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#26059
Passage Discussion

Paragraph One:

This passage deals with a book called Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, by Marjorie Shostak. In spite of ethnographers’ standard focus on more general and anonymous themes, this book blends three narrative strands: the first is the autobiography of a Botswanan 50-year old woman of the !Kung hunter-gatherers, the second casts the main character as a metaphor for all women, and the third is an encounter between ethnographer and subject.

Paragraph Two:


When describing the main character’s personality, the author corrects certain oversimplified perspectives from the West, quoting Michel Leiris’ sentiment that it can be easy to see people as happy since that makes for a nicer picture. While it is nice to see an enlightened maternal figure living an uncomplicated life, the truth includes a character who has lost a husband and four children, and witnessed fights over food and sibling rivalries.

Paragraph Three:

Nisa’s autobiography addresses the author’s exploration in the work of what it means to be a woman. The author of the passage notes that most ethnographic work omits women’s perspective on women, referring to this realization as a “salutary shock,” a surprising contrast to the unfortunate standard.

Paragraph Four:

The final paragraph deals with the relationship between the author and the subject. Nisa has a distinct voice but the narrative, the author says, is obviously the product of collaboration, with the Western author shaping the subject’s life into a clear story, from “a seemingly featureless background.”

VIEWSTAMP Analysis:

The Viewpoints presented in this passage are those of the author of the passage, of Shostak, and of Nisa.

The Structure of the passage is as follows:
  • Paragraph 1: Introduce the book that is the subject of the passage, whose author, Marjorie Shostak, departs from the standard ethnographer approach, and note the three narratives that are interwoven in the work.

    Paragraph 2: Note the correction of a tempting Western tendency to oversimplify and idealize the life of such a character, and that the true story is not entirely ideal.

    Paragraph 3: Point out that the book provides a welcome departure from the tendency of most ethnographic works to omit women’s perspectives on women.

    Paragraph 4: Discuss the relationship between Shostak and her subject, and how the author uses a Western approach to weave an amorphous life into a story of recognizable shape.
The author’s Tone is scholarly and appreciative, and slightly critical of standard ethnological works.

The Main Point of the passage is to describe Shostak’s approach to writing about Nisa, and the several narrative strands that make up a work that is unidealized, deals with universal women’s issues from women’s perspective, and brings a Western approach to weaving together the narrative tale.
 Khodi7531
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#44572
I may not be good overall at RC, but this has got to be the most challenging and disgusting RC passage that's ever been created. I wasn't able to put together two sentences that would paint a picture of what's happening here.
 Adam Tyson
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#44610
Yeah, I really hated this one too. Maybe it makes sense to someone with a background in ethnography, but that ain't me khodi! When that happens, focus on what you CAN understand, like tone indicators, lists, quotations, arguments. That's what the questions are all about, not about our understanding of the passage details. Focus on structure, and that will help you determine where in the passage to look for support for your answer choices.

Sometimes we have to wrestle with a passage or a game or a question, and we just have to work through that and apply the same process and strategies that we always use. That's why we learn those processes, to help guide us through the times when our intelligence and instincts aren't enough!
 lamahoney15
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#47932
Hi there,

I was just wondering if you might be able to clear up some confusion. It sounds like the author of this passage is referring to two different tests. The first text would be Shostak's Nisa but then there is Nisa's autobiography mentioned in line 35. This makes me believe that Nisa has also written her own story because an autobiography is self-written and a biography is written by another person. Also, is Nisa supposed to be the 50-year-old woman who is mentioned in the first strand on line 7? This passage is pretty tough!
 Adam Tyson
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#47993
It's all just one text, lamahoney15, and that text is Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Key info is right in the title: these are Nisa's words, not Shostak's. While Shostak might be writing them down, it's really Nisa who is telling the story, so it is an autobiography "written" by Nisa herself with Shostak taking dictation, as it were. The sentence you referenced at Line 7 confirms this, as the author refers to the book as an autobiography (and yes, Nisa is that 50-year-old woman).

That's pretty confusing! It sure does sound like Shostak is at least partly telling the story her way, which would make it more of a biography in the usual sense. Still, since the author of the passage called it an autobiography, that's what we'll call it for the purposes of answering these questions on this test. We can quibble about whether that's accurate later, with our colleagues at the annual ethnographers' convention!
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 cjb8666
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#82993
Hi! On both my readings of this passage before checking the explanation, I misinterpreted the first paragraph's indication that Shostak's weaving of 3 narratives "challenges the ethnographer's penchant for the general and the anonymous." Instead of interpreting this as the general tendency of the ethnographer, I took this to mean that Shostak was challenging her own personal penchant for the anonymous with this work. This assumption obviously made it difficult for me to answer some questions later on. Do you have any suggestions for how to avoid falling into a similar trap in future passages?
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 KelseyWoods
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#83023
Hi cjb8666!

That's definitely an interesting way of interpreting that line! Unfortunately, there's not really one overarching piece of advice I can give you to help you avoid misreads like that in the future because it's such a specific misread that it doesn't necessarily have common correlates in other passages. So the advice I'm going to give you is likely going to feel a little too general and probably even be a bit unsatisfying. The advice is simply this: read carefully, rely on the specific words that the author says, don't make assumptions for the author. This advice is 100% true and important. But the reason that it can feel unsatisfying is that we usually feel like we are already doing all of this and still making mistakes. That's what can make reading comprehension on the LSAT so frustrating! In some ways it really is like learning another language. So keep training yourself to read closely and keep thoroughly reviewing questions and asking your own questions so that you start to get more of a feel for how the LSAT makers use language.

But I also have a slightly more specific piece of advice that might be helpful: it's important to take each paragraph one at a time but also consider them in context with each other. When you look at the context of the first paragraph with the subsequent paragraphs, it doesn't really make sense to interpret the passage as putting forth an argument that this work challenges Shostak's personal penchants. The subsequent paragraphs are all about how the work challenges the preconceived notions of Westerners, ethnographic literature in general, and even literary conventions. It's not about challenging Shostak herself. It's about challenging all of these other conventions.

I actually love this passage because I think it's such a great illustration of considering paragraphs in context with one another. Most people read straight through this passage getting kind of lost in the language so that they miss the very simple structure of the passage: the author states in the first paragraph that the work weaves together three narrative strands and each subsequent paragraph goes into more detail about one of these strands. Each paragraph is just expanding on and supporting the argument made in that first paragraph that these strands challenge the ethnographer's penchant for the general and the anonymous. Are these paragraphs supporting anything about how Shostak's personal penchants were challenged? Nope! Again, it's all about challenging the established conventions.

So read each word carefully, but don't forget to pay attention to context. Think about how all of the specific pieces make up the whole of the passage.

Hope this helps!

Best,
Kelsey
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 cjb8666
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#83138
Hi Kelsey, thanks so much for this advice! I especially appreciate the the tip about considering interaction between the paragraphs, because I don't think I do that enough. I'm going to try to work more on seeing how paragraphs continue to build on one another to create a main point as part of reading more actively. It seems like my inference was also clearly incorrect because it just didn't fit in with the overall project of this passage.

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