January 30, 2007

I Say Potato, You Say Potato - Lets Call The Whole Thing Off!

Every reader's experience of every work is unique, largely because each person will emphasize various elements to differing degrees, and those differences will cause certain features of the text to become more or less pronounced.
Thomas C. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor)

Symbolism is expected in literature - and if we don't get it right away, there is always SparkNotes.
Well, while on the one hand SparkNotes does find symbols for you; it also takes away the value of those very symbols. As Foster pointed out - symbols only work for the reader if the reader gets them. In the same manner that no one can write exactly the same thing as someone else by accident, (similar yes, the same, no) no one can read exactly the same way as someone else. So by using SparkNotes to find a text's symbols, a lot of those very symbols might be overlooked. (After all, who writing for SparkNotes knew that your grandmother's cousin once fell out of an apple tree and broke her leg - and hearing that memory repeated over and over again by your grandmother gave you insight to a character's over-eager neighbor?)
As Foster put it, symbolic? I think so.

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Was it Worth it Lazarus?

Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it toward some overwhelming question, To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
T. S. Eliot "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Lazarus, the only Biblical figure, apart from Jesus, to have been raised from the dead. Invoking the struggle of Lazarus in order to make J. Alfred Prufrock's life more realized is one of the many strokes of genius T. S. Eliot uses in this poem. What this image asks the reader to realize is the opinion of the reawakened Lazarus.
Death cannot be avoided - and Lazarus did not do so - he died. His sisters, Mary and Martha, were the ones to ask Jesus to bring him back - he did not make such a request. So when he emerged from his tomb still in his burial garb, was he happy to tell his tale? That is what J. Alfred Prufrock is asking. He may have returned to tell all, but was the return worth it?

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 10:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 29, 2007

Who Gets to Judge Trash Literature?

Value judgements would certainly seem to have a lot to do with what is judged literature and what isn't - not necessarily in the sense that writing had to be 'fine' to be literary, but that it has to be of the kind that is judged fine: it may be an inferior example of a generally valued mode. . . . The term 'fine writing,' or belles lettres, is in this sense ambiguous: it denotes a sort of writing which is generally highly regarded, while not necessarily committing you to the opinion that a particular specimen of it is 'good.'
Eagleton, (''Introduction: What is Literature?'')

Opinion matters. Opinion is the main reason why one piece of writing is literature and one piece of writing isn't. That is what I think Eagleton is really trying to say. The part of opinion that matters is whose opinion it is.
My opinion - the opinion of an undergraduate senior English major with a questionable GPA - might not matter that much in the grand scope of literary critics. However, in the scope of my friends, family, and most importantly professors, it does.
Just for kicks, I'm going to use Eagleton's essay as an example. Literature - yay or nay? I'd say that writing about literature is an area of 'fine writing.' Look at how many literary scholars have done so! The essay definitely has value outside of the context that it was written for. It may not be fiction, but at the same time, it may not be fact. So is it literature?
My opinion? Give it 100 years or so and we'll talk about it then.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 11:24 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Mind of My Own

Appropriation: The tendency of readers to interpret texts according to their own cultural presuppositions, regardless of those of the author - and even if the author wrote the work from a different cultural or ideological perspective.
Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray (The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms)

While reading through the first paragraph of T. S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent," I came across this statement: "If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archæological reconstruction."
I admit it, I've heard the word several times and never really bothered to look it up. I think it is one of those words that people skim over because the meaning isn't one they really want to be bothered with. After all, it's hard to never be guilty of appropriation. After all, when a meaning hits close to home, it is easier to ignore it.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 10:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Poetry Build-Up

The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.
T. S. Eliot ("Tradition and the Individual Talent")

The very idea of claiming to be a poet is foreign to me, but the idea of amassing an innumerable amount of ideas isn't. The first thing that jumped to mind was a spontaneous combustion of words - leaping across the pages because the poet couldn't hold them in any longer.
Just imagine how much easier that would make the writing process.
In fact, it seems to me like this idea of the poet as a storage tank of ideas is exactly the opposite of how we are taught to write.
Brainstorm, thesis, structure, support, conclude, revise, revise, revise.
Eliot seems to be suggesting building up the brainstorming phase until it can no longer be contained - and then boom! finished product. This, of course, could just be wishful thinking on my part.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 8:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

One in the Same, Alike but Opposite

Whether this haggardness had aught to do with criminality, could not be determined; since, as intense heat and cold, though unlike, produce like sensations, so innocence and guilt, when, through casual association with mental pain, stamping any visible impress, use one seal - a hacked one.
Herman Melville ("Benito Cereno")

