GretaCarroll: April 2009 Archives

The Literary Works of Greenblatt’s “Culture”

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Stephen Greenblatt’s essay, “Culture,” like most critical papers includes many references to literary works.  I have created a list of the works he mentions with links to websites where you can read the work and/or read more about them if you are curious. 

  • “Horatian Ode” (Text)

Return to the main page on Greenblatt. 

The People of Greenblatt’s “Culture”

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As you navigate through Stephen Greenblatt’s “Culture” you will come across the names of many authors (or other people).  Some of them are probably familiar and some of them probably not so much.  If you happen to be interested in learning more about them, I have provided a list of links to webpages about them.

Return to the main page on Greenblatt. 

This entry is meant to provide a reference for words which may or may not have confused readers in Stephen Greenblatt’s essay, “Culture.”  As you read the definitions of any of these words, keep in mind that this is new historicism (which is influenced by poststructuralism) and therefore all definition are, of course, relative.  All definitions are made up of other words that are made of words in a never ending circle of ambiguity of meaning.  Furthermore, as this is new historicism, it is important to remember that the meaning of words changes over time and differs from place to place.  The words on my list appear in the order in which they were used in the article.  Bearing those things in mind, here they are:

  • Constraint (this definition is actually for constraining, but the page for constraint directs you to the page for constraining).
  • Satire (You can also check Hamilton out for this one, see pages 21-24).
  • Improvisation (similar to constraint, this link is actually to improvising).

Return to the main page on Greenblatt.   

Greenblatt begins his article by dealing with the idea of “culture” itself.  After all, the article is named “culture” and if it is going to be the main focus, the first step is defining what “culture” actually is.  He points out that culture has not always been part of literary criticism and in fact, the very “concept” of “culture” is relatively new.  He quotes the anthropologist Edward B. Tylor as defining culture as, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (437).  Greenblatt, immediately after giving us this definition, challenges it.  Because really, what kind of a definition is that?  Defining culture by giving a long list of other concepts (some of which’s own definitions are vague) hardly leaves us with anything useful at all.  As Greenblatt humorously explains, “’culture’ is a term that is repeatedly used without meaning much of anything at all, a vague gesture toward a dimly perceived ethos” (437).  So again employing his usually strategy, Greenblatt asks a question and then answers it.  In this case he asks how we can make this concept that we use in such a vague way, more useful.

The first thing Greenblatt says we need to consider is that “the concept gestures toward what appear to be opposite things” (437) (surprise surprise, keep in mind that new historicism is heavily influenced by poststructuralism, so we all should have been expecting “opposite” to pop up somewhere).  The opposite things are: “constraint and mobility” (437). 

He deals with constraint first.  He explains that, “The ensemble of beliefs and practices that form a given culture function as a pervasive technology of control, a set of limits within which social behavior must be contained, a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform” (437).  He clarifies that these boundaries may be large and are enforced in three ways: extreme ways (such as “exile, imprisonment in an insane asylum, penal servitude, or execution”), more innocent ways (such as “a condescending smile, laughter poised between the genial and the sarcastic, a small dose of indulgent pity laced with contempt, cool silence”), and lastly there is positive reinforcement through rewards for “good behavior” including “spectacular” rewards (such as “grand honors, glittering prizes”) and “the apparently modest” (such as “a gaze of admiration, a respectful nod, a few words of gratitude”). 

After that, Greenblatt instead of dealing with the “mobility” aspect next, shifts to discuss how “constraint” relates to literature.  He explains that literature has been a very powerful force in constraining people to respect cultural boundaries.  He tells us that, “Works in these genres often seem immensely important when they first appear, but their power begins quickly to fade when the individuals to whom the works refer begin to fade, and the evaporation of literary power continues when the models and limits that the works articulate and enforced have themselves substantially changed.  The footnotes in modern editions of these works can give us the names and dates that have been lost, but they cannot in themselves enable us to recover a sense of the stakes that once gave readers pleasure and pain” (437).  This is when culture comes in.  Granted, we can never fully distance ourselves from our own position, no can we ever fully comprehend someone else’s.  But, an understanding of culture does help us to understand to some degree the boundaries that existed before. 

Greenblatt then provides us with a handy set of six questions which he explains are the starting point for us to consider the culture behind a work.  The questions are the following:

 1. What kinds of behavior, what models of practice, does this work seem to enforce?
2. Why might readers at a particular time and place find this work compelling?
3. Are there differences between my values and the values implicit in the work I am reading?
4. Upon what social understanding does the work depend?
5. Whose freedom of thought or movement might be constrained implicitly or explicitly by this work?   6. What are the larger social structures with which these particular acts of praise or blame might be connected?

However, Greenblatt also gives us a warning after handing us these starter questions which I feel is extremely important.  In new historicism, we want to extend beyond the work we are reading into the cultural context, “but these links cannot be a substitute for close reading” (438).  So just because we need to consider the above questions, does not mean we can ignore the text or the implications it has.

He then clarifies that just because culture influences literature, that does not mean that literature has no power, or that it cannot work the other way around.  He says, “Cultural analysis then is not by definition an extrinsic analysis, as opposed to an internal formal analysis of works of art.  At the same time, cultural analysis must e opposed on principle to the rigid distinction between that which is within a text and that which lies outside.  It is necessary to use whatever is available to construct a vision of the ‘complex whole’ to which Tylor referred.  And if an exploration of a particular culture will lead to a heightened understanding of a work of literature produced within that culture, so too a careful reading of a work of literature will lead to a heightened understanding of the culture within which it was produced.  The organization of this volume makes it appear that the analysis of culture is the servant of literary study, but in a liberal education broadly conceived it is literary study that is the servant of cultural understanding” (438). 

Now, after explaining constraints relation to culture and literature, he gives examples of constraint in literature.  He briefly mentions Pope’s “Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot” and Marvell’s “Horatian Ode.”  He says that both of these show “the internalization and practice of a code of manners” (438).  However, his main example of constraint in literature involves Shakespeare’s As You Like It.  He uses two characters as examples, Orlando and Audrey.  Of Orlando he posits that, “Orlando’s bitter complaint is not that he has been excluded from his patrimony…but rather that he is being prevented from learning the manners of his class” (438).  So basically, unless we were informed about the culture of this time period, we as a modern reader could become sidetracked by why Orlando is not mad about receiving his seeming due (his inheritance) rather than focusing on what he is actually upset about.  If the reader does not understand primogeniture, the passage becomes much more murky and confusing and the reader can become distracted by unimportant details.  Of Audrey, Greenblatt explains that “even the simple country wench Audrey receives a lesson in manners from the sophisticated clown…” (438).  In other words, even a seemingly unimportant character in the play is constrained by cultural manner expectations.  Greenblatt sums up his example by saying, “…even as his[Shakespeare’s] plays represent characters engaged in negotiating the boundaries of their culture, the plays also help to establish and maintain those boundaries for their audiences” (439).  So even as these characters attempt to rebel against or discover their own places in respect to cultural boundaries, Shakespeare reaffirms these boundaries by writing about them. 

Greenblatt now moves on and uses Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen as a segue between constraint and mobility.  He notes the constraints present in it, as Spenser himself has said that, “The purpose of his vast romance epic…is ‘to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline” (439).  Yet, at the same time as Spenser says this, his characters constantly are “roaming an imaginary landscape” which hints at mobility.  Greenblatt explains this contradiction between constraint and mobility with the following, “…if culture functions as a structure of limits, it also functions as the regulator and guarantor of movement.  Indeed the limits are virtually meaningless without movement; it is only through improvisation, experiment, and exchange that cultural boundaries can be established.  Obviously, among different cultures there will be a great diversity in the ratio between mobility and constraint.  Some cultures dream of imposing an absolute order, a perfect stasis, but even these, if they are to reproduce themselves from one generation to the next, will have to commit themselves, however tentatively or unwillingly, to some minimal measure of movement; conversely, some cultures dream of an absolute mobility, a perfect freedom, but these too have always been compelled, in the interest of survival, to accept some limits” (439).  This is probably one of Greenblatt’s most important quotes.  He explains the relation between constraint and mobility, literature and culture.  No matter how free people may want to be, there will still have to be some limits or general anarchy will ensue.  Just as no matter how many constraints some people may want, there will always have to be some mobility, for it is impossible to completely eliminate it. 

Greenblatt explains the relevance of his previous quote, “What is set up, under wildly varying circumstances and with radically divergent consequences, is a structure of improvisation, a set of patterns that have enough elasticity, enough scope of variation, to accommodate most of the participants of a give culture…a great many works of art are centrally concerned with these improvisations” (439).  So our cultures must find a happy medium between constraint and mobility, so that most people can abide happily.  However, despite the fact that a sort of harmony has been created where most people can handle their amount of freedom, works of art (in particular literature) are still written about how one goes about dealing with this compromise.  Each individual may wish for more or less freedom, how does one come to terms with these cultural boundaries?  That is what art explores.

However, art is not entirely free despite its ability to explore these improvisations.  Even as authors attempt to discover how to relate to boundaries, “they do not merely passively reflect the prevailing ratio of mobility and constraint; they help to shape, articulate, and reproduce it through their own improvisatory intelligence” (439).  So, as they write about these boundaries in an attempt to improvise, they actually change the very nature of the boundary.  Continuing, Greenblatt says that “Even those great writers whom we regard with special awe, and whom we celebrate for their refusal to parrot clichés of their culture, tend to be particularly brilliant improvisers rather than absolute violaters or pure inventors” (439).  He continues by stressing that even though this idea of our greatest writers being improvisers and not inventors may seem like it is demoting them to some degree, it actually isn’t.  Instead, he stresses that the important thing is the “exchange” (439) which takes place between different works and culture itself to create these improvisations (if you’d like to read more about these improvisations, I suggest Ellen’s blog) Greenblatt summarizes the relationship between constraint and mobility as he explains, “The two concerns are linked, for a culture’s narratives...are crucial indices of the prevailing codes governing human mobility and constraint.  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).    

Greenblatt finishes his article by stressing that students need to perceive the relation between history and literature and to stop trying to separate the two.  He also gives a bit of a disclaimer, saying that he realizes he has written “at moments as if art always reinforces the dominant beliefs and social structures of its culture,” he explains that he does realize this is “by no means necessary” (440).  He says he realizes that “in our own time most students reserve their highest admiration for those works that situate themselves on the very edges of what can be said at a particular place and time, that batter against the boundaries of their own culture” (440).  He ends by using Caliban in The Tempest as an example of this.  He says that, “If it is the task of cultural criticism to decipher the power of Prospero, it is equally its task to hear the accents of Caliban” (441).  In other words, it looks at both the things that reaffirm culture, improvise culture, and challenge it (if you’re still unclear on the ending, I suggest you check out Erica’s blog where I attempt to explain the ending of the article).      

For more information on Greenblatt's article, you can check out some vocabulary, some authors (or other people), and/or some literary works that he uses in it. 

Click here to read more on Greenblatt.

Literary Criticism Lesson Plan

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Seton Hill University
Greensburg, PA  15601


Daily Lesson Plan

Introduction to Literary Criticism


Teachers: Greta Carroll & Katie Vann

Subject: English

Grade: 10th

Date: 3 April 2009

Time: 12:26-1:05 PM


Behavioral Objective(s):
  • Students will be able to identify the four main schools of Literary Criticism, being: Author Intention, Reader-Response, Intertextuality, Mimeticism.
  • Students will be able to work in groups to achieve a group goal.    
Pennsylvania State Academic Standard(s):
1.1.11. B. Analyze the structure of informational materials explaining how authors used these to achieve their purposes.
1.1.11. F. Understand the meaning of and apply key vocabulary across the various subject areas.
1.3.11. A. Read and understand works of literature.
1.3.11. E. Analyze how a scriptwriter’s use of words creates tone and mood, and how choice of words advances the theme or purpose of the work.
1.3.11. F. Read and respond to nonfiction and fiction including poetry and drama.
1.6.11. A. Listen to others.
Ask clarifying questions.
  • Synthesize information, ideas and opinions to determine relevancy.
  • Take notes.
1.6.11. D. Contribute to discussions.
Ask relevant, clarifying questions.
  • Respond with relevant information or opinions to questions asked.
  • Listen to and acknowledge the contributions of others.
  • Adjust tone and involvement to encourage equitable participation.
  • Facilitate total group participation.
  • Introduce relevant, facilitating information, ideas and opinions to enrich the discussion.
  • Paraphrase and summarize as needed.
1.6.11. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.
  • Initiate everyday conversation.

Materials and/or Equipment:
  • Painting
  • Note cards (for matching activity)
  • Poster paper
  • Markers
  • Stickers
  • CD Player
  • Handouts of “Love Story” lyrics
  • Exit-slip evaluation forms
  • CD with song
  • Handout with summary of schools of criticism, questions, and definitions
  • Prizes (school supplies)

Activities and Procedures:

Anticipatory Set:
  We will have a painting in the front of the classroom.  We will then ask the students the following questions about the painting:
  1. What do you think of the painting?  Have you seen this painting before?  How do you feel about the painting?  
  2. Is the painting a realistic portrayal of real life?
  3. Does it remind you of any other paintings you have seen?  If so, what painting or artists?
  4. What do you think the painter was trying to convey?
These questions will be used to introduce the students to Literary Criticism. 

Lesson Sequence:
  1. Ask students what they think Literary Criticism is.  
  2. Put up quote from a book review; ask them if this is Literary Criticism.  Next, put up an actual quote from Literary Criticism article beside book review quote.  Ask students which one of these is Literary Criticism. 
  3. Explain to students that Literary Criticism is not just “criticizing” a work.  Explain proper definition.
  4. Begin explanations of the four schools we will be dealing with.  Reinforce the relation to the anticipatory set questions.
  5. Split the students into four groups (two groups of four, two groups of five), have them          number off to get the four groups. 
  6. Handout sets of sixteen note cards. 
  7. Explain to students that for each school there is a question, an example, and a definition which corresponds.   There will be four note cards which will list the school.  One of the schools will be on a fluorescent note card (this will be used for a later activity).   The students in each group are to match the correct information to the school.  The group that is done fastest and is correct will get a prize.
  8. Go over correct answers of the matching game.
  9. Give winning group their prizes and the rest of class the consolation prize. 
  10. Pass out handout, summarizing literary schools for the students’ future reference.
  11. Explain to students that the fluorescent note card is their school of literary criticism for the coming group activity.
  12. Students will remain in the same groups.  Pass out “Love Story” lyrics by Taylor Swift.
  13. Tell students that they are to apply their school to the song.  Tell them that if they are stuck or need help to refer to the handout.
  14. Pass out poster paper.  Have students write ideas, pictures, or words on the poster paper in preparation to visually share (and present) with the rest of the class.  “Love Story” will be playing in the background during this time. 
Closure: Group presentations.

Modifications for Individual Differences:  No known necessary modifications. 

Students will complete evaluation exit-slips.  These will contain questions pertaining to what the students learned during the lesson and what they thought of the lesson itself. 

Assignments: No assignments, since this is a onetime lesson. 

Student Teacher Reflection:
 Cooperating Teacher Reflection:
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Summary of Literary Criticism Handout

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The following is the handout that we made and gave to the students.

Summary of Literary Criticism

Literary Criticism: It is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature.  It goes beyond just saying that a book is good or bad.  It instead analyzes the parts of the work through several different approaches as a process towards making a claim about the work. 

Reader-Response: A type of criticism which focuses on the reader.  It emphasizes how the reader responds to a work and why.  It is not concerned with the author, history, or anything that draws away from the reader.  The name of the criticism (reader-response) explains it well; it is how the reader responds to a text. 

Questions to think about:

  1. What do you think about the work?
  2. How did the work make you feel?  What about the work made you feel this way?
  3. Have you had previous experiences with this work or similar works which would affect your interpretation of it?


In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “A Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator’s insanity and actions horrify the reader.  The narrator’s insistence that he was sane, his seeming logic, and his absence of guilt all add to this feeling.  The description of the narrator cutting the body into pieces and hiding them under the floorboards, along with the description of the thumping heart and “vulture eye” all further serve to make the reader respond this way.  

Mimetic: A type of criticism that focuses on how true to life a work’s characters are.  It deals with how realistic things are.  Notice the word “mime” in mimetic, in other words, it mimes or imitates real life.

Questions to think about:

  1. Is it a realistic portrayal of life?
  2. Do the characters seem to react in believable ways?  Do they have realistic emotions?
  3. If the work and characters do not seem to be realistic, what prevents it and them from being so? 


In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout could be said to be a realistic character.  At the beginning of the novel she is blind to the flaws of society.  She has her own unique personality caused by both her own personality traits and the way that Atticus has raised her.  Her development from the beginning of the story to the end truly marks her realism.  She is not blind to what goes on around her, but instead observes it all.  What she sees changes the way in which she perceives those around her and the world as a whole, just as it would any real person. 

 Intertextuality: A type of criticism which focuses on one text’s relationship to another.  However, it does not just compare and contrast two works.  Instead, it considers how the works shape our perception of other works. 

Questions to think about:

  1. Does the work remind you of any other works you have read?
  2. What is similar and different about the two works (yes, you can ask this question, just don’t stop with it)?
  3. How does each text shape or create a new understanding of the other text? 


Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and High School Musical have similarities.  In High School Musical, Troy (like Romeo) must choose between what he is expected to do and what he wants to do.  Troy can play basketball as all his peers and parents wish (the equivalent to Romeo marrying Rosaline) or he can do what he really loves and be in the musical (the equivalent to Romeo marrying Juliet).  This helps one to better understand both Romeo’s and Troy’s motivations and feelings. 

Author Intention:  A type of criticism which considers the author’s intention to be the most important factor.  When there are two or more possible interpretations of a text, one must consider what the author’s intention was to determine the most probable interpretation. 

Questions to think about:

  1. What do you think the author was trying to convey?
  2. What basis do you have for thinking this is what the author was trying to convey?
  3. Why would this author have wanted to convey this?


In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the insanity that the narrator descends into parallels that of Gilman herself.  Since Gilman felt trapped by her own husband after giving birth to her first child, Gilman through writing a short story where the same thing happened to her protagonist wished to show the devastation caused by male superiority. 

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Assessment of Student Practicum Performance

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The following is one of the education departments assessment forms to be filled out as the college student does their lesson.  We also asked our cooperating teacher to fill out one of these forms.  How the cooperating teacher scaled us is listed first and underlined, followed by the statement we were being rated on.

Assessment of Student Practicum Performance

Names of Student Teachers: Greta Carroll & Katie Vann

Describe the student teacher on each item, according to the following scale:

C-consistently exhibits the behavior

U-usually exhibits the behavior

O-occasionally exhibits the behavior

N-never exhibits the behavior

Personal and Professional Qualities:

  1. C uses developmentally appropriate strategies
  2. C  is prepared for lesson execution
  3. C plans effective classC evidences adequate knowledge of and ability to organize subject matter
  4. C practices professional responsibilities cooperatively
  5. U communicates effectively (appropriate modulation & projection)
  6. C communicates effectively (appropriate usage of English)
  7. U is enthusiastic about teaching
  8. C displays initiative and creativity in planning & teaching
  9. C is sensitive to the needs of the students
  10. C  has positive expectations of the students
  11. N/A accepts criticism & modifies behavior accordingly


Teaching Skills:

  1. C establishes effective rapport with students
  2. U recognizes management problems and reacts appropriately
  3. C effectively manages all aspects of classroom activity
  4. C evaluates student progress both formally & informally
  5. N/A model expectations for student achievement
  6. C utilizes a variety of materials & equipment effectively
  7. C effectively utilizes a variety of questioning strategies
  8. C develops & uses materials beyond duplicated materials
  9. C fosters creativity in students
  10. C demonstrates plans that allow for mainstreaming


Specific Content Skills:

  1. N/A adapts materials and instruction to the level of all students
  2. U uses a variety of behavior modification techniques
  3. C uses appropriate & effective assessment tools
  4. N/A effectively utilizes available diagnostic information when planning instruction
  5. C demonstrates ability to analyze tasks into their component parts and sequences them appropriately
  6. C  sets attainable goals for students and teacher
  7. N/A adapts environment to accommodate students physical & educational needs
  8. N/A works effectively with paraprofessionals
  9. N/A provides appropriate and necessary level of structure to accommodate students in resource room
  10. C provides immediate & ongoing feedback to students

Cooperating Teacher: DSmith

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Pre-Student Teaching Evaluation Form

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This is one of the education departments actual evaluation forms, we asked our cooperating teacher to fill one out during our lesson.  The following is that form and the the teacher's response.  The category of evaluation is listed first, followed by the number rating we received, any additional comments the teacher left us are in parentheses. 

Seton Hill University

Pre-Student Teaching Evaluation Form

Names: Greta Carroll & Katie Vann                                              Date of lesson: 4/3/09

School: Somerset Area Senior High School                               Grade: 10

Please rate these students on the basis of your observation according to the following scale:

3- Very Good

2- Satisfactory

1- Needs Improvement

0- Unsatisfactory

NO-Not Observed


  1. Personal Appearance- 3
  2. Initiative-3
  3. Entuisiasm-3 (Comments: Greta +, Katie-Good, smile more)
  4. Voice Quality N/A (Comments: Greta- excellent projection & inflection, Katie- difficult to hear at times)
  5. Speech Habits- 3
  6. Dependability-3
  7. Punctuality-3
  8. Attitude-3 (Comments: positive)
  9. Implements Constructive Criticism- NO
  10. Group Control- 2 (Comments: They are a chatty group who often needs to be redirected when peers are the focus).
  11. Teaching Performance-3 (Comments: Engaging lesson, utilized a variety of teaching techniques).
  12. General Promise as a Teacher-3

Teacher evaluator: DSmith

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Cooperating Teacher Evaluation

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This is the response our cooperating teacher gave us for our lesson:

Greta & Katie:

Overall, I think your lesson was very effective and engaging.  I noticed and appreciated the following: Your lesson addressed multiple learning styles.  You offered positive encouragement and encouraging incentives.  During group presentations you (Katie) asked great leading questions.  These prompted the presenters to think more deeply about the meaning behind their projects.  I liked the musical element; however, it was a bit loud and the students had to raise their voices in order to communicate.  Greta noticed this and then made the appropriate adjustment.

You had a lot of material, and you did very well managing your time and getting all of you goals accomplished.  Additionally, your information and content was presented in a very understandable way.  The students haven’t been exposed to this material yet, and they demonstrated a level of understanding.  Over all, well done lesson—you interacted well with the students and presented the material in an appropriate and engaging manner.

One point for improvement would be classroom management.  The students were never out of control, because they are a good group.  However, they need to be reminded about showing respect to other groups as they are presenting.

Thank You for coming in and introducing my students to Critical Theory.



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Student Exit Slip Responses

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So, at the end of Katie's and my lesson we passed out a handout with five questions for the students to answer.  What is listed below is each of the questions we asked and below the questions is a list of all the answers we received from the students.

Question 1: What is something new you learned today?

Students responses to question 1:
  • I didn’t know that there were different types of criticism.
  • 4 different styles of literary criticism.
  • Criticism is not what you think, but what others do.
  • I didn’t know there was mimetic criticism.
  • There are different kinds of criticism.
  • There is more to literary criticism than grammatical errors, etc.
  • There are different types of criticism, but they can all relate to similar things.
  • I learned the different types of literary criticism and how to detect them.
  • I learned 3 new criticisms.
  • I learned about literary criticism.
  • I learned what mimetic response and other things are.
  • The different literary terms that will help.
  • Everyone has a prince charming.
  • I learned about the “mime” thing.
  • I didn’t know any of those terms, really.

Question 2: Do you have any questions about the material covered today? Was anything unclear or confusing?

Student responses to question 2:
  • Everything was well explained and there weren’t questions.
  • No, no.
  • Some analogies confused me.
  • It was all clear.
  • No, everything was clear.
  • N/A
  • No, but I didn’t understand the painting part.
  • No, I didn’t have any questions.  Everything was clearly stated.
  • No. It was all clear.
  • No.
  • Everything was good.
  • No.
  • No.
  • No, you girls did well!
  • Nope, everything was clear.

Question 3: What did you think about our lesson? (Please feel free to leave comments under the rating scale).
1         2          3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10

BAD                                                        OK                                                                     Awesome!

Student responses to question 3:

  • 9
  • 9
  • 8
  • 9
  • 6
  • N/A
  • 7
  • 9
  • 8
  • 8
  • 10
  • 9
  • 9
  • 10
  • 8


Question 4: Are there any suggestions you have for us to improve our lesson?

Student responses to question 4:

  • Maybe try to control the students better.
  • Food.
  • I believe that some of the information presented was somewhat disconnected.
  • It was good.
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • No, you both did very well.
  • No.
  • N/A
  • No, it was really fun.
  • N/A
  • No.
  • Very well planned and I liked it!  But talk a little slower in the beginning.
  • N/A


Question 5: Finally, do you think you will ever use this information or at least remember some of it?

 Circle                     YES                       or                            NO

Student responses to question 5:

  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • N/A
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
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Self-Reflection on Term Project

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I really thought our lesson went well.  Pretty much everything went according to plan.  Katie and I spent a lot of time making our lesson and practicing.  We did a preliminary practice, then we actually did our lesson in front of some of my roommates to be sure it was understandable and to double-check on the time factor, then we practiced once the night before our lesson, and then we did a quick run through before we went to the school to actually do it.  We divided up who would explain what and who would be in charge of what activities.  Because of the high number of practices, I think that Katie and I both felt pretty comfortable with what we were presenting and knew what we needed to do.  However, in some ways all this practicing made the lesson less realistic.  Since we were team-teaching and it was not our actual classroom, I think the practicing was necessary, but in a real teaching environment were one has seven or eight different classes a day, practicing one’s lesson that many times is simply impossible.  I’m not saying that Katie and I should have done anything differently as far as practicing goes; I am just observing that a real teacher would not be able to spend as much time on one lesson as Katie and I did on this one.

As far as working together, I thought Katie and I made an excellent team.  I think we were both able to mitigate the other’s weaknesses.  While one of us was talking, the other was watching the students and the time to make sure we keep things on track.  Towards the end of our lesson, when the students were presenting their posters, I was really impressed by Katie.  The students, while having good posters and seeming to grasp the general ideas of literary criticism didn’t go quite as deep as they could have, Katie was extremely good at asking them questions which forced them to think more critically about what they were presenting.  I noticed the students weren’t going as deep as we wanted them to, but I was unsure whether I should challenge the students on it or let it slide.  While I was still trying to figure out what to do, Katie had already taken charge and was forcing them to think deeper.  So, as a weakness for myself, I would say that I was underestimating the kids.  I was afraid to push them outside their comfort zone and put them on the spot.  What Katie showed me was that I should push them; many of the things they said in answer to her questions got them a lot closer to doing literary criticism than they would have otherwise.

We structured our lesson so that it would include many different learning styles and I really think this paid off.  Not a lot of the class involved Katie and I lecturing the students.  We did do some lecturing, but the majority of the class was student-centered.  Keeping the kids moving and having them do different activities I think helped them to pay better attention (even in the brief time we were lecturing, I could see some students eyes wondering) and to become more actively involved with the lesson.  The students had no previous experience with literary criticism; however, I do think they displayed an understanding of it after our lesson.  No, I don’t think they understood it as well as they could have, but since it was simply a one-time 39 minute lesson, I think it was a really good introductory lesson.  On the exit slips we asked the students to fill out almost all of them said that they learned something.  Most said that they had never realized there were different types of criticism.  Furthermore, every single student said that they think they will remember and use the information we taught them during our lesson in the future. 

Lastly, I want to address the class we taught itself and why we chose that class of students.  Since Katie and I chose to do a lesson plan for a non-education class, it was up to us to find a classroom to teach in.  As my clearances were expired (I didn’t have any education class this semester, so it seemed pointless to pay the money to renew them when I didn’t need them) and we have no connections with the Greensburg schools, Katie and I decided our best bet would be to do our lesson at one of our schools (since we live in the same general area) since the administration would be more willing to work with us.  In the end, we decided to do our lesson at my high school.  We chose 10th grade as the grade level we did because we opted to partner with an English teacher who did not know me in order to prevent bias in the feedback we would receive.  However, many of the students in the class did know me.  In an attempt to avoid a bias in the student feedback, we asked them not to write their names on the exit slips and stressed to them that anything they said would not affect our grade. 

All in all, I really think that lesson went wonderfully.  I enjoyed working with Katie because I was able to observe what she was doing that the kids seemed to be responding well to and will be able to remember in the future to ask follow-up questions to the students to challenge them.  I don’t think that the students we taught are any sort of experts in literary criticism after our lesson, but they are aware that there are different types of criticism and from their exit slips they seemed to both enjoy the lesson and grasp the idea of literary criticism.  The feedback from our cooperating teacher was for the most part extremely positive; the main thing she warned about was classroom management and reminding the students to keep the volume down.  I had a great time doing the lesson; my only regret is that we didn’t have more time with them.  My suggestions to anyone else who is trying to introduce literary criticism to high school students would be to keep things simplified, keep the lesson moving and the students involved so they don’t get bored and stop paying attention, lastly make sure you really challenge the students with questions so that their understanding of the topic is deepened. 

Return to the project main page. 

Position, Limits, Critiquing

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From Barker and Hulme’s “Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest”:

“Our criticism of this politicized intertextuality does not however seek to reinstate the autotelic text with its single fixed meaning.  Texts are certainly not available for innocent, unhistorical readings.  Any reading must be made from a particular position, but is not reducible to that position (not least because texts are not infinitely malleable or interpretable, but offer certain constraints and resistances to readings made of them).  Rather, different readings struggle with each other on the site of the text, and all that can count, however provisionally, as knowledge of a text, is achieved through this discursive conflict.  In other words, the onus of new readings, especially radical readings aware of their own theoretical and political positioning, should be to proceed by means of a critique of the dominant readings of a text” (444).

I know, it’s a long quote, I’m sorry.  But there are three things about this quote I would like to focus on which I think are very typical of new historicism and which for the most part I agree with.  The first thing is that no matter what argument one makes, it always “must be made from a particular position.”  In other words, an author can’t help or control that they are affected by where, when, and what surrounds them when they write.  We are all affected by our culture whether subconsciously or consciously.  However, Barker and Hulme also realize that a reading “is not reducible to that position.”  This brings me to the second thing I want to discuss about this quote which is that texts do have limits to their interpretations.  We can’t just claim whatever we like about a work and then say it’s reasonable because such and such a thing was going on in history at the same time the work was written.  There needs to be textual support for any claim and there are many interpretations which work at the same time.  Lastly, Barker and Hulme like Dock et al. challenge us to “critique...the dominant readings of a text.”  New readings and interpretations of a text should be made by critiquing the arguments that already exist.  We should read critical articles and use them as a springboard into new readings. 

Read more on Barker and Hulme’s article.           

Warnings on Analyzing Literature

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Regarding “’But One Expects That’: Charlotte Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the Shifting Light of Scholarship”:

I really, really liked this essay.  I like how Dock et al went through the past editions and literary criticism of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and pointed out all the loopholes and faulty evidence that arguments have been based on.  I think the authors of this article really made a strong point and wanted to give those who would analyze literature a warning.  In fact, these are things we, even at the undergraduate level, should keep in mind.  The first warning is, “Examination of another legend about the initial reception of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ indicates what happens when critics stop looking for evidence after they find ‘facts’ that validate their interpretations” (478).  I know it is very tempting to do this and I’ve been guilty of this myself.  You go to the library find a couple articles read them and if they support your thesis you’re good to go and you stop researching.  While time constraints certainly require this at times (when one has multiple research papers to write in a matter of weeks, for example), but nonetheless, this article warns against just reading a few articles and stopping.  It is impossible to read all the articles on a work, but the more you read the better prepared you will be to point out flaws in other people’s articles (that you might be using as sources) and in your own claim.  After all, just because the easiest thing to do is to overlook the flaws in your argument, does not mean others will be so kind. 

The second warning is the following, “…these notions went unchallenged because they meshed with what those seeking to recover Gilman from obscurity expected and hoped to find.  Later critics operating from within the same frame of reference failed to challenge the prevailing wisdom” (480).  Again in this quote we get a little bit of the same warning that was given above.  We shouldn’t just research for what we “expected and hoped to find.”  It is detrimental to twist things so that they support what you want them to.  Someone somewhere is going to realize you are stretching the facts.  The new exhortation though is “to challenge the prevailing wisdom.”  In other words, we should not believe everything we read.  We need to challenge other critics and not assume that what they are saying is accurate. 

So in summary while you are researching for our term paper, consider these two things:

1. Don’t just read what supports your claim and don’t twist things to mean what you want them to.

2. Don’t believe everything you read.  Just because a predominant critic claims something doesn’t mean what they say is full-proof or true. 

Read more on Garson’s article.    

From Marjorie Garson’s “Bodily Harm: Keats’s Figures in the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’”:

“And that question—though a real one for the reader, at the end of the first stanza—is already a pseudo-question for the speaker, who could not formulate it the way he does unless he had in fact already answered it” (456). 

Garson brings an interesting and new reading to “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”  Kayley, in her presentation, drew our attention to the words “unravished bride;” however this did not make me consider the possibility that “Though the lover cannot seize the maiden, Keats can seize the urn: the lover’s failure to possess masks Keats’s studding success” (458).  Garson’s historical explanation of Britain’s appropriation of Greece’s culture and its relation to the female reminded me greatly of Irish Literature.  As Garson commented, “A ravaged culture is metaphorically female...” (454).  We have discussed this idea repeatedly in Irish Lit.  Why is Ireland always referred to as a she?  Why is it represented by a woman (who alternatively does or does not transform from old to young)?  The question has many answers, but one of them is that as “a ravaged culture” Ireland is “weakened” by being referred to as female.    

The main reason I picked the quote above though again relates to Kayley’s presentation.  She had us relate “Ode on a Grecian Urn” to “Among School Children” by Yeats.  She asked us to look at the questions in the poem and determine whether they were rhetorical or literal.  The class focused particularly on these lines: “O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,/ Are you the leaf, the blossom of the bole?/ O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?”  My response was that I thought that the questions were rhetorical questions for Yeats himself, but literal questions for the reader.  Yeats wanted to make us think and ask ourselves the questions he had already asked himself.  Here, Garson applies this same idea to Keats’s poem.  I much prefer this reading than reading his questions literally or rhetorically, it’s more of a middle ground.  Anytime we see a question mark we are going to pause for a moment and think, whether the question is meant to be answered or not.  In this way, the question can function doubly making the reader consider what their own answer would be, while still being a rhetorical question for the speaker of the poem. 

Read more on Garson’s article.    

Is Everything Political?

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From Catherine Belsey’s “Literature, History, Politics”:

“But documents do not merely transcribe experience: to the extent that they inevitably come from a context where power is at stake, they are worth analysis not as access to something beyond them, not as evidence of how it felt, but as themselves locations of power and resistance to power” (431).

For the most part, I liked Belsey’s article or at least could understand where she was coming from.  I find it interesting that she combines all three of these ideas (literature, history, and politics)together.  And I agree with her explanation that documents do not “merely transcribe experience.”  There is certainly a lot more to a text than “how it felt.”  However, I think that we need to be careful about over-focusing on political issues.  It’s not that I think we shouldn’t write papers on the politics and history which created and influence a work; I just think that should not always be the focus.  Belsey seems a little too quick to condemn “what a lot of people said they felt” (431).  She is right that “it is, therefore a history of struggle and, inconsequence a political history” (432), but not everyone in the past was so strongly “struggling.”  I think that there needs to be a balance, some people in the past just lived ordinary lives, going about their day to day basis, trying to get by.  And yes, even these ordinary people would have been affected by the power politics around them; however, I would not say that politics define these people.  I think that “how it felt” to be these people is important and interesting.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a balance between a focus on the political and other things.  Not everything should come back to politics, although some things do, there are other things that don’t so much. 

Read more on Belsey’s article.   

Term Project Progress Report

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This is a simple update on Katie's and my term project.  For those of you who may not know basically what we did was we created an introductory lesson plan to literary criticism, presented it to a 10th grade English class, and received and reviewed feedback from both our cooperating teacher and the students we taught.  We also wrote self-reflections on the experience.  For more information on everything we've done, check out our previous term project report

We've created separate blog entries for many of the various parts of our project so that others may be able to view the many components which have went into it.  Below is a list of links to these items so you can take a closer look at many of the parts of our project and lesson:

As far as the presentation itself goes, here is a brief rundown of our tentative plan:

  • First, we will briefly explain what we did, what we taught, and how we taught it.  Next, we have some posters made by the actual students we did our lesson plan for which we will use to present the students’ understanding of the lesson.  After that, we will review the students’ comments about our lesson, as well as the cooperating teacher's.  The last part of our presentation will be going over our own self-reflections to make clear what we learned from the experience and what we feel was effective and ineffectual about the lesson. 
Read about other term projects. 

Is Capitalism Really the Reason?

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Well, as frequently happens, I can find things I like about this article and things I don’t like about it.  First, the poststructuralism is very evident in the essay, which makes sense.  As Keesey explained new historicism is heavily influenced by poststructuralism.  Eagleton writes in his essay that, “But what comes then of our delight in comparisons, in distance, in dissimilarity—which is at the same time a delight in what is close and proper to ourselves” (424).  If we go back to Guetti’s article, he said almost the same thing.  The differences or the “missing” part is what makes us interested in something.  How well we can relate to it or how incapable we are of relating to something fascinates us.

However, the Marxist influence was also easily spotted in Eagleton’s essay (which again Keesey warned us about).  Now, granted, I live in a capitalist society, so I am undoubtedly biased (as these critics would observe) by my cultural positioning.  However, when Eagleton commented, “We respond to Spartacus of Greek sculpture because our own history links us to those ancient societies; we find in them an undeveloped phase of the forces which condition us.  Moreover, we find in those ancient societies a primitive image of ‘measure’ between man and Nature which capitalist society necessarily destroys” (423), I can’t help but have a couple problems with it.  First off, if part of our cultural positioning includes where we find ourselves in history, in other words the year, then is it really fair of Eagleton to call the Greeks and other ancient societies “primitive”?  Isn’t that a bit judgmental?  My other issue is that Eagleton attributes our response to classical literature as resulting from our distance from Nature as a capitalist society.  However, what about other societies?  Don’t communists enjoy classical literature as well?  If the only reason that we relate to “epics” is that we are capitalists, then shouldn’t this mean that only capitalists like the classics?     

Read more on Eagleton’s article. 

Questions All (Future) Educators Should Ask Themselves

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From Keesey’s Introduction to Chapter 7, “Historical Criticism II: Culture as Context”:

“One result of this emphasis has been a number of investigations into literary study itself as a cultural practice.  What gets defines as ‘literature,’ what texts gets assigned in schools and colleges, what kinds of topics get discussed in classes and in standard exams?  And who decides the answers to these questions?” (413)

I think I’m going to like this re-vamped type of historicism.  I like schools that include other schools, and this school seems to try to include many of them.  I also think it’s very appropriate to be our last school since it does include formalism, poststructuralism, and historicism (410). 

I also really like how cultural critics are willing to criticize pretty much everything whether it be a TV show, a book, a movie, or “graffiti” (412).  I suppose this is kind of contradictory to what I said earlier about postmodernism.  I voiced my concern that postmodernism might encroach on other areas of our lives such as our religious beliefs.  Yet here is “Historical Criticism II” and I’m saying that I like that it can be applied to everything.  I suppose that this simply has to do with the fact that while deconstructionism is one of new historicism’s facets, it is not its only one.  I think the main problem with poststructuralism is how far people may take it and these cultural critics seem to have tempered poststructuralism enough that its main goal is not to prove that there is no meaning in anything. 

This new historicism instead focuses on questions like those in my quote above.  All of these questions seem particularly relevant to me since I intend to enter the educational field.  These focus on how culture forces all of us to take a step back and consider the things we take for granted.  It’s a topic we discuss frequently in Literature for YA.  Should we teach all contemporary books to relate to kids?  Should we teach only the classics which are trule “literature”?  Should we purposely teach the same number of books by men as by women?  The questions and considerations could go on and on.  And in the end, as the teacher and designer of my own curriculum I will be the one to answer these questions.  But what biases do I have?  Should I teach a book I hate because there is perceivable value in it?  What biases of my own may I unwittingly project onto my students?  There really is no end to these questions.  I guess the only real assurance I can give myself (or anyone else) is that by being aware of these considerations we can be less controlled by them.  And I think that is largely what this type of historicism is all about—realizing what lenses we see through and realizing that there are other ones besides our own.  So it’s kind of what this whole course has been about.  We try on different lenses and even though there are some we prefer over others, we now know they exist and can use them if necessary and be more aware because we know they exist. 

Read what my peers say about “Historical Criticism II”. 

The Pros and the Cons of Feldstein

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From Richard Feldstein’s “Reader, Text, and Ambiguous Referentiality in ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’”:

“Thus, we are left to identify with the object of our choice: with the protagonist, whose loss of boundaries causes us to experience a similar loss of identity, with the narrator, whose prose writes itself as a presence absent from most critics’ deliberations, with both or neither of these narrative constructs.  We configure our own fictions” (406). 

There were parts of Feldstein’s essay I liked and parts I didn’t like.  So first, the good news (in other words the parts I liked).  I really liked Feldstein’s analysis of the shifts between the different spellings of wallpaper.  I’m going to have to admit that as soon as I noticed Keesey’s commentary on page 531 about the inconsistency of the spelling of the word wallpaper I was intrigued.  In fact, when Feldstein went over all the various publications of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and the changes people have made to the spelling of the word, I was shocked.  I think it is unbelievable that editors would go through and change that.  Such differences in a text should not simply be attributed to an author’s carelessness, chances are, it was done on purpose for a reason.  It reminds me a bit of a paper I peer reviewed last semester (by Angela actually) about the importance of the shifting appellation of the protagonist in Wharton’s The House of Mirth.  Sometimes she would be referred to as Lily, sometimes Lily Bart, and sometimes as Miss Bart.  Authors don’t just do such things randomly and I was most pleased to see that Feldstein was of the same opinion as me.   

I also liked how Feldstein broke his essay into sections (Miko did this as well).  I felt that it helped me understand the material presented better.  The headings helped make it clear to me what I was supposed to be focusing on in each section.  The divisions also made the essay seem more approachable.  If I didn’t understand something I just had one section to reread not an entire essay. 

Now for my quote which still belongs to the good news category.  I liked how Feldstein considered whether the narrator and the protagonist were one in the same or not.  Honestly, the idea never even occurred to me that they could be different.  I just assumed they were one in the same.  But, by pointing out the ambiguity of whether they are one in the same or not, “we are left to identify with the object of our choice.”  Feldstein swerves of a little into reader-response criticism (which I like).  He realizes in the end, it is the reader’s choice to believe what they want, and to construct ideas about the text as they please.  After all, “We configure our own fictions.” 

And now for the bad news—the part I didn’t like about Feldstein’s essay.  He seems to think for some reason or other, that the narrator caused her own insanity.  The essay is riff with this insinuation, Feldstein writes all of the following:

  • “her ‘regression’ becomes purposeful” (404)
  • “…is there therapeutic value in the narrator’s crawling as a means to shock her husband? (404)   
  • “…the narrator chooses to act out” (405)  
  • “the protagonist decides” (405) 

I just have a hard time understanding why anyone would claim that the narrator chose to go insane.  No person is going to crawl around on the floor or “creep” about by their own free will.  I understand that Feldstein is saying that she is choosing to do this in order to use the only power she has.  But nonetheless, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to say that the narrator does not actually have a breakdown and that she does everything that she does as a form of “revenge” (405). 

Read more on Feldstein’s article. 

The Interesting Part—What’s Missing

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From Barbara Jones Guetti’s “Resisting the Aesthetic”:

“And I would argue that what gives the urn its special status for Keats is precisely this problem: that the urn ‘matters’ to Keats because of his ignorance about it” (386).   

I think that Guetti did a really good job of applying many of the things that de Man said in his article to another piece of literature.  I think Keesey chose to include this essay because it really shows (not just tells) how applicable the ambiguity of rhetoric is, not just to All in the Family, but to anything. 

I chose the quote above simply because of how well I can relate to it.  I really could see what Guetti was saying.  After all, we are not enthralled by the past and history because of what we know, but because of what we don’t know.  Guetti writes in her essay, “The questions he starts to ask are not so much about what’s on the urn, as about what’s missing from it” (389).  If we look at any past event that people are interested in, the pyramids for example, people do not obsessively study them for no reason.  They study them because they are curious.  They wonder how the pyramids were built and how people lived back then.  What were the class divisions?  How was day to day life for the pharaoh/for the normal person?  It is the mystery which attracts our attention and makes us wonder.  And Guetti relates our inherent curiosity and romanticism (of the past) to Keats’s poem.      

Read what my classmates have to say about Guetti. 

Good vs. Evil = A Mixture of Both

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From Stephen J. Miko’s “Tempest”:

1. “Yet the point does not seem to be to mock evil or reduce it by parody, but to show us, as many have noticed, that it’s always there, fully preventable only in a magical world, where it may become the occasion for jokes.  What is more directly mocked is stupidity and narrow egotism, the traditional targets of comedy, yet unlike what happens in most comedy, the mockery does not convincingly triumph; the magical garden continues to harbor real snakes” (378). 

2. “The basic point, as I take it anyhow, is that good and evil are built into most of us (perhaps all—I’m holding out Miranda), and most of us are capable of being better—especially of being taught to be better” (381). 

I selected two quotes this time around; however, I think they are both related to each other and provide us with a better understanding of this article.  I really liked Miko’s article.  I liked it more than Wright’s (even if Wright’s was better than McDonald’s).  McDonald’s as I commented earlier simply said that there was ambiguity in The Tempest.  My response being, well so what?  Everything has some degree of ambiguity to it.  Wright’s article went a step farther.  While she again pointed out the ambiguity, she addressed why we should bother to find this ambiguity.  Miko takes things yet one step farther, he gives us a proposed reason for all this ambivalence.  While I realize contradictions are uncertainties are part of poststructuralism, it still seems to me to be the easy way out simply to point out the ambiguity of everything and then simply stop.  Miko takes the extra step. 

There are two main ideas (at least I think there are two main ideas) running through Miko’s article.  First, there is the whole idea that Shakespeare’s non-ending of the story and Prospero’s power parallel Shakespeare’s own limitedness because of the mutability of language.  And the second idea (and the one my quotes are about) is the deconstruction of good versus evil.

I found it rather interesting that good versus evil became his topic of deconstruction considering last week this is the idea which Erica and I played with on her blog entry.  After all, good and evil are not neatly defined terms.  How many mistakes can a person make before they receive the appellation of evil?  What if someone does bad things in order to reach a good end?  What Miko points out is that evil will always exist and the people who deserve to be mocked the most are those who through “narrow egotism” are unable to perceive this perpetual existence of evil.  Miko’s reference to the “garden” reminds us that as humans we are essentially sinful. 

The second quote I chose interested me because, like de Man did in his essay, Miko tries to draw us more intimately into his essay by relating it to us personally.  Miko does not say that good and evil are built into the characters of The Tempest, but that, “good and evil are built into most of us.”  Miko warns us not to take part in this “narrow egotism” ourselves.  Who are we to decide we are better than the characters in The Tempest?  We are all human and as such we live in a field of ambiguity and contradictory parts.

Read more about “Tempest.” 

From Paul de Man’s “Semiology and Rhetoric”:

“The point is as follows.  A perfectly clear syntactical paradigm (the question) engenders a sentence that has at least two meanings of which the one asserts and the other denies its own illocutionary mode.  It is not so that there are simply two meanings, one literal and the other figural and that we have to decide which one of these meanings is the right one in this particular situation.  The confusion can only be cleared up by the intervention of an extra-textual intention, such as Archie Bunker putting his wife straight; but the very anger he displays is indicative of more than impatience; it reveals his despair when confronted with a structure of linguistic meaning that he cannot control and that holds the discouraging prospect of an infinity of similar future confusions, all of them potentially catastrophic in their consequences” (368). 

Yes, yes, I know, that is a rather long quote.  But I picked it because there are several parts of it that I found interesting.  First, I really liked how de Man tried to make his article more relatable by explaining his point not just in “literary” terms.  He tried to make it more comprehensible and more important because these issues of rhetoric are not present simply in those old books that us nerdy English-folks read, but it also exists in popular culture (such as in the TV show All in the Family) and in real life (after all the ambiguity that de Man uses as an example with Archie Bunker is one that we could see happening to us in normal day-to-day conversation). 

I also really liked how in the second and third sentences of the quote I chose he makes it very clear that he is a poststructuralist.  He uses a host of words that we should take note of for our own future writings which use poststructuralism.  Words such as “at least two meanings” and “one asserts and the other denies” allow the reader to pick up on his argument that there are a plethora of meanings which are contradictory.  Another good one he uses later in the essay is “simultaneously” (373). 

One passage from my quote though that diverges a bit from what I expected to find in the essay was, “The confusion can only be cleared up by the intervention of an extra-textual intention.”  What of this “extra-textual intention”?  Doesn’t this take us all the way back to our first weeks of literary criticism and author intent?  What type of “extra-textual intention” is there besides author intent?  And if de Man is claiming that confusion can only be resolved by taking the author’s intention into consideration then isn’t he a bit of an intentionalist?  How can one be a poststructuralist and believe that there is no truly determinate meaning, yet at the same time comment that confusion can be resolved by the author’s intention? 

The last part of my quote I want to talk about regards the “despair” caused by the inability to “control” “linguistic meaning.”  While I can see why de Man would attribute Archie Bunker with feelings of despair, after all he does not exactly respond kindly to his wife, I nonetheless feel like de Man is taking Archie Bunker as a symbol representative of all people.  In other words, since Archie Bunker feels “despair” since he cannot “control” words completely that then means that we too feel that way.  While language can certainly be tricky and we must be extremely careful in how we word things to avoid confusion and sometimes unintended offenses, I think it is a bit extreme to call this “despair.”  More often than not, it is the very multi-faceted nature of language that makes it so fascinating.  So while I do agree that language can be frustrating I would not say that “despair” is the result of this.  But then again, by my nitpicking at de Man’s word choice I suppose in many ways I am proving his beliefs correct.  After all, what is the definition of despair? 

Click here to read more about de Man's article. 


How Far Should We Take Literary Criticism?

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In class this past Thursday, we gritted our teeth and headed into the world of poststructuralism.  One of our introductory articles to the school was Jacques Derrida’s article, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.”  I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that the majority of the class felt overwhelmed by the article or the idea of poststructuralism.  While I did find his article to be extremely complex, I did my best to remain positive about the school.  During Ellen’s enlightening presentation, many students expressed their frustration at poststructuralism’s circular nature of non-meaning.  Katie expressed her concern that it could seep into other areas of one’s life besides literature.  After all, many of us hold a strong opinion about what “truth” is and if it exists.  I like to think Derrida did not truly believe that there is no purpose in life, but instead that he was challenging us to question texts.  He wants us to look at literature in its entirety, not avoiding contradictions or complexity, yet still having some point.  After all, his essay had some final goal or point to it. 

Closely related to poststructuralism (although not exactly the same thing according to Wiki) is postmodernism.  My focus of this blog is not to explain the differences between the two, nor is my knowledge sufficient enough on this topic to attempt this endeavor.  I simply wish to explain the logic which brought me to the topic which is the subject of this blog.  The discussion in class about how far to take poststructuralism lead me to consider how postmodern philosophy has been addressed recently as it relates to religion in light of the fact that Seton Hill is a Catholic University.

I think one of the first ideas to consider is what modernism is versus postmodernism.  After all, we first learned what structuralism was before we learned poststructuralism.  Basically modernism, according to Ross P. Rohde, says that “the measure of all things is man and that man can fully understand his world through science and reason.”  The picture I get in my mind when I think of such a person is Spock.  The logically driven Vulcan searching for the sensical explanation.  The problem with modernism though, as Rohde points out is that it does not ask such questions as: “Where do I come from? What is the meaning of life?”

Postmodernism is an alternative to this reasoning, Rohde explains it: “For a postmodern, rational thinking and science, emotion, tradition, intuition and community are all equally helpful for understanding our world.”  So in this sense postmodernism seems to be the preferable option, after all, look at all these different types of thought it encompasses.  It seems like it would lead to a more balanced and broadminded perception.  However, there is an unfortunate hitch.  Postmodernism (like poststructuralism) rejects the idea of a solid “truth,” which leads to potential lack of purpose or meaning.  As  R.C. Sproul points out, “And there we are on a collision course with the New Testament understanding of truth.”  So how does one deal with the fact that “In postmodern terms, wrong and right are not real categories” (Let’s)? As in most controversial topics, there are three general responses: acceptance, rejection, and a middle ground between the two.    

The first thing I actually watched/read about the topic was an interview with R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, and Ravi Zacharias.  For those who are unfamiliar with these three people: R.C. Sproul is actually from this area, he was born in Pittsburgh and does a lot in the Ligonier area, he is a Calvinist minister.  Al Mohler is a Southern Baptist theologian and minister.  And Ravi Zacharias is a Christian apologist.  All three of them are well-known and influential.  Despite their denominational differences, all three of them are strongly against postmodern ideals.  If you’re curious you can watch the YouTube video of their interview, but there are three comments they made that I thought were the most important.   

  • Ravi Zacharias pondered: “Were they bored with God, what brought this about?” 
  • R.C. Sproul opined: “The problem is we have noncritical people listening to this stuff and they absorb it.”
  • Lastly, Al Mohler stressed: “It [postmodernism] is the abdication of Christian responsibility…it is an abdication of Christian conviction, and it is a cave-in of Christian courage.  We do have an answer.  And it’s not like we don’t know what it is.” 

Next, there are those who lie somewhere in the middle.  For example, Rohde does not rule out postmodernism completely, but instead makes a distinction between “postmodern sensitive churches" and "postmodern churches".  Postmodern sensitive churches are those that while not rejecting all of postmodernism’s ideas, still maintain a strong scriptural basis.  Postmodern churches on the other hand, Rohde says “have failed to distinguish those aspects of postmodernism that clash with the biblical worldview.”  He continues on in his article to champion postmodern sensitive churches. 

Lastly, there are those, most notable being Brian McLaren, who have created “emergent/emerging churches.”  These churches accept postmodernist thought.  They allow people who have problems with institutionalized religion to maintain a sort of organized spirituality.  Interestingly, the idea actually spread largely through blogging and was meant to prevent frustrated people from giving up on religion as a whole.  A documentary on PBS showed members of these nondenominational emergent churches gathered on couches in a circle instead of in pews to encourage dialogue.  There are typically no sermons, the focus is on discussions, “worship is participatory and multi-sensory.”  It allows people to “pick your own mix.”  And they want people to wrestle with theological ideas instead of just accepting them.   

So there is a brief run-down of this un-going debate.  This debate about postmodernism’s relation to/incorporation into religion poses us, as students of literary criticism with a challenging question.  How far do we take these schools of criticism?  They are certainly lenses which allow us to see and analyze in new ways, but how much or how little do we want to carry these lenses into other parts of our lives? 


Works Cited

 Emergent Church movement PBS Religion and Ethics News Weekly. 27 Nov. 2007. YouTube. 6 Apr. 2009 <>.

Let's Talk Post-Modernism and the Emergent Church... With R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, and Ravi Zacharias. 17 Nov. 2007. YouTube. 6 Apr. 2009.  <>.

McKnight, Scot. "Five Streams of the Emerging Church." Christianity Today. 19 Jan 2007. Christianity Today. 6 Apr 2009. <>.

Rohde, Ross. "Practical Considerations for Postmodern Sensitive Churches." Facing the Challenge. 2000. Focus. 6 Apr 2009. <>.

Other Websites You Might Want to Check Out

  • Website for Ligonier Ministries founded by R.C. Sproul. 

Portfolio 2: Discovering Preferences

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The concept of Literary Criticism is no longer new to me.  I understand what literary criticism is and I realize that there are different types.  But more than anything else during this second half of the semester, I have been realizing more and more the preferences I have for certain types of criticism.  Part of the whole point in EL312 is to analyze the different schools of criticism and to decide which work best.  It seems more and more to me that which school works best is more just a matter of personal preference than anything else.  I have found that I prefer schools of criticism which focus on the words and the literary.  I like formalism, I like intertextuality, and (so far) I like poststructuralism.  Author intent and reader-response are neither my favorites nor my least favorites.  I think they are very useful at times and at other times, not so useful.  The school of criticism I like least is mimetic.  While I have a more positive attitude towards it now after class and blog discussions, I still don’t like it as much.  Analyzing and viewing a character as real simply seems pointless to me.  The character isn’t real, so treating them like they are just seems silly.  I like the schools of criticism which keep the focus on the literary and don’t diverge into other disciplines.  As I’ve said before, this is literary criticism; the focus should be on the literary.    

Coverage and Timeliness: I completed all assignments and submitted them before they were due.  I placed all my blog entries which did not fall under another category here. 

Depth: As I mentioned in my last portfolio, I would consider almost all of my blogs to belong under the depth category.  However, here are some of the most well-thought out entries. 

  • A Hero’s Fate: Chaucer and CalderonIn this entry I compare two passages, one from Chaucer’s Troiulus and Cressida and one from Calderon’s Life is a Dream.  Both have a preoccupation with fate. 
  • Why all this Ambiguity and Ambivalence? In this blog, I relate Wright’s article to McDonald’s.  Both authors point out ambiguity in texts; however, I explain why Wright’s article worked so much better for me, even though both texts addressed the same issue. 

Blog Carnival: For our second carnival my classmates (Angela, Derek, Katie, and Jenna) and I decided to apply a school of criticism to John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. 

Interaction: Some of my contributions to my peers’ blogs. 

  • In Mara’s Character Experience, I ponder whether a character can truly be realistic and Angela and Quinn respond.
  • On Erica’s A Little Different But Still Valuable, I share my reservations surrounding Mimetic criticism with Erica.  Angela politely disagrees with me and explains her side.  Erica responds to both of us focusing on the parts of each of our comments that she agrees with.  

Discussion: Here are my blogs that sparked some discussion.  In some cases the discussion was spread over my blog entry and someone else’s.  I found that I had fewer comments for this portfolio than the last one.  I’m not sure if that’s because I’m scaring people away from reading my blogs because of their length or it just turned out that way.  But here is some discussion that did take place.    


Wild Card:

Previous Portfolios

Read my classmates’ portfolios. 

From John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines:

“At the start of the second semester of ninth grade, a new girl showed up from New York and she was rich as they come, but she hated being rich and loved The Catcher in the Rye, and she said I reminded her of Holden Caulfield, presumably because we were both self-absorbed losers, and she liked me because I knew a lot of languages and had read a lot of books, and then she broke up with me after twenty-five days because she wanted a boyfriend who didn’t spend so much time reading and learning languages” (205).

This may be a bit obvious, since it is mentioned right in the quote, but there is an intertextual relationship between this contemporary Young Adult novel and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  If you are unfamiliar with these works you can check out a summary of An Abundance of Katherines here and a summary of The Catcher in the Rye here. 

Many students have mixed emotions about The Catcher in the Rye, some people love it, some people hate it.  As a future teacher, I personally don’t think it is particularly relatable to students and would not opt to teach it.  However, few people would argue that The Catcher in the Rye has not had an effect on the Young Adult genre.  It is probably one of the most influential works in the development of YA Lit.

However, I don’t think that Green drew the parallel between the two works to force the reader into seeing similarities between Colin and Holden, but instead to highlight the differences between the two.  Notice in the quote above how the girl from New York first likes him, “because I knew a lot of language and had read a lot of books,” and then later she breaks up with him because of his “reading and learning languages.”  Green focuses on this double-sided feature of Colin’s personality to show that his strengths can be used to both garner affection and then to eventually rebuff it.  Just as while initially one may perceive similarities in Holden and Colin (after all, they both have holes in their guts), they are not really all that similar.  At the end of An Abundance of Katherines, Colin has developed.  He’s changed, he’s found a girlfriend whose name is not Katherine, and the hole in his gut has stopped hurting.  At the end of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden may be out of the mental ward and heading back to school, but there are not perceivable differences from the Holden at the beginning of the novel and the end—he has the same speech patterns, the same attitudes, the same unresolved problems.  Therefore, Green’s invocation of The Catcher in the Rye was meant more to point out how very different Colin is from Holden.  The two may have started out similarly, but it is what one does when presented with problems which allows them to break away from the Holden Caulfield-mold.        

So here are my questions for anyone who reads this:

1. Do you agree with me or do you think Green referenced The Catcher in the Rye for some other reason?

2. The sentence in the quote I chose is very long; do you think Green made it this way for some reason? 

2. If you were going to teach at the high school level, which book would you teach: The Catcher in the Rye or An Abundance of Katherines?  Why?

3. If you have read Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger how do you think the protagonist (John) fits into this puzzle?  Is he like Colin, is he like Holden, or is he different from both of them?    

Read what other abundances can be found in our blog carnival by returning to our carnival homepage.