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  • Archive for the 'Lit Crit' Category

    A Critique of Credentialism, circa 1500

    Posted by David Foster on 18th December 2014 (All posts by )

    …from Leonardo da Vinci.

    Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission.  His response:

    Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man.  Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own.  And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.

    (The quote is from Jean Gimpel’s book The Medieval Machine)

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History, Lit Crit | 5 Comments »

    Literature, Literary Criticism, and the American College Student

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2014 (All posts by )

    True Blue writes about his younger cousin, who just graduated from Columbia University. Previously, she attended a high school associated with the University of Chicago (where both of her parents are professors.).

    Walking through a bookstore the other day, she asked me if “Dickens is worth reading.” I thought she was joking. Dear readers, I was very wrong. It so happens, through all of high school and college, she had never been assigned Dickens, Chaucer, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Austen, or Melville! The list went on and on. Needless to say, nary a Bible was cracked during all this time either.  

    Effectively, my cousin was raised without a heritage. Her American/English-speaking birthright was denied her. Though she thought herself in possession of a stellar academic background, she knows worse than nothing about her civilization. I say “worse than nothing” because her head has been crammed full of multi-culti garbage.

    It will come as no surprise when I tell you that she read Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in high school.

    Personally, I don’t have much useful to say about Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison; I’ve read very little by either of them and with what I’ve read, I was not very impressed. I have, however, heard some of Maya Angelou’s work referenced in very positive terms by people whose literary judgments I respect.  I think the point here is not that there’s anything bad about reading contemporary authors, but there’s plenty bad about reading contemporary (and highly trendy) authors to the exclusion of all other literature.

    Thomas Bertonneau writes about his experiences teaching literary criticism in college:

    Increasingly in our post-literate society, however, few students at the undergraduate level (and surprisingly few even at the master’s-degree level) bring with them much in the way of exposure to literature.  Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters of the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as “edgy,” “with it,” or “out-of-the-headlines” portrayals of teenage anxiety…

    Since I occasionally teach my department’s Introduction to Literary Criticism, I have had to think the problem through. When I recently received the assignment to teach the course again, I moved “proactively.” 

    A survey on the first day of class confirmed my expectations. Among them, the sixteen students could produce the titles of only eight novels that they had read (but that not all of them had read). Of the three most-mentioned (five students had read all three) were Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (2008), its sequel Catching Fire (2009), and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005).  Four students listed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925); one listed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Four out of the ten coeds, but none of the men, had read Jay Asher’s adolescent female suicide-story Thirteen Reasons Why(2007). A few students had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but none had read Hamlet or The Tempest. No student could name a poem by William Wordsworth, John Keats, or Robert Frost.

    Read the whole article to learn how Prof Bertonneau approached the problem of teaching literary criticism to these kids.

     

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, Lit Crit, USA | 8 Comments »

    Stories

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 26th February 2014 (All posts by )

    (This afternoon I am working through my archives for materiel to post on the Watercress Press website blog, and I came across this post from … well, a while back. I thought it might be relevant, in these unsettled days and in light of various Boyz reminiscing about Tolkien and heroic days of yore. It might also serve as a departing point for a train of thought, especially when we need more inspiration than ever.)

    I am not one of those given to assume that just because a lot of people like something, then it must be good; after all, Debbie Boone’s warbling of You Light Up My Life was on top of American Top Forty for what seemed like most of the decade in the late 70s, although that damned song sucked with sufficient force to draw in small planets. Everyone that I knew ran gagging and heaving when it came on the radio, but obviously a lot of people somewhere liked it enough to keep it there, week after week after week. A lot of people read The DaVinci Code, deriving amusement and satisfaction thereby, and some take pleasure in Adam Sandler movies or Barbara Cartland romances – no, popularity of something does not guarantee quality, and I often have the feeling that the tastemakers of popular culture are often quite miffed – contemptuous, even – when they pronounce an unfavorable judgment upon an item of mass entertainment which turns out to be wildly, wildly popular anyway.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Deep Thoughts, History, Lit Crit, Media, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    An Essay about Essays

    Posted by David Foster on 20th August 2013 (All posts by )

    …and lots of other things, by the always-interesting Paul Graham. Excerpt:

    People trying to be cool will find themselves at a disadvantage when collecting surprises. To be surprised is to be mistaken. And the essence of cool, as any fourteen year old could tell you, is nil admirari. When you’re mistaken, don’t dwell on it; just act like nothing’s wrong and maybe no one will notice.

