Monday, October 31, 2005

Frankenstein: Boo!
When I left the Waldron Theatre on Saturday, I battled several different emotions. First was disappointment, a feeling of having been gypped. Why would a playwright feel empowered to so butcher a story, to so completely rewrite it as to have only the bare overtones of plot be true to the original? I also was vaguely embarrassed, which I at first associated with how seeing somebody caught with his/her pants down but which I soon realized was because I had pressured students to take time and money to drive all the way to Roanoke and watch a play I now felt was of dubious value. Almost in tears, I called my mother and complained that I had given up a Saturday with my son and wasn’t sure for what. Later, oin the drive back to Radford I realized a few things. First, Mary Shelley was always delighted with the different interpretations her novel inspired. So if she wasn’t a purist, why should I be? Second, the theatre is an amazing experience no matter what. The immediacy of it, the way the actors’ voices make me cower or grin, the way the audience’s nervous laughter infects and affects me as a spectator watching a spectacle and being part of a spectacle: no other art form carries that kind of emotional punch for me. And the play wasn’t that far off base if I let myself be a little less self-righteous. True, I don’t see Elizabeth as an almost vamp wearing red and Justine is supposed to be a servant economically and socially removed from the rest of the family. But, if Shelley’s premise is that these children all grew up together and shared each other’s passions and time, it would make sense that they all would be partly involved in teh experiement to a certain point. There is, of course, no evidence in the novel that Clerval and Justine knew each other let alone were in love, and in the novel the Creature frames her for the murder of Victor's younger brother. He doesn’t kill her outright, and, in fact, makes it so that Victor is more responsible for her death than anyone.

By far the best performance was that of the Creature in my opinion. Professor Waldman was a close second. Victor just annoyed me—mumbling and overacting disturb me. I noticed that the actor playing the creature towers over the others—a very 19th c. gimmick.

In sum, I give it a C-:
  • Adaptation: 4 out of 10
  • Theater Experience: 8.5 out of 10 (I LOVE intimate theatres)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

So the Williams essay was about what?? I can't say I understood more than five sentences in the whole thing and I actually fell asleep the first time I tried to read it. I think the main gist of it was that culture and society changes, and with these changes comes changes to the canon and all literature. Other than that, I was completely lost.
Mary Shelley's letters, however, were the best thing I have read so far this semester. I just think it's amazing to read the personal words of someone from so long ago - the words to the friends they held dearest. You can get no closer look at the society of the time than through such letters, because they are unbiased in that they were never intended to be published.
In relation to the Williams essay, Shelley obviously went through a lot of changes over the course of the published letters. In the first letters to Percy Shelley she sounds so ridiculously in love you think she might explode. She misses him every second he is gone and is not afraid to admit it. Then we get to read the saddest letter ever. I was really moved reading this because it is hard to relate to anyone famous as having a personal tragedy, because you always think they are untouchable. But poor Mary Shelley lost her husband, her love, her life. I wanted to just go give her a hug and tell her everything would be ok.
I don't really know how to apply any critical lens to this since it is not a "work" officially. In fact I think it might be a little too much to try and criticize someone's personal letters. I don't think she ever said as she was writing the letters, "what would a ____ critic think of this?" All she did was right what her heart felt, and how can that be so analyzed?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Levine's argument seems much more academically based than Bloom's, which was mostly opinion. Levine cites other scholars who have analyzed the canon, students, universities, etc. Bloom pretty much just vented about everything he thinks is wrong with American education. As far as New Criticism goes, I guess Levine would be closer to the thought than Bloom. Bloom doesn't seem to be interested in what books of the classical canon have to say, just that he was taught they were the ones to read. Levine does not completely accept the New Criticism views either, but he seems to have a much more open mind about what texts deserve a closer examination on the academic level.
Levine shows how the canon of American literature has changed since its creation. At points it included all races of peoples in the US and at others was highly exclusive. He shows evidence that canons do and have always changed with the culture of the American people. And with so many different cultures living together under the same roof of America, how can anyone close their mind to the idea of a new canon? Levine discusses how America is not as much a melting pot as it has been referred to because all the races tend to have that feeling of being outsiders, of being part of something other than the American race.
I noticed several instances in which Levine uses the word "culture". In context with Bloom, it made me realize that Bloom was desperate to try and change our culture back to its motherlands. Levine also used "change" multiple times in the chapters, and I think that's what it all boils down to: Who is afraid of change and who isn't? Is change good? Of course it is hard to be completely for either side in all circumstances, but I think it is best not to be afraid of change but to embrace it. Culture and the American mind will change; there's nothing anyone can do about it. So why get so caught up in the past that you lose touch with the future?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I just read Samantha's blog and I totally agree. I'd love to see how Bloom would react to Mary Shelley. She is everything he stood against; feminist, a female writer, etc. The thing that is different about Shelley is that she wasn't some self-righteous know-it-all like Bloom is. He thinks he knows everything about everything and has the answers for all the world's problems. Basically, it's his way or the highway! While Shelley did write about issues she had, she didn't claim to have all the answers.
Bloom's probably one of those critics who still believes "Frankenstein" was written by a man, or at least dictated to Mary Shelley by her husband, Percy. Even if the proof stared him in the face I'm sure he'd refuse to believe it. While I don't think Bloom is a horrible man, he does make some generalizations based on opinion, not fact, and that is what bothers me. He's also very judgemental and stereotypical. Basically, he's the last person who should be writing about others! His bias is out of control! A good writer takes both sides into account, not just his/her own.
Shelley's "Frankenstein" is written from a more indifferent perspective; an outsider looking in, while Bloom's book seems more to me like a lament you'd find written in the Middle Ages. While I can understand his desire to create this "perfect world" of learning, it's just not possible. No one and no thing is perfect and to strive for that is just a waste of time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Intro to Frankenstein
Hopefully I have finally picked a font color that shows up. I swear I'll figure this thing out one day. But onto the reading...
For starters I think Allan Bloom would have definitely been one of the critics to ask Mary Shelley how a girl could think up such a story. In fact he probably would have torn her to pieces. Being a child of two very controversial people, Mary Shelley would have fallen into his category of the "failing family". Surely Bloom would not have approved of Mary Wollstonecraft's premarital affairs and would have expected Mary Shelley to be another stupid student. If she was brought up in a family that didn't live strictly by the book then there must have been no hope for her. And he would probably have been deafened by stories of the sexual revolution of Mary Shelley's time. And look at her husband!
Mary Shelley shows her knowledge of Shakespeare and other classics in the Introduction, which would have met to Bloom's approval, but this was standard education of the times. I can just hear Bloom now: "That's the only reason she succeeded, because she had a focused education on the classics!" Well, the classics weren't as much classics then. She also shows a respect for religion that Bloom would have appreciated when she says how terrifying it would be for a person, in her story Dr. Frankenstein, "to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world." Although further investigation into her morals may not have pleased Bloom as much.
I would like to know what Bloom has to say about Mary Shelley. I think her fame is evidence against Bloom's theory that radical thinking (in the 80s form of rock music and sexual liberation) leads to an unhappy, unsuccessful, uneducated student.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

