Oscar Wao (Chs. 4-5)

March 30th, 2012

EDIT: Apologies once more on Option #4.  I misremembered the way Oscar’s letter closes the novel–I thought much more of it was in his own voice.  If you’re doing Option #4, focus on either Lola or Yunior, not Oscar.

Comment here for our third reading from Oscar Wao.  This is the section in which you’ll meet our main narrator, Yunior, and watch engage in “Project Oscar,” to try to make the latter fitter and more successful with women.  Answer this–what do you think of Yunior’s mission, in terms of his goals, methods, and attitudes?  Positively?  Negatively?  Why?

Other contemporary American fiction writers (like Diaz):
Phillip Roth (novelist, major works Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral)
Cormac McCarthy (novelist, major works Blood Meridian, The Border Trilogy, and No Country for Old Men)
Don DeLillo (novelist, major works Underworld and Libra)
Marilynne Robinson (fiction writer, major work Housekeeping)
Cynthia Ozick (fiction writer, major work “The Shawl”)
David Eggers (novelist and McSweeney’s editor, major work A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)
Jonathan Franzen (novelist, major work The Corrections)

Oscar Wao (Ch. 3)

March 27th, 2012

Let’s try something different for today.  In your comment, list a) a word/phrase/reference/etc. that you didn’t know before reading the book, then look it up and inform everyone else as to what it is, and/or b) a word/phrase/reference/etc. that you did know before reading, but suspect your classmates might not,  and then fill us in.

I’ll start us off with one of both.  On page 154, footnote 19, the narrator (whom you will discover is a guy named Yunior, a friend of Oscar’s from college) refers to Dominican dictator Trujillo as a “culocrat.”  I don’t speak Spanish, so I looked up “culo” (which is obviously used throughout the book) and discovered it means (as I’d suspected) “ass,” in all the connotations of that word.  “Culocrat” is a word of Diaz’s invention, roughly meaning “rule by [dictators only out to get] ass” (much like “kleptocrat” means “rule by those only out to exploit the country for their own wealth).

For a reference the rest of you might not know–well, as I’m sure surprises none of you, I was something of a comic book nerd back in my day, and actually had a subscription to Fantastic Four through middle school.  Here’s Galactus, quoted in the epigraph and referenced throughout the book–

And here’s his official profile at Marvel Comics’ website.  Short version–he’s a huge intergalactic traveler who feeds on the energy reserves of entire planets.  His first appearance, in a three-issue run of Fantastic Four in 1966 (well before I subscribed), was something of a major event in comic history, given the moral quandaries raised by the conflict between, on the one hand, a whole planet of people who didn’t want to have their world destroyed, and, on the other, the physical needs of a being incomparably more sophisticated and advanced than any of them (hence the epigraph quote).  The whole situation was eventually resolved by Galactus’ herald, the Silver Surfer, who was able to empathize with mankind and helped the Fantastic Four drive Galactus elsewhere for his meal.  Diaz uses Galactus, at points, as a figure for the mysterious, seemingly omnipotent forces of the Trujillo regime, among other things.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Chs. 1-2)

March 23rd, 2012

Comment here for the first two chapters of Oscar Wao.  Consider this for today–like many things we have read this semester (Things Fall Apart, Beloved, “A Good Man…”, Angels in America, etc.), Oscar Wao begins with an epigraph quote.  But unlike those works, which quote sacred texts or high-brow poetry to give a sense of dignity and grandeur, Oscar Wao‘s portentous opening quote is from The Fantastic Four.  (Granted, it is followed by a Derek Walcott poem.)  What do you make of that?  Why open an ambitious, literary novel by quoting Galactus?

Other Anglophone Caribbean Writers (alongside Diaz, Walcott, Kincaid, and Goodison):
V. S. Naipual (Trinidadian, novelist, major works A House for Mr. Biswas and A Bend in the River)
Jean Rhys (Dominican, novelist, major work Wide Sargasso Sea)
Edwidge Danticat (Haitian, essayist and fiction writer, major work Krik? Krak!)
Julia Alvarez (Dominican, poet and novelist, major work How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents)

Angels in America (Perestroika)

March 21st, 2012

Comment here for Perestroika.  Some people already started doing this for last time, but let me ask it as a formal prompt this time: since Angels in America is in many ways structured via different couplings of characters, what pair of characters do you think have the most interesting relationship?

