Saturday, December 12, 2009

Centennial Commencement: Part Two

Former Oklahoma Governor George Nigh gave the commencement address at the second Centennial Commencement this year--the first presided over by new ECU President John R. Hargrave. Nigh, who graduated from ECU in 1950 (he was a cheerleader during his undergraduate days), shared five favorite quotes with graduates:
1) "I don't want to drive through life looking in the rearview mirror."
2) "Don't set your goals too low; you might achieve them."
3) "Perfection is a goal; excellence is OK."
4) "It's more important to know why that's the answer than to know that's the answer."
5) "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." (from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address)

Governor Nigh also offered graduates these bits of advice:
1) "Knowledge is what you remember after you've forgotten what you've memorized."
2) "If you don't know where you're going, you're liable to get there."
3) "It's nice to be important; it's more important to be nice."
4) "The most flammable piece of wood is the chip on your shoulder."

Four English majors were listed in the program as candidates for Bachelor's Degrees: Amanda Beth James Dill, Tommy Preston Hammons, Kasey Nicole McKinzie, and Crystal Gale Walk.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hear ECU English Prof Make Beautiful Music with This Guy

The Oklahoma Community Orchestra (with whom ECU's own Dr. Kevin Davis plays) and guest violinist Kyle Dillingham (that's Mr. Dillingham on the left) will be premiering a new work by Edmond composer Callen Clarke at their concert on Tuesday, November 17th.

The work commemorates the 500th anniversary of the launching of the war ship Mary Rose; representatives and artifacts from the ship’s historic trust will be in attendance, as will several dignitaries including former Governor George Nigh, who will be hosting the event.

Tickets are only $10. For more information, click here.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Poetry from our Russian Friends

Thanks for the recommendation, Dr. Sukholutskaya (and Dr. Hada)!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Avoid Mind Fester!

For those of you who are worried about letting your mind fester over the Winter Break, or who simply want to learn more about the comic book form (and its relationship to literature, art, theory, semiotics, etc.), it's not too late to sign up for Humanities 4983: Comic Books as Literature. The schedule and books are listed below so you can better imagine yourself taking the course. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Josh Grasso. And thank you for those who have already signed up--he looks forward to seeing you in a month! Also, the flyer is attached to remind you of the dates and the questions that will be explored in class.

W 16 Introduction to Graphic Novels
T 17 Spiegelman,Maus I

M 21 Spiegelman, Maus II
T 22 Satrapi, Persepolis I
W 23 Film: Persepolis I

M 28 Gaiman, Coraline
T 29 Moore, Watchmen
W 30 Moore, Watchmen R 31 Oral Presentations

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

See The Mission

The World Religion and Thought class will be viewing The Mission, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, Tuesday, November 10, 8-10 pm. in the ESTEP Center in University Center. This is required viewing for the class, but others interested in viewing this excellent film are welcome to attend with us.

In addition to the incredible cinematography, the historically-based story demonstrates the intersection of Jesuits and indigenous religion in the Amazon jungle in the 17th century. Many themes relevant to the study of religion, culture and politics, (both from historical and contemporary viewpoints) are powerfully on display in this film.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Taylor Mali!

The Oklahoma Literary Arts Festival presents Taylor Mali
November 5, 2009
in the Dorothy Summers Theatre
This performance is free & open to the public.

Mali is generally considered to be the most successful poetry slam strategist of all time, having won the National Poetry Slam a record four times. He was also one of the original poets on HBO's Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry. And since June of 2000, when he said goodbye to his last sixth grade homeroom class, Mali has made a living as a poet, traveling the country and the world, reciting, reading, teaching and lecturing about poetry.

For more on Mali, go to
For more on OLAF and the Scissortail Arts Series, go to

Monday, November 2, 2009

Enter the Gen Hum / Comp II Matrix

Need a ENG 1213 and a G-1 Humanities elective? Consider taking Dr. McMahon's ENG 1213/HUM 2413 combination course. Students must co-enroll in the courses for a total of 6 hrs and completion of 2 general education requirements.

Though some of you may be reluctant to enroll because of the co-enrollment requirement, Dr. McMahon says you "need not fear. The HUM 2613 class introduces students to major figures and issues in philosophy through the medium of film. Films that we will consider include (but are not limited to): The Matrix, Total Recall, The Butterfly Effect, Minority Report, Gone Baby Gone, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We will consider how these films explore philosophic topics such as personal identity, moral obligation, intellectual certainty, and the nature of reality. In the ENG 1213 class that is linked to HUM 2613, students will develop their skills in writing, critical analysis of literary and visual sources, and library research. They will be required to complete several critical (argumentative) essays focused upon works and themes addressed in the HUM 2613 class. Their essays will be expected to utilize both primary and secondary source materials.

Waitenale Glasses!

Hugh Tribbey's new chapbook Waitinale Glasses is now available from chalk editions.

Click here for details.

"There’s not a normal poem in the whole collection," says the author.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Learn about "The Tulsa School": Nov. 5-7

Join us Nov 5-7 for a conference on “The Tulsa School,” a group of four poets and artists from Tulsa who traveled to New York City in the early 1960s and became part of the internationally acclaimed “New York School.” The conference will bring the two surviving members of the group, Ron Padgett and Dick Gallup, back to Tulsa for a weekend of scholarly panels, roundtable discussions, and poetry readings. Also featured as key participants will be the family of Ted Berrigan the eldest and erstwhile leader of the “Tulsa School.” (That's Berrigan on the far right in the photo at left, taken in 1969 with Allen Ginsberg.) His sons Edmund and Anselm and wife Alice Notley are renowned poets and are editors of The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan. The conference will gather over 30 participants from all over the world to discuss Tulsa’s role in this influential movement and period.

Start Time:
Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 6:25pm

End Time:
Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 9:30pm

University of Tulsa campus & Downtown Doubletree Hotel
616 W. 7th St.
Tulsa, OK


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Klingon Love!

Avant garde Oklahoma poet Hugh Tribbey will be reading on the TU campus, bringing his blend of surrealism, word play, and Klingon love to Tulsa. The reading will be held in Zink Hall in the seminar room. Call if you need directions. 809-1268. Don't miss it!

