Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaching: Lesson 7

On class day 7, I'm dissatisfied with the course again. I was too timid to try another group activity, and my efforts to have the class see how tension works in sentences seemed quite blunt to me. My short lecture on Chinese culture went better, but was still, after all a lecture.

I want to plan another session that applies in-class writing exercises to have them understand passages, but I need to find more examples of how this is done well. I think I have to :

  • Return to basic summarizing of the text -- make them bring these into class!
  • Have them search for passages, sentences that touch on our themes (characters, relationships; sequences, tension, climax) 
  • Write about the passage. Just say what they touch on. Just write!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Philip Hill and David Leach, Lacan For Beginners (1999)

Chapter 3

The real means the events of a life which cannot be symbolized or imagined. Reality is all that we cannot say. Thought, the symbolic and the imaginary, grapples with the Real.

Essay: "On Writers" by Qian Zhongshu

Qian Zhongshu, Humans, Beasts and Ghosts: Stories and Essays, ed. Christopher G. Rea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 70-74.
In brief, we should destroy literature and yet reward writers -- reward them for ceasing to be writers, for having nothing to do with literature.
Qian's ambiguous satire of "the will to get ahead in the world" has its funny moments, though he ignores the industry of mainstream entertainments, and so misses out on such Wildean wit as his piercing of memoir:
...I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering; which, however, is, no doubt, the true explanation of their popularity, as the English public always feels perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity is talking to it.
Still, Qian's most devastating point is that only writers may serve as the opposite of servants, and so those of us possessed of the will to get ahead are also forced to serve.

Readings of Interest Mentioned:

  • Tao Kan said we should use cow dung as fuel to save wood (Jinshu 66)
  • Wang Ziyou commented on the usefulness of bamboo (Shishuo xinyu, Rendan)
  • Cao Pi: "Literary men disparage one another; it has always been that way."
  • Gautier, Les Grotesques
  • The poetry of Alexander Pope
  • Yang Xiong regretted being a writer ; Wuzipian
  • "In Browning's ideal world..."

Essay: "A Prejudice"

Qian Zhongshu, Humans, Beasts and Ghosts: Stories and Essays, ed. Christopher G. Rea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 62-65.
Prejudice can be said to be a vacation from thinking. For the unthinking man it is a daily necessity, while for the thinking man it is a Sunday amusement.
Everyone has prejudices; the situation is the result of our need to speak, which in humans is endless. We even desire to speak at length on silence, and our love for it, and thus how annoying are the voices are others. This of course makes our prejudices still more ingrained!

Readings of Interest:

  • "Man is that animal which drinks without thirst and is lustful year-round." Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro.
  • Tang Zixi, "Drunken Sleep" 醉眠, "the mountains are as still as in ancient times"
  • the Book of Odes, "As if at ease, the horses neighed..."
  • Family Instructions of Master Yan, "noise without clamor."
  • Coleridge, "The Aeolian Harp:" "The stilly murmer of the distant sea..."
  • Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, "a thinker should be deaf."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book: Lacan for Beginners

Philip Hill and David Leach, Lacan For Beginners (1999)

Chapter 1

"Ego psychology" holds that psychoanalysis can lead to a conflict-free ego, an idea analogous to Plato's proposal for a conflict-free state. Lacanian psychoanalysis, though, posits an ego always already in conflict.

Chapter 2

Words and images lack fixed meaning; meaning depends on shifting distinctions, in an endless chain: "the signifier is the subject of another signifier." Persons lack fixed desires and sense of being; relationships depend on shifting meaning: the subject is the signifier of another subject.

Dreams, jokes, and slips of the tongue should be studied as links between signifiers that help explain the conflicts within the subject.

Conflict in meaning is only possible in humans, who have the capacity for language. That is why only humans, of all the animals, ever commit suicide (the lemming story is a myth).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book: "Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters" (5)

Theodore Huters, Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters, (PhD dissertation, Stanford, 1977)

Chapter 4, "Creative Work" presents a neat exposition of the problems of prose style and the reasons for studying such problems via a fascinating set of theoretical readings, and ending with a short reading of "Lu Xun style" and the story "Kong Yiji" as a meditation on the problems of the Chinese language and the crisis in Chinese culture. That's just the chapter opener!

Section two presents, first, a reading of Qian Zhongshu's 1937 essay "Tan jiao you" (Discussing friendship) that illumines his careful, yet playful approach to prose style, including especially the key term che dan, or che dan fa, which Huters coins to describe Qian's deliberate underpinning of strong propositions. This important gesture is at work, explains Huters, throughout the essays in 寫在人生邊.
"Discussing friendship's" prose is also marked by parallelism and substitution, such as: "In lovers although one wants new ones to maintain interest, in friends one still considers old ones best." Furthermore, the last sentence of the paragraph composes a trope that is constantly to reappear: after steadfastly holding to the superiority of friends over lovers through so many sentences, Qian summarizes by saging, "this of course, cannot be generalized, it depends on what sort of friends you have." This sort of paradoxical construction is also characteristic of seventeenth-century European prose; as Fish analyzes a similar construction of Bacon's:
if anything is being clarified here, it is the extent to which the confidently proferred pronouncement of the first sentence does not hold up under close scrutiny; and, moreover, the reader's experience of that clarification is somewhat chastening, since it involves the debunking of something he had accepted without question.[Quoting from Fish's Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth Century Literature
This device, which I shall call the che dan fa 扯淡法 (nonsense or "making light" method, so called becase Qian the fictional narrator often has one of his characters end a tense scene by che-dan, or making a joke out of the situation) is only the sure marker of a transition in the essays. It signals not a logical transition within a developing theme, but simply the wrapping up of one discussion so that a new one can be broached. It often equilibrates two contrasting features of one issue, in mimicry of the traditional essay. But unlike the traditional essay, the equilibration in this case is purely negative: the two features are equated only in the sense that neither is left standing.
Huters subsequent commentary on this collection takes the form of a thick translation of the 6th such essay -- would that I had seen this passage years ago, and so given myself a proper passage to imitate. (If I am a graduate professor in the future, I shall instruct students at the beginning of their programs to break down relevant PhD dissertations, as I have done here, so late in my PhD career.).

A final section to this 70-page chapter gives short readings of Qian's four stories in Humans, Beasts, Ghosts. I remember that Edward Gunn, in his review of the book version of the dissertation, said Huters underplays the positives in the stories; this, I suppose is where my paper finds room to exist. Barely!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Story: "Cat" (7) Satirical Sentences

When I first read Qian Zhongshu's story "Cat" in English translation, I was inspired to write a paper that would tackle the satire present in the multilingual sentences. At the time I had just finished How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish, and wanted to write criticism in his vein. Just looking over notes I posted to this blog, I can see several sentences that will work well:

My friend, earlier this morning
  1. The passage describing how the cat, "Taoqi," got its name. Yes, I need to narrow it down to a single sentence. (post 1) This shows the tradition as a source of play, and also introduces the central gesture of refinement as a layer over coarseness
  2. Aimo's character, which reflects her American socialization through a pun on Bill. This shows off an implied reader. 她受過美國式的教育,養成一种逢人叫小名以表親昵的習气,就是見了莎士比亞的面,她也會叫他bill,何況貓呢?Perhaps Aimo symbolizes the communality that is continuing to fail at the hands of self-centered men, as we see in sentences on the United Nations. Also we might remember the transformation of Beiping into a city of relics which have value as signs of refinement, flocked to by self-deceiving Chinese of all types. (post 1)
  3. Jianhou's father represents a relics attitude towards other cultures: “吃中國菜,住西洋房子,娶日本老婆,人生無遺憾矣!” (post 1)
  4. Aimo's condescension toward her husband -- no multilingual element, exactly, but I just love the comment and love the translation in the Rea volume: “你知道,我這次跨海征東,千里迢迢來受痛苦,無非為你,要討你喜歡。我的臉也就是你的面子。我蒙了眼,又痛又黑暗,你好意思一個人住在外面吃喝玩樂么?你愛我,你得听我的話。你不許跟人到處亂跑。還有,你最貪嘴,可是我進醫院后,你別上中國館子,大菜也別吃,只許頓頓吃日本料理。你答應我不?算你愛我,陪我受苦,我痛的時候心上也有些安慰。吃得坏些,你可以清心寡欲,不至于胡鬧,糟蹋了身子。你個儿不高,吃得太胖了,不好看。你背了我騙我,我會知道,從此不跟你好。” (post 2) The wordplay does come, however, in the sentence that follows, which leaves us with no doubts that Jianhou is a nothing, a zero: 李太太深知缺少這個丈夫不得;仿佛亞刺伯數碼的零號,本身毫無价值,但是沒有它,十百千万都不能成立。因為任何數目背后加個零號便進了一位,所以零號也跟著那數目而意義重大了。(post 2)
  5. Two jokes about Jianhou's inability, first, on sitzfleisch, which is perhaps after all not a joke: 頭腦不好,沒有思想,沒有理想;可是大著作有時全不需要好頭腦,只需要好屁股,听鄭須溪說,德國人就把“坐臀”(Sitzfleisch)作為知識分子的必具條件。(post 3)
  6. Second, the gout/gout pun, 那時候,這個討厭家伙已算家里的慣客了。他知道自己講究吃,一天帶了初版薩梵冷的名著Physiologiedugout(《口味生理學》)來相送。自己早把法語忘光了,冒失地嚷:“你錯了!我害胃病,不害風痛病,這本講gout的生理學對我毫無用處。”那家伙的笑聲到現在還忘不了。(post 3)
  7. Still another joke at Jianhou's expense: 建侯假如生在十六世紀的法國,他這身段的曲線美,不知該使多少女人傾倒愛慕,不拿薪水當他的女書記呢!那時候的漂亮男女,都得把肚子凸出--法國話好象叫Panserons--鼓得愈高愈好,跟現代女人的束緊前面腹部而聳起后面臀部,正是相反。建侯算得古之法國美少年,也配得做淘气的榜樣。所以我說老袁倒果為因。

Story: "Cat" (6)

I think I'm about as tired of this story as a reader/writer can be, but still I must plunge onward.

The eternal tea party sequence, with comments on Fu serving as a pivot to turn the conversation back towards taste in women. In particular, there is a distaste for covering up coarseness with refinement which creates a dramatic irony insofar as Fu himself is doing this:

Jianhou laughs at these comments, following. Does this indicate he knows what a hypocrite Fu is?
Next, Jiajun's standards: 
Jiajun strikes me as trying to be honest...is he Bertie from Wodehouse?
This line, I take it, reveals something of the author's attitude towards language.

To cap the sequence, we have a brief moment of Yigu alone, considering all that he has heard, and amplifying his own lust for Aimo. 

After Yigu leaves the scene, the party goes on for a bit more. Jiajun applies a bit of gentle ribbing to Yigu's naivete. We also begin to learn a bit more about Aimo -- she fears aging. 

In the next sequence, Yigu becomes even more obviously a tool in the power struggle between Aimo and Jianhou. Aimo steals Yigu from Jianhou, and Jianhou takes his vengeance, in a way that is too far. Jianhou's problem is his complete inability to stand up for himself at the time, which translates into a passive action later. The story is at its most touching when we realize that the big problem between Aimo and Jianhou is that they cannot communicate. 
Perhaps its related to see that when they do fight, it's in English, ostensibly so the servants can't understand? (Here we see clear signs of the comedy of manners from English entered into the writing, as well.)
MSP Airport Shuttle Stop, Monday, Sept. 19

Shades of Noel Coward? In the ensuing fight, with great dialogue, we grow to appreciate Aimo's verbal ability. This puts us in mind of Jianhou's father's advice about combining cultures, and Jianhou's mistake. 

Finally, we return to Yigu as he makes his move on Aimo. A really wonderful line: 
Made me think that the gesture of refinement on top of the coarse contains a message that language play is a refinement thrown over the coarseness that we all have in common. Yigu is able to recognize the coarseness underneath Aimo in the end, but is still no kind of hero, because he lacks the compassion to say anything useful to Aimo in her hour of need. 
The final, lyrical, sentence brings to mind how the conflicts and tensions have been passed down from 30 year olds to 20 year olds, and even younger. So the worst bits of humanity propagate, in short steps, and yet always with some hope for change. 

Book: "Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters" (4))

Theodore Huters, Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters, (PhD dissertation, Stanford, 1977)

Chapter 3, "Qian Zhongshu's Literary Criticism, Linking Past and Present," illuminates my next paper, suggests multiple courses on Chinese literary history and theory, encourages my ideas about paths to classical Chinese poetry, and reassures me that the Chinese tradition and Chinese literature are worthwhile subjects for a lifetime of study. In short, the chapter works for me.

The opening biography of Qian Zhongshu is most helpful for its introduction to Qian Jibo -- Huters read Jibo's 1935 autobiography, and infers that the unabashed conservativism of the father had the multiple effects to be expected of what was once called, in English, "breeding:" good memory, capacity for work, tendency toward contempt in others, and, most important of all, a deep appreciation of tradition.

Huters' overview of Zhongshu's early literary criticism reminds us that sometimes very young men develop voices and insights that surpass intellects much their senior. A review of Zhou Zuoren's Yuanliu lectures demolishes the professor's dichotomy between the expressive (言志) and the didactic (載道) in the Chinese tradition, and identifies in Zhou's love of the late Ming essayists a nostalgia misplaced to embarrassing degree. Qian's own reflections (and perhaps we must not discount his background, the strict hand of the father) lead him a restrictive formalism and a hence a general pessimism regarding the potential of literature for social change -- nay, say even a pessimism regarding social change, full stop: "...the success of a revolution in fact is the failure of a revolution in theory." (157)

Another review that traces the origins of the "familiar style" 家常體 is less pessimistic to the degree that   the Chinese tradition can be remolded to fit the modern sensibility -- Huters here and in many other places uses the word "plastic" to describe this feature of familiar style.

Lake Superior from UM Duluth Library, Sept. 21, 2011
Among the values that Huters is able to implicitly read into still other reviews, as in one of the poetry collection 落日頌, is a vague sense of communality and mysticism, the latter of which, according to Huters, spurred Qian towards new forms of narrative (161). "...[H]is essays and fiction are probably the most successful efforts in modern Chinese literature to simultaneously point out and transcend the limitations imposed by traditional epistemology on representational prose...." (162) Crucial to this critical and story-telling turn is a kind of candor that allows no satisfaction, a candor that requires "the courage," which Qian ascribed to Wu Mi, "to face his own contradictions and deal with them, unlike the other self-satisfied men of his generation."(quoting a letter...to Huters?)

A more complex section follows, in which Huters introduces Tan yi lu, Qian's war-era critical essays. The first essay cajoles readers to see poetry as independent of historicism with a neat appeal to all literature as being of either "Tang" or "Song" type. The argument against historicism is, in Huters' view, a sophisticated elucidation of the performative content of Chinese literature in contradistinction from the modernist attempts to set up constative logic. "Better than saying 'ancient poetry is history' would be to say that 'ancient history is poetry.'" (176, quoting Qian in translation)
Qian had to find some way in which to discuss the predominant writers and critics of the literary tradition and to somehow reconcile the force of their ideas and their long existence with his denial of their validity, without breaking himself off completely from the tradition that they represented. A precarious balance of forces, all in all, and perhaps too much of a load for ordinary expository prose to bear. (180)...Tan yi lu comes close to overcoming this limitation: it succeeds in overcoming many of the evils of neo-Confucian literary criticism and goes far to stretch the resources of, at least, the literary language in the direction of a viable mode of self-expression, but if finally cannot do anything to provide the representational elements needed for a new literature. (182)

...the new literature in spite of foreign debts contracted and foreign influences submitted, is at its best as homemade, as racy, as the Old Literature. l’influence ne crée rien : elle éveille. (183) [the French quotes Gide's "The Influence of Literature on Society"]
A final segment introduces a positive-themed overview of the Chinese tradition published in the Chinese Year Book of 1944-45, which apparently has notes on the function of satire in Chinese:
There is no novel of pure humor in Chinese, but a good deal of social satire..., but the Chinese satirists glide off the surface and never probe into the essential rottenness of human nature. They accept the traditional values, social and moral, believe what they regard as unfortunate backsliding from probity and decorum. They lack that clear-sighted and dry-eyed misanthropy which understands that "the best of men are but men at the best." Just as the Chinese dramatists have no sense of "tragic justice," so the Chinese satirists also lack that terrible saeva indignatio which like fire can purify the filth it touches.  (185, quoting Qian's own English)
 The Latin phrase above is on the grave of Jonathan Swift: See an article titled "The Uses of Saeva Indignatio"]

Stub: Syrup-mycetes

I was much surprised to encounter this mold in summer 2011.
Thanks to my sister S for sharing a blog post on maple syrup mold.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sentences: "The Jade Kuanyin"

After three cups of bamboo leaves pass through the lips,
two peach blossoms begin to mount the cheeks.
To say nothing of another couplet:
Spring is the best tonic for flowers,
wine the matchmaker for men and women.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sentences: Samuel Johnson

Warm autumn lunch hour in Minneapolis
Sunday's Writer's Almanac points out:
In 1763, Johnson met young James Boswell, who was 22. They didn't get on terribly well at first, but they grew to be friends. Boswell kept remarkably detailed diaries, and he later wrote a comprehensive biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791). Boswell's scrupulous descriptions of Johnson's mannerisms led to a posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome; his transcriptions of Johnson's many aphorisms made Johnson one of the most-quoted authors in the English language. Johnson said, as quoted by Boswell: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." And, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." And, "A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization."
As I was jogging, I thought of:
A engaging provision for new voices is the true test of a university's humanities program.

Shuttle Reads: Société Générale pour Favoriser les Criminals

Now that the financial world is enduring its most serious turmoil since the Great Depression, and public outrage is focussed on financial chief executives and their multimillion-dollar incomes, Kerviel looks even less like an isolated rogue trader, and more like a harbinger of systemic failure: the intricate investing vehicles that few understood; the impotence of internal risk controls; the moral blindness in the face of mounting profits; and, above all, greed.
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/20/081020fa_fact_stewart#ixzz1YSaPJ6dY

Story: "Cat" by Qian Zhongshu (5)

The entire central portion of Qian Zhongshu's story "Cat" is occupied by an enormous "tea party" sequence that first dwells on satirical portraits of seven Chinese intellectuals. The seven intellectuals wonder whether China will plunge into war, and digress into comments about Chinese society and, eventually, relationships. Gradually the conversation comes to center on the opinions of an unemployed Chinese painter named Chen Jiayun, who may or may not have had an affair with his hostess Aimo already. 俠君把牛奶倒在茶碟里,叫淘气來舔,撫摸著淘气的毛,回答說:“這并不矛盾。這正是中國人傳統的心理,這也是貓的心理⋯⋯我中國學問根柢不深,記不起古代什么一位名將說過,士兵的勇气都從畏懼里出來,怕懼敵人,但是更怕懼自己的將帥,所以只有努力向前殺敵⋯⋯所以,怕打仗跟能打仗并不象傅聚卿所想象的那樣矛盾。” Isn't it possible that Jiayun's battle stations were ready where Jianhou's were not? 曹世昌說:“我沒有陳先生的气魄,不過,咱們知識分子有咱們對國家的職責。咱們能力所及,應該赶快去做。我想咱們應當喚起國際的同情,先博得輿論的支持,對日本人無信義的行為加以制裁⋯⋯ Satire worth dissecting here. And then: 曹世昌說:⋯⋯今年春天在倫敦舉行的中國藝術展覽會已經引起全世界文化人士對中國的注意,這是最好的机會,千万不要錯過⋯⋯這几句話講得頤谷心悅誠服,想畢竟是曹世昌有道理。 A basically ridiculous idea, as Fu Juqing points out: 有位英國朋友寫信給我說,從前歐洲一般人對日本藝術開始感覺興趣,是因為日俄之戰,日本人打了胜仗;現前斷定中日開戰,中國准打敗仗,所以忽然對中國藝術發生好奇心,好比大房子要換主人了,鄰居就會去探望。” The topic of discussion, in other words, is cultural crisis, which is a bit like the crisis of a home. And the shame of invasion is comparable to the shame of cuckolding, as we see in Lu Bolin's reply: 反正中國爭不來气,要依賴旁人。跟日本妥協,受英美保護,不過是半斤八兩。我就不明白這里面有什么不同。要說是國恥,兩者都是國恥。 Zheng Xuxi's follow-up brings back what I'm calling the central gesture of the story, the effort to dress up coarseness in a veneer of refinement, and then see what happens: 人生原是這樣,從丑和惡里提煉出美和善。就象桌子上新鮮的奶、雪白的糖、香噴噴的茶、精美可口的點心,這些好東西入口以后,到我們腸胃里經過生理化學的作用,變質變形,那种爛糊糟糕的狀態簡直不堪想象,想起來也該替這些又香又甜的好東西傷心叫屈。可是非有這樣肮髒的過程,肉体不會美和健康。我——” And then Aimo breaks in: 李太太截斷他道:“你講得叫人要反胃了!我們女人不愛听這种拐彎抹角的議論。人生有許多可恨、可厭,全不合理的事,沒法避免。假如戰爭免不了,你犯不著找深奧的理由,證明它合理,證明它好⋯⋯ The story becomes lecherous fast as this sequence comes to a close. Aimo begins to flirt with Yigu, which does not escape Jiayun's notice as it does Jianhou's: 頤谷听得出了神,注視著愛默講話時的側面,眼睛象兩星晶瑩的火,燃燒著惊奇和欽佩。陳俠君眼快,瞧見他這樣子,微笑向愛默做個眼色。愛默回頭看頤谷,頤谷羞得低下頭去,手指把面包捻成一個個小丸子。 Zhongshu is undeniably good at the affect of the shy young man! “你倒沒有聘個女——女秘書?”袁友春問建侯。他本要說“女書記”,忽然想到這稱呼太直率,做書記的頤谷听了也許刺耳,所以忙改口尊稱“秘書”,同時心里佩服自己的机靈周到。 A throwaway joke, but more evidence that self-satisfaction and narrow-mindedness are the follies being pilloried here. But the tea party doesn't end there: “而且一定也精益求精,象他對烹調一樣,沒有多少女人夠得上他的審美標准,”傅聚卿說。建侯听著,洋洋得意 Jianhou is so happy to receive attention he doesn't care or seem aware he will be the butt of humor again. 平常女子象這次西班牙內戰里弗郎哥的‘第五縱隊’,做間諜工作,把你顛倒了,你還在夢里。 Multi-cultural political humor.... 記得達爾文就觀察到狗能模仿人的幽默,我十几年前看德國心理學家潑拉埃講儿童心理的書里,也提起這類事。 Crackpot political humor makes a joke of political consciousness. On the cat, once more: 它在李府上養得久了,看慣美麗女主人的榜樣,無形中也受了感化。 Is this related to my surface refinement gesture? A more useful multi-lingual joke calls Jianhou a man out of place in time; meanwhile we confirm that the cat and the woman are closely related: 建侯假如生在十六世紀的法國,他這身段的曲線美,不知該使多少女人傾倒愛慕,不拿薪水當他的女書記呢!那時候的漂亮男女,都得把肚子凸出--法國話好象叫Panserons--鼓得愈高愈好,跟現代女人的束緊前面腹部而聳起后面臀部,正是相反。建侯算得古之法國美少年,也配得做淘气的榜樣。所以我說老袁倒果為因。并不是淘气學愛默的姿態,是愛默參考淘气的姿態,神而明之,自成一家。這話愛默听了不會生气的。傾國傾城,天字第一號外國美人是埃及女皇克婁巴德拉--埃及的古風是女人愈象貓愈算得美。 And the transforming lady: 有時一個女人遠看很美,頗為可愛,走近了細瞧,才知道全是假的,長得既不好看,而且化妝的原料欠講究,化妝的技巧也沒到家。 Out of time tonight -- I'll return to this subject Tuesday night or Wednesday.

Book: "Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters" (3)

Theodore Huters, Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters, (PhD dissertation, Stanford, 1977)

In Chapter 2, "The Shift to Iconoclasm," Huters continues the method of the previous chapter (parts one and two) of looking in detail at representative texts of literary theory, this time by Zhou Zuoren, Lu Xun, and others searching for literature's best role in a crisis.

During the late 1910s and early 1920s, the KMT enforced stringent controls on literature, student uprisings and other domestic unrest were rampant, and so the small segment of the Chinese public that could read and discuss the role of arts and literature in the plight of their nation were justifiably distressed, gloomy, and often contradictory. Zhou Zuoren exemplifies all of these traits, and one more that is representative of the early 1920s, a retreat to conservative Confucianism (as, for example, in undervaluing the novel, especially Shui hu zhuan) under the guise of supporting the new literature that affects practically every single writer from the period. Lu Xun personifies the gloom of the writer in this period, reaching a "zero point" that Huters justifiably calls "pathetic."

Flag going up on UMD campus, ~8am, Sept. 20
These and other writers sought a role for writing that could be something more than a "frivolity," without aping the "totalizing" didacticism of traditional Confucian literary theory; the tension between the two perspectives is the defining issue in literary theory of this period (perhaps any period?). During the 1930s, the split widened. Ambitious writers like Mao Dun having to choose to emphasize their social content above the autonomy of literature. Contrariwise, some socially conscious, yet lyrical, writers like Shen Congwen found themselves pigeonholed on the "right," an effect of the rigid critical atmosphere.

Reading List:

Huter's diagram of the evolution of the critical atmosphere in this chapter would make a fine one-semester class syllabus, or at least the backbone of one. (Compare to Kirk Denton's book)

  • Leo Lee on this Romantic Generation of writers
  • Chen Duxiu 文學革命論
  • Mao Dun 甚麼是文學? ; Galik's work on Mao Dun
  • Zheng Zhenduo 新聞學觀的建設 ; Pollard's work, which includes many articles
  • Zhou Zuoren 源流 (full title?)
  • Zhou Zuoren 人的文學
  • Zhou Zuoren 平民的文學
  • Zhou Zuoren 自己的園地 1929
  • Lu Xun's 吶喊 preface; also Pollard and Lyon on this figure.
  • Lu Xun, 革命時代的文學
  • Lu Xun, 我怎麼做起小說來
  • Gu Jiegang's sketch, all in The Autobiography of a Chinese Historian, tr. Hummel
  • Mao Dun, Cong Guling dao Dongjing, also tr. Yu-shih Chen, defensive about being a writer and a participant in social movments. 
  • Lin Yutang in "Little Critic," November 13, 1930, on leaving academia and doing positive work
  • "Zarathustra and the Jester," January 1931, "Verily, I say unto you, I have found the best use for my wisdom in this city, and that is babbling..."
  • C.T. Hsia's negative evaluation of Lin Yutang's career in his History, 134

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writer stub: O. Henry

It's the birthday of ... William Sidney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina (1862). His mother died when he was a kid, and he was raised by various relatives and headed off to Texas when he was 15. He worked as a hired hand on a sheep ranch, and he fell in love with a wealthy young woman. They got married and had a daughter. He got a respectable job at a bank, and then as a reporter for The Houston Post. But the bank was audited after he left, and he was arrested on charges of embezzling money. His wife's father posted bail for him, but before his trial he ran away, heading to Louisiana and then to Honduras. His wife was too sick with tuberculosis to meet him there, and heartbroken, he went back to Texas and turned himself in so that he could be with his wife while she died. Afterward, he was sentenced to prison for five years. It was while he was in jail that his writing career really took off — he published 14 stories before he was let out for good behavior after three years. He would send his stories to a friend who would send them to publishers, so no one ever suspected that O. Henry was writing from jail.
Saturday, September 17 pie, thanks to SV and SV
The Writer's Almanac, September 11, 2011.  What a wonderful capsule write-up! This is one to play in class, Thursday of the 4th week, before we read "The Gift of the Magi." And I can easily play the July 4, 2011 edition today so that kids can get a capsule of Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well. (Thanks to my father for re-connecting me with this podcast. I'm gonna get a lot of mileage out of it!)

Poem: "I Ran Out Naked In The Sun" by Jane Hirshfield

I Ran Out Naked In The Sun

I ran out naked
in the sun
and who could blame me
who could blame

the day was warm

I ran out naked
in the rain
and who could blame me
who could blame

the storm

I leaned toward sixty
that day almost done
it thundered

I wanted more I
shouted More
and who could blame me
who could blame

had been before

could blame me
that I wanted more
The Writer's Almanac, September 12. (I'm reminded of AW, one of my teachers)

Quote: The Blood of D.H. Lawrence

Burrito Union last night with J and E and JG and her girlfriend M

My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge. All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what-not. 
-- The Writer's Almanac, September 11 (Would love to know the original source)

Sentence practice

Outside my office, I discover a new friend.
If there is to be monetary unity, there must be a unity of fiscal systems; that there was not was the "birth defect" of the Eurozone. And further, a major cultural difference has never been resolved, that between the relatively productive and tightfisted "Northern Protestants" (Germany, Holland) and the free-living, spend-it-all "Southern Metlife Catholics" (Spain, Greece, Italy). The availability of easy money to the Catholics gave them impetus to incur massive debt, which now brings the entire eurozone to the brink of collapse.

(Based on commentary from NPR Morning Edition)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Story: "Cat" by Qian Zhongshu (4)

Sequence 4: Chen Yigu meets Aimo and attends her tea party.

