By now I guess everyone knows about what happened with the not-MLK & not-Mark-Twain quotes that made the rounds after the death of Osama bin Laden. If not, there's a good synopsis of what happened here. I was skeptical of the MLK quote the first time I saw it, which was in Penn Jillette's tweet (in fact, the one thing that made me think it was legit was my trust in Penn Jillette's skepticism!). I followed the ensuing events with fascination, even using the hashtag #iwitnessedthebirthofameme.
I still have to work, though. My AP English Lit students had an essay exam on Monday, and the question I gave them was taken from the 2004 AP Lit exam. Here's the prompt they had to write on:
Critic Roland Barthes has said, "Literature is the question minus the answer." Choose a novel or play and, considering Barthes' observation, write an essay in which you analyze a central question the work raises and the extent to which it offers any answers. Explain how the author's treatment of this question affects your understanding of the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.
Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search on the quotation, hoping to find out which Barthes essay contained the quote. Almost all of the returns fell into one of two categories: (a) AP English essays responding to the prompt, and (b) quotation sites. Then I found this, and it kind of blew my mind.
It doesn't take a Facebook or Twitter user to take a quote out of context & mangle its meaning, shoehorning your own meaning into it. THE FREAKIN' COLLEGE BOARD DOES IT ON THEIR TESTS (tests which cost our nation's high school students 86 bucks a pop, I might add).
Draw your own conclusions about all this. I'm just watching the show.