Thursday, October 28, 2004

Homi Bhabha's reaction to Emerson, followed by a brief summary of critics

The first critic was Emerson himself, reincarnated as Brian. He was very enthusiastic and full of himself (as Emerson should be!) I would like to make some comments on his presentation from the point of view of my critic, Homi Bhabha. I like what Emerson had to say about looking forward to a new era of literary production. I agree that we cannot rely on the past to give us standards because the past is rooted in a eurocentric tradition. I disagree with Emerson that we need to look towards America for the next great poet. This narrow minded approach of America as being the only location capable of producing great minds in very ethnocentric. Why not open the door to all ethnic groups and exalt the literature created in the hybrid cultures where counter narratives are being produced. I say that it is in the cultures being formed on the border lands where we need to look for the next great writer! American poets are too locked into Western thought and will never be able to break free from the tradition no matter how hard they try! Border cultures see history from a different point of view, one that in non-linear, and breaks the mold of our national narrative. Lets open our eyes people!

Paul De Man (Becky)
*Advocates a close reading of the text, will reveal if the text is stable or unstable
*interpretation of metaphors, allegories, and symbolism allows reader to get inside of the text and understand rhetoric devises
*History is a text, there is nothing outside of the text

Fredrick Van Shiller (Katie)
*Advocate of freedom
*Gave everything he could to music
*In error only is there truth and the freedom to discover other possabilities.

Tsvetan Todorov (Ben)
*narratology-analysis of relationship within a story, the elements of plot are broken into simple clauses
*Structuralist, concerned with form and interested in breaking down clauses into organized sequences

Mary Wolstnecraft (Francoise)
*Goal in life was to remove the ideals of Victorian men and help women become educated and earn their rights as human beings.
*Reincarnated as Francoise in the 21 century, she is proud of the accomplishments gained by women
*Looking to Afghan women to show us that we still have a long way to go

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

My take on Deconstruction

*As I understand Jacques Derrida from our text, and other sources, he was very concerned with the specifics of the use and meaning of language. He seamed to posses an unmatched gift of critical reading. The introduction to Derrida in our anthology describes his deconstruction technique as analyzing the "metaphysical residues that cling to the very gesture of going beyond metaphysics, whether it is made in philosophical language, literal language, or the language of everyday life." To me, Derrida sounds obsessed with detail. After I took a closer look at the objectives of deconstruction and began to unpack the concepts underling this method of reading a text, a unique and effective theory revealed itself to me.

*The quote I pulled from the introduction is talking about the connection between metaphysics and language. This suggests that a deconstructive reading discovers the difference between the structure of a text and its Western metaphysical essence. Derrida, as well as many other deconstruction critics, would argue that the author of a text is not important, and furthermore, that the text should not be read as communicating only the message that the author intended it to have. Alternatively, deconstuctionists look for conflicts within the text that point to cultural and world views. The primary way in which this technique is carried out is through analyzing the binary oppositions. The dualities associated with language that are inherent to Western thought are the target for deconstruction.

"The term deconstruction, refers in the first instance to the way in which the 'accidental' features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly 'essential' message" (

*A simple way of understanding deconstruction is by laying the process out into three stages. First the binary opposition must be identified and the implied hierarchy within the opposition identified. Second, the opposition must be inverted and the hierarchy flip-flopped. Thirdly, the term that has been displaced is assigned a new definition. The last step is the most challenging because the oppositions cannot be simply transcended and this is why:

"Given the thousands of years of philosophical history behind them, it would be disingenuous to attempt to move directly to a domain to thought beyond these distinctions. So deconstruction attempts to compensate for these historical power imbalances, undertaking the difficult project of thinking through the philosophical implications of reversing them." (wikipedia)

*Sound complicated? Yes, this is a huge challenge! Taking apart the archaic dualities of self-other, male-female, speech-writing, powerfull-powerless (to name a few) that are engraved into the brain of every Western thinker. This is probably why some of the language in deconstruction criticism (i.e. Derrida) gets to be very deep and philosophical, sometimes indecipherable.

"Only after this task is undertaken (if not completed, which may be impossible), Derrida argues, can philosophy begin to conceive a conceptual terrain outside these oppositions: the next project of deconstruction would be to develop concepts which fall under neither one term of these oppositions nor the other" (wikipeidia).

