Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Snap the Whip--but Don't Carry It All

He [Queequeg] only asked for water...and leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed to be saying to himself--"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.  We cannibals must help these Christians."
      Herman Melville, "The Wheelbarrow," Moby-Dick 

...however we may justify certain exclusive habits in populous places, they are strikingly and confessedly ridiculous in the wilderness.  What can be more absurd than a feeling of proud distinction, where a stray spark of fire, a sudden illness, or a day's contre-temps, may throw you entirely upon the kindness of your humblest neighbor?
     Caroline Kirkland, A New Home, Who'll Follow? (1839)

As our reading of Moby-Dick had us following Queequeg and Ishmael setting out to join the crew of The Pequod, we also took on Caroline Kirkland's remarkable 1839 A New Home, Who'll Follow?--a fictionalized, realistic, and humorous account of her adventures as a settler in the wilds of Southeast Michigan.  Both offer reminders of the need for an ethics of care and community in the face of difference and difficulty.

And student transmediations for this day highlighted some of that feeling of community (and its precarious connections):

Image:  Winslow Homer, Snap the Whip
 Snap the Whip

Music:   The Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"

But then the text transmediation also moves us perhaps to an older,  more violent, and certainly more Queequeg-like religious ethos:

excerpt from end of Book V of Gilgamesh
(Stephen Mitchell's 2004 "New English Version" pg 128-129)
A gentle rain fell onto the mountains.

They took their axes and penetrated
deeper into the forest, they went
chopping down cedars, the wood chips flew,
Gilgamesh chopped down the mighty trees,
Enkidu hewed the trunks into timbers.
Enkidu said,


“We have chopped down the trees of the Cedar Forest,
we have brought to earth the highest of trees,
the cedar whose top once pierced the sky.
We will make it into a gigantic door,
a hundred feet high and thirty feed wide,
we will float it down the Euphrates to Enlil's
temple in Nippur. No men shall go through it,
but only the gods. May Enlil delight in it,
may it be a joy to the people of Nippur.”

They bound logs together and built a raft.
Enkidu steered it down the great river.
Gilgamesh carried Humbaba's head.


When I first encountered this text as a graduate student in the Bronx, sitting in Joanne Dobson's seminar on 19th century women writers, I had little reason to believe then that twenty years later, I'd be living and teaching just a few miles down the road from Kirkland's SE Michigan settlement.  The book became something of a favorite of mine, capturing something of the sectional dislocation I experienced as a southerner in the Big Apple.  Now that I am living and teaching in the Midwest, it continues to offer a chance for me and students to experience local literature in a global/glocal age.

A scene early in the text, highlights the vexed nature of such local/global encounters when Mrs. Clavers (Kirkland's narrator and alter-ego) is tasked with naming the new village.  The plot would be drawn up, "lithographed and circulated through the United States, and, to cap the climax, printed in gold, splendidly framed, and hung up in Detroit, in the place 'where merchants most do congregate.'"  Faced with the pressure of posterity, of wide circulation, and the judgment of her friends and readers back East, Mrs. Clavers quips, "I tried for an aboriginal designation, as most characteristic and unworn.  I recollected a young lady speaking with enthusiastic admiration of our Indian names, and quoting Ypsilanti as a specimen."  She settles on Montacute, drawn she says from her literary reading, underscoring the narrativizing and fictionalizing of US settlements.

The earlier joke about Ypsilanti resonates differently when one lives and works in Ypsilanti (home to Eastern Michigan University), of course.  As a conflation of  civic place, native space, and an international figure of democracy--General Georges Ypsilanti, one of the heroes of the Greek War of Independence--the anecdote points to the strange collision of local and global discourses--and its long history in our own readerly backyards--that is always potentially present in the American Renaissance.  The question of 'the American' or 'America' is posed simultaneously (and continually) against both small and large points of contact.  Not just asking what the shape of that new home will be--but who gets to inhabit it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

First Impressions, Loomings, and Circles

The eye is the first circle;
the horizon which it forms is the second;
and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.
  from Emerson, "Circles" (1841)

My class begins--as it always does--with a set of transmediations (Image, Music, Text) that capture in some way one's understanding of the shared readings and seek to represent that through another sign system.

For the first class, I provide all three, but in subsequent classes, students bring in transmediations of their own:  a different person responsible for each 'text.'

So, as we prepared to talk about our first encounters with Moby Dick, I displayed Thomas Cole's painting (A View from Mt. Holyoke, 1838),  the short excerpt above of the poetic epigraph to Emerson's essay "Circles,"

while simultaneously playing the song, "First Impressions" from Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor's 1996 collaboration, Appalachia Waltz (1996) [linked below]

Try it out for yourselves after you have read through the etymology, extracts, and the first few chapters of Moby-Dick--up to Ishmael's own first impressions of Queequeg.

What new ways of thinking about the text(s) do you have now?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Serializing MOBY-DICK

This winter 2016 semester, this space will attempt to offer regular dispatches from two new adventures in literature pedagogy from my course in  "The American Renaissance:  1830-1860."

My students and I  will be taking on two separate projects to get a little closer to the rich interdisciplinary and inter-discursive nature of 19th century American texts :

1) a "Time Travel" reading of multiple, consecutive issues of mid-century magazines featuring the work of canonical authors, as well as the many contemporaries publishing beside them in a variety of disciplines.

Each selection focuses upon a different time span and literary turning point.
  • The United States Democratic Review (1830s; including early printings of several of Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales")  
  • The Dial (1840s, including Margaret Fuller's "The Great Lawsuit")
  •  Putnam's Monthly (early 1850s, including the holiday issue sequence of Melville's "Bartleby, a Tale of Wall-Street")
  • Harper's New Monthly Magazine (late 1850s, including poetry and stories by Emerson, Whitman, Alice Cary, and others) 
2) a (Re?) "Serialization" of Moby-Dick.  Though a couple key chapters did make their way into the literary monthlies of the time, Melville's novel did not receive a full serialized treatment in its day.    My students will work with partners through a dialogue journal experience of the novel to coincide with the whole-class, shared reading of other texts.  I've given a suggested breakdown of ~11 chapters each week over the next 12 weeks (students having read the opening sections--Extracts, Etymologies, and Chapters 1-4, through Ishmail's first encounter with Queequeg--over the winter break between semesters), but student partnerships can set their own reading schedule.

In the past I have used this blog space rather infrequently to share or post information or share ideas and practices that were part of talks or presentations.  But because of a simultaneous project in my undergraduate Writing Pedagogy course inviting students to explore unfamiliar genres (more on that project in a later post), I've committed myself to try to make this a more regular and interactive space. 

For the next few months, then, it will attempt to offer dispatches of this experiment--itself serializing the process of re-serialization a mammoth 19th century novel for a 21st century context.

Our schedule of readings is below.  Feel free to join along and/or comment along the way!


LITR 569  American Renaissance 1830-1860
John Staunton
Eastern Michigan University

Preliminary Schedule of Reading/Topics/Assignments Due (Subject to change):

Week 1            M 1/11             Introductions

Melville, Moby-Dick “Etymology”/”Extracts”; Chs 1-3: “Loomings”, “The Carpet-Bag”, “The Spouter Inn”
Week 2            M 1/18             No Class, MLK Day
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 4-14 (“The Counterpane”-”Nantucket”)

Week 3            M 1/25             READINGS: Caroline Kirkland, A New Home, Who’ll Follow?
                                                Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
                                                 Critical Readings TBA
                                                Transmediation 1
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 15-25 (“Chowder”- ‘Postscript”)

Week 4            M 2/1               READINGS: Ralph Waldo Emerson ("Circles", "The American Scholar," and
                                                "The Writer" and/or "The Poet") Link
                                                Margaret Fuller (Woman in the 19th Century) Link to Donna Campbell's American Literature site at Washington State University

                                                Transmediation 2
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 26-36 (“Knights and Squires”- “The Quarter Deck * Ahab and All”)

Week 5            M 2/8               READINGS: Julia Ward Howe, The Hermaphrodite

                                                X Version of Critical Inquiry (Proposal and Abstract)
                                                Transmediation 3
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 37-47 (“Sunset”- “The Mat-Maker”)                                            

Week 6            M 2/15             mid -19th century Poetic Forms 1
                                               selections from Whitman, "Song of Myself" (1855 version)
                                               Longfellow, "Evangeline," Sigourney,  & others)
                                                Critical Teaching Presentation 2
                                                (Critical Readings TBA by group)
                                                __Students 1 , 2 & 3_____
                                                 Transmediation 4
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 48-58 (“The First Lowering”- “Brit”)
Week 7            M 2/22             NO CLASS—EMU WINTER BREAK
 Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 59-69 (“Squid”- “The Funeral”)                                             
Week 8            M 2/29             Happy Leap Year!
                                                Time Travel Reading Presentations          
                                                (Primary and Critical Readings TBA by groups)
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 70-80 (“The Sphynx” – “The Nut”)
Week 9            M 3/7               READINGS: Henry David Thoreau, Walden Link and " Resistance to Civil
                                               & Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes Link  [google ebook]

                                                 Annotated Bibliography for Critical Inquiry
 Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 81-91 (“The Pequod Meets the Virgin”- “The Pequod Meets the Rosebud”)

 Week 10          M 3/14            READINGS:
Harriet Beecher Stowe [Excerpts]
 Link to the Re-Serialization from  The National Era version with contemporary critical commentary
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life [Excerpts] Link
                                                Critical Teaching Presentation 3
                                                (Critical Readings TBA by group)
                                                __ __Students 1 & 2__
                                                 Transmediation 5
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
 Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 92-102 (“Ambergris” - “A Bower in the Arsacides”)
Week 11          M 3/21             READINGS: 19th Century Prose Forms (Selections from
                                                Hawthorne, Poe, Cary and others)
                                                 Critical Teaching Presentation 4
                                                (Critical Readings TBA by group)
                                                __ _Students 1 & 2_______
                                                 Transmediation 6
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs.103-113 (“Measurement of a Whale’s Skeleton” – “The Forge”)

Week 12          M 3/28             Y Version Critical Inquiry (submitted for peer review in doc

Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 114- 124 (“The Gilder”- “The Needle”)

Week 13          M 4/4               mid -19th century Poetic Forms 2 (READINGS TBA)

                                                Transmediation 7
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________                                   

Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 125- Epilogue (“The Log and Line”- “Epilogue”)

Week 14          M 4/11             mid- 19th century Prose Forms 2 (READINGS TBA)

                                                Transmediation 8
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Week 15          M 4/18             Readings to be selected from LC/DJ Texts
                                                Dialogue Journal Presentations

FINALS           F 4/22              Z Version Critical Inquiry and Abstracts by 7pm