Category Archives: Writing about Literature

Brief Intro to Electronic Literature: Background

When you look at the earliest video games, it definitely makes you appreciate what we have today. I can’t imagine anyone willingly sitting around playing Tennis for Two in 2018 all the time for fun, but back in 1958, that would have been riveting to people. When the earliest video games were created, it was important to just get the tech running correctly and develop the tech in the first place. Once technology was advanced enough, that’s when people were able to start incorporating more advanced graphics and stories.

I haven’t really played a lot of video games in my life, besides games like Pokemon and Mario Kart that are more just for entertainment than the story itself. However, you get to make different decisions as your character and create their life, so you could probably make the argument that Pokemon embodies digital storytelling. Even though I don’t play games a lot myself, I have watched YouTubers who game, especially PewDiePie. I would always watch his videos just because I thought he was funny, but I found myself most drawn to the games he played that had a story behind them. I remember watching his playthrough of games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and those stories emotionally drew me in and made me want to keep watching. The one video game I have played the full way through myself is Bioshock Infinite, and although it’s a first-person shooter game, the storyline is what makes the game really interesting and what kept me really engaged with the game.

Although a little mindless entertainment is fun on occasion, people want more than that. Our expectations as a society have greatly changed – now that we have all of this technology, we expect video games to look visually stunning. Even if we don’t realize it, we also expect video games to engage us with a story, because if they don’t, then we lose interest.

Source: Brief Intro to Electronic Literature: Background

Depression Quest or Choice of the Dragon

I decided to try playing both interactive games for this assignment.

I understand why a lot of people wouldn’t want to play the Depression Quest game, particularly people who have gone through this in their lives. The story feels so real because of the interactivity that places you directly in the game, which can be too difficult for people who have suffered with this mental illness before. However, I think the reality of this game is what makes it a valuable learning experience for people who do not understand what it’s like to go through depression. It might feel uncomfortable, but sometimes the only way you can truly understand something that you haven’t gone through yourself is by going through a simulation like this. It feels real, and that’s what makes a game/simulation like this one powerful storytelling. As I said, it’s difficult and uncomfortable and might not be the best option for some people, but for others, I think you can learn a lot from this. It wasn’t easy for me to go through the game, but I wanted to find a way to help my character improve her mental state, and I learned a lot about the ways you can do that in reality.

On the other hand, Choice of the Dragon was completely fictional, but the interactivity makes this game interesting as well. Besides the content itself, I think some people might be more interested in this game because of the way the content in Choice of the Dragon is split up. As you go through the game, there typically isn’t a ton of background text before each decision, and sometimes there were only a few sentences. With Depression Quest, there were usually multiple paragraphs of text before each decision. This was necessary for that subject matter, but with digital media, people expect short chunks of text and that holds their attention longer. Although this was a fictional game dealing with dragons, I still think you can learn a lot about who you are as a person if you make decisions based on your actual personality. Or, you can learn the results of doing something completely different than you would in real life. You can take risks in an interactive game like this and learn a lot from the process.

Overall, I think digital storytelling is an effective way to immerse readers in a story and learn. Although it is not easy thing to deal with and not for everyone, you can learn a lot about serious topics like mental illness by putting yourself in that position and learning how it actually affects people and what you can do to help. Even with Choice of the Dragon, even if you just consider it a “fun” game, you still learn what consequences come from different actions, and those personality traits are applicable in real life.

Source: Depression Quest OR Choice of the Dragon

Analyzing Shakespeare Through Psychological and Historical Criticism

For this response, I decided to return to an article I found earlier, entitled “Kate’s Froward Humor: Historicizing Affect in The Taming of the Shrew,” by Melinda Spencer Kingsbury. At first, I wasn’t sure if this article engaged with historical criticism or psychological criticism, but after our class discussion on Thursday, I think it engages with both theories.

Historical criticism involves background research about the “life and times of an author” (Gardner & Diaz 176), which Kingsbury incorporates in her article. She discussed how the biological and psychological relationship between mind and body was understood during Shakespeare’s time, along with how gender roles were perceived because of biological differences. This research about biological understanding during Shakespeare’s time clearly engages with historical criticism, as this research is applied to the motives of the characters in The Taming of the Shrew.

