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Tuesday, Feb. 19

February 19, 2013
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Poetry Workshop: Finished rotation #1 with “Luke 19” from Miss Jones. Good job, everyone.

I gave out the new packets. For Thursday, please have comments and annotations for Dixon, Rearick and Shaffer.

Fiction Workshop: Today we finished Rotation 1. Zack and Morgan’s trios were handed out – comments and annotations due on Thursday. The work this round is probably going to be a bit longer than in the first round, so please plan accordingly.

World Lit: Today we had kind of a far-reaching discussion that centered around an excerpt (just the first two sections, I and II) from Dostoyevsky’s novella Notes From Underground. (Get it here if you were absent or just want a free copy.)

We identified several noteworthy characteristics of the Underground Man, our unnamed narrator: he’s unreliable (he admits he lies); he lives in a crummy basement flat in Petersburg with just a (smelly) servant for company; he worked in the government but retired when he inherited some money; he’s now 40 (it was older then, in Russia, than it is in America today); he hated his job except for the parts where he got to mess with people; and he’s completely paralyzed by fear and inertia. He says he is even incapable of becoming an insect.

You hopefully recognize the parallels to the government employees, for example, of Gogol’s “The Cloak” and “The Nose,” as well as the poshlost that we could say animates their existences. Hopefully you recognize as well the contradictory tone of a perhaps more-famous unreliable narrator, that of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” What we didn’t have time to cover is the reason Dostoyevsky advanced the concept of a powerless, anonymous protagonist. We’ll begin there on Thursday.

For Thursday: please read “How A Muzhik (translated: a peasant, serf or low, low-level worker) Fed Two Officials.” Also please read this recent article about Notes From Underground, which appeared in The New Yorker last year. (There’s a spoiler alert, but only a mild one.)

Finally: please know what this is. It’s mentioned in the New Yorker piece (and also in Notes), and relates to the unfinished business we have with Dostoyevsky.

Daily Prompt: Notebooks were checked and we had an in-class reading. Activity on Thursday.

Film Studies: Today we talked a little bit about the production code of 1930 (Film Studies 2.19 – The Production Code). As film became a form of broad entertainment, some individuals and groups began to voice concern about the potential immorality that was being shown to millions of movie-goers. Ultimately Will Hays and the Hays office was charged with formalizing a code for production that would ensure that the films produced by Hollywood studios would be moral. The code began to be strongly enforced in the 1930s, and so in films of this era (and till the 1960s, really) we see a great deal of restraint. Read through the code and think about how it might have affected the way the next film we watch, The Philadelphia Story, was put together.

We’re moving into the 1930s/1940s time period, and so went over a little history: at the end of the 1920s, sound became the standard. Silent films were still made occasionally, but were fading fast. With the advent of the “talkies,” what was purely slapstick comedy in silent films transformed into two new comedy styles: the anarchic dialogue comedy (like the Marx Bros. films) and the screwball comedy. Both of these types of comedy include elements of slapstick, but each has a few additional layers. Anarchic comedies have lots of fast dialogue, often improvised, with little attention paid to the plot of the film (think anarchy, I guess). Screwball comedies are fast-paced (for the time, anyway) and nearly always concern a romantic couple in a strange predicament. The dialogue in screwballs could we described as “full of wisecracks.”

We started watching The Philadelpia Story, which we’ll finish on Thursday.

Survey: CNF: Today I gave back the quizzes and essays from Friday. I talked about three things I’d like you to keep in mind for future essays:

1. Dialogue. Even if there’s not a lot of it, we have to hear people speaking in your essays. Remember the exercise we did recently: nobody remembers dialogue perfectly, but most people remember the important parts well enough. Don’t be intimidated.

2. More moments/extended moments: More moments are always good, but many of the moments in your essays demand a little expansion. This expansion often takes the form of reaction or backstory.
Regarding reaction: If you cursed someone out, there would be many possible reactions — anger, fear, shame, silence, etc. We need to know which one it is, especially in repsonse to such a dramatic moment.
Think of it as a scientific formula: an atypical action (People, thankfully, don’t curse other people out every day. I can hear some of you right now saying, “Well, I do!” I hope that’s not true.) demands a reaction in your essay.
Regarding backstory: You can’t just say something like, “My brother and I hated each for as long as I can remember” and then just leave it at that. It’s unusual! (At least a little.) Therefore, we need a little of the history of this relationship.

3. Finally, consider a more definitive ending. Not an ending that blasts the reader over the head with a 2 x 4, but one that doesn’t just fade into the ether (or seem like you just got tired and quit). I read the last couple of grafs of Miss Rearick’s essay for a good example of how to do it.

Next, you took the place you write about for today’s sense of place homework and listed five good and five not-so-good things about it. Hopefully you came up with five of each. This represents ambivalence — mixed or conflicted feelings about something — which can be a gold mine for a writer. It’s usually not a 50/50 balance, but even acknowledging that something is not purely good (or evil) can help you present a more accurate portrait of it in an essay.

For Friday: bring your good/bad cards from today, as well as your history/geography/language/characters and memorable moment cards to class. We’re going to be working on your sense of place essays in class and you’re gonna want all that stuff with you. Bring a laptop if you have one, to write on. And if you can find anything out about the history of the place you’ve chosen, that’d be helpful too.

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