“Myth” (a keyword, a definition)

Myth (a keyword)

Myth came into English as late as eC19, though it was somewhat preceded by the form mythos (C18) from fw mythos, lL, mythos, Gk – a fable or story or tale, later contrasted with logos and historia to give the sense of ‘what could not really exist
or have happened’.

Myth and mythos were widely preceded in English by mythology (from C15) and the derived words (from eC17) mythological, mythologize, mythologist, mythologian. These all had to do with ‘fabulous narration’ (1609) but mythology and mythologizing were most often used with a sense of interpreting or annotating the fabulous tales. We have mythological interpretation from 1614, and there is a title of Sandys in 1632: Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologiz’d, and Represented in Figures, with the same sense.

Two tendencies can be seen in the word in eC19. Coleridge used mythos in a sense which has become common: a particular imaginative construction (plot in
the most extending sense). Meanwhile the rationalist Westminster Review, in perhaps the first use of the word, wrote in 1830 of ‘the origin of myths’ and of seeking their ‘cause in the circumstances of fabulous history’.

Each of these references was retrospective, and myth alternated with fable,
being distinguished from legend which, though perhaps unreliable, was related
to history and from allegory which might be fabulous but which indicated some
reality. However, from mC19, the short use of myth to mean not only a fabulous
but an untrustworthy or even deliberately deceptive invention became common,
and has widely persisted.

On the other hand, myth acquired in an alternative tradition a new and positive
sense, in a new context. Before C19 myths had either been dismissed as mere
fables (often as pagan or heathen fables), or treated as allegories or confused memories of origins and pre-history. But several new intellectual approaches were now defined. Myths were related to a ‘disease of language’ (Muller) in which a confusion of names led to personifications; to an animistic stage of human culture
(Lang); and to specific rituals, which the myths gave access to (Frazer, Harrison;
the popular association of ‘myth and ritual’ dates from this 1C19 and eC20 work).
With the development of anthropology, both this last sense, of accounts of rituals,and a different sense, in which myth, as an account of origins, was an active form of social organization, were strongly developed. From each version (which in varying forms have continued to contend with each other as well as with efforts to rationalize (q.v.) myths in such a way as to discredit them or to reveal their
true (other) causes or origins) a body of positive popular usage has developed.
Myth has been held to be a truer (deeper) version of reality than (secular) history or realistic description or scientific explanation. This view ranges from simple irrationalism and (often post-Christian) supernaturalism to more sophisticated accounts in which myths are held to be fundamental expressions of certain properties of the human mind, and even of basic mental or psychological human organization.

These expressions are ‘timeless’ (permanent) or fundamental to particular
periods or cultures. Related attempts have been made to assimilate this mythic
function to the more general creative (q.v.) functions of art and literature, or
in one school, to assimilate art and literature to this view of myth. The resulting
internal and external controversies are exceptionally intricate, and myth is now
both a very significant and a very difficult word. Coming into the language only
in the last hundred and fifty years, in a period of the disintegration of orthodox
religion, it has been used negatively as a contrast to fact, history (q.v.) and science (q.v.); has become involved with the difficult modern senses of imagination, creative and fiction; and has been used both to illustrate and to analyse ‘human nature’ in a distinctively post-Christian sense (though the mode of various schools using myth in this sense has been assimilated to Christian restatement and apology). Meanwhile, outside this range of ideas, it has the flat common sense of a false (often deliberately false) belief or account.

Extract from Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

Myth (a definition)

Myth, a kind of story or rudimentary narrative sequence, normally traditional and anonymous, through which a given culture ratifies its social customs or accounts for the origins of human and natural phenomena, usually in supernatural or boldly imaginative terms. The term has a wide range of meanings, which can be divided roughly into ‘rationalist’ and ‘romantic’ versions: in the first, a myth is a false or unreliable story or belief (adjective: mythical), while in the second, ‘myth’ is a superior intuitive mode of cosmic understanding (adjective: mythic). In most literary contexts, the second kind of usage prevails, and myths are regarded as fictional stories containing deeper truths, expressing collective attitudes to fundamental matters of life, death, divinity, and existence (sometimes deemed to be ‘universal’). Myths are usually distinguished from legends in that they have less of an historical basis, although they seem to have a similar mode of existence in oral transmission, re-telling, literary adaptation, and allusion. A mythology is a body of related myths shared by members of a given people or religion, or sometimes a system of myths evolved by an individual writer, as in the ‘personal mythologies’ of William Blake and W. B. Yeats…. For a fuller account, consult Laurence Coupe, Myth (1997).

Extract from Chris Baldick, (2001) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, OUP.

Readings: Learning English

Dear Students,

this week we will do the following readings and have some exercises about them.

Reading 1. Who owns English?


The article is from your Face2Face Upper Intermediate text books, chapter one, page 6. The original article was from Newsweek, 07/03/05.

Reading 2. Michelle’s language learning.

Michelle's language learning

The reading is from your Face2Face Upper Intermediate text books, chapter one, page 7. The audio file for this is R1.1 (you can listen to it). 

Additional Exercise: using verbs in a sentence

Choose five of the following verbs and use them to make up sentences about yourself:

  • stop
  • avoid
  • persuade
  • remember
  • refuse
  • try
  • help
  • end up
  • hope
  • encourage
  • pretend

The exercise is based on the ‘quick review’ on page 12 of Face2Face, Upper Intermediate.

