The Guardian presents this interesting and fun infographic on the many ways Poe dreamed up death, murder, and general mayhem. I am a particularly fond of death by orangutan (#s 1 and 7).
Carson McCullers, Coachella, Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace, David Mamet, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neill, Exam, Family Guy, Flannery O'Connor, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, J.D. Salinger, Jeffery Donaldson, John Steinbeck, Joseph Adamson, Long Day's Journey into Night, Moby-Dick, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Raymond Carver, Richard Yates, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, The Gilmore Girls, Tupac Shakur, Twitter, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston
The term is all but over. Classes have ended. The exam period is drawing to a close. McMaster’s English 2H06, American Literature, exam takes place in a few days’ time. It’s been a great year.
We studied sixteen prolific American writers in approximately six months: Poe; Hawthorne; Melville; Thoreau; Whitman; Dickinson; Twain; Frost; Stevens; Faulkner; O’Neill; Cather; Lowell; Bishop; Mamet; Hurston. That’s a staggering list, and yet it only scratches the surface of the rousing and dynamic canon and culture that is American literature. I wish we had had more time to search the art of these writers more. I wish we had had time to consider Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck and and Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor and Richard Yates and J.D. Salinger and Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace. And scores more. But, my God, a year is such a brief period of time.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the professors who led us through such important texts. Dr. Adamson and Dr. Donaldson: thank you. Between September and April I made it to all but two lectures, I kept detailed notes, and much of what ended up on this blog was inspired by something mentioned in lecture – I, like so many of you, attended lectures with devotion in large part because it was clear from the outset that here was thrilling literature taught by equally exciting professors. We should all be very grateful for having had this opportunity to learn from such prominent, careful, and learned scholars as Dr. Adamson and Dr. Donaldson.
And to the Teaching Assistants – Deirdre, Sarah, and Karen – thank you, as well, for your hard work, dedication, and leadership, as well as for nurturing what I understand were exciting and fruitful tutorials.
Thanks, also, to the students of 2H06. Most of you attended class diligently, contributed exciting and provocative ideas to class discussions, and inspired the instructors with your palpable interest in American literature.
From my end, I’ve had a good time keeping up with the challenges of each lecture and I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done on Verba Americana. I only hope this blog has, if even in some minor way, contributed to at least one person’s enjoyment and education of American literature.
This post marks the end of Verba Americana’s association with McMaster as the semi-official blog of English 2H06. As of May 1st, Verba Americana will become my own blog. American literature will remain the focus and I pledge to post at least once a month. As the legalese of Hollywood puts it, the opinions expressed hereafter are solely those of the individual (me) writing and curating this blog.
With that, I bid my final thanks to the professors, TAs, and students of 2H06 for the academic year of 2011/2012. It really has been deeply enjoyable and immensely interesting. Good luck to all of you as you prepare for and then write the final exam. You’re going to do great. Stay until the end. Stay and write until the invigilator steals the exam booklet out from under the fiery pencil clutched in your kung fu grip. Write and then write more. If Moby Dick reminds you of your elusive and menacing geriatric cat, say so. If Whitman came off like a rebellious linguist who should have been featured as a hologram alongside that of Tupac at this year’s Coachella, write it. If such lines as “stammering is the native eloquence of us fog people” seems to you like a warning of the twitterverse to come, a caution against the frenetic 140 character world that today inspires uprisings in places while nurturing self-involved indolence elsewhere, slam that assessment down in your exam essay. Maybe you think the cadence of Mametian dialogue is today copied but effectively bastardized by the likes of The Gilmore Girls or Family Guy, in which case it may be worth making it known in the exam. At the very least, such ideas are more likely to help than hurt. My point is this: once you leave the exam you can’t go back, so stay until the end and analyze, criticize, theorize, rhapsodize until the last possible second. You’ve put a year into this work; don’t skip out on it an hour early. Don’t doubt the value of your original ideas.
Good luck with that which awaits you from this point on. Return and then return again to the great literature we’ve investigated. These stories, like the ocean that swallows the Pequod and all its crew save Ishmael, dwarf us and they will endure long after we’re gone.
“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago” (Melville, Moby-Dick, 624).
(US Flag/Octopus image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/hulk4598/3745143397/in/photostream)
By now it is no secret that I love the visual arts, and love them all the more when they intersect the world of written narrative. I try to include an image with each post. This means I often post photographs, but just as often I post images rendered in paint or other such means/media.
I am, it turns out, a visual learner.
