April 2009 Archives

From Francis Barker's and Peter Hulme's "Nyphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Disursive Con-texts of The Tempest" in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"This may seem a strange thing to say about the most notoriously bloated of all critical enterprises, but in fact "Shakespeare" has been force-fed behind a high wall called Literature, built out of the dismantled pieces of other seventeenth-century discourses" (444).

I really liked this quote because I think that it is painfully honest.  As an English major, I love Shakespeare.  I think he's a swell kind of guy.  However, he is forced upon us.  No matter where you go it seems that you cannot escape the spector of Shakespeare.  He's everywhere!  He's, of course, in the plays and poems that he writes.  He's referenced countless times in other works of literature.  He's in criticism.  He even is an action figure (that I contemplated buying).  "Shakespeare" (as Barker and Hulme put in in quotes) is not merely a person, he is an institution that everyone has worked so hard to build up. 

Because he is larger than life, I can not possibly fathom a day when Shakespeare is thrown away and people no longer read him.  We have discussed since the beginning of this semester what makes something literary.  In the case of Shakespeare, there are a number of things that goes into the answer.  Of course, he made himself literary by writing such good material (especially in writing it for people in power who would see that it is read).  Others made him literary by promoting him.  This would be all the people that have ever even so much as made a passing reference to something Shakespeare has done.  Yes, that means even Taylor Swift and Keith Urban play a role in his promotion with just a brief mentioning of Romeo and/or Juliet. (Listen to how Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet influenced "Love Story" and "Sweet Thing" by listening to the songs.)  The media keeps Shakespeare on the scene, even today.  This means that any time a future generation looks back on us and our works they will hear the references to Shakespeare and become curious.  Although I know that it is possible that one day Shakespeare will be forgotten, I don't think it is likely as it hasn't happened yet and he's probably more of a big deal today than he ever was.  I can, though, see a day when Nathaniel Hawthorne is lost in the sea of other books.  He is still popular today, however, I can see a shifting in respect of books like The Scarlet Letter.  It seems a generational respect for the story for I do not know too many people that like or would want to teach that book out of my peers.  My opinion may change with age though.  

Is "Shakespeare" an institution as well as a person?  Do you think that it is likely that Shakespeare will be forgotten one day?


What is the Story Behind that Urn!?

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From Marjorie Garson's "Bodily Harm: Keats's Figures in the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'" from Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"Ian Jack has concluded that Keats probably drew on a number of museum-pieces that he had seen, or seen drawings of, and constructed a composite ideal urn from their details" (454).

I had to choose this quote because I'm fascinated by this poem and it really interests me how Keats got his instiration for it.

We have read, in the various other articles, the many theories of how the urn came into being.  I just always assumed that the urn did exist and with time, maybe broke or Keats just made the whole thing up.  Never did I even think of the possiblility that Keats could have create a patchwork urn, stealing things he's seen on various pieces of art.  It is fascinating to think, if Jack was right, that Keats saw these pieces of art and remembered them so well as to impose them on his own urn, his own piece of artwork.  In this case, the urn is a multi-intertextual poem drawing together multple sources into one masterpiece. 

What I am curious to know is how were urns typically back in Keats's time?  We said in class they were used to carry water.  If that's the case, maybe all the pictures and scenes that Keats describes would fit on it.  However, what if the urn were small?  If it happened to be for the ashes of the dead, let's say, it seems nearly impossible that so many different pictures would all fit on such a small urn.  In that case, we can be certain that Keats just made the whole thing up by drawing together things he had seen and maybe even a few things he invented.

I also want to mention that although I did not like this article as a whole, I want to compliment Garson on her wonderful conclusion sentence.  This is a thing I really struggle with as a writer because I worked so hard to build up a case and just do not know how to properly sum my paper up, what makes a sufficient ending sentence.  Her sentence is "The ode's stunning currency as a cultural icon--its exemplary canonicity--is perhaps worth thinking about in the context of the history and the politics it has tended so thoroughly to repress" (459).  I really like this ending because it sums up her argument well and leaves the reader feeling satisfied.  After that sentence I felt that she had summed up her point well and I was ready to write this entry.  Sometimes, however, I feel that the author does not do this, leaving the reader hanging and waiting for a proper conclusion.  I will definately have to look at this again when I am writing my final paper.  

What do you think? 

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The Determining Factors Behind Intertextuality

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From Catherine Belsey's "Literature, History, Politics" in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"The intertextual relations of the text are never purely literary.  Fiction draws not only on other fiction but on the knowledge of its period, discourses in circulation which are themselves sites of power and the contest for power" (433). 

As much as I did not like this article, I really liked this quote.  I never really thought of intertextual relations as a reflection of the history and politics going on at the time a work was written.  It makes a lot of sense that in a particular time period, multiple authors would choose to write about similar topics.  For example, if I decided to write a story about a character named Phil who was going through hard times caused by the loss of his job, someone else is probably writing a story about Jan who had to take a pay cut in order to keep her job making being a single parent even harder; people are losing their jobs due to the economic hard times we're going through right now and that relates and establishes the connection between these two stories.  Some would argue that this is all caused by politics.  Thus, when these two works are put out in the future an intertextual relation is really only possible because of political factors since that is what determined the plot.

What happens though if I want to create an intertextual relationship between the Bible and Keith Urban's song "You'll Think of Me"?  What, possibly, can the politics have in common?  I guess you could stretch it but I'm not sure the interetextual relationship would be at all political.

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From Stephen Greenblatt's essay "Culture" in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"Great writers are precisely masters of these codes, specialists in cultural exchange.  The works they create are structures for the accumulation, transformation, representation, and communication of social energies and practices" (440).

The kind of cultural criticism that Greenblatt explicitly talks about seems to be the companion to mimetic criticism.  When I read the quote above, I immediately thought of Bernard Paris's article "The Uses of Psychology."  In it, Paris said, "Representation is the primary interest of realistic fiction, and the two chief objects of represention are character and social milieu" (218).  As Paris says, to make a story realistic, he or she must make a character that could be a real person (because of their thoughts and actions) but also have interactions with other people and the culture around them. 

A good example of this interaction between the two schools is in F. Scott Fitzgerald's critically acclaimed short story "Babylon Revisited."  In it, the main character, Charlie, struggles with his present life because of the way he lived in the past (his excessive living during the economic boom that took place right before the stock market crash in the 1920s).  Charlie struggles because he partied hardy, which seemed to be a characteristic of the roaring 20s.  All Charlie did was take part in the culture, but he lost more than money; he lost his wife and child.  All of these factors work together to make Fitzgerald's story seem almost painfully realistic for the reader can imagine this really happening, especially in today's economy. 

What are some other stories in which cultural and mimetic aspects work together to create a more realistic story?


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Eagleton on Education

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From Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory:

“Literary theorists, critics and teachers, then, are not so much purveyors of doctrine as custodians or a discourse.  Their task is to preserve this discourse, extend and elaborate it as necessary, defend it from other forms of discourse, initiate newcomers into it and determine whether or not they have successfully mastered it” (175).

Out of all the chapters we read by Eagleton, I liked this one the best.  I think that he did not use a lot of confusing terms and elaborated well on what he was discussing.  My favorite quote from this section would be the one above.  As a future English educator, I thought that he expressed what I will need to do for my job quite well.  In the classroom, I will need to regulate the conversations, help students realize what is important, and defend the text when necessary from skeptical students.  I do not think that Eagleton’s definition encompasses all the jobs of a teacher, but this is a good start. 


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The Question of Timelessness

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From Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:

“They are especially effective for dismantling foundationalist and essentialist arguments, for demolishing totalizing claims, for deconstructing ideologies, for delegitimizing power, and generally for demonstrating that nearly everything called universal, timeless, and natural is really local, historically contingent, and socially constructed” (416).

I really thought that this was interesting.  Disney calls a lot of its older works “timeless masterpieces” but the truth is, out of those, I have seen very few.  How timeless are they?  What makes something timeless if it is even possible?  This persona taken on by Keesey seems to believe that no matter how timeless a writer tries to make his/her work, it will be outdated.

I do not necessarily agree with this statement.  I think that it is possible to make something that applied in the past apply today for a different reason.  Dr. Jerz’s famous example is of Shylock from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.  Back in Shakespeare’s day, Shylock was the villain.  Today, because he was treated so badly (for being Jewish) could be seen as a tragic hero.  No matter how he’s looked at, the work is still relevant because of social concerns.

I can, however, think of works that in my opinion, are no longer relevant to us.  It is a belief of mine that The Scarlet Letter should not be taught in high schools.  For a teenager this work is boring.  It really does not relate to them.  The book is even hard to read as a college student because it seems to have lost its relevancy.  There are other stories about cheating and forbidden love out there that are a lot more exciting.  At a younger age we need to be careful of what we make our children read.   When I read The Scarlet Letter in high school I was extremely put off and never thought that I could actually enjoy reading.  Instead of these dusty classics we should add a few pieces of contemporary literature such as Hard Love.  This book stresses important teen issues and is still good writing.  Students could learn to love reading if they read this.

I’m not suggesting, however, that all classics should not be taught.  I just think that instead of reading six books that are a part of the canon we should only read five.  The missing one would be contemporary and would hopefully inspire teens to read.

What do you think?  Can you think of any other works that are, in your opinion, irrelevant to us today?

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Keats Could Control Himself

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From Barbara Jones Guetti’s “Resisting the Aesthetic” in Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:

“It is safer, and far “sweeter,” to imagine what the “flowery tale” depicted on the urn might have said…” (389).

Guetti creates a strange and interesting progression in her essay.  She begins by addressing the questions that she feels that so many critics have ignored.  She then moves on to saying that Keats shifts to story-telling.  Keat’s speaker undergoes a shift from curious wonder at the physical urn to doing what seemingly any Engish buff would and to do, creating a story for it (hence the alliterated title).  Guetti points out that this shift is indicated in the poem by the progression from questions to proclamations.  I never really noticed this before.  I really liked this essay because I feel that Guetti has a point and builds on it in a clear and logical way.

Do you agree that her argument is a good one?  Disagree?

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Aren't We All Artist-Dreamers?

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From Stephen J. Miko’s “Tempest” in Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:

“If as I believe Shakespeare will not allow either unequivocal idealization or consistent, “realistic” parody, all the characters are mirrors of us, especially as we are all artist-dreamers, and all the mirrors are chipped and cracked” (382).

This essay was confusing for Miko snaked his way through his point.  I’m not quite sure that it added up for me in the end, but I don’t necessarily think it was a bad essay either.  I think that Miko’s point, however, was quite obvious.  The characters were realistic because Shakespeare used real-life observations to create these characters.  I have a friend who carries around a notebook with her at all time to write down strange personality traits of people that she meets.  Later, I surmise, she will try to use these traits in a book or short story. 

As for the whole “artist-dreamers” theme, I’m not so sure.  I can see what Miko was saying when he called Prospero an artist in a sense that he was the orchestrator of the whole show, like he was managing his own theater company (278).  I guess that we are all artists in a way.  You don’t have to paint a picture to be an artist (because I would not qualify in that case for my drawing talents never existed).  You can write poetry, complete a math problem, discover a new species of animal, etc.  I guess a person could maybe deconstruct an “artist” as not merely someone who paints but anyone who uses creative devices or problem-solving to work out an issue or express themselves.  In that case, Miko was right, but as I said before, he makes an obvious point. 

As for us all being dreamers, that is obvious too.  We all have dreams that we one day want to fulfill.  I would classify my dreams in two categories: the superficial and the prioritized.  My superficial dreams are ones that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things like going to San Diego and Australia.  My prioritized dreams are ones that are more important in life such as graduating, getting married, having children, changing other’s lives for the better.

What do you think about Miko’s article?  Is there anything important that I left out or overlooked that makes it more important and less obvious?  Please prove me wrong.  (I’ve learned that being wrong presents a great learning opportunity.)

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He's de Man!

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From Paul de Man’s “Semiology and Rhetoric” in Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:

“Confronted with the question of difference between grammar and rhetoric, grammar allows us to ask the question, but the sentence by means of which we ask it may deny the very possibility of asking.   For what is the use of asking, I ask, when we cannot even authoritatively decide whether a question asks or doesn’t ask?” (368)

I really liked how de Man, in trying to make a statement about rhetorical questions, asks one.  It was a clever little technique.  It is true.  Why form a statement into a question if you can just come out and say it?  (hehe…)  I believe that the purpose of doing that is to create a different effect.  If the author just comes out and makes a statement, there is no sentence variation.  The essay or conversation is slightly improved in sentence variation by the rhetorical question.  It is clever, too.  You have to think about a rhetorical question in a way that you don’t have to think about a factual statement.  The reader is forced to pause and review the concept, not just breeze over it.  I would even argue that a rhetorical question is a meditative device.

My next question for de Man would be if a rhetorical question is illocutionary, isn’t sarcasm as well?  Both rhetorical statements and sarcasm say one thing and mean another.  Sarcasm in a way of overstating something that cannot be true based on context (in writing) or facial features/context (in a one-on-one conversation).  Grammatically, the sarcastic comment is usually stated as a fact.  For example, “I love doing homework because it is fun to do.”  This is most obviously not true because everyone knows that doing homework isn’t the only thing one has to do in life and it certainly isn’t “fun.”  I would rather be watching TV or doing something active right now, but that will not get me the “A” grade that I desire, thus, I must do this and so must you. 

1.       Is sarcasm another kind of illocutionary device or was I wrong?  Why? 

2.       Can you think of any other devices that could be considered illocutionary?


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An Abundance of Water. A Psychoanalytic Reading.

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From An Abundance of Katherines by John Green:

"Colin took a deep breath and slid down, immersing his head.  I am crying, he thought, opening his eyes to stare through the soapy, stinging water.  I feel like crying, so I must be crying, but it's impossible to tell because I'm underwater.  But he wasn't crying.  Curiously, he felt too depressed to cry.  Too hurt.  It felt as if she'd taken the part of him that cried" (4).

To kick off this entry, I feel a quick summary and explanation of the quote is in order.  Colin, the intellectual child prodigy (can't you tell by the reasoning he uses), was just dumped by his girlfriend.  It is the morning after he graduated from high school and got dumped.  I really like how this book starts off with this image of baptism also, but enough of that.  Let's get to the good stuff.

I think that this quote exhibits a lot of qualities about Colin that make him a great character to psychoanalyze.  Colin Singleton uses reason to cloak his emotions.  On the first page, Colin thinks about the Greek philosopher Archimedes (who discovered water displacement).  Then in the quote that I picked we see how he reasons his way into convincing himself that he is sad therefore he must be crying.  Colin's reasoning ways and philosophizing is just a cover-up for his real emotions.  He tries to distract himself from being alone by drawing in all these references throughout the book.  What Colin does not seem to understand is the complexity of his own emotions.  Colin can't cry because he has passed his own emotional threshold.  Many people reach a point where they are so emotionally drained that they can't even bring themselves to cry.

As I mentioned, Colin is always reading absorbed in some sort of scholarly endeavor, so much so that he barely knows himself.  Think about it.  If you always do work or read or surf the internet you rarely get the opportunity to spend some quiet time with yourself.  Colin needs to withdraw a little from his up-tight ways and take some time to interact with others in a positive way (not merely a relationship where he constantly has to hear the girls say she loves him so he doesn't feel insecure).  

At this point his life, Colin is having a sort of "quarter-life crisis" for he is struggling with the idea of being alone (he is addicted to relationships) and also the idea of not possibly reaching his desired status as a genius.  His entire life is centered around impressing others.  He wants a girlfriend because he wants someone to constantly express how great he is to him.  He wants to be a genius because it is what people expect, thus it is what he wants.  Colin needs to learn, and by the end of the book does learn, that he needs to accomplish things because he wants to, not because he is expected to.  He needs to find happiness in himself before he can find happiness in others. 

As a last point, do you think that Colin is addicted to relationships?  Keep in mind that in the end of the book, Colin is again in a relationship with Lindsey.

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