Summative Entry

American Literature helps me to expand the boundaries of my own experience.

At the beginning of this semester, I was curious as to what this unit would hold for me. I had never studied American literature before, except for a few American poets here and there in school like T.S. Eliot. That was my sum knowledge of American literature before starting this unit this semester so I had absolutely no idea what I was going to come across in this unit. I travelled to New York in 2015 at the conclusion of my HSC and I based my opinions of the American people from my experience there. I found them to be egotistical, arrogant, self-righteous and ignorant – a very ungenerous view but that was my impression. I was expecting something similar of these characteristics in this American literature unit.

How wrong I was. I was very much shocked, overwhelmed, inspired and delighted by what I discovered!

First, we looked at Native American literature and I loved what I was reading (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/first-blog/) . The spirituality and passion of the Native Americans is so like that of the Indigenous Australians’ and how fondly and respectfully they spoke of the land gave me inspiration to consider the land my feet walked upon and regard it in a higher manner. Secondly, we looked at transcendentalism and the works of Emerson and Thoreau (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/second-blog-2/). I was expecting transcendentalism to be some boring, intellectual spiel about nature and how superior nature is to the manmade world – nothing I hadn’t heard before. I was somewhat right – it is an intellectual topic about how much better the natural world is to the manmade world but it wasn’t boring at all! It was in this topic that I came across Emerson’s eyeball and found that transcendentalism actually makes complete sense: if you take a step back from what we think we know of the world, we see how much more there is to it and how much more the world has to offer. The Native Americans and transcendentalism have helped me expand my boundaries by helping me see that there is more the world has to offer than just what I currently know of it.

Thirdly, we looked at Walt Whitman and his wonderful, magical mastery of the English language (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/third-blog-2/). Whitman’s writing has a way of making you feel such deep and powerful emotion with just a rhyming couplet or the tone he sets within each stanza. I wasn’t sure literature could make me feel the depth of emotion that Whitman did. Next, we looked at Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What a novel that is! (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/03/fourth-blog-2/). The depth of emotion that Huck Finn shows and the passion that Jim shows throughout the novel also inspires me to live my life with more passion and to see that there is more to life than what I know. The journey that Huck embarks on throughout the novel parallels what I’ve been feeling this semester: there is so much more to life than what you thought you knew and to not let other people’s perceptions or judgements of the world influence your own.

Next, we looked at African American writing and that was definitely an eye-opener (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/fifth-blog-2/). We all know about the atrocities and horrors that have been inflicted upon black Americans throughout history by way of books, images and news reports. But the literature, especially James Baldwin’s, is so vivid that the pictures he is painting with his words come to life before your very eyes and it is wonderful and so confronting in equal measure. I don’t think I’ve ever been so awestruck and disgusted by a piece of literature before in my life; I daresay Baldwin’s writing will live with me for the rest of my life. We also studied Robert Frost and Robert Lowell – the two “Roberts”. I found Lowell’s work particularly struck a chord with me as he spoke of the ever-changing world and how amazing and devastating progress can be (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/sixth-blog-2/). As we move forward in life and as the world constantly progresses, we are becoming more and more like slaves to technology and laziness and I think that is so relevant in the 21st century.

We also studied modernism in this unit and this is something I thought I knew a little bit about, as I had done a bit of this in high school but I actually learned that there is so much more to the modernist writers; T.S. Eliot, especially. His writings about the power of words and silence and the effects had a huge impact on me and I couldn’t help but agree with Eliot on that matter. His further analogy with a Chinese jar only strengthens his argument that words and silence are very powerful tools indeed (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/seventh-blog-2/). Next came the formidable William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying must be one of the most complex, brilliant stories I have ever read. The human heart and spirit in turmoil is such a relatable topic that you can’t help but become enthralled and intrigued by the story and its characters. His Nobel Prize speech further hammered home this great concept of the human heart in conflict with itself and the human spirit at war with itself (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/eighth-blog-2/).

Finally, we studied the Beats Generation and that was a freshening and delightful experience! The frankness and brutal honesty of these writers took my breath away and I almost laughed out loud at Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” and “Footnote to Howl”! It was so refreshing to read Ginsberg’s works and his all-inclusive language makes for a most colourful reading experience (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/ninth-blog-3/). American literature has definitely helped me expand the boundaries of my own experience. It has helped me see that there is so much more to life than just what I presently know and have been taught. Sometimes, expanding your boundaries means taking a step back to get a more objective view of the world and see it from other people’s perspective, before making your own final judgement. Far from my original assessment of the Americans and their literature, I have found them to be a most imaginative, illuminating and entertaining bunch of writers.

LINKS TO MY BLOGS:

Creative Blogs: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/creative-blogs-2/

Best Creative Blog: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/american-literature/best-creative-blog-american-literature/

Critical Blogs: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/critical-blogs-2/

Best Critical Blog: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/american-literature/best-critical-blog-american-literature/

Peer Reviews: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/peer-reviews-2/

Summative Entry: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/american-literature/summative-entry-american-literature/

 

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Eighth Peer Review

Alex Poeder – https://alexlouisesite.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/blog-9/comment-page-1/#comment-12

“Hi Alex,
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your first sentence about the human heart at conflict with itself being “the most complex, interesting, relatable aspect of the human condition”. Everyone has been at war with themselves at one point in their lives and it’s so much harder to do battle with yourself than with another person. I really like how you’ve elaborated on this point a little further, relating it to internal conflict and then linking that in with Faulkner’s work, with the example of Cash – well done! Just one thing I picked up on: double check and proof read your work before publishing it, I noticed a couple of spelling mistakes: “apsect” = aspect, “interal” – internal 🙂”

Ninth Blog

TASK: From today’s massive, subversive and powerfully creative world of the Beats and beyond, which artist and/or writer inspired you most?

The Beats Generation and New York School was an unknown topic to me before I started studying this unit. I had heard of writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg but I had only heard of them in passing; I hadn’t read nor studied any of their works. However, when I was introduced to them, I was blown away by their use of language, the messages they were conveying and, most importantly, the authenticity and freshness of their words! One writer in particular stands out: Allen Ginsberg.

Never have I ever come across a writer so genuine and direct as Ginsberg. I’ve studied literature all throughout school and university, so I’ve come across my fair share of writers, but none like Ginsberg. In “A Supermarket in California”, Ginsberg addresses Walt Whitman and, to me, he is lamenting the loss of Whitman’s vision for what the world should like and what Whitman’s own world looked like. His frankness and imagery of Charon the boatman when he says “… what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?” conveys the despair Ginsberg feels for Whitman as the vision of the ideal America has not come to fruition.

In “Footnote to Howl”, it’s incredible how free Ginsberg is with his language and it’s clear how Ginsberg became so infamous for his blunt honesty in his work. I had to seriously restrain myself from laughing out loud while reading this particular piece of work because I’ve honestly never read anything quite like it! He describes everything from skin and body parts to various people to various sounds and places and everything in-between. He leaves nothing out and describes everything as holy. This makes me inclined to believe that Ginsberg had a fair amount of spirituality to him and he believed in a higher power. I believe him to be saying that everything has a purpose and everything has a reason for existing, otherwise why would they be here at all? Why would they even exist at all?

Seventh Peer Review

Helena Citroni – https://helenacitroni.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/week-8-american-literature/comment-page-1/#comment-34

“Hi Helena,
I’m in complete agreement with you when you say that there is an immense sadness to Cash’s character and it’s heartbreaking to read about his pain. I also love that you hone in on the hidden messages in the words and read in between the lines because there is so much about Cash that is unsaid, maybe more than what is said. I also think that you’re so right when you say that carpentry and crafting things is Cash’s way of coping with his mother’s death and I love that extra bit you wrote that creating the loveliest and nicest coffin is his way showing his mother how much he cares – that is so poignant. What an emotive post, well done!! 🙂”

Eighth Blog

TASK: How do you understand Faulkner’s extraordinary statement in his Nobel Prize speech “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself … alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat”?

I understand Faulkner’s statement to mean that humanity and the human spirit is a very complex concept and is a highly interesting subject to write about. Just before this particular bit in Faulkner’s speech, he says that young people writing today have forgotten about this and how engaging it can be to read.

The human heart in conflict is something that everyone on earth, alive or dead, can relate to in some way, shape or form whether it’s through heartbreak, loss, disappointment, betrayal, love or any other human emotion. When Faulkner says only the human heart in conflict is the only thing “worth writing about”, I believe he means that it is something anyone can write about. You don’t need great skill or mastery over the English language (or any language for that matter) to effectively convey what it’s like for someone to be in pain over anything, whether it be physical, mental or emotional.

