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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2003 2:28 pm 
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I went to a bookstore on my lunch break the other day to buy “Wives and Daughters,” since I was getting nowhere trying to read it online. The store didn't have the book, so I settled for John Grisham’s non-legal-world novel, “A Painted House.” I think Grisham’s books are perfect for traveling – they go very quickly and the plots are interesting enough to keep me awake. I guess that’s why they turn inspire such successful Hollywood movies. But I think his books are nothing but plot, though a number of reviewers seem to think he creates memorable characters. Frankly, I’ve never been tempted to reread any of his books, since I can remember the plots.

“A Painted House” takes place in rural Arkansas in 1952 and contains murders and illegitimate births and who knows what all else. It's told in the first person by a seven-year-old boy. Sometimes the opinions and reactions do seem to jive with what a seven-year-old would think, but since Grisham is writing in the first person and in the time in which the story takes place, I think he should have been more careful about throwing in thoughts that are obviously ones that adults would have.

<small>[ 16 January 2003, 04:09 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2003 8:15 pm 
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Liscarkat, how funny that you should have found me out. I am a professor of wine bottle labels and have exhibited my labels in art galleries all around the country. I will schedule a meeting w/ my graduate advisor and ask whether I can write a dissertion on Djb's poem.

Djb, about the Gaskell and the Grisham:

Quote:
“A Painted House” takes place in rural Arkansas in 1952 and contains murders and illegitimate births and who knows what all else.
Djb, you're actually not missing much in substituting A Painted House for Wives and Daughters. As it turns out, Wives and Daughters also takes place in a rural Arkansas-like English countryside in 1952 and has murders and so forth.

Just so that you don't feel like you're missing a lot in your book switch, here is a short synopsis I wrote based on my first reading:

*****

Elizabeth Gaskell has been known for her well crafted novels of English life and manners. With Wives and Daughters, however, she strikes out in a new direction and readers will search in vain for the kind of lowlife machinations that have been her stock-in-trade. Instead, Gaskell has delivered a quieter, more contemplative story, set in rural England of the 1950s very reminiscent of post-WWII Arkansas.

It's harvest time on the Hamley estate, and the Squire has hired a crew of migrant Mexicans and "hill people" to pick 80 acres of cotton. But it's backbreaking work, particularly for the 7-year-old narrator, Molly Gibson: "I would pick cotton, tearing the fluffy bolls from the stalks at a steady pace, stuffing them into the heavy sack, afraid to look down the row and be reminded of how endless it was, afraid to slow down because someone would notice."

What's more, tensions begin to simmer between the Mexicans and the landed aristocrats, one of whom, Osborne Hamley, has a penchant for bare-knuckles brawling. This leads to a brutal murder, which young Molly has the bad luck to witness. At this point--with secrets, lies, and at least one knife fight in the offing--the plot begins to take on that familiar, Gaskell-style momentum. However not all is such familiar British sentimentality. At times Gaskell writes with an easy ironic voice:

Molly Gibson: “I'd been taught in Sunday school from the day I could walk that lying would send you straight to hell. No detours. No second chances. Straight into the fiery pit, where Satan was waiting with the likes of Hitler and Judas Iscariot and General Grant.”

The living conditions of everyone from sharecroppers, migrant workers, Roundheads, and the townspeople are intimately described. It is the story of a little English girl faced with harsh realities: Molly and her father share a small unpainted home beside the cotton fields. Her uncle is fighting in the Korean War. Molly like her forbear, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, is an essential moral barometer in a world of agrarian intrigue—who must keep terrible secrets of Cynthia Kirkpatrick’s illegitimate pregnancy and abortion, Roger Hamley’s crack habit, and ritual Satanic abuse within the Cumnor family line.

Wives and Daughters is a deftly written novel about harsh social and class realities that speaks directly to our hearts, even in this cynical post-modern world. Gaskell gives us memorable characters in uncompromising language that should stay with us long after we put the book down.

*****

BTW, though I'm only 11% done with Dombey and Son (its over 900 pages!), its going quickly. I especially like the cyberpunk and grunge imagery and I am looking forward to many interesting class discussions.

