Posted: September 23rd, 2022
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For the purposes of this essay, we will consider a ritual any task you regularly perform, with little variation, as part of ordinary life. Under this definition, you probably perform dozens of daily rituals, whether for personal maintenance, leisure, school, or work. Examples could include everything from buying groceries to “Pizza Fridays” with the family, as well sitting in class or preparing for tests, and the many, many tasks you perform as part of your job (checking out customers, filing paperwork, cleaning floors, etc).
In general, we don’t pay much attention to these rituals. The regularity and predictability of them means that performing them becomes automatic for us. Even though tasks like this occupy the majority of our time, we tend to think of them as the normal things that aren’t worth commenting on. Some may even reach a point where they think of their entire lives, composed of daily rituals, as being so “normal” they are essentially meaningless.
Part of the goal of this assignment is to challenge that assumption. I want you to look closely at a ritual you frequently perform and discover what makes it meaningful and interesting, outside of its immediate practical function. In order to do this, you will have to think carefully about the specifics of how you perform this task. When and where do you perform it? What is its cultural context? Do you do it differently from anybody else, and has there ever been a point or place in history where nobody–or very few people–performed it? What happens if you do NOT do it, and is there a distinction between its stated function, and its actual function?
After you have answered these questions (and possibly others) as part of your PRE-WRITING, I want you to carefully compose an essay, with a clear thesis in the opening paragraph, in which you describe and argue for an unusual interpretation of your chosen ritual. I say “unusual interpretation” to remind you that one of the goals of writing is to be interesting–nobody wants to read an essay saying that you brush your teeth every day to keep them clean. If you truly believe you have nothing surprising to say about the ritual you have chosen… do more pre-writing until you come up with something inventive, or else write about something different.
As a place to start, you might also decide whether your interpretation will fall into one of the two broad modes set aside by cultural critics–the “paranoid” mode, in which you argue that the ritual is harmful in ways most do not suspect, or the “utopian” mode, in which you argue that the ritual is far more wonderful than others realize. You might also set out to evoke a mix of the two.
Length: 3-4 pages
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