Survery of Literary Criticism

Thursday, September 30, 2004

my journal "entry" for the "day"

Today our assignment is to apply Dante's four levels of interpretation to a passage of literary work. I am going to pick the first line of the pledge of allegiance.

**disclaimer** these are personal interpretations of the writer of this journal page and need not reflect the feelings of every single citizen of the United States

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..."

Literal - Anyone who utters these words with their right hand over their heart and facing the flag is promising their loyalty to the country of the United States and declaring that they are a citizen of that same country.

Allegorical - People are not pledging their allegiance to the flag itself, but to the ideals of the country who is represented by that flag. The flag is a symbol, a universally accepted symbol, for a group of people banded together. Every country has its own flag, as well as each state, organization, and even some clubs/chapters.
There is a deeper meaning than just pledging allegiance. By stating the pledge, each person is looking for that spine-tingling, gut-warming feeling of being "proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free" (Lee Greenwood's song). The United States and its flag stand for freedom from religious persecution and class systems, as well as opportunities to start over and live the American dream.

Moral - In order for the U.S. to continue standing for freedom, there are some basic morals that are inherent in the Pledge of Allegiance. And that is loyalty to country and God. Now days there are debates about whether the reference to God should be in the pledge, but it is hard to dispute that the founders of America were Christians and thus the pledge is rooted in Christianity.
Christianity teaches many morals - don't steal, don't commit adultery, don't kill, etc. These morals must be upheld in order to keep the country strong.

Anagogical - I think that the pledge itself, when the founders of the nation first repeated it outloud, facing a newly designed flag, must have given them a sublime experience. Think about it - to work most, if not their entire, of their lives working for freedom, and then to finally be able to call the new nation their own, must have been a feeling that took them to another level. If all Americans could experience that same ultimate moment, I suspect that we would all feel a little closer to each other. We do get an inkling of that feeling when we repeat the pledge or hear the national anthem at the beginning of ceremonies, sporting events, or organizational meetings. But to speak it for the first time much have been a 100 times better.

I also tried to Google anagogical.

I found this definition at

Anagogical (a.) Mystical; having a secondary spiritual meaning; as, the rest of the Sabbath, in an anagogical sense, signifies the repose of the saints in heaven; an anagogical explication.

There is such a thing as an "Anagogical Window". This window is located in France at the Benedictine Abbey Church of Saint-Denis and it was built in the 12th century. Link to picture:

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I may be slow to speak, but I definitely have something to say!

It appears to me as if Dr. Sexson has challenged our class, myself definitely included, to quit being big weenies and buck up to the challenge of editing the canon. Well, I accept his challenge and refrain from making any more comments about feeling under-qualified, with the understanding that even though I'm not make the comments, I still feel that way! So literary canon, watch out, here comes the English 300 class!!!!

There was an interesting discussion in class today about censorship. I see both points, that yes it's hard to draw a line for what we do or don't censor, but at the same time I think that we have some moral obligation to censor some of the violent, horrific, and even sexual things from our children. I suspect that this is a dilemna we all are wrestling with, so I am not going to focus on it or my particular opinion, since probably the only one who really cares what my opinion is is me.
Instead I'd like to examine a different aspect of the debate. Now I am a person who always tried to make an honest attempt to look at an issue from both, if not several, points of view. And therefore I can't help but wonder who are the people arguing for the different sides of censorship and what has made them into what they are. For instance, are the people who are totally against censorship of any kind the same people who were extremely sheltered as children and may feel as if they missed out on some education and are angry with their parents and society for not letting them get a better look at the world before reality hit them like a 2 by 4 over the head when they became adults? And that's why they want to be sure that no one else is sheltered and protected like they were, even though it was probably out of their parent's love and wish for them to not have to witness horrible things? Or are those the people who DO want censorship, since they grew up with it, why shouldn't everyone?
Conversely, are the people who are arguing FOR censorship to a high degree the very people whose parents thought that reality was the best teacher and let, or even forced, their children to watch 'R' rated movies when the children were infants and therefore the infants have been scarred for life by nightmares of murderers under the bed or in the closet? Are the people whose parents taught them as children about sex, pornography, appreciating their bodies, taking lovers, and other "grown up" issues the same people who would do the same with their own children, or are those the people who want the shelter their children more, and let the kids be kids before learning about the adult world?

These are the questions that I would be interested to have answered. Obviously one person can never be speaking from both points of view - that of an un-censored childhood and that of a censored childhood - at the same time. And that is why we will never know which style of parental censorship produces more "normal", productive citizens. But if I were a betting girl, I would put money on the "somewhere in the middle" style of parental censorship. This style would not shelter children so much that they are unable to adapt to adult life, but also not expose them to scenes and realities so harsh that they grow up too fast.

