Wednesday, August 31, 2016

For Friday: Sappho: "Her Girls and Family"

For Friday's class, we might dip back into some of the poems from the previous sections, so let's only add one more section: "Her Girls and Family" (pp.33-53). 

We'll do another writing in class on Friday, focusing more on the differences of translation, particularly between rhyme and free verse. Here are some other ideas to consider which might come up:

* How does Sappho define or complicate a "woman's" experience of life? For the Greeks, women were in the background--they couldn't own property or be citizens, being only a step up from slaves. How do the women seem to look at the own lives? As less than? Equal to? Different? The same? 

* Culler reminds us in Chapter 2 that "Language resists the frames we impose...there is resistance in the language; we have to work on it, worth with it." How is this especially true for Sappho's poems? 

* According to these poems, what kinds of relationships did women enjoy with one another? Are these all poems celebrating (or lamenting) sexual relationships? How might some of these poems expand or challenge the latter-day definition of "lesbian"? 

* In Chapter 5, Culler writes that "The hyperbolic demand that the universe hear you and act accordingly is a move by which speakers constitute themselves as sublime poets or as visionary." To invoke the gods is a kind of hyperbole, too, even if you more or less expected a response. How literal should we take these invocations to Aphrodite, Eros, etc? Do you feel these are literal poems to various supernatural forces (from Sappho), or are they metaphors and character sketches, meant to be read as poetry, rather than as a diary or a request?

* How do these poems give us a sense of the poet's identity, even if she is hiding behind characters and situations? What themes predominate for her? What makes the typical Sapphic poem?  

Friday, August 26, 2016

For Wednesday: Sappho, Stung With Love (pp.5-29)

REMEMBER, Paper #1 is due by 5pm on Monday in my office. Please place it in the box if I'm not there, and don't slide it under the door (I'll just step on it). NO CLASS on Monday--just work on writing an engaging, thoughtful analysis of your work of theory/literature.

For Wednesday, read pages 5-29 of our translation of Sappho's poetry. Sappho was considered the "Tenth Muse" of the ancient world, a Greek poet whose works were widely read, translated, and distributed all over the Greek and later Roman empire. Strangely (or not so strangely, if you like conspiracy theories), most of her works were destroyed, existing in only garbled form or on stray parchments, so we only have one complete poem by Sappho. Some are near-complete, others single lines or even words. Much of her work was probably destroyed in the famous fire of Alexandria, then the world's greatest library and a storehouse of infinite knowledge (who knows what else we lost?). However, it is said that her complete works filled up ten volumes of poetry! We now barely have enough for one slim volume. If you want to read more about her, you can read the Introduction of our book, or a short article I wrote about her poetry here:

Otherwise, here are some questions to consider as you read:

* What does it mean to read a fragment rather than a complete work? Is this "literature"? Is there sufficient context to derive meaning from the poems? Do they seem complete in some sense--or do they lead to complete thoughts?

* How does Sappho "make language strange" through her poetry and use of metaphor? Even in incomplete form, what images stand out?

* Which poems seemed the most complete to you? Why? Related to this, which poems reminded you of other poems or works you've read? Which seemed the most 'modern'?

* These are primarily lyric poems, which Culler writes "are fictional imitations of personal utterance. It is as if each poem began with the invisible words, "For example, I or someone could say,"" (75). Are there any clues to help us read these poems as works of fiction or works of autobiography? Who is the "I" in these poems? Are we sure (or not sure) it's the poet herself? Are they even all female speakers? 

* Sappho was from the Greek island of Lesbos, which later coined the connotation "lesbian." However, Sappho lived before such a term existed, and may or may not have been sexually involved with other women. How do these poems/fragments suggest her sexuality in modern terms? Should we read her in light of recent theories of sexuality? Or attempt to read her more historically?

* Related to the above, do her poems suggest that women can have deep emotional relationships without sex? Or is sexuality implied?

