For this week: feminism, gender criticism, and more of The Turn of the Screw

Posted in prompts at 8:16 pm by Dominique

Hi everyone,

This weekend you’ll be revising your drafts and preparing to submit your final copies of the first paper on Heart of Darkness to the appropriate folder on Dropbox before class on Tuesday. Please see the sample essays and the “reminders” handout I distributed at the end of Tuesday’s class as you prepare your revised version of the essay. Please see my comments on your work in teh Dropbox folder.

Everyone will also be reading chapter 7 in Bressler’s book on feminism. Our main bloggers this week are Kathleen Ocampo and Maria Serrano. In posts of 500-550 words, to be submitted by Monday at midnight, each blogger will answer TWO of the following sets of questions to answer about The Turn of the Screw:

1. Who are the women in the text? Do different generations of women seem to have access to the same kinds of power and/or possibilities or not?

2. What does the domestic space look like?  Are women responsible for most of the  labor in this space?

3. Do women interact with each other the same way that they interact with men? (and vice versa)  Think about speech, diction, tone, etc.  In either case: how and why do interactions take place as they do? Do women speak for themselves or are they spoken for?  When, where, how?

4. Are there communities of women?  If so, are these communities offered as self-sufficient or do they require the presence of men?

5. Do women transgress? [socially, economically, sexually, etc?]  What are the ramifications of these transgressions – or lack thereof? (Think of Miss Jessel!) What does the text suggest as the “lesson” the reader is to learn about women’s roles and opportunities from the way transgressions are handled narratively?

6. What is the relationship between women and money?  Do women provide for themselves, make important economic decisions, etc?

7. Consider the traditional representational options for women: virgin, mother, or whore.  Does the text buy into these distinctions?  Does it resist them?  How and to what end?

8. How (if at all) are femininity and masculinity figured by the text?  Are they represented in the ways you might imagine or is there something surprising about those representations?  Are there moments when these representations break down?     If so, how, why, and to what end?

9. Is marriage and/or reproduction offered as the end-goal for all women or does the text offer other possible modes of happy existence and  satisfaction?  If marriage and/or reproduction are the goals, are these goals offered in seemingly traditional or untraditional ways?  Where do female authority, power, and control fit (if anywhere) in these relationships?

10. Do characters seem to learn their gender identities or are these identities offered as intrinsic and unquestioned realities?

11. How do female characters understand themselves? What role does gender play in these understandings?

12. How does class, race, disability, reproductive ability, or history interact with a particular character’s understanding of her gender and/or identity  (if at all)?  How do these features affect gendered representation?  Are certain kinds of women more “womanly” or feminine than others?  Who is offered as marriageable or desirable options and who is not?

13. Where are female desires and aggressions in the text?  What are its objects and directions?  Are these appropriate or transgressive?  What do these desires and aggressions reveal about the character, society, and/or female representation in the text?

14. Does the text assume a male or female readership? (You may need to know something about the reading practices of the time to answer this question. See the “Cultural Context” material in Part II of our edition for a little more on this.)  What bearing does that have (if any) on the way relationship that the text develops with its     reader?

Commentators will submit posts of 150-200 words by Wednesday at midnight that either build on Kathleen and Maria’s responses or select  ONE other question to answer.

Have a great weekend–eat some candy–and watch out for Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.



Starting The Turn of the Screw and drafting your first paper

Posted in prompts at 10:54 am by Dominique

Hi all,

While we don’t have a formal midterm for this class, we have reached the midway point of the semester (congratulations!); that said, we all have a busy weekend in front of us. Please set aside a solid portion of time this weekend to complete two important pieces of work for this course:  first, you’ll read the introductory material and the beginning of Henry James’s novella through the start of Book X (pages 1-68). Secondly, a full five-page draft of your first paper is due in the Dropbox folder before class on Tuesday. When creating this draft, please keep in mind that you are testing out what you proposed this week. If you find that your critical lens is not leading you to connections and insights across your three passages, or that your motivating question is something you can’t answer in a five-page paper of this kind, please don’t forge ahead blindly: this is the time to reflect on and revise your approach, if necessary. I’ve asked some of you to contact me in my comments on your proposals, and so expect to hear from a few of you this weekend.

On the draft due before the start of Tuesday’s class…

Please keep the two things I mentioned in class in your mind as you write:

1) No writing is easy, especially critical analyses of literary texts. You will hit road blocks where you’ve forgotten why you’re writing or don’t know what to say. That is okay! Step back, return to the assignment sheet and to your proposal, then turn back to the text itself. Reconnect with your sense of purpose: what are you trying to understand about this text? are you continually defining and developing your approach as you write? are you using the resources available to you to guide you through this task (e.g. class notes, the Bressler book, the models of critical analysis in the back of Heart of Darkness)?

