Category Archives: 203

Petrarchan conventions, South Asian vernacular poetry


Today in World Literature, we’re going to take a stab at connecting Petrarchan lyric verse to South Asian vernacular devotional lyric–I asked students to write in their journals about similarities and/or differences they noted, so I really want to have a chance to discuss their ideas. I want to start, though, by going over the sonnets from Rime Sparse, and especially Petrarchan conventions–as I was rereading Petrarch and the South Asian poets (Basavanna, Mahadeviykka, Kabir, Tukarem, Kshetrayya), I thought we could have a wonderful discussion of the differences in style between the sonnet form as Petrarch inaugurates it and the vacana; the spiritualization of Laura and the erotic quality of the devotional lyrics; the images of a self at war with itself; and, of course, the political value of poetry in the vernacular. We’ll also go over the paraphrasing assignment I’ll be distributing–I’ve tweaked it this year, adding a bit more structure to it:

Assignment I: Paraphrasing and Adapting Petrarch

For this assignment, choose two sonnets by Petrarch.

With the first sonnet, you should paraphrase the poem as accurately as possible in prose.  You should try to keep all of Petrarch’s words, but rearrange the syntax and order in a way that makes sense to contemporary American students. If you have to look up a word to understand it’s meaning, do so! If you need to add something to clarify the meaning, use [brackets]. Follow the stanza breaks, because these represent logical units of thought.  Remember, you’re not summarizing, but paraphrasing, so your job isn’t to generalize what the sonnets are about but instead to observe precisely what the sonnet says and does. However, if there is an ambiguity (and there will be!) in the literal sense, then choose a meaning you think most accurate.

With the second sonnet, put the poem into a contemporary medium you are familiar with—an email, a letter to Laura, a series of tweets or facebook posts, a journal entry to yourself. Your goal here will be to get an accurate sense of the content of the poems, by adapting it to a different medium. You’ll need to think about what the sonnet you’ve chosen is saying in general, and then paraphrase its content in your medium. If the poem is to Laura, maybe using the form of a letter or an email would make sense; if you see the poem as a bit of navel-gazing on Petrarch’s part, maybe twitter would be a good choice. Think about your medium, and why it would work to express the meaning of the poem.

The goal of this assignment is not only to help us more clearly understand how lyric poetry works and what the Petrarchan tradition is, but also to give you more opportunity to hone your skills of close reading and observation.

ALTERNATIVELY, choose one sonnet either to paraphrase or adapt, and then create your own. If you choose this option, you should craft a sonnet in the Petrarchan tradition: it should use Petrarchan conventions and conceits, a specific arrangement of lines, a clear and accurate rhyme scheme.

Example prose paraphrase:

Father in heaven, after each lost day of my unrequited love and after each night spent raving with the fierce desire in my heart, which has kindled into fire—seeing [the signs of] your sacrifices made beautiful adorn my dismay.

Henceforth, please grant me that I may turn, in your light [grace], toward another more truly fair life and more truly fair deeds. In this way, my bitter foe [Satan? Passion? Laura?] might hold my heart in despite [in anger]—because it has spread its snare for me in vain.

My Lord, eleven years have passed since I first [saw/fell in love with Laura.] Since that time, I have been bound beneath the heavy trace [of love for her], which weighs most cruelly on the meekest person.

[My Lord,] please pity the abject plight where I find myself [or, where I discover my true self to be]. Return my straying thoughts to a more worthy place. Show my straying thoughts that today, you were on Cavalry [on the cross—in pain for a higher cause].


Thoughts, comments?



Introducing the "Renaissance" in World Literature


I felt very good about the way EN203 went this afternoon–what a great way to start the new term! I’ve got a pretty full class, though a handful of folks were missing today, and about 7 or so students contributed something to the conversation. We discussed the syllabus, as per usual, and I went over the kinds of pieces we’d be reading, the kinds of projects and assignments on the docket, and some of the problems with the term “Renaissance” when dealing with world literature. Then we moved into the prezi I’d prepared–we only made it through a few frames, but I think the students were making sense of some of the central features of the period–we looked at a medieval Madonna and Child by Duccio, in comparison with Holbein’s The Ambassadors, to get a sense of how to identify some of the key shifts occurring during the early modern period: interiority, a focus on worldly matter and the details of the physical world, the struggle to define the relationship between the earthly and the spiritual, an attention to, why the arts were so visible. We also had an interesting tangent about sumptuary laws (and the beginnings of a discussion of Renaissance melancholy), so I’m eager to return to that next class period. Reminder: bring in a page image of sample sumptuary laws! We didn’t get to my planned experiment with crafting collaborative class policies, so I’ve got to email the class to ensure that they read and consider what’s on the table. Hopefully, next class we’ll be able to discuss and amend.


What will the first day of classes hold?


Tomorrow I will meet for the first time with two of my three classes, EN203: World Literature 1450-1800, and EN240: Introduction to Visual and Cultural Study. I’ve had the real pleasure of teaching EN203 a few times before, so I’m looking forward to adding some new texts and removing a couple I’ve grown–how shall I say–bored with. I will stay on track this year and actually get to Olaudah Equiano–and, I’m going to revisit Kant’s “What Is Enlightenment?”, which I haven’t been able to teach since the first iteration of the course. We’re still going to work through Sor Juana’s “Reply to Sor Filotea,” though I’ve noticed that the Norton includes virtually the entire text, while the Longman has excerpted a nice piece. We’re also doing some South Asian poets near the beginning of the term, as a good counterpoint to Western European lyric poetry–so exciting! For the first time, I’m asking students to read some material around biblical translations during the Reformation, too.