Yigu as audience, and next we get a really long sequence describing her friends. 
Ma Yongzhong: 名气大了,他的口气也大了。
Yuan Youchun: more boring than Luminol.
Lu Bolun, he of the cat's name.
Zheng Xuxi -- great opening sentence.
Zhao Yushan -- discovering textual errors is no less important than Columbus discovering America!
The awkward Mrs. Zhao -- perhaps she belongs with Jianhou?
Cao Shichang
Fu Juqing
A joke I don't get...
At last, we find out who Chen Jiajun is. Truly, this sequence is quite long. 

Story: "Cat" by Qian Zhongshu (3)

Sequence three, raw notes:

First sentence of the sequence. I like the expression 夠朋友. 
We get the impression that the husband is being cuckolded -- and more than once! I thought this character was Jiajun, below, but nope, different guy. 滿腔榮幸 -- full of flattery. 蒙⋯⋯惠許 "enticed her to favor him with permission to..." 沒和他敷衍 didn't expound with her husband, though -- see, he feels jealous...guess that guy doesn't know the meaning of courtesy 世故.
This is a gentlemen of breeding who knows and loves his pussy. Here the motif of cultural literacy appears again for the practical purpose of dissembling. 暴安良?
Jianhou decides to write in reaction to his wife's attention from men. Not sure I completely follow the joke!
He was hoping she'd stop him, but she cast him off so she can socialize without him. 

First multi-lingual wordplay joke about his ignorance of writing. 
Second such joke, and a turning point, because Jianhou could really have written about food, I think, if he were not so lacking in self esteem and so desirous of impressing his wife's friends (why doesn't he realize they'll NEVER like him anyway, so he should just do what he really is good at?) (Also, this is the first instance of Chen Jiajun -- he will be described later. Slightly inelegant!)
His idea of a travel narrative. 軟硬性的作品?
New scene, but part of the same sequence, I'd say. Political content erupts again. 鬧得凶?
He's like the alien guy who helps the self-deceiving captain in Futurama.
As he becomes disgusted with Jianhou, the sequence comes to a close. Via the pussycat, he will meet Aimo. 

Story: "Cat" by Qian Zhongshu (2)

After meetings and chatting with department people, I managed to tuck in a good chunk of the afternoon to continue reading "Cat" by Qian Zhongshu. (This post connects up with my first post on the same subject and records wonky notes for a conference paper I have to produce in the next few days.)

"Cat" is a long story about Chinese intellectuals in their 30s, cerca 1937, when China was full of domestic unrest, especially student demonstrations and violent crackdowns on such demonstrations, and everyone feared that war with Japan was imminent -- at a tea party in the center of the story, the Japanese regularly fly planes over the capital city of Beiping.

This political content and what it seems to say about the place of China in the world don't on the surface seem to be central fixtures of the story; rather, the piece is a wordy satire on the social mores of a married couple, their friends and associates, with a distinctive adultery motif. My aim is to investigate this satire on the sentence level and show how its major themes of marriage on the one hand, and literature and arts on the other hand, add up to a sophisticated political and social view that is still very much relevant to Chinese readers today.

The first sequence of the book introduces a cat called Taoqi, or "Naughty," who has just destroyed a manuscript that a young man named Qi Yigu is responsible for. A second sequence introduces Chen Jiahou and Li Aimo, beginning with their fathers, and tells us how they came to be married. We learn that it is Mrs. Li who wears the pants in this marriage. But as the third sequence relates, Jiahou chafes at his own short leash, and is jealous of the attention his wife gets from more sophisticated men, so he has the idea to write a book -- a memoir of his travels in America and Europe. Unable to write the book himself, he contracts a young college student named Qi Yigu as a private secretary who will listen to Jianhou's ideas and write them all down. Yigu quickly learns to despise Jianhou. At this point, the third sequence intersects chronologically with the first; the cat "Naughty" has scratched up the manuscript that Yigu has prepared and Yigu, already frustrated that he is working on a text that will add nothing to the world, is furious. Aimo hears what happened, and wishes to apologize to Yigu by inviting him to a tea party she is having with some of her sophisticated male friends. Thus begins a fourth, and very long sequence, which first introduces seven friends, all caricatures of Chinese intellectuals of the times, and then relates a bit of tea party conversation on the topic of whether war is imminent. I managed to read through this sequence, placing me at 55 percent through the story.

Raw notes:

Aimo's wonderful condescension to her husband before she undergoes surgery. Interestingly, 清心寡欲 is very old and does not seem to have Buddhist etymology; 不至于胡鬧,糟蹋了身子 is a nice way to say, "don't have an affair."

After the plastic surgery (oh did I not mention that above?), Aimo is more beautiful than ever, but Jianhou's own metamorphosis is in the other direction. This ends the second sequence, leaving Jianhou (and the reader) feeling that the marriage is unfair to him. 
A writerly sentence about literary affect; the relationship between the two married folks after the surgery is bizarre.
Proof that Jianhou is now on the short lease. Note how the friends function as an audience to this marriage; 夫以妻貴 is a quite common expression, sort of like "she wears the pants in that marriage" [?]
Hammering the point home with devastating multi-lingual wordplay. This is where the center of my argument must lie -- what does the multi-lingual wordplay signify? Beyond the obvious, that Qian enjoys wordplay very much. 

So ends the second sequence. More notes in a new entry.

Book: "Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters" (2)

Theodore Huters, Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters, (PhD dissertation, Stanford, 1977)

View from the UMD Library

Over two weeks after I got through the first part of Huters' first chapter, I finally return to the second part, "Initial attempts at innovation." I hope this means that the stress of my multiple movements over the past stretch of time has finally begun to settle down. 

In this section, Huters provides a ridiculously wide-ranging overview of "reformulations" of the Confucian tradition in the wake of the Taiping rebellion. He surveys the literary theory of:

  • Zeng Guofan, who thought new fields like economics could be adequately addressed by clutching ever more to Confucian texts and the principles therein. That didn't work because it only continues the futile effort to make the Chinese language perform functions that it can at best describe, but Zeng and his conservative contemporaries refused to see that. 
  • Liang Qichao, who at least understood that a renewal of language itself was called for, but entertained unrealistic hopes for prose fiction to perform a range of surgeries on a needy society -- it seems Liang's achievement in the end is little more than an adaptation of conservative Confucianism to a faulty model of fiction. 
  • Zhang Binglin, who went further than previous writers to investigate what the Chinese language was, and made important philological discoveries (he coined wenxue as a term). But when his investigation verged on a basic denial of the principle that language is purely performative, he took only half measures that fed into the basic proposition of the "national essence" movement: we are Chinese, and have been a long time. Interrogation of the propositions of Chineseness would have amounted to a negation of half of more of Confucian principles, and so this retreat is understandable. 
    • Zhang Xuecheng came up with a metatextual method that reduced all writing to historical scholarship; this influenced Lu Xun in his first story, "Diary of a Madman," but is not adequately covered by Huters here. (Not that he hasn't already read more in this chapter than I may have in my whole dissertation!)
    • Liu Shipei separated the aesthetic sensibility of the Chinese language from any issues of content, thus running into the problem that Walter Pater faced, that literature has little purpose other than to "withdraw the thoughts for a little while from the mere machinery of life."
  • Wang Guowei, following the emphasis on grand unity of human aims elucidated in the philosophy of Schopenhauer, wrote literary criticism that hacked away at Confucian principles more thoroughly than any previous writer, but could not come up with any but abstract ways to inherit the tradition, and was further doubly bound by the pessimism of Schopenhauer's outlook and his own culture's crisis.
Further reading:
  1.  Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780-1950 (1966) On Walter Pater, p. 167, as well as an important insight into conservatism, p. 166: "The idea of culture is a general reaction to a general and major change in the conditions of our common life. . . . Particular change will modify an habitual discipline, shift an habitual action. General change, when it has worked itself clear, drives us back on our general designs, which we have to learn to look at again, and as a whole. The working-out of the idea of culture is a slow reach again for control."
  2. Charlotte Furth in Reflections on the May Fourth Movement: A Symposium (1972), on the "national essence" movement.
  3. Prusek, "Subjectivism and Individualism in Modern Chinese Literature" (1957)
  4. Plaks, Archetype and Allegory in the Dream of the Red Chamber, (1972)
  5. 人間詞話 by Wang Guowei, translated by Ching-I Tu (Taipei Chung-hwa, 1972)
  6. Review Hu Shi's "Eight Don'ts"
  7. Return to Fish and Culler on signs and language...review Jonathan Swift on the subject. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Food: "Slow Cookers for Dummies"