Reading Three: Evening classes.

BCFE evening classes


S: I what way?


The audio for this reading is r1.7.

Readings shared privately with students for educational purposes only.

The best classical music works of the 21st century (The Guardian online)

From left: The Tempest, The Minotaur, L’amour de loin, Hamlet

Over the coming week, the Guardian will select the greatest culture since 2000, carefully compiled by critics and editors. We begin with a countdown of defining classical music compositions, from X-rated opera to high-tech string quartets

Read an interview with our No1 choice

by , . , , , and

25 Jennifer Walshe

XXX Live Nude Girls (2003)

Jennifer Walshe asked girls about how they played with their Barbie dolls, and turned the confessionals into an opera of horrors in which the toys unleash dark sex play and acts of mutilation. Walshe is a whiz for this kind of thing: she yanks off the plastic veneer of commercial culture by parodying then systematically dismembering the archetypes. KM
Read our review | watch a production from 2016 BIFEM

24 John Adams

City Noir (2009)

Adams’s vivid portrait of Los Angeles, as depicted in the film noir of the 1940s and 50s, is a three-movement symphony of sorts, and a concerto for orchestra, too. It’s an in-your-face celebration of orchestral virtuosity that references a host of American idioms without ever getting too specific. It’s not his finest orchestral work by any means (those came last century), but an effective, extrovert showpiece. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

Immediate … the Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia perform Stabat Mater, conducted by Harry Christophers. Photograph: Mark Allan

23 James MacMillan

Stabat Mater (2016)

The prolific Scottish composer has made an impact on choral music, by drawing on his Roman Catholic roots, most recently in his Fifth Symphony, Le grand Inconnu, and in his Tenebrae Responsories. His Stabat Mater for chorus and string orchestra, premiered and commissioned by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen, caught the public imagination, its message direct, immediate, radiant and impassioned. FM
Read our review | Watch the world premiere performance at the Vatican

22 Linda Catlin Smith

Piano Quintet (2014)

She holds the fabric between the fingers, she tests the fibres. She leaves space around the material to consider it from this way and that, then sinks in deep. Catlin Smith’s music is slow and quiet but it’s also lush. More than any minimalist, she takes her cues from Couperin, Debussy and the paintings of Agnes Martin. The results are sparse, rugged and sensual; quiet does not have to mean soft. KM
Read our review

21 Max Richter

The Blue Notebooks (2004)

Written in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Blue Notebooks is Max Richter’s meditation on violence and war, one that was recorded in three hours. The song cycle is linked by narration from Tilda Swinton, but the most compelling pieces don’t require words. Organum is a funereal organ solo, Shadow Journal a piece of ambient house, but the centrepiece is On the Nature of Daylight (since used on countless films and TV soundtracks), where ever-expanding layers of strings are used to heart-tugging effect. JL
Richter writes about his composition | Listen on Spotify


Watch Roomful of Teet perform Caroline Shaw’s Partita

20 Caroline Shaw

Partita (2013)

Caroline Shaw’s Partita, written for her own vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, is an explosion of energy cramming speech, song and virtually every extended vocal technique you can think of into its four “classical” dance movements. It might blow apart solemn, hard-boiled notions of greatness, but it has to be the most joyous work on this list. EJ
Read more here | Listen on Spotify.

19 Cassandra Miller

Duet for cello and orchestra (2015)

A slow cello pivots between two notes, a steadfast voyager on a road laced with spangly seduction (brass fanfares, ardent strings). The journey lasts half an hour; it sums up a resolute lifetime of holding the course in bright and heartsore times. Miller is a master of planting a seed and setting in motion an entrancing process, then following through with the most sumptuous conviction. KM
Read the review | Listen to an extract.

18 Brett Dean

Hamlet (2017)

The Australian Brett Dean, a viola player in the Berlin Philharmonic before concentrating on composition, found his operatic voice with Hamlet. An ingenious reworking of Shakespeare (libretto by Matthew Jocelyn) which opens with a fragmented “To be, or not to be…”, it was premiered at Glyndebourne in 2017 with Allan Clayton in the title role and Barbara Hannigan as Ophelia. FM
Read the review | Watch a trailer

Closure of sorts … the Kronos Quartet perform WTC 9/11. Photograph: Mark Allan

17 Steve Reich

WTC 9/11 (2011)

It took the quintessential New York composer a full 10 years to process the horrors of September 11 and compose this dissonant threnody, one that sets Reich’s sawing strings against manipulated voices. The recordings of horrified air traffic controllers and eyewitnesses are spliced and looped, the tonalities of their speech replicated (sometimes almost mockingly) by the Kronos Quartet, before we reach a closure of sorts with a cantor’s prayer. JL
Read the review | Watch a live performance.

16 Rebecca Saunders

Skin (2016)

Rebecca Saunders’s music always makes a visceral and violent, yet sensually resonant, poetry. Composed in collaboration with the soprano Juliet Fraser, Skin takes inspiration from Samuel Beckett, turning the writer’s image of dust as “the skin of a room” into a 25-minute evisceration of the sounds that the soloist and ensemble can make. Saunders burrows into the interior world of the instruments, and inside the grain of Fraser’s voice – scrapes and screams, breaths and sighs – and finds a revelatory world of heightened feeling. TS
Listen to a live performance

15 David Lang

Little Match Girl Passion (2007)

Combine Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Little Match Girl with Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and you have one of the most original vocal works of recent times. Extracts from Andersen’s story and from St Matthew’s gospel are interleaved with closely woven vocal writing, that is sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes punctuated by discreet percussion and often comfortingly tonal and hauntingly affecting. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

14 Pascal Dusapin

Passion (2008)

Dusapin’s opera reimagines the final colloquy of Orpheus and Eurydice, on the borderline between life and death, as a meditation on the idea of passion as an expression of desire and suffering. The score subtly alludes to Monteverdi and French baroque, but the sound world it creates is uniquely Dusapin’s own: tense, quietly mesmerising and austerely beautiful. TA
Read the review | Listen to the work

Genre-straddling … Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway.
Genre-straddling … Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

13 Olga Neuwirth

Lost Highway (2003)

David Lynch’s slightly baffling film – in which a jazz musician murders his wife, goes into a psychogenic fugue and becomes another person entirely – was perfectly suited for adaptation by this eccentric Austrian composer, whose genre-straddling work explores notions of identity. An immersive production, staged by the English National Opera at the Young Vic, used film, a chirruping electro-acoustic score and the terrifying, androgynous voice of David Moss to further confuse things. JL
Read our review | Listen to the work

12 Unsuk Chin

Cello Concerto (2009)

A series of concertos, for western and eastern solo instruments, runs like a spine through Unsuk Chin’s orchestral music. But the work for Cello is perhaps the most original and entertainingly disconcerting of all of them, cast in four brilliant movements that never quite conform to type, while doing everything expected of a concerto, in a fresh and unconventional way. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

11 Gerald Barry

The Importance of Being Earnest (2012)

With the role of Lady Bracknell given to a bass, the row between Gwendolen and Cecily conducted through megaphones and accompanied by smashing glasses, and most of the text delivered with machinegun rapidity, this operatic take on Oscar Wilde isn’t for the faint-hearted. But somehow, it brilliantly captures the play’s absurdities while adding a layer of surrealism that is entirely Barry’s own. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

10 John Luther Adams

Become Ocean (2013)

The monumental orchestral palindrome that made John Luther Adams an internationally renowned composer is a thrilling depiction of water in irresistible motion, in the tradition of music by Wagner, Debussy and Sibelius. But Adams’s intention is much more than mere description – it’s a warning of what lies ahead for us and our seas if we do not care for them. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

Witty … Hashirigaki.
Witty … Hashirigaki. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

9 Heiner Goebbels

Hashirigaki (2000)

A Gertrude Stein novel, Japanese folk music and the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds aren’t the most obvious sources for one of Goebbels’ uniquely personal fusions of words, music and image. But, as often in his theatre pieces, the most unlikely ingredients cohere magically, creating a witty, allusive dramatic world unlike any other, with the 1960s sounds counterpointing Stein’s rambling surrealism. AC
Read our review | Listen to a recording on YouTube

8 Jonathan Harvey

String Quartet No 4 (2003)

For live electronics and string quartet, this 2003 work is written in cycles rather than movements, with an idea of dying away, renewal and continuation. Harvey experiments with technology to discover new aural possibilities and keep the traditional form alive. He wrote all his quartets for the Arditti, knowing they would meet every challenge he put before them. The result is eloquent and lyrical. FM
Read the review | Listen to the work

7 Louis Andriessen

La Commedia (2009)

After collaborating with directors Robert Wilson and Peter Greenaway on previous stage works, Andriessen turned to Hal Hartley for his “film opera in five parts”, a series of reflections on episodes from Dante’s Divine Comedy. A Hartley film was part of the original staging, but Andriessen’s wonderfully polyglot score, with its host of historical references and exuberant embrace of jazz and folk music, stands on its own. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

Kaija Saariaho  
Mesmerising … Kaija Saariaho. Photograph: Philippe Merle/AFP/Getty Images

6 Kaija Saariaho

L’Amour de Loin (2000)

Set in 12th-century France, the Finnish-born Saariaho’s first opera, which premiered in Salzburg in 2000, is a haunting tale of a troubadour’s quest for idealised love, as well as a contemplation on life, longing and death. Based on La Vida breve by Jaufre Rudel, with a libretto by French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, the music has medieval and Middle Eastern echoes but shimmers in Saariaho’s own distinctive and mesmerising voice.FM
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

5 Thomas Adès

The Tempest (2003)

It starts with a geometric storm and ends with a consolatory chaconne. Thomas Adès’s The Tempest was the catalyst for his creation of a musical language that is at once richly familiar and beguilingly strange. It was a piece that immediately fulfilled expectations for what Adès would do with the full resources of the Royal Opera House when it premiered in 2004 – and transcended them. TS
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

4 György Kurtág

Fin de Partie (2018)

Though it often seemed as if Kurtág would never complete the opera on Samuel Beckett’s End Game that he had obsessed about for more than half a century, it eventually appeared in the composer’s 93rd year. An austere, utterly faithful rendering of the original, mostly delivered in recitative, and reinforced with typically terse, wiry orchestral writing. It is a distillation of the uncompromisingly direct music that Kurtág has composed all through his career. AC
Read our review | Watch the production

3 Harrison Birtwistle

The Minotaur (2008)

After operas about Punch, Orpheus, Gawain and King Kong, the half-man half-bull protagonist of The Minotaur is perhaps the most sympathetic of Birtwistle’s “heroes”. His death scene, created especially for the bass John Tomlinson, is a majestic operatic set piece, the climax of a work in which the eruptions of orchestral violence are offset by music of lyrical beauty and pungent transparency. AC
Read our review.

Barbara Hannigan and Christopher Purves in Written On Skin at the Royal Opera House, London.
Gripping … Barbara Hannigan and Christopher Purves in Written On Skin at the Royal Opera House, London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

2 George Benjamin

Written on Skin (2012)

George Benjamin’s first full-scale opera, with words by Martin Crimp, arrived in 2012 seemingly timeless in every way, its ultimately gruesome story told grippingly to a modern audience through Benjamin’s tense, precise and often glowingly beautiful score. Katie Mitchell’s thoughtful staging was only the start: no opera since has had so many different productions in so many theatres. EJ
Read our review | Watch a production

1 Hans Abrahamsen

Let Me Tell You (2013)

When the 21st century began, the idea that Hans Abrahamsen would compose one of the masterpieces of the next 20 years would have seemed extraordinary. At that time very little of his music had been heard for almost a decade – he had suffered a creative block that he’s since described as being “paralysed by the white paper”, and from which he eventually rescued himself by composing a series of arrangements, both of his own earlier scores and of pieces by others, including Bach and Debussy.

Born in 1952 in Copenhagen, Abrahamsen had begun his career as a member of a group of young Danish composers who reacted against what they saw as the overcomplexity of the European new music they heard and who sought a much simpler style. He explored minimalism and studied for a while with György Ligeti, and soon established himself as one of the younger European composers to watch, his works championed in the 1980s by conductor/composers such as Hans Werner Henze and Oliver Knussen. After early success came a long silence – he completed just one short piece in eight years, but he did return to composition with the piano concerto that he finished in 2000, in which he started to invent for himself a totally original and utterly personal sound world.

This list could just as easily be headed by the work that first exploited this newly invented world, Schnee, an extraordinary hour-long ensemble piece from 2008, as by the ravishing orchestral song cycle Let Me Tell You that followed it five years later. The intricate symmetries and microtonally tinged canons of Schnee define the icy, fragile world that Abrahamsen had been mapping out for himself, and which went on to provide the perfect environment for the settings of extracts from Paul Griffiths’s novel of the same name that he made for the songs.

Like Griffiths’s book, Let Me Tell You is a portrait of Ophelia, but one that tells her story from her perspective rather than from the way she is portrayed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s an operatic scene as much as a song cycle, one of soaring lines and shivering pianissimos, and which makes use of the stuttering repetitions, stile concitato, that Monteverdi introduced into opera four centuries ago to signify anger or anxiety. The vocal writing is astonishingly assured. It is hard to believe this was Abrahamsen’s first large scale vocal work, and it seems perfectly tailored to the soprano Barbara Hannigan, for whom it was conceived, and for her precious ability to soar ethereally and effortlessly above the sometimes forbidding, sometimes ravishingly beautiful soundscapes that the orchestra creates beneath her. There is the feeling, Hannigan has said of the cycle: “The music’s always been there,” and the sense of there being something timeless and utterly inevitable about Let Me Tell You gives it a very special power. AC
Listen to the work




Article shared privately with students for educational purposes only. Note, this blog used for sharing, as sharing platforms in China limited by state censorship.

Critical thinking: American Art and the American Dream. Lesson three: Reasoning.

Dear Students,

welcome to lesson 3.


  • We’ll have a quick quiz on the readings you did for home work.
  • I’ll talk about reasoning.
  • You’ll do some exercises using reasoning to understand/interpret some works of art.
  • We’ll begin to think about popular myths and art.

What is reasoning, and why is it so important?

Perhaps more than any other kind of thinking, reasoning is the type most closely associated with critical thinking. Reasoning is highly valued in every field, from physics to geometry, political science and literary analysis, and is a foundational teaching goal of most schools and teachers.

Reasoning with evidence is one of the eight elements that Ron Ritchhart and colleagues believe to be essential to understanding:

Thinking to Understand
1.Observing closely and describing what’s there 2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence 4. Making connections.
5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives 6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.
7. Wondering and asking questions. 8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

Brainstorming exercise: what is reasoning?

Take a moment to think of three words that tell us what reasoning is. When you’ve had a few minutes to think we’ll put them up on the board and reflect on our ideas.

Now let’s have a look at this word cloud (in class) representing the views of more than 1000 students. How does it compare to our ideas?

What did you discover?  What common themes and ideas can you find in the Reasoning Word Cloud? Did you find words like logic, interpretation, analysis, argument, hypothesis, inference, explanation, and deduction?

Reasoning works in particular ways for particular academic disciplines.

  • In the social sciences, reasoning often means examining primary resources, seeking causes, and drawing inferences to support ideas about history and politics.
  • In science, reasoning involves looking closely at phenomena to form and test hypotheses based on observation.
  • In literature, reasoning calls for carefully parsing and comparing text passages to make predictions about a character’s motivations and decisions.
  • In art, due to its complexity and varying degrees of clarity and ambiguity, reasoning looks like “figuring it out” or interpretation based on observation. Viewers of art make meaning by looking repeatedly, then making claims and justifying ideas with observations from the work.

Defining Reasoning

Reasoning is the type of thinking that links a claim with evidence.

For our understanding, let’s generally define a claim as a statement or assertion of understanding about something – an artwork, a phenomenon, an experiment, an interaction, a text.

