Week 12 Reading Response: How-to

Let’s focus on Wood and Prose, both last week’s and this week’s readings. Disregard the assignment to read further into a prior novel.

From at least three (and ideally all five) of the following five selections, 1) choose a point that speaks to you and 2) furnish an example from fiction — your own work or somebody else’s, on or off the syllabus — that illustrates it. 3) Add one or two sentences explaining your choice — what resonated in the Wood or Prose, how the example does what it does.

Wood: Sympathy & Complexity (169-180)
Prose: Gesture (209-232)
Wood: Language (181-212)
Wood: Dialogue (213-222)
Prose: Dialogue (143-192)

 

Week 12 Reading Response: How-to

Assignment for Weeks 11 & 12: GET ME REWRITE

Writers, in all the excitement of The Good Squid and the Great La Farge, and with the proliferation of delayed or half-finished Week 10 work (busy time, I get it), and since by process of elimination everyone but Loulou knows what they’re doing the next two weeks (revision), and since logic likewise would dictate that your editor would be the one person you have not yet worked with this term, I neglected to post the pairs and the prompt until now: Everyone, including Loulou, should rewrite something in the coming weeks. This is great timing, as it can dovetail with Good Squid edits.

As for deadlines, let’s agree that we’re not going to put everything off until the last minute, but we also don’t have to beat our brains out to make the Sunday midnight cut. There’s some air built into our last four weeks together, meaning no assignments scheduled for Weeks 13 & 14. But if everyone gives themselves the same extension, there will be nothing to crit during class, so work with me here, or we’ll wind up watching Strauss operas for the next three weeks. (And if you’re here in June, let nothing get between you and seeing Elektra at the Deutsche Oper – it’s a miracle.)

Please do post your La Farge response this week while it’s fresh in your mind. And get me your Egan rewrites pronto, if you haven’t already.

Here’s the rewrite prompt:

REWRITE OPTION
STEP 1: ASAP, email me and your new editor (you are welcome to seek input from your old editor, but they are not obliged to provide it) a proposal that fleshes out the the original story goals, problems and opportunities, and where you plan to take it. Give yourself 24 hours to brainstorm before you start putting down too many new words. This email is worth 0.3 points of your score.

NB: original assignment prompts are void–though they may be helpful-–this is about pursuing the idea where you want to take it.
STEP 2: Start over with a blank document and the old draft and new notes within reach. DO NOT COPY AND PASTE. Real rewriting is not mere revision. Starting over is liberating and powerful. If there’s a sentence that’s good enough to make it from the old draft to the new, it’s worth retyping. Just the exercise of retyping it will introduce the possibility of changes that wouldn’t occur to you with a paste operation. Don’t cheat! This is a practice that will serve you well in all your future rewrites and revisions.
As for scoring, be aware that these will be held to a higher standard than the originals. But if you follow these steps, you will meet it.

WEEK 11, APRIL 19

ASSIGNMENT 6: Group A

Loulou Oudshoorn (Acacia Mays)

Lindsay Parkhowell (Alona Cohen)

Olorin Etemad-Lehmer (Irina Bunčić)

Ronni Shalev (Joel Dombrower)

Wilma Ewerhart (Lola Jalbert)

 

WEEK 12, APRIL 26

ASSIGNMENT 6: Group 1

Acacia Mays (Loulou Oudshoorn)

Alona Cohen (Lindsay Parkhowell)

Irina Bunčić (Olorin Etemad-Lehmer)

Joel Dombrower (Ronni Shalev)

Lola Jalbert (Wilma Ewerhart)

Assignment for Weeks 11 & 12: GET ME REWRITE

Week 11 reading response: Paul La Farge

Please write up your question and Paul’s answer. I’ll start with a longish entry, as it includes both the introduction and my question. Feel free to make yours shorter—cut to the chase and let La Farge do most of the talking.

NB: Please file these to me via email following assignment formatting. Use the template.

A syllabus is the plan for a semester-long party. The fun of it is making up the intergenerational guest list, imagining the chemistry between new acquaintances and old characters. Whoever the guests turn out to be, they’re likely to relate to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, earnest young writer, and John Updike’s Rabbit will impress them with the elegant prose he’s always dressed in, even if his interior monologue is occasionally revolting. And what’s a party without Two Serious Ladies (Jane Bowles) who drink too much and leave everybody in stitches?