Writing about something that absolutely everybody in the world can relate to, writing characters whose shoes everybody in the world can walk around in, writing about situations that everybody has experienced is worth the agony and the blood, sweat and tears because the end result will be something that audiences can relate to and love. I think Faulkner’s key point here is perfection doesn’t always happen in real life – it practically never happens – and it’s important for other art forms, including literature, to remember that and write about non-perfect, flawed, human characters. And, most importantly, all the work, time and effort that goes into writing these human characters and stories will be so worth it in the end.

faulkner-nobel

William Faulkner receiving his Nobel Prize in literature. Image from: http://www.openculture.com/2013/05/7_nobel_speeches_by_7_great_writers.html

Sixth Peer Review

Charles Lilienthal – https://americanliterature634.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/week-8-creative-blog/comment-page-1/#comment-6

“Hi Charles,
This is a great post, it’s full of wonderful detailed analysis and it’s very thorough and well thought out – well done! I’m in complete agreement with your analysis here and your closing remarks: there’s nothing wrong with the future and embracing modernism but we can’t let it consume us and neither can we let it change who we are or make us forget who we are. Great work!”

Seventh Blog

TASK: Select the one modernist poem or text that you found spoke to you most directly. Quote the text and tell us how the text moved you.

The modernist poem that most affected me was “Burnt Norton” by T.S. Eliot. The stanza that most stood out to me was the fifth stanza because it talks about the importance of words and how they can have such a huge impact if you only let them.

When Eliot writes, “Words, after speech, reach into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern, can words or music reach the stillness, as a Chinese jar moves perpetually in its stillness”. This particular part of the text moved me because it talks about the impact that words can have on us, whether they be kind and encouraging words, or words that are meant to scare us and put the fear of God into us. Eliot basically says that, after they are spoken, words still linger in the silence that follows. The silence can be the other person formulating a response to what was just said or letting the words sink in or just thinking about what the words mean and what message they are supposed to convey.

Eliot uses a wonderful analogy next of a Chinese jar and he says that a Chinese jar is an inanimate object and, therefore, doesn’t move or talk or do anything meaningful but it can still mean something to someone and make an impact on them, if only they let it and take their time to ponder it. Eliot compares words to a Chinese jar and implores his audience to also, like the Chinese jar, let words have an impact on people like art does.

Fifth Peer Review

Danielle Gatt – https://daniellegattlit.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/fire-and-ice/comment-page-1/#comment-76

“Hi Danielle,
This is a very thoughtful post with some very good ideas supporting it, good work! 🙂
I am in complete agreement with you when you say that poetry is a journey and it’s open to interpretation; everyone has a different experience reading poetry and that lets them make their own unique journey. Your concluding remark also follows this point nicely when you say that what you learn from poetry isn’t always clear. And your last sentence is gold: “much like life itself, poetry -and the wisdom it may bring about- is not always presented on a silver platter.” – genius!!”

Sixth Blog

TASK: Write a letter to either Robert Frost or Robert Lowell and tell them about one of their poems that has had a real impact on you.

Dear Mr. Lowell,

I’m writing to you to tell you of my newfound appreciation and respect for your work, especially your poem “For the Union Dead”. It took me a few reads to fully process the words and your meaning behind them but once I started to comprehend it, I was aghast at the message you were trying to convey. At first, I got very confused at the constant references to an “aquarium” and various marine references but then I honed in on one sentence particularly: “he waits for the blessed break”. I was wondering what that break would be so I began to think a bit deeper…

I think you might mean a break from slavery altogether. Not just in the typical sense of having other people – who society and history deem to be of a lesser status than the rest of us for no good reason – do our chores and dirty work for us, but also in the sense that everyone, no matter what walk of life you come from, is becoming more and more a slave to laziness and our most materialistic desires. You frequently make references to cars and machinery – maybe a hint as to the sign of the times? I think you intended this poem to be a wake up call for us as the world “slides by on grease” – I believe this to be another hint that the natural world around us is fading and the manmade world is taking over. Cars, machines and technology are now our slaves and are consuming us as we can make them do almost whatever we want whenever we want.

You wrote the word “servility” in the poem and this means to be like a slave, to be willing to serve and to be completely dependent on others’ wills. I think that’s a very fitting word for what you are trying to warn us of and what we need to be aware of: to not become slaves to our materialistic desires and, ultimately, the promise of an easy life with nothing natural and no hard work required.

You have written a most profound poem, sir, and I heartily commend your work here!

Felicity McManus

Fourth Peer Review

Christella Bade – https://christellabade.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/blog-5-american-literature/comment-page-1/#comment-31

“Hi Christella,
I absolutely love your post this week. I love how detailed your letter is, and how you justify feeling the way you do about “Going to Meet the Man”. I did the same topic myself and I feel exactly the same way you do. Your writing is so eloquent and makes reading your blog so much easier. Well done! 🙂

Just one tiny thing: may I suggest proof-reading your work more than once before you publish it? At the very beginning of your blog this week, when you’re introducing the topic, you wrote “lat” instead of “last”. Otherwise, you’ve done such a wonderful job and I look forward to reading more of your work in the coming weeks!”