But more than just feeling that the images benefit my learning needs, I feel that the intersection of arts proliferate rich networks of complex conversations with stories and ideas. Remember the interactive map of Moby-Dick I posted on November 6, 2011? Not only is it a thoughtful and detailed educational tool, it’s a inspired piece of art. Similarly Matt Kish’s imposing illustration-per-page imagining of Melville’s opus, which I saw and held in Chapters last week – it’s a car battery of a book: heavyweight and charged with energy. Reminiscing, as I am, about art posted on this blog since September, I must also mention E. McKnight Kauffer’s moody portrait of Poe.
Surprise: I’m intrigued by some stirring images inspired by Huck Finn.
First, the relatively easy-to-digest set: Not one year ago, the British newspaper The Guardian reported on the recent discovery of 37 Huck Finn illustrations by the English artist Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979). Ostensibly, the drawings are simple if not somewhat crude, which, I feel, is part of their appeal; it’s obvious they are the work of a talented artist. The deep shadows, achieved by crosshatching so intricate and layered the texture seems tangible, lends to the earthy feel of Twain’s novel. Take a moment, visit the gallery provided on The Guardian, and browse a few of Ardizzone’s little masterpieces (also here).
Much more recently than Adrizzone are the Huck Finn-inspired vibrant watercolours and wall drawings of Spanish-born painter Santi Moix (b. 1960), who is represented in the US by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York.
The artist’s bio on the Kasmin website states: “Three years after tackling themes and images from the quitessential work of Spanish satirical-heroism, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Santi Moix animates the ultimate allegory of American cultural-heroism, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Moix’s series of watercolors, collages, and wall-drawings transcribe the optimism, color, and vernacular panache of Twain’s characters and prose. They also represent a witty confrontation between the artist and his adopted land; the works on exhibit are the quasi-autobiographical ‘Adventues’ of Santi Moix…Through Huck and his ‘Adventures,’ Santi Moix illustrates the insight central to all great artists and writers: that art is ever-young and never docile.”
Moix’s work is perhaps not as ‘user-friendly’ as the illustrations of Ardizzone. I admit they bear much artistic merit, I like how they are at once dark and almost adolescent, and yet I’m divided by how severely raw and visceral they are. Certainly, Moix’s aesthetic falls somewhere inside of or near to the definition of ‘outsider art’ – the English synonym for what the French call art brut: raw or rough art.
It is exactly the condition of finding Moix’s images repelling by their very raw outsiderness that draws me back to liking them all the more. Who, in Twain’s novel isn’t raw, rough, or crude? Who, if not Huck and Jim, are not outsiders, repellent of most folks they come into contact with? Isn’t that what draws us into the characters? Isn’t that what makes us sympathize with them, a shared feeling of being an outsider just trying to escape certain doom on a raft carried by a hulking river, the currents of which flow with no regard for our well-being? Maybe I’m overstating my case. I think so. Reel me in bit and you get the idea: we are bound together by feelings of alienation; life is a mad river; outsider imagery befits a band of outsiders; we are as dark as we are innocent.
Equally as compelling is Moix’s acid-trip mix of colours and grotesquely-proportioned figures crowding the canvas. Isn’t Twain’s story a trip in itself? (Wow, I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions to state ideas. What’s come over me? Enough!)
So there. You win, Moix.
And there you go, reader. I likes me my art. And I likes me my Huck Finn.
Also, here’s some Huck Finn mood music; Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) playing “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”:
Today is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe!
If he had lived this long, the old boy would blow out 203 candles today.
Born on Carver Street in Boston, Massachusetts, to actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe, Jr., young Edgar was later adopted by Scottish merchant John Allan after David Poe abandoned the family in 1810 and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1811. Though the Allan family never formally adopted Edgar, it is from them that he gets the “Allan” in his name.
A century after Poe’s death, a mysterious tradition was started by an as-yet unidentified person. In the early hours of January 19th every year between 1949 and 2009, someone who came to be known as the Poe Toaster visited the original site of Poe’s burial in Baltimore. In darkness, the mysterious Poe faithful would leave three red roses and a partially consumed bottle of cognac at the grave, then vanish.
His identity has never been revealed or discovered.
Now the tradition of the Poe Toaster is about to be declared as nevermore. The Toaster hasn’t shown for a few years and the loyal group who gather to watch his brief tribute wonder is he has resigned forever.
Likely, the original Toaster’s moment is over, but the tradition will live on as others let the mystery go but adopt the tradition as their own.
Happy Birthday, Eddie Poe. Happy Birthday to You!
Congratulations everyone in 2H06 who wrote the exam on the ninth. I hope the holidays are within view, that you have few or no more exams left to write, and that the holidays find you lounging with loved ones, eating good food, and celebrating traditions that make you feel good to be alive.