Going right along with that point, the historical criticism moves into psychological criticism. Psychological literary criticism can focus on the “unstated motives and unconscious states of mind of characters, authors, or readers” (178). In Kingsbury’s article, she explains how Petruchio’s motives would have been influenced by his understanding of gender roles based on his society’s understand of the body’s biological and psychological state. We never find out why Petruchio wants to “tame” Kate, so Kingsbury engages in psychological criticism to try to understand his motives.

Although I think you could make a case for this article mostly being based in psychological criticism, I definitely think that psychological criticism stems from and is influence by historical criticism as well.

Source: Article (TBA)

RWaL 9 (2 of 2)

In the second part of the “Literary Criticism and Literary Theory” section of Reading and Writing about Literature, I found historical criticism to be the most familiar to me. This theory involves “background reading about the life and times of an author” (Gardner & Diaz 176). I’ve been engaging with this theory since I was in high school, and I’ve already been engaging with this theory in our Writing about Literature course. Particularly, many of my blog posts and our class discussions about The Taming of the Shrew were based in historical criticism. There were multiple footnotes throughout the play to help us better understanding the meanings of certain words in Shakespeare’s time. We also discussed how gender roles and punishment were regarded in Shakespeare’s time, which involves historical criticism. By engaging with historical criticism, we can gain a better understanding of literary works that we might not have fully comprehended before, especially ones that are centuries old.

At first, I was confused at the difference between historical criticism and cultural studies. I immediately related to cultural studies, especially the trend that “attempts to broaden the canon” beyond “middle to upper-middle class, well educated, heterosexual white males” (175). In my American Literature course, our professor referred to how much of what we study in English classes is written by “dead white guys.” And he didn’t mean this in an offensive way – he noted that their contributions are valuable too – but it’s true that often times there isn’t much diversity in English curriculums, and that’s missing an opportunity to learn more about different cultures. We read a diverse amount of literature in his course and read background on the authors to understand more about how their lives influence their work, so cultural studies played a large role in that course. While historical criticism helps us understand how to interpret a text based on the time period it was written, cultural studies seems to focus more on how a text and/or author fits into that particular culture.

In terms of theories that were unfamiliar to me, there were two that stuck out: postcolonial criticism and reader-response theory. Postcolonial criticism focuses on “writing from former British colonies around the world” (175), which is something I am not super familiar with doing. However, I feel like this criticism could be applied to The Color Purple, which I read last semester, because in one part it deals with a British company tearing through an African village to build a road. Everything that the character of Nettie went through in Africa could be analyzed through this lens.

I was also confused by the reader-response theory, because I was not sure how you could turn that into an entire research paper. This theory involves trying to “understand the process by which we make meaning out of words on a page” (179). It reminds me of cultural studies in a way, because it deals with how different factors affect the reader’s perception of a text. However, I think reader-response theory can incorporate aspects of many other literary criticisms to understand how and why people interpret texts differently. For example, I think you could write a research paper about The Taming of the Shrew analyzing the differences in interpretation of the text over the years, or even the differences in interpretation between males and females.

Source: RWAL 9 (2 of 2)

RWAL 9 (1 of 2)

As I read the first part of Reading and Writing about Literature on “Literary Criticism and Literary Theory,” the literary theory I was most familiar with was Formalism and New Criticism. This theory gives attention to “the formal elements of a literary text – things like structure, tone, characters, setting, symbols, and linguistic features” (Gardner & Diaz 171). The elements of this theory are what I learned to analyze in my high school English classes, and we also learned about close-reading for these elements in Introduction to Literary Study last semester. Taking a look at what we’ve read this semester, in many of my blog posts about John Henry Days, I tried to analyze the symbolism of the mountain and the machine. When I look at my recent posts about poetry, I see a lot of this theory being applied in my analysis. I specifically talked about the implications of the repetition in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

The theory I was least familiar with in this section was Marxist Criticism. This theory was described by the authors as the application of Karl Marx’s ideas to literature, including that “the basic model of human progress is based on a struggle for power between different social classes” (173). I have brought attention to issues of social class and inequality in certain literary texts, but I have never really analyzed literature specifically through a Marxist lens where I’m only focusing on those inequalities. Marxist criticism is similar to some of the other theories the text discussed in the way that you have to specifically look at a text in one way. If you analyzed 1984 through Marxist criticism, you could probably find a lot to discuss about class inequality becuase of the system with the Inner Party, Outer Party, and Proles. However, you might miss some of the other themes present in 1984, such as the control of history and information and the physical and mental manipulation of human beings. At the same time, using a particular criticism like Marxist criticism might allow you to see a text in a new way and brainstorm new ideas.