* Why might we consider these poems snapshots of the lives of women in ancient Greece? What do they reveal about their hardships, relationships, fears, and desires? What might Sappho have wanted her readers to learn about the "true" nature of women, since these are women behind closed doors, and not performing for men--or supporting characters for the hero in a male epic?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For Friday: Culler, Chapter 5: Rhetoric, Poetics, and Poetry

Here are a few questions to consider as you read, any one of which might crop up in our in-class response on Friday:

* How has poetics traditionally differed from rhetoric (to which it is related)? What makes poetics distinct?

* Why can we make the claim that all language is metaphorical in content, and even to speak of a metaphor is to use a metaphor? 

* How can common place (or commonly used) metaphor structure the very way we think and act? Can language create our perception of life itself, in this sense?

* What are the four master tropes and how do they differ from one another? While all are metaphorical, how do they stress different ideas or aspects of a thing or concept?

* What role does audience play in distinguishing genres of poetry? What does it mean to have an 'audience' for a poem, which is traditionally a work printed in a book that anyone can read?

* Why is it crucial in poetry to "begin with a distinction between the voice that speaks and the poet who made the poem"? How does this relate to the idea of "poetry as an act"?

* Why is lyric poetry often based in hyperbole and hyperbolic constructions? What does this allow the poet--and his/her audience--to see and experience?

* What does Culler mean by the "foregrounding and making strange of language"? Why is this poetry's central function?

* What is the "objective correlative" and how might this relate to approaching/reading a poem as literature?  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Paper #1: Falling Into Theory

For this paper, I want you to choose a work of art outside what we normally consider ‘literature’—that is, classic books or something that might have been assigned for an English class. It can be another book, but preferably something that might raise people’s eyebrows if you called it literature—science fiction, romance, Young Adult, a comic, etc. Or, it can be a painting (but not an established, classical one), any kind of show/,movie, music (but again, something not accepted as classic in any sense) or even a video game. In short, choose anything that seems to tell some kind of story in words or images. Choose something you know very well and have a strong connection with. Then use that work for ONE of the following options:

READ IT AS THEORY (Culler, Chapter 1): “Works regarded as theory have effects beyond their original field...the main effect of theory is the disputing of ‘common sense’: commonsense views about meaning, writing, literature, experience.” Read this work as theory: how can you take its ideas, views, and perspective to help examine or critique something outside it? For example, how can a pop song challenge our ideas about feminine sexuality? Or how can artwork by Ralph McQuarrie (Star Wars) challenge our notions about the future and/or ideas of humanity once you put it in space? Try to respond directly to Culler’s ideas in Chapter 1 to help you see connections between your work and theory. Don’t use theory to read your work—read your work as theory.

READ IT AS LITERATURE (Culler, Chapter 2): “Aesthetic objects, for Kant and other theorists, have a ‘purposiveness without purpose’...[we are] not to take the work as primarily destined to accomplishing some purpose, such as informing or persuading us...Language resists the frames we impose on it.” Read this work as literature and explain why we can define it as such. What does literature do, according to Culler, and how does your work do the same? How does it draw attention to the way it uses language (or the language of images)? How does it direct itself toward a specific audience? How does it use deictics and intertextuality as part of its language? Also, how do we enrich the work by reading it as literature; what do we gain by it?

  • You must quote Culler and use his ideas to help you discuss/advance your argument. In each option, you are making the case that your work is either theory or literature. You have to prove this—don’t take it for granted.
  • Quote using MLA guidelines: that means introducing quotes and citing page numbers Culler (or other books) at the end.
  • Should be at least 3-4 pages long as a minimum 
  • Due Next Monday, August 29th by 5pm (no class that day)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

For Monday/Wednesday: Culler, Chapter 2: "What is Literature and Does It Matter?"

Consider some of the following questions for Monday's class:

* In essence, why is literature so hard to define? Why can almost any definition of literature be applied to other forms as well?

* Why is literature like a "weed"? Why might one person's weed be another person's flower?

* Can literature be propaganda, according to Culler? Why or why not? How might this relate to Kant's phrase, "purposiveness without purpose"?