    One of the keys to coolness is to avoid situations where inexperience may make you look foolish. If you want to find surprises you should do the opposite. Study lots of different things, because some of the most interesting surprises are unexpected connections between different fields. For example, jam, bacon, pickles, and cheese, which are among the most pleasing of foods, were all originally intended as methods of preservation. And so were books and paintings.

    Whatever you study, include history– but social and economic history, not political history. History seems to me so important that it’s misleading to treat it as a mere field of study. Another way to describe it is all the data we have so far.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, History, Human Behavior, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Society | 4 Comments »

    Bowdoin: In 1825 & Now

    Posted by Ginny on 7th April 2013 (All posts by )

    I don’t know much about Bowdoin. This seems, unfortunately, to be expected. I like the donor’s response – the president’s petty grandstanding is an overreach that motivates. Smugness enrages.

    Today we skim over Longfellow, but once readers looked forward to his next narrative poem as an event. Longfellow also took academia and his languages seriously – developing a modern language program at Bowdoin; Harvard then drew him away to develop a similar program for them and he did. As we read a poem or two, I mention his Morituri Salutamus. Longfellow’s theme is similar but he hasn’t the power of Tennyson’s Ulysses. However this occasional poem is personal; his classmates, the classes of 1824 and 1825, at Bowdoin were some of his closest friends all his life. While he was the most popular American poet, a classmate and friend was Hawthorne. The novelist also remained intensely grateful and loyal to Franklin Pierce; a friendship begun at Bowdoin lasted until Hawthorne’s death. A fourth gained his fame more indirectly: Calvin Stowe’s interest in theology was shared with the famous Beecher family; his wife became a novelist with the broad audience Longfellow found. Clearly all were shaped by those years at Bowdoin.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Internet, Lit Crit | 20 Comments »

    Archive – Imagination and Will

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 16th January 2013 (All posts by )

    Sometime around the middle of the time my daughter and I lived in Athens, the Greek television network broadcast the whole series of Jewel in the Crown, and like public broadcasting in many places— strictly rationing their available funds— they did as they usually did with many worthy imported programs. Which is to say, not dubbed into Greek— which was expensive and time-consuming— but with Greek subtitles merely supered over the scenes. My English neighbor, Kyria Penny and I very much wanted to watch this miniseries, which had been played up in the English and American entertainment media, and so she gave me a standing invitation to come over to hers and Georgios’s apartment every Tuesday evening, so we could all watch it, and extract the maximum enjoyment thereby. We could perhaps also make headway with our explanation to Kyrie Georgios on why Sergeant Perron was a gentleman, although an enlisted man, but Colonel Merrick emphatically was not.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, History, Human Behavior, Lit Crit, Personal Narrative | 5 Comments »

    Pushing Back Against Branding Bureaucratese

    Posted by David Foster on 16th August 2012 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful and well-written piece from COMJAM: Dear Admiral…

    The applicability of these thoughts is not limited to the Navy.

    Bureaucratic language and the bureaucratic mindset are not the friends of the true marketing imagination.

    Posted in Business, Lit Crit, Military Affairs | 2 Comments »

    Natty Bumppo Would Understand

    Posted by Ginny on 31st July 2012 (All posts by )

    Natty Bumppo

    Tea Partiers want to be left alone – government kept from faith and speech, guns and books. Government restrained from taking property – house or wallet. Anyone who thinks those beliefs don’t have legs isn’t getting my phone calls – the tea party candidate’s supporters in the primary fill the answering machine and from my husband’s relatives fill our in-box. It has legs because this is who we are, or at least want to be: responsible adults, autonomous. Equivalence with the Occupiers misses core differences; Occupiers want what they fantasize the 1% have. We are human – we covet. But Americans haven’t taken to OWS because we aren’t proud of our envy; we prefer grandeur to pettiness.

    The Tea Party has roots – aware that restraint of power is difficult, but has a proud American history. Washington’s greatness lay not only in his victories but also his restraint – he refused (as few have) to abuse his power – restraint gained him respect, gave him another kind of power. Respect for flag and country characterizes the tea party; it is respect for a greatness defined by its restraint – recognizing the limits of government when it bumps against man’s intrinsic rights.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Arts & Letters, Lit Crit, Tea Party | 3 Comments »

    A Love Like That

    Posted by Ginny on 24th July 2012 (All posts by )