So I am officially not a fan of Allan Bloom. I didn't expect to really be that interested in it, much less hate it with such a passion. I'll give it to him that it takes a lot to really enrage a reader as much as it does, but what does it really accomplish? How did this rant of his affect society? Was Allan Bloom later made famous for creating this huge reform in the education system? I doubt it. He probably still sits in a recliner by the fire mumbling "stupid American students and their rock and roll...".
As irritating as it was, The Closing of the American Mind was much easier of a read than the selections from Altick. I'll admit I couldn't even finish the whole assisgnment in one sitting without falling asleep. Really the only part of Altick's work that caught my attention was his description of the ideal student starting on page eight. I am not much of a party animal (which around here is rare), so I have always been sort of a book worm. I was pretty pleased to find myself somewhat (but not quite entirely) of his picture of a happy scholar. I don't know how successful I'll end up being, but this was a little encouragement. At least I didn't want to hunt down Altick twenty years after his work to hit him in the back of the head with a stick.
Really I wouldn't want to be Bloom's idea of a perfect student. I could handle the work with the classics and everything, but not his obsession with the personal life of students as well. I can't live without my rock and roll and I'm certainly not the religious type to spend all my time reading the Bible and "modestly" covering myself from head to toe. Heaven forbid an adult woman be distracted by sexual urges or feel the need to develop a career before having children. If Bloom's text focused strictly on how to better the education system then maybe we could get along, but he takes his freedom of speech too much as a freedom to complain without action.
My thoughts on Bloom and Altick:

In reading Altick and Bloom, I noticed a similar thought pattern: they both seem to have lost faith in the modern students ability and desire to learn. Bloom makes some astute observations of how rock music is degenerating students these days because it lacks the concentration enhancing power of classical music. This is not to say, however, that I am against classical, as I listen to both classical and rock music. Altick has a grim view of what it is to be a scholar, for example, on page 16 he says the scholar "must cultivate a low opinion of the human capacity for truth and accuracy-- beginning with his own." To me this is saying that to be a scholar you can't trust anyone. Altick goes on to illustrate errors made by various editors on various works, and how the scholar must always take a second look at material he or she finds even remotely suspicious. Bloom, on the other hand, paints a dark portrait of the American student, attacking everything from the inefficiency of American education as opposed to European education, the books used by American students, the music listened to, and even relationships engaged in. He speaks on how a student's home life isn't what it used to be in terms of a spiritual education, as well as how MTV is the ruination of today's youth (which I can partially agree with.) I do notice that Bloom has a few Emersonian ideas in his work. The idea of a return to the soul as necessary to revitalize the desire for knowledge struck me as reminiscent of Emerson, as well as Bloom's mentioning of a return to nature, echoing Emerson's essay Nature. However, I think that Bloom has a narrow minded view of what is "wrong" with the modern student, as he never factors in any types of learning disabilities. I come from an old-fashioned Protestant work ethic household, so my ideas may seem a bit archaic. I do agree with Bloom's ideas on relationships and the sometimes vast amounts of drama they can cause as being a detriment to the student(s). I also agree that a return to the soul is necessary for a renewing of desire to pursue knowledge.