Angels in America (Millennium Approaches)

March 19th, 2012

Comment here for the first part of Angels in America.  We began discussing the functions of myth in culture last time, and in particular how its place has changed in the era of mass culture.  For our opening comments, I suppose, it might be interesting to pick any of the characters in whom you’re particularly interested and talk about what appear to be their foundational myths and what troubles they seem to be having with respect to them.

As many of you may well know, Angels in America was made into an HBO mini-series about a decade ago, starring Al Pacino as Roy, Meryl Streep as Hannah, Mary Louise Parker as Harper, and Emma Thompson as the Angel.  It’s worth watching if you’ve the time.  You can find many clips on Youtube; my favorite scene is here.

White male American/British playwrights we haven’t mentioned yet: Arthur Miller (major works Death of a Salesman and The Crucible)
Tom Stoppard (major work Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
Edward Albee (major work Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf)
David Mamet (major work Glengarry Glen Ross)
Sam Shepard (major work True West)

Mass Media and Mythology

March 14th, 2012

Comment here for our two stories and three poems for today.  Our group will probably familiarize us with some of the names and personalities treated in those works, so I suppose we’ll leave that to them.  That said, you can find a lot of the references on Youtube (like Kate Smith on WCBS).  Our question for today will be simple–which of the five pieces’ speakers do you identify with most?

Other major American poets: Robert Creeley& Charles Olson (Black Mountain)
Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman & Charles Bernstein (LANGUAGE Poetry)
Kenneth Koch (New York School)
James Merrill
Susan Howe
Sonia Sanchez

Native American writers (like Alexie): Leslie Marmon Silko (novelist, major work Ceremony)
Louise Erdrich (poet and fiction writer, major work Love Medicine)
N. Scott Momaday (novelist and poet, major work House Made of Dawn)
Gerald Vizenor (novelist and poet, major work Bearheart)

Beloved (Day 4)

March 9th, 2012

Comment here for our last day on Beloved.  We’ll be brief today–what do you make of its conclusion?

Beloved (Day 3)

March 7th, 2012

Comment here for Beloved, Part II.  The challenges to reading probably grow to their greatest intensity during this part.  I’ll probably just open this up to whatever comments and/or questions people want to raise in making sense of this section, especially during the interior monologue/stream-of-consciousness chapters.

Some other non-novelist African-American writers of this period: Maya Angelou (poet and essayist, major work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
August Wilson (playwright, major works Fences and The Piano Lesson)
Ishmael Reed (fiction writer and poet, major work Mumbo Jumbo)
Ntozake Shange (poet and playwright, major work for colored girls…)
Suzan Lori-Parks (playwright, major work Top Dog/Underdog)

Beloved (Day 2)

March 2nd, 2012

Comment here to finish off Part I of Beloved.  I had hoped we could start on Beloved today, so that I could at least clear up some problems people were having with the text.  You’re all absolutely right to observe that Morrison is doing weird things with time in the story, though the two main poles for Part I are “Sweet Home,” the Garner plantation during the 1850s in Kentucky (run by John and Lillian Garner, and home to 20~-year-old slaves Paul A, Paul F, Paul D, Halle Suggs, Sixo, and Sethe) and 124 Bluestone Road across the Ohio River in Cincinnati in 1873, home (now) to a middle-aged Sethe and Paul D, her 18-year-old daughter Denver, and home once to Halle’s mother Baby Suggs (who has died shortly after the end of the Civil War), Sethe’s sons Howard and Bulgar (who have run away), and her deceased daughter Beloved, who haunts the house in several forms now.  (Presumably, you’ll understand why at the end of Part I.)

Let’s ask this for a question.  We’ve all observed that Morrison jumps freely back and forth in time, especially between those two poles.  Of course, the characters in the novel, sort of, observe that as well–I’m thinking in particular of how Denver complains about how Paul D and her mother are always talking about Sweet Home.  Especially given the events that happen later in the novel, why do you think Morrison chooses to construct the narrative this way (instead of, say, telling the story in chronological order, or even neatly separating the time periods into different chapters), especially given what we learn towards the end of Part I?

Incidentally, once you’ve finished Part I, you might be interested in the real historical situation on which Sethe’s story was based, the Margaret Garner incident.

Some upcoming talks

March 1st, 2012

Just FYI, Queens College has an excellent readings/interview series, in which they’re able to attract some renowned writers to the college to speak at LeFrak.  Here are the three upcoming this semester–they’re all on Tuesday night, after our class at 7 PM.  I’ll be at them–find me there and I’ll give you extra credit on class participation.

3/6–Colum McCann
3/20–Nicole Krauss
3/27–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
4/24–E.L. Doctorow