Thursday, October 22, 2009
7:00pm - 10:00pm

Zink Hall, Room 354
University of Tulsa Campus
3101 E. 7th St.
Tulsa, OK

*If you missed the reading, you may well gnash your teeth with regret when you read the following list of poems that Dr. Tribbey read:
“Or Ful Rust #1,” “Or Ful Rust #2,” “Logolatry,” “Hears Numbers and Names,” “A Maddening Share,” “Psalm 53 Meets Burning Chrome,” “J3SOPOZ,” “Easy is the Dawn,” “Gandhi the Swedish Chef,” “Strategic Fisticuffs,” “Opinion of the Interior Paramour,” “Opium of the Interim Paralysis,” “ ‘OY’ GHOPDAP QOS” [Post Neo-Absurdist Klingon], “Googolism for Through,” “Only One Danger (A Mini-Rant),” “Green People: The Great Monsanto Conspiracy,” “Roguery Hogsheads,” and “B-Movie Benzedrine.”

Friday, October 2, 2009


Excerpt from The History Boys: The Film (Screenplay by Alan Bennett and Nicolas Hytner, adapted from the original stage play by Alan Bennet; New York: Faber and Faber, 2006).

Mrs Lintott (played by Francis de la Tour--that's de la Tour above on the right)

" . . . One of the hardest things for [students] to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them."


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

STD Screening

Sigma Tau Delta will be screening the film, The History Boys at 2pm on Friday for its October meeting. Come join us at the Tiger Cinema for this thought-provoking (and somewhat unsettling) film and stay for the discussion at 3:50. Remember, any English major, or for that matter, anyone with any interest in literature, film, writing, or critical thinking is more than welcome!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Originals: A Public Reading

The Originals staff will be hosting a public reading, Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6:00 p.m. in the University Center. We are conducting the session to promote Originals. Please consider reading a favorite work or one of your own. Let me know if you are interested. Snacks will be provided.

The Decline of the English Department: How it happened and what could be done to reverse it

"During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons—the many reasons—for what has happened."

To read the rest of this essay by William M. Chace [that's Chace on the left]--which is in the Autumn 2009 issue of The American Scholar (the magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society)--click here.

Thanks for the rec, Dr. Grasso!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Free GRE Practice!

Click here for details.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

STD: Experience it!

This Schoolyear’s First Meeting of the ECU Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society will be held this Friday, September 4, 2009 at 2 o’clock p.m.

Where: The Tower Room on the 2nd floor of the University Center
Where is the Tower Room? That’s the room with the windows, east (left) of the Wellness Center(and if it’s too crowded or hot, we’ll go to the Governor’s Room in the University Center)

Who Will Be There? Sigma Tau Delta Sponsors--Drs. Joshua Grasso and Steve Benton--and Whoever Else Answers the Call

Who Should Answer the Call? ECU Students Interested in Discussing Books, Articles, Poetry, Films and Related Ideas in a Casual, Unstructured Environment

Do I Have I to Be a Member or an English Major to Attend the Meeting? No

What Will The Agenda Be at This First Meeting? Blowing Minds

Sugarmule Wants You

This just in from Sugar Mule literary magazine:

"We invite all writers currently living in Oklahoma to submit to this special issue of Sugar Mule; all genres are solicited. Only writers who are current residents of Oklahoma may submit. While the editor does not require that Oklahoma is topic or theme of the writing (the editor wishes to encourage experimental submissions), she will admit to a bias for stories, poems, and essays that capture the near-ineffable oddness and beauty and pain of living in the State. All work submitted will be considered for the Sugar Mule Oklahoma Special Edition (February 2010); Mongrel Empire Press, in partnership with Sugar Mule, is also planning an expanded, print edition and all submissions will be considered for the print edition as well.

Please read the complete submission guidelines before submitting: click here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poetry! Poetry! Chickasha September 3--HughTribbey to read!

Poetry Reading—Chickasha, OK

Bring a Poem, or not—Hear the Featured Poet—Read Your Own or a Favorite
Have some Fun!

Downtown Chickasha!

Thursday, September 3, 7:00 p.m. until the Fun Ends

Odd Fellows Music Hall
118 South 4th Street
(4th Street = Highway 81, Between Kansas and Chickasha Avenues)
(On the west side with the big red star on the front—parking behind)

Featured Poet: Hugh Tribbey

Hugh Tribbey’s poetry has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Peter Ganick’s Archive Project, Spaltung, We, Moria, Apocryphal Text, Crash-Test, 5-Trope, Aught, xStream, Lost and Found Times, and Eratio. He is the author of three collections of poetry: Finish Your Sentence, Juvjula Detours, and Asteroid.

Hugh has performed his poetry at the Austin International Poetry Festival, AWP Innovailers and Outsliders: Experimental Writers from Across the Country, and the & Now Festival of Innovative Literature and Art, and he was a featured author with Gino Frangello and Jesse Seldess at William Allegrezza’s Series A Reading in the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. Hugh’s poem "Reckoning" received honorable mention for the Academy of American Poets Prize, and the poem "Greyface" was nominated for the Associated Writing Programs Intro Journals Project. Hugh is currently the Area Chair in Experimental Writing and Aesthetics for the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association. He holds a Ph.D. in Poetics and Contemporary Literature from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and teaches literature and creative writing at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.
See: Finish Your Sentence:; Juvjula Detours: [free download]; Asteroid:
Open mic reading also
Read your own or bring a favorite or two.

Refreshments Available for Purchase

Sponsored by the Chickasha Area Arts Council
For more information, contact Rockford Johnson, 224-0160; 317-7506.

Directions to Chickasha Poetry Reading at
the Oddfellows Music Hall (118 S. 4th Street = Highway 81)

From OKC on I-44: Exit # 83/US 62, Right on Highway 62, Left on US 81 (= 4th Street),
South 1 ½ blocks to the building with the star on the west side.

From Lawton on I-44: Exit # 81, North on US 81 (= 4th Street) about 2 miles,
3 ½ blocks north of the Sonic Drive-In

(Ample parking behind the building)
(Enter front or back)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Our Social Mythology

Ken Hada writes:
For those of you in ENG 4813, below is a copy of some notes we will discuss in ENG 4813. They may be of interest to the rest of you too.

Quotes from Northrop Frye (see image at right), The Educated Imagination (Indiana University Press, 1964).

“The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.”

Society substitutes for literature, a “social mythology” whose “purpose … is to persuade us to accept our society’s standards and values, to “adjust” to it ..”

Inferences: Some elements of our social mythology ?
(Hada, not Frye, in case you have a problem with some of them)

The “real world” vs. the world of imagination, literature and academics. What is real? Is reality to be understood only in terms of pragmatics, economics, etc.?

Teachers teach because they can’t do anything else; they are largely irrelevant from the “real world” with its real problems. They are low on the hierarchy of important positions for society
Profit is an unalienable right and a justification for any thing (including a social hierarchies and innovations or reversals in common practices or problem-solving.
Diversity has only a symbolic meaning and limited effectiveness.
Appearance is superior to reality; image is everything.
Justice is a commodity.
Debate (with its necessary assumed analysis and content base) is time consuming, tedious and ultimately unnecessary.
The lowest common denominator is the standard expectation.
Pathos is for oneself; rather than a vision of community or compassion for others.
The environment is an endless commodity; its purpose is to serve humans.
Values are private and have no effect on behavior; or behavior is justifiable given one’s social status.
Hyperactivity is normal (even if one can’t identify why he/she is active); contemplation, solitude, reflection is abnormal.
The nostalgic past is referred to without accurate assessment and longed for as an imaginary status.
The present is all that matters; we are progressing, regardless of destination or purpose or means to the desired end.
The end, i.e., the future is unclear and thus it is fantasized as apocalyptic or survival of the strong few.

(Pastoral Myths and Progressive Myths)

We tend to separate the “voice of reason” from the “voice of imagination” ???

Words establish a society (cf: Martha Nussbaum,--that's her on the left-- Novitz, Wayne Booth)

“It is clear that the end of literary teaching is not simply the admiration of literature; it’s something more like the transfer of imaginative energy from literature to the student.”

The “story of the loss and regaining of identity is, I think, the framework of all literature.” This leads to heroes and mythic situations. Over time “the gods and heroes of the old myths fade away and give place to people like ourselves.”

Image Source:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Centennial Commencement

"May I have your attention, please! This is your first call for the Continental Trailways five-fifteen P.M. Air-Conditioned Silversides Thruliner to Houston and Dallas, now leaving from lane one next to the building for: Inez, Edna, Ganado, Louise, El Campo, Pierce, Wharton, Hungerford, Kendleton, Beasley, Rosenberg, Richmond, Sugarland, Stafford, Missouri City and Houston. Connecting in Houston for Huntsville, Buffalo, Corsicana, Dallas. . . . Connecting in Dallas for . . . Ardmore . . ." (23)

Paul's Valley . . . and Ada.

So began the Centennial Commencement address given by Jim Lehrer (see photo at left), anchor of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. [The above passage was taken from his 1992 memoir, A Bus of My Own (New York: Putnam, 1992).] Lehrer memorized the bus call when he was a teenager and, as he explained, his ability to recite it from memory today proves that "If you learn something early, you learn it well; and if it's totally irrelevant, you'll never forget it."

Lehrer's address included recycled passages from his 1997 novel, The Sooner Spy (Tulsa: Council Oak Books), when he advised graduates "about the need not to consider yourself well educated. Ever. To always keep reading and listening and have your mind open to new ideas" (14).

The "ultimate recycled quote" (that's how Lehrer introduced it) taken from The Sooner Spy was originally written by Lehrer for a commencement speech he gave at his eldest's daughter's graduation from college: "As you search for your place in life I hereby advise you to take risks. Be willing to put your mind and your spirit, your time and your energy, your stomach and your emotions on the line. . . . It is unlikely that any of you will have occasion to remember either me or my commencement address. I don't blame you. But if by chance something does linger, I hope it's just that there was a one-eyed guy up here who kept saying, 'Risk. Risk. The way to happineess is to risk it'" (14-15).

Thirteen English majors were listed in the program as candidates for Bachelor's Degrees: Robin Desarae Baker, Megan A. Bateman, Kathleen Elizabeth Benson, Drew Ryan Butler, Tina A. Casey, Jeffrey B. Gaylor, McKae Michelle Goetzinger, S Caleb Holton, Rachel Celeste Warner McCready, Laurie Lea Schweinle, Jason Levi Tootle, Haley Michelle White, and Angela Hope Woods.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ART by Jack Myers

is a quality of attention,
the way color says how
light feels: yellow for the
aerosol of happiness, black
for the zero of what isn't;
the way light, lined up right,
can cut through steel. Anything
is art if the mind's flawed right:
how soup feels being stirred,
how silence, broken open just so,
releases its essence and graces
the mind as a mint leaf in the air.

It's those who can't understand and
are dumbfounded by the obvious,
who thrive on dissonance and
subverting the ordinary into the
extraordinary who end up being
artists. What good is that, you ask?
No practical use as far as I can see.
In fact, Archimedes could've been
bragging about art's uselessness when
he said "Give me a long enough lever,
a place to stand, and I will lift the earth."

JACK MYERS is the author/editor of 17 books of and about poetry and the 2003-04 Poet Laureate of Texas. Myers has won numerous awards including the 1987 National Poetry Series, selected by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney; the Natalie Ornish Poetry Award from the Texas Institute of Letters (twice); the SMU Author's Award (twice); and two Poetry Fellowships from the NEA. He is the past Vice President of AWP, former field faculty member in Vermont College's MFA program, and current Professor of English at Southern Methodist University. In 2002 he was a featured writer in the new "Poetry in Motion" program; and in 2001 his collection, The Glowing River: New and Selected Poems was selected as "Best Literary Book" for the Barnes & Noble Violet Crown Award; and his latest poetry collection, Routine Heaven, won the 2007 Texas Review Press Award. He is currently the featured "Honorary Guest" of the upcoming issue of the Oak Bend Review.

This poem was recommended to us by Dr. Hugh Tribbey.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

1925: The City by Franz Masereel

The Author:
Franz Masereel
Considered the greatest twentieth-century master of the woodcut, and by many as the grandfather of the graphic novel, Franz Masereel (1889-1972) was born in Belgium and lived throughout Europe in the years before WWI (that’s his self-portrait on the right). Honing his craft as a graphic artist in various journals, Masereel perfected an expressionist style influenced by contemporaries such as Delaunay, Braque, and Marc. Additionally, his literary influences can be seen in the numerous illustrations he did for authors such as Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, and Emile Zola. Masereel emerged as a pacifist in WWI with strong Communist sympathies—ideals embodied in his most ambitious works, his so-called “novels” in woodcuts. These works tell visual narratives about capitalism, man’s isolation in his modern metropolis, the decadence of the bourgeois, and the rising might of the proletariat. His most famous works are A Passionate Journey (1919), an allegorical narrative of modern man’s existence, and The City, a “vision in woodcuts,” which documents the decline and eventual fall of a Berlin-like metropolis. Though he sided with no one political movement, his works were warmly championed by Socialists and banned by the rising Nazi movement (forcing him to flee Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation). However, his humanity and sheer artistic appeal make it impossible to read his works as propaganda. The pioneering graphic novelist Will Eisner (The Spirit, A Contract With God) cited him as a seminal influence on his work, and one of the first true visionaries of the comic book form—though he never viewed his work in this medium. His influence has been further cited by notable comic book critic, Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics), and undoubtedly influenced Marjane Satrapi’s woodcut-style drawings in Persepolis I & II.

The Text:
The City
Perhaps his most universally appealing work is the compact, but sprawling narrative of The City, which takes the reader through a bustling European metropolis in the years after World War I. The work is prefaced by a quote from Walt Whitman: “This is the city and I am one of the citizens,/Whatever interests the rest interests me.” Fittingly, the first panel shows a man sitting down amidst flowers, contemplating the dread abyss of smokestacks and skyscrapers that swallows the horizon. Though the “vision in woodcuts” has no story per se, it does flit us from one souring image of modern life to another, creating a loose narrative of oppression, isolation, and bourgeois decadence. Every aspect of the city interests Masereel as an artist, from the small apartment of a struggling family to the posh bordellos of the rich and famous. Yet the most prominent feature of The City is the artwork itself, starkly black and white images which deftly portray caricature, terror, sublimity, and beauty. Click here to find the entire series.

In one of the opening images (above left), we see the sprawling cityscape—building climbing atop building, blotting out land and sky. Yet Masereel is alive to the human presence of this towering terrors, the peep-hole windows allowing us to see the citizens at their daily routine. A young woman works at her sewing while the man beneath her broods. Other windows reveal a woman dressing—bare bottom displayed to all lookers—a young couple amidst a passionate embrace, and other faces, expressionless, peering back at us. This image of the city stands out as one of Masereel’s most iconic of the modern city—a voyeuristic display of exhibition and isolation.

In another representative image (at right), we see demonstrators being forcibly driven off by soldiers, a scene that echoes the events of pre-Communist Russia, particularly the peaceful protest of 1905, when soldiers opened fire and killed hundreds of civilians. Masereel documented the protests, speeches, and common humanity of people trying to rise above the metropolis, many of them in quasi-journalistic style. Here we see terror of the government, depicted simply as a cloud of gunfire confronting the terrified and dispersing crowd. Only one man stands defiantly to greet them, taking aim at the amorphous mass—a willing martyr for the cause. Like Marx, Masereel seems to have felt that “Modern bourgeois society…is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells” (Oxford UP, 8). The decline of “the city” was inevitable in his mind, as the people would soon wrest the power from its greedy, smoke-like tentacles.

Masereel's The City meets Kachaturian's Violin Concerto

Lana Trotovsek performs Kachaturian's Violin Concerto in D minor (2nd movement - Andante sostenuto) with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by George Pehlivanian (June 2005). The accompanying woodcuts by Frans Masereel are taken from his novel, The City (1925).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Eve Kosofsky Segwick: 1950-2009

From the New York Times:
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a Pioneer of Gay Studies and a Literary Theorist, Dies at 58

Published: April 15, 2009

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose critical writings on the ambiguities of sexual identity in fiction helped create the discipline known as queer studies, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 58.

The cause was breast cancer, her husband, Hal Sedgwick, said.
Ms. Sedgwick broke new ground when, drawing on feminist scholarship and the work of the French poststructuralist Michel Foucault, she began teasing out the hidden socio-sexual subplots in writers like Charles Dickens and Henry James. In a 1983 essay on Dickens’s novel “Our Mutual Friend,” she drew attention to the homoerotic element in the obsessive relationship between Eugene Wrayburn and Bradley Headstone, rivals for the love of Lizzie Hexam but emotionally most fully engaged when facing off against each other.

Click here to read the rest of the article.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Tip from Dr. Grasso

Dr. Grasso, who got his Ph. D. at Miami University of Ohio, recommends this link to his alma mater's webpage, where you can find Ten Tips from Seniors to First-Year English Majors. Check it out!

"Tip #1: Don’t second-guess your decision. If you’re passionate about literature and writing, you picked the right major. Don’t pick a major because there’s a clear-cut job at the end of it—the people who tell you there are no careers for English majors are wrong anyway. See tip #2."

1938: "Realism in the Balance" by Gyorgy Lukacs

The Author:
Gyorgy Lukacs
Born in Budapest in 1885, Lukacs (pronounced: loo KOTCH) earned a Ph. D. in law and philosophy from the University of Budapest in 1906. In 1918, he joined the Communist Party of Hungary and when the Party took power in 1919, he was appointed the People’s Commisar for Education and Culture and political commissar for the Fifth Division of the Hungarian Red Army. When the Soviet Republic of Hungary fell after a mere five months in power, Lukacs fled to Vienna, where he lived until 1929. While in Vienna, he published his best-known essay collection, History and Class Consciousness (1924) which was subsequently censured by the Stalinists who seized control of the Russian government following Lenin’s death. Though Lukacs opposed the leadership of Hungarian Communists supported by Stalin, he moved to Moscow in 1933 and remained there until the Communists came to power in Hungary at the end of World War II. In 1956, he became a minister in Hungary’s Anti-Soviet Communist government, but after the Soviet Union crushed the Revolution, Lukacs publicly retracted the anti-Soviet positions he had previously advocated. He remained loyal to the Party until his death in 1971.

The Text:
“Realism in the Balance"
Written while Lukacs lived in Russia and first published in a German literary journal, “Realism in the Balance” accuses modernist art of alienating “an already alienated audience” and champions realist art that reveals “the economic system responsible for reducing human beings to things.”(Leitch et al, 1164)

“If literature is a particular form by means of which objective reality is reflected, then it becomes of crucial importance for it to grasp that reality as it truly is, and not merely to confine itself to reproducing whatever manifests itself immediately and on the surface.” (1037)

The goal of every major realist is “to penetrate the laws governing objective reality and to uncover the deeper, hidden, mediated, not immediately perceptible network of relationships that go to make up society.” (1041)

“When the surface of life is only experienced immediately, it remains opaque, fragmentary, chaotic and uncomprehended.” (1042)

Photomontage, the “pinnacle” of the symbolist movement, “is capable of striking effects, and on occasion it can even become a powerful political weapon. Such effects arise from its technique of juxtaposing heterogeneous, unrelated pieces of reality torn from their context. However, …the final effect must be one of profound monotony. …After all, a puddle can never be more than dirty water, even though it may contain rainbow tints.” (1045)

“…the realist must seek out the lasting features in people, in their relations with each other and in the situations in which they have to act; he must focus on those elements which endure over long periods and which constitute the objective human tendencies of society and indeed of mankind as a whole. Such writers form the authentic ideological avant-garde since they depict the vital, but not immediately obvious forces at work in objective reality.” (1049)

“Great realism . . . does not portray an immediately obvious aspect of reality but one which is permanent and objectively more significant, namely man in the whole range of his relations to the real world, above all those which outlast mere fashion….[It] captures tendencies of development that only exist incipiently and so have not yet had the opportunity to unfold their entire human and social potential. To discern and give shape to such underground trends is the great historical mission of the true literary avant-garde . . . [O]nly the major realists are capable of forming a genuine avant-garde.” (1049)

“…even the most passionate determination, the most intense sense of conviction that one has revolutionized art and created something ‘radically new’, will not suffice to turn a writer into someone who can truly anticipate future trends, if determination and conviction are his sole qualifications. This ancient truth can also be expressed as a commonplace: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (1050)

“…in contrast to the one-dimensionality of modernism[,] Cervantes and Shakespeare, Balzac and Tolstoy, …Thomas and Heinrich Mann—all these can appeal to readers drawn from a broad cross-section of the people because their works permit access from so many different angles. The large-scale, enduring resonance of the great works of realism is in fact due to this accessibility, to the infinite multitude of doors through which entry is possible….The process of appropriation enables readers to clarify their own experiences and understanding of life and to broaden their own horizons.” (1056)

“A campaign against realism, whether conscious or not, and a resultant impoverishment and isolation of literature and art is one of the crucial manifestations of decadence in the realm of art.” (105)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1938: "Marxism and Literature" by Edmund Wilson

The Author:
Edmund Wilson

Born in New Jersey in 1895, Wilson attended Princeton University, where he established a lasting friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby (1925) After his graduation in 1916, Wilson served in a hospital unit and later in the intelligence corps in World War I. On his return to the States, he began a lifelong career as an editor (for Vanity Fair and The New Republic), book reviewer (for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books), novelist, poet, playwright, and independent scholar. Wilson died in 1972.

The “foremost American literary journalist of the twentieth century,” Wilson “turned to biography, psychology, economics, politics, and history at roughly the same moment when John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, and the other New Critics were calling for an ‘intrinsic’ literary criticism based on close reading.” (Leitch et al, 1241)

The Text:
Marxism and Literature

Published in 1938, two years before he published To the Finland Station, his study of the origins of socialism, “Marxism and Literature” celebrates Marxism’s ability to “throw a great deal of light on the origins and social significance of works of art,” but attacks the belief then advocated by “that good literature can be made from ideological formulas.” (1248, 1242)

“… Marxism by itself can tell us nothing whatever about the goodness or badness of a work of art. A man may be an excellent Marxist, but if he lacks imagination and taste he will be unable to make the choice between a good and an inferior book both of which are ideologically unacceptable.” (1248)

“… it is usually true in works of the highest order that the purport is not a simple message, but a complex vision of things, which itself is not explicit but implicit; and the reader who does not grasp them artistically, but is merely looking for simple social morals, is certain to be hopelessly confused. Especially will he be confused if the author does draw an explicit moral which is the opposite of or has nothing to do with his real purport.” (1248-1249)

“The Leftist critic with no literary competence is always trying measure works of literature by tests which have no validity in that field. And one of his favorite occupations is giving specific directions and working out diagrams for the construction of ideal Marxist books. Such formulas are of course perfectly futile. The rules observed in any given school of art become apparent not before, but after, the actual works of art have been produced.” (1250)

“The truth is that there is short-range and long-range literature. Long-range literature attempts to sum up wide areas and long periods of human experience, or to extract from them general laws; short-range literature preaches and pamphleteers with the view to an immediate effect. A good deal of the recent confusion of our writers in the Leftist camp has been due to their not understanding, or being unable to make up their minds, whether they are aiming at long-range or short-range writing.” (1252)

SUBMITTED BY: Steve Benton
Leitch, Vincent B, et al ed.
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

1938: "Criticism, Inc." by John Crowe Ransom

The Author:
John Crowe Ransom

Born in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1888, Ransom graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1909 and became a faculty member of the English department after studying at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship between 1910 and 1913. Ransom remained at Vanderbilt until 1937, when he accepted a position at Kenyon College in Ohio. There he founded the prestigious literary quarterly the Kenyon Review and edited it until his retirement in 1959. He died in 1974.

The “central figure in the institutionalization of the New Criticism, the formalist theory and practice that dominated U.S. teaching and literary criticism in the mid-twentieth century,” Ransom shaped a method of literary analysis that would “become the foundation that all modern approaches build upon” (Leitch et al, 1105, 1107)

The Text:
“Criticism, Inc."
Published the same year the fifty-year-old Ransom began teaching at Kenyon, “Criticism, Inc.” calls on English departments to produce “technical studies of poetry” and dismisses both the “ethical” criticism of New Humanists and Marxists and the historical criticism of academics “who stress backgrounds, sources, and influences rather than the poem itself.” (1106 )

“Professors of literature are learned but not critical men. …[It] is easy for one of them without public reproach to spend a lifetime in compiling the data of literature and yet rarely or never commit himself to a literary judgment.” (1109)

“Criticism must become more scientific, or precise and systematic, and this means that it must be developed by the collective and sustained efforts of learned persons—which means that its proper seat is in the universities.” (1109)

“…I do not think we need be afraid that criticism, trying to be a sort of science, will inevitably fail and give up in despair, or else fail without realizing it and enjoy some hollow and pretentious career. It will never be a very exact science, or even a nearly exact one. But neither will psychology …” (1109)

“Rather than occasional criticism by amateurs, I should think the whole enterprise might be seriously taken in hand by professionals. Perhaps I use a distasteful figure, but I have the idea that what we need is Criticism, Inc., or Criticism, Ltd.” (1109)

“… the students of the future must be permitted to study literature, and not merely about literature.” (1110)

“Criticism is the attempt to define and enjoy the aesthetic or characteristic values of literature …” (1110)

“The department of English is charged with the understanding and the communication of literature, an art, yet it has usually forgotten to inquire into the peculiar constitution and structure of its product: English might almost as well announce that it does not regard itself as entirely autonomous, but as a branch of the department of history, with the option of declaring itself occasionally a branch of the department of ethics.” (1112)

“…the more eminent (as historical scholar) the professor of English, the less apt he is to be able to write decent criticism, unless it is about another professor’s work of historical scholarship, in which case it is not literary criticism.” (1112)

“Here is contemporary literature, waiting for its criticism; where are the professors of literature? They are watering their own gardens; elucidating the literary histories of their respective periods. So are their favorite pupils. The persons who save the occasion, and rescue contemporary literature from the humiliation of having to go without a criticism, are the men who had to leave the university before their time because they felt themselves being warped into mere historians . . . They are home-made critics. Naturally they are not too wise, these amateurs who furnish our reviews and critical studies.” (1112-1113)

“The first law to be prescribed to criticism, if we may assume such authority, is that it shall be objective, shall cite the nature of the object rather than its effects upon the subject. Therefore it is hardly criticism to assert that the proper literary work is one that we can read twice; or one that causes in us some remarkable physiological effect, such as oblivion of the outer world, the flowing of tears, visceral or laryngeal sensations, and such like …” (1115)

“We must regard as uncritical the use of an extensive vocabulary which ascribes to the object properties really discovered in the subject as: moving, exciting, entertaining, pitiful; great, if I am not mistaken, and admirable, on a slightly different ground; and, in strictness, beautiful itself.” (1115)

“For each poem … [there is] a logical object or universal, but at the same time a tissue of irrelevance . . . The critic has to take the poem apart, or analyze it, for the sake of uncovering these features. …[It] is rude and patchy business by comparison with the living integrity of the poem. But without it there could hardly be much understanding of the value of poetry, or of the natural history behind any adult poem.” (1118)


1924: "Blue Girls" by John Crowe Ransom

Blue Girls

Twirling your blue skirts, travelling the sward
Under the towers of your seminary,
Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
Without believing a word.

Tie the white fillets then about your hair
And think no more of what will come to pass
Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass
And chattering on the air.

Practise your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
Beauty which all our powers shall never establish,
It is so frail.

For I could tell you a story which is true;
I know a lady with a terrible tongue,
Blear eyes fallen from blue,
All her perfections tarnished—yet it is not long
Since she was lovelier than any of you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

1936: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Walter Benjamin

The Author:
Walter Benjamin

Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin in 1892, Benjamin (pronounced: BEN-ya-meen) moved to Switzerland during World War I to avoid being drafted into the German army. In 1919, he got his Ph.D. at the University of Bern. One year later, he returned to Berlin and wrote a second dissertation intended to earn him a faculty position in a German university. When the dissertation was rejected by examiners at the University of Frankfurt, Benjamin was forced to earn a living as an independent scholar. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, Benjamin moved to Paris and when the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he joined a group of Jewish refugees seeking to escape into Spain. When the Spanish police intercepted them at the border by, the 48-year-old Benjamin feared that he would be shipped to a concentration camp, so he committed suicide.

The Text:
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

First published in French in a Frankfurt Institute journal edited by Max Horkheimer, this essay “denounces theories that assert an auratic or ritualistic power of film” and argues that film “in contrast to painting or orchestral music … has revolutionary potential because it abolishes authenticity and aura and enjoins the participation of the audience.” (Leitch et al, 1164)

"… for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. … Instead of being based on ritual, [art] begins to be based on another practice—politics.” (Leitch et al, 1172)

“The aura which, on the stage, emanates from Macbeth, cannot be separated for the spectators from that of the actor. However . . .the aura that envelops the [film] actor vanishes, and with it the aura of the figure he portrays.” (1176)

“The film responds to the shriveling of the aura with an artificial build-up of the ‘personality’ outside the studio. The cult of the movie start, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the ‘spell of the personality,’ the phony spell of a commodity.” (1177) The image at left is from the 1936 film Modern Times, starring Charlie Chaplin.

“For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. . . . It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for ‘letters to the editor.’ And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.” (1178)

“…that the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator … is a commonplace. A closer look is needed here. …A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. …In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art.” (1183)

Leitch, Vincent B, et al ed.
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001.

1936: Modern Times starring Charlie Chaplin

Sunday, April 12, 2009

1935: “Discourse in the Novel” by Mikhail Bakhtin

The Author: Mikhail M. Bakhtin
Born in Orel, Russia in 1895, Bakhtin earned a degree in classics from the University of Petrograd in 1918 in the city (later Leningrad, now St. Petersburg) where Vladimir Lenin and his followers overthrew the Russian czar and installed a Communist government in 1917. After spending five years working as a teacher in western Russia (now Belarus), Bakhtin returned to Leningrad, and was imprisoned there in 1929 for alleged antigovernment activity. After spending six years in exile in Kazhakstan (recently made famous by Borat). Bakhtin moved to a small town north of Moscow in 1937, While there the worsening condition of the bone disease in his right leg forced doctors to amputate it. After World War II, Bakhtin joined the faculty at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute in Saransk (391 miles southeast of Moscow) and completed a dissertation on Rabelais that championed the disruptive power of those "forms of unofficial culture (the early novel among them) that resist official culture, political oppression, and totalitarian order through laughter, parody and 'grotesque realism.'" (Leitch et al, 1187)

Considered by some to be "the greatest twentieth-century theorist of literature," Bakhtin produced much of his groundbreaking work in the 20s, 30s and 40s (including his dissertation), but many of these writings were not published until the 1960s. (1187) Bakhtin was just beginning to gain international reknown when he died in Moscow in 1975.

The Text: "Discourse in the Novel"
Written in 1934 and 1935 while Bakhtin was in exile in Kazakhstan, working as a bookkeeper,"Discourse in the Novel" was not published until 1973. In this essay, Bakhtin challenges the notion--he calls it "monological"--that authors can control their discourse and celebrates the contradiction, conflict and doubt produced by the dialogical quality of the novel.

"The novel can be defined as a diversity of social speech types (sometimes even diversity of languages) and a diversity of individual voices, artistically organized. The internal stratification of any single national language into social dialects, characteristic group behavior, professional jargons, generic languages, languages of generations and age groups, tendentious languages, languages of the authorities, of various circles and of passing fashions . . . this internal stratification present in every languages at any given moment of its historical existence is the indispensable prerequisite for the novel as a genre." (1192) [The image at left, "babble" by Karen Rhiner, was given the Juror's Choice award, in a juried exhibition at San Diego Art Institute in July 2004.]

"And throughout the entire development of the novel, its intimate interaction (both peaceful and hostile ) with living thetorical genres (journalistic, moral, philosophical, and others) has never ceased; this interaction was perhaps no less intense than was the novel's interaction with the artistic genres (epic, dramatic, lyric). But in this uninterrupted interrelationship, novelistic discourse preserved its own qualitative uniqueness and was never reducible to rhetorical discourse." (1197)

"It is possible to give a concrete, detailed analysis of any utterance, once having exposed it as a contradiction-ridden, tension-filled unity of two embattled tendencies in the life of language." (1199)

"A literary work has been conceived by stylistics as if it were a hermetic and self-sufficient whole, one whose elements constitute a closed system presuming nothing beyond themselves, no other utterances. . . . Should we imagine the work as a rejoinder in a given dialogue, whose style is determined by its interrelationship with other rejoinders in the same dialogue (in the totality of the conversation)--then traditional stylistics does not offer an adequate means for approaching such a dialogized style. . . . Stylistics locks every stylistic phenomenon into the monologic context of a given self-sufficient and hermetic utterance, imprisoning it, as it were, in the dungeon of a single context; it is not able to exchange messages with other utterances; it is not able to realize its own stylistic implications in a relationship with them; it is obliged to exhaust itself in its own single hermetic context." (1201) [The depiction at right of St. Paul the Hermit, was painted in 1640 by Jose de Ribera.]

". . . this orientation toward unity [by traditional linguistics, stylistics and the philosophy of language] has compelled scholars to ignore all the verbal genres (quotidian, rhetorical, artistic-prose) that were the carriers of the decentralizing tendencies in the life of language ..." (1201)
"In the actual life of speech, every concrete act of understanding is active: it assimilates the word to be understood into its own conceptual system filled with specific objects and emotional expressions, and is indissolubly merged with the response, with a motivated agreement or disagreement. To some extent, primacy belongs to the response, as the activating principle: it creates the ground for understanding, it prepares the ground for an active and engaged understanding. Understanding comes to fruition only in the response." (1206)

“…there are no ‘neutral words and forms . . . All words have the ‘taste’ of a profession, a genre, a tendency, a party, a particular work, a particular person, a generation, an age group, the day and hour. Each word tastes of the context and contexts in which it has lived its socially charged life; all words and forms are populated by intentions.” (1214)

“The word in language is half someone else’s. It becomes ‘one’s own’ only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention. Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!) but rather it exists in other people’s mouths, in other people’s contexts, serving other people’s intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one’s own. And not all words for just anyone submit equally easily to this appropriation, to this seizure and transformation into private property; many words stubbornly resist, others remain alien, sound foreign in the mouth of the one who appropriated them and who now speaks them; they cannot be assimilated into his context and fall out of it; it is as if they put themselves in quotation marks against the will of the speaker. Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others. Expropriating it, forcing it to submit to one’s own intentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process.” (1215)

“… an illiterate peasant, miles away from any urban center, naively immersed in an unmoving and for him unshakable everyday world, nevertheless lived in several language systems: he prayed to God in one language (Church Slavonic), sang songs in another, spoke to his family in a third and, when he began to dictate petitions to the local authorities through a scribe, he tried speaking yet a fourth language (the official-literate language, ‘paper’ language). All these are different languages . . . But these languages were not dialogically coordinated in the linguistic consciousness of the peasant; he passed from one to the other without thinking, automatically: each was indisputably in its own place, and the place of each was indisputable.” (1216)

“Diversity of voices and heteroglossia enter the novel and organize themselves within it into a structured artistic system. This constitutes the distinguishing feature of the novel as a genre.” (1219)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

1934: "Characteristics of Negro Expression" by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Born in Alabama in 1891, Hurston attended Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D. C., between 1918 and 1924. Without graduating, she moved to Harlem in 1925, where her writing soon positioned her as one of the central literary figures in the Harlem Renaissance. That same year, she became the only African-American undergraduate at Barnard College and graduated three years later with a bachelor's degree in anthropology. While doing anthropological work in Haiti on a Guggenheim fellowship in 1934, she completed her most famous novel: Their Eyes Were Watching God (it was published in 1937). (Click here to hear Oprah Winfrey plug the novel and the 2005 TV/film adaptation which she produced.)

