Monday, May 2, 2011

For Credit: Five Years From Now

The following clip, "The Five Minute University," featuring Father Guido Sarducci (comedian Don Novello), is a few decades old, but still current:

What will you remember from English 206/CWL 257 in five years' time?

There are two ways to answer this question:

1) As Father Guido Sarducci would.

2) As a hard-working and idealistic college student fresh from the course would.

You can decide how to answer (giving two answers in an option).

Deadline: Friday (5/6), 11am.

For Credit: The Final Exam

The final exam was handed out in class today, you can also find it over there in the sidebar and here. In class on Wednesday, you will have the opportunity to discuss the readings for the exam, which are over there in the sidebar. Please bring a copy to class, along with any questions you have about either text.

If you have questions about the exam, it would be best to ask them in class on Wednesday or by e-mail (with the understanding that I will send the response to the class). I may not see responses to this post in a timely manner.

You CAN, however, respond to this post with your thoughts about what the exam does NOT cover. What have you learned this semester that you don't have the opportunity to display on the final? What would you have liked to have been asked, but weren't?

Deadline: Friday (5/6), 11am.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

For Credit: The Big Picture Revisited (Deadline Extended)

How has your understanding of the Enlightenment era changed since the beginning of the semester?

Read on before you answer!

On the first day of class people identified a number of concepts that they correctly associated with the Enlightenment:

  • doubt and skepticism about religion
  • new ideas about equality among people
  • distrust of monarchical and authoritarian forms of government
  • exploration
  • the development of empirical, scientific thought
  • emphasis on reason
At the same time that we discussed these concepts and wrote them on the board, I explained that the word "Enlightenment" in the course title didn't necessarily apply to all of the literature that we would be studying--that the narrow course title (which was laid down in stone some years back) doesn't quite correspond to the breadth of literature implied by the CWL cross-listing of the course or by its  placement within the sequence of 200-level English department courses. 

So, you've now read literature from that era that spans the globe, as well as the wide range of functions literature can serve, from advancing new ideas, to supplying entertainment, to repackaging old certainties in new ways, to validating the realities of readers' lives.  You've done some archival research of your own, and in the company of your classmates you've explored the time period largely unconstrained by national boundaries or by preconceived ideas of what "Enlightenment" literature ought to be (after all, the word appears nowhere in the title of your Longman anthology).

What have you learned from the reading for this course?  Identify ONE specific thing that you now know that you didn't on the first day of class.  If a classmate has already responded with the thing you wanted to say, identify something else that you have learned.

Deadline: Monday (5/2) Wednesday (5/4), start of class.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Just So You Know

I'm a week behind in the blog grading.  The priority at the moment is getting your third papers graded, so I'm probably not going to get on top of it this weekend.  FYI.

For Credit: The Easy Answers

Our discussion of Candide today ended on an optimistic note: This may not be the best of all possible worlds, but by consistently questioning, thinking for oneself, and (I daresay) laughing at oneself, perhaps a better world that the current one can be gradually achieved.

Is such a hopeful, forward-looking view in fact what Voltaire seems to be suggesting through Candide?

What separates the phlegmatic cynicism of Martin or the old lady from more modern forms of anomie?

What (if any) limitations are there to the world-view presented in the conclusion to Candide?

What would you have liked to say, ask, suggest in class today if you had had the opportunity?

Deadline: Monday (5/2), start of class.  Whether your post counts for Week 14 or Week 15 depends on which side of midnight Saturday it appears. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

For Credit: All the Single Ladies... (BUMPED, deadline extended)

The women represented in Candide are either the victims of rampant and unremitting sexual violence...or they are prostitutes (which does not necessarily preclude being a victim of sexual violence). Or they cheerfully make love to monkeys.

What are we to make of this?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/27) Friday (4/29), start of class (since we didn't have much opportunity to discuss this issue on Wednesday).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

For Credit: Things I Learned This Evening

1.  My facetious suggestion (you know, the one that produced dead silence: that the old lady is quite deliberately presented as "half-assed") turns out to be anachronistic.  Worse, it relies on a pun only available in English translation (the native-French-speaking friend I consulted tells me there's no equivalent French term that combines butts with the sense of things being poorly done or ill-considered.)  In case you're curious, the term originates in American English, with a first recorded usage of 1938.  It doesn't appear in British English ("half-arsed") until 1961.

2.  People seem to name their cats after characters in Candide more frequently than one might expect.  Or so I have gathered from searching Google Images for graphics to put on the blog. 

Why doesn't the old lady have a name?

Deadline: Friday (4/29), start of class.

For Credit: Science, Progress, and Glasses that are Half-Full/Empty


So where did today's Martin vs. Pangloss exercise leave us?

Is the difference just one between those who see the glass as half-empty and those who see it as half-full, or is there a more far-reaching distinction between the two positions?

To what extent does Voltaire think that change is possible, either for individuals or for the human race as a whole?

What would you have liked to say today but didn't have a chance to?

Deadline: Friday (4/29), start of class.

For Credit: The Winding Down of the Semester

In random bullet form, because there's not a lot of coherence here, but I don't want to make a series of microposts. The bloggy question is the last bullet point.
  • You people don't eat wings? The senior English majors in Later C18 Lit (427) had lots of suggestions. So did the folks in Intro to Fiction (109). I'm not sure what to make of the silence from my (ahem) Enlightenment class. 
  • In case you were wondering, good wings are, apparently, to be found at Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters, Farren's, Black Dog, Brothers, Applebees (half price after 9:30), and Gumby's. But  the Intro to Fiction class mostly recommended BWW.  Then again, according to a 2-year old Buzz review of CU wings, which someone in Later C18 Lit helpfully linked to, BWW isn't that good. So now you know. (Me, wings have always seemed like a lot of work relative to the payoff. I'll have a brisket sandwich with extra sauce and sweet potato fries at Black Dog or a cheeseburger at Farren's--and leave the wings for someone else.)
  • As I announced in class today, we'll finish up Candide on Friday; Monday we'll review the semester and I'll pass out the exam questions. Wednesday, we'll discuss the reading that will appear on the exam. 
  • I misspoke in class.  The exam will have three questions: one requiring you to make sense of some Enlightenment-era text you haven't seen before, one inviting you to think broadly about the semester's reading as a whole, and (this is the part I forgot) a question on Candide.
  • As some of you have noticed, there's an Exploration Assignment listed on the syllabus that never got assigned.  It won't be.  You all have had plenty to do this semester as it is.  Instead I'll just give everyone the 10 points.
  • SO, here's the bloggy question for credit: How should the exam prompt your best thinking about Candide?  Propose a good exam question. It should elicit 2 - 3 pages of double-spaced interpretive writing, be only answerable by someone who has read the text attentively and paid attention to the issues raised in class, and demonstrate the skills one has mastered over the course of the semester.

Deadline: Friday (4/29), start of class.

Monday, April 25, 2011

For Credit: God (as Promised)

Not ALL religious feeling comes under satirical attack in Candide. Jacques, the generous Anabaptist, and the El Doradans profess their faith and seem to go uncriticized for it. An oversight on Voltaire's part, or a cue to the positive views being advance in this novel?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/27), start of class.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Wishing a festive holiday to everyone who is celebrating today.

The image is the earliest known depiction of an Easter bunny in the Americas.  It is thought to be by a Pennsylvania schoolmaster (originally from Germany), Johann Conrad Gilbert.  It's on display at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, which only recently acquired it.  You can read more about the picture here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

For Credit: Candide Goes to Eldorado

As I announced in class on Friday, for Monday you should read up to the end of Chapter 19.  Feel free to respond to any of the following questions, just specify which you're responding to and cite some text to support your claims.

1.  Even in a novelistic world filled with brutal acts of violence, the old lady's loss of a buttock (which is mentioned several times) seems like a particularly strange data-point.  What's up with that?

2.  Which characters in this novel seem fully developed with rounded and psychologically complex identities?  Which characters are little more than the narratives of of the misfortune they've endured?

3.  It's a comic novel.  What moments, episodes, events, remarks strike you as particularly funny--and why?

4.  Among the many objects of satire in this novel are (a) the novel and (b) travel narratives.  How and where specifically do you see those literary forms coming under attack?

5.  At every point in the novel there are circumstances that could provoke Candide to reject Pangloss's teaching.  What are we to make of the fact that it is only the events of Chapter 19 that finally "plunged him into a black melancholy" and led him to the conclusion that "if all is going well, it's happending in Eldorado and not in the rest of the world" (p. 486-7)?

Deadline: Monday (4/25), start of class (whether your post counts for Week 13 or Week 14 depends on whether it appears before or after midnght on 4/23).

For Credit: Third Paper (BUMPED)

The assignment for the third paper is over there in the sidebar, in case you missed it in class. Please feel free to post here with any confusion, questions, or difficulty that you're having--or just to compare notes with your classmates.

Deadline: open, but posts only count for Week 13 up to Saturday midnight; after that it's Week 14.'

Friday, April 22, 2011

Not at all for credit; in fact, entirely irrelevant to this course, but...

a friend has moved to the area from the East Coast and is desperately in need of buffalo wings.  I have strong opinions about many food-related matters, but I'm not a big fan of wings so I have not been able to guide her.  Any suggestions about where to get good wings around here?  (Preferably non-chain...)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

For Credit: Candide!

What strikes you as baffling/confusing/strange about this novel?

What questions do you have about it?

Have you had to read it before? What did you take away from your previous study of it?

What do you look forward to discussing with regard to it?

Deadline: Friday (4/22), start of class.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For Credit: Behn-A-Go-Go

Oof! We touched on a lot of stuff today: the historiography of women writers, the slave trade, racism, the C18 abolition movement, feminist-critiques-of-Behn, intersexuality, the queer Enlightenment era, and the sexual politics of consent (sort of).

Feel free to respond to any of it in response to this post. What would you have liked to say in class but didn't get the opportunity to? What further thoughts have you had on these readings? What questions or confusion do you have?

Deadline: Friday (4/22), start of class.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

For Credit: The Disappointment

Tomorrow we'll be following up our discussion of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko with a discussion of her poem, "The Disappointment," a response to Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" which we looked at briefly in class last week. You should bring both the handout with the Behn poems AND the Longman anthology to class tomorrow.

What remaining questions do you have about Oroonoko?

What differences do you see in how Behn and Rochester depict an unfulfilling sexual encounter?

What strikes you as particularly significant or noteworthy about Behn's poem?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/20), start of class.

Monday, April 18, 2011

For Credit: Oroonoko, the first American novel?

As I mentioned in class, many critics regard Oroonoko as the first American novel: the first novel to be set in the Americas, framed by issues of relevance to colonial life, with characters drawn from the colonial world. I had meant to raise the question in class, but we ran out of time, so I raise it here. 

What do you think?  Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, pro or con, or a thoughtful response to a classmate's reflections.

Deadline: Friday (4/22), start of class.

Chag Sameach!

A happy Passover to all who observe the holiday.

(The image depicts Portuguese Jews in the C18 celebrating a seder; it comes from multivolume French work written by Bernard Picart between 1733 and 1739, titled Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations of the Known World.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

For Credit: What's Up with Clarinda?

If you were in class today, you got the handout with two Behn poems (by popular demand). We'll be talking about one of them, "The Disappointment" in class on Wednesday; it's a response to "The Imperfect Enjoyment" by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, which you can find on p. 562 of the Longman anthology. You can find "The Disappointment" (along with another, shorter poem: "To the Fair Clarinda") here, and over there in the sidebar under "Readings" if you didn't get a copy in class.

We won't be spending a lot in class on the first poem, "To the Fair Clarinda," but since it's short, have a look at it and post your thoughts here for blog credit. What's going on in this poem? Why is the poet so drawn to Clarinda?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/20), start of class.

For Credit: The Upward Path of Enlightenment

Racism and slavery are two different issues. Whether Oroonoko is a novel about slavery or not, it is an Enlightenment-era depiction of nonwhite people, and of European attitudes towards them. To what extent does this novel represent a stage in the process by which, as Chris Rock says, "White people have gotten less crazy"?


Deadline: Monday (4/18), start of class.

For Credit: What If Oroonoko Is Not about Slavery?

In class today we discussed some of the peculiar ruptures and discrepancies in Behn's depiction of slavery:
  • Oroonoko and Imoinda are represented as fundamentally different (in appearance as well as character) from the other enslaved Africans.
  • Little of the material deprivation, cruelty, and onerousness of slavery is depicted.
  • Oroonoko is hailed as a prince and revered by the very people he sold into slavery.
  • Imoinda has a house, a poodle, and the gallant admiration of all the white men on the plantation.
I suggested that perhaps the effort to read this as a novel about slavery is anachronistic.  What if the depiction of slavery here is just the scene-setting for a different kind of story that Aphra Behn wants to tell (and perhaps a different political agenda that she wants to advance)?

Some issues to consider as we work towards other ways of understanding this novel:

Who are the villains in this story, and what makes them so bad?
What is it about Oroonoko (beyond his handsome and Europeanized physical appearance) that entitles him to some respect and reverence from everyone he meets?
What are the leadership qualities in Oroonoko that Behn seems to value?
Who are the good guys among the white men in this story--and what makes them good?

Those are some issues to be considered as we formulate an alternative interpretation about what this novella is about.  Respond to this post with your answers to any of them, or your thoughts about how these various questions might come together to prompt other ways of reading this text. 

Deadline:  Monday (4/18), start of class.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

For Credit: Behn and Oroonoko in Surinam

Feel free to respond to any of the following questions (just specify what you are answering):

1.  Unlike the narrator of Fantomina, the narrator of Oroonoko puts herself in the story.  What do you learn about her from her narration?  What details about her life, values, or personality emerge?

2.  Oroonoko becomes Caesar when he is purchased by Mr. Trefry.  What (if anything) is significant about this name change?

3.  The subtitle of this novel is "The Royal Slave," an oxymoron.  To what ends does Behn yoke together the notions of royalty and servitude?

4.  What leadership qualities does Behn ascribe to Oroonoko?  How does he display his royalty?

5.  What in the depiction of Surinam leads you to believe that Behn might or might not have actually been there?  What details seem authentic--or not?

Deadline: Friday (4/15), start of class.

Monday, April 11, 2011

For Credit: More Fun with Swift and Montagu

Rochester as played by Depp in The Libertine
For those who missed class today, we looked at three poems in the Longman anthology:
  • John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "The Imperfect Enjoyment" (p. 562 - 563)
  • Jonathan Swift, "The Lady's Dressing Room" (p. 289 - 292)
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Montagu, "The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to Write a Poem Called The Lady's Dressing Room" (p. 292 - 294)
If you were in class, feel free to follow up on the discussion with further reflections, questions, or observations on any of these three poems--anything you would have liked to say in class but didn't have the opportunity to.

If you were not in class today, feel free to post thoughtful observations and specific queries to your classmates here about any of these three poems (and the elucidation that you might have missed out on).   Those who were in class are welcome to respond.

Deadline: Wednesday (4/13), start of class.

For Credit: Oroonoko Introductory Grab-Bag

For Wednesday be sure to read in Oroonoko up to the point on p. 317 where the English ship arrives.  You can read further, of course, but our discussion Wednesday will focus on that part of the novella
Here's a cluster of questions for you to consider in preparation for class.  Feel free to address any one of them in your response (just make it clear which you're responding to).

1.  Have you had to read this novella before? In what context? What did you take away from it?

2.  At what points in the narrative does Behn reveal her political leanings?  What hints do you get about her political beliefs?

3.  What interesting points of comparison do you find between this text and the other novels/novellas/fictions that we've read?  (i.e., Fantomina, Gulliver's Travels, The Story of the Stone)

4.  What interesting points of comparison do you find between this text and the other travel narratives we've read in the past few weeks?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/13), start of class.

Friday, April 8, 2011

For Credit: Reflections on ECCO Assignment

Feel free to respond to this post with your thoughts about any of the following:

(1) In what specific ways do you find that the text you're writing about complicates, affirms, completes, or otherwise speaks to the picture of Enlightenment-era culture that you've been acquiring in this course?

(2) What particular rhetorical challenges does this paper assignment present?

(3) What are you finding particularly interesting, frustrating, confusing, or difficult about grappling with your chosen text?

Deadline: Monday (4/11), start of class. Posts before midnight Saturday (4/9) count towards Week 11; posts after that count towards Week 12.

For Credit: Follow-Up on Montagu and Diderot

Anything you would like to add to our discussion today of Montagu and Diderot? Anything you would have like to say but didn't have a chance to? Any questions you didn't have a chance to ask?

Feel free to offer your thoughts here, or respond to a classmate's ideas.

Deadline: Monday (4/11), start of class. Posts before midnight Saturday (4/9) count toward Week 11; posts after that count toward Week 12.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

For Credit: Montagu Follow-Up

Who has more freedom, in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's opinion: English women like herself or the Turkish women she gets to know? What makes you think so?

Deadine: Friday (4/8), start of class.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

For Credit: Diderot and the Tahitians

Many of the travelers in our readings so far travel in a spirit of open-ended inquiry (even if they find it harder than they realize to escape from their prejudices and underlying assumptions).  Diderot is more of an "armchair anthropologist" than a traveler.   So committed is he to a certain lessons that can be learned from foreign cultures that he doesn't even need to travel himself in order to extract them. Instead he reworks and extrapolates from a travel narrative that was already out there--Bougainville's account of his voyages (please note that he does this with utter transparency--he wasn't trying to make anyone think he had made this voyage himself).

So: what are some of the specific claims that Diderot is trying to advance through this pseudo-travel-narrative?  What does want readers to take away from their literary encounter with Tahiti?

Deadline: Friday (3/8), start of class.

For Credit: The Third Paper (BUMPED and UPDATED)

The third paper for this course will require you to write about two assigned readings that were NOT on the first paper or the midterm: the travel narratives we've been reading (Swift, Celebi, Basho, Montagu) and Kant.  You will get a choice of assigned topics, but the crafting of topics should not be solely up to me.  After all, one of the skills we've been implicitly working on in class--and directly practiing in your second papers--is identifying good interpretive questions.  What would be some useful ways to bring these various readings into productive and interesting dialogue with each other?

Respond to this post with a suggested topic for the third paper.  Your topic should (a) require the writer to discuss two of the texts listed above, (b) involve a minimum of secondary research, (c) be narrow enough that 2nd-year college student can write at least six pages of thoughtful ideas about it, but broad enough to require more than four.  You can also respond by kindly and collegially suggesting modifications to a classmate's proposed topic. 

UPDATE: If you're not comfortable proposing something as structured and formal as a paper topic, consider responding to this thread with some more general observations about the travel narratives we've read.  What are some interesting (specific and non-obvious) similarities among some of these narratives?  In what specific and non-obvious ways do some of them differ?  

Deadline: Friday (4/8), start of class.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

FYI: Extra Montagu Reading/Handout

If you weren't in class to get the Montagu handout on Monday, you can find it here, or over there in the sidebar (under "Readings").  There's been some fine commentary on this supplemental reading already in the responses to the Montagu post below, so I won't start a new thread here.  Instead, I'll encourage you to add your reflections to the conversation already in play.

UPDATE: the link above to the reading has been fixed.

Monday, April 4, 2011

For Credit: Points of Entry for Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters

From today's attendance questions:

  • Neither do I think our English proper to express such violence of passion, which is very seldom felt among us (p.178).  "This highlights the cultural differences between LMWM and the Turkish people.It comes up at many times, such as when giving gifts, speaking with ladies, or translating poetry.  LMWM is conscious of the difference and is trying to deal with it."
  • As equal were our Souls, so equal were our fates? (p. 174).  Mentioned by four different people.
  • Nothing could be more artful or more proper to raise certain ideas, the tunes so soft,the motions so languishing, accompany'd with pauses and dying eyes, half falling back and then recovering themselves in so artful a manner,I am very possitive the coldest and most rigid prude upon earth could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of (182)  "...Montagu is very descriptive when observing her surroundings..."
  • He is a man of wit and learning, but whether or no he is capable of writing good verse himself, you may be sure that on such an occasion he would not want the assistance of the best poets (p. 176).  Hint from your instructor: "want" can mean two different things here; which possible meaning does LMWM have in mind?
  • I have taken an abundance of pains to get these verses in a literal translation, and if you were acquainted with my interpreters, I might spare myself the trouble of assuring you that they have receiv'd no potential touches from their hands.  In my opinion (allowing for the inevitable faults of a prose translationinto a language so very different) there's a good deal of beauty in them (178). "This passage shows how hard she works on these letters/poetry/translations.  It also shows her passion for poetry--someone who did not really care would not to such great lengths to get something translated."

Respond to this post by offering your further commentary or reflections on any of these passages, or by connecting any of them to either today's discussion, or the additional reading on the Turkish baths and Turkish dress.

Deadline: Wednesday (4/6), start of class.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

For Credit: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Grab-Bag

To get us started on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's reflections on the Ottoman Empire, respond to any of the questions below (just be sure to specify which you are answering).
  1. What differences do you find in the ways that Montagu addresses the various people she writes to?
  2. What conclusions about Montagu's values can you draw from the differences she observes between the two houses she visits?
  3. How does Montagu's "literal" translation of the Turkish poem differ from the translation that she casts "in the style of English poetry"? What do the differences tell you about "English poetry" or Montagu's conception of it?
  4. What is Montagu's attitude towards the Turkish slaves?
  5. Montagu is perhaps most famous for her role in bringing the concept of inoculation to England, an intention she first conveys in the letter to Sarah Chiswell on p. 178 - 179. What is worthy of note in her explanation of this practice?
  6. What questions do you have about Montagu's "Turkish Letters." What do you find particularly interesting, significant, or noteworthy about them?

Deadline: Monday (4/4), start of class.

Friday, April 1, 2011

For Credit: Applying Literary Analysis to the Non-Literary (w/r/t Phillis Wheatley)

We didn't have time in class today to do justice to the eight pages from Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral that we discussed.  There is more to say, so feel free to say it in response to this thread.

Some issues to consider:

We have not "read" a lot of images in this course, but the portrait is an interesting one.  What interpretive observations can you make about it?

What strikes you as particularly interesting about the "To the Public" attestation?

Do the three documents here sound like they were all written by the same person?  Why or why not?

What would you have like to say in class today but did not get the opportunity to?

Deadline: open (for now).  Posts before midnight Saturday (4/2) count toward Week 10; after that it's Week 11.

(For those of you who have NOT read any of Wheatley's poetry, here is a hypertext of one of her most widely anthologized poems (one of the very few that refers to her enslavement.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For Credit (and FYI): Second Paper Update and Open Thread

Clio, by Vermeer (1665)
Okay, it's looking like I will be handing back your first papers (Parts 1 and II) in class on Friday, with extensive comments. I want you to have time to review the feedback and use it in your second papers, so as I mentioned in class Monday, I am moving the deadline for those papers to Monday (4/11).

We'll discuss writing issues on Friday, particularly the challenges of writing accurately and insightfully about the literature of the past. There is much that one doesn't know, and relatively little that one can state for certain and with confidence. That situation makes it easy to fall back on either generalities that are so vague that they can't be wrong (but then, they can't be interestingly right either) or narrow factual claims that seem too obvious to warrant restating. We'll explore some ways to write thoughtfully between these two extremes.

Feel free to post here with reflections, observations, or questions about the second assignment, the ECCO text you've chosen, difficulties you're having, strange things you've discovered...

Posts before Saturday (4/2) at midnight count toward Week 10. Posts after that count for Week 11.

Monday, March 28, 2011

For Credit: "Shrines of Saintly Gnostics and Pious Mystics"

"Why'd they change it, I can't say--people just liked it better that way."

The story is a little more complicated than that (as you probably guessed). As Haro mentioned in class, Celebi consistently refers to his native city as "Islam-bol," a pun on "Istanbul" that means "full of Islam."

[Inconsequential data point: did you guys know that TMBG didn't write this song? It's a cover! Check out the original here.]

Celebi describes three shrines in Diyabekir on pp. 403 - 406 of the reading. What do we learn about his religious values from these descriptions? Obviously, he is a devout and committed Muslim, but what more finely grained information can we glean from these passages, about his faith, about how he perceives the relationship between religion and politics, about the relationship between Muslims and "infidels"?

Deadline: Wednesday (3/30), start of class.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

For Credit: Spring Break Ruminations on Technology and Poetic Form

There's a story in today's New York Times (Week in Review) about whether or not "the literary flowering of Twitter may actually be taking place," particularly in the form of "Twitter haiku": 140-character poems. The Times's editors asked four prominent poets to try their hand at this evolving form; you can find their results here.

What do you think: a gimmicky flash-in-the-pan, or do the expectations and limits imposed by new media offer a new realm for creativity?

UPDATE: The comments thus far reveal some general bewilderment about the nature of Twitter. Interesting generational divide here! It takes me about ten minutes--and two tries, and much swearing--to text the babysitter about a minor change in the after-school schedule, but Twitter has been on my map of significant resources for a while now. (Full disclosure: I have a twitter account, but I have yet to enter the world of tweeting.) For all the bad press it gets, Twitter seems (IME) to promote less narcissistic self-narration than Facebook; a lot of people use it as a sort of super-interactive miniblog for personal interests, political involvement, and networking. For an example, here's a link to my colleague Ted Underwood's Twitter feed, which is public (which is why I feel comfortable linking to it here). As you'll see if you click on the link, he uses Twitter as a way to connect with other scholars who are active in the burgeoning field of digital humanities, particularly as it pertains to C18 and C19 literature; there's also some political chatter in there.

Deadline: Monday (3/28), start of class.

Friday, March 18, 2011

For Credit: Starting Evliya Celebi's Book of Travels

2011 is the 400th birthday of Evliya Celebi's birth. There's a gorgeous online exhibition about him here. Horseback riding enthusiasts might be interested in this project, to make it possible for riders to recreate one of Celebi's journey, just as this crew is doing right now. A number of different websites inform me that Evliya Celebi has been announced as the 2011 UNESCO Man of the Year (except for the UNESCO website, which doesn't seem to acknowledge that category of distinction at all).

Celebi's Book of Travels presents a different set of challenges than the some of the other nonwestern works that we've looked at thus far. Unlike Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Cao Xuequin's Story of the Stone, and Chikamatsu Monzaemon's Love Suicides at Amijima, this narrative is not an explicitly literary one. Whatever its merits, it is not the work of a consciously literary artist working within a recognized genre. In that respect, it may present similar interpretive challenges as the text you've selected from ECCO for your second assignment.

The question for you to address: how does one begin with such a text? What kinds of interpretive questions does it make sense to ask? What kinds of interpretive issues here invite exploration? Respond with some thoughts about how we readers can find our way into this text.

Deadline: Monday (3/28), start of class.

For Credit: Final Thoughts on Gulliver's Travels?

Feel free to post them here.  Then go have a great spring break.

Posts before Saturday (3/19) at midnight count towards Week 9.  Posts after that but in advance of Monday (3/28), start of class, count towards Week 10.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

FYI: Tea Ceremony at Japan House for Disaster Relief

For a while now, I've been meaning to draw the class's attention to the Japan House, an excellent learning resource here at UIUC.  If our readings in Enlightenment-era Japanese literature (Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North and Chikimatsu Monzaemon's Love Suicides at Amijima) have sparked your curiosity about Japanese art and culture, the Japan House is definitely worth a visit.  And for that matter, even if those readings have not been high points on the syllabus for you, a visit to the Japan House and its grounds can be a refreshing change from the fatigues of the semester--I definitely recommend it!

For those who will be around for Spring Break, it's worth noting that the Japan House is holding a tea ceremony on Saturday (3/19) to raise funds for disaster relief in Japan.  Click here for more information. 

For Credit: Just How Bad Are We Yahoos?

As we discussed in class today, although Gulliver is at first eager to distinguish Yahoos from humans, by the time he returns home, he believes they are the same thing.

While in the land of the Houhynhnms, Gulliver spends some time learning about the Yahoos, both from talking to his Houhynhnm master and from observing them himself. Chapter 7 is particularly dense in reflections on their behavior, habits, and characteristics, some of it fairly self-evidently intended (by Swift) as a satire on contemporary English political and social life.

Are there any depictions of the Yahoos that hit particularly close to home? Is it possible for us (as less deluded than Swift) to see ourselves in the Yahoos? Is the portrait a uniformly repellent one, or do the Yahoos have some compensating dimensions for readers who can divest themselves of Gulliver's prejudices?

Deadline: Friday (3/18), start of class.

Monday, March 14, 2011

For Credit: How is the Reader to Understand the Houhynhnms?

From another response thread on the blog:

Do they [the Houhynhnms] represent a virtuous society that humans should emulate, or is he satirizing them for being unemotional and naive? Gulliver praises the Houyhnhnms and wishes "they were in a capacity or disposition to send a sufficient number of their inhabitants for civilizing Europe" (392-3). Yet we also get a sense that they are somewhat naive, for the Houyhnhnms have no word for falseness and refer to it as "the thing which is not" (360). Also, Houyhnhnm family structure makes an impression on Gulliver, for they show "no fondness for their colts or foals" (377). Is their lack of emotion something that Swift presents as a contributing factor to a just society, or is he lampooning their naive outlook and lack of emotion?


Deadline: Wednesday (3/16), start of class.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

For Credit: Adventures in ECCO

Respond to this thread with questions, advice for classmates, reflections, or random vents about working with ECCO.

Here's a copy of the assignment, in case you lost the attachment I sent. I'll also put it over there in the sidebar.

What challenges are you encountering?

What confusion do you have about the expectations for this assignment?

Questions or curiosity about the C18 texts you've been finding?

Difficulty or fun with ECCO?

Questions about how to go about choosing a text?

You can click here for an answer to the question many of you doubtless have by now: Why did C18 writers sometimes write "f" instead of "s"? (Short answer: they didn't). A longer and more technical explanation is available here.

Deadline is open until the proposal is due (Friday, March 18). Posts before Saturday midnight will count for Week 8 blogging. Posts after Saturday midnight will count towards Week 9.

Friday, March 11, 2011

For Credit: In the Land of the Houhynhms

What we have learned:

That perhaps Lemuel Gulliver is Gull-ible.
That Swift is entirely willing to poke fun at his earnest and adventurous hero.
That things may not be what they appear in this slippery novel.

And now: what would you like to know?
  • What questions do you have about Gulliver's encounter with the Houhynhms?
  • What issues would you like to hear discussed in class?
  • What puzzles you or interests you particularly about this book?
Deadline: Monday (3/14), start of class.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For Credit: Introducing Lemuel Gulliver

Here is the handout I'll be distributing in class on Friday.  It's the title page and first page of the book we now know as Gulliver's Travels.  The excerpt in your Longman anthology is the fourth part of Gulliver's Travels, describing Gulliver's final voyage, which takes him to the land of the Houhynhms.

In preparation for class Friday, feel free to ask either of the following two questions:

1.  The title page of a C18 book served the same purpose as the back cover of a modern paperback--it gave potential purchasers information about the book and sought to pique their interest.  How, specifically, does this title page serve as an advertisement for the book?  On what basis does it encourage the consumer to buy it?

2.  Based on your reading of the first chapter of the excerpt in Longman, what sort of person is Lemuel Gulliver?  What kinds of personal characteristics does he display?

Deadline: Friday (3/11), start of class.

For Credit: Follow-Up to Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North

From class today:

One day, is quite warm
Someone left open the

Pungent odor wafts
Panic! Household in crisis--
Spring unexpected.


Skies grey with tears
The awakening birds sing
Color returns

Color fades to grey
hopes for sunshine wash away
still have weeks to wait


Dry snow to moist slush
I can smell spring in the air
Memories awake

Yet I stay asleep
The grass still beneath the earth
Still hibernating


Puddles of rain sit
Formed by melted snow and mud
Weather is changing

Students trod to class
Drained from the winter's cold
Will it ever end?

Those were some examples of student haiku sequences, where it seemed to me that the second poem built with particular effectiveness on the first.

We're now embarking on a series of readings that center, in a variety of different ways, on journeys, both real and imagined. In class today I suggested that a central theme of Basho's journey (one that lends structure to the seemingly random combination of poetry, prose narrative, travelogue, and description it comprises) is eternity: both the effort to grapple with the concept of timelessness and an exploration of the idea of time as a way of organizing our understanding of the world.

What evidence do you find to support that interpretation? What other concepts or ideas might help to explain how this text functions? Cite some text to support your claims, or to support your collegial disagreement with a classmate.

Deadline: Friday (3/11), start of class.

Monday, March 7, 2011

For Credit: Basho's Journey

photo by N.Kimy, Flickr
Where is Basho going?

How does the haiku in his narrative help him get there?

Offer some thoughts here, or reflect on a classmate's ideas.

Alternatively, if you would like some more specific questions to prompt your thinking:

1. Which haiku do you find most effective in both presenting a striking image and illuminating the narrative account of the journey (or the author's thought processes)?

2. What makes the "boring mountain" (p.420) different from the mountains that Basho finds more interesting?

3. What does Basho mean when he says, "The days of uncertainty piled one on the other"? What is uncertain?

4. What difference, if any, does it make that this narrative was written long after the journey it describes, rather than in the course of the journey it describes?

5. According to the evidence of these excerpts, how does Basho understand his relationship to a larger poetic tradition?

Deadline: Wednesday (3/9), start of class.

For Credit: Enlightenment Religion Follow-Up

If you were in class today, feel free to post here with reflections on Boswell's last conversation with Hume or John Newton's "Amazing Grace."

Deadline: Wednesday (3/9), start of class.

(you can click on the image below to make it bigger):

Saturday, March 5, 2011

For Credit: Hume and Enlightenment Religion Follow-Up

Many commentator's on Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion find Hume's conclusion NOT in Pamphilus's claim that Cleanthes' views "approach still nearer the truth" (89), but in Philo's remark italicized on the precediing page: that natural religion can arrive at the fairly limited truth "That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence" (88). 

Is that enough to build a spiritual practice on?  According to Hume's own example (as we'll see on Monday): No.  Yet Philo goes on to say (much to the dismay of many, who want Hume to be an unwavering proponent of aetheism), "To be a philosophical skeptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian" (89).  Don't be to quick to assume that such remarks are merely strategic--after all, Hume knew the public would not be reading his thoughts on natural religion after his death.

What difference does it make to one's belief or lack there of if the cause(s) of order in the universe are probably remotely analogous to human intelligence?   Does that change anything?  What?  How? 

Deadline: Monday (3/7), start of class.  Posts before midnight tonight (3/5) will count towards Week 7; posts after midnight will count towards Week 8.

Friday, March 4, 2011

For Credit: Midterm Exam (BUMPED and UPDATED)

The midterm exam was handed out in class yesterday, and I've posted it in the sidebar over there.  Spectator 11 is a separate document which you will need to complete the exam.  It's also in the sidebar.

You will notice that the midterm includes no questions about The Love Suicides at Amijima or The Story of the Stone.  Those texts are missing, not because they aren't important, but because the midterm  evaluates your growing ability to comprehend and interpret Enlightenment-era language.  Texts we read in translation are presented in idiomatic C20/21 English.  The final exam will cover the full range of non-Anglophone literature we read in this course.

That said, what else is missing from the exam?  What knowledge or understanding or insight have you gained thus far this semester that you do not get the opportunity to display on the midterm?

Deadline: Monday (3/7), start of class.  (Posts before midnight Saturday count for Week 7; posts after midnight count for Week 8.)

UPDATE:  If you are using the PDF of Spectator 11 that's linked to here--rather than the handout from class--you will note that the left-hand margin of the first page is cut off.  Here is a version of that first page that includes the complete text. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

For Credit: An Enlightenment Text?

In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant defines Enlightenment as “the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority.” Other Enlightenment principles are also evident in his essay such as a belief in constant progress, the value of reason, an emphasis on the mind and equality.
But there is more going on in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion than philosophical reasoning. It has aspects of humor and it is hard to see a simple conclusion or someone who is definitely right. As we discussed in class, it is as if Hume is playing a three dimensional philosophical game with himself.
Given that Hume is using techniques other than simple reason (for example, the characterisation of the interlocutors), are his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion still an Enlightenment text? What role do these other non-rational elements play in the rational discussion?

Deadline: Friday (3/4), start of class.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For Credit: Silence on the Blog

Hmmm...not much seems to be happening on the blog tonight.

Everyone turning their attention to other matters after getting the papers in?

General bafflement where Hume is concerned?

Perplexity about how to approach this reading?

If the questions below are daunting, feel free to break the silence here.  What questions do you have about this text?  What do you find particularly puzzling or difficult to understand?

Deadline: Wednesday (3/2), start of class.

For Credit: Hume's Dialogues Grab Bag

Here are some more precise questions you can respond to in preparation for class tomorrow.  Just be sure to specify which you are responding to, and cite some text to illustrate your claims.

1.  In Part III, Cleanthes offers a thought experiment: a library in which "books [written in a common universal language] are natural productions which perpetuate themselves in the same manner with animals and vegetables, by descent and propagation" (24).  What is the Cleanthes trying to show with this example?

2.  In Part IV, Demea argues against what he calls the "anthropomorphism" of Cleanthes and Philo.  God is, Demea says, characterized by
perfect immutability and simplicity....He is entire in every point of place, and complete in every isntant of duration.  No succession, no change, no acquisition, no siminution....And what he is in this moment he has ever been and ever shall be, without any new judgement, sentiment, or operation.  He stands fixd in one simple, perfect state; nno can  you ever say, with any propriety, that this act of his is different from that other, or that this judgment or idea has been lately formed and will give place, by succession, to any different judgment or idea.
Why doesn't the argument end here, with this statement of the perfect unknowable transcendent unity of God?

3.  For what purposes does Philo announce, in Part VI, "The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal, and the Deity is the Soul of the world, actuating and actuated by it" (39-40)?

4.  At other points in these dialogues, the world also gets compared to an animal, a vegetable, and a machine.  What is the significance of these particular analogies?  Why so many?

5.  Related to 3: which of these analogies is, in your view, most effectively used in these dialogues?

Deadline: Wednesday (3/2), start of class.

Monday, February 28, 2011

For Credit: Laughing at God?

Ahem.  I get that having a paper due makes it difficult to do the reading.  Still.  Of the hardy souls who showed up for class today (approximately half the class), only half of those had a copy of Hume's Dialogues with them—which pretty much undermined the exercise I had planned, one designed to help you all start learning the material, even if you hadn't done the reading.

Get the book.  We're spending the whole week on it, and you will be a better person for the experience, whether or not the text touches your faith or lack thereof.  Read to the end of the 9th part for Wednesday.  And as you read, consider the following:
Laughter is the key to Hume's Dialoques Concerning Natural Religion. Indeed, I would suggest that if the Dialogues have not made one laugh, and if one has not experienced the sheer delight of Hume's rhetorical excesses and gaiety, then one hasn't really understood this work at all. From this perspective, the usual questions are irrelevant -- Is Hume Cleanthes or Philo? Is Philo a mitigated sceptic or a Pyrrhonian? Such debates are sterile and miss the point, for however consistent or inconsistent the characters may be, the actual drama of the text has an intention and a direction all of its own, destroying the religious hypothesis not so much by 'serious' calculated argument as by ridicule and excess. (Richard Wright, "Hume's Dialogues and the Comedy of Religion"  Hume Studies 14:2 [Nov. 1988].  Web.
Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  To what extent, either way?  Discuss!  And cite some text to support your views.

Deadline: Wednesday (3/2), start of class.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

For Credit: Initial Reactions

Feel free to respond to this post with your initial reactions to Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
  • What do you find confusing or difficult to understand in the text?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What issues does it raise that you hope to discuss in class?
  • What in the text strikes you as particularly interesting?

Deadline: Monday (1/28), start of class.

Friday, February 25, 2011

For Credit: Writing Process, First Paper, Part II

Feel free to respond to this post with any questions you have about the paper that's due Monday--or to vent, commiserate, or seek advice.

Deadline:  Monday (2/28), start of class.  Posts before midnight on Saturday (2/26) will count towards Week 6; posts after midnight will count towards Week 7.

For Credit: Kant and the Public Sphere

From today's attendance questions:
We did not discuss...much...a king/ruler/monarch's role in people's enlightenment.  How can they give freedom to their people and still have them obey? 
Kant claims that a public that is free to reason publicly will enlighten itself.  Given the relatively free intellectual environment in contemporary America, is this statement correct?  Is freedom sufficient for enlightenment or it is a necessary condition that must be supplemented with other conditions?
We did not really discuss the issue of courage of "the minority" to change their way of thinking and to break away from the oppression that they experienced for so long.  it is interesting that Kant claims it is not due to lack of understanding but instead it is a "lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another."  Kant's whole idea is that the minority have been guided by others for so long that they don't know how to act on their own, even though they certainly have the power and intelligence to do so.  I am curious as to who these oppressors are that Kant is referring to.  

Deadline: Saturday (2/26), midnight.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For Credit: Reason Publicly (sort of) Here!

Feel free to respond to this post if you have any reflections about Kant's "What Is Enlightenment?" that you didn't have a chance to say in class today.

Deadline: Friday (2/25), start of class.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For Credit: Kant + the Spectators

After discussing the similarities and differences between Stephen Colbert's character and the author of the Spectator series, one can see how influential the opinions of mass produced literature can be on the public.

Immanuel Kant argues in "What Is Enlightenment?" That freedom is the key to liberty. Not only personal freedoms and economic freedoms, but more importantly the freedom to circulate ideas. He says that "The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among human beings."

With that said and Kant's beliefs about an enlightened world and with all of the opinions and such floating about in the blogosphere, newspapers, television and radio, discuss whether or not you believe that 2011 is an enlightened America.

Also, consider this video, and what Bob Dylan has to say about media and journalism being passed around and what it does to people who read it. Is Dylan on the same page as Kant hundreds of years apart, or are they legitimately worlds apart?

Deadline: Friday (2/25), start of class.

Monday, February 21, 2011

For Credit: "A Distinctly Conservative Document"?

An historian of the Enlightenment, Margaret C. Jacobs, writes of Kant's "What is Enlightenment": 
[M]any commentators have failed to notice that it is a distinctly conservative document.  Think for yourself, Kant seems to be saying, but cause no trouble.  Leave the state and its institutions alone; conform; think original thoughts after hours, in the privacy of your own home.  (The Enlightenment: A Brief History with Documents [New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001], 202).
Jacob's interpretation is, as she acknowledges, not shared by "many commentators."  What she calls a "failure to notice" the document's conservatism may rather be a belief that the term "conservative" doesn't accurately gloss what Kant is saying in this essay. 

What do you think? 

Offer some text to support your views.

Deadline: Wednesday (2/23), start of class.

For Credit: Spectator Take-Aways?

In our study of the three Spectator essays, we have moved from sampling Enlightenment-era imaginative literature (poetry, plays, novels) to examining some expository prose that sits more closely at the heart of the European enlightenment.

What are your take-aways from the Spectator essays?  What do they add to the picture that you are building of the Enlightenment era?

Deadline: Wednesday (2/22), start of class.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Not for Credit: The Enduring Power of Puppetry

Following on our discussion of The Love Suicides at Amijima, you might be interested in this review of a play that just opened in New York.  The opening sentence:
Only a performer of monumental presence can withstand the theatrical typhoon that is Mandy Pantinkin.  So hats off to the frail-looking child-size marionette who walks away with "Compulsion," the straight-line bio-drama by Rinne Groff, starring Mandy Patinkin at full force.

Casting Anne Frank as a marionette might sound like an act of monumental bad taste, but according to this review, it makes for a moving and effective drama.

For Credit: Reading for Monday

Joseph Addison 
The readings for Tuesday are over there in the sidebar: three essays from a series of 635 essays that Joseph Addison and Richard Steele published in London between 1711 and 1714.  The syllabus says you're only reading 10 and 69, but they're short and readable (particularly after Kant!) and No. 1 establishes some helpful background to the entire series.  Please print them out and bring them to class with you.  Printers sometimes do strange things with these PDF files.  Before you send one to your printer, it's a good idea to make sure your printer is set to "fit image to margins" (or set it to print two pages/sheet, if you want to save paper and ink).

The essays were originally published daily, like a mini-newspaper (a single big folded sheet, with some advertisements--see image below).  They were so popular, however, that after their original publication they were collected and the complete series sold in book form, throughout the C18 and well into the C19 (they were also excerpted, anthologized, emulated, and pirated.)

The version you're looking at is one of these collected editions, from 1799, which I chose mostly because it's fairly readable (none of those funny s's-that-look-like-f's).  The complete citation: Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator, with Illustrative Notes [...] ed. Robert Bisset (London: Cawthorn, 1799).

In Spectator No.1, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele (the authors of the paper) set up the persona of Mr. Spectator, the voice of the 600-some Spectator essays that they wrote. While they both drew on their own opinions and experiences in crafting this character, in no way he is an autobiographical stand-in for either of them.

Just how seriously do you think we are meant to take this character? Is he more like an eighteenth-century Jon Stewart or an eighteenth-century Stephen Colbert?

Cite some text (from any of the three essays assigned) to support your claims.

Deadline: Monday (2/21), start of class.

For Credit: Final Thoughts on The Story of the Stone?

Feel free to post here if there is anything you would have like to ask, learn, observe, or consider regarding The Story of the Stone, and didn't have a chance to say in class. 

For Credit: Writing Issues

First, my apologies for holding everyone over while I handed out the papers--I hope no one was late as a result of my time-mismanagement!

Second, I didn't have time for an office-hours pitch, but by all means, come talk to me in office hours if you'd like more feedback, if you're puzzled about where to go next, or if you just couldn't read my handwriting.   Mondays and Wednesdays, 3pm - 4pm, 321 English Bldg.; if you enter EB from the north quadside entrance, go directly up the staircase in front of you to the third floor, and turn left at the stop of the stairs, you'll come to 321 pretty easily without getting lost in the English Building labyrinth.

Third, obviously, we didn't get through the entire handout.  A question: would you like me to devote more class time to issues like summarizing vs. interpreting and the effective use of quotations?  Students often find it helpful, but I was detecting more restlessness than usual (people packing up early, squirming around) during the time we spent on the writing handout.  You can let me know your thoughts on the matter by responding to this post or sending me e-mail.

Fourth, what further reflections, comments, questions does the handout provoke?  Feel free to discuss the issues raised in the handout further here.

Deadline: Monday (2/21), start of class.  (Posts before midnight Saturday will count towards Week 5; posts after midnight Saturday will count towards Week 6).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

For Credit: What Cao Xuequin Talks about When He Talks About Love

After a careful rereading of the inscription on the stone, Vanitas determines that "its main theme was love...and that it was entirely free from any tendency to deprave and corrupt." With that settled, Vanitas sets in motion the chain of events (detailed on p. 76 - 77) that produce The Story of the Stone.

So: love.

But what about love?
  • How do the episodes and vignettes of this novel treat love? What might set them apart from "the so-called historical romances" and "erotic novels" from which the stone is eager to distinguish his inscription?
  • What issues, questions, claims or assumptions about love emerge from the events of this novel?
  • How might reading this novel cause some small arrest in the deterioration of your vital forces (as Vanitas determines it will on p. 76)?
Feel free to use any of those questions as the jumping-off point for understanding more specifically how this novel addresses the theme of love, and what precisely it has to say about it.

Deadline: Friday (2/18), start of class.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For Credit: Story of the Stone Grab-Bag

Feel free to respond to any of the questions below (or to take issue--kindly and collegially!--with a classmate's response). Just be sure to specify which question you are answering.

1. How would you characterize Bao-yu? What seem to be his dominant traits?

2. In class on Monday, I mentioned some of the similarities between how The Story of the Stone characterizes itself, and some key features of British novels during this time (an emphasis on the lives of women, a deliberate effort to combine pleasure and instruction, a wish to present true-to-life characters). Yet, there are some key differences, most notably Cao Xuequin's use of the supernatural. What do you make of the extended dream-fantasy sequence in Chapter 5?

3. Chapter 17 is one of those moments where The Story of the Stone does not track with western European notions of narrative: group of characters wander around a garden composing verses about it. Rather than view this scene (as you might be inclined to do) as an imaginative failure, try and identify the nature of its success. What parts of the story get "told" in this passage? What information does the reader gain about the characters? What kind of moral instruction is in play here?

4. On his first reading, Brother Vanitas declares that all he can find in this novel are "a number of females, conspicuous, if at all, only for their passion or folly or for some trifling talent of insignificant virtue" (75). After rereading the book, though, Brother Vanitas changes his mind. What aspects of the female characters in this novel (and their interactions) might lead a dubious reader like Brother Vanitas to change his (or her) mind about their significance?

Deadline: Wednesday (2/16), start of class.

Monday, February 14, 2011

For Credit: Finding a Way In

What interpretive questions would you like to ask about this text? Feel free to respond to this post by either posing a question for your classmates to respond to, or by answering a classmate's question.

Deadline: Friday (2/18), start of class.

Friday, February 11, 2011

For Credit: Framing the Story

Statue of Cao Xuequin in Beijing
The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber or A Dream of Red Mansions), has a cast of hundreds, but it mostly concerns itself with the fortunes of Jia Bao-yu, who  "at the moment of his birth...had a piece of beautiful, clear, coloured jade in hiw mouth with a lot of writing on it" (Longman 82).  That piece of jade is the same piece of jade that the Taoist and the monk call an "absurd creature" (p. 78) and take to earth to so that it can experience mortal life.  The same piece of jade, " the size of a fan-pendant" (74), had once been the stone that the goddess Nu-wa rejected as unworthy for patching the sky.

What functions does this elaborate frame (which I have greatly abbreviated and related in reverse) serve?  How does it shape or guide your reading of the narrative of more ordinary human life that follows? 

You don't have to stick to my boiled-down version above in your response--feel free to discuss other details, twists, and significant features of the novel's opening!

Deadline: Monday (2/14), start of class.

For Credit: Love Suicides Debriefing

What reflections or observations on this play do you have that you did not think of (or have the opportunity to voice) in class today?

Feel free to offer them here, or to expand, question, or push further someone else's ideas.

Also, for what it's worth, there has been a film version of this play (see picture at left). 

Deadline: Saturday (2/12), midnight.

For Credit: Unfinished Joruri Business

Discussion was so lively today  (Friday) that we never got to a couple of important topics. Feel to address either of the two following issues in your response to this post:

1. Chikimatsu's dramatic theory (which can be found on p. 68 - 71 of your Longman anthology), particularly
"The words of joruri depict reality as it is, but being a form of art it also contains elements that are not found in real life.  Specifically, female characters often say things a real woman would not say, but such instances are examples of art.  Since they speak openly of things that a real woman would not talk about, the character's true feelings are revealed. Thus, when a playwrigght models a female character on the feelings of a real woman and conceals such things, her deepest thoughts will not be revealed, and contrary to his hopes, the play will not be entertaining. It follows that when one watches a play without paying attention to the artistry, one will probably criticize it on the grounds that the female characters say many discomfiting things that are inappropriate for a woman to say.  However, such instances should be regarded as art" (69).
Statue in Chikamatsu Park, Amagasaki City

Reflect here on this remark tracks with The Love Suicides at Amijima.  Try to be specific and cite a particular instance or passage to illuminate your claims.

2. Religion. We don't have the background (or time) to do justice to the rich religious context of this play, yet as the introduction to the play in the Longman anthology and the footnotes indicate, the third act has a great deal of religious imagery and allusion in it. Given that our familiar Judeo-Christian understanding of suicide is alien to this play, what cues do you get from the play itself about how suicide fits into the religious assumptions of the viewers for whom it was written?

Deadline: Saturday (2/12), midnight.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

For Credit: The Third Act

How does this play hold the audience's interest throughout the third act? What kinds of emotions or reaction does this part of the drama seem designed to elicit from the viewer?

Deadline: Friday (2/11), start of class.

For Credit: Into the Dark

Comparing the C18 and the present day should always be attempted warily. Such comparisons can, without meaning to, distort the past--unless we recognize that (a) our familiarity with the present will always make the present seem better (more natural and reasonable) and (b) there are so many differences between past and present that one can, without noticing, be comparing apples and oranges. Moreover, it's easy to get sidetracked. Talking about the present is so much easier than talking about the past that it can be hard to stay focused on the reason why you're making the comparison in the first place: to understand the past better.

THAT SAID, sometimes taking a minute to articulate and recognize present-day beliefs and assumptions can help to show how ideas in an older text are distinctive, interesting, counter-intuitive, or otherwise worth exploring further. It's sometimes easier to articulate what seems peculiar or worthy of mention in an older text if you can contrast it with ideas we take for granted.

So, how is the companionable suicide being offered in this song similar to or different from the suicide pact between Koharu and Jihei? How does the view of death or suicide offered in this song differ from the attitudes we encounter in The Love Suicides of Amijima? Both of these texts seek to make death seem like an attractive option--but do they do so in similar ways? What interesting differences do you perceive?

Deadline: Friday (2/11), start of class.

Monday, February 7, 2011

For Credit: What Have We Learned?

A few fun links: Here are some Japanese fifth graders performing joruri (with a chorus of chanters). In the embedded video below, you can see some good footage of a bunraku performance (though since I don't read Japanese, I can't tell who is doing the performing, or where, or what the play is):

How did today's exercise in performing The Love Suicides at Amijima change how you understand the play? What observations do you have about the dramatic power of puppets, the role of the chanter, or the expressive power of gesture and body language?

Deadline: Wednesday (2/9), start of class.

For Credit: What Does Koharu Want? (SPOILERS)

Koharu tells Monzaemon (disguised as a samurai) that she wants out of her suicide pact because she is concerned about her mother and wants to live; later we learn that she wants out of the suicide pact because it is what Osan has asked of her, woman-to-woman, in order to protect Jihei and his family.

What do you think: Does Koharu want out on her own behalf--or only because Osan has asked her to help Jihei alive?

Cite some text to support your position (or to disagree, kindly and collegially, of course) with a classmate.

Deadline: Wednesday (2/9), start of class.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

For Credit: Staging the Love Suicides at Amijima

The Longman anthology has an good explanation of bunraku puppet theater--the form for which Chikimatsu Monzoemon's The Love Suicides at Amijima was written.  Understanding how this poem is staged explains a lot about how it is written, so it's worth taking some time to look into the features of this important Japanese poetic form.

Whether or not you have time to read the Longman explanation, this video does a good job describing it for you and showing you some bunraku puppets and puppet-masters in action.   If your previous experience of puppets is limited to Sesame Street, this will be eye-opening.

A question to consider: how does the puppet staging of this drama affect how you read or understand the events of the play?  Let's take it for granted that seeing any play staged is more powerful than reading it on the page--any performance is going to be more vivid, ore true to the author's vision, and more engaging to the viewer's mind and emotions.  Given that basic feature of a performed play, how specifically might the features of bunraku theater affect how you understand the events depicted?  Would the puppets/chanter feel more or less artificial than actors on a stage?  What additional pleasures might this use of puppets contribute that aren't available in conventional Western forms of drama?  Are there parts of the play that you read or understand differently if you know that the dialogue and narration is being contributed by a single person, not individual actors?

Your response doesn't need to answer all of those questions!  They are just intended to get you thinking productively about this poetic form.

Deadline: Monday (2/7), 1pm.

Friday, February 4, 2011

For Credit: Writing Process

Feel free to respond here with thoughts, questions, reflections, complaints, or advice about the writing process as you prepare to hand in your first assignment.

Posts before midnight on Saturday (2/5) will count towards Week 3 blogging.  Posts after midnight on Saturday will count towards Week 4.  Deadline: Monday (2/7), 10am.

For Credit: Fantomina and Eloisa

Great discussion today!  Before we move on to our next couple of texts (The Love Suicides and The Story of the Stone), here's a chance for a little summing up.  Feel free to respond to any one of the following (or take issue--kindly and collegially--with a classmate's response):
Taken together, what have these two texts taught you about the Enlightenment-era world that was new to you?
What interpretively significant similarities do you find between these two texts?
How do the interpretively significant differences between these two texts illuminate your understanding of the period in which they were written?
What does "interpretively significant" mean?

Deadline: Saturday (2/5), midnight.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

For Credit: So Where Do We Stand?

Since class was cancelled Wednesday, I'm extending the deadline on the current Eloisa to Abelard blog posts.  We'll have to cover two days' worth of discussion on this poem tomorrow in order to clear the decks for The Love Suicides of Amijima on Monday.  Respond to this post with your suggestions on what that compressed agenda should include:
  • What issues have been resolved and can now be shelved?
  • What conclusions have we come to?
  • What interpretive questions that have come up so far seem to need some further discussion or resolution?
  • What interpretive questions haven't been asked yet and should be?
  • What would you like to know but haven't had a chance to ask yet?
You don't need to answer all those questions!  Pick one to prompt your ideas.  And feel free to take issue (kindly and collegially, of course) with a classmate's remarks.

Deadline: Friday (2/4), start of class.

Monday, January 31, 2011

For Credit: Some Strong Interpretive Claims

The responses to the fishbowl exercise today shook loose some interesting ideas that weren't fully advanced in class discussion:
[Eloisa] has done something wrong and is fearful of the consequences....she wants to use God to escape the situation.
[T]his poem is about Eloisa and not "the lovers."
 In her heart she does not want to forget Abelard.
I don't think she wants to be reunited with God...she resents him (if unacknowledged).
Respond to this post with evidence from the poem that supports or refutes (kindly and collegially, please!) any one of these provocative claims.

Deadline: Wednesday (2/2) Friday 2/4, start of class.

For Credit: Eloisa's Death

Discussion today ranged widely around this poem, but we didn't quite tackle the end, where Eloisa imagines her death.  A couple of people pointed out that Eloisa could look to the prospect of uniting in heaven with Abelard as a resolution to her woe, but we didn't really look closely at the particular lines where she thinks about death.

To what extent does Eloisa find comfort in the thought of being in heaven with Abelard?

How else does the prospect of dying fit into her effort to put her mind at ease?

How does Pope bring the poem to a satisfying close?

Feel free to take on any of those questions in your response--or respond (kindly and collegially) to a classmate's ideas).

Deadline: Wednesday (2/2) Friday 2/4, start of class.

For Credit: Curse on all laws but those which love has made!

There's an important passage in this poem that came up in passing at a couple of points in discussion.  I didn't pause discussion then to focus on it, because there was so much other interesting stuff to talk about (excellent work today, guys!), but let's do so here, on the blog.

The passage in question: the verse paragraph beginning on l. 73 and ending l. 98.  It works as a self-contained unit (more so than other verse paragraphs in the poem), but it also connects to Eloisa's overall chain of thought.  Line 81 often trips people up.  It's reasonable to think that "the jealous God" is...well, God.  A lot of editions of this poem, however, put a footnote in at that point to suggest that "the jealous God" refers back to "Love" in the previous line and means, not God, but Cupid (the god of Love).  Try reading it with that gloss, and see if it makes sense.

What is Eloisa saying in this verse paragraph?  How does it connect to Eloisa's other thoughts and concerns in this poem?

Deadline: Wednesday (2/2) Friday 2/4, start of class.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

For Credit: Understanding Eloisa

Use this post as a way to start getting a sense of who Eloisa is and what she's like. Here's a place to start: According to the information supplied in the poem, what elements of the religious life appeal to Elouisa?  What it is she seeking in religion and why?  She expresses different ideas at different points in the poem; how does her thinking change?  (You can respond by tracking only one of her shifts--you don't have to go through the whole poem!)

Let's see where the conversation goes from there...

Deadline: Monday (1/31), start of class.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For Credit: How to Read a Really Long Poem (DEADLINE EXTENDED)

Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard may look daunting.  Here are some things to help you make sense of it:

1.  Read the explanatory notes.  The line numbers in red in the online version have footnotes, which you can go to by clicking on the line number (the footnotes will appear at the end of your printout, if you want to print it out before reading).  The first footnote (to line one) is particularly useful as it explains who Eloisa and Abelard are and gives some useful background.

2. Forget that it's a poem.  Read it as if it were a story or an essay, sentence by sentence.  Don't try to focus on those poetic things like imagery, rhythm, and inflection that we are usually taught to look for in poems--concentrate instead on following the story it tells, the feelings Eloisa describes, and the progression of her reasoning.

3. If you get lost or confused, slow down and take it one sentence at a time.  Make sure you are reading each sentence as a complete whole--from the period that ends one sentence to the period that ends the next.  Try to identify the main subject and verb of the sentence, and then figure out how the other clauses and phrases modify it.  You won't have to read the whole poem this way--if you take the time to make sense of one or two sentences this way, the next ones will come more easily.

4.  Look for ways to divide up the poem. What are some of the big transitions in the poem?  If you were going to divide it into sections for the ease of other readers, where would you show the major shifts in the direction of Eloisa's thoughts?

For credit you can do any one of the following:
  •  Identify a sentence that you find particularly baffling: supply a line number, and then quote enough of it to illustrate your brief explanation of what about it confuses you. 
  •  Suggest some ways of dividing the poem into more manageable segments, as in suggestion #4 above (indicate one or two places where it seems to you like the poem is making a significant transition from one idea to another).
  • Offer an explanation to clear up someone else's bafflement (or kindly and collegially improve upon someone else's explanation, if you think that person has missed the mark).
Deadline: Friday (1/28), start of class Saturday (1/29), midnight.