Archive for February, 2012

Beloved (Day 1)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Comment here for Beloved.  Since a lot of odd things go on in this novel, and a lot of questions go unanswered until later on, comment with something you’re confused about or unsure of in our first readings here.

As we progress through Beloved, I’ll group Morrison with several sets of writers.  We’ll start with some African-American novelists since WWII:
Ralph Ellison (novelist, major work Invisible Man)
Richard Wright (novelist and essayist, major work Native Son)
James Baldwin (fiction writer and essayist, major works Go Tell It On the Mountain and “The Fire Next Time”)
Alice Walker (novelist, major work The Color Purple)
Edward P. Jones (fiction writer, major work The Known World)
Chester Himes (novelist, major work If He Hollers Let Him Go)
John Edgar Wideman (novelsit, major work Philadelphia Fire)

Blood Knot

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Comment here for Blood Knot.  Maybe a deceptively simple question for this class–which of the two main characters do you find most sympathetic?

Incidentally, Blood Knot is currently playing in Manhattan at the Signature Theater.  If there’s real interest I could look into getting the department to defray ticket cost–would anyone be interested in going?  Regardless, show me a stub from the performance and you can have extra credit on class participation.

Some other South African writers of note: Nadine Gordimer (fiction writer, major works July’s People and Burger’s Daughter)
J. M. Coetzee (novelist, major works Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace)
Zakes Mda (novelist, major work The Heart of Redness)
Alan Paton (novelist, major work Cry the Beloved Country)


Friday, February 17th, 2012

Comment here for our two metafictional stories.  Answer this prompt for either–how much do you trust the story’s narrator?

Here’s a picture, incidentally, of the old Ocean City amusement area–

The Ocean City Amusement Park

Some other writers like ours for this class:

Chinese-American Writers (like Kingston): Amy Tan (novelist, major work The Joy Luck Club)
David Henry Hwang (playwright, major work M. Butterfly)
Gish Jen (fiction writer, major work “Birthmates”)
Ha Jin (fiction writer, major work Ocean of Words)
Postmodernists (like Barth)*: Vladimir Nabokov (fiction writer, major works Lolita and Pale Fire)
Samuel Beckett (playwright and fiction writer, major works Waiting for Godot and Molloy)
Flann O’Brien (novelist, major work At-Swim Two Birds)
Donald Barthelme (short story writer, work collected in Sixty Stories and Forty Stories)
Angela Carter (fiction writer, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman)

*This group simply represents some masters of shorter-form postmodernism like “Lost in the Funhouse”; we’ll hit longer-form postmodernism later in the term.

Who Are We?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Comment here for our poems on identity for next time (though, as we said in class, we’ll spend the first 15 minutes or so finishing up “Howl”).  Here’s our prompt for next time–which of these poems’ speakers seems to have the strongest/weakest sense of identity to you?

It may help you to understand the Goodison to read this poem by William Wordsworth, if you haven’t done so in English 252.

As usual, a smattering of other writers for whom our group next time is standing in; we’ll leave off Walcott/Kincaid/Goodison’s fellow Caribbean writers until we read Oscar Wao, I think, and the Black Arts successors to Harlem Renaissance poets like Hughes (such as Brooks) until our Mass Media day.

English “Movement”/”Angry Young Men” (with Larkin): John Osborne (playwright, major work Look Back in Anger)
Kingsley Amis (novelist, major work Lucky Jim)
Alan Sillitoe (fiction writer, major work “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”)
Ted Hughes (poet, major work Crow)
Feminist Writers* (with Rich): Sylvia Plath (poet and novelist, major works Ariel and The Bell Jar)
Margaret Atwood (poet and novelist, major work The Hand-Maid’s Tale)
Doris Lessing (novelist, major work The Golden Notebook)
Audre Lorde (poet and essayist, major work Zami)
Joan Didion (essayist, Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
Rita Dove (poet, Thomas and Beulah)

*These are among the more famous of the many women writers who have been identified as feminists at some point or other, but they have vastly differently attitudes toward what “feminism” constitutes and as such don’t constitute a unified movement per se.  (In particular, Didion is despised by many feminists.)


Friday, February 10th, 2012

Since we’re only working on one poem on Tuesday, I think I’d like to spend a little more time on the Cheever and Oates at the start of class, so be ready for that.

Comment here for Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl.”  A little background–Carl Solomon, to whom the poem is dedicated, is a fellow (though more minor) poet, whom Ginsberg met at the Rockland Psychiatric Center.  Ginsberg had been sent there as a sort of court sentence, but Solomon (after engaging in some of the Dadaist activity chronicle in Part I) was treated in much more depth, including a variety of shock treatments, as referred to in Part III.  As likely surprises no one, much of the poem was composed while Ginsberg was having a peyote vision, though it was revised pretty thoroughly afterward.

Since the poem is so bizarre, I’ll ask you simply to  identify some aspect of the poem in your comment that you don’t understand.  We’ll try to work through these next time.

Incidentally, a film about “Howl,” Ginsberg, and the obscenity trial it provoked was released a couple years back, starring (who else?) James Franco as Ginsberg.  It’s a good little film–the best thing about it being a series of animations illustrating the poem itself.  These are posted on Youtube–they don’t cover the whole poem, but you’ll get the idea.  There are seven parts: start here.

Ginsberg has long been associated with the Beats, about whom we’ll speak more next time.  Some of the other key figures–

Jack Kerouac (novelist, major work On the Road)
William S. Burroughs (novelist, major work Naked Lunch)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poet, major work “A Coney Island of the Mind”)
Gary Snyder (poet, major work Turtle Island)

This Weird American Life (Short Stories)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Let me quickly finish a thought from class.  As I was saying, the difference between monotheistic and polytheistic religions is that, on the one hand, monotheistic religions are better at promoting benevolence amongst large groups of people who belong to the religion, which polytheistic religions, which tend to be more localized, don’t do as well; on the other hand, monotheistic religions tend to be much crueler to those outside the religion, since they’re denying the One True God, while polytheistic religions are better at basic pluralism.  The weakness of polytheism is what sets Umuofia up to collapse, because its people turn on it, allowing the crueler aspects of monotheism to overrun it.  Okonkwo, then, is only half a hero, for while he stands up for his people, his attitudes are precisely what drove so many of them to side with the Europeans.

Anyway, here’s our prompt for the three short stories–pick any of the three, and answer this question: would you call this story “realistic,” and why?

Incidentally, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” was inspired by this song, which is why the story is dedicated to Bob Dylan.  Also, “The Swimmer” was adapted into a big-budget film in 1968 starring the aging but still A-List star Burt Lancaster.  They did some different things with it than Cheever did to stretch it out to full length, but if you want to get a sense for the look of the period, the trailer might give you the idea.  (You can watch the whole movie, too, albeit with the picture flipped, on Youtube.)

Anyway, here are some other writers similar to our three for Thursday–

Post-Faulkner Southern Writers (like O’Connor): Tennessee Williams (playwright, major works A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie)
Carson McCullers (fiction writer, major work The Heart is a Lonely Hunter)
Eudora Welty (short story writer, “Why I Live at the P.O.”)
Katharine Anne Porter (short story writer, major work “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”)
Walker Percy (novelist, major work The Moviegoer)

New Yorker/Esquire Writers (like Cheever and Oates): J. D. Salinger (fiction writer, major works Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories)
John Updike (fiction writer, major works the Rabbit series, “A&P”)
Raymond Carver (short story writer, major works “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and “Cathedral”)
Alice Munro (short story writer, major work “Rings of Saturn”)
Dennis Johnson (fiction writer, major work Jesus’ Son)

Things Fall Apart, Parts II & III

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Comment here for the second half of Things Fall Apart.  Think about this for next time–what strikes you as most different about the second half of the novel from the first?

Incidentally, obviously our reading for this semester, given the breadth it has to cover, has to be representative about its texts.  Of course, there are lots of other excellent writers out there.  I’m going to try to list some as we go along the class.  African lit. isn’t really my wheelhouse, but here are some of the other lions of Anglophone African literature (north of South Africa, which we’ll hit later):

Nigeria: Wole Soyinka (primarily a playwright, major works include Death and the King’s Horseman, The Lion and the Jewel, and Kongi’s Harvest)–first African Nobel literature laureate.
Christopher Okigbo (poet, major work Labyrinths With Path of Thunder)
Amos Tutuola (novelist, major work The Palm-Wine Drinkard)
Buchi Emecheta (novelist, major work The Joys of Motherhood)
Ben Okri (novelist, major work The Famished Road)
Kenya: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (primarily novelist, major works include A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood)–prominently rejected Achebe’s call for Africans to write in English mid-career
Ghana: Ama Ata Aidoo (novelist, major work Changes: A Love Story)
Botswana: Bessie Head (novelist, major work A Question of Power)
Zimbabwe: Tsitsi Dangarembga (novelist, major work Nervous Conditions)

Also, here’s the text of the Yeats poem we read today–

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Things Fall Apart, Part I

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Comment here for our first reading.  Here’s our first prompt–Achebe, defending his use of English, wrote “‘And let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English for we intend to do unheard of things with it.”  As I suggested in class, you’ll probably find Achebe’s use of English slightly strange.  See if you can pick out a sentence or passage in the book that sounds weird to you, and try to explain what it is that sounds odd, or what might be “unheard of” about it.

For those interested, here is a link to Achebe’s essay on why he writes in the English language.  If you want to get a sense of the cadence of the language, you might find this video amusing.