<small>[ 16 January 2003, 09:24 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2003 8:43 pm 
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Jeff, the above should be included in the Book of Sequels, Part 2, if there such a book were to come out. Did you read The Book of Sequels? It's great, but I don't know whether it's still in print. If you ever come across it in a used bookstore or other such source, be sure to buy it. It's written by some of the National Lampoon's best writers. One of my favorite sequels is the one to Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gently, called Go Kindly and Gently. There were also four sequels to Gone With the Wind, as written by four modern authors, including Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Walker.

<small>[ 16 January 2003, 09:45 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Mon Jan 20, 2003 11:46 pm 
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Could someone please tell me what on earth this thread is about? It sounds like a hoot if I only knew what it was you were all talking about. Is it refering to another thread or what?


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2003 12:02 am 
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Failli, right now the thread has become flights of fancy. But it started out seriously enough. It's just a winterized version of a thread that Jeff started last summer, called Light Summer Reading.


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2003 12:06 am 
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Thanks djb. I didn't realize it had two pages, but now I've read page 1 and it makes a lot more sense.

Well, speaking of light reading, has anyone ever read anything by Terry Pratchet? Now they're good books!

<small>[ 21 January 2003, 01:09 AM: Message edited by: Failli ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2003 1:03 am 
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No, I haven't - what sort of writer is he/she?


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2004 2:35 pm 
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It's that time of year, and since Jeff doesn't seem to be doing the honors, I will.

I finally read Elizabeth Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters." What I enjoyed most about it was her three-dimensional female characters. So often male Victorian writers didn't seem to have a clue about women, and only knew how to make them evil, comic or sweet and ineffectual. Hyacinth in "Wives and Daughters" is so believably manipulative (in fact, she reminds me very much of someone close to me) that I want to smack her. It was disappointing to come to the end and learn that Gaskell died before she completed the novel.

I was well into "War and Peace" (Andrei's first battle) when I started my teacher training course in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages, aka ESL). I've put that novel away until I have more time to devote to it, as each time I pick it up, it takes awhile to remember who's who.

Meanwhile, I've almost finished Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad." It's funny, of course, but sometimes I'm surprised by how conventional he was. And, getting back to the subject of male Victorian-era writers and their attitudes toward women, I'm often infuriated by Twain's comments about women. He seemed to think that they're on earth just for decoration (a not uncommon idea), and if they don't live up to his standard of beauty, he makes them the butt of jokes.

I just got a book that one of my TESOL teachers recommended, "Learner English," in the interests of my future intended career, but it's also interesting reading if you enjoy reading about languages (as I do). It's a contrastive analysis (a term I picked up in my class) of the problems speakers of various languages are expected to have when they are learning English. It covers 22 languages, a few of which are actually language groups (e.g., Scandinavian, West African). Each chapter analyzes a language by phonology, orthography, grammar and vocabulary, and ends with a literal translation into English of a written passage in the subject language.

Teaching people to speak English has made me want to get back into a foreign language class, but I can't decide which one. Since I want to teach here in San Francisco, Spanish and Chinese seem like logical choices. But maybe I should wait until I start a teaching job before I decide. One of my teachers suggested starting with volunteer work at a local refuge center. She said there are lots of Bosnians there now, so maybe I should study Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian!

<small>[ 14 January 2004, 12:21 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 11:06 pm 
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Thanks, djb, for bringing up this delicious topic while I was away (evidence in another thread). I’m always ready to bring up suggestions for light winter reading though this past semester there wasn’t anything assigned that I thought would really work. Camus, Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie … nah , not exactly what you’d call “light reading” …

Let’s see … on my recent travels I re-read “The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction” by Jonathan Culler (Cornell UP, 1981). I found this an excellent introduction to some of the more formalist perspectives in modern literary theory which takes as its point of departure the insights of semiotics. Though Culler takes on such juicy topics as Rifaterre’s semiotics of poetry, the deconstruction of langue and parole by the notion of intertextuality, the rhetorical turns of rhetoric (troping about tropes), the deconstruction of the distinction between metaphor and metonymy, and more, he is perhaps best in making the case against interpretation as the primary function of literary studies.

Quote:
There are many tasks that confront criticism, many things we need to advance our understanding of literature, but one thing we do not need is more interpretations of literary works (pg 6)
In other words, there are already too many interpretations out there. Critical projects that Culler feels would be of more urgent interest would be a systematic study of the conditions which enable literature to have meaning: “…we need a typology of discourse and a theory of the relations (both mimetic and non-mimetic) between literature and the other modes of discourse which make up the text of intersubjective experience” (pg 6). Much of the book follows various, essentially formalist theoretical strands that strain the bounds of structuralism into post-structuralism.

