Saturday, December 29, 2007

Objective Correlative in Dostoevsky

On the one hand, Dostoevsky smashes the very idea of objective correlative, as the internal existences of his characters drive his works. Whatever suffering, joy, ideas, desires, or motivations the characters have are largely internalized spiritual or psychological conflicts.

On the other hand, in most Dostoevsky novels, somebody's going to end up with a blade handle sticking out of his or her chest. And you don't really get more objective correlative than murder.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Torrential Downpour: back after finals week

End of the semester grading is pretty demanding. But I'm back, baby!

The Sopranos
I think The Sopranos offers a test to viewers. How long does it take you to recognize Tony Soprano as a nearly irredeemably evil human being? The show gets you to sympathize with him, to side with him, to find him appealing. At the beginning it's easy: you see a bad man, but you see a struggling complex man, with a difficult environment, with a horrifying mother, a man with issues that is going to therapy to try and make some sort of change. But as time goes on, we see that there really is no desire for moral change, and that this man is selfish, violent, evil. Whether you realize that early in the series or at the end does not say something directly about your morality; however, it may say something about the way you watch television.

Violent--compared to whom?
In an interview between Peter Bogdanovich and David Chase on season one of The Sopranos, Bogdanovich asserts that American society is more violent than other societies. While I won't deny that violence is deep in the soul of American history, I can't quite view American society as more violent than other societies. I look through history of societies on every continent, and I see wars, genocides, executions, and brutality. It's worth exploring whether and how American violence and history of violence differs from other societies, but to claim that American society is more violent than other societies without explanation? I can't accept that, as an historical or contemporary assertion.

Why I stopped reading Les Miserables
If I'm going to read a 1,400 page novel, I should get something out of it. But after a few hundred pages of Les Miserables, I really hadn't gotten anything that I didn't already have from listening to the musical. At least, I wasn't getting enough more to make it worth the while to continue reading the novel. So I've moved on, and I've read several things since I put down Les Miserables.

College teaching
Life as an adjunct is very seasonal. I get long stretches when I do little to no work for my job, but there are also stretches when it dominates much of my time and intellectual energy. As it happens, one of those busy stretches comes in the middle of December, and it really is only today after finishing all my grading that I'm recognizing Christmas.

Winter break
I continue to study the master: I'm reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

TV > Film
Film is limited by time. Television allows you to get drawn into stories and into characters. A television series stretches over hours, and episodically gives you a chance to delve into character psychology and engage in complex plots. Film just doesn't quite have that depth.

Horror films
Sometimes it takes until the end of a horror movie to know whether it is good of bad; while you are watching it, you may not be able to evaluate it. Horror endings are often unconventional, and so you really must wait for the climax before you know whether what you watched was derivative uncreative pulp or something vital. The Reaping is a bad movie. It's a very bad movie. But I really didn't feel comfortable making that assertion until immediately after it was over--during the movie, it could have gone in many different and unexpected directions, and so it might have turned out good. But when the film is in the past and not the present, it is quite clearly not good.

Some horror movies, of course, reveal their awfulness as you go along.

Lit class goals
By the end of a semester teaching a gen ed lit class, I want my students to be able to compare themes across different works of literature. It may not be one of the official objectives of the course; however, if students can make insightful and useful comparisons between and across different works we've read, I think they are achieving the official objectives. By the end of the course, I want students to independently make thematic connections between different works.

In my lit classes, I also barely even mention the author. Biography of the author is often irrelevant and at best tangential to the goals of the course. I suppose my literature pedagogy is a mix of Reader-response theory (in which, of course, the reader's experience with the text receives attention) and New Criticism (which focuses on close examination of the text itself rather than attention to the author of the text).

We also focus on ideas. Form gets attention--it must. But usually we discuss form as a means of conveying and exploring an idea. By focusing on ideas, students can take the literature into their own lives. As I tell my students when giving my interpretation of "The Archaic Torso of Apollo," the literature we read demands that we examine our lives. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest requires each reader to examine his or her relationship to the Combine (victim? collaborator? resister? or simply free of it?). It's the ideas from the works that we can use to examine our lives and our world--and that, I suppose, is the goal of any lit class.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Literature and You

My favorite line of poetry is from Rainer Maria Rilke in "The Archaic Torso of Apollo:"

for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rilke tells us what art does to you, the individual. It sees you. You cannot hide from it. Great literature exposes you to yourself, showing you everything about yourself. "here there is no place that does not see you." There is no hiding, no acting, no lying: you are exposed. The literature shows you to yourself.

When you read great literature, there is no place that does not see you. It tells you what you are, what you are not, and what you should strive to be.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Grading papers I disagree with

Paper Four in my freshman composition class is a Policy Proposal: students choose an issue relevant to society, and write a proposal to address this issue. This means I get to grade a lot of papers I deeply disagree with.

But I'm ultra-conscious of maintaining objectivity when assessing papers. Because I don't want my own views to color my assessment of the content, I focus on how the student makes the argument. Sometimes the argument contains (in my view) faulty logic, questionable sources, narrow views of the issues, distortion of facts, disturbing ethics, and shoddy ideas. I shake my head at these ideas, then give the paper a grade based on the thesis statement, thesis support, organization, and/or sentence quality.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Both/And: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

A major theme of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is "Individualism." The free individual resists conformity, authority, and rule. The individual has his or her dignity, rebels against limits to his or her freedom, exerts his or her own will, and is at his or her best when free. It's a free, willful individual that brings down the controls.

A major theme of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is "Community." The Combine/Big Nurse maintain authority by turning the patients against each other, removing any loyalty or trust. Alone, each patient is vulnerable. But when McMurphy brings the patient together, turns them against the Big Nurse together, teaches them to work together, to laugh together, to play together, to resist together, to trust each other, the controls begin to come apart. It is when the patients combine into a unified community that the controls are resisted.