Literary Criticism

This site contains my work during the course of English 300 at Montana State University-Bozeman in the Autumn of 2004.


I am a senior at Montana State University working for a degree in history with a teaching option and also a minor in English. Currently I am working with the students at Bridger Alternative here in town and I am loving every minute of it. I can't wait to get out into the field and teach.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Yet another Text that Consoles Me

I have recently been introduced to the poem by Wallace Stevens: Sunday Morning. This poem has so touched me that I only wish I had known it last spring to take full comfort in it because of the death of my Grandma. I have since mostly recovered but when I read this poem it makes me feel so much better and so I had to put it up on this site:
Sunday Morning
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels in the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.
She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.
She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers, waiting, sleeplessly.
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb of Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

The Second Seven Days of Class

September 23, 2004

  • Today we started off with some brief definitions, as we were discussing the Sublime as written by Longinus. We went over:
  • Misprision: made a mistake, to read something in a wrong way
  • Sublime: lofty, noble, reverence, elevation, transport, goes beyond the beautiful, awe (I already have a journal entry on what I think is sublime if you would like to read it below.)
  • Liminal: on the periphery of existence
  • Ecstasy: ec=outside stas=stand together they mean "stand outside yourself"
  • awful: full of awe (funny how terms change for what they mean...)
  • The FIVE POINTS OF THE SUBLIME ARE: noble feeling and a lofty mind (which are interior) and figures of speech, diction, and word study (which are exterior)
  • Plato had anxiety of influence-he hated Homer because he loved Homer while Aristotle liked literature representative of human nature that is "just right". Aristotle's tragedy was Oedipus because the play was done cleanly, efficiently, and organically and is very serious, it doesn't have any loose ends.
  • Aristotle also suggests that Oedipus is universal: a story of the human resource and yet a perfection of a work of art
  • Oedipus can be likened to Luke Skywalker and Superman
  • To have time lapses destroys three things: unity of action, unity of time and unity of effect

September 28, 2004

  • Stories and Poetry may discuss horrific events, the reader should check for historical accuracy because the events may truly have happened and the author wants the public to know what happened. (This is why I love being a history major!)
  • Classical Tragedy will make an imprint on your mind. (This is true, has anybody seen Ladder 49 yet?
  • Plato would want scenes like Oedipus gouging out his eyes censored because it is a bad influence on society while Aristotle saw it as a Catharsis; it is absolutly essential for us to see them so that we may be educated by them.
  • "We are not moved by someone who only has a few inches to fall but rather those that have a long way to fall." -Dr. M. Sexson
  • Again, referring to the above, it illustrates what happens in Ladder 49.
  • Things are censored because the censors feel that the material has no contribution to social construction.
  • The job of the poet is to not represent the particular but the universal, (they say the particulars are up to us historians and philosophers.)
  • Plato likes the book to end happily (just like me!) while Aristotle likes the worst possible situation for the true tragedy to end. (Oedipus).
  • The artist understands that every part of the text is important though tragic (no happy endings :P) because Tragedy is a supreme work of art because crying and fear cleanse a person (Catharsis).
  • DEUS EX MACHIUS: the main characters are in situations they cannot get out of but a miraculous means of solving the problem comes about. (Kind of like MacGyver episodes, somehow a rubberband and a banana peel could solve any problem...just kidding.)
  • Four Levels of reading according to Dante: 1.) literal interpretation 2.) allegorical 3.)moral 4.) anagogical

September 30, 2004

Today I had a migraine and could not make it to class, but I'm sure other students have their notes posted to check theirs. Soon I will figure out how to create links to allow access to the other students websites.

October 05, 2004

Today we discussed mostly out of our anthology and so I don't have as many notes except for important page numbers with authors by them and consequently I don't have my book with me, so for now listing page numbers will have to do until I can come back and correct this matter.

