September 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Links to the blogs from our Thesis group:
Alissa (mediated writing)
Carolyn (Whitman and Homer)
My blog for Emerson research (for what it’s worth)
Senior Thesis Guidelines
- Readas much as you can: dig into the bibliography you developed for your proposal; identify texts that will be central, look for some new ones.
- To focus your attention on developing a thesis—and the ways a strong argument works in the academic world—I will ask (highly recommend) you to read the short guide Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts by Joesph Harris (published by Utah State; you can get used copies from Amazon). It’s worth the purchase; the library has a copy as well. He uses some terms that will be useful in our discussions during the year; he also provides good ideas for how to deal with counter-argument and strategies for revision.
- Notes: Save yourself the trouble later—take notes as you read; consider a program that will help you organize/tag your notes for easier reference when drafting: Microsoft OneNote; for Mac there is DevonThink. I have also used a blog for this purpose (an easy-to-use database)—Wordpress.com is one place to go.
- Bibliographic Research: Continue to search for additional resources relevant to your topic, both books and articles, print and digital. In addition to Google Books (I would suggest setting up a free account/library) and World Cat, explore the various article databases the library offers: Project Muse, JSTOR, MLA.
- Bibliographic References: Save yourself the time later—keep track of your bibliographic sources/citations when first reading them. The library uses RefWorks—and will offer a tutorial (believe there is one on the library web site as well). Over the summer you will be working on an annotated bibliography.
- Primary goal: explore enough of your proposed topic (through reading, note-taking, and bibliographic researching) to refine, revise and expand the outline and working bibliography from your proposal.
- September 15: Revised and expanded thesis paragraph, outline and annotated bibliography due. A description of your project at this point, including a paragraph or two that contains your thesis-in-progress and will stand in for your introduction at this point.
- Annotated Bibliography: A listing of at least 10-15 texts (books and articles, primary and secondary) that you have explored; each bibliographic entry should include a 2-3 sentence description of the text—basic summary of the focus/argument and its potential usefulness to your thesis. At least 2 of these 10 texts should be a critical source that you might/will use to help shape your own critical perspective.
- We will meet for a conference to discuss your revised/expanded thinking and reading as you begin to draft the first chapter.
- October 5: Initial Draft of first chapter due.
- This should not be your introduction (will do that toward the end).
- This should be a draft of one of your main chapters—dig in, put your notes from the reading to work, see where it takes you.
- You will be reading/responding to the draft of another student in my thesis group.
- October 15: Response/notes on peer revision due to the writer.
- After you get your response back, schedule a conference with me.
- November 16: Initial Draft of second chapter.
- Response/notesfrom peer reading due one week later to writer and to me.
- Schedule conference with me.
- End of November: Mid-Point Revision. Work on revision of first two chapters, revision of overall argument (your thesis-in-progress), revision of bibliography, additional research, as needed.
- Submit a revised and expanded version of your thesis paragraph (abstract of your project) along with process reflection (what else, what’s next). You will also submit an updated version of your bibliography.
- November 30, 2012: First Department deadline to assess sufficient progress. If the fall deadlines have not been met (if quantity and quality of work is not sufficient), you will be asked to switch to the comprehensive exam option at this point.
- Winter Break: Work on third chapter.
- January 28 (before Dept. deadline for progress): Initial Draft of third chapter due.
- Respond to thesis group and conference with me by mid-February
- February 1, 2013: Second department deadline; students with insufficient progress will be required to switch to comps.
- February 15: Revision of third chapter due.
- March 8: Draft of conclusion and introduction due.
- April 3: Complete, revised draft of thesis due. Work on editing before final deadline. Take advantage of Writing Center as well as our thesis group for help with editing (get other eyes and ears to see and listen to your writing)
- April 12, 2013: Completed and approved thesis due to department by 4pm [copy to Dr. Moncrief]. You will also submit a copy to Blackboard for me.
Drafts: For each draft deadline, the chapter should be at least 7-10 pages (you are shooting for a chapter in the range of 12-15 pages), should be a full draft, without needing to be complete at this point. It need not be edited yet, though should be readable. Concentrate on getting into the primary focus of the chapter, developing that focus with your readings and research brought in. The reader of the chapter (me, as well as a peer) can then respond to that focus and guide you in where it might need to go further. At the top of each draft, write a brief progress report that answers the following questions (borrowed from Joseph Harris):
- What’s the argument? (state briefly what the argument is in the chapter)
- What works? (identify one or two elements of the chapter that you have focused on and think are effective)
- What else might you consider or do? (other perspectives, possibly even counter-perpsectives)
- What’s next? (what do you need to do to revise and develop the chapter? What feedback are you looking for?)
Revised chapters: These should be complete versions of the chapters, with citations included and some attention given to editing. Your focus should be on complicating and justifying some of your initial writing and thinking—particularly generalizations, vague references, un-elaborated citations of criticism or theory, quotations that aren’t as effective as others you might select.
In addition to working with me, I encourage you to make use of the Writing Center at any point—and particularly toward the final stages, to get some additional eyes and ears to help with editing: language, punctuation, style, usage, etc.
Purdue OWL (for MLA citation format):
Guide to Grammar and Writing (for editing, grammar, usage, punctuation):
Below are the departmental objectives and goals that we use to assess the final product. You can use these to shape your work, give attention to them particularly when revising your drafts. A Senior Thesis that meets all of these expectations will pass. A Senior Thesis that exceeds all of these expectations may receive Honors distinction; in general, in order to be eligible for Honors, in addition to exceeding the departmental expectations in each category, the writer must have met all the thesis deadlines for drafts and revision described above.
English Department Goals
- Literary History: Students in English should understand the breadth, variety, and depth of literature written in English across a range of genres and time periods.
- Critical Reading: Students in English should employ a variety of analytic and interpretive skills to evaluate literary and non-literary texts.
- Information Literacy: Students in English should use information effectively and appropriately from a variety of sources.
- Rhetorical Knowledge: Students in English should write and produce texts that are imaginative and intelligent.
English Department Learning Objectives
- Literary History
- Students read representative authors (British or American) at an advanced level.
- Students understand the conventions of at least one literary genre (fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction)
- Students understand the trajectory of literary periods (British or American) and one period in depth.
- Critical Reading
- Students analyze texts critically using literary terminology.
- Students demonstrate the ability to use at least one critical method or interpretive strategy in analyzing a text.
- Information Literacy
- Students locate and use information resources, print and electronic, and incorporate them effectively in their writing.
- Students use information resources appropriately following MLA or Chicago conventions.
- Rhetorical Knowledge
- Students grasp the linguistic and stylistic conventions of writing within the discipline.
- Students make effective use of revision and editing strategies in producing writing.
- Students demonstrate the ability to present a clear argument and support that argument with evidence.
December 11, 2011 § 18 Comments
December 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
We have already seen some ways Whitman and Emerson live on in commercials.
Consider the recent film “Tree of Life” by the director/writer Terence Malick. It strikes me as filled with a transcendentalism that echoes with Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson–right down to an interest (as far as I can tell) in Emerson’s idea of the radical correspondences between spirit and matter, mind and world. This makes it alternately beautiful to watch and difficult to grasp. It is out on DVD, and at least worth a look over the winter break. Here is a review of the film in The New Yorker that compares watching the movie to reading Emerson’s “Over-Soul.” Another review that directly links the director and this film to Emerson and transcendentalism, and yet another; another that links specifically to Emerson’s vision of “History.; another. As you can see, Emerson seems to live on through the lens of this screen writer and director–one who studied philosophy at Harvard (with the Emersonian Stanley Cavell, in Emerson Hall, no less) before giving it up to go into film.
Consider also a project by a poet, translating Emily Dickinson’s poems (apparently all of them) from English into English. The project is described in this recent article in the Chronicle.
November 29, 2011 § 2 Comments
I did some further reading in Emerson. The essay is titled “Works and Days,”collected in the 1870 volume Society and Solitude. I had forgotten that I had read it about two years ago; in fact, I discovered that I had already read it (remembered that I had forgotten it…) by finding some notes I saved on the web. Our thoughts come back to us, so Emerson says, with an alienated majesty.
My current, primary interest in this essay now is that it contains a vision and a vocabulary of technology that the 20th century media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, puts to use. Emerson writes of technological tools here as “extensions” of the human body. McLuhan borrows the very word in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. So, one of my current projects is to pursue further this interesting and somewhat unlikely association, Emerson and McLuhan. I have been planning and composting for some time an essay that explores Emerson in relation to digital technology, something I have carried by the handle, Googling Emerson: is the web, I wonder, or Google Books, more specifically, the logical extension of Emerson’s notion of creative reading, of luminous allusion? McLuhan’s connection may give me one way to frame the critical narrative.
Of such stuff critical readings are made. So, for the final project, think about going forward (into unlikely connections and comparisons, links) as well as going back. Critical readings, good arguments, are built upon experiment and surprise.
I would suggest, in the end, that the vision (and version) of transcendentalism we have explored, by way of Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson, also makes an argument for, and toward, experiencing and experimenting with the surprising and the spiritual–the enigmatical, as Emerson names it–in the everyday world of Wednesday. Here is Emerson toward the end of “Works and Days.”
And him I reckon the most learned scholar, not who can unearth for me the buried dynasties of Sesostris and Ptolemy, the Sothiac era, the Olympiads and consulships, but who can unfold the theory of this particular Wednesday. Can he uncover the ligaments concealed from all but piety, which attach the dull men and things we know to the First Cause ? These passing fifteen minutes, men think, are time, not eternity; are low and subaltern, are but hope or memory ; that is, the way to or the way from welfare, but not welfare. Can he show their tie ? That interpreter shall guide us from a menial and eleemosynary existence into riches and stability. He dignifies the place where he is.’ This mendicant America, this curious, peering, itinerant, imitative America, studious of Greece and Rome, of England and Germany, will take off its dusty shoes, will take off its glazed traveller’s-cap and sit at home with repose and deep joy on its face. The world has no such landscape, the aeons of history no such hour, the future no equal second opportunity. Now let poets sing ! now let arts unfold !
One more view remains. But life is good only when it is magical and musical, a perfect timing and consent, and when we do not anatomize it. You must treat the days respectfully, you must be a day yourself, and not interrogate it like a college professor. The world is enigmatical, – everything said, and everything known or done, – and must not be taken literally, but genially. We must be at the top of our condition to understand anything rightly. You must hear the bird’s song without attempting to render it into nouns and verbs. Cannot we be a little abstemious and obedient ? Cannot we let the morning be ?
And lest we think that Emerson urges us here into a simplistic view of simplicity, he complicates the picture in the very next paragraph:
Everything in the universe goes by indirection. There are no straight lines…. Well, human life is made up of such transits. There can be no greatness with-out abandonment.
I suggest, in the end, that we find in Whitman and Dickinson, as in Emerson, a practice of indirection (a very Whitmanian word here) and the slanting of no straight lines (Dickinson) informed by a poetic theory of abandonment: understanding and writing and transcending the enigmatical world not literally, but genially.
- Early Media Prophet Is Now Getting His Due (nytimes.com)
November 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I chose Howe’s My Emily Dickinson for some critical perspective on the poet. However, I also have it in mind as an example, in Howe’s own writing and thinking, of a descendant of Dickinson. And of Emerson. Howe’s book strikes me as very much in the mode of whatever Emerson means by “creative reading” in “American Scholar”: one must be an inventor to read well. I think Howe is reading Dickinson well by reading inventively. This is insightful criticism; this isn’t easy to read or grasp, at the same time. Among the initial insights I think we–in this course–can grasp: for Dickinson, as for Emerson before her, and Wallace Stevens after her, “Poetry is the scholar’s art” (15). Howe surely demonstrates this mix of scholarship and poetics in her writing about Dickinson. What have we seen of this scholar’s art in Dickinson? What does that mean, a poetry written as a scholar’s art?
For Howe, this means Dickinson deals with her language not just as a poet, but as a scholar deals with language. I recognize this in the final line of part one: Forcing, abbreviating, pushing, padding, subtracting, riddling, interrogating, re-writing, she pulled text from text. (29)
Here is Susan Howe’s recent poem, That This. It sheds some light on Howe’s langauge poetics; for more on Howe and language poetry, visit her page at Poets.org. I hear in these pronouns variations on Dickinson’s interest in the markers of relation–this, then, here–that bridge eternity with the very moment of the poem, the general with the specific. In this sense, since we as readers are related in that relation, situated in the “this” of the poem we are hearing now in our brains, or holding in our hands, this that serves something like Whitman’s “you.” Here, hear.
For audio of Howe reading and briefly discussing “My Life had stood–a loaded gun,” the poem central to My Emily Dickinson.
November 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie–
True Poems flee– [#1472]
Here are some elements of Dickinson’s poetics, her grammar. For Dickinson, it seems, poetry is and isn’t formal, can and can’t be captured in a structure: it lies in a book–thus hearing one of her poetic elements, the play on lie. This tension between the formal and the resistance to form should sound familiar, given its prominence in Emerson’s thinking and Whitman’s example.
- Form: there is form, and the resistance to form. As we know from Professor Folsom’s article on “Transcendental Poetics,” Higginson thought of Dickinson as struggling a bit with formlessness, in need of help–but not as wildly formless as he viewed Whitman: phrase without form. Our foray into Dickinson scholarship and its more recent interests in the manuscripts of Dickinson, in the implications of her variants, suggests one way to think of Dickinson’s riddle of formless form. Her writing in its materiality (her physical use of the page) is both formal and at the same time, resistant to form.
- For an overview of Dickinson’s manuscripts, visit this page of the Dickinson museum.
- Rhetoric: Like Whitman and Emerson before her, I would argue that we have another poet interested in the argument of poetry as much, if not more, than in particular conventions of poems. In other words, there is rhetoric for us to reckon with.
- Compression: A prominent rhetorical element of her poetry I would identify as its compression. This is, on one hand, a formal element: her poems take place in short space; this is not Leaves of Grass. But compression is also a key rhetorical figure, one associated in particular with metonymy. [In his lecture Art and Criticism, Emerson identifies "compression" (and metonymy) as key virtues of rhetoric: "The silences, pauses, of an orator are as telling as his words.1 What the poet omits exalts every syllable that he writes."] Metonymy figures association and reference by way of compression, reduction. Something is taken out, elided, in the process of making the connection, leaving the reader with relation that is suggestively partial, somewhat elliptical. For example, one might imagine: “In my emotional state I felt as though the mourner who feels overwhelmed in her head attending a funeral” becomes “I felt a funeral in my brain.” This extreme sort of elliptical metonymy is known by the rhetorical term metalepsis, figuring by way of remote association–the poet skips a step or two in suggesting the relationship, or crosses (transgresses) narrative boundaries. (In film,, for example, metalepsis is evident when a song playing on the radio in a scene becomes part of the film soundtrack, or the reverse). A vivid example of this sort of transgression comes in another famous opening figure: My life had stood a loaded gun. This example is so wildly remote in association as to be unconventional and trangressive. The rhetorical term for that is catechresis: basically, a mixed metaphor or other misapplication of a word or figure according to conventional standards.
- In comparison to Whitman and to Emerson, there is a good deal more metaphor we reckon with in Dickinson. True. And yet, there is more metonymy than some might think–particularly if we think of the ways many of her figures, seemingly metaphors (like a loaded gun) may be more metonymic (associational, contextual), just with the association having been removed or compressed or condensed.
- Consider this electronic poem, “This is Not a Poem,” for elements of the way Dickinson’s poems compress–and also, perhaps, desire to flee from the page.
- The dashes, of course. Perhaps another marker of transgression and compression. I like the idea that some in the class have begun to explore, that Dickinson writes and wants to be read more dynamically, dramatically. The dashes, from this perspective, signal movement in her poetry and mark places not to read, but to perform or play the poem.