*Deconstruction seems to emphasize that language is a system of difference, and seeks to demonstrate how a seemingly unitary idea or concept embodied in language, contains different or opposing meanings within itself.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A "well-rounded" education

I think the idea behind a 'liberal studies' program is brilliant! We need to be looking at education as a well rounded study of many different fields with the objective to gain a deeper understanding of how all the different areas of academia are interconnected. I am not in the liberal studies program, in fact I do not have a minor, I will be graduating with a English Literature degree and that is it. I have pursued a wide variety of knowledge on my own and am glad to see this program flourishing. I chose not to have a minor for the purpose of exploring multiple areas of study here at MSU. Along with my English classes I have taken: Native American religion, history of Architecture, Japanese Culture, Sociology, and Art courses. I am constantly fascinated with the connection between my classes. The same questions arise, and are discussed in different ways depending on the world view of the discipline, it is thoroughly fascinating! My sociology of race and ethnicity class shares some of the same threads of discussion as our criticism class has been recently exploring. The universality of the archetype that was recently brought up in class is showing up in the ancient Japanese literature that I am reading. I really enjoy making these connections and applying the same theories in a different context and watching how the theory reshape themselves to form alternate paradigms. I have even found myself in other classes wondering how Homi Bhabha, (my alternate ego as a literary critic) would react to a certain way of thinking. For example in my capstone class we are reading meta-westerns and exploring the space of the West and how it has been constructed through literature. Mr. Bhabha would be very interested in the hybridity of culture that exist in the Western United States. The dominant groups' conquest of the Naive American, and the Mexican resulting in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The encounters between multicultural groups in the West would be a perfect place for Homi to apply his theory that cultural liminality in the result of the subordination of racial groups. He would say the West is proof that cultural liminality exists within the history of building our nation, a history that has marginalized a group of people for a long time.
I want to share with you a quote from the first page of a book I am reading for my capstone class called, "The Squatter and the Don" by Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton.

"No use in crying over spilt milk, eh?"

"if by 'milk' it is meant all or any earthly good whatever, it is the 'spilt milk' that we should lament. There is no reason to cry for the milk that has not been wasted, the good that is not lost. So let us cry for the 'spilt milk', by all means, if by doing so we learn how to avoid spilling any more. Let us cry for the 'spilt milk', and remember how, and where, and when, and why, we spilt it. Much wisdom is learnt through tears, but none by forgetting our lessons."

How brilliant is that analogy!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Gender & The Cannon

This ongoing discussion of race and gender in the canon takes an interesting turn when we include Virginia Woolf in the conversation. She questions the importance of gender (even though she is a woman) by saying who cares if the author is male or female, its the text that matters! She comments on this in "A Room of One's Own": "It is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex." If she were sitting in on one of our class discussions about the need for a more multi-cultural canon, her response would be "the race or gender of the author is not the issue, it is the piece of literature that he/she has created that we should be talking about." On the same topic she says, "for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. "

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The ongoing discussion of the "canon"

If the canon is supposed to be the "best of the best" in ALL of literature, I am very curious as to why it is so obviously Eurocentric and male dominated. It almost seems as if there are a few multicultural "token" pieces thrown in the mix as to seem global, but come on...who are we joking. Now Im not saying ol' Bill isn't brilliant or timeless, but what does it say to have Shakespeare at the top of the MSU top 100 book list? It is telling us that we set the white, male, European writers up as the standard to define the tradition. I understand that this is an inevitable part of human nature, to look to our predecessors who have set the standards, provide inspiration, and give a model to all the artists who come after them. T.S. Eliot discusses this issue in his critical essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent." He says that as critics we tend to judge an artist in relation to the works of those who came before him, and if he rises to the occasion of representing a historical sense of timelessness he can be considered a traditional writer. It seems to me after reading this essay that Eliot did not necessarily think the literary tradition was an all together useful thing. In fact, he say in his essay that "if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind of timid adherence to its successes, 'tradition' should positively be discouraged." I thoroughly agree with Eliot's point that humans are an evolving species and that each generation will create itself anew from their parents and grandparents. We should not judge the works of one generation on those of the previous one. Another important point Eliot makes in this essay that can be applied to this question of the canon is that, "every nation, every race, has not only its own creative, but its own critical turn of mind." I think Eliot would say that we should not even have a canon because there is no way to compare and decide what is the best when literature spans all cultures and all times.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Is Bozeman its own little world?

Hi all! I have just returned from spending a week in Vancouver B.C. What a treat he? The purpose of the visit was to see my boyfriend, who is a grad student of Geology at SFU. Anyways, we had a great week and my eyes were opened to the way people live outside of Bozeman! Sometimes I forget how lucky we are here in Montana, Im not saying anything against the citizens of Vancouver, but we have a special way of life here in this isolated valley. Three million people in the greater Vancouver area is a lot! With close to half of the population being Asian, the city is a major merging point of cultures.
Vancouver is a melting pot, home to an uncountable number of different races, religions and cultures. In one week I managed to eat Vietnamese, Canadian- Indian- vegetarian hybrid cuisine, Japanese, and Greek food...Yes I had a stomach ache when I got home. Well all of this culture, as you know, I haven't been exposed to for a while. Not since I lived in Florence for a semester two years ago. Talk about sense overload! Asian characters dominating English, Buddhist temples, Asian markets, I really was the white minority. It is both refreshing and overwhelming at the same time to see homeless people living off the streets, strip malls of commerce, and ethnic enclaves intermingle. It is both stimulating and repressive to be constantly surrounded by people, traffic, and many other distractions! As you can see, I have mixed feeling about the city, it both repulses me and excites me at the same time. The upside to living in a city like that is that it has something to offer for everyone. It would be easy to stay entertained, educated, and engaged with your community in a city. The flip-side being its not a common practice to smile, look into the eyes and greet strangers on the street like we practice here!
I should tell you the reason I am pondering the pros and cons of living in Vancouver, Im planning to move there in December when I graduate. Yes, to be with my boyfriend, but more importantly to experience a different way of living, become part of the hybrid culture that has been developed. A place where I can live amongst diversity and learn how a culture functions with a dominant society. Does this argument sound familiar to anyone. Here is a hint, my alter ego Homi Bhabha influenced me when I made the decision to move to Vancouver. Remember that my expertise and interest lies in the study of cultures and the spaces they occupy and how a liminal state of being is created by the subordinate group who has been labeled as the other. Well, now you know a little more about me, and why I haven't written in my journal for a week, and how well I am getting along with Homi. I will I will be back soon to enter into the discussion of our ongoing online exploration of the critical realm of thinking.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Reflections on Key West

