May 2 2016
Last class of the semester, on Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman. Compared and contrasted with Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which unlike the play is about the clash of cultures, and what happens when European culture arrives and destroys the cultures it is ignorant of; and with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which makes African culture a backdrop to European reckoning with its own tragic ontology. Death and the King's Horseman as treating British colonial culture as a catalyst and otherwise a (ridiculous) backdrop to its own concerns, concerns as archaic, as fundamental, and essential as anything to be found in Aeschylus or Shakespeare. By way of long discussions of how we think of the audience as narratee, not as reader; and how we think of plays as having the same kind of hidden narrators as we think of novels as having hidden narratees. Who is the audience, or who are its members, its narratees, who do we think they are, in Death and the King's Horseman?
April 26 2016
The one film in the class. "Print the legend," as a commentary on the kinds of movies Ford makes. Flashback and truth in fiction. Showing vs. telling. Who did shoot Liberty? The two scenes of his death. Flashback within flashback. Woody Strode (Pompey). What is he doing in the second scene? Why does it matter?
What we didn't get to: the way Vera Miles seems to have learned the story as we do. We assume she now knows what we now know, though of course she (presumably) didn't know it before whereas now she (presumably) did know it before. Still we read it as though she's learned it as we have, during the present time of the movie. The alteration of the back story as the story is told.
April 24 2016
What this strange book is about, at least in part. Macguffins: baptism and murder. And Free Indirect Discourse, natch. The Protestant vs. the Catholic bible. O'Connor quoting from Douay-Rheims. The relevant passage in Matthew:
And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind?  But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings.  But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.  Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John:  And if you will receive it, he is Elias that is to come.  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place.  Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned.  For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil.  The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her children.  Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein were done the most of his miracles, for that they had not done penance.
Matthew, 11: 7-20, in the Douay Rheims Bible
April 20 2016
Seeing it as a residue of real drama. Paradramatic elements: what we can know by knowing elements of the script that we wouldn't know on stage. Who is Godot? Who are we meant to think he is? Really an introduction to the play, to how the play makes you think about what it's doing.
April 18 2016
Invisible Man and Whitman. What does the last sentence mean? MacGuffins in the novel. Du Bois on the education of Black Men. 1943 riot in Harlem and the end if Invisible Man. William Henry Johnson's "Moon Over Harlem." Moral of Invisible Man: don't use people. Doing so turns them into the kind of people who use people. (Even the Invisible Man does: uses Sibyl for example.)
April 13 2016
An exhortation to take seriously the passion of Invisible Man, not only its purpose or the perception it comes to; a claim that being able to do this will give a hint at least of similar passions in works whose political contexts are now historical, that is no longer as live to us as #BlackLivesMatter, for example, makes Invisible Man, followed by quick but consecutive readings of Stevens's "The Idea of Order at Key West" and the rest of Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking."
April 11 2016
First real class on Ellison's Invisible Man; some background, Liberty Paints, electroshock, Norton's interest in Jim Trueblood.
April 7 2016
A brief peroration on Invisible Man, then on to the beginning of Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" via syllables in Dickinson ("syllable from sound") and Stevens ("clickering syllables") and the Whitman entry in Pinsky's My Favorite Poem project.
April 4 2016
A quick tour through several Dickinson poems, including "I started early," to which we'll return briefly. Some noting (and a lot of not-noting) of echoes and congruences with Emerson's vocabulary: "Austere," e.g. and attitudes towards snow. Next class we'll return to "The Brain is wider than the sky" as a way into Whitman and by way of contrast to Stevens' Comedian.
March 31 2016
A quick catchup on major issues we couldn't or didn't really consider in The Aspern Papers, Mrs. Dalloway, and "The Dead." Death and parties. Then onwards to Dickinson, in particular to "The brain is wider than the sky" (dashes suppressed) as a way into Emerson and the Divinity School Address, TK.
March 23 2016
A class that was supposed to be about "The Dead" but wasn't really: more about truth in fiction, the difference, gulf, and interface between the fictional world and our world. First person narratives and the little they guarantee. The difference and interface between narrating narrator and narrated narrator, and its parallel in the third person narrator of FID and the point of view narrated. The first sentence of "The Dead."
March 21 2016
Some context in Byron and Shelley. Claire Claremont (Miss Juliana) as a survival from another world. Things we don't know: narrator's name; content of the papers. A little bit about things that don't exist at all: his assumed name, or (it would be better to say, though I didn't) the difference between his false and real name. I didn't get nearly as far as I would have wanted to here.
March 17 2016
Jane Eyre and the way narrative works. Truth in fiction. Breaking the fourth wall in so many different ways in this paragraph, the first of chapter XI:
A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inn rooms have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of George the Third, and another of the Prince of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe. All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and bonnet; my muff and umbrella lie on the table, and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours’ exposure to the rawness of an October day: I left Lowton at four o’clock a.m., and the Millcote town clock is now just striking eight.
Why fictional narrators always tell the truth. What sympathy or agreement truthful (if frequently unreliable) narrators expect of their audiences. How this feeds into the psychological acuity of Brontë's depiction of Jane. Jane like Cordelia again: the false sense, central to first person narrative that "tout comprendre est tout pardonner." Why Jane Eyre ends with the fate of St. John Rivers, far away and disappearing. (I think this is the best class so far.)