For the practicing artist, a special pleasure of the guest list is the prospect of including one’s colleagues alongside their fictional creations. In LT212, we have questioned American novelist Jennifer Egan about her Pulitzer-prizewinning collection of linked stories A Visit from the Goon Squad, and, more recently, Paul La Farge about his pair of linked stories “Another Life” and “Rosendale,” both of which appeared in The New Yorker.

I’ve known Paul—who has long taught fiction writing at Bard Annendale, and who read last semester here at BCB from his novel in progress about American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft—since we were freshman-year roommates at Yale in the late 80s. We shared the suite with a guy named Pablo and three other guys who were not named Paul. The six of us collaborated on a novel called Rank Filth, whose single draft was pinned next to our shared toilet, and today the work, though sadly unpublished, is considered a leading example of the collegiate roman à Klo. Since then Paul has been a generous and helpful reader of my novel in progress, providing a model of forthright and constructive criticism that I have sought to emulate in evaluating the fiction produced in LT212.

Paul is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the critically acclaimed historical novel Haussmann, or the Distinction, and, most recently, the hypertext novel Luminous Airplanes. After introducing him to the class, I started off our conversation following up on a blog observation by Lindsay that both “Another Life” and “Rosendale,” which follow the exploits of the young writer-waiter-stripper April P., are rich with literary and cultural allusion. Not just April P. but other characters are deeply engaged with the philosophy of Rousseau and Wollstonecraft; the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Byron, Keats, and Shelley; the fiction of Kate Chopin, Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov, Nabokov, and Mary Shelley; and, importantly, with the Jewish tradition of the golem. “Rosendale” opens on a character whose home “is full of books: some novels, many thin volumes of poetry, collections of essays on feminism and psychoanalysis, Hungarian cinema, Soviet Jewry, Australian aborigines, Kant, the Kabbalah. Worlds upon worlds.” In “Another Life,” April P. combines her pleasures, tapping out two lines of cocaine on the back of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. What, I wondered, did Paul have in mind with such a proliferation in two short stories of worlds upon literary worlds?

April [Paul replied] is someone who is saving herself through writing. She is someone who is making a world for herself by reading books and by writing stories. For her, that’s a way to live and a way to find another life which is better, or what she hopes is better, than the life that she had as a child, or with her family. The golem is part of that — I think of it as being a part of April that she hasn’t been able to deal with. There’s a kind of muddy self that she’s tried to leave behind, and it’s obviously still with her, and she’s confronted with it when she sits down to try to write a memoir about her life and her experiences as a young woman in the Boston area. And all of a sudden it’s like she’s opened Pandora’s box: she looks into her old self and there’s something there that she can’t face, which is this golem. And the story, in a way for me at least, is about her figuring out some way to have a relationship with it.

Week 11 reading response: Paul La Farge

Week 9 reading response: deadline amnesty

claudepeck_1337901061_JenniferEgan
Jennifer Egan

We’ve shelved Delicious Foods, at least for the time being, to give people a chance to catch up. Here are some ways you could spend the time:

  1. If you haven’t filed your JE coverage, do so.
  2. If you got your JE coverage back with notes (Lola check your mailbox), revise it with them in mind, as well as your colleagues’ work (those drafts to be posted to the JE blog comments shortly).
  3. Catch up on your reading responses. Now through Sunday night, deadline amnesty applies to all blog postings. Focus on Woolf (which will help with Assignment #5) and Updike, which we will discuss in some depth next time we meet. Now’s a great opportunity to catch up on the blog as far back as you need — I was surprised tallying up the midterm scores how much these wound up helping those who posted faithfully. Also, just as great writing is rewriting, great reading is rereading, so relish the opportunity to revisit older titles in the syllabus.
  4. Read further into Rabbit at Rest. The original assignment was through p. 95. Read through 117 for a thrilling, harrowing scene. If you get up through 223 I promise you a spectacular confrontation, 287 a numbingly perverse encounter, 361 a brilliantly satisfying comeuppance, and at that point you should just finish the novel already.
  5. Respond to the March 11th “LT212 Zine survey and deadline reminders” email. I’m really proud of the work you guys have done — let’s put the best of it together and print it.
  6. Get a jump on the “Assignment 8” rewrite proposal. Especially if you’ve missed one or more assignments, this is a nice opportunity to significantly boost your average for the semester.

NB – by Monday midnight, before we meet next, please send me an email telling me how you spent the time this week, e.g., “Filed JE revision, filed Woolf & Updike blog posts, read to p. 223 in Rabbit and responded to zine survey.” The Week 9 “reading response” will be scored as leniently as the usual reading responses (and separately from any back-posts you get caught up on), but I will need this email in order to score it.

Week 9 reading response: deadline amnesty

Weeks 9 and 10, Assignment #5

Ginsburg_Ariadne
U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg (fourth from left) and the late Antonin Scalia (beside her in blue vest) as supernumeraries in the Washington National Opera production of Ariadne auf Naxos (1993-94)

For assignments #5 and #6, you may either use the week’s prompt or rewrite a prior assignment. One of these last two assignments should be a rewrite, while the other should use the week’s prompt.

NB: In addition to Assignments #5 and #6, you may revise still another assignment, to be thrown into the final grading mix as spelled out in the March 2 email “New revisions policy.” So as not to confuse matters, let’s refer to Jenny Egan coverage as Assignment #7, and this latter, outstanding revision as Assignment #8. See the email for those guidelines and deadlines (the proposal is due April 19).

Prompt #5, for Weeks 9 and 10
Satirize the target of your choice in the manner of Virginia Woolf and Richard Strauss / Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Here’s the link to the Ariadne auf Naxos we looked at today (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WLNHWUAkh0), from the final minutes of the Prologue at 1:04:00 to Ariadne’s entrance around 1:16:00. I recommend the entire opera to you–along with Orlando one of my very favorite works of all time, a true (appropriately enough, considering Ariadne’s situation) desert-island companion. Lola and Olorin, consult your editors and me about this for clarification if you need it, but the gist is that the satirist is making fun of the target–in both cases a young creative artist–while simultaneously writing at the height of his or her creative power. What’s satirized is a youthful, overblown style, in both cases, but also a hidebound, academic, structural one, in the case of Ariadne’s Composer. The powerful ambiguity is in whose work we’re hearing: that of Strauss or the Composer? Woolf or the biographer or Orlando or Vita Sackville-West? Ultimately it’s a phenomenon much like free-indirect narration–we could call it free-indirect creation, blending the artist’s work with the artist’s artist’s work.

You may choose whatever or whomever you wish to satirize, but I suspect you’ll have the most success (and fun) following our models if your target is an ambitious, talented young artist, at least slightly ridiculous in his sincerity and idealism. The fun is in breaking or bending rules governing style and taste, but doing it gorgeously. The glories and the comedy of Orlando and Ariadne are in their creators’ pleasure in writing as they did before they knew better, in indulging their youthful grandiosity and virtuosity, in showing off. Seek comedy in your own creative self-indulgence–this is one assignment in which you probably don’t have to hunt down and kill your adjectives.

REWRITE OPTION
This is adapted from the Assignment 8 rewrite procedure, but pay attention to the details:

STEP 1: No later than midnight Thursday, email me and your new editor (you are welcome to seek input from your old editor, but they are not obliged to provide it) a proposal that fleshes out the the original story goals, problems and opportunities, and where you plan to take it. Let’s give ourselves 24 hours to brainstorm before you start putting down too many new words. This email is worth 0.3 points of your score.

NB: original assignment prompts are void – this is about pursuing the idea where you want to take it.
STEP 2: Start over with a blank document and the old draft and new notes within reach. DO NOT COPY AND PASTE. Real rewriting is not mere revision. Starting over is liberating and powerful. If there’s a sentence that’s good enough to make it from the old draft to the new, it’s worth retyping. Just the exercise of retyping it will introduce the possibility of changes that wouldn’t occur to you with a paste operation. Don’t cheat! This is a practice that will serve you well in all your future rewrites and revisions.
As for scoring, be aware that these will be held to a higher standard than the originals. But if you follow these steps, you will meet it. Deadline Sunday midnight, as usual.
WEEK 9: APRIL 5
ASSIGNMENT 5: Group A
Loulou Oudshoorn (Lola Jalbert)
Lindsay Parkhowell (Acacia Mays)
Olorin Etemad-Lehmer (Alona Cohen)
Ronni Shalev (Irina Bunčić)
Wilma Ewerhart (Joel Dombrower)

WEEK 10, APRIL 12
ASSIGNMENT 5: Group 1
Acacia Mays (Lindsay Parkhowell)
Alona Cohen (Olorin Etemad-Lehmer)
Irina Bunčić (Ronni Shalev)
Joel Dombrower (Wilma Ewerhart)
Lola Jalbert (Loulou Oudshoorn)

Weeks 9 and 10, Assignment #5

Week 8 reading response: Orlando

This assignment is due a week from Sunday, or March 26.