Slow Cookers For Dummies

 By Tom Lacalamita, Glenna Vance

On last week's first shuttle trip up to Duluth, I read this entire book on my phone. Sadly, it was only on loan from the public library, and so the file was automatically deleted. Here are some of the recipes I thought would be particularly good for an upcoming housewarming party: 
  • Slow cooker party mix (yes, you can make Chex in the slow cooker. Granola, too!)
  • Sweet 'n' sour meatballs (a Minnesota favorite is in barbecue; this sounds much more palatable)
  • Asian wings
  • Salsa
  • Ruby Red Cider, Mulled Wine, Irish coffee and other hot alcoholic drinks
Other recipes that were illuminating in this book: 
  • Master meat sauce (freeze it and use it in recipes for chili and pasta)
  • Borscht, and other meat soups
  • Master roast turkey breast (again, use in recipes after it's done)
  • Roast pork and roast lamb shanks -- yes, you can dry roast cheap cuts in the Crock Pot. Can't wait to try!

Teaching philosophy (1)

Riffing off my mentor, KT, I come up with a new first paragraph for my would-be teaching philosophy:
Teaching and being taught are reciprocal, as are writing and reading. In the language and literature classroom, where the complementary arts of reading and writing are the main content, students have a unique opportunity to give voice their own questions and values, to seek interpretive meaning and to provide organized composition to their thoughts -- in short, they learn to think like literature teachers. We teachers, on the other hand, learn to live with the incompleteness of our readings, and learn to let our students speak for themselves -- in other words, we remain, essentially, students.
That was tortured, but still, I think it hits the same note as KT's first paragraph. Will touch up in the morning.

Stub: Changsha

As I grade papers, I notice several of the students marked where Tsui Ning and his bride were exiled -- Tanzhou 潭州. This is the ancient place name for what is today Changsha, the Hunan capital where Mao Zedong grew up.

Mawangdui, the great 1970s archaeological dig, is also near by, I suppose, because these gorgeous dancing figures from the site are on display at the Changsha Provincial Museum.

Politics: Iran

On my walk to school I heard that Shane Bauer and Josh Pattel, American college guys trapped in Iran, would be released soon. Minnesota Public Radio talked to William Beeman of the U about the situation, and he reiterated proposition that there is no evidence that Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons.

First, yay. I feel the upcoming release of Shane and Josh as a kind of good omen, though minor.

Second, wha? Is there or isn't there evidence of a weapons program? I thought there was tons of evidence to that effect.
Duluth this morning -- nice sun, but forecasters say the freeze is coming Thursday.

For most people, belief is sometimes there, and sometimes not; or seems to be there, but isn’t; or may fade in a different time and place; or may be doubted when a prayer goes unanswered. This is the mindset of the average person. Untested, their faith lacks endurance.
Yang Jiang, "The Value of Life"
Belief comes and goes, at least for us "average" "untested" folks. I've understood that since I was a kid, when I did have religious feelings, including belief. I think back on the Christian custom that I grew up with, which seemed to say that once we were believers it would not go away again (but always remain, "in here" <gesture at heart>).

This essay from Yang Jiang's 2007 book Arriving at the Margins of Life is at last mostly done and ready for the printers. Big sigh!

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to Write a Lecture (1)

Beautiful September day in Duluth -- photo by my Dad, who visited this weekend
According to my roommate S, the question "How do you develop a course?" is common in job interviews. Here's a few ideas I feel like jotting down tonight. I've already developed ENGL 1802's syllabus, and I thought through the first week of class, but I did not develop the second week yet. What do I do? (Besides panic and procrastinate -- check and check.)

Since it's a 15-person seminar, I structure the class session around a set of a 4 - 6 activities which bring together participation with listening and learning. I try to "lecture," in the traditional sense, minimally. The types of activities include:

    • In-class Reading. This is great on Thursday, when I presume students have made a start on the readings for the week, but won't really get to them until the weekend, when the homework assignment will be due. 
    • In-class Writing. Usually students work individually, but I'm trying to formulate ways to have them work in groups to produce writing. To me, it is through these exercises that the students learn to do close reading, and so mostly supplant any writing free "discussion" periods. (Question: does free-form discussion even have a place in the contemporary literature classroom?) 
    • Culture Lessons. I'm not sure this is the right term for it, but I'm thinking of how, last Thursday, when I pointed out that a highly literary part of "The Jade Kuanyin" is the poetry, as in a line about "lily feet," we digressed into an explanation of foot binding. The students really loved this. KT, my mentor, has suggested that I ask the students to name as many Asians as they can think of as an assessment tool, and my classmate JN concurred with this idea, but I don't see the point of that. My roommate S had a better idea, I think when he suggested having the students write down three "fact-based" questions about Asia. S's idea reminds me of an idea for a segment to be called "Ask me anything." Writing down questions, reminds S, will empower the students to ask their questions verbally.

Stub: The Neighborhood Project

Prof. Wilson and this review by Mark Oppenheimer indicate that, in dreaming up new ways to apply a narrow range of skills, it's best to err on the side of breadth.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Story: The Jade Kuanyin

"The Jade Kuanyin" is story 8 in the Ming dynasty collection Common Words to Warn the World 警世通言 (see the Chinese text embedded in a colorful web page). Professor Patrick Hanan reads a two-volume 1958 Taipei facsimile of the 1624 edition (I should locate and scan bits of this!). The first task for my students is to imitate Professor Hanan in summing the story up:
In "The Jade Guanyin" (TY 8), a jade carver in the service of a prince runs away with a maid from the prince's household. Later, in a distant city, they are recognized by someone from his staff and brought back, and the carver is beaten and exiled. On his way into exile, the maid joins him again. In fact, unknown to him, she has been beaten to death; this is her ghost. The carver is recalled to the capital to serve the Emperor, and the same man from the prince's staff recognizes the maid and tells the prince that he has seen a ghost. When the prince disbelieves him, he stakes his life on it. The girl is brought to the prince's palace, but when her sedan chair is opened, there is nobody inside. The informer escapes with a severe beating. The ghost returns home, tells her husband that she can stay no longer, and takes him away with her into her ghostly existence.
I bet my students can do as well as that! Time for class...

Dreams: Car fixes

In the last 24 hours I've developed a clammy, panicky fear that I can't handle all the demands placed on me -- I'm invested in service through the Tretter Collection, research through two conference papers and my dissertation, and of course the teaching, which no matter how much I prepare always seems ready to take more time. Then there's family and friends, and all the social stuff I intend to do in the Twin Cities this weekend.

