American Lit (classically)

I’m teaching American Lit this fall, and I’m trying to rack my brain. I need the spirit of the ages to complete the thing. I spent the week trying to assemble a reading list for my students, and frankly, I’m still reeling with the challenge.

Mainly, the issue that is confronting many classrooms is that some canonical texts are considered to be racist. But I concur with the notion that these works have stood the test of time for reasons unrelated to their inherent racism. We can still get a lot out of reading these texts, even though we don’t necessarily think the same way that they did.

This is also part of the internal zeitgeist of the American literary canon. Some have suggested that like Delillo’s Underworld, American literary icons produce these cultural artefacts that tell us more about the age that they were written in than anything about the “warm-blooded” individuals that make up a society.

I’ve got a pretty good handle on the subject matter, but I want to inspire my students. I want to make sure that all the bases are covered. If I drop the ball, it won’t be because I haven’t prepared a lot. I need a lot of encouragement, and frankly, it’s coming from the bottom up.

I’m looking to cover the antebellum period with reference to Transcendentalism (Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau) and a peek into Henry James in the post-bellum period. What seems less opaque is the transbellum period (1860-1865). The journalism of Whitman is always helpful, but may need some scaffolding to truly understand.

I think the main thing that I’m wrestling with is how to present the literary period without too much historical background, and yet to couch it in terms of literary movements that defined the period. I love Henry Adams ‘The Education of Henry Adams,’ but am not sure that my students would take well to it.

It is important not to overload the students with text. They have a significant reading load and get behind easily. So the main issue might to be to contextualize the text that they are reading instead of introducing new text as a rule. Georgia State can be a place where students feel a little lost, so it’s good not to impose too much upon them.

What is paramount is to imaginatively transport students to the time period in which this piece was written. To do this, I often imaginatively ‘reenact’ the literature, especially to pique their interest. In this way, we are able to ‘walk a mile in the shoes’ of the writer, and get a better handle on the material.

The darned 4th chapter

I have been struggling with a forgotten relic of the 19th century American lit of the antebellum period. In fact, the novel itself, by Robert Henry Newell, is very little evidence of utopian thinking in this period. What it does reveal is that paper itself was a kind of utopia — an entrance point to a literate culture that could subsist on anti-woke dreams and romances. The novel ‘Avery Gleebun; between two fires’ (1857) is a tough read because of its paper thin characters and intense sentimentality.

But given that the most that people could afford at the time was a Bible and a few scattered religious tracts, the popular novel (of the time) had (HAD) to be sentimental. It is a work of literature with a few choice gems scattered in between pages of almost impenetrable sentimental dialogue. But why this work & its author fell into the forgotten list of antebellum authors who were NOT Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville is a blessed mystery that I am trying to unravel.

This novel has struck my interest, as well as the Orpheus C. Kerr (a pun based on “Off-Ice See-Ker”) Papers, has relaunched my study into the history of print in the 19th century. This begins and ends with William Charvat’s ‘Literary Publishing in America 1790-1850,’ a book that I have yet to fully read and truly appreciate. I’m going to try to read and take notes in hopes that a Ch. 4 of the dissertation will emerge.

I still remember that ‘God gives us the privilege of seeing the right’ to quote A. Lincoln, the 16th president and a fan of R. H. Newell’s work. So it will take a mountain of prayer to get over this hill which is also a kind of desert. I hope to emerge from it unscathed, but fear that it may be everlong (Foo Fighters’ song) an issue that never gets resolved. I hope that I am able to get a bird’s eye view of this chapter but it may not happen.

Sea of paper

In the courtyard…

The cat creature bustled and hustled out of the open window and towards the garden. He overheard a conversation, as he stood on the roof, of a legend that no man’s ear had ever yet heard.

A young woman, dressed daintilly in red and gold, sat talking to her sister about the strangest of tales: a dragonite from afar. He was likely to dismiss this as nonsense from an old wives tale, but Bubba Yee perked his ears nonetheless.