"Characteristics of Negro Expression"

First published in Great Britain in Negro: An Anthology, edited by Nancy Cunard, this essay sings the praises of African American linguistic practices, which are illustrated in Their Eyes Were Watching God, also written in 1934. The characteristics identified by Hurston are: drama ("Everything is acted out"); "will to adorn" (including "the use of the double descriptive" as in "low-down "); "angularity" ("to avoid the simple straight line"); "asymmetry" (characterized by "abrupt and unexepcted changes"); "dancing" (characterized by "compelling insinuation"); "Negro folklore" (in which "God and the Devil ... are treated no more reverently than Rockefeller and Ford"); "culture heroes" ("the trickster-hero of West Africa has been transplated to America"); "originality" (in the "treatment of the borrowed material"); "imitation" (done "as the mockingbird does it, for the love of it, and not because he wishes to be like the one imitated"); "The Jook" (see below); "Dialect." (Leitch et al, 1146-1158)

"...the contention that the Negro imitates from a feeling of inferiority is incorrect....The group of Negroes who slavishly imitate is small. The average Negro glories in his ways. The highly educated Negro the same. The self-despisement lies in a middle class who scorns to do or be anything Negro. . . . He wears drab clothing, sits through a boresome church service, pretends to have no interest in community, holds beauty contests, and otherwise apes all the mediocrities of the white brother." (1152-1153)

"Lovemaking and fighting in all their branches are high arts, other things are arts among other groups where they brag about their proficiency just as brazenly as we do about these things that others consider matters for conversation behind closed doors. . . .One Negro, speaking of white men, said, 'White folks is alright when dey gits in de bank and on de law bench, but dey sho' kin lie about wimmen folks.'" (1154)

"Musically speaking, the Jook is the most important place in America. For in its smelly, shoddy confines has been born the secular music known as blues, and on blues has been founded jazz." (1154-1155)

"...Negro shows before being tampered with did not specialize in octoroon [that is, light-skinned, Ed.] chorus girls. The girl who could hoist a Jook song from her belly and lam it against the front door of the theatre was the lead, even if she were as black as the hinges of hell. The question was 'Can she jook?' She must also have a good belly wobble, and her hips must, to quote a popular work song, F.' So that the bleached chorus is the result of a white demand and not the Negro's." (1155)

"Speaking of the use of Negro material by white performers, it is astonishing that so many are trying it, and I have never seen one yet entirely realistic. They often have the elements of the song, dance, or expression, but they are misplaced or distorted by the accent falling on the wrong element. Everyone seems to think that the negro is easily imitated when nothing is further from the truth. Without exception I wonder why the blackface comedians are blackface; it is a puzzle . . . " (1157) [The images at right are of Al Jolson, one of the most successful entertainers of the 1920s; he often performed in blackface.]

"The real Negro theatre is in the Jooks and the caberets. Self-conscious individuals may turn away the eye and say, 'Let us search elsewhere for our dramatic art.' Let 'em search elsewhere for our dramatic art.' Let 'em search. They certainly won't find it." (1157)

Click here to hear Hurston sing "Uncle Bud."


2002: "When You're Good to Mama"

In this scene from the 2002 Academy Award winning film Chicago, which was based on the 1975 Broadway musical and set in Chicago in the 1920s, Queen Latifah plays Matron "Mama" Morton, a woman who, as Zora Neale Hurston might put it, "could hoist a Jook song from her belly and lam it against the front door of the theatre."

1985: "The Color Purple"

This scene from the 1985 film The Color Purple, based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, depicts a Georgia juke joint in 1922 (the kind praised by Zora Neale Hurston). That's Margaret Avery (who was born in Mangum, Oklahoma) in the role of Shug (the singer), Whoopi Goldberg as Miss Celie, and Danny Glover as Albert.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

1931: La guitarra by Federico Garcia Lorca

La guitarra

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil
Es imposible
Llora monótona
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible
Llora por cosas
Arena del Sur caliente
que pide camelias blancas.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin mañana
y el primer pájaro muerto
sobre la rama.
¡Oh guitarra!
Corazón malherido
por cinco espadas.

The image at right, "Caricatura del concurso de cante jondo," was drawn by Antonio López Sánchez in 1922; Lorca is in the third row with his hand on his head.

The Guitar
English translation by Cola Franzen

The weeping of the guitar
The goblets of dawn
are smashed.
The weeping of the guitar
to silence it.
to silence it.
It weeps monotonously
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
over snowfields.
to silence it.
It weeps for distant
Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning
and the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh, guitar!
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.
The Author:
Federico García Lorca

Born in 1898 in an Andalusian village just west of Granada, Federico García Lorca is Spain’s greatest modern poet. Few poets take us so directly to what he described as “the dark root of the scream.” For Lorca, great art—art with duende—occurs only when the creator is acutely aware of death.

Over his twenty-year career, Lorca gave a new direction to Spanish theater and produced music, several volumes of lectures and letters, innumerable drawings (including the 1934 drawing at left: "Death"), and nine books of poetry, including Cante del Poema Jondo, which includes the selection above, written in 1921.

The theme of Lorca’s entire oeuvre, according to Christopher Maurer, is “the impossible: the melancholy conviction that all of us have certain indefinable longings which cannot be satisfied by anything around us” (xviii). As American poet Robert Bly puts it, Lorca is “a poet of ‘desire,’ [. . .] always saying what he wants, what he desires, what barren women desire, what water desires, what gypsies desire, what a bull desires just before it dies, what brothers and sisters desire” (qtd. in Maurer xviii). In Lorca’s poems, all of life is constrained by some sort of longing and want. Yet that desire is never fully defined, only gestured at, and therefore unable ever to be satisfied. Before it is defined, it is cancelled: “by madness, despair or melancholy, by societal indifference, by language, or, more neatly, by death” (xix).

Lorca once remarked to a friend, apropos of the death of the toreador, Sánchez Mejías, that it had been “an apprenticeship” for his own. Death came to him violently, in August of 1936, in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, during the Fascist uprising in Granada. Aware that war was imminent and that his liberal views made him suspect to the right-wing movement that was rising in arms against the Republic, Lorca had fled from Madrid to the apparent safety of his family home. After a period in hiding at the house of a friend, he was arrested and, by order of one of Franco’s generals, driven into the countryside and executed. His body was buried in an unmarked grave near the hamlet of Víznar (xvii).
SUBMITTED BY: Wendy Leraas
Maurer, Christopher, ed. Selected Verse: Federico García Lorca. A Bilingual Edition. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994.

Flamenco Guitar

This clip below, broadcast on Spanish television, shows Vicente Amigo playing an original composition (the form is "soleá"): "Tio Arango," from his 1991 album "De Mi Corazon al Aire." This is the kind of music that inspired Lorca.