Evidence is factual, reliable, valid data – observable or historical.

While measures of solid evidence to support a claim vary slightly in each field, good evidence most commonly is sufficient (enough to make sense), appropriate (as related to the claim), and qualitative or quantitative (showing certain qualities or quantities).

Reasoning explains how or why the factual data works as evidence.

The ‘What’s Routine’

To practice our reasoning skills, let’s try another  thinking routine called the What’s routine.

  • Have a long and careful look at another artwork (in class).

Take a few minutes to look and think about the following three questions.

Q1. What’s going on (in this artwork)? [What’s it about?]

Let’s record your ideas on the board. Then I’ll ask you the second question,

Q2. What makes you say that?

Again, let’s record our ideas on the board.

Now, the third question. Recall Ron Richhart and colleagues talked about ways of thinking that aid understanding. They suggest at least 8 types:

Thinking to Understand
1.Observing closely and describing what’s there 2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence 4. Making connections.
5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives 6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.
7. Wondering and asking questions. 8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

Q3. What types of thinking did we use to answer the questions?

Thinking with context

Let’s learn a little about the artist, and the context of their work (videos/explanation in class).

Background information about the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the United States.

The copper statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric  and built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886.

The statue of Liberty as an icon of an American popular myth.

Founding myths: the American Dream

In American mythology, the U.S. is, as the national anthem puts it, “the land of the free / And the home of the brave!””

It’s a land in which in which all citizens are thought of as being equal and free. As Thomas Jefferson wrote

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  (Declaration of Independence, 1776).

The American dream is encapsulated in the idea that every individual American should have an equal right right to become her or his best self. Citizen’s have the right to try to realize their hopes.

In a common sense (or everyday) kind of understanding, the American dream involves the idea that if an individual puts in the effort then they should be able to achieve the success they deserve. Individual responsibility is a key idea: if someone succeeds, it is attributed to their individual efforts, they are regarded as having made the best of their talents (whatever their talents are). Conversely, if someone fails, then it is their fault (they didn’t work hard enough to realize their dream).

This idea is sometimes referred to as meritocracy (society is ruled by the principle that people get what they deserve). The idea of meritocracy is sometimes applied to whole groups, such as racial and ethnic groups.

Meritocracy goes along with the United States long-held and exceptional tolerance of income inequality, explained by its high levels of social mobility. This combination underpins the American dream – … conceived of by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson believed an “aristocracy of talent and virtue” was replacing the aristocracy of birth, the old world order where aristocrats inherited power and wealth.

This dream is not about guaranteed outcomes, … but the pursuit of opportunities.

The dream [was popularized] in the fictional characters of the 19th-century writer Horatio Alger Jr – like the New York shoeshine “Ragged Dick [1867/8]” [who went] from rags to riches … in part due to entrepreneurial spirit and hard work (Carol Graham, “Is the American Dream Really Dead?” The Guardian, 2017/06/20).

Give Me Your Weak Quote Give Me Your Tired Your Poor Your Hudd Emma Lazarus Like

Historically, a key element of the American myth of a land of hope and freedom is the idea that America gave welcome to the world’s migrants. For many foreigners, the idea of American freedom has been a magnet attracting them to migrate to the United States.

New York’s Statue of Liberty is a famous icon that represented welcome to the 19th century immigrants who later became American citizens.


For generations, America has served as a beacon of hope and freedom for those outside her borders, and as a land of limitless opportunity for those risking everything to seek a better life. (U.S. Congressman Spencer Bachus).

We might say that the Congressman’s story of American welcome is one ‘re-telling’, ‘reiteration’ or ‘narration’ of a founding (national) myth, just as The Statue of Liberty is an icon of that myth.

Introducing conflicting conceptions of the term ‘myth’.

Common sense perspective:

A myth is a false (often deliberately false) belief or account (Williams)

It is implicit that the person designating a story as myth does not now believe it to be true … (Flood)

Cultural perspective: Myth gives a truer (deeper) version of reality than (secular) history or realistic description or scientific explanation.

Neutral perspectives:

  • In everyday usage, one way of understanding myth is simply a collective belief which is or was given the status of truth (Flood).
  • A myth does not simply imply something that is “false”; rather it is a collective belief that simplifies reality (Grittner).

Wolfrey’s et al. definition: The traditional story of pseudo-historical events that function as a fundamental element within the worldview of a given people or nation. Myths are similarly employed by human communities to attempt to explain the nature of various practices, beliefs or natural phenomena.

Contingent/universal definitions:

Myths are often tied to particular historical periods and places.

Williams: myths are ‘held to be fundamental expressions of certain properties of the human mind, and even of basic mental or psychological human organization [that are] are ‘timeless’ (permanent) or fundamental to particular periods or cultures (Williams).

Historical roots of the concept: mythos/logos, imagination/rationality.

For thinkers reflecting on what they saw as archaic aspects of the religious beliefs conveyed by the stories of the [ancient Greek] gods, the word mythos came to connote the use of language in the service of the use of imagination, story-telling, and fiction, as opposed to logos, connoting the use of language in the service of reasoning.

Contemporary historical and anthropological views

Myths seen as working in terms of narrative (discursive forms), subject-matter (stories of gods or superhuman beings), cultural status (sacred truth for the community to which the myth belongs) and social functions (expressing religious beliefs, confirming values and norms, or legitimating social practices and institutions).