BTW, I am not recommending this as “light winter reading” – just mentioning it as an FYI. You should see some of the really frightful stuff I have read lately …

In order to get a head start on a 600 level seminar class for next term, I also read Michael Fisher’s “The First Indian Author in English: Dean Mahomed (1759-1851) in India, Ireland, and England” (Oxford UP, 1996). Mahomed was a soldier in the East India Company’s Bengal Army in 18th century India. He joined the army in his teens as the protégé of an English cadet and slowly rose up the ranks to the position of subedar. Fisher reprints Mahomed's memoirs in whole with extensive commentary.

Mahomed's memoirs recount such staples of imperialist British pursuits as the Rohilla War, the Second Anglo-Mysore War, counter-insurgency suppression in the countryside and so on. Mahomed also gives some local color with some interesting details about native dance of the period told mainly with an eye of Orientalist exoticism and allure. Here is part of his description of the dancing girls:

Quote:
In some of their dances, even in public, modesty is not much respected in the motions of their limbs, the quivering of their hips, and other lascivious attitudes, into which they throw themselves, without exposing any nudity. But in private parties, they introduce other dances, in which, though they never offend delicacy, by discovering any part of their bodies, they betray such fascinating looks and postures, as are probably more dangerous (pg 49-50)
Mahomed’s writings are in the form of a travel narrative in epistalatory form and in a dignified and erudite style. I’m not sure I’m recommending the Dean Mahomed book, either, but it’s quite an easy read as a travel narrative; but as the offering of a sepoy about the imperialist subjugation of his own land, I anticipate many interesting class discussions about such topics as imperialism, orientalism, accommodation and resistance, the ideology of literary form and of literary convention, etc.

Djb, give us an author and publisher for “Learner English.” Before I started grad. school, I enjoyed tutoring English and ESL at a local community college and got advice from my brother (who has an ESL credential) to use the Betty Azar books. I must admit I didn’t care for them but tutoring at the Tutoring Center is different than teaching in a class.


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 11:33 pm 
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"Learner English"
Edited by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith
Second Edition 2001
Cambridge University Press

I wish the book covered even more languages. It's not that I think I might someday teach people whose native languages aren't covered in this book; I just like reading basic information about languages, and it's handy to have so much information in one place.

Jeff, that description of Indian dance was interesting. In the US, we mostly see various types of classical Indian dance, in which the hips do not "quiver."


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 10:23 pm 
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Thank you for the book info – I think I’ll get it w/ my next Amazon.com order.

Quote:
… that description of Indian dance was interesting. In the US, we mostly see various types of classical Indian dance, in which the hips do not "quiver."
Dean Mahomed wrote of the late 1700s and its impossible to say if he saw a classical, ethnic, or social form of Indian dance. You’d need a dance historian specializing in 18th century India – particularly to explain the cultural context. After all, one man’s bump could be another man’s grind. Who can tell what an 18th century sepoy saw in “quivering hips” and those no doubt highly choreographed but lethal “fascinating looks and postures.” Whatever it is, Mahomed implies that dance is primarily the art of the professional courtesan. Here is little more from Letter XV:

Quote:
At a very youthful time of life, they are regularly trained in all the arts of pleasing, by a hackneyed matron, worn in the campaigns of Venus, whose past experience renders her perfectly adequate to the task of instruction, for which she receives from her pupils a share of the pecuniary favours conferred on them by their gallants, and also procures them every article of dress that can set off to advantage...

…some of the principal Nabobs and European Gentlemen of the first distinction, are drawn by the love of pleasure, and lavish immense sums on these creatures, who are generally recruited out of the people of all casts and denominations, though not without a peculiar attention to beauty or agreeableness; yet, even the knowledge of their being so common, is with many totally forgotten in the ravishing display of their natural and acquired charms (pg 49)
These excerpts are from an interesting section of the memoirs, Letters XII to XV, in which Mahomed describes the Muslim life and culture of that time and place. What they call auto-ethnographic description: rituals such as birth, circumcision, funerals, etc. What is really interesting is the way Mahomed’s memoirs deal with the issue of identity which he constructs not only with careful choice of material and description but even with his manipulation of literary form and convention … but that’s getting us into material best covered in class…

Now that I think on it, I have “read” (on audiobook) something worth a passing mention. It’s the short stories of science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, and just finished “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and “Paycheck.” One was the inspiration for the movie “Total Recall” starring the current governor of California and the other a movie out now by action director John Woo starring Ben Afleck and Uma Thurman.


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2004 2:11 am 
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I once saw a documentary on TV about a certain quarter of a city in India that historically was where women were taught the arts of a courtesan, including dance. I can't remember any details such as the name of the city, or the title of the documentary, or even for sure whether the women really learned the arts of a courtesan. But what I do recall very clearly was the dancing that was shown. It had a lot of hip movements similar to those in bellydancing, although the overall look of the dancing was clearly Indian.

I've started reading "Cold Mountain." I wonder how modern writers decide what profanity and obscenities to use when the story is set in a period whose writers didn't use such language in their works. Are there sources that I'm not aware of that provide this information, or do the writers just assume that certain words are so basic that they must have been in use for a very long time?

<small>[ 15 January 2004, 03:14 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2004 5:54 pm 
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According to Amazon.com "Cold Mountain" written by Charles Frazier and published in 1997 won a National Book award. I'll assume it's the story upon which the new movie is based starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger and directed by Anthony Minghella.

I'm under the impression that languistic practices of the past can be estimated by looking for their traces in places other than published literature. As you can imagine, the vocabulary o of a belle lettre society and its fine arts writings will differ a lot from that of everyday spoken use. But, as the literary theorists will tell us, language leaves its traces both intra-and extra-textually. It has the tendency to exceed whatever bounds are set for it.

On a practical level, if a writer wanted some historical information, I suppose there would be, for example, private diaries, private correspondance, songs, ditties, poems, graffitti and even words that get transmitted into cultures that come into contact w/ the one under study.

But, I think writing is never really done to recreate the past but to create the present. Frazier may or may not have been trying to be historically accurate with his character's language but he is certainly writing for an audience of the late 20th century -- one for whom profanity carries certain meanings and associations. Does his writing create a kind of "reality" effect?

<small>[ 15 January 2004, 08:02 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2004 10:54 pm 
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Yes, it does. I figured that he has to add that category of language to make it seem believable for today's audience. I guess I haven't read a lot of private journals and letters written by people who were likely to have used profanity/obscenities in their writing, so I don't have an idea of what people said in days past. I find Frazier's language very colorful, thanks to his heavy use of regional colloquialisms. (Thanks for supplying the author's name. I figured, perhaps erroneously, that everyone would know the book I meant because of the movie, but I forgot about the people from other countries.)

<small>[ 16 January 2004, 02:41 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2004 12:05 am 
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"Reality" is in fact one of the most problematic areas in modern critical studies. As any student of languages can tell you, the language of the past is essentially a foreign tongue which can only be reconstructed by meticulous scholarship resulting in a copious amount of footnotes. For instance, Shakespeare puns a lot and makes sexual innuendo a lot -- but we only realize that because some of us are required to learn Elizabethan language in order to get our degrees.

In practice, "reality" is often an effect of some category of form rather than content. Film theory people, for example, use the example of cinematic sequences filmed in B&W vs. color. Though color film depicts the real world more accurately than black & white, in practice, documentaries and filmic sequences pretending to "truth" are often in black & white. The cinema of color is clearly the cinema of Indiana Jones, Nicole Kidman, and the Lord of the Rings movies. The cinema of B&W is the cinema of Vittoria deSica, Rosselini, and "Nanook of the North." When the film "The Wizard of Oz" wanted to show the "reality" of Dorothy's Kansas, it was in B&W while land of Oz was in full Technicolor Color. The "reality" effect was more the effect of its cinematic features than its chromatic features.

What I'm getting at is that any writer aiming to "realism" must consider formal in addition to content. And this has potentialy interesting critical implications. If Frazier uses profanity to enhance the "realism" effect, that practice has ideological implications -- it implies a distinction between "high" language and "low" language that can be traced to matters of social class and education.

<small>[ 16 January 2004, 01:27 AM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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