Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation?

The LA Times Review

Our Generation

Our discussion today made me think about this article I had read in the New York Times. It talks about today's college students and how they use Business as a default major. It also discusses that students who are not in Ivy League business schools do not work hard at all--they are very lazy and do just enough to skate by through college. I thought this was pretty interesting, especially because at least four of my friends from home are potential/ current business majors.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Does Literature Even Matter?

Last week, we talked briefly about the purpose of literature and its role as a "performance." It was towards the end of class, so we didn't have much time to discuss, and I was curious as to what everyone thought about this topic. What does literature accomplish? Now that we are finishing up the semester, I think this is a good, broad question to ask. I'm an English major, and I've always pondered this. I haven't taken Critical Methods yet, but I hear that this is one of the major questions that class aims to answer. Writers oftentimes write stories that respond to the social and political tensions of their time period, but they do not necessarily go out and act upon the message they send to their readers. Can literature inspire readers to act, or is literature simply a "performance" meant to entertain? Thoreau himself once said, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Also Know Something that You Don't Know

Or at least something that you might not know--namely that The Princess Bride is fantastic representation/satire of the medieval romance. Check the clip below. Yes, you should be asking yourselves why they would not fight with their right hands from the start. It's inconceivable that they would not do that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hollingsworth's Birthday Party

Would it be this much fun?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Analyzing Fiction

I've wondered throughout the semester what role an author's life play in analyzing fiction or nonfiction. We've seen how authors can almost be seen as "ghosts" through time in that they are able to step out and see things nobody else can see. However, for example, John Winthrop, author of the sermon City Upon a Hill, was a lawyer before delivering his sermon. He uses legal language throughout the sermon. Walt Whitman, an assumed homosexual, reveals hints of his homosexuality in his poetry specifically in Leaves of Grass. How much does an author's life or even life experiences shape the literature they write? How much of it is something we subconciously seek? Are author's truly "ghosts" through time or are they humans like the rest of us?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Would you grant Dickinson immunity . . .

if you were stranded on the island with her?

Poem 1263

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

All together now:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Romanticism?! Where did you come from?

I know it is a bit early to be posting on "The Blithedale Romance", but I simply could not suppress my urge to post about the preface. I almost jumped out of my seat when I read the following lines: "In the old countries, with which Fiction has long been conversant, a certain conventional privilege seems to be awarded to the romancer...". Hawthorne goes on to further speak of the romantic "genre", hinting that his following text will belong to the "genre".

I'm not sure why (and I'm not sure if I am the only one) but this whole time I always thought of these waves of genres (romanticism, realism, modernism, etc.) to come naturally with the evolution of literature. At no point did I think that the authors could be as conscious of their era as we are now with hindsight.

I don't want to say that the preface completely shattered my appreciation of the romantic era, but it definitely made me question how authentic the authors' inspirations to write within the "genre" were. Did Thoreau really think that life was better in the forest or was he simply contributing to an artificially formed movement? Did Whitman believe in his image of America or was he simply writing what he thought Emerson wanted to hear?

Hawthorne was one of the later writers in the romantic era so I suppose he had to have some context of romanticism, after all Kurt Cobain knew that grunge was dying with his band, but where, how and why do these era's begin and end? Who were the true believers (if any) of romanticism and who was just trying to cash in on the cannon? Why does Literature (and music for that matter) travel in different waves, is it impossible to write completely without influence? And if so where do new eras spring up from?

These are lofty questions and I feel as if I have answered many in them in my mind while writing this post, but what do you guys think?

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Told You That Intro to American Lit Was Relevant to All of Your Lives

Believe me yet?

Below is a clip of a high school production of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. I'm not so sure that those chairs are authentically nineteenth-century handiwork, though.

Friday, April 8, 2011


In 19th century, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are pioneers of the development of American poetry. They have such a great influence that any current poet in American has somehow “raised up” by both of them, which is the same as the influence that Li Bai and Du Fu have on the Chinese poetry world.

Li Bai (ca 705 - 762), also called Li Po, is one of the China's most famous poets. A commentary that focuses on his connection to the Qing has been written. Ronald Egan writes in this literal work (Controversy, p.53), "In the first centuries of the Tang dynasty, the poets Meng Haoran and Li Po further promoted the cultivation of a special literati affiliation with this instrument." “BRINGING IN THE WINE”, one of his greatest artworks, belongs to the old genre of folk-song-styled-verseswith its content focus on the drinking party and amusement. We talked about Whitman’s “Song of myself” as his autobiography. This piece by Li Bai also on some extend reflected his personal journey over the years. The poem expresses his exclamation with the emotion of having genius but unrecognized, as well as the pessimistic idea that people should enjoy pleasure of their short life in good time. However, he also expresses his self-affirmation, the positive and unrestrained attitude to pursue freedom, which is derived and converted from the extreme pressure of the society and contradiction between reality and ideal. Below is the translation of this great artwork in Chinese history.

See how the Yellow River's waters move out of heaven.

Entering the ocean, never to return.

See how lovely locks in bright mirrors in high chambers,

Though silken-black at morning, have changed by night to snow.

...Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases

And never tip his golden cup empty toward the moon!

Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed!

Spin a thousand pieces of silver, all of them come back!

Cook a sheep, kill a cow, whet the appetite,

And make me, of three hundred bowls, one long drink!

...To the old master, Cen,

And the young scholar, Danqiu,

Bring in the wine!

Let your cups never rest!

Let me sing you a song!

Let your ears attend!

What are bell and drum, rare dishes and treasure?

Let me be forever drunk and never come to reason!

Sober men of olden days and sages are forgotten,

And only the great drinkers are famous for all time.

...Prince Chen paid at a banquet in the Palace of Perfection

Ten thousand coins for a cask of wine, with many a laugh and quip.

Why say, my host, that your money is gone?

Go and buy wine and we'll drink it together!

My flower-dappled horse,

My furs worth a thousand,

Hand them to the boy to exchange for good wine,

And we'll drown away the woes of ten thousand generations

Ancient Chinese Poetry

During this week we’ve been talking about Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and the musical elements in it. Well, creating poems in the form of songs is actually another characteristics of ancient Chinese poem. Before printing technology was invented, people often times pass those poems generation by generation through singing. Now there are collections of these poems recorded after characters were created. In Chinese history throughout different dynasties, poetry is often expressed with musical or incantatory effects by means such as assonance, rhythm, onomatopoeia, etc.

The lyric of the Song Dynasty is one of the representative examples, which could be considered as written songs. Most of the poems do not even have their own title, but they are named after an original tune pattern. Composers and writers used this melody to write a new poem, which is the reason why we often see the same title for two different poems, like "Butterflies love blossoms", Man ting fang "Scent fills the hall", or "Lady Yu". There are more than 800 tune patterns.

During Song Dynasty, two different styles of poetry were developed, the "heroic abandon" and the "delicate restraint". Song Ci lyric became very popular even during the Qing Dynasty. There are some famous Song poets, like Wang Yucheng (954-1101), Liu Yong (980-1053), Yan Shu (991-1055), Wang Anshi (1021-1086), Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), Qin Guan (1049-1100), Li Qingzhao (1084-1155), Jiang Kui (1155-1221), etc.

The video clip presents an early form of Lyric in ancient China around 500 BC that is sung by a court dancer. It tells a story of a Chinese Cinderella that falls in love with a prince. Her performance expresses her affection and passion, in an emotional and elegant way.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Go Forth!

Just thought I would post this since we didn't get to discuss the commercial at length in class today. What Whitman-esque themes do you see in the commercial? Why might Levis decide this is a good marketing tool over the less conservative (?) work of the beat generation? If Whitman's work is seemingly outdated as we discussed in class why might they use this poem? The commercial got a lot of attention when it came out and most likely resulted in a boom in sales. The mixture of nature, (homo)sexuality, youth and romanticism seem to be the themes pulled from Whitman in the commercial, I guess my overarching question to you is why?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tomb-Sweeping Day

There are differences and similarities between Western and Eastern culture. One thing I really enjoy of this class is it helps me explore American culture through literature. Literature as a form of art expresses culture. Since I am in charge of blogging this week, I decide to use this platform to introduce some Chinese culture that could be related to what we have been discussing. Few weeks ago, we talked about “Thanatopsis” by Bryant. In this poem, Bryant mentions returning to nature after death. Also, Easter is approaching along with the nice weather outside. In China, we also have a traditional holiday has a relation to that- the Tomb- Sweeping Day aka Qing Ming festival.

Tomb Sweeping Day, as one of the few traditional Chinese holidays that is celebrated two weeks after the vernal equinox, typically falling on April 4, 5, or 6. It is a festival for holding memorial ceremony for people’s lost relatives and ancestors. It is a time to express one's grief and sorrow for their loss, a time to celebrate the rebirth of nature, while marking the beginning of the planting season and other outdoor activities. At this time, spring returns and dominates the earth again. The feel of growing life is in the air, with sap ascending in trees and buds bursting. And the willow branches inserted on each gate add vigor and vitality to the surroundings.

In ancient times, people celebrated Tomb Sweeping Day with dancing, singing, picnics, and kite flying. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. People plant willows in front of their door to celebrate the renewing nature of spring. With the passing of time, this celebration of life became a day to the honor past ancestors. Following folk religion, Chinese people believe that the spirits of deceased ancestors bless their family.
Sacrificial offerings make them happy, and the family would prosper through good harvests and more children from such bless.

Today, Chinese visit their family graves at Qing Ming to weed out rank grass that has grown and swept away dust, and then place bland food by the tombs. One of the most traditional customs is that people kowtow in front of the graves to express respect and cherished memory of their ancestors. After that, people regularly provide sacrificial offerings, censers and burning incense at tables in their homes so as to expedite the transfer of nutritious elements to the ancestors and bring good luck.

Along with these traditions, there are also many poems about this special festival. One of them is called Qing Ming by Du Mu, a famous poet in China.

Qing Ming

Du Mu (Tang Dynasty: 803-852 AD)

It drizzles thick and fast on the Mourning Day,

The mourner travels with his heart lost in dismay.

When asked for a wineshop to kill his gloomy time,

A cowboy points at Almond Hamlet far away.

Translated by: Weixiong Wu

Monday, April 4, 2011

Please Kill Me...The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

Today in class when talking about Whitman and comparing it to that modern day punk band, I couldn't help but think of a book I read last year. It's called "Please Kill Me...The Uncensored Oral History of Punk" by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. It's a history of punk from the people who lived it, so the entire book is basically years of interviews. People like Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Richard Hell and a lot of other musicians at the time are featured.

It's a really great read. Easily one of the best books about music that I've ever read. I think it's poignant for our class when talking about romanticism, because this book romanticizes this harsh punk world making it almost seem normal, then everything just falls apart and the ugliness of the world is apparent. Thinking about it, it kind of reminds me of the transition from Romanticism to Realism. But maybe I'm just thinking way too much about this!