Richard Miller, in his essay “The Dark Night of the Soul,” raises important questions about the value of education in the Humanities, and in particular about the value of reading and writing in a world of “violence, suicide, war, and terrorism, as well as fraudulence, complicity, and trauma” (444). This assignment asks you to consider an essay from Boston magazine, written by Susan Zalkind, that examines three murders that have been linked in the media to the Boston Marathon bombing.
It may help you to review the story of the bombing before you read, so that you are familiar with the events of that attack, which may or may not be directly related to the killings discussed in this article. This is a disturbing article for many reasons. Of course, the murders themselves are disturbing. But what happens to a number of other people caught up in this investigation—mostly immigrants from several different countries—is also very disturbing.
At the end of “The Dark Night of the Soul,” Richard Miller reconsiders the first four texts he read and wrote about in light of Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liar’s Club, and asks
whether these men knew what Karr knows – namely; how to use writing as a practice for constructing a sense of hope and optimism atop the ruins of previous worlds. Is it possible to produce writing that generates a greater sense of connection to the world and its inhabitants? Of self-understanding? Writing that moves out from the mundane, personal tragedies that mark any individual life into the history, the culture, and the lives of the institutions that surround us all? (441)
Miller here wants writing that moves beyond the individual and personal, “out from the mundane, personal tragedies” to connect with the wider world. He is not only interested in person to person connection (for example, writer to reader), but also to a connection made in writing to larger, less personal forces: “the history, the culture, and the lives of the institutions that surround us all” (441). It will help you to think carefully about what Miller says about Karr, about what he sees in her work that supports his claim.
Write an essay in which you consider whether Susan Zalkind’s work in “The Murders Before the Marathon” succeeds in moving beyond the personal tragedies of three murdered men and the people in their lives to connect to something bigger. To do this work, you will need return to Miller’sreading ofThe Liar’s Club. What does he mean by Karr’s ability to “use writing as a practice for constructing a sense of hope and optimism atop the ruins of previous worlds”? Where in the text does he see Karr doing this work? Do you think Zalkind is doing similar work?
Here are some questions to get you started: Where (and how) in this essay is Zalkind connecting this event to history? To cultures? To the “lives of institutions”? To what extent does Zalkind’s reporting and writing build a “sense of hope and optimism atop the ruins of previous worlds”?To what extent is Zalkind “[engaging] productively with the dark realities of our time”? To what extent are you, as a reader, engaging with those “dark realities”? And why does this engagement matter?