Monday, September 26, 2016

For Wednesday: Culler, Chapter 7: "Performative Language"

For Wednesday, be sure to read Ch.7 of Culler (the penultimate chapter we'll read of this book) and prepare for an in-class response. This chapter is a bit tricky, so here are some ideas to consider to help you prepare:

* What is the basic difference between a constative and performative utterance? Under what circumstances can a constative become a performative?

* What does Culler mean when he writes, "The literary utterance too creates the state of affairs to which it refers" (96)? Related to this, why might we argue that people didn't fall in love until they read about it in books? (certainly, people have always been in love, but consider what fall in love means, with all its many connotations, in Western culture).

* How can we argue that literature is not just an act but an event? You might consider why revolutionary movements always have "literature" that they pass out to gain followers.

* What does Culler mean by the terms "felicitious" and "infelictious" as it refers to literature? How can a poem be "infelicitious"--what 'crimes' could it commit, do you think?

* Why is repetition such an important part of language? Can we say anything that isn't somehow an echo of something said before, or a citation of another writing or utterance? (how is even this question, and this blog post, a kind of repetition?)

* What does Butler mean by gender being primarily a performance? How can you perform being male or female? Isn't being male or female a constative statement, such as when a doctor says "you're having a boy"?

* Related to this, how can performative language help define terms like masculinity or femininity? (you might refer to the comic book ad of Charles Atlas above).  

* How is calling someone a "fag!" or a "queer!" a performance that operates through a kind of cultural repetition? How does this help to prove Butler's theory of gender as a performance--and a fluid identity?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

For Friday: Old Poems and New

For Friday's class, I have a slight twist on the usual assignment. Read through the poems of 1919-1933 on pages 133-207. Then choose 3-4 poems that seem to respond in a significant way (more than just the theme, or the fact that it's a dramatic monologue, an epitaph, etc.) to ONE to the following earlier poems (see below). I'll ask you to write about this in class on Friday:


The First Step (7)
The Windows (13)
Waiting for the Barbarians (15)

Satrapy (29) 
Philhellene (55)
Sculptor of Tyana (59)

And as always, keep an eye out for poems that really speak to you or seem to encompass a 'theory' that explores ideas outside of literature. Critical Paper #1 is right around the corner! 

Monday, September 19, 2016

For Wednesday: Cavafy, Poems 1919-1933

For Wednesday's class, I want to do close readings of six related poems and continue to discuss the idea of a poem as a 'theory.' Also consider how these poems are conscious of being poems about poetry: how do they call attention to the fact that poems are themselves imperfect attempts to forestall time and create an illusion of eternity? Read these poems carefully and think about the connections each one shares. I want to jump right into these next class.

THE POEMS: Has Come To Rest (111), On The Ship (115), Darius (125), Their Origin (129), Melancholy of Jason (131), I Brought To Art (133)

Feel free to read as many poems as possible beyond this, of course, since any of them could play into your Critical Paper #1 assignment. :) 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Critical Paper #1 assignment


“If a literary work is conceived as a succession of actions upon the understanding of a reader, then an interpretation of the work can be a story of that encounter, with its ups and downs...To interpret a work is to tell a story of reading” (Culler 63).

“When you set out on the journey to Ithaca,/pray that the road be long,/full of adventures, full of knowledge” (Cavafy, “Ithaca”).


For Monday: Cavafy, Poems 1916-1918 (selections)

A new selection of poems for Monday:

* Since Nine O'Clock
* Aristobolous
* Cesarion
* Nero's Term
* In the Harbour Town
* Tomb of Lanes
* Tomb of Iases
* Tomb of Ignatius
* In the Month of Athyr
* For Ammones
* Aemilianus Monae
* Grey

We'll have an in-class writing response (#7) in class, which will explore a common theme between all of these poems. What could this be? Hmm...consider the poem as epitaph, and how each work seems to lament or observe the passing of someone's life, often a very fleeting one. Some of these people are important, others less so, but all of them share a similarity in the manner of their death or what happens to their memory. Consider how the poet tries to conjure up who they were and how they lived, even when what we know is fragmentary, like a few faded words scrawled on a tombstone. 

See you on Monday! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

For Friday: Cafavy, Poems 1905-1915 (see below)

For Friday, read the following poems from Cafavy's Collected Poems:

From Poems 1910:
* Waiting for the Barbarians (if you haven't already)

From Poems 1905-1915:
* The City
* The God Forsakes Anthony
* Monotony
* Ithaca
* As Best You Can
* Trojans
* Philhellene
* Sculptor of Tyana
* In Church
* Painted
* Come Back
* Far Away

(Feel free to read all of them, but I particularly want to discuss these poems in class)

* As you read, consider how Cafavy often takes a literal narrative--barbarians arriving at the gates, a sculptor making a bust, the Trojans being invaded--and allows it to become allegorical of larger situations. How do the poems do this? What clues or words/utterances in the poem signal this change from specific to universal? 

* Also, many of Cafavy's poems are Dramatic Monologues, which is a poetic form that he inherited from the great English poet, Robert Browning (My Last Duchess, Fra Lippo Lippi, etc.). In these poems, we get a monologue as it from a play, where a speaker (usually historical) is talking to a second person, whose words are not recorded. The monologue is supposed to create a character and a psychological moment as much as a poetic thought. How can a one-sided conversation be a poem (esp. one like Philhellene and The Sculptor of Tyana)? How literally should we read such conversations--or is the speaker just a frame or an illusion that opens a larger speaker? 

* If you read the Introduction, you'll learn that Cafavy was actually from Alexandria (in Egypt) and never lived in Greece at all. However, his family was Greek, so he naturally gravitated toward Greek rather than Arabic as a poet. What might it mean to write Greek poetry when you are, technically, not Greek and don't live there (and indeed, he only visited a few times)? How does he convey his mixed feelings for his exiled land and culture in his poetry? 

Monday, September 12, 2016

For Wednesday: Cavafy, Poems 1910

Portrait on the Casket of a Greek Mummy (not Cavafy!) 
For Wednesday, read the section "Poems 1910" from Cavafy's The Collected Poems. There are a small number of poems here, and I don't expect you to read each one thoroughly. But do sample them all, and then go back and re-read the few that most captured you, since I'll want you to discuss at least one or two of those in class. Remember to read primarily at this point for the poetics: consider how the words are used in the terms of an utterance, and how each utterance is controlled by the speaker of the 'text.' Don't worry too much about the actual history or myth surrounding the poems yet--though feel free to look this up if you wish.

Here are some other ideas to consider:

* How do these poems relate to the themes/imagery of Sappho in any way? Though over a thousand years separate their poetry, do both sound "Greek" in their use of themes and language?

* Does the poet-narrator of each poem seem consistent, or do they seem to be coming from different people? If you had to characterize the speaker of several poems, who would he (or she) be?

* Why do you think Cavafy uses historical figures and locations so often in his poetry? Why conjure up the Roman Senate, Thermopylae, Achilles, and Sarpedon? How does the ancient world seem to accentuate his poetry?

* Since Sappho self-consciously wrote about the female side of history/myth, does Cavafy sound more "male"? If so, why? Again, focus more on the poetics than the hermeneutical implications of this question (following Culler's definition of each term in Chapter 4).

* Are these poems lyrics--or lyrical--in the same way as Sappho's fragments? Do you imagine them as songs or actual poems, meant to be written down in a book? 

Friday, September 9, 2016

For Monday: Culler, Chapter 4. "Language, Meaning, and Interpretation"

We'll return to Culler's text for Monday's reading, which is Chapter 4: "Language, Meaning, and Interpretation." This shares many ideas with Chapter 5, which we read before Sappho, and challenges how we think about terms like meaning, purpose, intent, and interpretation. We'll have another in-class response on Monday based on some key ideas from this chapter. Here are some ideas to consider as you read:

* What does he mean by the statement, "Meaning is context-bound, but contest is boundless?"

* Make sure you understand the admittedly tricky difference between poetics and hermenutics. Which one do we tend to favor in modern literature classes and why? How would you interpret a work differently if you focused primarily on matters of poetics?

* What is the "Intentional Fallacy," and why is it a "fallacy"? Why do you think intention used to matter for so much, and now, we tend to question it rather than accept it at face value?

* What is "reader response theory," and how does it relate to the interpretation of a literary work?

* Related to the above, are readers more important than authors in interpreting a literary work? Why or why not?

* If interpretation can often be boiled down to theories that carry their own assumptions and perspectives (such as feminism, Marxism, historicism, etc.) then how can they be used to interpret anything? Isn't the interpretation obvious from the approach?

* What is the "horizon of expectations"? How does this particularly relate to Sappho's poetry? 

* What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? How might this specifically relate to the study of literature?

* What does it mean to say that language is more about difference than meaning? 

* Finally, what does it mean that a word's form and meaning have an arbitrary relationship? How can a dog not be a dog? Or a moon not be a moon

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

For Friday: "The Wisdom of Sappho"

On Friday, I'll give you an in-class writing response based on some of the poems in "The Wisdom of Sappho" as well as some of the previous ones. As before, it will connect them to a theoretical approach via Culler. Here are some ideas and things to consider: 

* The fragments in "The Wisdom of Sappho" seems to show her responding to or perhaps creating pithy, sage-like advice, the kind mothers would pass on to their daughters. As you read these, consider if this advice sounds familiar to you and where you've heard it before. And if it is familiar, what spin or twist on the advice does Sappho offer? 

* Pithy advice like this easily survives fragmentation, since it doesn't need a lot of explanation. Like a fortune in a fortune cookie, it's meant to stand by itself. Which fragments seem to say the most with the least? 

* We often offer advice like this in our pop songs, which offer new, catchy melodies over age-old ideas. Which ones do you feel would be sung the most by young girls on the island of Lesbos? What music would accompany it (the mood, rhythm, etc)? Consider that the short fragment on page 83, "Neither the honey nor the bee for me..." sounds like this in the original: "mete moi meli mete melissa." Note the musical alliteration and assonance (the "e" sound). 

Also, many of you don't have the most recent edition of this book which includes two newly discovered fragments of Sappho. Here's one of them, very incomplete, but still striking:

How could a person fail to ache,
Queen Kypris, always for the one
she loves and, more than anything
wishes to welcome back again?

Please keep your eagerness in check,
since you have called me here, in vain,
to stab...desire...release...offspring... [these last lines are tattered and almost completely illegible] 

Which poem(s) from the book does this fragment most resemble? Does it seem to respond to or finish another incomplete work? 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

For Wednesday: Sappho, "Troy" and "Maidens and Marriage"

For Wednesday's class, read the next two sections of Sappho, "Troy" and "Maidens and Marriage," and consider some of the following questions for Wednesday's discussion:

* How does Sappho use ‘male’ subjects (war, heroes, heroines such as Helen) in the “Troy” poems?  How might she invite us to look differently at these ideas/themes, or to see these characters differently, especially a character like Helen of Troy, who is traditionally a ‘bad’ woman?

* Some of the poems in the last part of our reading are wedding songs, which celebrate the wedding night of the bride and groom.  How do these poems show us a different side of Sappho’s art? Also, how might this show that Sappho is like many artists, composing for different audiences and occasions, rather than simply writing for herself? 

* How might some of the “Maidens and Marriages” poems be advice from a mother to her daughter?  What advice might Sappho want to give to her daughters—or the next generation of women?

* Many of the poems lament the loss of maidenhood, or warnings against doing so. Why might this be such a concern for Sappho (or her audience)? 

* We discussed last time whether or not these poems reflect a lesbian identity, or whether or not Sappho would have understood this term or its limitation. However, to push her into a modern perspective again, could these poems be read through a feminist lens? Do they offer a sense of feminist identity to the reader? Does Sappho resist the norms of her society, or merely try to function within them?