Essay One Prompts

1. In “On the Fringes of the Physical World,” Daum makes several references to her negation of the
tangible, concrete world once she starts her online relationship with PFSlider. What’s even more
interesting, however, is her association in this context between physical absence and a more
intense intellectual presence. For example, she writes, “All the tangible stuff—the trees outside,
my friends, the weather—fell away. I could physically feel my brain. My body did not exist” (19).
She goes so far as to attribute desire to a “cerebral current” and lust to “something not felt but
thought” (19). So, what are the implications of this emphasis on the mind? On intellectual
stimulation and communication that excludes or overrides the physical world, her own body
included? What might this essay be asking the reader to consider in regard to modern
communication, for example? What kinds of fears or desires might be informing the essay’s
emphasis on language in the absence of physical contact?
2. Meghan Daum equates her online relationship with PFSlider to a more traditional dating
experience. She references previous physical relationships as “false starts and five-night stands,
dates that I wasn’t sure were dates, emphatically casual affairs that buckled under their own
inertia even before dawn . . . “ (20). She says: “My need to experience an old-fashioned kind of
courtship was stronger than I had ever imagined. The epistolary quality of our relationship put
our communication closer to the eighteenth century than the uncertain millennium” (21). So,
what do these references suggest about the impact and significance of written/typed
communication in Daum’s contemporary moment? What are the implications of this desire for a
more intellectual, language-based courtship?
3. In “Carpet Is Mungers,” Daum unapologetically denounces not only carpet, but also Stephen
Mungers, her ex-fiance, American cars, dust ruffles, Maxwell House coffee, and gold jewelry.
She clearly engages with notions of self-identification and image-making through both the
embracing of qualities and products she deems “intellectual” and “artsy” and the negation of
qualities and products she believes signify simple wealth or gaudiness or simple conveniences.
Daum claims that she “sticks to these rules because [she] is terrified of what would happen if
[she] deviated from them” (66). She adds definitively: “I fear the ‘other.’ I fear carpet.” Consider
the implications and significances of this kind of categorical self-identification. What is this essay
suggesting about the impact of consumerism and materialism, for example, on self-image?
What fears or desires might this use of labeling as a way to construct identity suggest about
Americans and their responses to cultural expectations and influences?
4. Choose a sign or topic of your own from one of the assigned essays. You can also engage with
two different essays if you find a trend or pattern or interesting connection that you want to
investigate. In any case, make sure you start with a specific pattern, tension, an interesting
juxtaposition, or a specific passage that grounds you in the text. Then start to ask open-ended
questions about the presence of said pattern/juxtaposition/tension/passage.