If you’re looking for something to do over the break, David Fincher’s much-anticipated adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be released on December 20th. I’m a Fincher fan, in general. Though, over the years, Fight Club has fallen from my favour. But The Game (1997) and Zodiac (2007) remain some of the best films I’ve ever seen.
In his recent review of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, New Yorker magazine film critic David Denby likens the film to Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of ratiocination – “The Purloined Letter” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Comparing Zodiac and Dragon Tattoo, Denby says, “in ‘Zodiac,’ every time a piece of evidence trembles into view, it quickly recedes again. That movie is an expression of philosophical despair: the truth can never be known. ‘Dragon Tattoo’ says the opposite: it celebrates deduction, high-end detective work—what Edgar Allan Poe called “ratiocination.” Everything can be known if you look long and hard enough, especially if you have no scruples about hacking into people’s bank accounts, e-mails, and business records” (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2011/12/12/111212crci_cinema_denby).
Certainly, the character of Lisbeth Salander bears an uncanny likeness to Poe’s Dupin in her appearance as well as her methods – a thin, pale, and nocturnal gothic outsider of preternatural intelligence, who is generally incompatible with mainstream society, abused and cast out if only because she is somehow far superior.
So if you catch Dragon Tattoo over the holidays, turn to the person your with as the credits role, act all stuffy – maybe pull on that Harvard sweatshirt you’ve been saving for a special occasion – and say, “Reminds one of E. A. Poe’s detective fiction. The Dupin stories to be precise. Ratiocination and all that pip. A fair enough renewal of the genre, if I do say.” Now that’s good book learnin’.
(“The Adoration of the Magi” by Rambrandt)
Another worthwhile American literature-related holiday activity is to read a classic short story by the American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), better known by the penname O. Henry. Clocking in at just six pages, “The Gift of the Magi” is an American classic about selflessness during the holidays. It has been reincarnated time and again, but it is nowhere as succinct, charming, and full of emotional punch as in its original, which I’ve attached to this post as a PDF: The Gift of the Magi _ O Henry
And if you find yourself killing time online, check out these fantastic literature blogs by the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and more:
New Yorker’s Book Bench: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books
The Paris Review Daily Blog: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/
Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/tendency
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Arts & Letters Daily: http://www.aldaily.com/
The New York Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/
The New York Daily News brand new books blog: http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews
The Library of America “Story of the Week” Project (Yep – a story a week!): http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/
Have a great holiday. See you in the new year.
Today is the 162nd anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death. Yes, at 5am, while most of us slept peacefully in bed, the moment crept by when Poe finally said, “Lord, help my poor soul,” and then died.
And as Hollywood would have it, this landmark day now doubles (!) as the premiere of the trailer for James McTeigue’s upcoming film The Raven, starring John Cusack as Poe, or as I’d like to call it, Poe: Really Super Detective Guy, starring John Cusack as Robert Downey Jr as John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe. Enjoy:
When he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium 162 years ago today, it was the beginning of the end for Poe. He died in hospital four days later. Uncanny, then, that we concluded the Poe portion of lecture today. A partially mystical coincidence, perhaps, meaningful if only because it concurs with, or reveals, a pattern of events amid the heterogeneity that makes up life, which Poe would have liked.
The painting above is by an artist named E. McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954). More work of and inspired by Poe, by Kauffer, here: http://50watts.com/#1614949/E-McKnight-Kauffer-s-Poe-illustrations
Other Poe-inspired illustrations, by Harry Clarke (1889-1931), and in particular a striking illustration of the murder scene from “Murders in the Rue Morgue” about halfway down, here: http://50watts.com/#1125163/Harry-Clarke-Illustrations-for-E-A-Poe
More Poe illustrations by Clarke: http://50watts.com/#1127060/Harry-Clarke-Poe-decorations; and some in colour: http://50watts.com/#1127108/Harry-Clarke-Poe-in-color.
Next, we read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and “The May-Pole of Merry Mount.”
For fans of AMC’s Mad Men, here’s a scene from the show featuring the tradition of the May-Pole, in all its WASP-y glory, as well as Don Draper getting all nostalgic and stare-y, as usual. We, of course, confront the tradition of the May-Pole in Hawthorne’s “The May-Pole if Merry Mount.”
Here are a few links to aid your understanding of the Poe texts discussed in lecture and the theoretical contexts/languages that Dr. Adamson has been using to expand and also specialize our understanding of the stories.
On Jung’s archetypes of Anima and Animus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anima_and_animus
On the Id, Ego, and the Superego: http://allpsych.com/psychology101/ego.html
The arabesque in Poe signals an upward movement towards the eternal, the infinite, the spiritual.
The grotesque (“the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting”) is essentially the same thing in perhaps a different key: both are adornments for cathedrals and mosques, and so suggest this ascending movement to the unity of the eternal through combining and uniting very diverse and incongruous images.
– Dr. J. Adamson
Wikipedia entry on “Arabesque”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabesque_(Islamic_art)
Wikipedia entry on “Grotesque”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grotesque
Originally posted by Joseph Adamson on January 10th, 2010 at http://fryeblog.blog.lib.mcmaster.ca/2010/01/10/the-doubled-heroine-device-or-betty-and-veronica/
In response to the “virginity” thread started by Jonathan Allan’s post, I think it wrong to suggest that Frye himself has gendered virginity: he is simply describing what he finds in literature, and he is obviously well aware of the value put on virginity as a commodity in a patriarchal culture, as his allusion to the danger of losing one’s bargaining position indicates. In romance this aspect of virginity is naturally enough prominent because the female protagonist is headed for marriage and must keep herself intact for Mr Right. As Frye says, the G-string comes off last. This can mean not just outwitting pirates and other villains but also keeping her true love, when he acts like a pirate himself (as in Pamela and Jane Eyre), from treating her as a slave or social inferior and trying to take her virginity before he has married her. But this is precisely what makes virginity a structural principle in romance, as the heroine uses her wiles to escape, survive, and attain sexual union with the right man at the end of the story. This is all of course discussed in The Secular Scripture.
Where virginity comes to take on another dimension is the point of the epigraph from Frye that Bob used in his post: “virgnity means a transcending of sex.” Jonathan Allen commented in this regard on the device of the two heroines, quoting the pertinent passage from The Secular Scripture: “the virgin who marries at the end of the story, we saw, represents the structural principle of the cycle and accommodation of it. The virgin who is sacrificed, or escapes sacrifice and remains a virgin, similarly symbolizes the other principle, the separation or polarizing of action into two worlds, one desirable and the other detestable” (83; CW XVIII: 56).
The two heroines can also represent what Frye calls the two cadences or “creative moods” of romance, the comic and the tragic or romantic, the social and the withdrawn, the world of ritual and the world of dream. The device is, in general terms, part of the general structure of doubling in descent narratives, a milder form of the doubling that you get in a tale like Poe’s William Wilson. An important prototype is Milton’s two muses in L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, the one sociable and light-hearted, the other withdrawn and pensive.
Scott used the device in several of his novels and brought it into into popular use in the nineteenth century where it is all but ubiquitous, at least in the Anglo-American tradition; it does not seem, as far as I can tell, to have the same prevalence on the Continent. Stendhal–an early and avid reader of Scott–uses a version of the device in his two great novels, The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma: Julien Sorel is torn between the withdrawn and pensive Louise de Renal and the more political and theatrical Mathilde de la Mole; Fabrice del Dongo is torn between his socially adept and politically astute aunt, Gina Sanseverina, and the withdrawn and melancholic Clelia Conti.
The device is now known in my classes, thanks to a student wit, as the Betty-and-Veronica device. By the way, I was told by the same young woman that the problem of the two heroines is beautifully solved in the Archie comics: in a recent issue of the comic book Archie marries both of them, thanks to the possible futures of Borges’s garden of forking paths.
A romance device, the doubled heroine is a central structural principle in realist novels as well: George Eliot uses it in a number of her novels: Lucy Deane and Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss (where the device itself is a meta-fictional theme in the novel: Maggie says she cannot finish novels in which the “dark unhappy ones” are doomed from the beginning); Dorothea Brooke and Rosamund Vincy inMiddlemarch; and Gwendolyn Harleth and Mirah Cohen in Daniel Deronda. The latter breaks with the tradition, which goes back to Scott and the two heroines of Ivanhoe, by having the hero marry the dark Jewish heroine, the Rebecca figure, and reject the Rowena figure, Gwendolyn. As Russell Perkin noted in a previous post, there is a good example of it in Mad Men: Don Draper is torn between his uptight conventional blond wife, Betty, and the dark and alluring Jewish businesswomen, Rachel Menken.
There are of course male versions of the same thing (Wuthering Heights and Gone with The Wind being obvious examples), and Frye even gives an example of an unhappy male virgin who is sacrificed: “the martyrdom of Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities.”
The device, which is first briefly discussed in Anatomy, is one of those conventions that Frye draws attention to as part of a much larger argument, but which is really worth a book-long study in its own right. I wonder, Jonathan, if your “virginity” project might not be turned more fruitfully in the direction of the doubled heroine convention itself.