Last night I dreamt that I snuck over to a stranger's car, a convertible with the top down, and figured out how to put the top back. It was raining, and I reasoned that I would help them from getting everything soaked. I set up the top, but just before I was finished they appeared, and I ran away, afraid and embarrassed. They tracked me down, came to my door and confronted Adam, who had no idea. They were forthright, and I confessed what I had done. They didn't mind after all. I served everyone iced tea, but I forgot to filter it, so we all had pieces of tea in our glasses.

There was much more detail than that, of course, but it's fading already. Time to get started.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Story: Cat

I started on "Cat" (1947? but written during WWII) by Qian Zhongshu, and read about 14% of on my phone in an hour and half that was also occupied by a freak out that Adam helped me through. There just doesn't seem to be enough time to do all I want to do. But oh well!

"Cat" is about people around my age -- early middle age? -- as China and the world were on the verge of plunging into World War II. The story centers on Li Jianhou and his wife Aimo, both of whom are children of late Qing "relics," older men who have had to learn to sell their cultural capital to get by in Beiping, a city transformed by the loss of the emperor. We can see from an early dialogue about a cat named "Darkie" that all of the characters suffer from vanity, but Aimo's is featured first when she decides to use her honeymoon as an opportunity to travel to Japan for plastic surgery.

The story is called "Cat" because the couple's cat is the first thing mentioned in the first sentence:
"Beat a dog, watch for the master's face; well then, beat a cat, watch for the mistress's face..."

As we soon find out, Yigu is mad at the cat because it has messed up the copy of Jianhou's manuscript that Yigu, Jianhou's secretary, is supposed to take care of. The cat spilled ink all over the pages. From here, the story immediately digresses at length on how the cat got its name -- from 黑子, which seemed too coarse, to "Dark lady," which was suitably elegant, but too long for Aimo, to Darkie, which suited her, even though that translates 黑子 well, and so could be said to be just as course. In a final zinger, Darkie was transliterated into Chinese as 淘氣, which means naughty (but is perhaps better than 妲己, an evil empress of ancient times.) I want to break down, or rather, sum up, this digression. 

Note the play from coarse and vulgar to elegant, which is revealed to be something coarse and vulgar again. This seems to be the basic gesture throughout the story -- we try to put on nice clothes, learn some foreign phrases and social mores, and so display elegance and refinement, but the short-shrift we give to the cultural context makes the gesture at refinement only an expression of vanity. And isn't that coarse again?

But that makes me wonder: how justify refinement, in any case? Why ever have cats, or stylish clothes, or sophisticated tastes in anything? Here I'm stuck for the moment. A few more raw notes: 
Character thinks of foreign social mores, and forms his own judgement; it's all a charade as he just wants to flirt with Aimo. Reminiscent of early Henry James?
Americanized Aimo would call Shakespeare "Bill," if she met him.

Political content erupts here.
The setting, Beiping, combines the gesture of coarse to elegant, elegant is still coarse, with the political content. The major changes to the world put in motion Beiping's bizarre effort to seem refined.
Social change reflected here, again. What exactly is the satire here? The failure to actually deal with the problems, right?
Artistic content -- Zhongshu takes aim at the artistic circles and debates of the 1920s, 30s.
A clip from the passage on the couple's fathers -- a fascinating caricature of the breeding of the main characters, though possibly tangential and juvenile in terms of structure. 
The refined/vulgar tension again.
The failure of the older generation breeds failure in the next.
Aimo knows that she is an accoutrement to Jianhou, a key feature of his own appearance of refinement. The motif of "face," here in metaphorical and literal senses at once. (She is going to have plastic surgery.) 

Quick Sentence Exercise

Ted Williams hits a home run in his last at bat in Fenway Park on September 28, 1960; John Updike wrote this sentence to commemorate the occasion:

It was in the books while it was still in the sky.
Stanley Fish brings up this sentence in his book How to Write a Sentence (2011) to introduce the idea of imitation. So here we go:
His promise was broken before the device was made. 
He was on skid row while he still stood in his home. 
That check had bounced before it dropped into her hands.

My Milkshake

On a nice afternoon jog in Duluth, I listened to the July/August 2011 Poetry magazine podcast yet again. The editors justly complement poet Joshua Mehigan for a very evocative self-account in his essay on poetry and madness:
Everyone is stupid and horrible. Every human communication is an invidious lie. This includes newspaper headlines and strangers’ smiles. Poets and poetry are worst of all. Halfhearted death fantasies flash through my head all morning. It’s the will of an evil universe that I drop a nickel. Waiting at a drive-through for a milk shake—fleeting joy—I turn on NPR looking for news. Instead, nice people discuss cooking. They refer always to “soups,” apparently shunning the mass noun “soup.” “Soup” must not sound important enough. A caller says the best way to clean kale is with a dish brush. He elaborates for two minutes. Furious superiority fills my chest. Two women courteously advise against wasting any part of a vegetable. Leonard Lopate, whose show I like well enough when I have not missed several doses of lithium, asks with deep interest, “Do we call chard a winter vegetable?”—an iambic pentameter I notice, laughing aloud. And then, although alone, I scream obscenities at the radio and pound the steering wheel. People stare through the drive-through window. I continue screaming at the healthy, engaged people on the radio, then giggle, then feel a burning in my nose as if I might sob. Lopate’s voice continues like a spoonful of warm honey. I fantasize about shuffling the foodies’ priorities by leaving them in Alemão with only some kale and a dish brush. Later, arriving home with my jumbo milkshake, before I take a single sip I spill it on my bedroom carpet, then stomp up and down in it, screaming “fuck” over and over again, until even I can see there’s something wrong.

Wednesday Work Day (2)

KT, my mentor, asked me to read: Richard H. Haswell, "Minimal Marking," in College English 45, no. 6 (1983), 166-70. Here is a brief summary:

Early 1980s research showed that marking up student writing did not improve performance, at least not the way they were marking papers back then.

Rather than take all the time to correct surface errors, why not just put a check mark down on the page when the teacher encounters an error, and then hand the paper back for students to hunt down the errors and make the corrections themselves? Haswell's informal counts show that the students really do find most of their own errors:

Category of Error Number of Errors Checked in Margin byTeacher Number of Errors Correctly Emended by Students Percent Corrected by Students

Semantic Signalling
(capitalization, underlining, quotation marks, apostrophes)
97 74 76.3%

Syntactic Punctuation
142 81 57.0%

(including hyphenation)
132 74 56.1%

(including tense change, omission of word, pronoun disagreement)
30 16 53.3%
All Errors 401 245 61.1%

This method is "less work for the teacher, more gain for the student." Haswell only counted minor errors of style, and not errors of reasoning or organization, which begs the question of his conclusion:
Can this method be transferred to other aspects of writing? I think so, although right now I must speculate. Certainly problems of writing that lend themselves to spot improvement could well be marked with marginal checks: injudicious diction, needed transitions, unsupported generalities. Larger, structural problems such as stumbling introductions and disordered paragraphs might be signaled with marginal lines. More interestingly, so might fallacies and other lapses in thinking. In each case the effort would be to find the minimal functional mark. The best mark is that which allows students to correct the most on their own with the least help. An obvious pedagogical truth-but one that runs counter to the still established tradition of full correction.