The censorship debate is ongoing and I'm sure that there's never going to be ONE answer, or one place to draw the line. However, it appears to me that it is solved every time a parent decides what to let their child experience and what the kids are prohibited from seeing. And that makes the censorship issue not a society issue, but a parental issue. Now I could go in a whole different direction with whether or not all parents are up to the task of making rational decisions for the children, because clearly there are better parents and worse parents. However, let me just leave it at the assurance that if I should ever reproduce, I realize that censorship of my children's reading, watching, and experiencing is a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Refrigerator Magnets

Well, I have to admit it. I have a deep, dark secret that I just need to get off my chest. Yes, I'm afraid it's true. I am merely masquerading as an English major, I'm actually an Economics major! **GASP!!!** Now before you English people organize an angry mob to lynch me, let me explain that I AM an English minor. But my first field of study is Agricultural Business, which is bascially an economics degree.
The reason I feel the need to impart this information is because I feel that my view of most things, especially poetry, is more "down to earth" than the full-out English majors. You see, economics teaches us to evaluate everything on a cost/benefit analysis. It also teaches us to assign a value for everything, including time and utility, or pleasure, gained from every act. That's how farmers and ranchers can justify choosing a career in an industry that traditionally has lower incomes and certainly less stable incomes than a "town job". They simply place a higher value on clean air, hard physical labor, entreprenuership, and the agricultural lifestyle than they do on accumulating a fortune of monetary wealth.

The other day I went to visit with Dr. Sexson, just to make sure that I was on the right track with my website and comments. He assured me that as long as I make an effort, I should be doing all right (my paraphrasing of his words!). But in the course of the description I revealed my imposterization and he replied with thinking that there probably couldn't be two different fields that further apart in terms of ideals and teaching styles. I agree with that. For instance, in economics, we are taught to always be realistic and to weigh each decision carefully before choosing an option that will give us the most utility or value. In English, we are taught to take our time and explore each and every facet of the imagination in a piece of work. In economics, we are given problem sets with exact, precise answers that are either right or wrong. In English, we are given writing assignments with freedom to pick our own topic, or at least the direction we want to take for the topic.
But Dr. Sexson also mentioned an exercise that he is having one of his classes do. They are to make refrigerator magnets out of all of the classes that they have taken and then form some sort of formation that would connect all of the classes. By doing this, they can see how all of their education fits together. At first, when I thought about how my classes would look, I thought the econs would be on one side of the frig and the englishes on the opposite side, so that they couldn't even be seen at the same time. But as I thought about it more, I realized that there are some definite overlaps. For example, from my Macro-Economics class (the economy as a whole), I realize that writing is a huge part of the United States and world economies. How many industries are based on writing? Newspaper, magazines, book stores, every product that comes with an instruction manual, medications that include warnings and so on..... Every industry includes English to some degree and therefore writing is a huge part of our economy.

On an individual level, agriculture itself has led to writing and literature. How did that happen? Well, let me explain. See, back in the day, our ancestors were all hunter/gatherers and nobody had any leisure time because everybody's time was more valuable being used to gather food to survive. But once agriculture was introduced, our ancestors could stay in one place, put up permanent homes, and start to specialize in different careers. After specialization occurred, it was just a matter of time before they were so efficient that there was leisure time. Once people had extra time on their hands, they could start thinking up a system for writing and eventually creating literature. And obviously some people must get a lot of utility out of writing, otherwise we wouldn't see so many poets, playwrights, and authors today.

So my refrigerator magnets are now all on the front of the frig, still somewhat seperated becuase of the different mindsets of the two disciplines, but also intertwined because they have more in common than I first realized. And now my secrets out and perhaps everyone will understand when I answer questions in terms of economics.

---- Katy =)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Is the Canon a Misprisian?

Well, first things first. In my last journal entry, I was confused about the meaning of "SUBLIME". Even though I googled it, I did not understand and that was made clear to me today in class. I now know that SUBLIME means to be so very, very good that it's like having an out of body experience. That makes more sense of a lot of things - like why the band chose that name.

I feel like I am too much of a pragmatist to have a truly sublime experience. I just don't believe that any experience could make a person feel like they are out of the body. But I have had an experience that was pretty darn cool and as close to sublime as I have ever gotten.

Last fall I studied at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. The whole experience of studying in Australia was amazing, but while I was down there I learned to swim. That's right, the girl from southeastern Montana didn't know how to swim. But thanks to some wonderful, very patient teachers, I learned the basic free-style stroke in under two months. Now that may not seem remarkable, but believe me, it was! However, the best part was yet to come. At the end of my semester, I had the opportunity to travel around the country. One of the places that I went was Cairns (pronounced Cannes) and out to the Great Barrier Reef. Now please keep in mind that I had only seen the ocean once prior to going to Australia and now I was on the Great Barrier Reef!!!!! Thanks to my swimming instructors, I was able to snorkel among the reef life. I actually touched a sea turtle!!! (thank goodness it wasn't a snapping one!) The colors of the reef were fantastic - deep blues, greens, reddish corals, purples, and many more. The aquatic life were even more cool - huge fish with great big stripes, tiny fish that peeked out of coral holes, shells along the bottom and much more. Seeing the reef was absolutely amazing, but it was even better because I had accomplished something - learning to swim - in order to see it. And that is about as sublime as I have ever been.

I will continue to look for a literary passage that represents the sublime. In the meantime, Dr. Sexton has asked us to stew over the canon material. It's an interesting list, but I feel very, very un-qualified to take on this task. As we were talking in our group today, I have not read the majority of the books on the list, or of the possible books for the list. I also feel like a 'simple' reader. I get the most enjoyment out of books that are easy to read and comprehensible, not the ones that are laborious to read and difficult to understand. I realize that there is much to be learned from books such as those, but they probably wouldn't be on my canon. So it will be fun to see how our class canon progresses.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Dialectic Goldilocks

Today we discussed the difference between Aristotle and Plato. Plato was like a hedgehog - he knew one big thing and that's they way he wanted arts and literature to teach people. Aristotle was like a fox - he knew lots of small things and was more apt to leave interpretations and opinions up to individuals. I'm not sure which view I like more, but I can definitely identify with each side. At first it seems that Aristotle and his open views are the only way to go - after all, who wants to think and do the exact same thing as everyone else? And yet I think that some social situations are much easier if there's Platonic thinking involved. Theoretically, if everyone knew the same one big thing, there wouldn't be as much conflict and disagreement in the world as a whole. Of course, reality seems to be a blending of the two thoughts - there is an accepted social norm, but everyone wants to be their own person.

Dr. Sexton also asked us to Google SUBLIME. My google search yielded over 200,000 sites, so I narrowed it to SUBLIME LITERATURE. This still yielded 166,000 sites. Apparently, sublime was a literary concept that came in existence around the Romantic period. Wordsworth and Coleridge are some of the prominent authors who used sublimity in the Romantic period. From - "The concept of the Sublime strengthened this turn to nature, because in wild countrysides the power of the sublime could be felt most immediately." Also, quite a few Gothic sites came up with my search for sublime. There is a town in Oregon named Sublimity.

As for an example that I have come across, I would have to say that much of today's music is sublime. How many people actually know the words to the catchy tunes that play on today's radio? Sometimes that great beat that makes your toes tap is paired with extremely vile or violent words. Or worse, kids who know the words to songs, but don't know what the words mean. Some of the music, especially from the rap and pop genres, have words that kids should not be repeating but don't know that there's anything wrong with them. I'm not sure that this is a correct application of the sublime theory, but I feel that by sublimely putting violent words behind catchy tunes could be sending the wrong message.

This site points out that there was a band named SUBLIME.

Article about sublime theory in literature:

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Miming Violence

Dr. Sexton's first assignment was to address the issue of mimesis in "The Idea of Order at Key West". That is, how realistic of a representation does the poem present?
I'm not quite sure how to approach this. In many ways, I have a hard time with poetry because I feel like it's just fluffy words trying to dress up some actually not very interesting idea. There is a large part of me that says the tree poem is absolutely ridiculous - why waste time making up a poem about a tree when you could plainly describe it to someone else and be twice as effective in getting your point across. In the "Idea of Order", I get the same feeling. Why not just write a short paragraph about how well the girl is singing, instead of confusing the issue and twisting all the extra words into something that takes decoding in order to figure out.

But I know that poetry is a very popular form of communication, even if it is not MY choice. And there is still a part of me that admires the way poetry can subtly make its point, and thereby making an arguably more powerful point. The "Idea of Order" poem does seem fairly realistic once I get through all the frippery. I can get a picture in my head of a girl walking beside the sea, singing there because it was her place to go escape the rest of the world and just be herself and do what she wants to - sing without censor.

Here's a wonderful site with explanations of MIMESIS:

In conjunction with the question from Tuesday, Dr. Sexton asked us today if there was a certain violent work that drew us to witness again and again - something that was painful and yet made us a better person for surviving.

The movies "Braveheart", "The Patriot", "The Last Samurai", and "Saving Private Ryan" all have the warfare theme in common. I feel like watching movies such as those give me a much bigger appreciation of all our fallen countrymen and even other nation's soldiers. I can't even imagine myself in the position of hand-to-hand combat, fighting my life and watching people die, perhaps even at my own hand. When I look at all that I am blessed with, I know that the men who fought those battles lived such different lives than I. War and blood are such a part of all of our history, and I feel that if I can watch a "gory" movie that helps me appreciate their sacrifices, then perhaps I will be a better person.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Crying, anyone?

Dr. Sexton asked us today about a work that has made us cry and yet we still want to watch or read it again.