Each time I read the poem "The Idea of Order at Key West" I come to the poem with a different lense and gain a new meaning from it. There are many layers to this poem, peeling away one by one as the semester progresses. There are two ways I read this poem, with the part of my brain that holds memory, and the part of the brain that enjoys the beautiful language of poetry; the pragmatic vs. the aesthetic. I am not the best at memorizing things and usually the way my brain does this best is through writing. Plato would think that this is the wrong way to go about memorizing things. But it has become an effective tool for studying. There is a connection made between the writing down of information and the brain processing it and storing it in its hard drive. Usually for me, after the third time I write something down I can begin to reproduce it from memory.
OK, back to Stevens poem, This morning I re-read the poem in preparation for the quiz but wasn't in the mood to memorize and I got out of it yet another meaning. What stood out to me was the word choice and tone he uses to represent the sea. "The grinding water and the gasping wind," this description makes the sea sound like a brutal place, creating a chafing image of the sea that is in contrast to the soothing medley song of the woman singing. "The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea was merely a place by which she walked to sing." Here the sea is inferior, a pathetic and lifeless place that is "merely" the setting of the woman's song. "The meaningless plungings of water and wind."- Natures voice has no value when compared with the song of a beautiful human voice. "And when she sang, the sea, whatever self it had, became the self that was her song, for she was the maker." Wow, in this line the essence of the sea, the all powerful manifestation of Earth, the water which gives life to everything and hugs the Earth, means nothing more than what one woman makes of it. This is a very anti-naturalist reading of the poem, robbing nature of its awesome power which can not be imitated by any human. But on the other hand, know knowing that Stevens is a romantic and believes that the artist possesses a supernatural power to create the world through their expressive imagination, I can see why the woman in his poem is "the single artificer of the world."...more on this later.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

If everyone is thinking alike, than someone isn't thinking

This class has truly changed my perception of reality on many levels. Each day we have class, I leave our discussions feeling more alive and charged with these "big" questions we raise. I have even tried walking up to people outside of class and tried to engage them in some of the issues we have been discussing in class, like Dr. Sexson suggest we do. The response is exactly what we expected, "What are you talking about, are you crazy....Oh, your an English major, it all makes sense now." I have resorted to talking with other English majors about some of these topics concerning the sublime, the canon, censorship, etc. These conversations have in fact been highly stimulating and it makes me think that we are really the only sane ones amongst many dillusional people. I smile every time I look at the magnet on my fridge that reads, "If everyone is thinking alike than someone isn't thinking." Along with this saying is a naked man walking by a man dressed in a suit who's head is turned around to stare at the naked man. This is how I feel sometimes when I try and engage people with "big" questions, like Im standing there naked and they just cant get past the appearance! One of my favorite topics to bring up with people is that regarding Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater's shared belief on how we should spend our lives. I ask my friends if they spend every moment of their lives pursuing truth, knowledge and studying the best that is known and thought in the world. This one really gets people thinking, when they are asked to consider if they spend every moment of their lives living the best way possible. Just like Dr. Sexson suggested in class, most of us waste the majority of our lives with small talk and re-runs. I have infected a couple of my friends with the plague (or blessing depending on how you look at it) of always thinking about this in the back of their minds, like I have since that day in class we discussed this. Since most of will be asleep for half of our lifetime, it puts a big pressure on our waking moments to spend them wisely. Like Tevey, from Fiddler On The Roof, most of us wish that we had all the money in the world and then we would have the freedom and leisure time to spend our days in a noble way, reading books and studying with the wise men. But since that is not the case, we must find a balance of taking care of the necessities for survival while still leading a meaningful, productive, thoughtful life. This sounds like quite the task, one many people think they do not have the capability of achieving. But really, what else is the purpose of this life if it is not what Matthew Arnold suggests, "an endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world."