EN240 is virtually a new course for me, though I’ve taught it once before; this time around, I’ve selected different texts–Ryan’s Cultural Studies: A Practical Introduction and the graphic-novel-ish Introducing Cultural Studies–supported by timely excerpts from theoretical sources. My pledge to self this term in EN240, you ask? Have fun, and don’t overburden the students with Althusser or Meagan Morris’ very rich essay on shopping centers. And have fun. The schedule is very, very different this time around, not least because it’s a course that meets for three hours once a week–I’m honestly a little worried about the utility of that schedule for a 200-level course, so we’ll see what happens. But, I’m assigning fewer highly-specific projects, in order to give students more flexibility to address topics interesting to them, and reining in the final project to ensure I don’t have too many different kinds of projects–students will be able to choose from three options: 1.) creating a critical commentary on a five-minute clip from Source Code, uploaded to YouTube, 2.) create a critical commentary on a contemporary television advertisement, ditto, and 3.) create a five-minute mini-documentary on a topic covered in class, illustrated and narrated a La Jetee, ditto. Finally, students will be producing a term portfolio using Google sites including a selection of revised responses, their two major projects, and some self-assessment. We’re also going to take a trip to the Museum of American History to explore “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” a joint exhibition by the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (UMBC) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’m interested in having students consider the exhibit as an exercise in what “visual culture” is, as well as some of the public history and policy issues associated with museum exhibitions. It’s shaping up to be an energizing term, though this past week has been exhausting.

On a related note, I’d planned on creating Facebook groups for each of my courses, which students could use to communicate with their peers, ask questions, and post interesting web finds, but something seems to have changed there–if anyone’s reading, do you know what happened to the old FB groups? I’m going back to my original plan, which was to set up twitter hashtags for each of the courses, which students can use in the same way. This will be a novelty for me, so I’m planning on using it as a test-case, explaining it to students in that way; purely voluntary, but users can see an extra bump in participation grades.


Petrarch, Interiority, and the Tensions between Earthly and Spiritual


Instead of lecturing on the introduction–part of my larger goals this term to avoid lecture as much as possible, in favor of stimulating discussion that works outwards from the text–I’d like to focus our class time on Petrarch’s letter in which he describes the mountainous ascent he undertakes with his brother, as well as some of the major thematic patterns that emerge in his Canzoniere. I hope to be able, in each of the pieces we read from the anthology, to foreground different features characteristic of the Renaissance, ideally not to overload students with generalizations that we can’t really locate in particular instances. Tomorrow, I want to focus on the way that Petrarch explores his sense of self, as well as the way he negotiates the tensions between earthly desires and spiritual goods. We’ll also be going over the first short essay assignment, and ideally, the class discussion will model a relevant approach.


Overcoming the First Day Syllabus Blues


I’m determined, this term, to not fall into either the 1.) going-over-the-syllabus-the-first-day cop-out or the 2.) jump-right-in-to-lecture cop-out, both of which so often become standards (usually because we’re so busy prepping courses, finishing syllabi, or participating in the pipe-dream of having all the basic course plans for the entire rest of the term in some  sort of presentable shape. My plans for the first day of classes — tomorrow I have Anatomy of a Film and World Literature: Renaissance through Enlightenment — are really to get right into the material from a practical standpoint.

In Anatomy, I’d like to focus attention on the basic content as well as the expectations of the college classroom by having students break into pairs to read and present on segments of a short article from The Atlantic called “Don’t Fear the Reaper”; this should impress the idea that these films do have an important cultural location. Then I want to leap into the major assignment by showing students a clip from a similar set of projects by GW students. I’d then like to ask for some reflective writing, a “letter to self” that will become, by the next class, a draft of the personal statement for the portfolio. Then, for a few minutes, I’ll show them the Bb site and the blog, just to make sure they know where everything is. Homework should be pretty straightforward: reading, revising the personal statement, browsing the Bb site/s, and reading the syllabus/policies online.

World Literature, I hope, will have much the same shape, though students should have a good sense of the college classroom dynamic by now. I plan to put on the board four or five key features of the Renaissance, as discussed in the Norton Introduction, and try to get a sense from the class of what they understand about those features. Then, we’ll listen to the Italian of a poem by Petrarch–perhaps the first Canzoniere, read it aloud in English, and try to come up with a list of ways the poem might fit into (or expand!) those basic articulations of context. Grasping the “plain sense,” as I. A. Richards describes it in Practical Criticism, will I imagine prove the biggest hurdle, and so I’ll go over some tools and expectations (via Jason Jones on ProfHacker). I also want to introduce students to the possible alternative 2nd essay assignment they might begin thinking about, as well as the complexities of our Bb site–which I’d love to migrate to WordPress…. Ah, well–the future must hold some new projects!

On a side note, I finally finished my Routledge ABES annotation for Ildiko Csengei’s “‘I will not weep’: Reading through the Tears of Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling.” Yay!