Bloomin Bloom

We discussed The Closing of the American Mind today, and I have little to add to our in-class discussion except a continued sense of outrage and alarm. How is it that Bloom gets away with making such outrageous (and, at times, overtly dishonest) claims about the state of American culture, Affirmative Action, feminism, rock-n-roll, race relations, etc. and never feels compelled to cite a study, reference statistics, or show an awareness of resaearch? He makes rabid generalizations and refuses to back up his claims with any evidence beyond personal opinion. And yet millions of people bought and believe his book. His rabble would never withstand the rigors of academia, the very institution he attacks. Has he never heard the adage that one must use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house? If he is going to demonstrate how hollow and soulless and uneducated current intellectuals are, then why doesn't he demonstrate some intellectual acumen, some balanced and ethical treatment of sources aside from his personal anger, some respect for his readers? I am more disheartened by the lack of rigor in his book than the claims he makes. His claims are unjustified, which he apparently recognizes since he, again, offers no evidence beyond personal opinion. But the model he presents of an academic is appalling. There's no respect for the profession or for scholars who scrupulously study the very issues he offhandedly blames on the opening of the university system to women and minorities (especially African Americans). It's really a very sexist and racist book, and shockingly careless with how it treats issues of race, the compexities of identity politics, and systems of privilege. Smugly reductive, mystifyingly self-righteous. And riddled with a language of fear--fear of change, of loss of control, of power and privilege. It's also painfully nostalgic, but for what I'm not entirely sure. For an era when all university students were versed in the Judeo-Christian tradition? For an era when truth was clearly discernible, when there were answrs? Did this time ever exist?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This is a space devoted to the theoretical and intellectual discussions of ENGL 496, Fall 2005.
I have titled this bog in honor of a line in Mary Shelley’s apocalyptic novel, The Last Man. The narrator speaks of the “web of mind” connecting past and future, readings done and readings to be done, and writers across the ages. Her novel is marvelously depressed and convinced of a kind of intellectual stagnation. The same wars rage in the twenty-first century as were ongoing in the nineteenth: the same parliamentary debates regarding suffrage and labor party rights continue. In Shelley’s imagined future, women remain second class citizens and defined by their connections (as lovers, wards, workers, mothers, daughters, wives) to men. And English xenophobia and colonial mindset are entrenched. And yet there is this sense of hope because there is a web connecting all parts of humanity in a network of ideas, of connections between the spiritual, intellectual, and political, between the private person and public citizen, between the stories of represented history and those of an imagined future.

While we are together we will be asking ourselves questions about the purposes, goals, and objectives of literary study in a time and amidst a culture largely suspicious of intellectuals and their questions. The arguments on all sides (there are more than 2) of the culture wars have their roots in conversations that can be traced to Plato and before. What are the dangers of a democratized literacy? Should all people have equal access to all kinds of books? Are each of us equipped for what we might stumble upon? What if we aren’t? What happens when we teach certain texts to certain groups, but reserve other texts for other groups?

Example: Why is somed literature (gay/lesbian literature, for example, or Latin American lit, or Jewish American lit, or Islamic American lit) only accessible to students and/or readers who actively and doggedly seek it out (and many times have to special order it from an independent bookstore which means they have access to information about those bookstores and, in many cases, access to a computer. A person has to be privileged in order to gain access to knowledge, in other words)? Doesn't this problem of access and privilege contradict the humanistic vision of English studies—that it makes us better people by tapping into and expressing the human condition? What is the connection between socio-economic privledge, reading literacies and political voice? And how does it work? To what end do our seystems of priviledge keep us isolated and maintain the political staus quo? (By "political" I mean in the sense of Power, by which I mean having a voice and having one's voice matter.)

In any case, the questions I am working through will join the ideas and readings we read as a collective in agreat web of mind. Like a collective we will come together for discussion, but we may not always agree. Indeed, I hope we will not as it is very hard to grow or deepen one’s understanding when one doesn’t have to think through the ideas carefully and earnestly.

As an example of otehr communities having these conversatiions, check out The Valve: