Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Paul Fry, professor of English at Yale University, lectures on Deconstruction

If you've got 50 minutes to spare, Paul Fry offers a whole series of lectures on YouTube covering the history of literary theory. Here's his lecture on Deconstruction:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, "The Blues are Brewin'"

Notice that the performers are entirely black and the audience is entirely white. This was the norm back at this time.

Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NPR piece about Passing, presented by Heidi Durrow

Hi folks,
Yesterday on National Public Radio, Heidi Durrow, one of the Mixed Chicks we watched on YouTube and author of The Girl Who Fell from The Sky, presented an essay on Nella Larsen's Passing. Extra credit (5 HW points) for anyone who reads or listens to her essay and writes a short reflection (50 words or so) on what, for Durrow, is the most important message in Passing.

Here's the link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125574331
Heidi Durrow (whose mother was Danish...Nella Larsen also has a familial connection to Denmark, which she writes about in her semi-autobiographical novel, Quicksand)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Carl Van Vechten, "Slumming", and the Negro Primitive

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964)—writer, photographer, and patron of the   arts—helped promote many of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen, who dedicated her novella Passing to Van Vechten. In Passing we are introduced to Hugh Wentworth, who is a character based on Van Vechten. Hugh Wentworth is one of many sophisticated New York socialites who go up to Harlem for mixed social gatherings and the black jazz venues. In fact, Van Vechten’s novel Nigger Heaven (the name was very controversial upon publication) has been attributed with sparking a great deal of white interest in the nightlife of Harlem, which led many white New Yorkers to Harlem for some “slumming” fun. The term “slumming” refers to acts in which more upper class people associate with lower class people often as a source of illicit enjoyment, the sort of stolen enjoyment people would get from the speakeasies of the same time period (Prohibition).

What ultimately drew many “slummers” to  associate with the blacks of Harlem was a positive spin on some long-time racist notions about “blackness”: Blacks were less civilized; therefore, they were less repressed than whites, which meant they have more fun! Blacks were less restricted by the morality and values of late Victorian society; well, that meant they were more honest and expressive artists, truer to their primal nature, and, therefore, more authentic, more “real,” than most white artists. Blacks were less sexually inhibited than whites; therefore, many whites saw blacks as a source of sexual freedom that had been denied them through the demands of “civilized” society. In a weird positive spin on the idea of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” which we discussed when studying Postcolonial criticism, just as modern, civilized individuals looked back with longing to the simpler, more pleasure-filled days of their childhood, many whites saw blacks as living a simpler, more pleasure-filled life by dint of their child-like status in the evolution of mankind, and many of these whites desired to associate with blacks as a means of recapturing the lost pleasures of the earlier stages of human development. This is the ideology of primitivism, which is essentially the other side of the coin from the racist colonial ideology, which believed Africans needed the governing, paternalistic hand of civilized Europeans to "grow up", and the other side of the coin from American racist ideology that saw the “uncivilized” and “overly sexual” character of blacks as threatening to white society, particularly the purity of white womanhood. Many lynchings in the South, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were inspired by charges, frequently false, of a sexual assault by a black man upon a white woman. Think of To Kill a Mockingbird
The brand of primitivist ideology that fixates on blacks and black culture was called Negrophilia, a word that became widely used during the 1920s and 1930s. The French coined the term, for on the other side of the Atlantic, French culture was caught up in their own fascination with blackness as a symbol of primitive pleasure. The African-American performer Josephine Baker became wildly popular in France by dancing and performing in tribal garb. Left in a photo taken by Carl Van Vechten of Billie Holiday (with an African sculpture), and below is a YouTube video of Josephine Baker doing her "Danse Sauvage" (dance of the savage) for a French audience. She was hugely popular, but she played up to French fantasies of what being black meant--having more fun, being uninhibited, more sexually free, etc.
Josephine Baker in her banana skirt

Monday, March 29, 2010

Nella Larsen, Homer Plessy, and Biraciality

                                                                          Nella Larsen
Mixed Chick and Author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Heidi Durrow, provides a short biography on Nella Larsen.

Mixed Chicks define the "one-drop rule," which was used to discriminate against people of mixed race, no matter to what degree, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Professor McNair on the history of Plessy vs. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled that the institutional separation of the races--"separate but equal"--was constitutional under the law. This judgment on legal segregation--the most blatant form of institutionalized racism in 20th-century America--was not overturned until the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

"Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917 and raised in Chicago. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); Blacks (1987); To Disembark (1981); The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986); Riot (1969); In the MeccaThe Bean Eaters (1960); Annie Allen (1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; and A Street in Bronzeville (1945). (1968);
She also wrote numerous other books including a novel, Maud Martha (1953), and Report from Part One: An Autobiography (1972), and edited Jump Bad: A New Chicago Anthology (1971).
In 1968 she was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois, and from 1985-86 she was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000." [from Poets.org]


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.
The Bean Eaters  
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood, 
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
          is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
          tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stuart Hall: Race is a "floating signifier"

Stuart Hall, a prominent scholar of Cultural Studies in England, argues that our ideas of what racial difference means changes over time based on our changing system of making meaning in the world. We'll check out one of his video lectures shortly and hopefully tease out a clear understanding of this very important idea in race theory.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Race: An Illusion?

Do you think you can determine someone's "race" just by looking at them?
Try PBS's Sorting Game. Let's see how perceptive you really are in these matters!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ireland...a postcolonial nation?

Footage of fighting in Dublin during the Irish Civil War, June 1922 to May 1923. It followed the War for Independence against England, 1919-1921. Yeats wrote "The Second Coming" in 1920. Surely the apocalyptic mood was influenced not only by the recent war in Europe--World War I--and the conflicts that war triggered (e.g. the Russian Revolution) but also by the conflict at home. For almost 400 years the Irish were under the control of the British, who looked down upon the Irish as an inferior people.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fwd: Joseph Conrad: Online Text and Audio Files

I have to say, if you guys like listening to audio books, then definitely listen to this reading of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. It's certainly a compelling story despite Conrad's disconcerting use of the N-word and dehumanizing, if generally sympathetic, representations of black Africans. The way I see it though is don't take Achebe's or my word on the matter. Decide for yourselves whether there are grounds for The Heart of Darkness's status as "great" literature or not. After all, didn't Achebe write in "An Image of Africa," "as a sensible man I will not accept just any traveller's tales solely on the grounds that I have not made the journey myself."

LoudLit: (You can also download these files at the website and then listen on your Ipod. Here's the page: http://loudlit.org/works/heartofdarkness.htm)
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Three-Corpse Meal

Thought I'd post the results of our compound-sentence EXQUISITE CORPSES! from today's class:

First corpse:

Once upon a time there was a pretty princess named, Vivien, and
my dog is going to the vet tomorrow; however,
they found a basket of clementine and took it. Whereby,
I have ants in my panties and pelvic hair, yet
everyone thought she was a slut [ouch...such a harsh word!]

Second corpse:

The echo of the shrill cry filled the open field, and
the little boy was scared; however,
Billy started hunting for the deer. Whereby,
The neon-blue leaked through the glass, yet
Joe the farmer sold his duck.
The bright-orange dragonflies danced on the icy water, but
the potato was larger than the puppy.

Third corpse:

Triangles are the best, and
Longcat is long; however,
sex-ed is a very important part of a teen's life. Whereby,
Bill and Joe were happy, yet
the cupcake was delicious.

[Sheer brilliance...all three! G]

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Monday's reading HW

The details for Monday's reading assignment are posted below the Monty Python video.

Monty Python's International Philosophy Football

Here you go guys,
Much of the critical theory that you've learned about so far this year has been influenced to one degree or another by these cats. Hegel and Marx are certainly standouts on the German side!
Thanks, Josh!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Reading Assignment for the Weekend

Hello LA5 crew,
For this weekend's homework, make sure you've read up to page 119 in Things Fall Apart, which many of you might have done already, and I would like you to read Chinua Achebe's essay, "An Image of Africa", which can be found in the LA5 Google Docs. You can simply follow the link below:
You can print this out yourself or read it off your computer, taking notes somewhere else. The PDF displays vertically though, so not sure if there's a way to rotate it--you might just have to print it out anyway.

This is the essay in which Achebe really takes to task Joseph Conrad for his representation of indigenous Africans in The Heart of Darkness. Optionally, you can look at (or listen to) Conrad's story as well by using the following links:

Text of
Heart of Darkness:
Part 1:  http://www.online-literature.com/conrad/heart_of_darkness/1/

Part 2:  http://www.online-literature.com/conrad/heart_of_darkness/2/

Part 3:  http://www.online-literature.com/conrad/heart_of_darkness/3/

Audio of Heart of Darkness:
Part 1 (2 links):  http://ia341324.us.archive.org/0/items/heart_of_darkness/heart_of_darkness_1a_conrad.mp3

Part 2 (2 links):   http://ia341324.us.archive.org/0/items/heart_of_darkness/heart_of_darkness_2a_conrad.mp3

Part 3 (2 links):  http://ia341324.us.archive.org/0/items/heart_of_darkness/heart_of_darkness_3a_conrad.mp3

Email me if you have any questions.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Online Readings for Tomorrow's Class

Hey there,
Here's what I'd like you to look over for tomorrow's class. We will be discussing representations of Africans (blacks) in colonial-era literature for children; well, actually, you will be discussing this topic. How Africans are portrayed in colonial literature is a huge focus in postcolonial criticism, as you probably gleaned from Tyson, and as you will read in Chinua Achebe's criticism of "The Heart of Darkness." As you look at some of these children's stories, keep in mind those ideas from colonialist ideology that we discussed today (such as, blacks as primitive, savage "children" that need a hand from white Europeans to "grow up" and develop into civilized people and nations) and think about your discussions from last semester about images of women in advertising. What different ideas does this literature seem to present about Africans? For tomorrow's class, you will have to 1) complete the Subject / Predicate handout, 2) look over the different links concerning colonial images of Africans in children's books (below), and 3) come to class with at least five questions about the representations of Africans you looked at. Please make sure that these are open-ended questions with no simple yes-no answers. Ideally, you want to write questions that will generate a lot of response in a discussion. We will use these questions tomorrow to drive our discussion activity, so please come prepared. Extra credit for those who post other cool links on the topic of "Colonialism in Children's Literature".
  • Read "The Story of Babar" online (This website shows pages from de Brunhoff's original manuscript in French. There are arrows to move from page to page. The text is in French and is handwritten. However, just click on "read this page" and a translation will appear along with the French text. You can also click on "see the published text" and you will be able to view the final version of the pictures along with French and English text. This link wasn't working this morning, so stay tuned--I will scan my copy of "The Story of Babar" and upload it to Google Docs.)
  • Adam Gopnik's New Yorker article questioning the common postcolonial reading of Babar.
This image comes from "The Travels of Babar." Babar and Celeste are attacked by a group of "cannibals".
The actual word used in the French is not "cannibals" but "les sauvages" (the "savages"...a term that was wildly used to describe tribal Africans during colonial times)
Gregory R. Askew
Language Arts Instructor
Vermont Commons School

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What kind of place is Nigeria today? Neocolonialist violence?

The accusations against Shell Oil in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists:
Check out this site: http://wiwavshell.org/
...and watch this YouTube video:

Shell Oil's official statement on the state execution of writer, activist, and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa:

What kind of place is Nigeria today? What do you think?

Friday, February 5, 2010

This just speaks for itself...

Hegel's dialectic

Here's a picture of G.W.F. Hegel and a diagram that provides a pretty straightforward way to think about his historical dialecticism (and the odd teleological twist he adds to the end...i.e. "the end of history," which the diagram describes as a synthesis that doesn't evoke an antithesis.)

Thanks for a great class today.
Gregory R. Askew
Language Arts Instructor
Vermont Commons School

Happy Belated Birthday Betty Friedan

Meant to post this yesterday, Betty, but better now for the feminist critics of LA5 than never.
The link is to an excerpt from The Feminine Mystique, a highly influential book that kick-started the "second wave" of feminism in the 1960s.
The Feminine Mystique, Chapter 5, at the Marxists.org

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The lead New Historicist: Stephen Greenblatt

Here's Stephen Greenblatt, the "founder" of New Historicism, on Charlie Rose. If you get bored of his interview, Mary Louise Parker, the beautiful and charming...ahem...actor from "Weeds", comes on after.

Gregory R. Askew
Language Arts Instructor
Vermont Commons School

Zizek on relevance of Marxism today

Well, I stumbled upon this on YouTube while looking for stuff on Marxism. You've all been invited to add content to the blog, so if you find things yourselves on the critical theories we've been discussing, then by all means share it with the rest of us! So what do you think of Zizek? While I was at UVM, he visited a class I was taking, and one of the students asked if he was a "coke-head". Watch the video and you'll know what he was getting at!
See you tomorrow.

Metric: Patriarch on a Vespa

And for you feminists in LA5...one of the coolest feminist songwriters I've come to know. Here's a song by Emily Haines and her band Metric called "Patriarch on a Vespa"

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Lacanian-Marxist theorist, Slavoj Zizek, on Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men

Here's a youtube link with that Slovenian philosopher I referred to in class analyzing the film Children of Men. I wonder what you guys will make of this character.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Course Description

In Critical Encounters: Applied Literary Theory, we will explore the concepts, assumptions, and interpretive practices of some of today’s most prominent theoretical approaches to literary analysis. We will study psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist, and postcolonial theory, among others, and then apply those critical lenses in readings of a range of literary texts and other cultural artifacts, such as film, advertising, songs, and the visual arts.* While studying a particular theoretical approach—psychoanalysis, for example—you will have opportunities to develop interpretive claims of your own using that critical perspective, thereby, reinforcing your understanding of literary theory by doing literary theory. Ultimately, these theoretical approaches not only offer new ways of thinking about literature; they also offer new ways of understanding the world and of understanding ourselves.

Through the course of this semester, you will complete several written pieces, for which you will follow the steps of the writing process—prewriting, drafting, revision, and editing—culminating in a final portfolio and presentation at the end of the semester. In addition to the major assignments, there will be frequent writing activities, designed to build your writing and critical thinking skills leading up to the drafting of the larger pieces, and frequent reading responses in which you will reflect on and analyze the assigned readings. During the semester, we will also sharpen your command of grammar, usage, and mechanics; further develop your literary and everyday vocabulary; and strengthen your mastery of reflective, expository, and analytical essays. Don’t fret: you will have opportunities to express yourselves creatively as well.

* To establish some continuity between the work you did last semester and what we have planned for this semester, I will look for ways, as often as possible, to foster connections to the texts, critical approaches, concepts, and themes you have already studied. Please do not hesitate to call attention to those connections yourselves during our classes or in your work for this semester.