March 16 2016
The first of two classes on Jane Eyre. Relation of Rochester (and of Heathcliff) to Milton's Satan. Relation of Jane to Cordelia: how she's not like Cordelia. Transparency and first person narration (to be picked up in next class). Jane Eyre as feminist novel.
March 10 2016
We look at "Rousseau" (= Wordsworth) in The Triumph of Life describing the disappearance of the shape all light, fading like Venus into the light of common day. Then on to Mont Blanc as a poem about the struggle between the mind and the world as to which is to be master, and the jiu jitsu by which the mind wins by letting the world (= Mont Blanc) utterly overwhelm it. Relation to the sublime.
March 8 2016
And its relation to the Invocation to Book 3 of Paradise Lost. Loss of intensity converted to the intensity of loss.
March 4 2016
A bit more on "A Slumber did my spirit seal." An urgent conjuration that they should like the Intimations Ode. Followed by a bit of literary theory - the theory of axiology or value. Dworkin's view of literary interpretation: interpret so as to make a literary work the best work it can possibly be. Derived from his view of the Constitution. Some strictly amateur talk about the Constitution and the right to privacy as found in Griswold vs. Connecticut. The ordering of two works attributed to Solomon: Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. Which ordering do we prefer? The end of Lear; do we prefer he die happy or in despair, and why? (Most people who wrote about the issue wanted to claim he died happy.) Do we prefer "trees" to be the hopeful alternative to "rocks and stones" or the grim failure even of something living to be more than rocks and stones are in earth's diurnal course. Intimations Ode itself Monday?
March 3 2016
A first class on Wordsworth, which is really a class on ballads, from "The Twa Corbies" and "Lord Randall" to Beddoes's "Ghost's Moonshine" (as it is called) from Death's Jest Book. The idea of the anonymous eerie third person otherness of the ballad, a spooky point of view on how we all become part of the spooky point go view. Scott's "Proud Masie." That balladic spookiness combined with the first person expressiveness of the lyric in the anonymous (in 1798) Lyrical Ballads. Payoff = a reading of "A Slumber did my spirit seal."
March 1 2016
General comment about paper writing, because we were handing back papers. What I regard as very basic techniques for writing sentences that will almost automatically lead to clearer writing. Then on to one more Blake poem: the "Chimney Sweeper" Song of Innocence, with some notice of technique similar to what I had urged at the opening of the class. Next up: Wordsworth!
February 29 2016
A bit more about Pope, and the amazing cleverness of Rape of the Lock. Then on to Blake, the meaning of calling something a "Song of Innocence," some pairings between the songs of innocence and of experience, and a line by line reading of one Song of Innocence: "The Little Black Boy." The way the poem criticizes the normativity of whiteness that the little boy has almost been induced to buy into.
February 25 2016
Since apparently most people didn't get a chance to read the poem, this became more about the way heroic couplets work, as opposed to Miltonic and Shakespearean blank verse. Basic idea: the severe constraints of the couplet require extreme push back from the poet in terms of balance, variation, surprise. We talk about rhyming and look in some detail at one four line sequence from the start:
Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou'd compel
A well-bred Lord t'assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,
Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
February 22 2016
Abandoning Paradise Lost today, with some more consideration of our love for the unreal -- fictional characters in comedy and tragedy, and how the very fact that they're fictional contributes to their effect. We don't need to worry about what happens after "happily ever after" ("that is called Fiction" --Oscar Wilde), we can feel sadder about their losses, which are more total. Adam's commitment to marriage. The fall in PL is not the fall into sex, because they already have sex, but the fall into marriage, into the limits of love and sex. That's what's tragic. Partly that it doesn't end with the fall (into sex, into death), but keeps going on, into the real unreality of our lives. Eve's greatness after the fall. Adam's running to meet her. Their expulsion.
February 14 2016
The return to earth, the right place for love (as Frost will say). One fall or two: that's another way of asking the question of how to think of God. Calliope can't defend Orpheus because she is an empty dream. Orpheus's turn to Eurydice as a turn to the fact of mortality: all mortals are empty dreams. Fall of Eve, and of Adam: "And me with thee hath ruined" = first silent thought.
February 10 2016
Following sections and a snow day, we try to catch up, which means (it turns out) looking at more similarities between God and Satan: their derision for their enemies, their invocation of "necessity / The Tyrant's plea." How the Son manages the Father's douche-bag-splaining ("death for death" --> "life for life"). This is a further idea of justification: making God just. Satan's reaction to the innocent Adam and Eve ("whom my thoughts pursue with wonder / And could love." His pity for them though he is unpitied) contrasted with God's ("ingrate!"). Satan's dream temptation of Eve and how much Raphael echoes it in his Great Chain of Being speech.
February 3 2016
The rebel angels vs. God on free will (does God have it?). Parallels between them. The word "dispose" as a word about narrative ordering in Milton, and therefore of the narrator's own story and experience; suzet and fabula; Satan's hatred of light and his voice, vs. Milton's vs. the Muse's, vs. God's ("woe to the inhabitants of earth"). How the mind is its own place, bot for Satan and for the narrator/Milton. There's new stuff here, not in previous Milton classes....