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,



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


Prompt 1, assigned Tuesday, August 30

Posted in prompts at 2:55 pm by Dominique

The What: Below I’ve included four items: a picture of President Obama, a Salvador Dali painting, an episode of the cartoon comedy “South Park,” and a poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man.” Choose one of the four “texts” and comment on this post with two brief paragraphs (3-4 sentences each). In paragraph one, respond to the question, “What is the meaning of this text?” In paragraph two, respond to the question, “What’s one assumption you are making about the text that has led you to this meaning?”

The When: Required prompt for all members due by Wednesday, August 31, at midnight.

The Why: To get us to continue to begin to think about how interpretations are created and how we come to “get” their meaning



3. South Park, Season 7, Episode 15: “All About Mormons” (Original air date: 11.19.2003) http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s07e12-all-about-mormons (21:26)

4. “The Snow Man”

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Welcome to a new semester!

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:00 am by Dominique


Hi there,

If you’re reading this welcome message and can find your name in the Wordle above, you are enrolled in English 170W, an introduction to literary study, this fall. Welcome! This blog will serve as a virtual space where we’ll meet up, exchange ideas, and extend our class discussions to help make our Tuesday, Thursday, Tuesday, Thursday class rhythm feel as smooth and seamless as possible. Please bookmark this page or add it to your list of favorites so that its easily accessible; you’ll want to check in here multiple times a week.

On the righthand toolbar, you’ll find three pages here where I’ll post key materials for the course: “course readings” (those few not already included in one of the required texts for the class), “writing assignments” (where I’ll post assignment sheets for the two more formal papers), and the “syllabus” page (which is self-explanatory).

On this main page, I’ll post our weekly “prompts,” questions and issues that our rotating cast of weekly bloggers will address (more on that later). You will read their posts and comment on them before each class. For Thursday, EVERYONE will post a response to the first prompt (as opposed to a response to the response). The first prompt will appear above this message after class.

This blog, like our weekly schedule for the course, will probably evolve as we spend time thinking and writing together. (Another reason to check in often.) If you have suggestions about this blog, or thoughts, concerns, or questions about any element of the course, you can reach me most easily at Dominique.Zino@qc.cuny.edu. I am also available every Thursday in my office (Klapper Hall, room 350) from 11 am-1 pm. If you’re not available at that time, feel free to email me to arrange a face-to-face meeting at a different time.

I look forward to an exciting, productive semester with each of you,


« Previous Page « Previous Page Next entries »

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar