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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

1926: “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” by Langston Hughes

The Author:
Langston Hughes

Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, Hughes attended Columbia University in New York City for one year (1921-1922) and dropped out. Before returning to school (Lincoln University, a historically black college in southeastern Pennsylvania) as a 24-year-old sophomore in 1926, Hughes worked as a seaman on a freighter that traveled along the coast of West Africa, spent several months in Paris, and worked as a busboy at a hotel in Washington, D. C.. On his graduation from Lincoln University, he moved to Harlem, where he lived for most of his life until his death in 1967.

More known for his poetry than his plays and his fiction, Hughes was "the most celebrated African American writer of the first half of the twentieth century." (Leitch et al, 1311)

The Text:
"The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"

Four years after Hughes dropped out of Columbia University following his freshman year, he published this essay (which appeared in The Nation) and his first book of poetry (The Weary Blues--see image below on the left).

"One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, 'I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet,' meaning, I believe, 'I want to write like a white poet'; meaning subconsciously, 'I would like to be a white poet'; meaning behind that, 'I would like to be white.' And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mode of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible." (1313)
"The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp critcism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes from the whites. 'O, be resepctable, write about nice people, show how good we are,' say the Negroes. 'Be stereotyped, don't go too far, don't shatter our illusions about you, don't amuse us too seriously. We will pay you,' say the whites. Both would have told Jean Toomer not to write 'Cane.' . . . Yet (excepting the work of DuBois) 'Can'e contains the finest prose written by a Negro in America." (1315-1316)

"[J]azz is to me one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America . . . [y]et the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she does not like me to write about it. The old subconscious 'white is best' runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz ..." (1316)

" my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering 'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspirations of his people, to 'Why should I want to be white? I am Negro--and beautiful!' So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, "I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,' as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world." (1316)


1923: "The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes

The clip below is one of 7 video poems in Four Seasons Productions' short film: Rave. "The Weary Blues" was written by Langston Hughes in 1923 and is recited in this film by Allen Dwight Callahan.

To learn more about this video series, go to

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

1920: The Good English Army

From the 1920 East Central State Normal Yearbook: Pesagi.
This is the first and only appearance of the “Good English Army” in the East Central Yearbook. Their slogan: "Incorrect speech is the badge of illiteracy." The record does not show how successful the Army was on their chosen field of battle.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cash for English Education Majors

The Future Teachers Scholarship application forms have arrived for the 2009-2010 academic year. Individuals who agree to teach in a shortage area in Oklahoma public schools for a minimum of three consecutive years upon graduation are eligible to make application.
Eligible areas/majors are: Math Education, Science Education, English Education, Foreign Language, Early Childhood Education, School Counselor, Library Media Specialist. Applications are available in Room 204 of the Education Building. Applications may be picked up in 204 Education or 207 Education. The completed applications are due THURSDAY, APRIL 30, 2009 AT 4:00 PM. Questions? See Dr. Harper in 207 Education.

Cash for words!

Paul Hughes Memorial Writing Award

Where and When
The Department of English and Languages announces the 2008 Paul Hughes Memorial Writing Award, an annual creative writing competition open to all East Central University students. Any form of creative writing, including poetry, fiction, drama, and essay, is eligible for consideration. Submissions will be accepted in the English department, Horace Mann 301 or Horace Mann 317, until Friday, April 10 at 5:00 p.m. Students may also email entries to This deadline will be strictly enforced. Students may submit a maximum of five works. Cash prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place. Last year, the awards were $200, $100, and $50.

Paul Hughes
Born in Roff, Paul Hughes attended Ada High School and earned his B.A. with honors from East Central in 1936. At ECU, Hughes served as president of the senior class, editor of the campus newspaper, and captain of the debate team. At age 27, Hughes published his first novel, Retreat From Rostov, with Random House. He went on to publish 15 other books, including Challenge at Changsa (Macmillan), Jeff (John Day), and The Salsbury Story (Univ. of Arizona Press), and numerous short stories in magazines such as Collier's, Seventeen, Woman's Home Companion, Vogue, and Liberty. After a brief term as night editor of the Ada Evening News, Hughes began a long career with KTAR Radio and Television, becoming one of the most recognizable air personalities in Arizona. In 1971, he gave the ECU commencement address, and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Submitted manuscripts for the award should be neatly typed. Prose should be double-spaced. Poetry should be single-spaced except to separate stanzas. Each work should have a cover page listing the author's name, title of the work, classification (senior. . .), major, address, telephone number, and email address. Notification will be delivered to the email address. The author's name should not appear on the manuscript. Entries will not be returned.

1919: "Anecdote of the Jar" by Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

The Author:
Wallace Stevens

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1879, Stevens studied at Harvard from 1897 to 1900. He worked as a journalist, lawyer, then for an insurance company most of his professional life— writing poetry during evenings and spare time. His most famous poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” was first published in 1917.

Concerning his professional role and limited time to write poetry, Stevens says: “it gives a man character to have this daily contact with a job.” His first book of poems, Harmonium (1923), did not appear until he was forty four, yet he achieved critical claim for his work.

Discussing his ideas on poetry in The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, Stevens writes, “In the absence of a belief in God, the mind turns to its own creations and examines them, not alone form the aesthetic point of view, but for what they reveal, for what they validate and invalidate.” The poet “creates the world to which we turn incessantly and without knowing it and … he gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it.”

Stevens died in 1955.

Click here to hear Stevens read his poem "The Idea of Order at Key West," written in 1934.

Stevens, Wallace. “Anecdote of the Jar.” Poets. Org.
Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. New York: Vintage, 1951.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

1916: "Karawane" by Hugo Ball

jolifanto bambla o falli bambla
großiga m'pfa habla horem
egiga goramen
higo bloiko russula huju
hollaka hollala
anlogo bung
blago bung blago bung
bosso fataka
ü üü ü
schampa wulla wussa olobo
hej tatta gorem
eschige zunbada
wulubu ssubudu uluwu ssubudu
tumba ba-umf
kusa gauma
ba – umf

The Author:
Hugo Ball
Born in Pirmasens, Germany in 1886, Ball attended university in Munich and Heidelberg. In 1910, he moved to Berlin, where he worked for several theatre companies. After World War I began, he moved to Zurich, in neutral Switzerland, where he founded the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916.

It was at the Cabaret Voltaire that he began performing nonsense sound poems like “Karawane,” [German for “Caravan”] which Ball performed in the costume seen above. These sound poems were intended as attacks on “the rationalized language of modernity that for him represented all that had led to the ‘agony and death throes of this age.’” (“NGA-DADA”) Click here to hear Marie Osmond read "Karawane".

In 1917, Ball helped Tristan Tzara organize Galerie Dada, an exhibition space dedicated to the Dada art. After a dispute with Tzara about the direction of the movement (Tzara wanted it to become more systematic), Ball left Zurich and the Dada movement behind in 1917. He died in 1927.

Here's a contemporary reading of the poem:

"Karawane ." 29 Mar. 2009 .
"NGA-DADA - Artists-Ball." National Gallery of Art. 29 Mar. 2009

1916: "Gadji beri bimba" by Hugo Ball

gadji beri bimba glandridi laula lonni cadori
gadjama gramma berida bimbala glandri galassassa laulitalomini
gadji beri bin blassa glassala laula lonni cadorsu sassala bim
gadjama tuffm i zimzalla binban gligla wowolimai bin beri ban
o katalominai rhinozerossola hopsamen laulitalomini hoooo
gadjama rhinozerossola hopsamen
bluku terullala blaulala loooo

zimzim urullala zimzim urullala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zam
elifantolim brussala bulomen brussala bulomen tromtata
velo da bang band affalo purzamai affalo purzamai lengado tor
gadjama bimbalo glandridi glassala zingtata pimpalo ögrögöööö
viola laxato viola zimbrabim viola uli paluji malooo

tuffm im zimbrabim negramai bumbalo negramai bumbalo tuffm i zim
gadjama bimbala oo beri gadjama gaga di gadjama affalo pinx
gaga di bumbalo bumbalo gadjamen
gaga di bling blong
gaga blung

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Scissortail 2009

Featured readers Rilla Askew (below on the left), Elmer Kelton (in the middle), and LeAnne Howe (on the right) read alongside ECU English department faculty Ken Hada (Scissortail Director), Josh Grasso, Hugh Tribbey, Mark Walling, John Yozzo and more than 40 others, inspiring more than 800 listeners at ECU's 4th annual Scissortail Festival, held on campus Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

1914: Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

The Author:
Gertrude Stein
Born in 1874 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Stein studied psychology at Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897 and then began pre-med studies at Johns Hopkins. In 1902, she quit school and moved to Paris, where she lived for most of the rest of her life. (The image on the right was taken in Venice in 1908.)

In the years before World War I, Stein played a crucial role in supporting the careers of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. After World War I, Stein encouraged and influenced the literary efforts of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, members of group expatriate American writers to whom she gave the name: the “Lost Generation.”

The Text:
Tender Buttons
During the pre-War period, Stein began producing literary works influenced by the experimental painters she admired. (Picasso’s “Portrait de jeune fille,” the painting below on the left [Portrait of a young girl], was completed in 1914.) The prose poem Tender Buttons was divided into three sections—Objects, Food, Rooms—each of which includes a series of “cubist” verbal portraits that use words “for their associations and sounds rather than their meanings.” (Perloff) The opening words of the text appear in the excerpt below.




A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.


Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.

The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing.

There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no color chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.

Perloff, Marjorie. "Gertrude Stein ." - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. 29 Mar. 2009


1924: "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso" by Gertrude Stein

First published in Vanity Fair in 1924. Read by the author.

If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I
told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if Napoleon
if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told
him would he like it would he like it if I told him.
Not now.
And now.
Exactly as as kings.
Feeling full for it.
Exactitude as kings.
So to beseech you as full as for it.
Exactly or as kings.
Shutters shut and open so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so
shutters shut and shutters and so and so shutters and so shutters shut and
so shutters shut and shutters and so. And so shutters shut and so and also.
And also and so and so and also.
Exact resemblance. To exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact
as a resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in
resemblance exactly a resemblance, exactly and resemblance. For this is so.
Now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat
at all.
Have hold and hear, actively repeat at all.
I judge judge.
As a resemblance to him.
Who comes first. Napoleon the first.
Who comes too coming coming too, who goes there, as they go they share, who
shares all, all is as all as as yet or as yet.
Now to date now to date. Now and now and date and the date.
Who came first. Napoleon at first. Who came first Napoleon the first.
Who came first, Napoleon first.
Exactly do they do.
First exactly.
Exactly do they do too.
First exactly.
And first exactly.
Exactly do they do.
And first exactly and exactly.
And do they do.
At first exactly and first exactly and do they do.
The first exactly.
And do they do.
The first exactly.
At first exactly.
First as exactly.
As first as exactly.
As presently.
As as presently.
He he he he and he and he and and he and he and he and and as and as he
and as he and he. He is and as he is, and as he is and he is, he is and as he
and he and as he is and he and he and and he and he.
Can curls rob can curls quote, quotable.
As presently.
As exactitude.
As trains
Has trains.
Has trains.
As trains.
As trains.
As proportions as presently.
Father and farther.
Was the king or room.
Farther and whether.
Was there was there was there what was there was there what was there
was there there was there.
Whether and in there.
As even say so.
I land.
I land.
The land.
The land.
The land.
I land.
I land.
I land.
I land.
As a so.
They cannot.
A note.
They cannot.
A float.
They cannot.
They dote.
They cannot.
They as denote.
Miracles play.
Play fairly.
Play fairly well.
A well.
As well.
As or as presently.
Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.

Friday, April 3, 2009

1913: "A Lullaby" by Irma Spriggs

A Lullaby
Out mid the breakers the tide maketh moan
Sleep, baby, little one, sleep.
Father, the fisherman, ne’er cometh home.
Sleep, baby, little one, sleep.
Far o’er the ocean the dull leaden sky
Weeps out its heart for a day that is by,
Wild ‘gainst the black rocks, the wind rages high.
Sleep, baby, sleep; rock-a-bye.

Heed not the wind nor the rain nor the sea.
Sleep, baby, little one, sleep.
Mother’s lone arms still thy shelter shall be,
Sleep, baby, little one, sleep.
Sleep, though the treacherous tides nearer creep;
Sleep, though the winds round our frail cottage sweep.
Sleep, though sad hearts e’er a vigil shall keep
Till life, like thee, baby, sleep.

The Author:
Irma Spriggs
A native of Missouri, Spriggs joined the East Central Normal School faculty in 1911 as an Assistant in the Department of English at a time when East Central was both a high school and a two-year college. With a Master’s degree in Pedagogy, Spriggs was one of three faculty members in the department at the time. She was educated at Springfield State Normal School in her home state and later at the University of Chicago (in 1919, five of the 20 faculty members whose photos appear in the college yearbook, Pesagi, list the University of Chicago as one of their places where they were educated).

“A Few Established Rules,” a poem which appears in the 1916 Pesagi, suggests that Spriggs ran a tight ship in her classroom: “If you feel just/A little bit ‘bossy,’/And think that you can/Act and talk ‘saucy’—Try it on Miss Spriggs.” (32)

1919 appears to have been her last year at East Central.

In the 1917 Pesagi, a representative quote appears alongside the photo of each faculty member. The quote beside Spriggs's photo reads: “Well, so much for that.” (21)

SUBMITTED BY: Steve Benton
Pesagi. East Central State Normal yearbook: 1913, 1916, 1917.
Pesagi. East Central State Normal yearbook: 1913.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

1926: "Criteria of Negro Art" by W. E. B. Dubois

The Author:
W. E. B. Dubois

Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced: “doo BOYZ”) graduated from Fisk University in Nashville in 1888 and seven years later became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. From 1897-1910, he taught economics, history, and sociology at Atlanta University. It was during this period that he published his best-known work, The Souls of Black Folk (1900), which called for the development of an elite African American intellectual and professional class, which Du Bois would refer to as the “talented tenth.” After helping found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, he edited the organization’s monthly magazine, The Crisis, from 1910-1934. He returned to Atlanta University in 1933 and taught there until 1944. From 1952-1958, the U.S. government revoked his passport because of his outspoken admiration for the Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. In 1961, at the age of 93, he joined the Communist Party USA and moved to Ghana (in West Africa), where he died in 1963, one day before Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D. C..

The Text:
“Criteria of Negro Art”

In this address, delivered at the Chicago Conference of the NAACP, Du Bois “insists on the need for art to function as agitation, protest” and “advance the cause of the race” (Leitch et al. 979).

“We can go on the stage; we can be just as funny as white Americans wish us to be; we can play all the sordid parts that America likes to assign to Negroes; but for any thing else there is still small place for us.” (984-985) [The image at left is of Bert Williams (1875-1922), a light-skinned African-American who, wearing blackface, became one of the most successful Vaudevillian comedians of his era.]

“…all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not give a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent.” (985-986)

“…it is not the positive propaganda of people who believe white blood divine, infallible and holy to which I object. It is the denial of a similar right of propaganda to those who believe black blood human, lovable and inspired with new ideals for the world.” (986)