The young woman in the dark crimson gown bent her head, brunette hair falling behind her ears, ever so preciously over her coffee, as she told the tale of the dragonite to her elder sister.

“I have seen it with my own eyes: the Naxos. A blue dragon from the floating continent who has shape shifting ability,” she said.

“Surely you must be joking!” the dark haired companion siad with ribald laughter.

“I would not tell you fairy stories!” the crimson lady said. ” I read it in the Annals of Marginalia Vol. IX part i. The Naxos is a beast who speaks fluent Cosmou, and he can take the form of a sage.”

“… or wiseacre!” she retorted.

“It was he who related the information of Mithrax’s attack repelled by…”

“Who?” she asked.

“An elf that I cannot remember or recall his name,” she said with a puzzled look.

“Speaking of elves, have you been apprised of how our young green friend is getting along?”

“I suppose better than usual since he was manumitted,” she said.

“I’ve heard that he spends all his days trying to master mathematics and poetry,” the dark-haired woman in navy blue said.

“Nonsense. This fellow is trying to become a white mage. I’ve heard his abortive incantations all day, and frankly, I’m sick of them.”

“Back to Naxos,” said the dark-haired woman.

“What do you know of him?”

“His wisdom is at least partially responsible for the prophecy,” she whispered,

adding, “That’s what Daddy doesn’t want you to know.”

“He always told us that Melchior received the prophecy through a red mage disguised as a beggar woman,” she said.

“Papa is always trying to keep us in the dark,” she said.

Another wizard came a-sauntering in with moxie. He mixed drinks often, and had a red nose from frequent drinking.

“I know the beggar woman,” he stated flatly.

“I think you read too many dragonite novels,” she retorted.

“Adam, don’t be silly.”

Adam had a peak-hat with three corners, scarlet as the late afternoon sunset. His face was like flint, and he screwed his eyes up at the two damsels.

Bubba Yee could hardly believe his luck having run into a real wizard. This fellow could possibly grant his wish to anthropomorphize. He listened intently to the conversation.

“You met her?”

“Well, not to say exactly…” he offered.

“I think you have been dreaming,” she said, staring at the hem of her crimson dress.

Leo part ii continued…

He tried not to knock over the altar that his master had set up to an unknown god. The world of gods & goddesses was still quite nebulous to him – what did it have to do with reality? He remained the victim of his vagaries and the poop box where he relieved himself. Sometimes, he got the “cat wackies” and he would run aimlessly up and down the halls. As his green-faced master surveyed batball games in the courtyard, BY would accompany him and sit it his lap as he looked out of the window. After all, the chill of the winter of the month of Icicleness remained in his limited cat brain. Would a treat be offered by his master?

Quietly he realized that his master had to work to earn his bread, although he suspected that much of it was lifted from the refectory. The cat looked quizzically at the table scraps which were his repast. He slanted his eyes towards the detestable meal. No vittles would be eaten tonight. He perched on the window, for night had fallen. The moon was visible through the thick clouds, but the stars were only visible in his imagination. The cat purred as he looked into the darksome night air. Something vast and invisible was there – but he couldn’t say what. Maybe it was a hidden god – the kind that master prayed to in his off hours – but surely no one in Cosmon could fathom it.

Somehow, the table scraps disgusted Bubba Yee. He wanted to feast at the king’s table. But no ordinary housecat could hope for such a meal. The vittles of a typical housecat were dry pellets, which frankly tasted like a sandpaper sandwich. The ambitious cat dreamed of the king’s five course meal – appetizer, insalate verde, proscuitto and melone, entrees of duck and roast goose, and a trifle as a dessert. But these items were beyond the pail of what he could consider – his only comfort was the stroking of his neck by his master, the green-faced elf.

Bubba Yee rubbed up against the boot of his master, who was lost in thought. The candle of thought was burning softly and brightly.

“Cannot find the candle of thought” – E. Vedder

Leo part ii

The cat noticed that the green face was extremely frustrated. His efforts to master magic had sloughed off like a snake skin. Weirdos had to become wanderers and learn magic the hard way… through experience. But the green elf with pointy ears could not afford to be weird – it was against court life – ruled by formality , honor, and of course, conformity. That day there was a horrible flood in the kitchen. BY had knocked over his water bowl much to the chagrin of his owner. The massive eartherware vessel with an open lip and arabesque decorations had been a sort of heirloom – a testimony of many cats – but was unstable and porous because of cracks. In order to grab a kitty snack, BY had turned over the box of kitty treats. His pointy ears perked and he purred like the staccato ticks of a clockwork owl.

Poxig wondered if Halifax was open to math lessons. The dreary court atmosphere made him pine for the freedoms as a young bard. But they were nullabists, and Poxig had higher ambitions. He had to be satisfied with his enervating job as a court mathematician’s assistant. The court yawned in boredom of his math lessons – but these were the best that money could buy. His familiarity with differential equations made him a hit commodity, but did the business of the court have to be so irretrievably dull? He would have to teach them again summations. This seemed to be almost impossible for them to conceive of.

BY, as a cat, was not at all obedient to his master. He acknowledged him in passing, but without interest. He was an affectionate cat, but his green-faced master seemed to be always too busy. He used to sit on the mat in order to get in a staring contest. But the cat’s eyes always burned with the ambition of his master. He was no ordinary cat, but wanted his master to be able to shine the light of transmogrification on him so that he could anthropomorphize. He wished to grow legs so that he could learn to stand on his own two feet. He was tired of walking on four, & being a burden to his master. He looked around the castle’s interior room which was adjacent to the refectory. He was filled with hatred for all those objects – the king’s toys from when he was a child – they were now his toys. A ragged old doll with a green face, the smelling salts that now emitted noxious fumes, the cradle which was his bed (now time worn and tawdry). They reminded him of his inferior status, and he longed to rise. He was sick of sitting at home and lying around like a vagrant. He wanted to do something significant.

As the green-faced owner had to admit, he was no ordinary cat, someday he would be a ‘yion.’ The Yion would be his new name once he had been changed to his anthropomorphic self. But until the, he had to admit that he was still a cat – no more, no less. Tears of pain continued to fall from his face, only because he was so ignored. The elvish human hardly paid attention to him. The unassuming little cat used to play games – something that would obviously be beneath a yion. These trivialitites passed the time, but clearly did not get him to his goal. He played the scratching post ball game – a tether tied to a scratching post. The was the circle ball game – a ball that went around in a circle. The point of this game, he could not discern. But the amusement suited his fancy and dispelled the awful spectre of boredom – a continual issue in the court of Cornelia, the capitol of Marginalia.

BY could tell that the green master felt this boredom powerfully as well, but he called it ‘ennuie,’ which was perhaps Dragonite for something he could hardly understand. He remained resigned to his temporary fate as a housecat, but his dreams were different. BY could imagine himself the summoned creature of a powerful warrior – perhaps his master. But it was beyond him for now so he curled up by the fireplace and napped.

The great and powerful ‘Lion’

What I got from fantasy novels

I’ve been perusing into fantasy literature, and have found a few gems which I will explicate here. Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind, is one of the best that I have ever read. This one has nuggets of wisdom woven into tangibly readable dialogue and action. I haven’t yet seen a fantasy novel that leads in so well with the death of Richard’s father, to the Mud People, to the jarring revelation of the Rule. Why this hasn’t been made into a TV miniseries yet, I don’t know.

I’m less of a fan of some of the spinoff fiction from this author. Severed Souls, for me, wasn’t near up to the descriptive capability of its predecessor. I’m still struggling with the wanton violence, which seems excessive and doesn’t really have a point. But many people would say that fantasy works do this ad infinitum. Going over the top doesn’t really help the dialogue, nor the plot. Without an appreciation of the characters, the book wouldn’t attract me in the slightest.

I also recently finished Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. Jordan seems an able administrator of his fiction in a way that is catching to the eye. His work was recently redone in a miniseries, but I didn’t like way the characters were portrayed. It didn’t hold a candle to the book, not by a longshot. In order to create a fantasy world this detailed, you probably have to get a PhD in the thing. But I’m still trying to get this book, and I may have to give it another good solid read.

The greatest fantasy novel (other than Tolkien which doesn’t count) is ‘The Elfstones of Shannara,’ by Terry Brooks. This masterwork was made into a TV miniseries with MTV, but as far as I know, it has been yanked off of Netflix, for reasons that I durst not explain. I did enjoy this portrayal of the work, and it was much closer to the book’s contents with a few annoying teen prop fictional sentimentalism. But if I had to recommend one to go for, it would be this one. I’m part of the way through Song of Shannara. This work seems promising, but ‘Elfstones’ is the masterpiece.

I’ve recently finished Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Roses and Thorns. The world she has created is fairy tale friendly and quite sexy at points. I’ve likened this particular work to other mythos registers such as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Erica Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling. The storytelling is succinct, dynamic, and eminently readable. Romance and fantasy do often dovetail nicely, as they do in this incipient work about Prythia.

The list goes on here, and I’m about to get into some N. K. Jemsin total escapism. I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to hold down a job!

layers of fantasy journeys into utopia (nowhere)

Supercat

Now that the YA is finished, I’ve started on the next chapter, which is dedicated to my cat Leo.

Gabe’s bedtime story part ii

After many years in Cornellia castle, Poxig was bored of life in the castle. He sat mercilessly trying to read novels by sitting for long periods of time in an uncomfortable chair in order to discipline himself to sit. But as he read, he couldn’t make himself remember what he read. It was not like his early days when he seemed enchanted by his schoolwork. He attempted to read…

Then, it suddenly became to him like a video game that he liked. These “video games” were light shows with different bright colored candles. They flashed blue and green with the magic fire spell that Lakfi had performed in his magic shows. Lakfi became more surly and withdrawn these days. He had hardly talked to him at all.

The cat went back to the mat. He was so cold by the ornate window, with arabesque designs on the sill. He huffed, scratched the side of it where the paint had worn off. There were shredded white, red, and gold curtains where kitty, called BubbaYee (BY), had damaged them. He still couldn’t see clearly because of the eye salve, but the noxious fumes from his owner’s pipe were making them water. But as he curled up, his eyes began to sprinkle with tears. His owner, Poxig, remembered how much he dislike the smoke of his pipe, but he calmly enjoyed the sunshine.

The kitty opened his mouth and yawned.

“I wish that I could swallow sunshine,” he exclaimed in his mind, “I am so hungry that I could die!”

The cat got up off the mat and sauntered over to the green faced giant, as BY called him. The elven warrior stroked the kitty with his ungloved hand. He met the cat with annoyance, because he was working in his study.

The books were piled high, and it looked like his owner was still in school. But he wasn’t. They were all the royal books of the father of King Charles, whose name happened to be Melchior.

BY demurred, then he purred. The green hand stroked the scruff of the cat’s head.

“Blarg…meddido…hapsha!” yelled his companion, who was obviously trying not to reveal that he was performing magic in a strange mix of dark and light magic he called ‘Wuffle’

“Hmm… let’s see,” he muttered as he perused the magic book.

“Wilfo…blinko…bot! Blast!” he exclaimed.

The candles fizzled out.

This is BY in his transformed anthropomorphic self

The Blithedale Romance (or bust)

I’ve been reading and rereading this account (By Nathaniel Hawthorne) of the Fourierist utopian colony Brook Farm founded by George Ripley. My interest has shifted over time, but the main point here is that the colony is a strange amalgam of Christianity and socialism in a way that would never be possible today. The hours of reading often lead nowhere. I am still chugging away at this thing, but it’s become an obsession that never ends. I’m not getting much sleep at this point.

The main issue is that distractions keep coming up that frustrate my efforts to remain focused. One of those is FIFA 22 for the XBOX. But the old stuff that I used to do, mainly fantasy YA lit for my son, keeps coming up. I am redoubling my efforts by taking retreats to hotels in the North GA mountains in order to focus solely on this project.

I can honestly say that this is the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do professionally. No one should go into a PhD program lightly. It takes everything you have and more if you want to succeed. I’m glad at least that I still have time to put down the tchotchkes that muddle the brain and refocus. It’s going to take a Metamorphosis of the type that Kafka relates in his novella of the same name.

I hope that my fans from the YA lit take it to heart, b/c these advanced degrees are not so easy to get. But I do believe that it will be worth it in the end. I just have the worst insomnia, and some dizziness. Looking forward to the day when this whole thing will be done. But I need a mix tape of jarring discordant melodies to get me to sleep sometimes. I recommend Silver Dapple.

I’m glad to post this, b/c for the longest time it seemed that I was locked out of my account.

Heptogram

Very rarely do I hear a storyblog so brutally honest as this one by Ms. Moon. I’m relaying it to my readers who desire some sort of a knock-some-sense-in-me factuality about publishing in YA lit.

The rest of this blog is about Heptograms…. A kind of magnificent man made star.

The heptogram is the seven pointed star. But it’s also symbolic of Ouija board games and fantasy role playing. Caveat: this is an experimental post. Scientists beware!

This amalgam of triangles may be a platonic conception of a star untethered to astrological nonsense. But more likely on the Pascal’s triangle. This view of a geodesic dome is a replica of the same mathematical principle of Pascal’s triangle, which has infinitely repeating triangles.

Photo by Laura Meinhardt on Pexels.com

This mountain of nonsense has very little to do with my dissertation, but you’ll be glad to know that Pascal’s triangle can be replacated in numbers by adding sums:

The French mathematician Blaise Pascal created a fractal that expressed this value of triangles that infinitely repeat.

Why do we put a star of Bethlehem on the top of the Christmas tree? It is more likely because of the tapping into the non-changeable quality of the stars, a reality that organizes our days without the use of Chaos (the destroyer).

The 7 pointed star remains a geometric figure which cannot be tesselated. The image is below.

I have been playing the board game ‘Starburst’ below. Same principle.

put a peg in each hole in succession without ever repeating a line.

Working with ASTRAL howls

I have been trying to sift through a number of documents related to the French-American connection during the embryonic stage of American Lit. This has taken the form of the writings of Albert Brisbane, who popularized Charles Fourier (Much as the works of Michel Foucault popularized Jeremy Bentham in ‘Discipline and Punish’) in his ASTRAL howl: ‘The Social Destiny of Man.’

I’ve spent hours in the stacks of the GSU library trying to sort through microfiche (which if you haven’t done is a wild ride in throwback research) in order to get a digital still of Brisbane. I did manage to get this still, (which for the purposes of copyright I am posting a dummy image below). The main word that I got from this particular document was ‘sidereal.’

The rest of this blog is dedicated to understanding this term. Sidereal. Dictionary.com defines this adequately. But the idea is not in the definition. It is this antiquated idea (which many people tie to astrology, but I argue has nothing to do with this sort of superstition) that there is a sacred canopy over us, that dictates the course of human events in a way contrary to random chance.

I won’t get into chaos theory here, because of course it is not possible to totally defeat chaos. Chaos is just part of life, as that Jeff Goldblum clip of Jurrasic Park may testify as to the “tiny variations” (01:31). But is there some other reality tied to the course of the planets and the positions of the stars, which might dictate the relationship between a very random (internet/streaming media) sense of how events happen in the 21st century and the implacable wisdom of the ancients?

I do think that Brisbane was on to something here, or perhaps that we have lost the sense that some things are predetermined in a way that defeats a ‘time plus matter plus chance’ version of reality. The stars symbolize a kind of alternative destiny, that if the starlight could reach the earth before the star burns out, would connect us with an awesome and quite supernal version of reality.

I’m jest sayin’ y’all!

Polaris – North star? Or Alpha Centaurii?