Through the eyes of Captain Amasa Delano, Herman Melville's story, "Benito Cereno" looks at two extremes without considering a middle passage. Captain Delano consistently discusses his dread of Don Benito while in his next thought, the frailty of Don Benito.
The reality that Melville seems to be implying through this tactic is age-old - not everything is how it appears. Heat and cold are opposites, but overheating and freezing both produce a similar pain. Heat is black, cold is white, but the pain that results is the same.
Opposites are more closely linked than the endless shades of gray in between. At one end of the spectrum, the opposite end is exactly the same, only backwards. In the middle, there isn't a backwards - you've got to move in either direction before a backwards appears. This gray area in between the two extremes is the tactic that Melville uses in order to make his reader feel the dread and anxiety of Captain Delano. If the story was clear cut in one direction from the beginning, the constant shift of emotions in Captain Delano wouldn't make sense to the reader. The audience sees through Delano's eyes and if the reader didn't, the story would not have invoked any type of anticipation for what was to come.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 8:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2007

The Right Way and The . . . Other Way

To put it another way, although we may agree that there is no complete, definitive, and absolutely correct interpretation of a poem, it does not necessarily follow that there are no better or worse interpretations, interpretations more or less complete, more or less accurate, more or less approximating a "best" reading.
Donald Keesey (Contexts for Criticism)

As Donald Keesey points out in Contexts for Criticism, there are as many critics of literature as there are readers of literature. So in the words of, well, I not sure who originally, but someone, "Everyone's a critic." This opens the door for close competition.
The task that Keesey is presenting is the idea of not only being a critic, but figuring which critical interpretation is appropriate for the specific piece of literature. In other words, finding the one that makes the most sense for your interpretation of the literature. It is crucial that not only does the critical interpretation make sense with the literature, but that it also makes sense with the reader. Words of wisdom can be passed down for generations, but if they don't make sense to the person that hears them, they loose the wisdom and are just words. For lack of a better metaphor, if your glasses have just a slightly wrong prescription, you can still see through them - just not as well with a different prescription.
Fitting the best critical interpretation with a particular piece doesn't sound like an easy task, and as Keesey pointed out, it takes practice.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 11:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Faithful Marriage

HALE - Well, women are used to worrying over trifles . . . . COUNTY ATTORNEY - Ah, loyal to your sex, I see . . . . COUNTY ATTORNEY - Mrs. Peters doesn't need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff's wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters?
Susan Glaspell "Trifles"

What exactly does it mean to be married? "Any close or intimate association or union" - Dictionary.com. "A close joining together" - Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary.
All the woman in Susan Glaspell's one act play, "Trifles," are married: Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Mrs. Wright. Beyond being married to their husbands, they are married to each other through their close bond. While Glaspell points out that the women aren't particularly friends, "MRS. HALE (shaking her head.) I've not seen much of her of late years. I've not been in this house--it's more than a year," their bond remains intact.
The women stick together. The title of the play indicates that. "Trifles" are the unimportant details - but they are the details that actually matter - both to the truth of John Wrights murder and the loyalty of the female characters. The bond between these women is found in Mrs. Wright's fruit, her quilting, the loneliness of marriage, the beauty of a song bird's voice. That is how these women are married.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 8:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Basically Everyone - Oh, And Their Dog Too

Excellent. So Shakespeare and Ecclesiastes and Rod Stewart and Anita Brookner. You know, I think we might be onto something here.
Thomas C. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor)

Seasons of life. As Foster points out, an age old concept, maybe even two or three or thirty ages - depending on how you define an age. Well, guess what Foster - WE GET IT. I don't normally take the time to bother and complain about what I have to read for classes, but this is a little ridiculous, as in really.
Common sense isn't always common. I know that; you know that (and if you didn't, I just told you, so now you do.) I'm really beginning to get frustrated with the style of How to Read Like a Professor. In the style of persuasion, examples are 100% necessary, but too much repetition doesn't convince an audience, it alienates them.
Foster has valid point to make, and Shakespeare, Ecclesiastes, Rod Stewart, and Anita Brookner all made the same one (at least when it comes to season). Spring = rebirth and youth, Summer = passion and excitement, Fall = preparation and old age, Winter = Death and bitterness. Genius! Who would have thought? Everyone! We get it, can we please move on now?