First Wednesday Work Day (1)

The web page of UMD's Instructional Development Service comes with an epigraph:
The teacher said to the students, "Come to the edge." They replied, "We might fall." The teacher said again, "Come to the edge." And they responded, "It's too high." "Come to the edge" the teacher demanded. And they came and the teacher pushed them, and they flew. -- Christopher Logue
I just have to smile here at the familiar mix of drama and good intentions. But what made the students fly? (And without whatever it was, wouldn't the teacher have just committed a heinous crime? Those poor students, all fallen, most dead, others, mangled, gasping their last breaths as we watch....oh the horror!) The "Early Career Faculty Series on Teaching and Learning" was recommended to me as a great series. This semester there will be talks on managing the classroom, "active learning," and "assessment," but they all take place on Thursdays during my scheduled class time, so I can't attend any of them. C'est la semestre. UPDATE. Christopher Logue (b. 1926) has a poem called "Come to Edge" in his collection New Numbers (Jonathan Cape, 1969). Wikiquote, Poemhunter and many more sites give the text as:
Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew.
What the UMD IDS did to this poem on their webpage deserves a name. Perhaps "institutional misprisonment?"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day of School (3)

After school, I went to a little happy hour at the home of one of the new professors, where I mingled with a range of early career academics:

  • JG, a new PhD who has traveled the world, and now has beautiful new home near the university which is even more barren of furniture than my Minneapolis place. A small amount of wine opens her up to tales of Trinidad, Ivory Coast, and the dignity of the developing world middle class. She's dating someone new, and far away.
  • M, a new math instructor who spent the morning having his duplex inspected and will teach three different sections of math tomorrow. 
  • E and J, a very cute hipster couple, trés Minneapolis, though they've moved to Duluth for the year. She bakes, speaks multiple languages, and is at home in both South Asia and France. He's shy, reputedly an anarchist, but says "yeah" a lot. 
All of us are living unsettled, transitory lives, with little knowledge of where we will be in one year. And why not? The world's in flux, so why not ride along?

First Day of School (2)

Overheard down the hall, a teacher opens his class with a spiel on how the Grimm brothers created community by collecting stories, and then turned to an essay by Emerson called "The Poet," about the situation in America at its earliest stages:
We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials, and saw, in the barbarism and materialism of the times, another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires in Homer; then in the middle age; then in Calvinism. Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, methodism and unitarianism, are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of wonder as the town of Troy, and the temple of Delphos, and are as swiftly passing away. Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boasts, and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres.
In this passage, we are inspired as Whitman must have been, back in 1844.

First Day of School

The first story I will pass out has the line

And so the student got right into the cage; the cage neither got any wider, nor did the student get any smaller, and though he sat right there with the geese, the geese were not alarmed. 
When I read it to Adam, he thought of the Cloud Cult song "Journey of the Featherless," which has the lines: 
i think i'm growing feathers
but i'm not sure of it
because i started getting dizzy
about a hundred feet up 
i made friends with the clouds
i made friends with the birds
if you ask a goose a question
he never shuts up 
honestly i miss you
and i hope that you're missing me
cause i could use your lips on me
and a little of Dramamine.
So of course, to be cute and sentimental, I will play this song at the opening of the first class (it will also serve as a good test of the audio).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Institution: Faculty Orientation

Faculty orientation was not an afternoon of cocktales.

Faculty orientation is a good place to garner language with which to write a teaching philosophy. At the University of Minnesota, Duluth in 2011, the atmosphere was one of reform and new beginnings, which I think likely applies to other schools as well, and suggests that today's teacher must commit to a certain role in reform and new beginnings. In the fields of strategic planning, diversity, and liberal education, UMD has completed assessments using administrative task forces, generated action steps in various web pages, and urgently hopes that faculty will cooperate in the proceeding action steps. For a new teacher like myself, with no particular preconceptions of what the job should entail, this is an opportunity to establish a reputation as a fresh voice suited to the needs of a new era. The trick is to speak the language of the institution (and controlling the conflict against another side of me that finds such institutional mindset treachery to the ambitions for art).

The following is an enumeration of my raw notes; links and further thoughts to come:

  1. The new strategic plan of the university centers on sustainability and social justice, issues that "have never mattered more," and which require engagement with "the surrounding community."
  2. Diversity is a huge issue at Duluth, where the student population is 92% white and 8% everything else. Moreover, as one administrator testified, some students of color leave Duluth because they experience racism on campus. A certain "Facebook event" made this retention-killing factor national news. In response, the university has made diversity one of the major elements of its new strategic plan, in what they call the "Campus Change Initiative."
    1. A faculty panel on the respectful classroom: valuing difference and inclusiveness, illustrates the university's current commitment to making social justice part of all curriculum. This isn't as far-fetched as Stanley Fish might make it seem, according to Paula Pedersen, an expert on "multiple perspectives pedagogy," and the associated new wave of educational theory that is "constructivist, experiential, and student-centered." Important take-ways include: 
      1. Don't let any student feel left out, especially in group activities
      2. Don't play favorites
      3. Make sure everyone feels that their views have value, even if they are not progressive
      4. To deal with inappropriate conduct, never be afraid to say, "I'm uncomfortable with where this is going. We'll come back to it." Don't let maligned students leave hurt.
  3. UMD Students are "millennials" with the accompanying sense of entitlement and inability to deal with adversity that studies on this generation have demonstrated. Overall, emotional health on campuses has decreased. Kathy Morris and Mary Keenan encourage teachers not to see mental health resources at the U as a last resort -- we should refer students who are functional, but suffering. The goal of these services is to keep retention as high as possible.
  4. Assessment of Student learning, another area undergoing major reform with a full package of  actions steps now being implemented. Bottom line: good assessment data is the best way to tell when and how to raise expectations. (Also see the roadmap the school produced.)
  5. UEA, the union representing Duluth and Crookston faculty. The reputation of a union, I reflected, requires us to attend to the the history of labor actions at the institution. Thus, I should create a timeline.
  6. Finding Balance at the university : ideal proportions should include 50 percent teaching, 40 percent research, and 10 percent service for full time work, but moving back and forth among the job duties requires nimbleness, and for many teachers, research takes a back seat to teaching and service duties. 
  7. Liberal Education, a "seriously hot topic" at UMD. Check out the reform package on its web page and consider courses to supply global perspectives, cultural diversity and environmental sustainability.

  8. Miscellaneous notes: there are grant opportunities at UMD; tech camp might be interesting; faculty should try to get undergrads to do UROPs with them; the UMD and Board of regents each have policies, and UMD at times differs from the BOR. 
  9. M
A few quotes from the day: 

"We've taken steps, we've done things."

"Do try your best not to get drawn into ongoing disputes."

"Take up a winter sport."

Gone to Cold Lake

Welcome to my Autumn 2011 blog, "Cold Lake." Here, I will jot ideas, practice sentences, copy out favorite passages, and record my experiences as a teacher at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. To begin, I want to copy out some thoughts from writer Phillip Roth. This is the way I want to be in the coming months:
"I have to tell you that I don't believe in death, I don't experience the time as limited. I know it is, but I don't feel it," Roth said. "I could live three hours or I could live thirty years, I don't know. Time doesn't prey upon my mind. It should, but it doesn't. I don't know yet what this will alll add up to, and it no longer matters because there's no stopping. And this stuff is not going to matter anyway, as we know. So there's no sense even contemplating it, you know? All you want to do is the obvious. Just get it right and the rest is the human comedy: the evaluations, the lists, the crappy articles, the insults, the praise.

"I want only to respond to my work. I don't want to respond to all that stuff. It's not important. It was, and it is for others at a certain time, but it can't be important anymore.

"If I'm healthy and strong and writing every day, who cares? Whatever problem is raised for me by what I'm writing, I think, Don't worry about it, all it takes is time. That's all it takes. I don't worry anymore that I don't have what it takes to solve the problem. There are no interruptions, and I've got all the time in the world. Time is on my side."

-- David Remnick, Reporting: Writings from the New Yorker