Prompt #6: Entering the heart of darkness…

Posted in prompts at 2:16 am by Dominique

Dear all,

I’m looking forward to having more time to discuss the remainder of Heart of Darkness with you when we return on Thursday, October 6th. Our two main bloggers for this next week have an especially important job, as their posts will keep our conversation going while we are away from class. Terry Hong and Jose Ruiz have volunteered to blog this week.

We’re going to try something slightly different during this round of blogs. Terry will respond to the following questions (in about 500-550 words): “How are Africa and its inhabitants represented in this text? Are there ways in which descriptions of the non-natives (those linked to the military outposts) feel incomplete, ironic, or suspect? Please provide at least three examples from the text to support your response.”

Jose will respond to the following questions (in about 500-550 words): “How is Charlie Marlow represented in this text? How would you describe the way in which this story is narrated? (i.e. What does it mean to say that Heart of Darkness is a “story within a story”?) What aspects of Marlow’s narration might seem worth noting for a deconstructionist critic, and why?  Please provide at least three examples from the text to illustrate your response.”

Both bloggers may account for as much of they text as they have read at the point when they compose their posts. They may only want to comment on the first section, though they may also move beyond it.

Commentators should choose one of these two sets of questions and expand upon the main blogger’s response in a reply of 150-200 words.

As usual, posts are due for bloggers by this coming Monday at midnight, and for commentators by Wednesday, Oct. 5th, at midnight.

As you continue to read Conrad’s novel, please use this extra time off to email me if you encounter trouble with language, symbolism, plot details, or applying deconstruction to arrive at an interpretation of the novel. I am also happy to set up an appointment to meet with your during office hours (Thursday, 11 am-1 pm) on the day we return.

Enjoy the long weekend and I look forward to seeing you in a week!



Constructing (and deconstructing) our goals for the week: Prompt 5

Posted in prompts at 11:59 am by Dominique

Dear all,

For this coming week, Jennifer Paolino and Victoriane Liz will be our main bloggers. By Monday at midnight, they will respond to the prompt below in 500-550 words:

On Thursday in class we identified the following binary oppositions (*review pp. 110-11 in Bressler for an explanation of this concept*) in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Spectacles”:

true love/love at first sight




inner beauty/outer beauty



For now, let’s focus on the second, seeing/blindness. This is actually a complicated way of framing the binary because when we think about how “seeing” and “blindness” have been valued in Western culture, blindness isn’t always a bad thing but is sometimes equated with wisdom (the blind sage)….nevertheless, let’s use this binary to guide us at this point.

The main bloggers should create a list of quotations of all moments from the story that have to do with the eyes, the gaze, seeing, etc. This list, which each blogger will compose separately, with some overlap and some items that may be unique, should be as thorough as possible. One early moment worth listing, for example, is this: “My eyes are large and gray; and although, in fact they are weak a very inconvenient degree, still no defect in this regard would be suspected from their appearance” (paragraph 4). *Indicating paragraphs will be clearer since various printed versions may contain different page numbers.

After composing their lists and reading them over our main bloggers will discuss the ways in which “seeing” seemed consistently undercut by blindness in the story. Is blindness, somehow, always at the heart of seeing? They will respond to this question in a paragraph below the list they’ve formed.

 Commentators for this week should respond to Jen and Victoriane’s posts in their own posts of 150-200 words by Wednesday at midnight. To extend the main bloggers’ deconstructionist readings, they should look back at the other questions about using deconstruction (there are about seven or so) on the bottom third of Thursday’s handout and apply them to Poe’s story.

Please note that we will only meet once this week. On Thursday, the campus is closed for Rosh Hashanah and the following Tuesday CUNY classes follow a Friday schedule. This means that after Tuesday we will not see each other in person again until Thursday, October 6th. By that point, you will have both started and finished Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Please plan ahead! Though we will not meet, we will still be keeping our blogging rhythm: Victoriane and Jen will “pass the torch” to two new main bloggers at the end of class on Tuesday, who will be responsible for posting a response to the first section of Conrad’s story by the following Monday at midnight; commentators will be expected to respond by the usual deadline, in this case Wednesday 10/5 at midnight,  as well.

I recognize that deconstruction is the most difficult lens we have attempted to grasp thus far and that we did not get very far with it on Thursday.  Know that our discussion of Conrad’s text (and the critical readings that will accompany it) will help to clarify the aims and uses of this method; deconstruction will be the primary lens on our radar through October 6th. So, if you still feel mystified by it, fear not. Keep up with the readings and posts and things will fall into place.

As always, I am available via email before we meet next for questions. (On a related note, a response to Mendoza’s question about “the sign” during Thursday’s class has just been on the Q&A page on our blog.)

Have a great weekend and see you on Tuesday,



Prompt #4, and this weekend’s reading

Posted in prompts at 11:21 am by Dominique

Hi all,

We’re picking up the pace this next week as we turn from reader-response to a discussion of Modernity and Postmodernism, as well as interpretive lenses known as “Deconstruction,” and “Post-Structuralism.” Your reading for the weekend includes a story by Edgar Allan, “The Spectacles” (which can be found on the course readings page), and the next section in Charles Bressler’s Literary Criticism (“Modernity/Postmodernism, Structuralism/Poststructuralism: Deconstruction” –pages indicated on syllabus). “The Spectacles” is the last short story we’ll read before turning to Heart of Darkness for the next four weeks; please be sure that you have purchased the specific edition of that book listed on the syllabus.

Our main bloggers for this week are Luis Hernandez and Marissa Gonta. Their task, to be completed and posted by Monday at midnight, is as follows:

Using the reader-oriented model of criticism we tested out in class on Thursday, apply that method to Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” in order to arrive at an analysis–of 500-550 words–of the story.  Your analysis should describe several horizons of expectations and show how they change the text from beginning to end. Consider, as you do this, the qualities of the narratee (as we did on Tuesday with “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”). Based on certain gaps in information or narration, or what types of explanations are provided, describe the narratee and how that narratee is being led to respond to the story (or, to use Rosenbatt’s word, to “transact” with it). Finally, as we did last class, explain the overall meaning you come to as a result of this reader-oriented approach, particularly how that meaning is supported by or in conversation with the story’s title.

Commentators on this post, who should respond by Wednesday at midnight with comments of 150-200 words, should consider to what extent they are convinced by the type of analysis a reader-oriented approach to Wright’s story yields. Especially considering Wright’s use of dialect and the central “paradox” this story reveals, would it be useful to bring a New Critical approach to it? Why or why not? Are there still other things you think you should consider when analyzing Wright’s story that neither New Criticism (Formalism) nor reader-oriented criticism seem to be focused on?

If you have empty spaces on your reader-response handout from this week, please ask me about any terminology that needs clarification at the start of class on Tuesday. We will also begin next class by finally getting to the question about your process of arriving at an interpretation within your small groups (on the back of the handout); after lingering with the reader-oriented critics for fifteen minutes or so, we’ll turn to the concepts of modernity and postmodernism during the second half of Tuesday’s class. Again, please make sure you’ve read Bressler’s chapter and Poe’s story beforehand!

Have a wonderful weekend!



Prompt #3: Critiquing the New Critics

Posted in prompts at 5:01 pm by Dominique

Dear all,

This week, we’ll transition from our discussions of New Criticism and Formalism to an investigation of reader-response (or “reader-oriented”) criticism. Yet we can’t put New Criticism off to the side just yet without addressing the final stage of our three-part method of investigation–learn the literary theory: check. Apply the literary theory: check. Critique the literary theory: (see below).

Our main bloggers for this week are Josh Kim and Brian Finnerty. By Monday at midnight, Josh and Brian will compose and post responses that will then be commented on by the group. They’ll respond to the following:

Last week, for Thursday’s class, I asked you to read Cleanth Brooks’ short essay, “The Formalist Critics”, in which Brooks described, in 1951, what he perceived to be the merits of New Criticism/Formalism (of which he is a practitioner).  After reading (or re-reading) this essay, write a letter of 500-550 words to Cleanth Brooks in you do the following

  • Isolate at least two specific claims Brooks makes about New Criticism as an approach to literature and address them: do you agree? why? do you disagree? how so? (When you do this, please refer your imagined reader, Dr. Brooks, back to his own language in the essay. (i.e. “Towards the conclusion of your essay your propose that, “…_____…,” a point with which I agree/disagree” or something to that effect.)
  • Consider your own encounter with New Criticism over the last week and a half and make an argument, based on your experiences analyzing the work of Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson, about what the most useful aspects of this method have been for you. Then, explain what you perceive to be one of its flaws as an overall approach to intepreting literature. (You may want to discuss, for instance, whether the technique lends itself more easily to poetry than prose.)
  • Conclude with a closing adieu and your name  (“Until we meet again…” or something more lively…go to town.)

Commentators on this post, who should submit their responses by midnight on Wednesday, should weigh in (in 150-200 words) on their own reactions to Brooks’ defense of the New Critical approach, as well as highlighting anything you think the main bloggers said particularly well, or something you wish they would have mentioned.

Reading for the week is on the “course readings” page of this blog. Just this once, I’ve attached the “reader-response” section for those last few people who may not yet have Charles Bressler’s Literary Criticism. Also, as we did not get to discuss Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” on Thursday, that will be on the table for discussion this week, too, along with our new story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”–one of my favorites.

Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday at 1:40,



Prompt #2: for Tuesday, September 6th and Thursday September 8th, 2011

Posted in prompts at 11:37 am by Dominique

Hi everyone,

Thank you once more for your patience with the very frustrating technical glitches we faced during yesterday’s class session. I think I have discovered the issue with the laptop/projector set-up and should be able to avoid it from now on. We will begin Tuesday’s class with by viewing and critiquing the clip we were going to watch yesterday.

If you have not yet posted comments for prompt #1, please do so asap. I have read the comments carefully (and see four that are pending approval) and will check back again tomorrow. I will mention a few things I notice about your responses at the start of Tuesday’s class as well.

So, on to our next assignment… EVERYONE in the course has reading to do this weekend. The reading includes a chapter from Charles Bressler’s Literary Criticism (available on Amazon and currently in stock at the QC Bookstore–pages are noted on the syllabus). There are also a handful of poems that I will post on the “course readings” page shortly. Please come to class on Tuesday prepared to critique these poems (in writing) from the perspective of a New Critic.

This week’s prompt:

The What (for main bloggers only): Using the elements from the New Critic’s toolkit on your handout, conduct your own analysis (of approximately 500 words) of “The Snow Man.” If you are unsure of any of these elements, refer to Bressler’s chapter. (I recommend reading this before completing your analysis.) Please address as many elements of close reading as possible (but at least FIVE of them). Also, you must answer the question, “Where/what is the key tension in the poem? How does the poem achieve meaning by resolving that tension?”

In response to the two main bloggers, commentators should look to highlight additional elements of form that the writers have not yet addressed, agree or disagree with the central “tension” the writers uncover and explain why, or–for those who feel very comfortable with this method of criticism already–discuss the ways that the reading is successful as a new critical approach to Stevens’ poems but leaves something to be desired as an overall approach to reading literature. Look back at “the what” of the prompt. What more can be said about this poem? Please post a clear, precise response of 150-200 words (though more is okay too). You may respond as a comment beneath the main bloggers’ responses.

The Why: To practice applying the New Critical (or Formalist) approach we discussed yesterday

The When: Primary Bloggers — Monday, Sept. 5th, by midnight,  Responders–Wednesday, September 7th, by midnight

The Who: Main Bloggers for this week are Gordom Tam and Steven Eng. (At the end of the week, they will pass the torch to two bloggers of their choice.)

Good luck–and have a great holiday weekend,



Today in class: Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:12 am by Dominique

The episode we viewed in class (ultimately on Tuesday, Sept 6th): http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s07e12-all-about-mormons

Listen to linguist Jay Keysey read and discuss why he thinks Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man” is one of the best poems of the last hundred years: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5031535

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