* How does literature call attention to itself as language in ways different from other forms of writing? 

* How does literature use time, identity, and place in ways unique to other forms of writing? For example, why is a novel's use of "I" different than someone writing an e-mail or a text? 

* How do aesthetics play into defining or identifying something as literature? Why is this most often the way people either defend or dismiss a literary work?

* Culler writes that "what it implicitly says about making sense relates to the way it itself goes about making sense." What does this mean, and how does it relate to intertextuality?

* How does literature, more than other forms of writing, both conform to and resist accepted forms and notions? (also, how might this relate to the idea of originality and copies)?

* Culler suggests that "the more the universality of literature is stressed, the more it may have a national function." How might this work with a specific novel or poem (he hints at Jane Austen in the chapter).

* Does literature have the power to ennoble us and make us better human beings? Is that an outdated (or naive) notion, or is it one of the chief qualities of literature?

* On the other hand, is literature a tool the rulers use to oppress the masses or to keep them servile? How could literature function as a way to teach people their place in society? 

Monday, August 15, 2016

For Wednesday: Read/Start Culler, Chapter 1: "What is Theory?"

A theoretical image: Magritte's The Treachery of Images
For Wednesday's class, our first 'real' class (if a class can ever be real, can ever said to have started), read Chapter 1 of Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, or at least start it. It's a little dense at first, and poses many difficult ideas and questions about theory, so read slowly. If you don't finish, no big deal, since we'll keep talking about it on Friday. 

Here are some ideas to think about along the way. Note these are NOT questions to answer, but ideas to pose to yourself as you read, to help you consider some of the 'big' ideas.

* Why does theory preclude mastery? If you can't master it why should you bother attempting to learn it?

* How can literary texts also become 'theories'? Related to this, What does Derrida mean when he claims "there is no outside-of-text"?

* How can writing about a thing create a thing? The book uses the example of sex and sexual relations; how can writing about marriage (for example) actually create the social codes of marriage?

* Why do many theorists suggest that writing is more than a supplement to speech? Can anything not be a supplement to something else--but truly "original"?

* We often hear people say, "that guy has no common sense!" What are they really saying when they say that? Is common sense a static body of knowledge that people either have or ignore? 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Welcome to the Course

Welcome to the course blog for English 3333: Critical Responses to Poetry. What is "Critical Responses to Poetry?" In a nutshell, this is a course that challenges us to examine how literature works, how we should read and understand it, and who writes it (we know who they are, but not really who they are). As Johnathan Culler, one of our authors explains,

“Literature is a paradoxical institution because to create literature is to write according to existing formulas—to produce something that looks like a sonnet or that follows the conventions of the novel—but it is also to flout these conventions, to go beyond them. Literature is an institution that lives by exposing and criticizing its own limits, by testing what will happen if one writes differently. So literature is at the same time the name for the utterly conventional...and for the utterly disruptive, where readers have to struggle to create any meaning at all.” (Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

In other words, if literature exists by following rules and breaking them, it become hard to know how to read it at all. Especially when the literature in question is poetry, a form that uses metaphor and paradox as its stock-in-trade. This course will examine both ancient, not-so-ancient, and near contemporary poetry as a way to ask questions about the purpose and uses of literature, as well as how we can appreciate it in new ways. For teachers, this class will be extremely useful, as it will show you numerous ways to read/teach a single poem, and give you endless ideas for your classroom. For non-teachers, this class will deepen your love for reading all forms of literature and show you that a poem is never just a poem: it changes each time you open the book, and each time you consider who is writing the poem, where they lived, what they thought, and what forces were shaping them as they wrote it. 

The books for the course are below. Be sure to check this site often, since I'll post assignments, announcements, and other details for your convenience. I look forward to spending the semester reading and thinking with you! 

Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction
Sappho, Stung With Love (Penguin Classics)
Cavafy, The Collected Poems (Oxford World’s Classics)
Shakespeare, The Sonnets (any edition)
The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (Penguin)