Artworks in dialogue with each other, and …


The What’s routine again.

Q1. What’s going on in the above artwork.

Let’s record your ideas on the board.

Q2. What makes you say that?

Again, let’s record your ideas.

Q3. What types of thinking did we use to answer the questions?


Class/homework exercise: The what’s routine and your artwork

Now, choose one of your five artworks (last week’s homework). Working in your small groups begin to do the what’s exercise, using that artwork.

1. Choose one of your artworks to talk about (send that one as an image to our wechat group, and send your name with the image [pinyin/English names]).

2. Tell each other what’s going on.

3. Ask each other ‘what makes you say that’?

4. Explain what types of thinking you used to interpret your artwork.

More homework: readings about myths

Read “Myth” by Raymond Williams (reading sent to our wechat group)


Flood, .G. (1998) Political Myth (Theorists of Myth).


Williams, R. (2015), Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, New Edition.

Wolfrey, J., Robbins, R., Womack, K. (2006), Key Concepts in Literary Theory, 2nd ed.

Critical thinking: American Art and the American Dream. Lesson two: Understanding.

Dear students,

welcome to lesson 2.

First today, let me summarize some of the kinds of thinking that we might consider useful when we want to understand something. Then we’ll return to the artful routines that we started in last week’s lesson.


Ron Ritchhart and his colleagues (see reading 1) argue there are at least 8 types of thinking that are useful for understanding.

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there

Q. What does observing and describing well require us to do?
A. If we are trying to understand something, we have to notice its parts and features, being able to describe it fully and in detail.

2. Building explanations and interpretations

Q. What does building explanations and interpretations require us to do?

A. Identifying, breaking things down into their parts and features. Drawing on and reasoning with evidence to support our positions and try to arrive at fair and accurate positions. Thus it require 1 + 3.

3. Reasoning with evidence

Q. What does reasoning with evidence contribute to understanding?

We draw on and reason with evidence to support our positions and try to arrive at fair and accurate positions that can be supported. If we didn’t provide evidence, provided inaccurate evidence, or used evidence in a biased way (for example, cherry picking some evidence and omitting or downplaying other relevant evidence) then our explanations and interpretations might be said to be badly supported, unreasonable, and biased.

4. Making connections.

Q. What does making connections contribute to understanding?

A. It allows us to make use of the new and the known, our present observations and past knowledge and experience, to link ideas and see where they fit and do not fit. To see where new ideas or skills  might be applied. Making connections helps ensure that new information is used actively, brought to life in engagement with the old. It also allows us to consider comparisons, either in terms of the subject itself, or the context of the subject.

5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives

Q. What does considering differing viewpoints and perspectives contribute?

A. It allows us to avoid limited and biased thinking (seeing things from just one point of view). It allows us to test perspectives against each other. It allows us to keep doubt alive (for example, in science, scientific facts are not actually facts as such, but merely our best, or generally held hypothesis.

6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.

Q. What does capturing the heart of the matter contribute to understanding?

A. Capturing the heart or core of a concept, procedure, event, or
work ensures that we understand its essence, what it is really all about. We want to make sure we haven’t lost the forest for the trees and that we notice the big ideas in play (Ritchhart, p14).

7. Wondering and asking questions.

Q. What does wondering and asking questions contribute to understanding?

Curiosity, the desire to wonder about something, gives us a kind of emotional engagement. It is much easier to learn about things we have an interest in. So understanding is partially based on desire and emotion.

Asking questions is an ongoing part of developing understanding. The questions we ask at the outset of a learning journey change, morph, and develop as that journey moves forward. Even after extensive efforts to develop understanding, we find that we may be left with more questions than when we started. These new questions reflect our depth of understanding (Ritchhart, p14)

8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

Q. What do uncovering complexity and going below the surface of thing contribute to understanding?

A. They allow us to go beyond looking for or accept easy answers, to go beyond the superficial. Instead they allow us to engage with the richness, intrigue, and mystery that texts, events and ideas offer us as learners.

Routine 1. See, Think, Wonder.

Let’s continue from where we left off last week, with an artful thinking routine, and begin by reminding ourselves of how this routine supports artful (critical) thinking dispositions/types of thinking, particularly in relation to the aim of understanding.

Seeing, thinking, and wondering are things we already know how to do. They’re important, not just for looking at art, but for developing understanding in any discipline.

In the See/Think/Wonder routine

  • the first step “See” gives us the time and space to observe and notice.
  • The second step “Think” gives us the opportunity to build on the observations that were made and asks us to reason and find meaning in the work of art.
  • The third step “Wonder” asks to engage in a process of ongoing learning and investigation through inquiry. It does not take us to an endpoint, but rather sketches a path forward for further inquiry.

So, let’s continue, using the painting we started with last week.



We had a long look at the above painting, gave some words to describe what we saw, and recorded our descriptive words.

Let’s have another look at our descriptions of what we saw in the painting:


OK, some interesting seeing there, but let’s try it one more time. This time, again, take a good long look at the painting. Come up close if you want.

Then think of what you can see in the painting. Give us three nouns, three verbs, and three adjectives (everyone).

I’ll give you a few minutes, and then we’ll write them on the board again.


  • Now that you’ve looked carefully and taken time to describe the painting, what concept, feeling, or idea does this painting make you think of?
  • Talk in your small groups first and then we’ll discuss altogether.
  • Let’s put some of your ideas up on the board.

 Wonder Discussion

  • What does the painting make you wonder? What questions does it raise in your mind?

Reflecting on artful thinking methods from this routine: Slowing Down, Being a learning community, multiple forms of thinking

  • In our fast-paced world, thinking routines provide opportunities for students to slow down, to take a moment to focus on one thing–in this case, the work of art (but we could use a report, a newspaper article, poll results, a short story, a tv or film clip, etc.,).
  • Then, by taking time to discuss with each other you get to exchange points of view, testing your own and learning from others. That reflective discussion is also a form of thoughtful slowing down (thinking-speaking still focused on the one artwork).
  • As your teacher, this routine allows me to slow down and focus on your thinking. We used the board to capture our observations, interpretations, and questions. Together, we could see the thinking that is happening around this work of art, form connections, pose contrasting ideas, and work through misconceptions. We did all of this together, as kind of learning community.
  • Specific thinking routines are designed to support specific thinking dispositions. See/Think/Wonder supported several types of thinking dispositions: Which ones do you think it supports in particular?


The ‘What’s Routine’

Let’s try another  thinking routine called the What’s routine.

  • Have a long and careful look at another artwork (in class).

Take a few minutes to look and think about the following three questions.

  • What’s going on (in this artwork)? [What’s it about?]

Let’s record your ideas on the board. Then I’ll ask you the second question,

  • What makes you say that?

Again, let’s record our ideas on the board.

Now, the third question. Recall Ron Richhart and colleagues talked about ways of thinking that aid understanding. They suggest at least 8 types:

Thinking to Understand
1.Observing closely and describing what’s there 2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence 4. Making connections.
5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives 6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions.
7. Wondering and asking questions. 8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

What types of thinking did we use to answer the questions?

Thinking with context

Now, let’s learn a little about the artists, and the contexts of their works (videos/explanation in class).

The first  artwork we discussed was made by George Bellows, and is titled New York 1911.Let’s watch the beginning of the National Gallery’s (Washington) video George Bellows (part one). The narrator is Ethan Hawke.

Bellows arrived in New York City in 1904 and depicted an America on the move. In a twenty-year career cut short by his death at age 42, he painted the rapidly growing modern city—its bustling crowds, skyscrapers, and awe-inspiring construction projects, as well as its bruising boxers, street urchins, and New Yorkers both hard at work and enjoying their leisure. He also captured the rugged beauty of New York’s rivers and the grandeur of costal Maine.

The second was designed Auguste Bartholdi by made by Gustave Eiffel, and is titled the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the United States. The copper statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric  and built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886

  • How does that information change your perspective on the artwork (if at all)?
  • Now, choose one of your five artworks (last week’s homework). Working in your small groups do the what’s exercise, using that artwork.

Next week: Reasoning with evidence


 Please do the following readings (sent to our class we chat group today).

  • Ritchart, Ron, et al., Making Thinking Visible, How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, Wiley, Chp. 1., 3-22.
  • Tishman, Shari, Added Value, 72-75
  • Tishman, Shari, Slow Looking, Chp.1., 4-7.

“Western” (a Keyword, Raymond Williams)


There are now some interesting uses of Western and the West, in international
political description. In some cases the term has so far lost its geographical reference as to allow description of, for example, Japan as a Western or Western-type society. Moreover the West (to be defended) is notoriously subject to variable geographical and social specifications. Meanwhile I have seen a reference to a German Marxist as having an Eastern ideology.
The West–East contrast, geographical into social, is very old. Its earliest European
form comes from the West–East division of the Roman Empire, from
mC3. There is a very strong and persistent cultural contrast in the division of
the Christian church into Western and Eastern, from C1l. These internal divisions,
within relatively limited known worlds, were succeeded by definitions of
the West as Christian or Graeco-Roman (not always the same things) by contrast
with an East defined as Islam or, more generally, as the lands stretching from the
Mediterranean to India and China. Western and Eastern (or Oriental) worlds
were thus defined from C16 and C17. The development of systematic geography,
in Europe, then defined a Near (Mediterranean to Mesopotamia), Middle (Persia
to Ceylon) and Far (India to China) East, evidently in a European perspective.
A British military command designation before World War II overrode this old
designation, making the Near into the Middle East, as now commonly. Yet meanwhile in Europe there were attempted West–East divisions, with the Slav peoples as Eastern. There was a different but connecting usage in World War I, when Britain and France were the Western powers against Germany, with Russia on the Eastern front. In World War II the Western Allies, now including USA, were
of course related to their Eastern ally, the USSR. It was then really not until the
postwar division of Europe, and the subsequent cold war between these former
allies, that West and East took on their contemporary political configurations, of
course building on some obvious geography and on some (but different) earlier
cultural configurations. The nature of this definition then permitted the extension
of Western or the West to free-enterprise or capitalist societies, and especially
to their political and military alliances (which then sometimes complicated
the geography), and of Eastern, though less commonly, to socialist or communist
societies. (Hence the curious description of Marxism, which began in what is by
any definition Western Europe, as an Eastern ideology.) The more obvious geographical difficulties which result from these increasingly political definitions are sometimes recognized by such phrases as Western-style or Western-type.
After this complex history, the problem of defining Western civilization,
a key concept from C18 and especially C19, is considerably more difficult than
it is often made to appear. It is interesting that the appropriation of its cultural
usage (Graeco-Roman or Christian) to a contemporary political usage (the
West) has been complicated by the substitution of North–South (rich–poor, industrial–nonindustrial, developed–underdeveloped societies and economies)
for West–East as, in some views, a more significant division of the world. But
of course North–South, developed from the political and economic form of the
West–East contrast, has its own geographical complications.

“Civilization” (a Keyword, Raymond Williams)

Dear students,

please read Raymond William’s elaboration of the term ‘civilization’ from his great book  Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, 23-26.


Civilization is now generally used to describe an achieved state or condition of
organized social life. Like culture (q.v.) with which it has had a long and still
difficult interaction, it referred originally to a process, and in some contexts this
sense still survives.
Civilization was preceded in English by civilize, which appeared in eC17,
from C16 civiliser, F, fw civilizare, mL – to make a criminal matter into a civil
matter, and thence, by extension, to bring within a form of social organization.
The rw is civil from civilis, L – of or belonging to citizens, from civis, L – citizen.
Civil was thus used in English from C14, and by C16 had acquired the extended
senses of orderly and educated. Hooker in 1594 wrote of ‘Civil Society’ – a phrase that was to become central in C17 and especially C18 – but the main development
towards description of an ordered society was civility, fw civilitas, mL – community.
Civility was often used in C17 and C18 where we would now expect civilization,
and as late as 1772 Boswell, visiting Johnson, ‘found him busy, preparing a
fourth edition of his folio Dictionary . . . He would not admit civilization, but only
civility. With great deference to him, I thought civilization, from to civilize, better
in the sense opposed to barbarity, than civility.’ Boswell had correctly identified
the main use that was coming through, which emphasized not so much a process
as a state of social order and refinement, especially in conscious historical or cultural contrast with barbarism. Civilization appeared in Ash’s dictionary of 1775,
to indicate both the state and the process. By 1C18 and then very markedly in C19
it became common.
In one way the new sense of civilization, from 1C18, is a specific combination
of the ideas of a process and an achieved condition. It has behind it the general
spirit of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on secular and progressive human
self-development. Civilization expressed this sense of historical process, but also
celebrated the associated sense of modernity: an achieved condition of refinement
and order. In the Romantic reaction against these claims for civilization,
alternative words were developed to express other kinds of human development
and other criteria for human well-being, notably culture (q.v.). In 1C18 the association of civilization with refinement of manners was normal in both English
and French. Burke wrote in Reflections on the French Revolution: ‘Our manners,
our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners, and
with civilization’. Here the terms seem almost synonymous, though we must note
that manners has a wider reference than in ordinary modern usage. From eC19
the development of civilization towards its modern meaning, in which as much
emphasis is put on social order and on ordered knowledge (later, science (q.v.)) as
on refinement of manners and behaviour, is on the whole earlier in French than
in English. But there was a decisive moment in English in the 1830s, when Mill, in
his essay on Coleridge, wrote:
Take for instance the question how far mankind has gained by civilization.
One observer is forcibly struck by the multiplication of physical
comforts; the advancement and diffusion of knowledge; the decay of
superstition; the facilities of mutual intercourse; the softening of manners;
the decline of war and personal conflict; the progressive limitation of the tyranny of the strong over the weak; the great works accomplished
throughout the globe by the co-operation of multitudes . . .

This is Mill’s range of positive examples of civilization, and it is a fully modern
range. He went on to describe negative effects: loss of independence, the creation
of artificial wants, monotony, narrow mechanical understanding, inequality and
hopeless poverty. The contrast made by Coleridge and others was between civilization and culture or cultivation:
The permanent distinction and the occasional contrast between cultivation
and civilization . . . The permanency of the nation . . . and its
progressiveness and personal freedom . . . depend on a continuing and
progressive civilization. But civilization is itself but a mixed good, if not
far more a corrupting influence, the hectic of disease, not the bloom of
health, and a nation so distinguished more fitly to be called a varnished
than a polished people, where this civilization is not grounded in cultivation,
in the harmonious development of those qualities and faculties that
characterize our humanity. (On the Constitution of Church and State, V)
Coleridge was evidently aware in this passage of the association of civilization
with the polishing of manners; that is the point of the remark about varnish, and
the distinction recalls the curious overlap, in C18 English and French, between
polished and polite, which have the same root. But the description of civilization
as a ‘mixed good’, like Mill’s more elaborated description of its positive and
negative effects, marks the point at which the word has come to stand for a whole
modern social process. From this time on this sense was dominant, whether the
effects were reckoned as good, bad or mixed.
Yet it was still primarily seen as a general and indeed universal process. There
was a critical moment when civilization was used in the plural. This is later with
civilizations than with cultures; its first clear use is in French (Ballanche) in 1819.
It is preceded in English by implicit uses to refer to an earlier civilization, but it is
not common anywhere until the 1860s.

In modern English civilization still refers to a general condition or state, and
is still contrasted with savagery or barbarism. But the relativism inherent in comparative studies, and reflected in the use of civilizations, has affected this main sense, and the word now regularly attracts some defining adjective: Western civilization, modern civilization, industrial civilization, scientific and technological civilization. As such it has come to be a relatively neutral form for
any achieved social order or way of life, and in this sense has a complicated and
much disputed relation with the modern social sense of culture. Yet its sense of an
achieved state is still sufficiently strong for it to retain some normative quality; in
this sense civilization, a civilized way of life, the conditions of civilized society
may be seen as capable of being lost as well as gained.