Friday, October 31, 2003

One of my favorite contemporary prose writers is Lydia Davis—a double gold star for whichever one of you chooses one of her books to read and report on. There's a good interview with her here.

Happy Halloween!
Here are some upcoming events for you all:

- Salman Rushdie Lecture: I've only just learned that Salman Rushdie, who is certainly one of the most significant novelists of the last twenty years, is giving a lecture at Ithaca College this Sunday, November 2 at 7:30 PM in the Ben Light Gymnasium. It's free, it's major, you should go to it.

- Lounge Hour Reading Series: Two Cornell graduate students, Seph Murtagh and Pilar Gomez-Ibanez, will be reading their fiction and poetry (respectively) in the English Department Lounge (that's Goldwin Smith room 258) at 5:30 PM this Wednesday, November 5.

- Djuna's Poetry Slam: Friday, November 7, not quite sure of the time. At Djuna's Cafe on the Ithaca Commons.

Monday, October 27, 2003

A partial list of books that I'm recommending for your review assignment, in no particular order:
Short Stories

- Tobias Wolff, The Night in Question
- Lorrie Moore, Birds of America
- Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
- Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies
- Junot Diaz, Drown
- Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son
- W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants*
- Aimee Bender, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
- George Saunders, Civilwarland in Bad Decline
- Kevin Canty, Honeymoon and Other Stories
- Lydia Davis, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant
- Haruki Marukami, After the Quake
- Rick Moody, Demonology
- Annie Proulx, Close Range


- Richard Greenfield, A Carnage in the Lovetrees
- Fanny Howe, Gone
- Lyn Hejinian, My Life
- Rick Barot, The Darker Fall
- Mahmoud Darwish, Unfortunately, It Was Paradise
- Judith Goldman, Vocoder
- Myung Mi Kim, Commons
- Larissa Szporluk, Dark Sky Question
- Emily Wilson, The Keep
- Robert Creeley, Life and Death
- Claudia Keelan, Utopic
- Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day
- Karen Volkman, Spar
- Reginald Shepherd, Otherhood
- Timothy Donnelly, Twenty-seven Props for a Production ofEine Lebenszeit
- Anne Carson, Men in the Off Hours
- Michael Earl Craig, Can You Relax in My House
That's probably enough for now. Remember that you have to have me approve the book you're going to review in advance. Most of these are available, or at least orderable from, The Bookery downtown, and of course there's always the library. I'm looking forward to what comes of having you guys immerse yourselves in some contemporary writing.

* Not living, and not exactly short stories. But a marvelous book that I somehow feel belongs on the list.
Some interesting and highly personal investigations of poetry vs. prose and the meaning of place have been emerging on the blogs. Charles, the New Yorker story you describe is called "Bullet in the Brain" and its by Tobias Wolff. It's in his collection of stories The Night in Question. Incidentally, I hope everyone hasn't forgotten the assignment of reading and responding to a book of poems or short stories by a living author. I'm going to ask you to choose one by next week. The response should be two to three pages long and it's due at the end of the semester as part of your final portfolio. And I'm going to strongly suggest that those of you who feel more attracted to prose read some poetry, and vice versa.

Back to blogs: Julia's post on poetry made me wish as I've often done for more poets-in-the-schools type programs, so that younger students would get some exposure to the work of living poets. I mean, no one could have higher esteem for the work of Chaucer, Browning, et al, than me—but reading only that sort of poetry reinforces the idea that it's something produced by dead people (usually white, usually men). If every high school library simply subscribed to a few literary magazines, students would discover that it's possible to have a poem which mentions Nintendo or growing up in Ecuador or which simply bends the language in ways undreamed of by Shakespeare.

I'm impressed by those of you who have gone into the most socio-historical depth about your hometowns, showing both in content and style how they shaped your outlooks (though I'm more than a little distressed to learn that San Francisco's admittedly wacky political structure has turned Charles into a Republican). Jenn takes a more fantastic approach to the question of origins. Still looking forward to the entries of those of you who haven't yet tackled this. How much of the world is in you? What does it mean to "think local"? Is there a political formation that you've reacted against or become a part of? Don't answer that question too quickly; it takes considerable insight, and a lot of listening to the people you grew up with, to understand your relationship to them and by extension to the larger world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Italian theorist Giorgio Agamben has a fascinating theory about the meaning of line breaks and how they establish the difference between poetry and prose because they create a tension between the semiotic (the domain of signifying structures like syntax) and the semantic (what is actually meant and said). Anyway, poet and scholar William D. Watkins has a blog where he sums all this up very nicely and it's worth reading. Start here and then come back and click here for the rest of what he has to say.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Since religion and its critique keeps coming up in this class, I thought I'd share with you this famous passage from Marx, which might help articulate for some of you the tension illustrated by a piece like Julia's:
Religion is, in fact, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet gained himself or has lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, which is an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world . . . It is the fantastic realization of the human being because the human being has attained no true reality. Thus, the struggle against religion is indirectly the struggle against that world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.

   The wretchedness of religion is at once an expression of and a protest against real wretchedness. Religion is the sign of an oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

   The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is a demand for their true happiness. The call to abandon illusions about their condition is the call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. Thus, the critique of religion is the critique in embryo of the vale of tears of which religion is the halo . . .
As always, Marx here emphasizes the relationship between our ideological constructions (religion being of course one of the most historically significant) and our real material conditions here on earth, which continue to be for most of the world's population sadly lacking. I find myself thinking of Le Guin's story here and how some of you seem to have taken it as reflecting something permanent about the human condition. But why? Don't "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" precisely reject this point of view—that the privileges of some, or even the many, are predicated on the suffering of others? Just 'cause this has been historically the case doesn't make it right... or permanent.

On another note, did anyone besides Julia attend the Jamaica Kincaid events this week?

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


I'd like to point out that there's an amazing booksale currently going on in Ithaca. I think it was the 3rd largest in the US at one point. I went over break, and books were already really cheap... I think it was 25 cents for a paperback and a dollar for a hard cover (very cheap for good quality books). Selection is declining, but so are prices. Check it out!
Break's over, people! Look alive!

Monday, October 13, 2003

A clarification: Bernadette Mayer's "The Obfuscated Poem" is in the Poetics section at the end of the course packet if you're having trouble finding it. Also, the title of the second Kafka piece is not "Odradek" but "The Cares of a Family Man." Sorry about that.

Friday, October 10, 2003

A very interesting survey/discussion of the question of the meaning of line breaks can be had at the blog of Ron Silliman. Silliman is one of the most prominent of the "Language poets," an important avant-garde "school" of poetry that came to prominence in the seventies and eighties. He can be a little on the dogmatic side, but his blog offers one of the best educations available on the history and practice of experimental poetry; check it out.

Incidentally, I take it no one actually made it to the Gimme! Coffee reading Saturday?
The ethics of art are very much on Laura's mind; if you're not familiar with Levinasian and/or philosophical terminology her text can be a little daunting, but looking at the Poe story she refers to (you can read the complete text of "The Oval Portrait," aka "Life in Death" here) should help. Given the "vampiric" nature of the art that Laura finds in Poe via Levinas—art which converts its subject into an object for the pleasure of the artist's ego—I wonder if you'll find that this week's readings (the Kafka, LeGuin, etc.) try through various means to resist capturing their object the way the painter in the story fatally captures his bride. There are some clues here which go some way toward offering a possible justification for writing and/or art which does not represent or capture its object, although such art by its very nature resists our attempts to read it in the conventional way.

It's my hope that this class will lead you to become interested in the reactions you have toward unconventional texts—that you won't simply reject out of hand texts that do not give you pleasure in the usual way.
Happy October Break, everybody. Please do take a little time to react to one of the readings. And those of you who are being workshopped on Thursday, try and get your pieces to everyone by noon Wednesday so we have time to read them thoroughly.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Ok, sorry about the delay. So here's scoop on comments. Blogger suggests several different comment services here. I myself picked the service BlogSpeak, and it should work for those of you using Blogspot or Cornell to host. I'll walk how to setup using BlogSpeak.

At the BlogSpeak site, you enter your preferences, blog information, and email address in the code generator pane. The color preferences are in hexadecimal code, which means that you enter a 6 character code representing the color that you want. Color codes are given here. Once you've decided what your preferences are, click the "generate code" button. This is key. Copy the entire text (you can use the highlight button and then ctrl+C) and paste the code onto a blank line somewhere in the portion of your blog's main template between <head> and <head>. Where you put it doesn't matter as long as it's not in the middle of two preexisting <...>.

Next, copy and paste the code in the pane below your generated code into your main template somewhere between <Blogger> and </Blogger>. Here, it does matter where you put the code, because that's where it'll show up on your blog in relation to everything else. I put the following code (not including quotation marks) on the same line right after <$BlogItemDateTime$> and before </div>

": <--code that you copied-->"

Well all you need to do now is save the changes and publish and you should be golden. At least I think you should be... if any problems arise, let me know. Check out the FAQ's in the Help/Support/Suggestions for help and more visual instructions on how and where to paste the code in your main template(scroll near the bottom).

Good luck!

p.s. I think there's something up with the time settings. It's really 3 AM right now.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Yena's Blog

Monday, October 06, 2003

Some interesting pieces in blogland—isn't it interesting what happens to song lyrics when they're deprived of their supporting music? I find something comparatively abstract like Radiohead stands up a bit better than the Allman Brothers—as Zach says, it's the guitar work that makes that song hum. I also like the differing approaches you've taken to the encounter between two writers—Ellroy and Christie, Plath and Lee, Poe and Levinas (they're both dead, but never mind). As usual there was no wrong way to do this particular assignment but my favorite approaches involved either using one writer to "read" the other or else imagining an encounter between the two authors (a la Neruda and Marquez.

I'm back, obviously. Tomorrow we can exchange news about your adventures with Cathleen and Theo and my adventures in England.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Howdy all,

I want to apologize for not making it to the poetry reading last Saturday. I had friend to pick up in Rochester and his flight was late. Hopefully someone else went and can report on it.


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