    In “Those Sexy Puritans,” Edmund Morgan argues “Puritan theology placed a high value on the affections, specifically on the love that Christ excited in believers.” Noting that “the most intense love that most people knew or felt was sexual,” in Puritan sermons, like Taylor’s poetry, the conversion experience was naturally analogized to marriage. Christ was bridegroom, the bride a believer of either sex (24). Morgan further observes that “In giving meaning to religious experience, sexual union in return acquired a religious blessing. It was, of course, conferred only on sex in marriage. Christ was a bridegroom, not a libertine. But marriage without sex was as hollow as religion without the fulfillment of Christ’s union with the soul” (25). Biology, religion and the practical linkage of family – all reinforced each other, as a mother’s desire to free her heavy breasts keeps her close to and nurturing her child. The physical isn’t opposed to the spiritual; this is no denigration in Puritan thought. To them, God created natural desires that conform to a greater plan – of course, when those desires are willful and alienated, they thwart the plan. Few subscribe to these beliefs now, but entering their world still helps us understand ours.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Human Behavior, Lit Crit, Society | 2 Comments »

    The Spectacle of Wrecks on the Internet Superhighway

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th July 2012 (All posts by )

    I am not one of those people who thrive on discord – which may be one of the reasons that I gave up posting on Open Salon yea these many months ago. I am at heart a rather peaceful and well-mannered person who does not actively seek out confrontation, on the internet or in real life … no really, stop laughing! I merely present myself as someone who doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and who will not hesitate to squash them, which has the pleasing result of not being very much bothered by fools. It’s called ‘presence’… and has worked out pretty well, actually online and in real life. I can easily count the number of fools I have squashed … only a dozen or so that I remember. And none of them came back for seconds.

    I don’t deliberately slow down to gawk at epic highway pileups either … except that in real life, everyone ahead of you has slowed down anyway, and the full spectrum of destruction is spread before you. And as for epic internet crackups … one can go for months without being made particularly aware of them, but this week my attention was caught by news of the mother-in-law-of all internet crack-ups to do with books. This one I must pay some attention to, as books are my vocation. It’s a more appalling spectacle than the Great Books And Pals/Jacqueline Howett Review Crackup of 2011, which should have served as an object lesson in how an author should not respond to a mildly critical review. This fresh slice of internet literary hell is what I am dubbing the Great Stop the Goodreads Bullies Cluster of 2012.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Lit Crit, Personal Narrative | 15 Comments »

    When It Was Natural for Parents to Bury Their Children

    Posted by Ginny on 15th July 2012 (All posts by )

    History gives us breadth: people in action on a grand stage, consequential ideas with great if unforeseen consequences; the demographer’s statistics and tables distil huge movements into tables we can wrap our minds around. But literature, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether reporting or reflecting, chooses a smaller stage. But it also catches that universal in a distilled moment – in the feelings of a narrator, a character. It may be anecdotal but it’s anecdotal accessible to our sympathy. How much have we changed between 1650 and 2012? In some ways, a lot. Fogel’s charts demonstrate that. In some ways, not so much. We remain human.

    Puritan poets are not everyone’s cup of tea – the plain style helps them age more slowly, but they are still the product of a culture remarkably different from ours – a frontier, theocentric if not theocratic. But a death in the family is always shattering & love for a mate is timeless. I’ll put up the Bradstreet love poems next week, but for today, let’s look at the consolations poets found in their art & their beliefs with the death of children and a spouse. (And the brevity of these children’s lives may help us better understand how large and intimate the changes Fogel describes have been.) Even if their experiences would be uncommon today, parents may still bury children and we find we understand the poet’s feelings (in hearts we recognize at once) and to a lesser degree how they thought (in minds we enter with more difficulty).
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Christianity, Lit Crit, Poetry, Religion | 11 Comments »

    The Apocalypse – the fear we always have – and Fogel – the cheer we might consider

    Posted by Ginny on 12th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Well the apocalypse may be near. But our generation has been lucky. Maybe we’ve taken from the next – but time and space aren’t zero sum either – we can explore both, fill both.

    I haven’t digested Robert William Fogel’s Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 (his tables alone are beyond me – besides much else). Still, reading him, I pause in delight and gratitude. The very concepts of “premature death,” “wasting,” and “stunting” open windows – time becomes different much as Amerians in the mid-nineeenth century saw their horizons recede & enlarge. It stretched their limbs & imaginations: leaving from St. Louis, they knew some of that land would be theirs – earned by sweat as it never could be in the still feudal worlds some came from. Space liberated them. Fogel describes an enlargement of time – time for us, time with and for our children. He also describes productivity, consciousness – the energy to live fully in that time we’re given (the image of French peasants hibernating in the winters to save food doesn’t leave my mind).

    Time is a recurrent literary theme, its fleeting nature the tension of carpe diem. Man’s time countered by redeemed time permeates Eliot’s Quartet, is a mystery in Wallace Stevens and an ache in Frost. Foolishly, we think we can endlessly revise, all is revocable – this permeates Prufrock’s rather inadequate approach. Franklin tells us time is the stuff life is made of – use it. Well, yes, but did he mean what we do? Is it that disconnect that leads us to fragmented training? Dalrymple notes a shallow approach to time (and history) creates a different art.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, History, Lit Crit, Tradeoffs | 3 Comments »

    Taylor – “Glory Forth May Flame”

    Posted by Ginny on 7th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Edward Taylor (c 1642 – 1729) arrived in New England in 1668, finished his education at Harvard, and in 1671 was called to the frontier town of Westfield. Westfield’s obituary pays descriptive tribute: “And what a rich blessing GOD sent us in him, almost Fifty eight Years Experience has taught us.” He was not ordained for 8 years, for “the Town being till then greatly distress’d by the Indian War [King Philip’s War]; and to his Presence & Influence it was very much owing that the Settlement did not break up. He was eminently holy in his Life, and very painful and laborious in his Work till the Infirmities of great old Age disabled him” (I xx). And then that old inducement worked: he fell in love and married. For almost sixty years, his congregation remained loyal; his wife died; he mourned, he remarried; he sired 14 children, many dying in infancy. He exchanged letters and books with his college roommate, the energetic and ambitious Samuel Sewell.

    As Grabo observes, “the social implications of Congregationalism, of the Covenant theology , and of the analogy between New Englanders and the Jewish nation provided little room for a recluse. Consequently, Taylor’s religious life forced him into the activities of his own community.” (Preface). Taylor was a Puritan who quite successfully lived in the world , but equally successfully kept a private & artistic life dedicated to his God.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Lit Crit, Poetry, Religion | Comments Off

    Edward Taylor is Grateful & So Am I

    Posted by Ginny on 30th June 2012 (All posts by )

    This week, I’ll put up a couple of posts with Edward Taylor’s poetry. This is possible because some scholars were willing to put in long hours. Don’t expect criticism here – just appreciation. I’ve known and studied under experts on him, but that was chance and a lifetime ago. I never became a scholar and am even less expert on Taylor; I haven’t read most of his growing body of poems and sermons. You may be drawn to read more, but he and his works are very much those of a 17th century Puritan. Still, if you find the large body resistible, you are likely to find a poem or two attractive – each semester I teach a few and never tire of them. And his body of work demonstrates the value of academic scholars – what we owe them for immersing themselves in another time and place, in puzzling out handwriting and explicating texts. It was under people who approached these works with respect that I (and my generation) were drawn into this discipline. We’re retiring now and it may be a bit late, but this is thanks to those mentors.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, History, Lit Crit | 6 Comments »

    Taylor 1: Liberal Arts Purpose to Leave Our Selves Behind

    Posted by Ginny on 28th June 2012 (All posts by )

    Delbanco’s The Real American Dream argues American culture/literature narrows focus from God to Nation to Self. Paradoxically, such movement also universalizes – God seen as a 17th century Puritan did; Nation as an Enlightened American did; but the self – ah, going far inward, externals blur. Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” or its opposite, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, are accessible whatever a student’s religious background. Understanding that “Self”, though, is also deepened by understanding the vestiges of history buried in our culture, affecting writers newly come to this continent as well as those who self-consciously reject much of that heritage (as do both Emerson and Hawthorne). So the first fourth of the first half of a chronological survey requires us to enter another world in another time with other beliefs – to appreciate what they considered important, fought wars over, faced a wilderness to express.

    Some heritage is general: Puritans brought with them an obsession with the word – written, memorized, analyzed – and a pared down, intense relationship with their God in which little church hierarchy intervenes. Translation of the Bible into the vernacular had powerful consequences. And church governance as they defined it seems to inevitably lead to government of, by and for the people. Of course, the communal remains important. The warmth of the Mayflower contract and agreements on the Arbella led to the great “ur” documents. Separatists like Williams were then, and are likely always to be, a minority. But individualism & self-conscious self-inspection are central to the 19th century. That tendency pulled American culture farther toward individualism as value and libertarianism as policy. To this day, our outlier position is characterized by individualism – a position most cherish, welcoming challenge.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, Lit Crit | Comments Off