As promised, here’s a blog post with some review work to do for Thursday’s class, similar to what we did for the midterm:
First, to practice for the ID section, you should find two passages from different texts we’ve read that you think would make good ID questions and type them out on a separate sheet of paper to bring to class. Be creative and thoughtful in picking these — try to strike a balance between obvious and obscure that gets at central characteristics and concerns of the authors. We’ll practice with these in a competition format again in class — to make things a little more interesting this time around, we’ll split up and keep score a little more formally. Again, to keep the element of secrecy for these, DO NOT post them to the blog.
Second, you should post one mock short essay question or topic to the comments of this thread. These should be questions that ask you to synthesize material and ideas from various texts, authors, and literary movements and developments over the second half of the course. Think of the kinds of questions from the midterm as a model, and think of how some of the common threads of our conversations might connect across literary history and play out within the work of various different authors.
Reminder: This post is due by midnight on Wednesday, April 27, the night before our Tuesday class. Since this is a short assignment at a busy time, this is another one that you’ll get credit just for doing. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
A few of you have asked me if there will be a blog post for class this Tuesday — since I know this is a crazy time of the semester for everyone, I’m going to cancel the blog for this last week — we’ll do another short exam review post for Thursday’s class the way we did for the midterm. Make sure to read Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Dakota and Resumé I? for Tuesday — we’ll spend some time talking about these pieces and what they have to tell us about American literature in the context of the semester as a whole. Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you all then.
Like much of postmodern fiction, Don DeLillo’s “Pafko at the Wall” takes History as one of its main subjects: “Pafko” eventually became the prologue to DeLillo’s 1997 novel Underworld, which traces the history of Bobby Thompson’s 1951 home-run ball over the course of the Cold War and the second half of the twentieth century. So DeLillo is concerned with small-h history in the sense of setting this narrative in the past and infusing it with material and references from that time. But he’s also thinking about big-H History in the sense of using his writing to critically examine how the larger narrative of our culture get produced and what the cultural and political implications of that production are — in “The Power of History,” an essay that appeared at the same time as the publication of Underworld, DeLillo reflects on this goal in “Pafko” and in the novel as a whole:
“Against the force of history, so powerful, visible and real, the novelist poses the idiosyncratic self. Here it is, sly, mazed, mercurial, scared half-crazy. It is also free and undivided, the only thing that can match the enormous dimensions of social reality. . . . Language can be a form of counterhistory. The writer wants to construct a language that will be the book’s life-giving force. He wants to submit to it. Let language shape the world. Let it break the faith of conventional re-creation.”
So where is the History in this story? For this blog post, I’d like you to think about how DeLillo engages the larger force of history through some element of “Pafko at the Wall” — find one element of the narrative’s language, plot, character, or some other element and make a case for how DeLillo uses that element to imagine or describe some sort of counterhistory against the larger forces controlling the history of this period.
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, April 11th, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
In our second day on modernist fiction, we’re looking at two novelists, Faulkner and Dos Passos, known for their challenging, experimental styles and the ways in which they expanded the boundaries of prose fiction. At first glance, these two authors seem worlds apart: Faulkner is often best known for complex psychological portraits of the deep South that confront questions of race and class in American culture, while Dos Passos is often thought of as a sweeping chronicler of the whole of American life in the 1920s and 1930s, pulling together pieces of culture and media to look at post-World-War-I America from a decidedly left-wing perspective. But perhaps there’s similarity between the two within that difference — perhaps the ways in which they go about addressing these issues are more similar than we might first think.
For this blog, I’d like you to pursue some of those possible convergences, focusing on Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” and the “Camera Eye (51)” section of Dos Passos (we’ll discuss the Newsreels on their own in class). What commonalities in approach do you see between these two pieces of writing? Point to places you see that playing out in the specifics of the texts. What differences are there as well — for example, what’s significant about the way Faulkner frames his style and narration as opposed to Dos Passos framing his as a “camera eye?” Why does each author use the techniques he does — is there a commonality in intent or theme alongside whatever stylistic commonalities you see, or are these two authors pursuing fundamentally different goals through their experimental innovations?
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, March 28th, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
In a 1939 letter, Ezra Pound wrote, “ne of the most valued readers seemed to find the Cantos ‘entertaining;’ at least that’s what he said after 20 minutes, with accent of relieved surprise, having been brought up to Italian concept of poetry: something oppressive and to be revered. Skip anything you don’t understand and go on till you pick it up again. All tosh about foreign languages making it difficult. The quotes are all either explained at once by repeat or they are definitely of the things indicated. If reader don’t know what an elefant is, then the word is obscure. I admit there are a couple of Greek quotes, one along in 39 that can’t be understood without Greek, but if I can drive the reader to learning at least that much Greek, she or he will indubitably be filled with a durable gratitude. And if not, what harm? I can’t conceal the fact that the Greek language existed.”
What is Pound saying here about the difficulty of modernist poetry? How does this kind of approach to old and/or difficult material compare with what we saw in Eliot last week, and why might Pound want to offer a similar or different opinion to what Eliot suggests in The Waste Land? For this blog entry, I’d like you to reflect on a passage from Pound’s writing that you see relating to the ideas in the quotation above (you’re free to pick from any poem, but it probably makes most sense to focus on the selection from The Cantos). You should analyze the passage you choose, but also show how it relates to Pound’s thinking about modern poetry. How does the style and content of his poetry compare to what he’s saying here — or to think of it another way, given the nature of what you’ve read of his writing, should we take him seriously here? How so? Ultimately, what’s he saying about the issue of difficult poetry here, and how does that relate to his writing and to the modernist writing we’ve read so far?
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, March 21st, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
Hi everyone — welcome back (almost) from spring break! For our first class back, we’ll be delving into what’s often referred to as High Modernism — a group of Anglo-American poets and fiction writers working to create new modes of representation and expression to fit the rapidly changing world around them.
We’ll talk more about what it means for a text to be modernist in the beginning of Tuesday’s class, but as a way of getting started, for this blog I’d like you to start thinking about the newness of modernism by returning to some of the questions of visual representation and the city that we’ve been tracing so far over the semester in relation to The Bridge, Hart Crane’s long poetic sequence about the Brooklyn Bridge. Below you’ll see Manhatta, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s 1921 film about New York City; it’s often considered the first American avant-garde film because of its abstract, oblique representations of the city.
If Strand and Sheeler are offering a new way of looking at the world (and the city in particular), how might Crane be doing the same thing? There’s not the direct biographical/historical connection here that there was between Stephen Crane’s writing in Maggie and Jacob Riis’ photographs, but what stylistic and thematic connections (and/or oppositions) might we see between poetry and moving images here? Focus on analyzing a particular set of lines in Crane’s writing that strike you as resonating with what Strand and Sheeler are doing in the realm of film — how might you characterize how each one is representing the city, and what’s significant about that representation?
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, March 14th, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
As I mentioned last week, I’m getting I touch with a little midterm review blog assignment for class Tuesday. We’ll spend some of class that day talking about the second half of Quicksand, but we’ll also spend some time reviewing for the midterm on Thursday. To prepare for that, I’d like you to do two things:
First, to practice for the ID section, you should find two passages from different texts we’ve read that you think would make good ID questions and type them out on a separate sheet of paper to bring to class. Be creative and thoughtful in picking these — try to strike some balance between obvious and obscure that gets at central characteristics and concerns of the authors. We’ll practice with these in some sort of game show/showdown format in class, so to keep the element of secrecy, DO NOT post these to the blog.
Second, you should post one mock short essay question or topic to the comments of this thread. Remember that these should be questions that ask you to synthesize material and ideas from various texts, authors, and literary movements and developments over the course so far.
Since this is a short blog assignment at a busy time, this is one that you’ll get credit for just for doing it. Hopefully it will also be helpful in jumpstarting and/or focusing your review, and who knows, some of your material may show up on the actual midterm…
Reminder: This post is due by midnight on Monday, February 28, the night before our Tuesday class. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
For being one of central novels of the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen’s Quicksand takes us to a wide range of locations: Naxos, Chicago, Harlem (as well as the rest of New York beyond it), and ultimately abroad. Each of these settings is part of a larger African-American cultural world that Larsen maps out within the novel — in addition to setting the scene of each section of the novel and helping to contribute to a vision of Helga’s character, they tell us things about the spatial, social, racial, and political boundaries that structure the world of the novel and about who moves across them and how.
For this blog you should discuss one specific passage that addresses some socially significant space in the first half of the novel (including but not limited to the ones above). What are the important characteristics of this space as Larsen represents it? What are its social, economic, and/or racial “rules?” What happens if you break those rules or transgress its boundaries in some way? Ultimately, what role does it play in structuring the world of the novel? If someone has written about your space by the time you come to post, try to bring in another passage that tells us something new about that space, or to say something new about the passage they’ve quoted.
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, February 21st, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
You might say that Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets takes some of the realist literary techniques we discussed in relation to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie to a further extreme, describing the harsh circumstances of life in the New York slums in harsh terms that had scarcely been seen in the literature that preceded it. Crane’s interest in this subject matter and his approach to it come from a number of influences, including the increasing cultural attention to Darwin’s ideas of natural selection and the survival of the fittest and Crane’s own background as a journalist.
But another influence comes from the emergent world of photojournalism, particularly the work of Jacob Riis. Riis was a New York crime reporter whose 1890 work How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York combined written reportage on various elements of slum life (lodging-houses, saloons, various ethnic populations, etc.) with intimate, candid photographs of a world that had not been seen by a wide audience — the examples here are a few representative shots.
Crane saw Riis lecture after the publication of How The Other Half Lives, and his writing in Maggie and elsewhere takes up many of the same topics and concerns.
In addition to this similarity in content, what similarities in technique or style might we see between Crane’s writing and these images? How do they each represent their subjects? Is it appropriate to call Crane’s writing photographic? If so, how and why? Why might Crane seek to write in a photographic manner, and what does that suggest in the larger picture (no pun intended!)? If not, why not — what does photography do that his writing doesn’t, and/or what does his writing do that photography doesn’t? In thinking about these questions and issues for this blog, you should focus on a specific passage from Maggie and discuss it alongside these images and photography as a form of visual media in general.
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, February 7th, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” raises some striking questions about gender politics and the position of women in the 19th century. Her story is a strong critique of the “rest cure,” a 19th century treatment that prescribed confinement and domesticity for women in response to symptoms of hysteria. But it’s also a text that plays with certain conventions of form and narrative — for example, the single-sentence paragraphs, breaks and ellipses in the text, and shifts in space and time as the narrator becomes increasingly disturbed, to name just a few. How might these two realms relate? Many of the techniques she uses go beyond engaging the reader to think about larger issues. What is Gilman doing with form and narrative in this story to raise social and political questions about gender and femininity?
For this blog post, you should choose one specific piece of text from the story where you see Gilman doing something innovative with form or narrative, and quote and analyze it closely in terms of social, cultural meaning — what is she doing or saying in relation to the politics of gender through that innovation? How does the piece of text you’ve chosen speak to those issues?
Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Monday, January 31st, and should be at least 200 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.