Source: RWAL 9 (1 of 2)

Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”

When I was trying to decide which poem to analyze, my 17-year-old sister came into the room and mentioned she was reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold is featured in this novel, and since it’s been over five years since I read it, I figured this was a good chance to look at the poem with fresh eyes and more knowledge.

Arnold was a British poet and critic who lived in the 1800s. In addition to writing, he was a government school inspector and eventually became a professor of poetry at Oxford. The website poets.org describes some of the themes of his poems as “psychological isolation” and “dwindling faith.”

The poem takes place on a beach, and the speaker begins by describing a peaceful place, where “The sea is calm” (line 1) and “the moon lies fair” (2). However, that peaceful image is broken when the speaker says “Listen! you hear the grating roar” (9). The use of the exclamation point here disturbs the calm atmosphere, and Arnold uses caesuras throughout the entirety of his poem to separate ideas and bring attention to them.

After this, the speaker begins to introduce things that aren’t peaceful anymore, including “The eternal note of sadness” (14). He describes how “Sophocles long ago / Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought / Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow / Of human misery” (lines 15-18). When I looked up Sophocles, I found out that he wrote tragedies, so he understood that that the world was full of “human misery.” Although Sophocles existed a long time before Arnold, this shows that human suffering has existed across human history.

The speaker discusses how “The Sea of Faith / Was once, too, at the full” (21-22). This “Sea of Faith” could symbolize faith in general or religion, and once all people were faithful. However, now the speaker can only hear “Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (25) and see the “naked singles of the world” (28). Shingles in this reference would mean exposed pebbles on a beach, so without faith, the world becomes “melancholy” and empty.

The speaker then says that the world seems “So various, so beautiful, so new” (32). However, it’s not. Instead, the world “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (33-34). Although on the surface, the world seems beautiful, when you take a closer look at it, you realize how terrible the world truly is. This idea is continued as the poem ends with the speaker saying people are “Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night” (36-37). The “ignorant armies” of people fight each other for reasons they do not truly understand, and because they fight at night, this means they are in the dark and not truly seeing each other or trying to understand each other. This could be attributed to the absence of faith in the world that the speaker discussed earlier in the poem.

Because of the “Sea of Faith” reference, it definitely seems like the speaker attributes the negative aspects of the world to an absence of faith. The sea is constantly present throughout the poem, spanning across time, as a higher power would be. Because the speaker is paying attention to the sea, he is able to see the world as it truly is, so it seems like he’s saying if people would have faith in God or a higher power, then they would understand the world and the true meaning of life.

Source: Poem, Your Choice

Hilborn, “OCD”

With a title like “OCD,” I expected Neil Hilborn’s poem to be meaningful, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the strength of its emotional impact. The speaker immediately identifies himself as the one with obsessive compulsive disorder by describing his “tics” and his constant stream of thoughts. So right away, the speaker shows us this vulnerable side of himself, which creates a more intimate relationship between him and the listener.

The form of this poem was a prominent reason why this poem was so authentic. Hilborn wrote the poem in free verse and as one large stanza. This almost mirrors the speaker himself, because as someone with OCD, his mind is constantly churning out thoughts and never giving him a rest. The single stanza, free verse form allows readers to understand what it’s like to be in the speaker’s mind.

Lineation was another aspect of this poem that was crucial, as punctuation played a huge role in conveying the speaker’s tics. The dashes between repeated phrases make you pause as you’re reading and add emphasis to the repetition, giving a better understanding of the speaker’s OCD. I think the juxtaposition of the speaker turning the lights off and on constantly with the last line of the poem where he says “I leave the lights on” is one of the most impactful parts of the poem. He seems accepting of his OCD and himself in general throughout the poem, and the final two lines show how lost he is now that his love has left him.