- I notice the ways her word choice moves from very specific, capitalized nouns (in the manner of German) that are uncommon or unusual in some form: Sagacity, Crucifixion, Circuit, Circumference. And then others, such as the relative pronoun “this” or the adverb/adjective “then” that leave things rather suggestively vague. The “then” at the end of “I felt a funeral”–is it an adverb, marking time, or an adjective, indicating a next step that has been cut off by the dash? Or in the same poem, the word “here” which rhymes with ear, thus evoking its homonym, hear, at the same time that it signals its location–here, this poem, this reading, this hearing .Or “this” in any location, when used without a clear referent: suggests the possibility, always, of this poem, her writing, sitting in her room. Something like Whitman’s “you.”
- from the perspective of linguistics and semiotic theory (the study of signs), words such as “here” and “this” (like “I” or “you”) can be thought of as indexes–a sign that points to something. For more on indexicality.
- When not confusing or vague, there is the simple oddity of a word choice that strikes me. To the point where Dickinson’s imagery, her conceits, seem almost metaphysical, in the manner of a poet like John Donne. Consider: I hear a fly buzz when I died–the way the fly is “interposed” in the middle of the poem.
- A theme, among others: Dickinson’s interest in the eye. Some of that seems to be biographical–Dickinson experienced severe problems with her vision at one point in her life. But there is also a way to think about sight as one of her poetry’s senses, given the ways her poems exist on the page: both in terms of the manuscripts and the printed versions. The visual form matters for any poem; for this poet, it seems crucial. For a compelling and insightful critical look at sight in Dickinson, in relation to nineteenth-century photography, read Marta Werner’s digital essay.
- We spoke initially of Dickinson’s use of common meter, of the highly metrical element of her poetry, but always at some sort of slant: for example, the use of slant or half rhymes–where the rhyme is almost there, but partially…missing, emerging, compressed? I note from “This world is not conclusion” the tension or difference the poet draws between music and sound: music is invisible, but sound is positive.
- The American composer Aaron Copland’s version of “I felt a funeral in my brain” (note the last stanza is missing). It helps us think about the performance of the poetry as necessary for reading.
- As Donna Campbell points out on her Dickinson site, there are different kinds of Dickinson poems, often marked with a different syntax in the opening.
- What kinds of poems did she write?
According to William Shullenberger and Sharon Cameron, Emily Dickinson has characteristic ways of opening poems:
- Definitions: S LV SC form.
- “Pain has an element of blank.
- “This was a Poet–It is that
- “Longing is like the Seed”
- Riddles, some with lack of specific referents for pronouns.
- “I like to see it lap the miles”
- “A narrow fellow in the grass”
- Definitions: S LV SC form.
- Declarations: “I’m wife–I’ve finished that”
- Landscape descriptions.
- Tales, parables, allegories
November 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
What vision of poetry was Higginson, was Dickinson, occupied with?
In “Transcendental Poetics,” Ed Folsom provides us with this insight regarding Higginson’s view of poetry that influences his understanding (and posthumous editing) of Dickinson. For Higginson, poetry had to be “perfected” before being printed. Poetry, above all, required form. For Higginson, Whitman’s poetry was formless, it had phrase but not form. Dickinson was, for him, more formal–but ultimately (from his later perspective), her poetry lacked poetic form. This sets up another vivid example in Professor Folsom’s argument of the way Whitman and Dickinson are not transcendental poets so much as creators of a transcendental poetics that relates to but ultimately resists the formal vision of transcendental poetry: Higginson’s transcendental vision of poetry mentors Dickinson, helps bring her into print, but largely by offering her a model of poetry that she subverts in her own poetics.
As we turn to looking at the manuscript origins of Dickinson’s poetry, her fascicles and their variations, we can think more about this tension between the formless and the form. One argument, we will see, is that Dickinson isn’t “formless” in Higginson’s pejorative sense of the word; rather, she is resisting, in her more fluid form, the print implications of perfection–of being finished, of having a final form.
Some further reading on the Dickinson-Higginson connection:
Higginson’s 1862 article “Letter to a Young Contributor”, the one that Dickinson reads and responds to with her April 15 letter: are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?
page from the article where he emphasizes perfection before printing.
Higginson on Dickinson’s letters to him (published after her death)
Scan of Dickinson’s first letter to Higginson.
Site that looks at Dickinson and Higginson, with excerpts from two leters.