to? The answer is most certainly no. The programmers would not want this imposing sex drive interfering with the replicants tasks. Since sex composes such a large percentage of Freud's sense of self, perhaps he would need to come up with theories unique to replicants. Wire envy? Digital projection? It's very hard to say. Although I think Frued would still maintain the id, ego, superego ideas. The main replicant portrays all of these. The ego in his rational attempts to execute a plan to survive; the superego in his theories of self and being, and the id in his animalistic behavior near the end.

Kierkegaard would certainly have fun with the leveling idea: Humanity now holding another being (?) from becoming greater than themselves. I think he would agree with that. Is there passion in a replicant? Just rationality? Maybe most importantly, is there a God whom replicants can ascend with? Passion is certainly conjurable in replicants, even if it takes time to manifest. But religion is so important to Kierkegaard, how could he accommodate replicants? My theory is that he would understand the faith and belief to be key, and in the replicant's case the reality is superfluous. As long as the replicants have something to believe in they can practice an existence Kierkegaard would deem worthwhile.

Notice what this answer does. It works with both Freud and Kierkegaard's theories to ask about the replicants. It isolates a specific issue. The writer could have isolated other issues, and focussed on other aspects of the theories.


Answering the Question:

Note the vague words in the question: "analyze", "sense of self". Both of these really need to be defined.


There's plenty that could be talked about for both Freud and Kierkegaard in the movie. It is important to be as specific as possible, though.


Freud:

Kierkegaard:


3. How could modern technology be linked with the modernist self? With modernist social organization?


This was perhaps the most deceptive question on the exam. Many people answered the question by enumerating all the technologies that we use today, and discussed things like whether we really needed them all, how they made the world faster and more chaotic, or how they made the world more convenient and better. That's fine, but it doesn't really get at the question of the self.


Words to define:

  1. Modern technology: What counts as modern technology? What counts as technology? Recall that we discussed this.

  2. Modernist self: If you defined this in a previous question, you probably don't have to do it again. But it is important to note that I gave a description of the self through the modern era, in which I argued that there was a rise in the optimism toward the self, and then a commensurate set of questions raised about it, starting with Romanticism, and going through Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. By the time we reach the 20th century, we don't know ourselves "first and best", like Descartes thought.

  3. Modernist social organization: A vague term. Many people took it to refer to social interaction, but didn't think much about what "organization" meant. Recall that we discussed the institutions of society. This was not just about informal social relationships, but also more formal structures that we use to organize our world.

  4. Be linked with: A vague connector, just crying out for a definition. Is it the same as "support" or "at odds with", from the first question? It's vaguer than that.

The key to this question is to recognize that it is not just the self that uses technology, but that it is also used by technology. The self is the self that modern technology makes possible. In fact, we come to think of the self as technological, and as subject to technological processes (remember the self-help books, that purport to give you the perfect body, child, or marriage if you just follow the technique). The self also becomes what the technology allows, in the same way that the hammer requires the hammer user to be a particular kind of person, one who wields the hammer in a specific manner. We must adjust to the physical and social requirements of the technology.

What about social organization? Well, our institutions become modelled on technologies. Their chief virtue becomes their efficiency, not their ability to support civic dialogue or help people. This include the state. Our cities become technologies - cities become machines, just like le Courbusier thought that buildings were "machines for living in".

Once the terms are defined, it is possible to see that technology is not just a tool that the self uses, but rather is something that makes particular kinds of selves possible.



4. The following is from Sorrows of Young Werther, 47-48

"We often complain that there are so few good days and so many bad ones," I began, "but I think we are wrong to do so. If our hearts were always open, so that we could enjoy the good things God bestows on us every day, we should also have the strength to bear the misfortunes that come our way." - "But we cannot control our dispositions," countered the vicar's wife; "so much depends on the body! If we feel unwell, nothing will please us." - I conceded the point. - "In that case," I continued, "let us consider ill-humour a disease, and inquire whether there is no remedy for it." ... "Ill-humour is just like indolence; in fact it is a kind of indolence. We are inclined that way by nature, but if we only have the strength to pull ourselves together our work goes wonderfully and we take real pleasure in what we are doing."

What would Freud say about Werther's position, and about the vicar's wife's position? What would Kierkegaard say?


Again, it's worth asking what can be defined here. We have a long quotation, and some things might have to be defined in it, but the real issue is with the question as asked. The first clause is vague (again, on purpose). It leaves the door wide open for you to take an aspect of Freud's theory and apply it to the quotation. The same is true for Kierkegaard. Many of you noticed that there were again 4 questions being asked:

  1. What would Freud say about Werther's position?
  2. What would Freud say about the vicar's wife's position?
  3. What would Kierkegaard say about Werther's position?
  4. What would Kierkegaard say about the vicar's wife's position?

The only thing that really needs to be defined is "say about". I would interpret the question as "What aspects of Freud's (or Kierkegaard's) theory or writings might be useful in analyzing the statements in the quotation?"


There are various ways to approach this question, once things have been defined.

Freud:

Kierkegaard: