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.