2) The draft should adopt the following rhythm: set up the significance of an excerpt or scene in relation to your motivating question, cite the excerpt or summarize the scene, present an analysis. Don’t worry to much about composing a stellar intro and conclusion at this point. The analysis should draw our attention to particular language, implications, and/or thematic associations between scenes, noting the issues that would stand out to a critic using your particular approach and thinking about how such an approach helps us to understand the meaning of the passage within the work as a whole. I am not evaluating the draft on how assertively you insist on an idea but on how carefully was you go about interacting with the passage you’ve chosen and applying the types of questions that a Deconstructionist, New Historicist, Post-colonialist, or Reader-oriented critic, etc., would pursue.

(**A note on quoting: if you have chosen an excerpt that is more than five lines, please indent the text and include it on a new line. You should not be citing much more than five lines of text at a time, even if the excerpt you indicated is longer: please pick out the most crucial language that will allow you to illustrate your claim about the passage and then summarize the rest of the scene briefly.)

On The Turn of the Screw

Edward Mendoza and Nadia Bhagwandin have volunteered to be our main bloggers for this week. Their posts of 500-550 words, submitted by midnight on Monday, will consider the first half of the text through a psychoanalytic approach. They may address any one of the following sets of questions in relation to James’s novella (these questions, of course, might be applied in a psychoanalytic reading of any text, not just this one):

  • What kind of characteristics do the characters portray? Do whole characters (or elements of them) fit into Freud’s distinctions between the id, ego, and superego? Where do these elements come up in the course of the narrative?
  • Think about the characters’ speech and narrative voice. Are there strange phrasings or slips in logic or meaning? Are these moments conscious and intentional, or are they unconscious? If they are unconscious, are there other moments in the text that seem to unconsciously reveal themselves? (For this question, try to consider word choices, repetitions, and omissions in the text.)
  • Pay special attention to the way the characters interact with one another. Do they do so as a reader might expect? Are there unexpected interactions (e.g. does a child act more like a parent, a servant like a therapist, etc.)? Are confessions made? Is information withheld?
  • Are there notable characters in the novel who are no longer present (i.e. does the memory of those characters or some action they performed seem to loom over the story or over a particular character in some way)? How do you account for the continued importance of these characters? What might they do or inhibit, psychically, for those characters who remain?
  • Are there specific elements in the text that either the characters or narrative itself seem unable to speak about? Perhaps disturbing kinds of knowledge that might need to be repressed? (Think specifically about questions of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, or other issues that it might be difficult to raise socially even within a family setting.)
  • Does the work chart the emotional, psychical or (socially-based) educational development of any character? If so, how does that development take place? Are there appropriate psychological models (Lacan’s “mirror stage,” for instance) for how the character comes to know him/herself and the world?
  • Where is desire in the text? Are desires articulated (spoken about, gestured to, acted on?) or do they remain repressed and unspoken?

Commentators, who will post comments of 150-200 words by midnight on Wednesday, may offer additional thoughts on the questions the bloggers have addressed or choose questions that have not yet been answered. Please be sure to indicate which question you are answering in your post!

Though the work load in getting heavier, this is an exciting and important time in our semester together. I have a lot of confidence in what you will be able to create over these next few days.  Good luck!



Prompt #8: Entering the Panopticon

Posted in prompts at 12:49 am by Dominique

Dear all,

We only scratched the surface of our journey into panopticism on Thursday; I hope to be able to hear a few more of your reactions to the in class exercise when we are together again this Tuesday. In the meantime, I am going to ask that you not forget to look at the helpful (and entertaining) guide to Foucault that I passed around in class. It will give you a clearer sense of how the notion of the “Panopticon” as a mechanism of coercion and control fits into Foucault’s larger beliefs about the way much of modern Western culture operates; it will also help you to begin to understand why one might call Foucault a New Historicist–something we’ll talk a bit more about on Tuesday.

Steve Carpio and Arianne Williams have agreed to be our main bloggers this week. By Monday at midnight, they will respond to the following prompt in 500-550 words:

After reviewing the packet that serves as an introduction to Foucault’s well-known New Historicist critique of power relations in modern society, Discipline and Punish (1975), please return to the excerpt from the chapter on “Panopticism” and re-read it. (It’s posted on the “course readings” page as part of the excerpt from Foucault’s work, pp. 206-213).

Then, find a passage from Heart of Darkness (no more than  250 words or so) that illustrates what you understand Foucault to be saying about the concept of “discipline.” Write out a passage from the novel and a passage from Foucault, too. You might start by thinking about the section I read aloud to you near the end of Thursday’s class: “…discipline fixes…it clears up confusion [read: it attempts to clear up confusion]…[it functions through] hierarchical surveillance, continuous registration, perpetual assessment and classification….[it is] a power that insidiously objectifies those on whom it is applied…” (208, 209). After you’ve made your selections and typed them out, write a three sentence description of  why the Foucault passage illustrates, highlights, or clarifies some aspect of Heart of Darkness for you.