Write about satire. What is it? What is Woolf satirizing here? Hints: revisit Flaubert. Look up Vita Sackville-West, to whom the novel is dedicated. (If you want a really fun read and an intimate understanding of the VSW-VW relationship, have a look at her son Nigel Nicholson’s book Portrait of a Marriage.) Think about the art of biography with respect to the voice of Orlando‘s narrator; also think about writers as they are portrayed in the novel. Quote specific passages and how they succeed–or fail–as satire.

Week 8 reading response: Orlando

Week 7 reading response: John Updike is in the details

You only have to teach literature to realize that most young readers are poor noticers.
James Wood, How Fiction Works

Show James Wood what’s what. In your response, briefly discuss 7 – 10 of Updike’s details from the Rabbit at Rest excerpt. Over the course of your response (i.e., not for each detail), employ at least five of the terms and concepts Wood explores, including but not limited to:

  1. focus
  2. thisness: abstraction and palpability
  3. the enrichment of observation
  4. overaesthetic appreciation
  5. arbitrariness
  6. irrelevance
  7. off-duty vs. on-duty detail
  8. realism
  9. chosenness
  10. co-creation of character

Separately, keep a close eye on how Updike’s characters fight, on the skirmish nature of their conversations in the context of the broader war of their family relationships. Notice what’s unsaid and yet speaks loudly. Compare Updike’s rendering of repression, labored patience, barely controlled fury, and passive aggression with Franzen’s. You don’t have to write about this, but keep it in mind as you read – it will help with this and next week’s writing assignment, and we’ll talk about it Tuesday.

Week 7 reading response: John Updike is in the details

Weeks 7 & 8 assignment: Conflict!

Our readings in Prose and Wood Weeks 7 & 8 are about detail, something we’ve already looked at carefully in our reading of Flaubert. In our fourth assignment, in addition to enriching our fictions with shrewdly chosen detail, I’d like us to focus on a critical elements of any story, but especially the short one: conflict. Study the conflicts particularly between mother and daughter in The Corrections (read an additional few pages, through p. 117, if you haven’t already) and between Rabbit and Janice in Rabbit at Rest. In each case, notice how much tension rises to the surface in the attempt NOT to fight, in the effortful patience and forbearance with which these family members treat one another. Craft a story in which seemingly innocuous statements bristle with hostility, with long-repressed resentments, with passive aggression of every intensity. The fight may or may not erupt into open conflict in your story, but that’s up to you–just make us wait for it.

Before you write, sketch a conflict history between the characters. This is not part of the story proper, but do share it with your editor and with me. What’s the original source of bitterness the characters are working out in this scene? Why can’t they express it plainly to one another so that it must emerge through these pent-up skirmishes? This sketch doesn’t have to be extensive or carefully composed, but let it be substantial enough to spur your characters through at least 1500 words that will probably be predominantly dialogue, and that will leave them and the relationship and the underlying conflict in some perhaps subtle way transformed.

Reminder: good poets borrow, great poets steal.

WEEK 7, MARCH 8

ASSIGNMENT 4: Group 1
Acacia Mays (Ronni Shalev)
Alona Cohen (Wilma Ewerhart)
Irina Bunčić (Loulou Oudshoorn)
Joel Dombrower (Lindsay Parkhowell)
Lola Jalbert (Olorin Etemad-Lehmer)

WEEK 8, MARCH 15

ASSIGNMENT 4: Group A
Loulou Oudshoorn (Irina Bunčić)
Lindsay Parkhowell (Joel Dombrower)
Olorin Etemad-Lehmer (Lola Jalbert)
Ronni Shalev (Acacia Mays)
Wilma Ewerhart (Alona Cohen)

Weeks 7 & 8 assignment: Conflict!

Reading response Week 6: Franzen/Saunders, Prose/Mason

Once you’ve read Wyatt Mason’s review and George Saunders’s story (you might want to reverse the order, to avoid spoilers), and a significant portion of the Corrections assignment, write about your own impressions of Franzen and (vs.) Saunders. How do the two differ? Whose work do you find more enjoyable and in what ways? Do Mason’s (gently phrased) criticisms of Franzen apply to The Corrections as much as they do to the Freedom passages quoted in the review?

Try to make reference both to the spiritual/philosophical divergence Mason posits (possibly challenging, depending on how much of The Corrections you get through), and to more nuts-and-bolts style issues of word choice and figurative language (consider this mandatory). In your discussion of the latter, cite Week 5’s Prose reading on close reading, words, and sentences.

Reading response Week 6: Franzen/Saunders, Prose/Mason