  • Sir Phillip Sidney pgs. 362, 330 (dresses nature up-poet idealizes the world) pgs. 333, and 334-35 (historians and philosophers are boring) I think I might take this as a personal offence... and p. 348 (the poet never affirms anything)
  • Samuel Johnson p. 466 (poetry is the highest learning) p. 467 (general truth)
  • Romantics-beauty is all you need to appreciate the world. p. 676 Coleridge

October 07, 2004

Today we reviewed material that would be found on the test, but since I'm writing this after we've taken the test, I have already thrown out that material, much apologies for this.

October 12, 2004

Test taking day!

October 14, 2004

Today we had a brief discussion about our tests and how we thought they were too difficult, Dr. Sexson allowed us to remove ten questions that most of us missed and we also graded them in this process. It wasn't pretty. Other than that we did discuss:

  • Plato saw Sophists around him-those that could debate with him over issues.
  • "Sweetness and Light" by Matthew Arnold
  • The candidates for the National Book Award this year are all female!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Catharsis, also known as Cleansing of Emotions

Catharsis: a cleansing of the spirit, getting it out of your system.
When we were first given the assignment of finding a piece of literature that made you cry, I had a hard time, because normally I'm the kind of person who looks for the comedy or the story with the happy ending. YES! I am one of these people who avoid the tragedy sections! YES! I know that they are probably very good stories (until the ending). But after a hard week of school, homework, work and every other possible stressful thing, I need that happy ending to relieve tension and make life better. So this assignment was hard for a person like me who doesn't like tragedy and instead RUNS for the comedy section. Then along came this movie. The previews made it look like such a good action flick with lots of men running around to put out fires plus it looked like a solid movie; and it was, and then the ending appeared. But before I discuss the ending, I would like the audience to know that I am talking about the film Ladder 49 so if you have not seen it, you may not want to read about the movie; just a forewarning. Anyway, the movie has the classic tragic ending (which is really sad and it should have ended happily). The film itself shows a young firefighter: Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) and how he succeeds in becoming a firefighter, a husband and the father of two children (a boy and a girl of course). Yet it also shows one of his colleagues die in a fire, and it shows another having his face practically steamed off. Yet all that they are showing are memories as he moves in and out of conscious, as he was in a factory on the 12th floor rescuing people when the floor collapsed and he fell a story below. The action is that the fire continues to rage around him as passes in and out of this state of limbo. While he's conscious, he talks to his fellow firefighters on the outside and on the inside as they attempt to figure out where he has fallen. At this point, the viewer knows that there is a good chance that they will be able to get him out of there because while he's unconscious and running through his memories, the viewer gets close to the main character and hopes the best for him. Then the cliffhanger: Jack is told to make it to the Control Room in the center of the building, and his colleagues will be able to open an access door to the room that separates them. His colleagues attempt to open the door, and the room has virtually exploded with fire, there is no way for them to get to Jack, meanwhile he makes it into the Control Room and sees the other room through the window and knows that it would be impossible for them to save him. He then radios his captain: Mike (John Travolta) and tells him to call off the search and to tell his wife that he loves her. There was not a dry eye in the house when the movie ended. Guys were wiping their eyes with their coat sleeves so that their significant others wouldn't see that they had teared up while the girls, (myself included) bawled openly. This was certainly an excellent movie, even though I think he should have lived at the end, but that is just my craving for the happy ending. I suppose we have to have tragedy as well. ;o) I highly recommend to anyone to go and see Ladder 49; it's the best movie I've seen in a long time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

From Walter Benjamin HIMSELF!

"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in our struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement is that the things we are experiencing are 'still' possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge--unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable."
--Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," (Spring 1940) trans. Harry Zohn
This quote by my literary personality has impressed the real me in the sense that I am a History major and that I completely agree with his theses. History needs to be learned by the masses in order for our past mistakes to not be repeated. We need to learn from our history, otherwise it is a repetitive, vicious cycle that would not exist if we only took heed. History is extremely important, and this is why I look forward to teaching it and using literature to demonstrate the effects it had on society. (This is why I have the English minor.)