Monday, October 31, 2016

For Wednesday: More Readings in The Harlem Renaissance Reader

For Wednesday, read the following excerpts:
* Hughes, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"
* Schuyler, "The Negro-Art Hokum"
* Du Bois, "Criterial of Negro Art"
* Wright, "Blueprint for Negro Writing"

We'll have an in-class response on Wednesday, so consider some of the following ideas:

* Why does Wright claim that "anyone destitute of a theory about the meaning, structure, and direction of modern society is a lost victim in a world he cannot understand or control" (201)? How might statement actually tie in to some of our readings from Culler? 

* Quoting Lenin (the Bolshevik leader who spearheaded the Russian revolution in 1917), Wright writes, "oppressed minorities often reflect the techniques of the bourgeoise [ruling classes] more brilliantly than some sections of the bourgeoise themselves" (195). What does he mean by this, and how does this relate with his (as well as Hughes') criticism of much African-American writing?

* Why does Du Bois write that "all art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been always used for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy" (103). Does this contradict Culler's claims for literature in Chapter 2? Or does it mean that Du Bois is purposely not trying to write literature?

* Why does Schuyler argue that good African-American writers will be good 'American' writers, rather than black or Negro writers? Why does he dismiss the idea of ethnic writing as "hokum"? Furthermore, why would he consider a class called Ethnic Literature racist?

* Why would Hughes (and Du Bois, and Wright) strongly disagree with Schuyler? What fundamental ideas do they ultimately part company on?

* How can a work be "Negro" rather than national? What qualities or ideas can make a work speak of a racial or ethnic identity rather than a national or universal one? According to Culler, can an author have that much control on how his or her work is understood? Isn't identity also in the hands of the individual reader?

* According to Hughes, why do so many African-Americans ignore their own cultural heritage in favor of the traditional, white diet in American art? Whta makes them blind or indifferent to their own achievements?

Friday, October 28, 2016

For Monday: Readings in The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader

For Monday, read the following excerpts from The Portable Harlem Renaissance: “Returning Soldiers,” “The Migration of the Talented Tenth,” “Africa for Africans,” “from Black Manhattan,” The New Negro,” “The Task of Negro Womanhood” (pp.3-75--note, I skipped some readings, so you're not reading 72 pages, it turns out to be much less)

These are contemporary writings to the African Americans who had settled in Harlem and were trying to forge a common identity, through literature, in a post-slavery world. Many in Harlem had felt the South in a mass exodus known as The Great Migration, which went through several waves, and brought Southerners to big Northern cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and New York/Harlem. The question then remained, in escaping Jim Crow laws and lynchings, do they now settle for second-class citizenship, or do they demand an equal share in being American? Or should they just leave America altogether? Many African Americans who fought in WWI saw a different world in France, and some elected to stay there for good. Others, such as Marcus Garvey, advocated relocating to Africa and creating a new "Negro" nation. These essays detail the struggle many residents of Harlem felt at facing a new century and a new idea of citizenship.

As you read, consider some of the following: 

* How do many of the writers define their identity as black, Negro, or African? Which terms do they seem to prefer and why? What does it mean to be black and American in the 1920's? 

* Why couldn't African Americans remain in the South? What forces made it seem impossible to stay there, even though many leaders, such as Frederick Douglass, felt it was imperative to remain? Why are the "talented tenth" usually the first to go? 

* How does W.E.B. Du Bois' view of the future of his race contrast wildly with someone like Marcus Garvey? Why did they each advocate two different responses to American racism and injustice? 

* Culler talks about differentiating literature from propaganda: literature has more than one meaning and can be interpreted in wildly different manners. Why might many writers of the Harlem Renaissance be skeptical of Culler's claims for literature? Why might they feel that propaganda is vital for writing the identity of a people--or an individual? 

* How does Johnson describe the explosion of African American life in Harlem? Why there? And how did it come about? What are his hopes and fears for the community? Can Harlem sustain itself as a vital cultural force in America? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

For Wednesday: Culler, Chapter 8: "Identity, identification, and the Subject"

NOTE: By class vote, we moved the due date for Short Paper #2 from Wednesday to Friday by 5pm. That means we do have class on Wednesday, but not on Friday. Please note the change, especially since a few of you missed class on Monday, and if you miss on Wednesday you'll miss an entire week of class (not good for your grade!). 

Read Chapter 8 in Culler's text, our last chapter from that book and one that will be very important to our next book, The Harlem Renaissance Reader. It will also be important to your Critical Paper #2, which is your final exam paper. 

Here are some ideas to think about as you read, since we'll do an in-class writing when you arrive on Wednesday:

* What does Culler mean when he writes that "Theory is inclined to argue that to be a subject at all is to be subjected to various regimes (psycho-social, sexual, linguistic)"?

* How might we argue that identity is itself a performance, and one that "emerges as the result of actions, of struggles with the world"? Related to this, can something that is formed by external stimulus also be the "cause" of these stimuli? In other words, can our inner being determine our external struggles? (think Cavafy's poem "Ithaca").

* Culler writes that "literature has not only made identity a theme; it has played a significant role in the construction of the identity of readers." How can a book make a person's identity? Can you think of a book that was influential in your personal aesthetic or your view of yourself?

* What does Culler mean when he writes that "Literature is said to corrupt through mechanisms of identification?" How might this relate to the idea of censorship and banned books?

* Why might some theorists argue that books "produced 'the modern individual,' who was first of all a woman"? 

* If our identity is first and foremost an act of identity, why is this identification doomed to fail? Why is the essence of every human being a botched performance or a failed imitation? (and is this necessarily a bad thing?)

* Can group identity come through opposition? Can you become "a people" simply by opposing what you're not? Or those who deny your existence? Also, is group identity more about negation than identification?

* How do we know we have agency or free will to choose? How much of our decisions are really our own, and how much is subjected upon us by our group identification? Related to this, how much are you responsible for the actions of a group even if "you" didn't participate in them? Is being part of a group being universally responsible?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

For Monday: Sonnets 135, 138-154

I wanted to spend two more days on the Sonnets, but we're simply out of time and have to move on. So finish them for next time, and pay special attention to the following sonnets: 135, both 138s, 139, 141, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, and 152. Here are some questions to consider:

* As in the other set of questions, consider how 138 changes between the two versions. What does Shakespeare intensify or soften in his revision?

* Many of these Sonnets seem to find the Dark Lady all too real: that is, she doesn't hide her flaws/sins and leaves them out for all to view. What is the nature of her 'sins' to the poet? Or, what does he seem to consistently accuse her of?

* Note how often the word "Will" appears in these sonnets, and not just the thousand times it appears in 135. How is he punning on the meanings of this word, and how much are we meant to take is as the poet himself?

* How do some of these poems, notably 141 and 147, seem to contradict the hopeful, romantic tone of 130? What seems to have changed over the course of a mere handful of sonnets? Or, is 141 a near echo of 130, suggesting that we read 130 too optimistically?

* Sonnet 143 contains an endearingly innocent metaphor--yet one that becomes problematic when taken in context of the Dark Lady drama. What is she chasing after like a "careful housewife," and why is the poet the "neglected child"? 

* Sonnet 144 is a drama unto itself: if we read this literally, what seems to be the story here? Or should it be read more metaphorically, like the good and bad angel on one's shoulder?

* Sonnet 145 is charming, and many scholars consider is a very early poem, thrown into the Sonnets to provide comic relief (see if you can find the pun on Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway). Why does this poem offer a tender/comic pause given the darkness of the previous sonnets? Why does it also give the poet hope where he previously had none?

* Sonnet 152 is technically the end of the Dark Lady drama (and perhaps, of the Sonnets themselves), and is a very tricky poem. Consider the difficult syntax of lines like "and new faith torn/In vowing new hate after new love bearing." Why might he be deliberately clouding the language of this sonnet? How does form follow function here? 

* Sonnets 153/154 seem like they inhabit a completely different world than the others, even going back to the opening sonnets. Why would he end the entire sonnet sequence with two poems about Cupid and the bath of love? Does this seem like a bathetic way to end the Sonnets? A killjoy? 

Monday, October 17, 2016

For Wednesday: Sonnets 127-138 (and 138a)

For Wednesday, start reading the "Dark Lady" sonnets, which document his love affair with a mistress, who he repeatedly says is a dark haired (and dark hued?) beauty. Yet the relationship is quite different from that with the 'young man,' and it begs the question, what did love between a man and a woman (especially a cultured man of the arts and theater) mean in Shakespeare's time? Did men and women experience love the same way we do? Or was there something inherently shameful about sharing a deep, physical, emotional love with a woman? Read on to find out...

Only 12 Sonnets to read this time (read both 138 and 138a), but pay special attention to Sonnets 129, 130, 134, 135, and 138/138a. Consider some of the following as you read...

* Sonnets 128, 129, 130, and a few others seem defensive in their love/praise of the dark mistress. Sometimes he seems to demean her (as in 130), and other times, to attempt to re-write the aestetics of beauty (127). What seems to be the cause of his anxiety? Why does her "blackness" trouble him, and make it necessary to qualify her beauty/attractions?

* Is Sonnet 129 secretly flattering in the way 130 is, or is it outright insulting? Many of these sonnets walk a fine line between the two, but this one seems to cross it--or does it? Is it sly and humorous? Ironic? What kind of tone should the reader adopt when reciting it? 

* Also, why might Sonnet 129 (if read straight) betray the poet's sexual anxiety, either in his ability to perform or of his attraction to women? How might this reflect deeper cultural anxieties as well?

* Compare Sonnet 130 to Sonnet 18: both are backwards love sonnets, reversing the usual procedure to offer a more realistic approach. What makes this one more audacious--and frankly, satisfying--than 18? What is the one thing he does in this poem that he refuses to do in 18?

* Ah, Sonnet 135. Why does he pun so often on the name "Will," even using its close form "Wilt" throughout? Is it significant that his own name is Will? Also, why is "Will" sometimes capitalized and sometimes not? Note that Sonnet 136 continues this joke.

* Look carefully at the differences between the two versions of Sonnet 138.  Sonnet 138a came first, published in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, whereas 138 appeared with the Sonnets in 1609, slightly revised. What did Shakespeare (we assume) change in the revision? Which one is 'stronger' to you? Darker? 

Friday, October 14, 2016

For Monday: The Sonnets, 111-126

Start thinking about your Short Paper #2 assignment (posted below) and read through Greenblatt's chapter if you're interested in the idea of "cultural poetics," since it might give you some ideas for your play. 

For Monday, read Sonnets 111-126, a very short selection, and especially consider nos. 111, 112, 113, 116, 119, 120, 121, and 126. We'll have an in-class writing response over some of these on Monday.

Things to consider...

* Why does Sonnet 126 lack a concluding couplet? What is the effect of reading a sonnet that doesn't end, especially after a series of 125 sonnets? 

* The word "evil" crops up several times in this sequence, notably in Sonnets 119 and 121. If the relationship with the "young man" is ending, is it with considerable rancor on the poet's part? Has he encountered the ultimate betrayal? Or is it a more casual, mundane mendacity? 

* Sonnet 116 is one of the most famous and beautiful in the entire cycle, and seems almost out of place here, as the relationship winds to a painful close. Why might the poet include this sonnet so late in the sequence, particularly with its familiar decrees about love and lines that defy time's "bending sickle"? 

* How do Sonnet 111 and 112 develop the theme of 110, which states, "I have gone here and there /And made myself a motley to the view"? 

* Bouncing off Greeblatt's idea that the theater "is manifestly the product of collective intentions," how might Shakespeare be expressing conventional (and theatrical) notions of love in these sonnets? While we tend to write stories that celebrates the triumph of love, were Elizabethans more pessimistic in their portrayal of amore? Do the sonnets reflect the theatrical notion that love is an idealized state that cannot be realized in the flesh? 

* What final word of warning does the poet offer the "lovely boy" in Sonnet 126? Does this ultimately echo, like a mirror, the warning of Sonnet 1? Or has it been transformed? 

Short Paper #2: What Silent Love Hath Writ

Short Paper #2: “What Silent Love Hath Writ”

In Mark Jay Mirsky’s book, The Drama in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (2011), he writes that “It may seem strange to say this, but the Sonnets are essentially dramatic. That is, they are voices speaking to each other.” So for your second short paper, I want you to take this literally: how are the Sonnets both a dramatic/performative text that are “voices speaking to each other?”

Let’s imagine that the ECU Theater department has commissioned you, as their resident dramaturge, to create a very short, one-act play based on the Sonnets. However, the catch is they want this to be a play for two actors, not just a single poet writing to his invisible, silent muse. I want you to choose between 10-12 sonnets that seem to speak to one another, creating not only the skeleton of a plot, but seem to create two distinct characters having a dramatic conversation. The Sonnets can come from anywhere within the 154 Sonnets, and do not have to go in order. For example, Sonnet 1 can respond to Sonnet 116, etc. Since so many of the Sonnets repeat or recycle similar themes and utterances, it’s not hard to see one sonnet responding to a previous one, or even critiquing (or rejecting) another sonnet. Try to find sonnets that work together, advancing a relationship full of love, hope, disappointment, betrayal, rejection, confusion, acceptance, and abandonment (or some of these, anyway).

Your paper should have the following TWO parts:
  • PART ONE should introduce us to the two characters in your play. Explain who they are and why you chose these characters. They can be historical or contemporary, old or young, of any profession/background so long as you can see this in the poems. How do these character help explain the mystery of the Sonnets and the secret drama at the heart of the ‘play’?
  • PART TWO: Then identify the 10-12 sonnets in your sequence, and explain why you chose these poems; in other words, what story they seem to tell. To help you do this, I want you to briefly close read at least 4-5 poems, showing the back-and-forth conversation between the speakers. Explicating a single line in a poem is sufficient, so long as it reveals themes, characters, and ideas.
  • At least 4 pages double spaced, though more is more than acceptable
  • Close reading/quotation from the Sonnets; paraphrasing or summarizing them alone is not acceptable (though you can do this hand-in-hand with close reading). Remember the “heresy of paraphrase.”
  • Make sure we see how the characters connect to the Sonnets. For example, if you say the Sonnet drama is between two actors, you have to show how the Sonnets reveal their profession, and why reading the Sonnets as between actors is useful/engaging.
  • DUE WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26th BY 5pm [no class that day]

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

For Friday: Sonnets 86-110

For Friday, read Sonnets 86-110, though I want to specifically focus on the following: 86, 87, 91, 94, 106, 110.We'll do an in-class writing response (#11) on something related to the Sonnets, but I'll say more about that in class. :) 

Some ideas to think about:

* How does Sonnet 86 respond to 80, even using some of the same metaphors and imagery? If we want to look at 86 as a revision of the earlier sonnet, in what spirit or mood is it written in?

* Imagine that Sonnet 87 is a speech in a play: how should it be delivered? What kind of "farewell" speech is this? Does it offer hope of an eventual reunion? Or is it goodbye, not for now, but forever?

* Sonnets 91 and 94 seem to be particularly about class and rank. How do they complicate the relationship between poet and muse, and in what way is class/rank guilty of the betrayal? Is the muse 'bad' because of his rank--or in spite of it? 

* Sonnet 106 is about the art of writing poetry itself: how can anyone write a love poem when there are hundreds of thousands of poems behind you? We could even argue that this poem is a defense of why Shakespeare writes, and what distinguishes his poem from the ancient poets'. So what does he mean by the line, "So all their praises are but prophecies/Of this our time, all you prefiguring;"? 

* Why might we be tempted to read Sonnet 110 as about the playwright's trade? Knowing this is by Shakespeare, why might this lay bare the true 'sin' of the poet's existence--and what came between him and his muse?

Monday, October 10, 2016

For Wednesday: Shakespeare, Sonnets 56-85

As before, you have two options: read Sonnets 56-85 (I just re-read them, and thoroughly recommend it!) or simply read the sonnets I want to discuss for Wednesday: 61, 62, 65, 66, 71, 72, 73, 74. 79, 80, 81, 83. 

Some ideas to consider:

* Note that most of the poems above are pairs, each one slightly revising or expanding upon the ideas of the previous poem. A great example of this is Sonnets 71 & 72, each one predicting the death of the poet, and his desire to be forgotten in name, but to survive in verse. What is the difference between these poems? Which one do you feel is stronger, more immediate? Which one more thoughtful? Which one will live 'longer' than the other? Or are they actually two halves of the same poem?

* Note that in many of these sonnets, the term "black" with its connotations of night, darkness, evil, and loss of sight, often becomes a positive term. Why is this? How does Shakespeare make this work within the poem itself?

* What is the effect of all the "Ands" in Sonnet 66? Clearly this is purposeful, so why create this constant refrain? How does it underline the meaning of the sonnet itself?

* In a few of these sonnets, Shakespeare moves away from immortalizing the lover/muse in his lines, but claims that he, himself, will live forever in them. Where do we see this, and is this conceited of him--a "sin of self love?" 

* How does the poet critique other poets/lovers in these sonnets? What is their fault, and how does the poet beat them at their own game? Consider Sonnet 83 when he writes, "For I impair not beauty, being mute,/When others would give life a bring a tomb." 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

For Monday: Shakespeare, Sonnets 33-55

For Monday, you can either (a) Read Sonnets 33-55 looking for the twists and turns of the narrative, or (b) just read Sonnets 33, 35, 36, 38, 40, 42, 43, 46, & 55. These are the sonnets I chiefly want to discuss in class.

Some ideas to consider:

* What complication seems to occur in Sonnets 33 & 35? Why do both sonnets open with comparisons to the natural world--suns, mountains, clouds, and moons? Why is this an apt metaphor for his relationship with the young man?

* Sonnets 35, 36, and 46 also employ a strange metaphor in a love sonnet: the courtroom. Why is the narrator both an "accessary" to the crime and the young man's "advocate"?

* How does Sonnet 38 seem to expand the theatrical metaphor, and tease us into seeing the young man as an actor? 

* Sonnets 40, (41), and 42 introduce a strange new element into the sonnet sequence, particularly when he initially says, "Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all." What is the new conflict that these sonnets introduce, and how does the narrator try to reconcile it?

* Sonnet 43 has some of the most difficult syntax in all the sonnets we've read thus far; consider a line like "And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed." Why is this sonnet so dense and cryptic? What issue is he trying to hide or perhaps unwilling to confront directly?

* How does Sonnet 55 compare with the earlier Sonnet 18? Both seem to have the same general subject, but how does he approach it differently at a later stage in their relationship? Or, is he simply trying to recapture the beauty (or the plea) of earlier days with this "discursive practice"? 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

For Friday: Sonnets 19-32

For Friday, you have two options in your reading:

The "Go-Getter" Option: Read Sonnets 19 to 32 in their entirety and see how each one advances the narrative one by one, and of course how many of them echo one another and build on each other.

The "Express" Option: Read Sonnets 20, 22, 23, 25, 29, 30, which are the ones I chiefly want to focus on for Friday. We will discuss some (but not all) of these in class.

You can always go back and read others when you have time, of course; however, the advantage of reading the entire set is that a poem we don't discuss could be used as a 'theory' to read and decipher one of the more prominent ones. 

Some ideas to consider with Sonnets 20, 22, 23, 25, 29 and 30:

* Consider how Shakespeare increasingly uses metaphors from the theater. Clearly as a playwright this makes sense, but how does it also make sense considering he is writing to a "Renaissance gentleman" who follows the rules of "nonchalance" in all things?

* Look for strange syntax and consider why Shakespeare might make a line deliberately difficult. For example, in Sonnet 20: "A man in hue all hues in his controlling," or Sonnet 23, "More than that tongue that more hath more expressed."

* Besides the theatrical metaphors, how does the poet/narrative reveal some of his personal background? What class is he? What relationship does he seem to have with the gentleman of the Sonnets? What is his age? What are his fears?

* Has the poet given up with the "give thyself an heir" argument, or is he simply trying another angle? Is it possible that he never meant to seriously urge him to procreate at all, and these slightly later sonnets can help us read the earlier ones in a different light? 

* How do some of these poems remind you of Cavafy's work, especially poems about old age and memory?  

Monday, October 3, 2016

For Wednesday: Shakespeare, Sonnets 1-18

For Wednesday, read Sonnets 1-18 for class and we may do an in-class writing or simply discuss a few closely as a class. As you read them, consider some of the following ideas:

* Shakespeare's sonnets are in iambic pentameter, meaning 5 iambs (an iamb is an unstressed + a stressed syllable). The rhyme scheme is typically ABABCDCDEFEFGG. However, each sonnet (except one) has a concluding couplet, which often gives a little twist to the entire poem. Note some of the twists we find in the rhyming couplets.

* How do many of these poems function as a memento mori? Who does he seem to be addressing this message to? Himself? A patron? A fellow actor? A loved one?

* How do one or more of these poems seem to be addressed to the ideal gentleman and the themes of Castiglione's courtier? How does Shakespeare draw his images and metaphors from the pursuits and interests of a typical 'well rounded' gentleman?

* Do these poems seem intimate or staged? That is, do they seem to be a performance for an audience, or do they feel like they're written for the poet himself? Is he, like a Renaissance gentleman himself, putting on a show of wit, learning, and ease through his poetry? Or is he simply speaking spontaneously of matters close to his heart? Do some seem more intimate than others?

* Sonnet 18 is one of the most famous and is the most immediately striking (and some say, accomplished) of the first 18. Why is this? What makes this poem sound a new note in the sequence? 

* Do these seem to be all written to the same person? Are some written to different audiences? Are there any clues to hint at the intended audience?

* What narrative, if any, seems to emerge from the first 18 sonnets? Where do we see this specifically?