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IVES, MCF, UCBN Here is a model to follow for text commentary. I am pleased to provide this example, but don’t expect miracles just from reading the advice below. Preparing a good commentary requires practice, autrement dit il faut s’entraîner . On ne peut pas devenir un bon joueur de tennis simplement en écoutant des conseils d’un bon coach ; il faut aussi aller sur le terrain est taper dans la balle. Pour progresser en commentaire, c’est pareil. On vous encourage à preparer régulièrement des commentaries et les remettre à votre professeur de TD pour correction pendant le semestre.
There are two stages in the process of producing a commentary: 1) analysis 2) organization of ideas into a coherent whole (synthesis) Let’s take an example. Imagine that on exam day you got the text from the brochure entitled “TheVietnam War and American Memory “. The first thing to do would be to read the text once or twice and identify the major theme or themes. In this case, we see that the text is about how Americans remember the war in Vietnam. But we should also note immediately that the authors are critical of the general American attitude. At this stage we just have some general ideas. So, we need to push our analysis further. First we need to ask some questions about the text to contextualize it (in French “situer le texte”): author, source, historical context, audience, purpose and style. Author(s): R Berg and JC Rowe. These names do not ring a bell. They are academics, rather than famous figures. Therefore in this text, information about the author will not help us much. However, for other texts this could be of great importance: a speech by a President should inspire you to provide some background biographical information; an article by a wellknown academic who is closely associated with an ideological current should encourage you to treat the article with caution. Type of text: This is an excerpt from a book : a secondary source. It reveals the authors analysis of the war and the traces left on American memory. You will need to take critical distance from the author’s view. Note that the nature or the type of document is of interest. You will more often be asked to comment on a primary source, such as a speech, a political manifesto, a testimony, etc. Secondary sources could be excerpts from books, articles from scientific journals, or from magazines with wide circulation. For secondary sources an author has studied primary documents and has added his or her own personal analysis; you are commenting on his/her interpretation (d’où le terme “secondaire”). Primary sources were produced during the period in question;, they were not produced by an author who has some distance from events, but by an actor or by a witness of the events, they are first-hand documents (donc
Style: Here we see repeated use of personal pronouns. that now it is possible to debate the issue calmly and to reassess things with the advantage of hindsight. a culture. Authors are pushing their fellow Americans to open their eyes and look beyond the war to see the wider picture. This is especially important in a political speech: the author of a political speech is trying to convince you. You will only have first impressions. L1: They set up a difference between then and now: mid to late 1970s = refusal to talk about the war. twenty years after the cease fire of 1973. You need to be aware of this and to retain your critical distance. Now we should do a close reading (line by line) and extract all interesting elements. Asking these questions has enriched our understanding of the text. criticism from “one of us” which is more likely to be heard (if the criticism came from abroad there might be defensive response and a refusal to listen) Note: It will be difficult to have clear ideas about the style at this stage. Time has passed and Americans can now begin to reassess the events. The passage of time should allow Americans to be less emotional and more reasoned. openly critical of American policy but from within the country. and has more clearly identified the central themes: criticism from within. the quote “fifteen years ago” deliberately places the authors in a position of having some historical distance with regard to the Vietnam war. Note in this secondary source we have two perspectives to analyze: the historical context when the writers wrote their book. In a primary source there would be only one historical period to deal with. We see “Americans” followed by “us” and “we”. L2: there are two ways to interpret the proper noun: 1) a war and nothing else. to provoke a new awareness of flaws in foreign policy. Note that in any text it is important to understand the motivation of the author. The repeated use of we and us is a key point of analysis here: the criticism is . 2) a country which was (and still is) home to a people. They want to participate in a return to founding American principles. We are still in the analysis stage.“primaire”). During the analysis stage you will develop this aspect further. Historical context when written: published in 1993.Your must analyze them yourself by calling on your skills in text analysis and your own knowledge of the period. and the historical context of the Vietnam war. Intellectuals are evaluating the cold war period with more distance. Implicitly they imply. desire to provoke a debate and to take a new look at Vietnam War “fifteen years later”. Note that thinking about the audience to whom the text is primarily addressed is an important consideration in text analysis. We are at the beginning of the post Berlin Wall. post cold war period . a language and a history. Purpose: They hope to provoke a new reflection of the Vietnam war. Note that the commentary in civilization must always place the text in its historical context. 18 years after the end of the war. Audience: Here they are clearly writing for an American audience.
