Angels in America

June 18, 2010 | | 28 Comments

Thank you all for some interesting discussions of Angels in America these last two days.  The Signature Theater here in NYC dedicates its next season to performances of Angels in America and Kushner’s new play, The Intelligent Homosexuals Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (iHo).  Tickets go on sale August 3rd.

Character Studies

June 16, 2010 | | 28 Comments

For tomorrow, please write a diary entry for one of the following characters / situations:

Hanna Pitt after Joe’s late-night phone call; Belize after his meeting with Louis at the diner; Louis after his argument with Prior in 2.9; Ethel Rosenberg after she sees Roy Cohn; or, finally, Prior or Harper after their first shared hallucination.

Those of you who are interested in knowing more about Glaspell and the origins of Trifles might want to check out Linda Ben-Zvi’s article “Murder, She Wrote”: The Genesis of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles

Drama Is:

June 15, 2010 |  Tagged , , , | 32 Comments

dramatic, emotional, serious, depiction of life’s complexity and irony, dialogue that needs interpretation, audience interpretation, expressive, action, enjoyable, suspenseful, setting, made for performance,  entertainment, tense, acting, rain dance—ritual, different genres, the lifetime network, transformative, a group effort, conventional.

Feel free to add more!

Well, well, you learn something every day! The reference “After You, My Dear Alphonse” is to a popular comic strip starting in the early 1900s.  It was the basis for a whole slew of different cultural products: books, a movie, this short story, and several vaudeville acts.  The strip itself and the idea of it being a vaudeville act fit nicely with the way the references in the text work in an absurdist way.

What does the reference to the two clownish figures of Alphonse and Gaston do then?  Does it change the way we analyzed the text?


June 13, 2010 |  Tagged | 14 Comments

Here, in random order, are the poets that you all were writing about.  It’s an impressive and eclectic list.  

U.S. Americans: Mark Doty, Edgar Allan Poe, Pierre A. Lubin Jr., Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou, Tracy Chapman, Langston Hughes, Amy Lowell, Stephan Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, William Blake, Conrad Aiken, Philip Booth, Marianne Moore, Patricia Smith, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Ralph Angel, Ralph Waldo Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Daniel Beatty.

Another North American (as in continent) poet: Alden Nowlan

Non-American Poets: William Buther Yeats, William Blake, and W. H. Auden (later an American citizen)

I discussed the new assignment (and your essays that I read) with a couple of you after class today. Reba correctly pointed out that this is not a writing intensive class.  That’s perfectly true.  However, I believe that the true learning of reading and analyzing literature happens most productively when we are forced to grapple with our ideas, analysis, and interpretation in writing.  I could easily quiz you on plot points, characters, and point of view, but it wouldn’t mean that you actually learned anything and, in all likelihood, you would probably forget all of it as soon as you left for the beach in July.  That’s why I have designed the course the way I have. That’s why we seem to be writing intensively. That said, I am aware that none of you are English majors and I do respect that interdisciplinary difference.

Obviously, I can’t make any general guarantees about your grade, but judging from experience, I would say that if you keep up with your readings, do the work, and engage critically with the materials in class and in writing, chances are high that you will do well.  But, as Elina pointed out, then it becomes a question of defining what well is.

And, finally, don’t worry!  Your papers were for the most part fine!

I found today’s discussion on Hemingway, Steinbeck, and White illuminating and somewhat surprising.  I think our discussions on POV and character illuminated how the relationship between plot and character is often a complicated and shifty one. It’s interesting how we—the pleasure readers of the world (or at lest the ones in Razran 343)—read for immediate meaning.  We want to make sense of the narrative offered to us.  However, we, the analytical readers, must step back and find out how we know what we know (and what we know we feel) about the writing in front of us.  The power of the literature we are reading is exactly to be found in the way it gestalts a world of meaning (sometimes by the absence of meaning) in our brains through the words on the page: a world of 41-year-old dwarfs who look like 8 year old girls, of barns gone up in flames, of hunting deer that might not exist, of itinerant preachers meeting bandits and naturalists in the woods of the South West, of red ponies, of fathers and sons, of jockeys who are crooks, of the men in grey flannel suits on 34th street, of Southern belles in rooming houses and so on.  In other words we are doing many things simultaneously (so don’t worry if your head is swimming a little right now): we are making meaning of the US literature in front of us, we are investigating how that meaning is produced in us, we are practicing talking about US literature in discussion, and we practice writing about our analysis (well, you do, but in my writing response letters to you I include myself—or at least I try—in the writing community of our class).

Finally, analyzing the way Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Faulkner use description so differently has really made me think about how we see the world around us and ourselves in it.  Now, on to writing my description!

Tomorrow: we will dive into new fictional worlds, this time from the perspective of (primarily) female protagonists and authors, we will talk about your next assignment, and, though it’s now clear that I can’t finish writing cover-letters to all your papers from Tuesday, I have read them all, and we will talk about common patterns and challenges in preparation for the short story assignment.  See you tomorrow!

After today’s class I am a little bewildered and maybe even slightly concerned.  A great number of you had not done the reading—that’s unacceptable!  We can’t do our work if you don’t read.  Now, I know that assigning Faulkner on essay day was probably not the smartest planning on my part—I’ll admit that.  That said, if you are not reading consistently, we (that means I, I guess) will have to figure out a different way of working.  If something isn’t working for you in our current process, let me know!

Please note that I have changed the readings for Thursday.  I have replaced two of the readings with two more contemporary writers: Eugenides: “Extreme Solitude” and Oates: “I.D.” both from the magazine The New Yorker. I have moved Jackson’s “After You, My Dear Alphonse” to Monday along with “A Jury of Her Peers.”

 Finally, if you haven’t already, be sure to find Nella Larsen’s novel Passing and Tony Kushner’s Millennium Approaches (part. 1 of Angels in America).

Since we were discussing the writing process today–and as you all refine and revise your essays tonight–I came to think of something I wrote last year for Revisions: a Zine on Writing at Queens College: The Honest Professor–a Manifesto. I thought it might be of interest to some of you!

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