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 7:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Never Say Never and Always Avoid Always

A word of warning: if I sometimes speak here and in the chapters to come as if a certain statement is always true, a certain condition always obtains, I apologize. 'Always' and 'never' are not words that have much meaning in literary study. For one thing, as soon as something seems to always be true, some wise guy will come along and write something to prove that its not.
Thomas C. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor)

The lot of the wise guy; not exactly a lot I really want to participate in. I don't really want to have to live up to the stereotype, at least. The 'wise guy' is that person who is annoying and no one really likes but can't really cut out his opinion because it is valid - one of the reasons he (or she) is so darn annoying.
Foster includes this disclaimer just for the wise guy. For that annoying, but nonetheless right, individual who finds a way around the standards, sometimes just for the sake of saying he can do it. I'm going to make an overarching statement that may not apply to everyone but it applies to me, so I'm going to make it (in the spirit of disclaimers). English majors have a tendency to cheer and egg on the wise guy.
The wise guy is one of the people who manages to make progress possible.
Yes, I was rather annoyed reading Foster's disclaimer for the wise guy. I was annoyed because it made me want to be the wise guy. I wanted to go ahead and not see the themes of literature he was discussing, just because he said they were there. I wanted to find the fault in the writing, not the potential and truth. So a word from one of the wise guys - exaggeration has a place, but I don't think it is found in explaining literary analysis.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 6:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 25, 2007

Kicking a Dog When Its Down - Doesn't Work

And some last energy rose up in Bernice, for she clinched her hands under the white cloth, and there was a curious narrowing of her eyes that Marjorie remarked on to some one long afterward. . . . Suddenly she drew in her breath sharply and an expression flashed into her eyes that a practised character reader might have connected vaguely with the set look she had worn in the barber's chair-- somehow a development of it. It was quite a new look for Bernice and it carried consequences.

F. Scott Fitzgerald "Bernice Bobs Her Hair"

When someone is down they have a tendency to, once back on their feet, come back with an overdeveloped sense of revenge. That is exactly what happened to Bernice.
They say that you can tell the nature of a person by looking deeply into their eyes. Well, Bernice’s eyes said it all. F. Scott Fitzgerald showed through this single-minded look of determination that Bernice was not one to be kicked without jumping back up to claim her dignity once again.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 11:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2007

The Reality that is Blogging

Maybe it's no surprise, given how empowering it can be to have one's own thoughts transported instantly across the globe. But once there, they become fodder for anyone who is inclined to turn an author's words against him.

"All they have to do is print it out and they have proof," Milwaukee lawyer Scott Taylor said.

Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Freedom of speech redefined by blogs)

I admit it. I was one of the first students at Seton Hill to have a blog, for example, my entries date back to September 19, 2003. Not unlike many first-time facebook/myspace/blog users, I was a little obsessed for quite some period.
Oh, how the times have changed. I shudder in fear at some of the things I've written (so much that I'm not actually planning on looking at any of it for awhile, a long while in fact). While I take the time to remember (and be reminded by Dr. Jerz) that the Seton Hill academic blogging community is not intended to be a formal panel review of your ability to participate intelligently, it um, is.
The online forum makes it so. Yes, I agree with the classic defense of any material found on the internet. (Don't necessarily trust material on the internet, because any fool can put something online.) At the same time, as it was told to Bill Schacker by Amy Eisman, "students were more likely to discover boundaries themselves, sometimes by a rough experience."
In a nut shell, be careful what you type for, it's not only found, it's found all the time.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 8:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Up's and Down's of an English Major - as told by Tim Lemire

"Some undergraduate English majors I talk to refer to their future of writing plays as if there were an office building somewhere in midtown Manhattan crammed with scribbling playwrights working against deadline"
Tim Lemire (I'm an English Major - Now What?)

In the introduction and first chapter of Tim Lemire's book, I'm an English Major - Now What?, the boundaries of the English major are made perfectly - incomprehensible.

For example, Lemire tells us to understand that everywhere that "there are words . . . there is lingual communication . . . there is English, there are jobs for the English major. And there's more." A few paragraphs later, "While a major in English does not prepare you for any specific occupation, it does provide training in critical thinking. But although English majors may exhibit skills in critical thinking, they don't own the copyright."

Maybe I'm just a senior English major throwing up my hands and saying 'to heck with it!' but it seems like being an English major is supposed to prepare you for just about everything, while at the same time, just about nothing. Go figure.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 7:42 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Life, Death, and Agenda Items

The new semester is here; which means a new rampage of 'A Storybook of Quotes.' This time it's behind the scenes style! aka: agenda items. I was supposed to incorporate this advantageous learning tactic last semester and well, didn't. Now it's time to let the cat out of the bag, with claws shredding everything in their path.

You know the number one aspect of agenda items? They come with their own built in quotes. Welcome back 'Storybook.'

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 11:58 AM | Comments (1)