Sound became much more apparent when I watched Hilborn reciting his poem. Poems are a lot like plays because you can read them silently one way, but you have to make careful decisions about how you decide to read them out loud. When Hilborn read his poem out loud, you could hear how he emphasized certain words and just generally sounded desperate and passionate. It was also interesting to see his tics portrayed because while I read them as pauses with the dashes, he quickly sped through the tics in his speech. However, he also paused after certain phrases to emphasize them as well. Hilborn reciting his poem out loud really added to the emotional impact of his poem because you could hear the desperation in his voice and truly hear how his OCD and past relationship affect him.

Source: Hilborn, “OCD”

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, the speaker seems to be conveying the idea that love is unchanging and lasts forever. He says that “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove” (lines 2-4). Even though the people who are in love might change (alter), or someone might leave the relationship (remove), the feeling of love still remains, and if that feeling goes away, then it was never true love. The references to love as “an ever-fixèd mark” (5) that “is never shaken” (6) also add to the idea that love does not change.

The lines “Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle’s compass come” (9-10) signify that time does not destroy true love, even though time (which is referred to as a “he”) has the power to change people’s appearances as they age, taking away “rosy lips and cheeks.” Similarly, the speaker says that “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, / But bears it out even to the edge of doom” (11-12). Love doesn’t change as days and weeks go by, but instead lasts until the end of time, “the edge of doom.”

I think the format of this poem as a sonnet also adds to the idea that love is powerful. In just 14 lines, Shakespeare was able to write about the speaker’s multiple viewpoints of what love it and isn’t. He gets right to the point and doesn’t leave anything up for debate, showing the speaker is certain about what love is.

Source: Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

As I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” I noticed how the speaker constantly asked himself questions throughout the poem. He asked himself “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” (lines 45-46) and repeated the “do I dare” question. He also asked himself the questions “So how should I presume?” (54) and “Then how should I begin” (59) in different ways multiple times. Additionally, the speaker discusses how he has “known them all,” whether that be “the evenings, mornings, afternoons” (50), “voices dying with a dying fall” (52), “The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase” (56), or “Arms that are braceleted and white and bare” (63). The speaker saying how he knows so much makes it seem like he has a lot he wants to tell someone, perhaps someone he loves, the person addressed as the “you” in the first line of the poem. However, by constantly asking himself how he should begin to discuss these topics with someone, this shows how uncertain and possibly nervous he is about interacting with other people.

The repetition of these phrases could also show how repetitive the life of the speaker is, and clearly he is unhappy with his life. But at the same time, the speaker is still too afraid to speak up about what he thinks is important. At the beginning, he says “To lead you to an overwhelming question… / Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?'” (lines 10-11). He never tells what the question is, and instead talks about how “there will be time” throughout the poem. Eventually, the narrator says “I grow old…I grow old…” (120), signifying that he wasted his life.

Overall, the poem seems to portray a narrator who is unhappy with his life, but is too afraid to speak up about it. He allows his life to become mundane and repetitive, and realizes at the end that he is a “Fool” (119) who has grown old and wasted his chance to live how he wanted to. This poem is very long and I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of analysis here, but the repetition of certain phrases definitely stood out to me and caused me to think of the possible meanings of the poem.

Source: Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

RWaL 6 “Writing about Poems”

As I read Chapter 6 of Reading and Writing about Literature, I tried to identify areas of analyzing poems that I need to focus and improve on. One of the first passages that stuck out to me was about the listener of a poem:

“Is there a ‘you’ to whom the poem is addressed? If the poem is being spoken aloud, who is supposed to hear it?” (Gardner & Diaz 100-101)

I know to always consider the speaker of a poem and separate the narrator from the author. However, I never really thought that the listener of the poem is important to consider as well. Although we think of ourselves as listeners, sometimes a narrator is actually speaking to someone in particular. On the other hand, there could be no one in particular the speaker is addressing. Both of these situations have different implications on the message of the poem and how that message is conveyed.

I also have learned throughout my English classes that sound is important, but there are certain elements of sound that I have not paid that much attention to. We learned about assonance and consonance in Introduction to Literary Study in the spring, but I still struggle with identifying these elements. However, the examples that Gardner and Diaz gave with the words “live” and “love” in a line and “pleasures prove” in another made me realize how connections and deeper meanings can be made between words.

In one of my previous posts about this text, I discussed how analyzing plays wasn’t something I am super familiar with, and I also feel that I tend to struggle with analyzing poetry. However, identifying these elements of poetry is a good starting point for improving my ability to analyze poetry.

Source: RWAL 6 “Writing about Poems”