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Web Wednesday [12/7]: Revising Our Sites Edition

Prewriting: Create a new post on your own blog called “Revising My Site.” Later today, your fellow students will use this post to leave comments about your blog.

1) Literary Studies Part: Today we are going to work on your final projects: revising your blog into a website devoted to your short story. To do this, you will revise the projects you have already completed, and then add Pages that provide biographical information, historical context, analyses of the story from at least two literary theory perspectives, and other relevant information like maps or images.

Later, you will introduce your website with a cover letter (a “sticky” post) to me that explains the process you went through to create your digital portfolio, describes the strengths you have gained by producing the pieces of writing and the challenges you still face as a writer (you’ll do this step sometime next week).

Quickly look at some of these websites, devoted to the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner:

Leave a comment below that identifies 2 or 3 aspects of these websites that you are think would be important to include in your own site. (Note: I don’t think any of these websites are particularly great as they are, and I am hoping that you all do something much more sophisticated for your final project.)

2) Hybrid Part: Using the list we have created, spend the next half hour working on your site. I especially want you to pay attention to the structure of your site: what various Pages of information do you have and do you need, and how do you have them organized? Go ahead and make Pages that will hold the content you need to include, and put those pages in a logical order.

3) Writing Part: Using the blogroll, look at three of your peers’ websites and leave a substantial comment about their sites on their “Revising My Site” post. You should offer specific comments that will help your fellow students revise.

4) Homework: Please fill out an evaluation form for this (and your other) courses:
These are very important to faculty in general for things like tenure, but they are also important to yours truly for thinking about how to revise this class.

Posted in Prof Ferguson, Web Wednesday.

Web Wednesday [11/30]: The Marriage Plot I

Tweet: Tweet 3 adjectives that describe Eugenides’s style (I’ll also use this for attendance).

Prewriting: Look at the description of the next assignment: Leave a comment on that post that asks a question or gives a suggestion about the assignment.

1) Literary Studies Part I:  Find one sentence in the first chapter where Eugenides uses “characterization” to describe Mitchell, who we didn’t talk about last class (so, not just “description” of Mitchell, but the novelistic element “characterization”).

Leave a comment below that quotes the original sentence and explains how Eugenides’s word choice helps to characterize Mitchell (hint: you’re paying attention to the connotation, not just the denotation).  When you finish, reply to your peers’ sentences.

2) Literary Studies Part II: Along with “characterization” and “setting” (both of which we talked about on Monday) “theme” is another element of the novel genre. Simply put, theme is a repeated idea in a novel that is generally not stated explicitly, but rather conveyed through description, metaphor, character, setting, and so on. For our purposes, we can consider a novel having a number of themes, although they generally relate to one major theme that provides the overall “point” of the novel.

One theme I have seen so far is the theme of “mania,” meaning that a character gets overly obsessed on one thing. For example, Leonard’s mental illness leads him to go to a cabin to write a long paper on Fichte, Mitchell’s religious impulse leads him to Mother Teresa, and Madeleine’s romantic literary side results in her rereading Roland Barthes.

Consider what you and your peers wrote in the last step about how Eugenides characterizes Mitchell. Also consider this passage, which characterizes Leonard. (Checking out a book at the library, in front of Madeleine, Leonard tells the “Bettie Page” assistant  his housefly theory):

“Bettie Page tapped Leonard’s hand to get his attention. ‘Flies aren’t always so fast,’ she said. ‘I’ve caught flies in my bare hands before.’
‘Especially in winter,’ Leonard said. ‘That’s probably the kind of fly I’d be. One of those knucklehead winter flies.'” (41).

Now, leave a substantial comment below that answers the question: What does the difference in these two characterizations tell us about the theme of mania in The Marriage Plot?

3) Writing Part:  Select one of the following paragraphs. On your own blog, perform a New Critical close reading that argues how Eugenides’s word choice develops the theme of mania.

Madeleine had been trying to beat Alton [in tennis] her entire life without success. This was even more infuriating because she was better than he was, at this point. But whenever she took a set from Alton he started intimidating her, acting mean, disputing calls, and her game fell apart. Madeleine was worried that there was something paradigmatic in this, that she was destined to go through life being cowed by less capable men. As a result, Madeleine’s tennis matches against Alton had assumed such outsize personal significance for her that she got tight whenever she played him, with predictable results. (10)

The Hannas’ house was a hundred-year-old Tudor. . . . Inside, everything was tasteful and half falling apart. The Oriental carpets had stains. The brick-red kitchen linoleum was thirty years old. When Mitchell used the powder room, he saw that the toilet paper dispenser had been repaired with Scotch tape. So had the peeling wallpaper in the hallway. (74)

At the genuine endpoint of his college career, Mitchell was left with that startling sight: Herr Doktor Professor Richter prancing by, his face lit with a childlike joy it had never displayed in the seminar room for Religion and Alienation. As if Richter had found the cure for alienation. As if he’d beaten the odds of the age. (118)

4) Homework: Finish up your paragraphs. Look again more carefully at the questions and answers on the upcoming assignment post and work on that. Read through the next two chapters (up to page 227).

Posted in Prof Ferguson, Web Wednesday.

Upcoming Conference Presentation Assignment

Self-Guided Conference Presentation: Imagine you have been asked to speak at a literary conference about your short story. Drawing on all the previous assignments, create a slide show presentation for the conference. Your presentation should quickly introduce the text to reasonably educated viewers, and then spend most of its time on introducing and supporting an argument about the literary meaning of your text. This argument should be specifically based on one of the literary theories we have discussed.

You will put your presentation on your blog, so it needs to make sense on its own, although it shouldn’t be too wordy like an essay. You can use a number of programs to create this–Powerpoint for Windows and Keynote for Mac are probably the two most popular. You should save and upload your presentation in a format that everyone can see (if you just upload a Powerpoint presentation, then people will have to have Powerpoint on their computer to see it and not everyone does).

One trick is to save your presentation as a movie or “mov” file, which more people can see. You can find advice for how to do this on the internet.

Here is a link to a sample presentation; it does not at all address the assignment, but shows how you can upload a “mov” file to be a clickable presentation:

A Presentation on the metonym “Crown”

How many slides do you think you should have?

Posted in Assignments, Prof Ferguson.

And the Winner Is . . .

. . . Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

This book got almost 50% of the vote, and as I look into it more, it actually seems to be perfect for this class: it’s about some English majors who meet while taking a class on semiotics! You guys will have the jump on the average reader . . .

So, get your copy right away. The book just came out, so you’re going to have to get it in hardcover. Looks like the going price on amazon is around $14, which is 50% off.

We will discuss the first third on Monday 11/28 (specific details to come), so pay attention to shipping if you order online.

Eugenides tentative discussion assignment:
11/28 first section: “A Madman in Love”
12/5 next two: “Pilgrims,” and “Brilliant Move”
12/12 last three: “Asleep in the Lord,” “And Sometimes They Were Very Sad,” and “The Bachelorette’s Survival Kit”

Posted in Prof Ferguson.

Web Wednesday [11/16]: Library Edition

Prewriting: Did you vote? If not, do so right now:

Today’s goal: to find at least one really good scholarly article on a topic related to your short story and create an MLA citation for it.

When you do library research, you can’t find what you want if you don’t know the right word to search for. The “right word” is called a “subject heading.” Subject headings are agreed upon by all libraries, and may not be the first words you think of (for example, you don’t search “movies” or “film,” you search “motion pictures”).

Read this webpage, which discusses what a subject heading is:

Now, tweet three words you think would be the best subject headings for an academic article or book related to your chosen short story. These will be subjects, not necessarily the title or author or characters.

Library Part I: A database is like a “basket” that contains a number of individual journals (each of which contains individual articles). Each database has a different collection of journals, so you will need to search multiple databases, but Academic Search Complete is a good general database to start general research.

Navigate to the library database Academic Search Complete, found here:

Do a basic search for each of the three subject headings you tweeted. Ignore the article results, but look to the left column and find “Subject: Thesarus Term” and “Subject.” Copy down the synonyms the database is suggesting to you that are actually relevant, and ignore the red herrings. Leave a comment below that notes your original term, and the newly suggested related terms you should use.

Library Part II: Perform a new search on the same database using one of the new subject headings you have discovered. Where it says “Select a Field (optional),” drag down to “SU Subject Terms” so that you’re only searching for that word in Subject Term fields. Also, add other search terms related to your story (perhaps the author’s name, the title, the genre, etc); try searching for these in the “TX All Text” under “Select a Field (optional).” Leave a comment describing your results.

Writing Part: Reflect on your research so far. On your own blog, create a post that poses an open-ended question about your story. Write a paragraph about what kinds of information you would need to answer your question, and what other kinds of topics or terms you would search to help investigate your question.

Homework: Vote on Final Round here:

Continue to work on your annotated bibliography: go back to the library’s database page and navigate to the JSTOR journal. Replicate your previous successful searches on this database. Look for other databases that are more specific to the disciplines of your topic (like a history-focused database, a literary studies-focused databases, or a sociological-focused based).

Still confused?:  Read this, a tutorial on searching the library database for articles:

Posted in Prof Ferguson, Web Wednesday.

Picking a Novel

Please vote for the book you want to read at the end of the semester.

We will vote twice–after the first round we will eliminate four books, and then have a second and final vote between the three finalists.

I haven’t read any of these, but all but one are by relatively well-known authors. All the novels have won a major literary award (National Book Critics Circle Awards, Pulitzer Prize, or National Book Award). The page numbers might be inaccurate (they may be for the hardcover, which is longer than paperback). I’ve given a brief plot summary from wikipedia, but you might want to look further. They are presented in alphabetical order. Here are the descriptions:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2007), 352 pages: “The book chronicles both the life of Oscar de Leon, an overweight Dominican boy growing up in Paterson, New Jersey who is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy novels and with falling in love, as well as the curse that has plagued his family for generations.” [from wikipedia]

The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje (2011), 288 pages: “Three Ceylonese schoolboys on a sea journey to England take delight in their eccentric companions at the ship’s worst dining table.” [from NY Times review]

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004), 256 pages: “The novel is the fictional autobiography of the Reverend John Ames, an elderly congregationalist pastor in the small, secluded town of Gilead, Iowa who knows that he is dying of a heart condition.” [from wikipedia]

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann (2009), 368 pages: “The plot of the book revolves around two central events. The first . . . is the sensational real-life feat of the Twin Towers tightrope walk of Philippe Petit 110 stories up, performed in 1974. . . . The second . . . is the fictional courtroom trial of a New York City prostitute.” [from wikipedia]

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides (2011), 416 pages: “The story concerns three college friends from Brown University—Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell—beginning in their senior year, 1982, and follows them during their first year post-graduation.” [from wikipedia]

The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht (2011), 337 pages: “The Tiger’s Wife is set in an unnamed Balkan country, in the present and half a century ago, and features a young doctor’s relationship with her grandfather and the stories he tells her, primarily about the ‘deathless man’ who meets him several times in different places and never changes, and a deaf-mute girl from his childhood village who befriends a tiger that has escaped from a zoo.” [from wikipedia]

Tinkers, Paul Harding (2009), 191 pages: “The novel tells the tale of George Washington Crosby, a clock repairman, who, on his deathbed, recounts his life story and his father’s struggles with epilepsy to his family.” [from wikipedia]


Posted in Prof Ferguson.

Web Wednesday: Myth Edition

Prewriting: Tweet the name of a myth that also has a modern version (I’ll also use this for attendance).

1) Literary Studies Part I: In your own words, write one sentence that makes an argument about writing that you know Freud, Saussure, and Lévi-Strauss would all agree on. Leave it as a comment to this post.

2) Literary Studies Part II: Pretend you are a New Critic and in three sentences rebut one of the arguments a fellow classmate made, using an example from literature.

3) Reading Part: Quickly read this story, which we’ll treat as a myth:

4) Literary Studies Part III: Consider Lévi-Strauss’s “orchestral” method for analyzing myths. Using the following “mythemes” that I provide, create a table that arranges the mythemes of “Rumpelstiltksin” in a way that demonstrates the structure of “Rumpelstiltskin” (if you’re confused: we’re basically doing to Rumpelstiltskin what L-S did to Oedipus on page 864. Lévi-Strauss only had four columns, so maybe you want four columns too, or perhaps six. Remember: the most important thing is to find relations, like  X:Y::A:B )

A true “structural study” would first involve an analysis of the words and images in order to determine what the mythemes are. I’m just going to list prominent images and actions, in the order they appear (about one mytheme for each paragraph of the story to get started). You may not use all the mythemes or see all of them being equally important.

Post your results in a new post on your own blog; you might use an excel sheet, a word doc, or some other program.

Some Mythemes in Rumpelstiltskin:

Miller lies to King about daughter
Daughter put in room with task
Manikin trades necklace for spun gold
Manikin trades ring for spun gold
King rejoices
Manikin trades child for spun gold
King marries daughter
Daughter/Queen gives birth
Manikin returns for promised child
Manikin makes new promise about guessing name
Queen incorrectly guesses names
Queen sends messenger out to find names
Manikin rejoices by fire, dancing
Queen learns true name
Manikin splits self in two


Here’s what I came up with:

A Cheating B Contracting C Producing D Rejoicing
Miller lies to King [cheats] Manikin trades spun gold [contract] Manikin produces those things [production] King [rejoices]
King marries daughter [contract] Daughter/Queen gives birth [production]
Manikin makes new name [contract]
Queen uses messenger to find names [cheats] Manikin rejoices by fire, dancing[rejoices]
Queen says true name [production]

Looking at the story in this structural way, I think column 1 and 2 are related: both are about making agreements with strangers, either verbal promises or legal contracts. Columns 3 and 4 are about “making things”–either real things like gold or children, or intangible things like joy and safety. It seems the story is saying that cheating : contracting :: rejoicing : producing. In other words, the structure of this myth tells us not to trust contracts, since they always can be cheated on, and not to rejoice too easily, since tangible things can always be taken from us as easily as they are given.

5) Writing Part: Look at this quote from the Lévi-Strauss reading (pages 867). On your own blog, write a long paragraph that describes the relationship between “growth” and “structure” in the case of Rumpelstiltskin.

“The question has often been raised why myths, and more generally oral literature, are so much addicted to duplication, triplication, and quadruplication of the same sequence. If our hypotheses are accepted, the answer is obvious: The function of repetition is to render the structure of the myth apparent. For we have seen that the synchronic-diachronic structure of they mouth permits us to organize it into diachronic sequences (the rows in our tables) which should be read synchronically (the columns).”

6) Homework: Finish up steps 4 and 5 by the weekend.

Posted in Prof Ferguson, Web Wednesday.

Upcoming Assignment Instructions

Annotated Bibliography (3-4 pp.)

Imagine yourself as being a New Critic, and consider the major tension or contradiction in your short story. Use the library’s resources to find three secondary sources that relate to your story and its central tension. Using MLA style, create a Works Cited page for these three items. These sources should be scholarly, academic ones such as journal articles, book chapters, scholarly film reviews, and filmmaker interviews. Do not use Internet search engines or popular magazines and newspapers. Instead, use a variety of electronic databases like JSTOR, Academic Search Complete, and the CUNY+ catalog.

After identifying and preparing citations for three sources, provide one-paragraph annotations for each. These annotations, or “evaluative summaries,” should begin with a 2-3 sentence overview of the article, continue with 2-3 sentences that cite and contextualize key quotations or terms, and conclude with 2-3 sentences that discuss how this source will be useful to your project.

Audience: An English professor who is not necessarily familiar with the research you uncover

Sample of one entry for this assignment [pdf link]

Posted in Assignments, Prof Ferguson.

Web Wednesday: Dream-work Edition [Nov. 2]

Prewriting: Tweet five words that capture the idea of Freud’s essay (I’ll also use this for attendance).

1) Writing Part:  Can we really interpret dreams like we can interpret short stories? In the comments box below, write a few sentences that argues whether or not Freud’s theory of dreams really applies to literature, or whether it’s stretching things too far. Then find one person that you disagree with and tell them why they’re wrong!

2) Hybrid Part: Think back to your earlier assignment on the rhetorical sophistication of Twitter conversations. Which of the rhetorical devices you analyzed is most like what Freud labelled “condensation”? Why is it like condensation? Tweet the name of your rhetorical device, and leave a three sentence comment to your own original blog post that begins “The rhetorical element of XXXXX is similar to Freud’s theory of condensation because XXXXXXXXXX.”

3) Literary Studies Part I:  Look at the Hemingway story “A Very Short Story.” Treating it like a dream, identify one instance of Condensation and one instance of Displacement. Make a comment below that includes the quote and why this quote represents Condensation or Displacement.

4) Literary Studies Part II: We need a method. Look at this quote from the Freud reading (pages 508-509):

“A dream-thought is unusable so long as it is expressed in an abstract form; but when once it has been transformed into pictorial language, contrasts and identifications of the kind which the dream-work requires, and which it creates if they are not already present,can be established more easily than before between the new form of expression and the remainder of the material underlying the dream. This is so because in every language concrete terms, in consequence of the history of their development, are richer in associations than conceptual ones. We may suppose that a good part of the intermediate work done during the formation of a dream, which seeks to reduce the dispersed dream-thoughts to the most succinct and unified expression possible, proceeds along the line of finding appropriate verbal transformations for the individual thoughts.”

Use this quotation to help you name 2 concrete tasks that we should perform when treating literary texts from the point of view of Freud’s Dream-work? Make a post on your own blog that offers a concrete system

5) Homework: Have good weekend! We’ll start fresh on Monday . . .

Posted in Web Wednesday.

Web Wednesday: Lots of Writing Edition [10/26]

I know why I couldn’t answer Michelle’s question about Saussure–he didn’t actually publish what we read; it was put together later from his students’ notes.

Check out wiki:

Prewriting: In your own words, tweet the most important idea of Saussure’s essay. 
(I’ll also use this for attendance).

1) Literary Studies Part I: In the comments below, reflect on two qualities of poetry you think a Semiotician would prize most of all. For example, the New Critics prized poems that successfully fused “form” and “content” into an “organic unity.” What would a Semiotician say the best poems do? Find two quotations from Saussure that could serve as evidence for your claim (although he’s not really writing about poetry).

2) Writing Part: But what does Saussure have to do with reading literature?
When we read the article about the New Critics, we paid attention to how the method (the steps of what a New Critic would actually do) came from the New Critic’s theory of language. With Saussure, we just read about his theory, but we don’t yet have a method.
Create a post on your own blog that describes the steps that a Semiotician would follow when trying to interpret a poem. Spend about 15 minutes doing this and tweet once you are done so others can check out what you did. Be as concrete and practical as you can (Step 1: …)

3) Literary Studies Part II:  Next, add to your post a reading of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 65” that comes out of the steps you just identified (not your own interpretation, or a New Critic’s reading, but what you think a Semiotician would say following the steps you described).

4) Literary Studies Part III: Use the blogroll to look at two of your peers’ blogs and leave specific feedback that would help them revise their reading to include one step that you emphasized but they didn’t.

5) Homework:  Catch up–finish the annotated paragraph assignment if you haven’t! I will be looking at these over the weekend . . .

Posted in Web Wednesday.