Literary Kinds 2012
Welcome to Literary Kinds, an English course offered in Spring 2012 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.
Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.
I must admit that yesterday’s discussion regarding science fiction left me somewhat puzzled because I know very little about science fiction. I would not mind reading something in this genre, I could understand it better if read something and draw conclusions or come up with definitions of what science-fiction is on my own. As mentioned previously, some of our discussions could be based on audiobooks; some people can understand texts better when they simply listen to them versus just reading them.
I have never read any of the selections mentioned in class but after some research I suggest the following:
1-"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"
2-Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”
Going from one genre to another would work best if we discuss one text per week so that we can post our thoughts over the weekend, the discussion can always continue online if some additional thoughts come up throughout the week. We can always take a few minutes every couple of days to see if there have been additions to our previous discussion.
PLEASE POST AGAIN BY 5 P.M. ON WEDNESDAY, SO I'LL HAVE TIME TO SORT/THINK THROUGH OUR VARIOUS PROPOSALS...
since in class on Thursday we'll need to construct a shared syllabus that allows us to go on exploring the emergence of genre in ways that will continue to interest us all. I'm seeing below postings from froggies315 and dglasser that list multiple, multiple possibilities--for which yeah!...
This is one of the most exciting and challenging assignments I’ve ever received. Laying out a syllabus that uses science fiction to exemplify how and why genre borders blur is daunting. I’ve done the best with what I know, while striving to keep away from works I’ve already read. After all, if we are all going to read together, we might as well all start from A.
Anyway, we have 9 classes so I’ve chosen three books. I think it’s fair, and not too slow to explore one book for three classes. I’ve tried to choose books based on author, summary, theme, and recommendation. However, being that there are so many science fiction novels, I’ve also offered a supplement to try and feed everyone’s “English” hunger.
1st BOOK: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
I thought it would be best to start with a classic, and read a book that is “obviously” science fiction, just so we can all get our footing before being knocked over. This novel has also been made into a movie and has resulted in many adaptations on tv etc. This can provide us with a multi-media view if we want to go there.
2nd BOOK: Jay’s Journal by Beatrice Sparks.
First, an apology:
At the end of class today, Anne asked us: “What is science?” Truthfully, I find this question (and all the other definition questions like it) incredibly irksome because I feel that it assumes 2 things:
1. That I haven’t thought about what science is (I have)
I am very much enjoying the conversations in class, and I think that I have learned from my classmates' comments and perspectives. For me, I like to think about the underlying questions that we are pondering in the context of assigned readings. So far, I think about questions such as "If everyone supported this concept, what would that look like," "How do we learn differently from different genres, and how do writers manipulate that learning by choosing a certain genre," "What are the presumptions or prejudices about genre and forms of writing," "If we expect the writing world to promote the evolution of a certain genre how does this impact structure and does that matter," "What does the evolution of a genre mean, anyway," and finally, "What is the message of this class?" So as we listened to our BMC guest speakers about their digital projects, I was wondering not so much about how they accomplished it or what they expected from it, but rather I thought about the purpose of having a piece of writing so accessible. When we read Satrapi's graphic novel, I thought about the reason she wrote it and the reason she chose to write it in a graphic novel. When we read "Mad at school," I thought about the breakdown of structures that we know if everyone were to promote the evolution of this type of education. There are more examples that are too numerous to write in this small jaded space.
I have enjoyed the discussions we have had these past couple of weeks. What I think works best for the benefit of the class is using Serendip as a tool to establish discussion topics for upcoming classes. In addition to that, I like the fact that Anne is a part of our discussion and encourages us to come with additional thoughts and questions to the next class. What I would like to format from the course’s structure is the amount of time we spend discussing a text, I think it would be best if we reduce the amount of texts per week to analyze them further. This format would allow us to re-read a text if necessary and give room to multiple interpretations based on class discussions. If I had the opportunity to go back and spend more time discussing texts, I would like to read Margaret Price’s ”Mad at School”(especially after having her in class).
Reflecting on our experience thus far in exploring literary genres, I have come to value the open space that is created for our learning. The seminar “genre” of the classroom allows for multi-way discussions with our professor Anne Dalke, peers, and visitors. The peer-to-peer activities and group blackboard brainstorming channel a collective group effort in breaking down the understanding of the literary genre and provide an open platform for shared ideas. In some sense, the classroom has grown to be a “gift economy” of mutual learning. Also, the digital platform provided by the Serendip course website is a great way to extend our class discussion outside the three hours of weekly classroom time. The weekly online reflection has been a useful exercise to participate in the digital writing movement and to reflect on the past week’s class discussion and readings.
I talked very briefly with Professor Franklin the other day about my experience in this class. I told him that I often find myself very opinionated and biased coming into class, and very confused going out. I told him it reminded me of entropy. But beyond that, it reminded me of a text we read in my ESEM last semester, called The Library of Babel, written originally in Spanish by Jorge Luis Borges. The main idea he had was that the Universe is filled with these hexagonal rooms, a representation of the amalgamation of the knowledge that everyone knows. One of the things I picked up from the text, is the whole notion that any attempt to establish order will always result in more chaos and disorder. He said, "Other men, inversely, thought that the primary task was to eliminate useless works. They would invade the hexagons, exhibiting credentials which were not always false, skim through a volume with annoyance, and then condemn entire bookshelves to destruction: their ascetic, hygenic fury is responsible for the senseless loss of millions of books. Their name is execrated; but those who mourn the "treasures" destroyed by this frenzy, overlook two notorious facts. One: the Library is so enormous that any reduction undertaken by humans is infinitesimal."
This weekend, please post as a comment here your proposal for the remainder of our semester's work together. Begin with a paragraph or two of a mid-semester evaluation of how we're doing in learning together:
what's working? What needs working on? What should we keep, of our shared practices? What might we change up?
Turn then from questions of "form" to those of "content": What evolving genres would you choose to explore, if the remainder of the class were an independent study? What do you recommend our exploring together? Why? (i.e. how do your selections expand/extend/challenge what we have already done?)
I have two more weeks of material planned for after break (wiggle room, to order new books, do some course planning), but we will select material together for NINE [AS YET UNPLANNED] CLASSES.
At the end of class today, we started talking about what the Statrapi’s comics mean. We talked about images of death from a child’s perspective and how pictures can convey this message. These types of conversations are hard for me because finding meaning in art has always been difficult/impossible for me. I didn’t understand why I struggle to find meaning until I read Understanding Comics. McCloud drew a beautiful continuum from reality to meaning (p. 52-53). If I think of my life as grounded in reality, then it follows that my life has little meaning, no? This explains why I don't "get" art in the way that is often expected of me. McCloud helped me again by explicitly saying what art means.
When I was writing this post, I was trying to come up with some universal key motives that authors have for writing a story. I suppose I wanted to say that authors write a story to relay a message, specifically in a certain environment that they construct in their minds. (If anyone thinks that this is not the case, I'm curious to debate whether or not that is true). So it is the author's job to use words and context in order to give the reader an essence of the story and the environment. Still, there is a level of uncertainty that is unavoidable - whether this is the author's intent or not. In class we debated which type of writing allowed more freedom of interpretation - comics or the traditional novel. The discussion seemed to rely on the glories of being able to have that freedom as a reader as opposed to the narrow view of a story. On the board, I wrote that when comics are pushed to their limits, they turn into movies. Movies are a certain visual interpretation of a story, certainly with a narrow view of what the characters look like and how they react to certain events throughout the story. Often, readers are disappointed by movie interpretations of their favorite books because it is not what they had pictured, the movie was forced to leave out important events, or the movie altered the storyline. We, as readers, cannot accept the alternate story when film directors change the plot.
Image above: Persepolis, capital of the Arachaemenid kings of Persia, now located in the province of Fars in southwestern Iran.
I have come to realize that I enjoy reading comics. I am more of a visual person and tend to be a slow reader, but what I found to be most intriguing about reading comics is the suspense in the gutter: the space in between the frames that calls for your boundless imagination to be filled. As Scott McCloud describes it in Understanding Comics, “human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea” (66). The gutter allows for an imaginative, individualized experience as one sways their eyes from one frame to the next, connecting the trails of an unfinished story in their own mind.
In Chapter One of Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes of his youthful assumptions about comics; he "knew exactly what comics were. Comics were those bright, colorful magazines filled with bad art, stupid stories and guys in tights. [He] read real books, naturally" (pages 1-2, emphasis omitted). This genre snobbery -- the idea of "real books" and other, lesser forms of reading material struck me, and it came to mind during part of our discussion in class on Tuesday.
Romance novels popped up in this discussion when Anne mentioned Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot and whether, in fact, this literary genre/storyline is still relevant today. I said that I think it is; after all, romance novels are one of the best-selling genres out there. Anne agreed that romance feeds a certain emotional requisite for some people. A few minutes later, she mentioned that romance novels may "fulfill emotional needs for someone who has just been divorced or can't find a partner."
So at Plenary today I bought myself a hand-made Pikachu hat. Pikachu got me thinking about Pokemon which led me to a pretty big realization. I don't know where Pokemon originated. There's the TV show, but before that their were the video games. There was also the card game, and there are a number of comics that explore the same world. However, without actually typing it into google I couldn't tell you which came first.
This got me thinking about a lot of American Comics. Primarily superhero ones. I love comics, but I never really read a lot of American ones; and yet I can tell you who Superman and Batman and Spiderman all are, and I could pick them out of a crowd. If I've never read any of their comics, how come I know them all so well?
I just wanted to highlight my newfound respect for comics as a result of Satrapi's Persepolis. I was fully engrossed in the narrative and I found Satrapi's story extremely compelling. I read the entire thing from cover to cover in one sitting. But I can't help wonder why this was so different from my experience with Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.
I believe that this was because McCloud, though extremely casual and "chatty", writes non-fiction. Satrapi, on the other hand, is telling a story. This made me realize that the genre of the "comic" or "graphic narrative" is a lot more complex that we imagine. What interests me, however, is why the "comic" genre is separate from other genres.
Think about what we define as "genre" in literature. There's "drama", "thriller", "romance" etc. They're characterized by their content, not by the way they are layed out on the page. So why are we creating this label of "comic" when really, the comics themselves have content that lends itself to (sometimes multiple) genres? And in reverse, why do we characterize in terms of content if the content can also lend itself to genres by the ways that pages are laid out? So what does genre actually mean and how are we defining it?
related to our talkings about interruptions and disability.
I liked our discussion at the very end of class today about the importance of “drawing a line” to indicate that something is special and unique instead of expanding definitions to include everything. If I remember correctly, this conversation sprung from our discussion about the end of Scott McCloud’s second book. I understood his argument to be something like this: in order to maintain comics’ relevance in the digital age, artists have to remove panels and embrace the infinite. We talked briefly about how removing panels from comics makes them reminiscent of the cave drawings from which they arose.
If McCloud is right, and the future of comics relies upon removing the panel, then their evolution serendipitously ends up right back where it started. This is nice for my brain to think about. I like circles.