Friday, April 30, 2010


So, I have to say that this was an extremely fun class and I will miss you all and the fun discussions we all had (despite it being 8 AM). I thought it might be fun to wrap up the blog with some ideas for summer reading. Any spare time I may have, I always have my nose in a book. In between working, taking online classes, tanning, vacationing/road-tripping I plan on reading A TON this summer. Here are some things I plan on reading (aside from checking out the Norton more!):

V. by Thomas Pynchon
Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson (sp?)
The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Walden by Henry David Thoreau (re-reading it!)
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is just a bit of my "To-read" book stack. Does anyone have any additional suggestions? Have you all read any of these? What is everyone else reading over the summer?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Progress at Ground Zero

After our discussions about the Time of Terror and what is expected and appropriate from citizens and writers after 9/11 I made a post about the lack of construction at Ground Zero. Things have picked up since then, with the NY Times reporting last week that the center piece of the new Ground Zero--the building known as One World Trade--is attracting tenets and well underway. Finally, some encouraging news.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Science, Music, and Art, Oh My.

Remember Pynchon's Entropy?

As much as some of us loved or hated Entropy, I'm in the midst of writing a paper on the representations of gender through advertising in the 1950s, and so I decided to look up some (only some) of the multitude of pop culture references Pynchon imported for the story, which is supposed to take place in 1957. Here is some of what I found (click on the images for more info on each):

"[Callisto's] had always been a vigorous, Italian sort of pessimism: like Machiavelli, he allowed the forces of virtu and fortuna to be about 50/50; but the equations introduced and random factor which pushed the odds to some unutterable and indeterminate ratio which he foundhimself afraid to calculate."

Machiavelli - Footnote: Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1537), Forentine statesman and writer on government, contrasted virtuous behavior (virtu) with good luck (fortuna) (p. 2821).

"He was an ex-Hungarian freedom fighter who had easily the worst chronic case of what certain critics of the middle class have called Don Giovannism in the District of Columbia" (p. 2820).

Don Giovanni - An opera in two acts by Mozart. "Don Giovanni, a young nobleman, after a life of amorous conquests, meets defeat in three encounters. The first is with Donna Elvira, whom he has deserted but who still follows him. The second is with Donna Anna, who must postpone her marriage to Don Ottavio after Don Giovanni tries to rape her and kills her father, the Commendatore, escaping afterwards. The third is with Zerlina, whom he vainly tries to lure from her fiancé, the peasant Masetto. All vow vengeance on Don Giovanni and his terribly harassed servant Leporello. Elvira alone weakens in her resolution and attempts reconciliation in the hope that Giovanni will reform. Don Giovanni's destruction and deliverance to hell are effected by the cemetery statue of the Commendatore, who had accepted the libertine's invitation to supper" (Wikipedia).

"Soon Meatball said: 'It was something earthshattering, no doubt. Like who is better, Sal Mineo or Ricky Nelson.' "

Sal Mineo (L) and Ricky Nelson (R) - Footnote: Contemporary figures from film and television who were icons of bad and good teenage behavior respectively
(p. 2822).

Krinkles to one of the 'coeds,' "When Dave was in the army, just a private E-2, they sent him down to Oak Ridge on special duty. Something to do with the Manhattan Projec
t. He was handing hot stuff one say and got an overdose of radiation. So now he's got to wear lead gloves all the time."

The Manhattan Project - footnote: The research that developed the atomic bomb for the use at the end of World War II (p. 2823). In a national survey at the turn of the millennium, both journalists and the public ranked the dropping of the atomic bomb and the end of the Second World War as the top news stories of the twentieth-century (from:

Saul to Meatball, " 'Miriam has been reading science fiction again. That and Scientific American. It seems she is, as we say, bugged at this idea of computers acting like people." (p.2822)

Scientific American Magazine - The oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years. (from

"...And then this crew off the good ship Lollipop or whatever it was might to take it upon themselves to kick down the closet door, for a lark."

Good Ship Lollipop - Footnote: The subject of film and song popularized in the 1930s by the American child actress Shirley Temple (p. 2826). (Click on this image of Shirley Temple to specifically see the part of the film where she sings the song. I don't quite know what to make if it...)

Some of these references have come up more than once through our readings this semester (ie The Manhattan Project - in Postcards: the Uranium mines, Scientific American - in Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Waiting Room": comparable to National Geographic)

Twitter as Writing

This is going off of a lot of the recent discussions we've been having about blogs as writing. Last week the Library of Congress announced that they are going to be archiving all the "tweets" on Twitter. Here's an article from last week's Washington Post about it:

The article notes that Twitter has had a huge impact on things like the relief efforts in Haiti and has given a voice to people who are normally suppressed by their governments. It's obviously a revolutionary form of communication that has had a huge impact on society and our culture.

But for every meaningful "tweet" on Twitter there's probably a million more that are completely useless. Do Lindsay Lohan's rants really need to be archived in the Library of Congress?

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting that something like Twitter is now being taken seriously as a way of studying our culture and society. Does this legitimize Twitter as a real form of writing? Is there a difference between a "tweet" and a postcard?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

a poem by Sherman Alexie, "At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School"

I guess I'm a little distraught about our discussion on "Do Not Go Gentle." I don't think I'm alone when I say, I'm also a little distraught about the story itself and the significance of Chocolate Thunder. While I hadn't read any of Alexie's work before this class, I've since started reading his book Ten Little Indians, from which "Do Not Go Gentle" comes, for another class about Gender Studies in Western Texts (ENGL 175) as well as his other poems in The Norton. I found his writing to be, well, awesome. While you may not agree with me, I believe Alexie deserves some more positive attention than that we are giving him. One of his poems I found particularly moving, as it, along with a lot of Alexie's works, addresses issues which Native Americans face in the US today regarding tradition, ethnicity, appreciation of ceremony and the land. Here it is reprinted:

At a Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School
from the photograph by Skeet McAuley (above)

the football field rises
to meet the mesa. Indian boys
gallop across the grass, against

the beginnings of their body.
On those Saturday afternoons,
unbroken horses gather to watch

their sons growing larger
in the small parts of the world.
Everyone is the quarterback.

There is no thin man in a big hat
writing down all the names
in two columns: winners and losers.

This is the eternal football game,
Indians versus Indians. All the Skins
in the wooden bleachers fancydancing,

stomping red dust straight down
into nothing. Before the game is over,
the eighth-grade girls' track team

comes running, circling the field,
their thin and brown legs echoing
wild horses, wild horses, wild horses.

From The Business of Fancydancing by Sherman Alexie, Hanging Loose Press

A Tribal School is a school controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to integrate Native American culture into education. Considering many Native Americans were forced into government run Boarding Schools during the early 20th century in order to assimilate them into 'white' culture, Tribal Schools seem like a way to bring back tradition and culture lost through previous attempts of assimilation.

Prof. Fisher touched on this briefly in class, but I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts about the fact that all of the post 9/11 writers and texts we've been reading relate to, in some way, the stand point of minorities or what is sometimes identified as "the other," now that we've started reading Zigzagger along with Alexie and Lahiri. Or thoughts about what kind of impact culture has on Alexie's works. Or any general reactions to this poem.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The xx

The song that Professor Fisher posted reminded me a lot of my current favorite band The xx. Shameless plug to follow. Highly suggest listening. Plus their at the 9:30 club this weekend :)

Anyways I am going to attempt to connect the band to the post-modernism movement.

There is a part of the song around 2:40 where both the male and female vocals overlap with different lyrics. It has a similar effect that As I Lay Dying did. I never knew which narrative to follow and which story was the truth.

I also found it interesting that the beats aren't made by drums but by the keyboard which is essentially replaying the recorded sound of a drum. All of the recordings on the keyboard are fragmented and shored together into a song.

Good Vibrations

So I stole the title of the last "unit" in our class from the band Explosions in the Sky--specifically from their album The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. Released in 2003, the same year that Sherman Alexie published "Do Not Go Gentle," the album suggests, to me at least, a certain amount of hope--life--in the post-9/11 era. And that's why I used their title as an organizing scheme for the last few of our classes--adding the question mark to encourage all of you to interrogate whether or not the final literary selections present us with a world that is not cold and dead.

Given our vibrator discussion today, I think it's appropriate that you all listen closely to the drumming (and opening guitars) on EITS's "First Breath After Coma," the lead track on Earth. After listening, use the comments section to do some wordplay, to stretch out our discussions from class, or to comment on my good taste in music.

"First Breath After Coma" (you can ignore the visuals)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Most Influential Person of the Past 1,000 Years

While we're on the topics of text messages as writing, post cards as literature, and the credibility of blogs....check out who A & E claimed to be The Most Influential Person of the Past 1,000 Years (or should I say...The Guy Who Made This All Possible).

Being that we are in an American literature course, a reoccurring theme we've discussed in class includes what it means to be free and have the right to freedom. Everyone knows the US prides itself on Freedom; "it's a free country," "Roosevelt's 5 Freedoms," "free speech," etc.

After watching this short segment from A & E's 25 part series, Biography of the Millennium, which aired in late 1999, it seemed to be a no brainer that Johan Gutenberg was to be chosen to be The Most Influential Person of the Past 1,000 Years. Mind you, this segment was aired nearly 12 years ago, but a few thoughts on this tv clip:

-Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General of the UN, was astounded to know that government news tips were being leaked through the fax machine. I wonder how he feels now...

-David Remnick, the Editor-in-Chief of The New Yorker, said:

"The effect of the press on our lives is essential. We can't, as a democracy, live without it. It infuriates us, there's lots of bad press. But I've seen the opposite. I've lived in the Soviet Union in the bad old days. I've seen the effect of the 'non-press' on a people. And if that's the option, then I think that every American would say 'Count me out.'"

This got me to thinking about Americans' ability to express ourselves and how lucky one is to have that freedom. (side note: Facebook is known to be blocked by the government in nearly 27 countries around the world. I don't even want to know what would happen if the US government blocked facebook...) Nonetheless, it is interesting to think of how this idea applies to writing "in a time of terror" when writers grapple with the idea of what exactly it means to be free (is it the ability... as one theorist argues, to be able to be welcome and a home for whoever walks through our doors? to disseminate information and perspectives? to express oneself through writing? or is it something else?)

Blogs to Books

This relates back to blogging as writing. Many bloggers are only legitimized in their chosen field when they become published. It is just a reminder that we don't give blogs equal credit...yet.

I mostly pay attention to fashion blogs so hear are some examples in that genre:

Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist and his book of the same title. He earned little credit until Vogue picked him up, and even more credit when he published his book, which was pretty much his blog printed out on shiny paper.

Ivan Rodic of The Face Hunter and his book of the same title. Same deal as above in terms of acceptance in his field.

Brooke Mahnanti of Belle De Jour: Secret Diary of a London Call Girl. She then went on to publish her adventures in book form and finally as a television show. It was highly speculated that the blog was made up and fictional but once published as a non-fiction book her audience now believed. Goes to show that we dont yet trust blogs but we do trust literature genres.

Any other examples? Any thoughts on why this is? And any predictions to how society and literature will adapt?

Blogging as Writing

Maybe its a little late to discuss this or maybe now that we all have experience in blogging its better now than ever to ask. How do you feel about blogging as writing? Is it legit or of quality? Do you think it will make an impact in our future? And do you think kids will study it in American Literature in 2050?

I'd say it depends on the blog of course but more general issues do play a role. The idea of audience is something we liked to talk about in class. A bloggers audience is like no other audience. It is massive, worldwide, but very unfocused. I hate when I read blogs or watch video blogs with people I dont know speaking like they're my bestie. "Heeeeey people, I just stopped by to say...." I just dislike the sense of false familiarity and it makes a lot of blogging seem way too fake and superficial.

Beyond that I take issue because everyone and their mother has a blog. Whoever creates a blog must really think that people everywhere are dying to know just what they did, eat, made, said, during the day. Its all unsolicited advise.

With these complaints aired I must say I love blogs. I follow tons and tons of them and search for new ones often. Hopefully through out the week I will bring up my other opinions about blogs.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops

"It's impossible: no one could create a script this contrived. Yet, apparently, it happened. William Basinski's four-disk epic, The Disintegration Loops, was created out of tape loops Basinski made back in the early 1980s. These loops held some personal significance to Basinski, a significance he only touches on in the liner notes and we can only guess at. Originally, he just wanted to transfer the loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to digital hard disk. However, once he started the transfer, he discovered something: the tapes were old and they were disintegrating as they played and as he recorded. As he notes in the liner notes, "The music was dying." But he kept recording, documenting the death of these loops.

These recordings were made in August and September of 2001. Now, this is where the story gets impossible. William Basinski lives in Brooklyn, less than a nautical mile from the World Trade Centers. On September 11, 2001, as he was completing The Disintegration Loops, he watched these towers disintegrate. He and his friends went on the roof of his building and played the Loops over and over, all day long, watching the slow death of one New York and the slow rise of another, all the while listening to the death of one music and the creation of another. As I said, it's impossible. The music, however, is beautiful, subtle, sad, frightening, confusing, and ultimately uplifting. What's he created here is a living document: a field recording of orchestrated decay. It sounds like nothing else I've heard, yet, at its core, it's the simplest and most familiar music I can imagine..."

Friday, April 16, 2010

'One Sec'
The human race continues it's free fall into extinction. Good.

Above you can see an image from, entitled 'One Sec' (click image for link). I saw this image a while ago as it appeared on my friends "Google Buzz" thread through gmail. While the image encapsulates present day discussion and controversy regarding technology and the role it plays in our daily lives (especially when discussing naturalism, transcendentalism, post modernism, etc), it also is a clear comic display.

I found this description of " is a "technology weblog about consumer electronics...It's known for up-to-date coverage of the technology industry and the personal, humorous, sometimes very inappropriate writing style of the contributors." (thank you Wikipedia...)

From this description, it seems that is making fun of themselves by posting this picture.

When looking at this picture, I thought back on our discussions on so many texts and authors (naturalism writers from the beginning of the course, Amy Lowell's "The Captured Goddess", Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow," Robert Frost's poems, various writers during the New Negro movement as they reminisce on their homeland (Africa), Dos Passos's piece of newspaper headlines, Proulx's Postcards, and the list goes on). The freedom found in nature vs. the poisonous captivity (so it seems) of industrial and technological advancement is conquered time and time again in literature, particularly in literary movements before and during post-modernism. I'm interested to see how nature and the natural world is going to creep into the "time of terror" movement (or whatever movement comes after post-modernism), or even if it will be worth noting, as we begin to reading Zigzagger this weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

9/11 in the News Today

9/11, terrorism, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are very prevalent news pieces, but recently several domestic news stories regarding 9/11 have gotten much attention, particularly in the NY media. Emergency responders and those who worked at Ground Zero on the day of the attacks still do not have the government's financial support to cover their medical costs(scroll down on webpage to the second article), a court settlement with 10,000 9/11 workers is being held up, and Ground Zero has yet to be rebuilt because of disagreement over who should foot the bill.

Many of the readings we did spoke about the importance of unity and overcoming the horrors of 9/11 yet here we are in April of 2010 and still have not been able to rebuild the land nor properly compensate the heros and pay for their medical costs.


today in class we were talking about how we all know where we were on 9/11, as do most people and it reminded me of something I learned in my memory and cognition course. Flashbulb memory. Normally memory lessens with time because of interference and what not, but flashbulb memory is a memory that defies time and remains clear. Flashbulb memory occurs when something traumatic or intensely significant (aka 9/11) occurs, the closer you are to the tragedy the stronger the memory. I guess we all could almost infer this info but just gives some scientific backup to the fact that although we were all what, 11 or 12? we remember the day in detail.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Texting and "writing"???

The intro to "Writing in a Time of Terror" in the Norton states, "Writing in a time of terror began during the first hijackings, as passengers on the doomed plane made cell-phone calls and sent text messages." Is it me or is this saying that phone calls and text messages should be considered pieces of writing?

What do you all think? Do you think text messages fall into the category of writing as we know it? Can a phone conversation be "writing"? Or am I totally misinterpreting the sentence?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Don't let this distract you from the real lit postings... but I am totally victim of the hello kitty obsession/dynasty and I just found this...

I am both amazed and horrified!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The new background picture

I'm a big Mark Twain fan...thus the lovely new Huck Finn picture to add some style to the page.

Reading as a class and reading indvidually

Throughout the semester, and particularly during our discussion on Postcards I have contemplated how different the experience and our understanding of a piece of literature is when we read, discuss, and analyze it as a class as opposed to reading it on our own. More specifically, there are often many elements, themes, concepts, etc. that are raised in class that I simply did not think of while doing the reading on my own. I admittedly skipped over many of the "postcards" at the head of each chapter. Yet our discussion on Thursday totally altered my perception of them and their significance. What do you all think? Is the experience of reading a book really all that different when we read it as a class and thoroughly dissect it and attempt to understand it? Do you prefer reading and figuring out the work on your own or having the variety of minds and thoughts from classmates contribute to your understanding of it?

You Made Me Realise

I thought I would give you all a taste of the song (and band) that give this blog it's name, My Bloody Valentine's classic track "You Made Me Realise."

"You Made Me Realise" starts out like a pretty run-of-the-mill punk song, even for My Bloody Valentine, but things get pretty turbulent around 1:40 where the song bursts out into shards of hard noise and atonality. At concerts, the band would extend this relatively small span of noise into a span of over twenty minutes that they called "The Holocaust." Witnesses say the experience was much like standing with your head right next to a jet engine, and plenty of people have cited MBV concerts as having given them ear damage. Also note the phantasmagorical video subject. It's hard to say what it all means, let alone how all of it fits together, maybe a more extreme example of the fast, jittery Postcards that we have been reading. I'd say this track and this video are actually pretty postmodern.

This was only the beginning of MBV's progressive noise experiments. They would go on to accomplish much more with their subsequent albums Isn't Anything and Loveless.

Click here for more info.

It's time to laugh

By now, eveyone should realize that Postcards is an extrmely depressing novel. Here's something a little on the lighter side.

I'm not sure about you all, but I find this hilarious. This video even fits in with our discussion of post-modernism. Think of Pynchon, the Simpsons, Postcards... you could have never seen the end of the video coming from what was provided for you at the beginning. Also, there is a failure of communication between the... uh... sea creatures? Either way, it is silly and should get you out of the depressing mindset that Postcards put me in.

A little bit random... but I was searching Postcards criticisms and found this little user review about feeling depressed or unfinished after finishing reading Postcards. We will probably get to this in class but I was wondering how you all felt when you finished the book? It was a pretty sad ending, reminded me a little bit of some of the stories I read in Russian Lit I and II, tragic endings!
Do you think tragic endings are unsatisfying? One really sad story I remember is "White Nights" about a lonely man in Russia who finally meets a woman for one evening and then she leaves for another man... its very sad but at the same time he appreciated even this one night. Ah ramblings, but yeah what do you think!

Check out DJ AM Elton 1-5 mixes if you want like 8 hours of great music :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010


As I read Postcards and listen to the class's discussion about the possible importance of the messages written on the backs of the postcards in the novel I can't help but wonder how they interact with the photographs on the front. It seemed as though a lot of you agreed with the notion that the postcards' messages provided the narrative with a level of truth. They give you the date and insight into the events which occur in the novel. While this analysis might be a bit shaky (maybe the postcards aren't this cut and dry), if the text is the truth then what are the photographs?

I think the photographs are in contrast with the the text because they are unrealistic snapshots that hide the truth behind their beauty. Though it isn't clear how exactly the bear was captured in the photograph, it surely doesn't tell the truth about him. It makes me wonder about all of the snapshots we take of our lives and how much they say about what we really did. What about the photos that all of those darn tourists took at the Cherry Blossom Festival? Does someone's smiling face in front of the tidal basin tell any truth about that person, or even that day? I understand wanting to remember a good time, but I don't think that years later a person will look at their smiling face and remember the truth: that it was a hot day, they were blistered and tired, and all they really wanted was to get out of that zoo.

So then what is Proulx saying about communication? I think maybe she is suggesting that it's difficult to understand another person's life by communicating with snapshots because it's fragmented and often misrepresents reality. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Proulx and History

I've been thinking a lot about the discussion we had abut Postcards this morning and this idea that all of the notes are just tiny snippets that don't give us the whole story. We also touched on the fact that Annie Proulx incorporates so many historical American writers into her novel and that the story itself spans a really large time period. And, similarly to On the Road, she seems to question some of our traditional American values (like the American Dream and the idea of the Western frontier)

With this in mind I thought maybe Proulx was trying to connect to the way we view our own history. Arguably, the American history courses we take in high school and even here at GW are just textbook explanations of events that have already occurred. We take these at face valuable but probably don't get the whole story. Do you guys think that Proulx is trying to argue against the way we perceive our own history?

"My giant goes with me wherever I go"

Today in class while we were talking about Loyal Blood as he traveled away from his family farm I couldn't help but remember back to this quote by Emerson . . .

"When we're being men, we feel a call to duty. The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home. When his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he's still at home, and lets people know by the expression on his face that he goes as the missionary of wisdom and virtue, visiting cities and people like a sovereign, not like an intruder or a valet.

I have no cranky objection to world travel for the purposes of art, of study, and goodwill, as long as the individual is first domesticated, or doesn't go abroad with the hope of finding something greater than what he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get something he doesn't have within, travels away from himself, and gets old among old things while he's still young. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become as old and run-down as they have. He carries ruins to ruins.

Traveling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys show us how little difference places make. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack my bags, hug my friends, get on the plane, and wake up in Naples, and there next to me is the cruel fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I look for the Vatican and the palaces. I pretend to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson "Self-Reliance"

I feel as though Emerson would judge Loyal as a fool for thinking that he could escape from himself and the murder he committed by mere change of place. It will be interesting as we read further into the novel to see if Loyal's "giant" really does go with him wherever he goes. In the first portion we read, the scenes with Loyal's odd sexual encounters might as some suggested in class, be a sign that he feels guilty for what he did to Billy. So it would seem that one of the critical questions of the novel is does Loyal carry around his "giant" when he leaves? And if so how does he learn to live with the "giant"?

I'm also curious about whether or not the rest of you agree with Emerson's assessment on travel. Do you feel there's any truth to his claim that those who travel to escape will only be disappointed to find that they cannot?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Finding Our Place

I find that a common theme in some of our readings is the writers trying to find where they belong in the world. For instance, I saw Anzaldua's essay on language as a kind of exploration of how she truly identifies herself.

As a senior graduating in just a little over a month, I can relate to this sort of identity crisis. I'm a journalism major, an english minor, I haven't found a job yet and I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Can anyone else relate?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Class Trip to Eatonville?

Check out this article in the Sunday NY Times about Eatonville, with a strong emphasis on Zora Neale Hurston!!

Friday, April 2, 2010


As always, I enjoy hearing student feedback on my courses. And, as always, I lament the amount of variables—cost of books, thematic focus, diversity of authors, etc.—that need to be balanced when creating a syllabus for a survey course like ours, one that encompasses 150+ years of American literary history (in fourteen weeks).

However, I was struck yesterday by a few comments that some of you made. Therefore, I’m challenging you to think through some of the criticism that you lobbied at the course. To be clear, your sentiments are fine, and you’re well within your rights to locate structural problems in the course. That said, you should always be able to substantiate any criticism you make of anything with, as you know, well-substantiated arguments. Yesterday, it seemed to me that some of the concerns that many of you had about the (problematic) diversity of the authors in our course emerged from two different locations: 1) a kind of top-down point of view that parrots mainstream, often conservative, critiques of higher education which claim universities (and professors) are too “PC,” whatever that might mean; 2) bottom-up from the perspective of the almighty, all-encompassing AP English classes that students take in high school—often at ages around 16-18—when we all know that our intellects are at their sharpest. (To put that last point in less snarky terms, all the while admitting that I am a very open critic of the AP [and IB] industries: If you study Hemingway pretty thoroughly in high school, why should you be required to read him again in college? Why not skip over him to touch upon some other less canonical authors?)

Finally, the issue of thematic focus is a thorny one, for very practical reasons. In our case, I had you purchase the bulky, but very useful, three-volume Norton. I also asked you to purchase two stand alone paperbacks. The Beats are not covered in any significant detail in The Norton, and I didn’t want to make you purchase too many books for the class because that gets costly. Thus, Kerouac and co. didn’t make the cut. That’s a problem inherent in courses like these that just won’t go away, unfortunately. Still, you can feel free to question the utility of these types of courses that require hard decisions to be made when it comes to selecting content.

So where was I going with all of this? Oh yeah, the syllabus. Below are two purposefully clumsy categories that represent the authors on our syllabus. I have chosen these clumsy categories because they echo the terminology that many of you used in class yesterday—the canonical (frequently white) authors versus the “political” ones. (And again, I’d argue that this terminology is something that we’ve all heard elsewhere, which is why we might use it so uncritically.) What do you think of the syllabus when it is divided up this way? Does it alter your impressions of the thematic content of the course?

Traditional Writers

Mark Twain
Henry James
Sarah Orne Jewett
Kate Chopin
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Stephen Crane
Jack London
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Amy Lowell
Robert Frost
William Carlos Williams
Carl Sandburg
Ezra Pound
T. S. Eliot
H. D.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
John Dos Passos
William Faulkner
Elizabeth Bishop
Randall Jarrell
Flannery O’Connor
Anne Sexton
Sylvia Plath
Ronald Sukenick
Thomas Pynchon
Annie Proulx

“Political” Writers

Booker T. Washington
W. E. B. Du Bois
James Weldon Johnson
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Langston Hughes
Claude McKay
Zora Neale Hurston
Jean Toomer
Countee Cullen
Richard Wright
Audre Lorde
Ishmael Reed
Gloria Anzaldúa
Sherman Alexie
Jhumpa Lahiri
Manuel Muñoz

*A Few Points:

1) I didn’t include any of the 9/11 writers in here because there’s a whole slew of smaller pieces assigned for that day, and I just didn’t have the time to sort through all of them. However, it’s probably safe to say that 9/11 is a political event, even though I’ll argue that it’s a primarily textual one. We’ll see what you think.

2) By my count, there’s 26 writers in the first group, and 16 in the second. Moreover, the first group contains three major, long works of literature—Daisy Miller, As I Lay Dying, Postcards--whereas Zigzagger is the only long work written by a “nontraditional” writer.

3) The point of all of this: How are all of you making the judgment calls that you are making? How can someone like Audre Lorde be more, or less, political than someone like John Dos Passos? Moreover, how do we establish literary categories to begin with? Clearly, the ones above don’t work. Therefore, when some of you claim that there are too many “civil rights” writers in the course, what does that mean? Clearly, there aren’t more civil rights writers in the course than writers who don’t write on civil rights. Why, though, do the CR folks stand out? Why might that seem problematic to you? And why, of course, is it problematic that we are not reading Hemingway?

Okay, have at it. I’ll be curious to see what you come up with.