By Wednesday at midnight, commentators will reply to the main bloggers’ responses in 150-200 words by describing a scene of their own from Heart of Darkness (NOT by writing out a passage but summarizing an event, dialogue, or reflective moment in the text in a few sentences) and indicating why you think it illustrates Foucault’s notion of discipline in the excerpt from “Panopticism.”  If you’re feeling brave, I invite you to look to the sections that precede “Panopticism” (“Docile Bodies”–Foucault’s critique of the soldier–and “The Means of Correct Training”–his analysis of the way exams work as instruments of power) to find other connections to scenes from Heart of Darkness. Finally (an in addition to your analysis of the text) if Foucault really gets you going, please let us know what examples of the power dynamics he’s describing seem to you to be reflected in the people, places, or interactions of your daily life!

Finally, two additional reminders:

1) In addition to the normal reading and post, your one-page proposal for the first paper is due in the appropriate Dropbox folder before the start of class this coming Tuesday. For a reminder of what belongs in the proposal and how to complete it, refer to your notes from the first half of Thursday’s class and to the prompt and directions for paper 1. If you have already searched your inbox and still cannot locate an invitation from me to join our shared folder, “English 170W, An Introduction to Literary Study” on Dropbox, please email me before the end of the weekend to gain access to that folder. 

2) The bookstore is beginning to send back books that have not been bought. If you need to buy The Turn of the Screw, which we’ll be using in about a week, please do so first thing on Monday before the bookstore sends it back. (Thanks for Marissa Gonta for alerting me to this!)

Have a fantastic, productive weekend,



Continuing what we started…What is the relationship between a critic and a text? (Prompt 7)

Posted in prompts at 1:18 pm by Dominique



The Critic as Host, a deconstructionist approach to reading and criticism, by J. Hillis Miller (1977)

Hi all,

The links above are those that I was hoping to project during Thursday’s class. Please take a look at both the critical chronology handout and the Miller reading, “The Critic as Host,” which we referenced in class. I am excited by how quickly many of you “latched on” to Miller’s claims and hope that this reading provides a new way for you to conceptualize how a deconstructionist critic–and perhaps critics in general–thinks about relationships between critics and texts, critics and other critics, and texts and their predecessors. The piece above, by MIller, is short and well worth reading in full!

Now, a technology update (can you hear my teeth gnashing?): We’ll have someone from tech services in our room on Tuesday before class who will hopefully help me to resolve once and for all whether it will be possible to rely on the internet connection in our classroom in the future. I am–as you are, I’m know–entirely sick of wasting time in class to try to get the internet to work. In recent conversations with tech services they have told me that the connection in our room in unreliable and, though there is a connection hub in the room right next door, the cinder-block walls in Rathaus can sometimes interfere with the signal coming into our room. We’ll see what our personal tech expert says on Tuesday. The only option may be to connect a cable to a jack in the room and access the internet through a landline rather than the wireless system.

Okay, on to our next task. For this week Kelly Haff and Jesse Goirn have agreed to be our main bloggers. Though the required reading is on post-colonialism (see your syllabus for specifics), which we’ll discuss together on Tuesday, I would like us to continue to work with the critical selections from Heart of Darkness that you were assigned at the end of class on Thursday. Though we’re reading these passages from a deconstructionist perspective when we use Miller and the notion of “binary oppositions,” we might also look at the same passages through a post-colonial lens in class on Tuesday. So, let’s go back to where we left off. Here are the selections you were assigned in class:

Group 1: pages 27-29 (“I left in a French steamer”… “hints for nightmares”)

Group 2: pages 40-42: (“He blew the candle out suddenly”… “the very essence of dreams”)

Group 3: pages 49-51 (“try to be civil Marlow”…  “and no memories”)

Group 4: pages 63-66 (“He went silent for a long time”… “like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment”)

Group 5: pages 84-86 (“The brown current ran swiftly”… “in a muddy hole”) 

By Monday at midnight, Kelly and Jesse will guide us through the in-class exercise by returning to the passages they were assigned in their respective groups and posting a response, of 500-550 words, that address the following questions:  What binary oppositions are implied or assumed in this passage? Of the binaries you’ve mentioned, which one seems most important to address if we are to understand why this passage is relevant to the novel as a whole? For the binary you have chosen, describe the way that its two terms (e.g. savage/civilized, dark/light, god/servant, etc.) “feed off of each other” in one of the ways that Miller describes in his lecture, “The Critic as Host.” Please be sure to quote Miller at least once and to cite the Conrad passage itself at least once as you explain and illustrate how this binary operates, from a deconstructionist perspective, in Conrad’s novel.

Commentators: by Wednesday at midnight, you should do an abbreviated version of this exercise–in 150-200 words–for the passage you were assigned.  If you were not in class, you may choose any of the five passages indicated above to analyze more closely.

All: please be sure to indicate clearly the passage to which you are responding at the top of your post. 

Lastly, I know that many people were hoping to receive their quizzes on Thursday, which was part of our original plan. Some people have emailed me requesting their grades, and I have responded. I will be sure to return your quizzes to you near the end of this Tuesday’s class.

Read–write–and do enjoy this very beautiful fall weekend,


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