“Perhaps the flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.”

Quinn

Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael

An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

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An Introduction

Quinn’s novel has stirred a great deal of controversy since it was first published, earning cynicism from those who call his ideas too vague and impractical and winning followers from those who desire a different cultural belief system. Regardless of where you fall in the end, his arguments challenge our way of thinking and living, and his reasoning can compel us to ask questions we may previously had not known we could. Can technology save humanity from its own demise? Is mankind “broken” is some way that makes us destroy ourselves and our planet? Is mythology dead or are we still living a myth now?  What should be our relationship with the world we live in?  What does captivity mean as it is applied to our thinking? In addressing these questions, Quinn (and Ishmael) will make use of history, politics, and even our own religious teachings as metaphors for how to understand what we do today.  Ishmael is an anthropologist, but unlike us who go into the deep wood “to discover the primitive peoples,” it is now the gorilla who has emerged from “The Wild” to study us.

 

1 1-29 Introduction/LiesMonday, May 14
233-46Takers/ LeaversFriday, May 18
349-63Mythic BeginningsFriday, May 18
467-75Man is an EnemyMonday, May 21
579-91End of the StoryMonday., May 21
695-110AircraftTues., May 22
7113-122 The LawThursday., May 24
8125-148FoodThursday., May 24
9151-184EdenTuesday., May 29
10 187-207Loss and CircusTuesday, May 29
11211-229BwanaTuesday., May 29
12233-254What do we do?Thursday.,May 31
13257-263EndThursday, May 31

 

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Some Reading Pointers

The Socratic Method

  • Much of the book is a dialogue, mostly with Ishmael posing questions in order to teach the narrator (I will call him Alan), who answers the questions. This form of Q&A is made famous by the Greek philosopher Socrates (student of Plato who wrote “Allegory of the Cave”).  The teacher here likely knows the answers already, but would rather allow students to discover them for themselves.
  • In what sense are you reliant upon a teacher’s “answers”?  Is there anything wrong-minded about such an approach?  What is the power of authority in what we learn?  What happens when you set the “authority” aside?

Genre-Bending

  • Technically this book is fiction (or even fantasy), but it is written as a discussion about reality and epistemology (the philosophical question of how we know what we know).  Sometimes book stores have a hard time deciding which genre to use when shelving this book.
  • What is the relationship between fact (what non-fiction tells us) and truth (what the themes of fiction often do)?  If this novel was a long essay, would it be more or less powerful?

Point of View

  • The novel is told in first person with an unnamed narrator (who is called “Alan” in a sequel book).  Would the novel feel more or less convincing if it was told in third person (where the narrator would be “he” who goes in to learn) or if it was oddly told in second person (“you”) where you are the narrator?  Do you imagine yourself asking the questions that Alan does?
  • As importantly, the teacher is a gorilla. Why not have the teacher as a human?  What advantages does Quinn create in choosing a gorilla to make his arguments? Do you find the gorilla so ridiculous a scenario that he is not believable?

 

Sequels!

I haven’t read all of Quinn’s other work, but here is brief list. If you are really gung-ho about it, try his website: www.ishmael.com.

My Ishmael — A story which happens concurrently with Ishmael, this follows the learning of a young girl who is angry with school and who wants to act!

The Story of B — The third and thickest and finest of Quinn’s works, I think. A student of Ishmael’s, B, is tracked down by a Catholic priest to discover if he is the anti-Christ. Expect this book to bite the reader directly as it confronts Western religion directly.

Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure — Quinn, in a series of short articles and anecdotes, attempts to address his critics by offering real models and practical ideas.


After Dachau — This is not part of the Ishmael series, but a novel of reincarnation. An intriguing premise in a future society, but too brief and unfulfilling to recommend as a novel on its own.

 

References to The Bible in Ishmael 


Whether or not you are a believer in the Bible’s ideas, both the Old and New Testaments are referenced in a great deal of literature. Knowing the Biblical stories and their themes will always help you better understand the writers of later works who use them.  Here are a few from Ishmael.

The Role of Ishmael in the Old Testament

The father of Jewish and Christian faith, Abraham, was unable to have children with his wife Sarah.  So Abraham had a child with the servant Hagar instead, who was called Ishmael. Later, while Ishmael was growing up, Sarah and Abraham had a son named Isaac.Hagar and Ishmael were made to leave the household. Generally speaking, Jewish and Christian beliefs follow the story of Isaac and his descendants, while the Islamic faith follows the story of Ishmael. (The Wikipedia entry on Ishmael)

Eden and the Fall of Man

When Adam and Eve were in The Garden of Eden, there was food everywhere for them to eat and the world was at peace. God put two trees into the Garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He told Adam and Eve not to eat of these trees or they would die. Then the serpent told Eve that they would not die if they ate. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5 NIV). After Eve ate (and gave Adam fruit, as well), God cursed them with strife, pain, and mortality; He drove them from the Garden. This is called Original Sin or The Fall of Man. (Tolerance.org Interpretations)

The Story of Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the eldest, was a tiller of the soil, and so he brought God an offering of fruits. Abel, who tended sheep, brought God an offering of the first-born of his lambs.God had regard for (or offered forgiveness to) Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Afterwards, Cain was jealous and killed his brother in what is known as The First Murder. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain replied famously, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Therefore, God punished Cain and drove him away in permanent exile. (Schmoop’s sarcastic interpretation)


 

Daniel Quinn: A Quick Biography

Best known as the author of Ishmael, Quinn (b. 1935) works to encourage authors to seek “creative and positive solutions to global problems.” Ishmael is used in all kinds of classes around the world, including anthropology,  history, literature, philosophy, biology, and psychology, at age levels from middle school through graduate schools at universities  He has written several other books afterwards, including the sequels (above) and some more fantasy/mysticism works and graphic novels. He has also written and published many essays and speeches on similar themes. He is a proponent of a concept called tribalism, which seeks an alternate form of human organization. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world, and you can find out all about his works at his primary website, ishmael.org

 

 

 


Additional Resources


Ishmael Cartoons

 

     

 

The Assignment

[For those with interest of seeking some final Standards opportunities!]

Can One Person Make Any Difference?
Part One:  Trial and Error

[Standards: Primary Research, Producing Text]

  1. Identify a specific problem in or around your daily that seems particularly wasteful, absurd, or wrong-minded because of the Taker mentality. What could you do to alter it?
  2. If it is a personal behavior, plan and implement a change that will last at least two weeks. The change should be approved by your parents.  If it is a social or organization behavior, plan and implement a series of arguments or an awareness campaign towards an appropriate audience seeking to change it.
  3. Record your daily events and responses, a brief log of 1-3 sentences per day.
  4. At the end, write an informal reflection of your experience:
    • How public was your effort?  Would it have made a difference if it were more private? more public?
    • What surprised you about your work?  What went as predicted? Why?
    • Which parts of Ishmael’s arguments match what you experienced? Why seemed to be contradicted?
    • If you were successful, should we continue the work? Should we expand it for larger effects?  If you were unsuccessful, what would we change to improve your chances? Or do you think we should give up on the effort?
Register your idea!
Part Two:  The “Essay”

[Standards: Creative Work, Using Language, Data Presentation]

  1. Complete one of the following during your experience:
    • A Twitter Essay of 12-15 posts which either a) promotes or refutes Ishmael’s argument or b) tells the story of your experience
    • An Instagram Essay of 8-15 images which does the same
    • A Vine or Periscope series of 10-15 “chapters” which does the same
    • A Snapchat expose of 10-15 images and captions which does the same
    • A set of 5 – 8 Tumblr or Facebook promote-able memes about your arguments
  2. ALTERNATIVE:
    • Do any of the above, but instead use the arguments from your REDx talk
    • Do any of the above, but instead use the arguments from Romeo & Juliet
  3. BONUS:
    • Publish/Send the images, using the #roela9 hashtag where appropriate, and record the responses you receive.

 Twitter Essays 

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think of the “essay” as a series of points that are assembled in an intentional order.
  • Each post must have a stand-alone idea; that is, it makes sense on its own.  Never divide a sentence between two tweets.
  • Each post cannot be more than 140 characters long, but
    • Each should be numbered for ease:  1 of 14, 2 of 14, etc.
    • Each should include a hashtag that makes sense to the topic
    • Hyperlinks are effective at directing people to important sources and further reading
  • Images attached to the Twitter essay are allowed, but should complement the points made.

Twitter essays can and should be promoted through other social media:

  • You can “preview” the essay with mysterious posts and hooks
  • You can Share or add @Name to various people to get them hooked in
  • You can add key tweets as posts in other social platforms like Facebook or Instagram

 

Meme Essays (Facebook or Tumblr)

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think of the “essay” as a series of points that are assembled in an intentional order; but unlike other forms, the memes are likely to be scattered.
  • Each post must have a stand-alone idea; that is, it makes sense on its own.
  • Because they are memes, they will likely not remain in any assembled form.  Therefore:
    • Give the memes a consistency: same image, same keyword, etc. so people can discover and match the set
  • Be wary of using meme images that have been used a lot before–those come with meanings from the internet you may not want.
  • Keep the wording to a minimum. It should be appropriate to the image offered both in content and tone.
  • The best memes are both amusing and provocative/thoughtful

Meme essays can and should be promoted through other social media:

  • You can “preview” the essay with mysterious posts and hooks
  • You can Share or add @Name to various people in other social media to get them hooked in
  • You can add key memes as posts in other social platforms like Twitter

 

 Instagram and Snapchat Essays

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think of the “essay” as a series of images that are assembled in an intentional order.
  • Each image should represent a particular point or moment in your work; that is, it makes sense on its own.
  • Captions or labels on the pics should be brief, but intentional
    • Each should be numbered for ease:  1 of 14, 2 of 14, etc.
    • Each should include a hashtag that makes sense to the topic
  • Longer descriptions to the overall photo essay are okay, but the photos should be the main “argument.” We should be able to get the points you make without extensive description.

Photo essays can and should be promoted through other social media:

  • You can “preview” the essay with mysterious posts and hooks
  • You can Share or add @Name to various people to get them hooked in
  • You can add key tweets as posts in other social platforms like Twitter or Facebook

Vine or Periscope (or similar) Essays

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think of the “essay” as a series of filmed points that are assembled in an intentional order.
  • Each film must have a stand-alone idea; that is, it makes sense on its own.  Never divide an idea between two film clips.
  • Each post cannot be more than 15 seconds long (6 seconds for Vine), but
    • Each should be numbered for ease:  1 of 14, 2 of 14, etc. in the captions
    • Each should include a hashtag that makes sense to the topic
  • Talking or written signs in the films are allowed, but keep them pointed and brief
  • The tough part about films is that you have a lot to “demonstrate” in a few seconds. Timing, editing, fast-pacing are all critical.
  • If you haven’t watched any Vines or Periscopes, do!

Video essays can and should be promoted through other social media:

  • You can “preview” the essay with mysterious posts and hooks
  • You can Share or add @Name to various people to get them hooked in
  • You can add key clips as posts in other social platforms like Facebook or Instagram