I definitely agree with "Where the Red Fern Grows". Not only was that an incredibly sad book for me, but it was also a traumatic experience because we read it aloud in class and I cried. Which meant the boys in my class never let me live that down. Until our graduating day, they would tease me about crying. But I didn't let them keep me from going back to watch sad movies. "The Land Before Time" movie and "Old Yeller" also made me cry. I think that I am more affected by animal's deaths than humans, just because I realize how good of friends that animals can be. Also, I seem to be able to distance myself a little more from fake human deaths.

I'm really glad that Dr. Sexton asked this question, because while it is usually is acceptable for a girl to like sappy movies, it is not cool for a guy to admit that he was moved to tears by a movie. Perhaps this is a social issue that I won't be able to entirely fix in the space of this journal entry, but I just think that it is worth mentioning - as far as I know male tear ducts work just as well as female ones. So if any of you macho guys want to cry at a movie, I won't make fun of you!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

A Visit from the Powers that Be.

Right in the middle of a heated lecture/discussion on the definition of criticism, our class was blessed with a visit from Dr. Gamble. He left us with a passage from a poem that consoled him during a difficult time in his life.

Dr. Sexton has asked us to find such a "touchstone" in our lives - a specific passage that is always remembered and is associated with an emotion.

"I believe in the future of agriculture...." This is the beginning of the FFA Creed written by E.M. Tiffany. FFA is a national youth organization that I have participated in extensively. Through FFA, as well as other youth clubs such as 4-H, I have had amazing opportunities to travel, learn and meet friends. To this day, most of my good friends in college are people that I met through FFA and 4-H. This line also means to me that even though agriculturalists are growing ever-more scarce, there's still hope in the future. As long as there are young people such as myself to memorize and speak these words, the life style and traditions of ag communities, that I am so fond of, will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Preparing for Drag and other assignments....

Today we were assigned literary criticism authors, as well as a historical period, genre, criticism school, and issue. Dr. Sexton was not particular about who was assigned who, therefore some of us must be prepared to cross-dress, myself included. I was assigned Friedrich von Schiller. My group's assignments are Formalists, Novel, Renaissance, and Body.

The question of the day is:

What one literary work would you bring with you to a desert island?

My first instinct would be to bring a manual on survival, if that was available. But I'm thinking that a desert island probably does not have much to survive on anyway, so I will just rely on my own ingenuity and instead take a book that I can get more enjoyment out of than a manual. So I would take Mary O'Hara's book "My Friend Flicka". This choice says a lot about me. It is a book about a boy and his horse, and the struggles they go through before becoming friends. It's also a story about a young person growing up, a stage which I am still in myself. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Southeastern Montana, and animals have always been a source of joy and kindredship for me. Therefore I could spend my time reading a really great story and letting it remind me of experiences I have had, as well as plan for things I will do if I ever make it off the island. I don't think it would matter how many times I read the book, it would still be powerful and moving.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Someone to commiserate with.

Now I am part of a group - group 3, which consists of Lisa, Brian, Nikki, Jake, Danny, and myself. I trust that we will help each other survive and triumph over this class!

Dr. Sexton assigned two questions to be addressed on-line. I'm not sure that I have a specific answer for either of them, but here goes:

Is there a work that consoles you/gives you comfort on a Sunday morning?

Reading has always been a favorite pasttime of mine, ever since I was little. I enjoy reading for entertainment and it is a comfort to me when I can get into a story and feel emotions that I may not get to feel in my own life. This could be because I am never in certain situations, or for reason I don't allow myself to feel that emotion in my own life. I like stories of most types -humor, love, romance, action, animal, underdog, children, mystery, etc. While reading, I put myself in the place of the character(s). If a character suceeds, I imagine the feeling of being congratulated. If a character fails, I imagine depression, and so on. My favorite stories are the ones that leave me with renewed determination to attempt to get that feeling (true love, career success, good friends, whatever) in real life. Therefore I would say that no single work gives me comfort, just the simple reading of a story that I can get into and leaves me with a postive outlook and hope for the future.

Is there any literary work or piece of art that has affected your life/changed you?

It's hard to pick just one. Not that I have had a lot of life-altering experiences, but I believe that many works have affected me in small ways. In fact, perhaps every book or film affects me in a small way, even if it is only to show me what I do not like or don't want to be. One work that I remember in particular is the film "Gone with the Wind." I only saw it recently, but have of course heard of it for quite a while. Once I actually saw it, I couldn't believe that it had a reputation of being such a "landmark" or "great" film. I thought it was awful! That girl was so selfish and proud that she lost everything in her entire life! I can identify with her love of the land, but my goodness she made some colossal mistakes. Works like that make me realize what I don't want to become and make me think about how to avoid it. Other works show me the way to being a better person and inspire me to become one.