An American liberal is on the left of the political spectrum).they are coming from the American liberal tradition (Remember an American liberal is NOT the same as a European liberal. they want to be told they were the good guys fighting for freedom. They are critical of American policies at home. analysis. L9: Nothing mattered except we had lost => refusal to see the wider picture. L18 new idea presented = relation between foreign and domestic policies. The authors tell us that other colonial adventures had preceded the American intervention(in fact he is referring to Japan and China. An American liberal is a progressive who wants to use the power of the state to achieve ideals.coming from inside America. Key idea introduced here: “countless colonial wars” => the Vietnam war was not simply a proxy war in the ideological conflict between USA and USSR. But authors are asking their audience to step back and see the wider picture. they didn’t see that at the same time they were practicing slavery and destroying native cultures. from “one of us” – authors are using the personal pronoun as a means of reaching their audience and a means to convince them. “the war was simplified and historically contained” Note the use of “was” – this reinforces the first line and the difference between then and now – time is ripe for a richer. L16 “our responsibility” then we see “ugly history of western colonialism” This marks an important change of tone: the authors have become strongly critical. They ask readers to take some distance. refusal to open their eyes – this reinforces idea already noted about the desire of the authors to provoke a change in analysis L12 “collective defence” – Freudian language: a defensive strategy has been used by Americans to block out a reality they don’t want to see. notably the ideal of equal opportunity. These lines also repeat the idea of a refusal to see the truth : Americans saw themselves in a gallant and noble fight against British tyranny. but you don’t need to know this to produce an excellent commentary. If you did know this your knowledge would improve the quality of the paper). you have to think about this quote. which had previously subjected the Vietnamese to their domination. L3: Putting the war in a wider time frame. we dealt with this distinction in the CM. it was part of colonial history L6 : The complexity of the situation was washed over by an American oversimplification. Americans don’t want to be told they are colonialists. Note also a quick reference to the anti-war movement presented here as visionary – they had seen the reality L14: “Our war was the last chapter in a longer history” – this should ring a bell – the French war in Indochina was the predecessor of the American War –the idea of continuity can be expanded on in your commentary. refusal to listen. With this line we have clearly classified the authors’ slant. They are suggesting that colonialism is about domination and exploitation and that Americans dominated and exploited slaves and Indians at home before doing the same abroad. This should ring a bell – this is something that was developed in the course – Americans have a tendency to see events as part of a universal struggles pitting America against an enemy (Manichean vision). . less simplistic. What is the link they are trying to make? It is not explicit. and give the examples of slavery and destruction of native peoples.
This creates a complete reversal of roles with Vietnam as the oppressed people fighting for independence against a colonial power (=> the USA) Last sentence is long and you may find it difficult. But be careful not to structure the paper around an element that is relatively minor in the text. Now that we have extracted all the ideas. rather than simply reciting a list of observations about the text. you miss something essential: authors evoke the “bicentennial year” and celebrating the revolution. and to the theme of hypocrisy.L22: KEY IDEA – if you miss this by reading too quickly. Authors make a link between Vietnam and the bicentennial celebration on order to expose hypocrisy. . Analsysis of the last clause in particular ( self reliance. yet reveal that USA was blind to its lack of commitment to the original ideals. Use your English language dictionary if necessary. junk that hides from sight the central fact in the authors’ eyes: American history contradicts the idealism of revolutionary America. has abandoned its own principles. Stage two –synthesis and developing a plan Producing a good L3 level commentary requires a coherent presentation. Hopefully the analysis has made some bells ring. USA had become the tyrant in the image of Great Britain in 1776. Now try to relate the text to class material. In this example we can exploit our knowledge on: 1) American political culture and American ideals (showing a lack of correspondence between ideals and reality of Vietnam war. Begins by ironically referring to American commercialism – consumer society junk produced to celebrate the revolution. We have to decide now how to organize the ideas coherently. Text commentary must be based on the text itself – don’t use the text as a pretext for your own demonstration. honesty etc) 2) we can exploit the distinction between realism and idealism in foreign policy 3) we can exploit our knowledge of the historical period referred to by the authors (mid 1970s) 4) we can exploit our knowledge of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (should be seen as Congressional abdication contrary to the principle of checks and balances) 5) you could allude quickly to civil rights due to the specific reference in the text to slavery. At this stage you should have lots of notes. Take the time to analyze it. we see that we have lots to say about the text. America has lost its way. L24 ANOTHER KEY IDEA : Ho Chi Minh had studied the American revolution! He had been inspired by the history of the country that was attacking his people! Authors suggest that America’s enemy in Vietnam may have been closer to the spirit of the 1776 declaration of independence than their own country.
Finally: add your own knowledge to help shed light on the text (things learnt in class. I have given two examples. In this example. or if the elements that don’t fit are not of major importance in the text. The authors also suggest that the Vietnam War reveals a contradiction between American ideals and the reality of American interventions abroad. Creating a plan: The central theme should create coherence for the different ideas you have identified in the analysis stage. try to present them quickly in the introduction.The only thing left to do is to organize your ideas coherently. or in your personal reading. that are related to the text and that enrich the quality of your commentary). However. you have two choices: 1) abandon the plan and develop a new plan. but there are certainly other possibilities. and should not neglect any major elements in the text. Plan A: The theme of re-evaluating history Part one: re-evaluating the Vietnam war Part two: re-evaluating the bicentennial celebrations Plan B: American hypocrisy and a difference between ideals and reality Part 1: Vietnam as a colonial war rather than as a noble fight for freedom against the Communists Part 2: American foreign policy as realist rather than idealist The interesting ideas found in the analysis stage should fit logically into one of the two parts you have proposed. we can create a plan around the concept of memory and the authors’ desire to incite Americans to re-evaluate their history. There is not just one correct answer for text commentary. The difference between ideals and reality could also be used as a central concept. If something important does not fit logically into your plan. you can write to me via e-mail. don’t add anything that is not related to the text under study (hors sujet à bannir) Write an introduction The intro should contextualize the text and announce the plan. Decide which of the ideas identified in the analysis stage fit into part one and which belong in part two. Next: Decide which lines you want to quote directly. If you would have proposed another coherent plan and want to ask my opinion about it. . you would want to treat the central theme in two parts. Now that you have found a central theme. It can be written and read if you wish (be sure to look up occasionally at your examiner).
or bring something new to light. Part of your mark is based on your communication skills which implies looking at your audience and speaking fluently and spontaneously.Prepare parts 1 and 2 in telegraphic style – do not write full sentences because this will inspire you to read from your paper. . Be sure to know what lines you plan to quote and be able to find them quickly and easily by having clear telegraphic notes to follow The conclusion should provide a concise summery of what you developed in the two parts. Then it should open up a wider debate in relation with your theme.
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