Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blog Six: Virginia Woolf Short Stories

Blog Six

Virginia Woolf Short Stories

Kemp: Kemp’s introduction to the Woolf short stories shows that she has put a lot of thought, time and research into this project. Though she doesn’t emphasize how these works show the tendencies of Modernism, her emphasis on the pattern of the stories to go “against the traditional grain” of fiction indicates the connection. (61) The stories are, in Woolf’s words, “ ‘completely opposed to the tradition of fiction…’” (61) Kemp writes that these stories allow Woolf more freedom than her novels; the stories are “free from conventional stylistic ties and constraints” and “introduce perceptions that didn’t obviously lead anywhere.” (62) Kemp makes another connection to Modernism when she points out that many of the stories have urban settings and that Woolf, like Eliot, preferred “the horror and reality of the everyday world” as settings. (63) Kemp notes that the stories lack a neatness, (65) and she connects the stories to art. (66) I really enjoyed how she used so many of Woolf’s letters. I felt that this gave really good insight into what Woolf herself was actually thinking and to what she intended. Kemp notes that the stories are, based on Woolf’s letters, connected to her life. In other words, many of the incidents shown in the stories were probably inspired by things that she saw or heard or experienced in her real life. Kemp also discusses that there are non-human narrators in the stories. (73) In all, I really liked the Kemp introduction. The use of letters was excellent, and her enthusiasm about the works generated excitement about them.

“Haunted House:” The narrator here describes the actions of previous tenants (a couple) of a house, now visiting as ghosts. They are remembering their time at the house, looking for their possessions, and observing the new tenants. The last sentence, which begins with the word “waking,” makes me wonder if it wasn’t a dream of the narrator. The ghosts don’t seem scary to me as the reader, and they don’t seem to scare or bother the narrator. They are just there, as presences, maybe as an accepted part of the house.

“Blue and Green:” There is nothing like a point in this story and nothing like a plot. Green seems more pleasant than blue and seems to represent day. Blue seems to be night and seems to have more unpleasant images associated with it. The descriptions are very vivid and create images in your mind immediately. To me, when you read something and it immediately pops into your head as an image, that is a sign of a great writer.

“Monday or Tuesday:” This story had a really promising beginning with the heron image. (This could be just to me personally. There are a couple of herons where I go running, and so I associate them with peace and happiness.) I don’t even know if I would classify this as a story though. It seemed more like a collection of images. I thought that this lack of plot would bother me, but it didn’t. Could it be just her thoughts and experiences from a random day? So random that she doesn’t even remember what day it was? I don’t know; that may be just Kemp’s observation of the stories relating to her life influencing me.

“The Unwritten Novel:” I was excited to read this story because of how Kemp introduced it. Her introduction included a quote from Woolf that came from a letter that she (Woolf) wrote describing writing this story: “ ‘The Unwritten Novel was the great discovery, however…How I trembled with excitement; and then Leonard came in, and I drank my milk, and concealed my excitement….’” (63) This is pure joy! I felt so excited for her, almost as if I was there. This story seemed to have lots of connections to Modernism. It references WWI and occurs on a train. It seems to start with a connection between two people based on shared experiences (the spot on the window that can’t be scrubbed off, the itch in the middle of the back, etc.). I wondered as I was reading if Woolf didn’t have a whole story in her mind but was only writing down parts of it. That is the feeling that it gave; as if there was a complete story, or maybe a novel, but that we had only gotten certain pages of it. Is the narrator just making up all these characters and stories after seeing a woman on the train and having a brief interaction with her? The form here screams Modernism; as Kemp noted, there is not effort to stay with convention.

“The Mark on the Wall:” The narrator sees a small mark on the wall and contemplates what it is and how it got there, its use, etc. I think this story is a vehicle for exploring how the mind works; in a train of thought, one thought just triggers another, then another. In the end, the mark is a snail. Snails, along with flowers and parakeets, seem to be repeated images. There is also another war reference. The war must have weighed heavily on Woolf’s mind.

“Kew Gardens:” I just read a book where Kew Gardens was an important setting, so this was another story that I was excited to read. This story shows how Woolf tried to imitate the art of Modernism, as we discussed last week. The story repeats groups of primary colors many times (red, blue, yellow). I wonder if this story came from a day that Woolf spent at Kew. I can imagine her walking around, imagining conversations, making notes (at least mentally). Is the snail the one observing the conversations? I liked all the nature in this story; I think it was my favorite.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blog Five: Modern Art

Blog Five

Modern Art

CCM: Macleod’s article intends to be an introduction to visual arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He notes that “painting became the leading art form” in Modernism and that painting influenced writing: “Modernist writers often patterned their literary experiments on parallels drawn from the visual arts.” (194) (Initially, I didn’t really understand what he meant by this.) As a result, he asserts that at least a basic knowledge of visual arts is required to really get an understanding of Modernism. I really appreciated that he had some actual pictures, since this week is about art. Like several of the readings, he indicates the importance of Cezanne: “The tradition of abstract art begins most importantly with the post-Impressionist Cezanne.” (195) He moved away from the importance of color and light and toward geometry and geometrical figures. Macleod then moves on to Cubism, which he indicates was invented by Picasso and Braque. (197) He also calls Cubism “the most influential art movement of this century.” (198) It developed in three stages: early (?), Analytical and Synthetic. (198-200) I thought the most important sentence in this section, at least in terms of literature, was “The cubist techniques of fragmentation, multiple perspectives, and juxtaposition are part of the standard modernist repertoire, from Eliot’s The Waste Land to Steven’s “The Man With the Blue Guitar.”” (202) This explained the earlier claim that art influenced literature. Macleod also asserted that Paris was the most important location for art (not a particular surprise) and indicated that the beginning of the movement in England was the 1910 London exhibition, a good segue to the BGR readings! J

BGR: This was the first time I can recall hearing anything about Desmond McCarthy, but I just loved his writing style. His selection is the preface to the oft mentioned 1910 Post-Impressionist Exhibition, which he apparently got from Fry’s notes. What really came out of this piece to me was the idea of history. It seemed similar in some ways to “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” He discusses how the new school is reacting against Impressionism. Both groups are interested in light and color, but the new school is changing the forms. (98) Like many of the other readings, McCarthy connects Cezanne and geometric shapes. (100) The Clive Bell reading also has some really nice passages, just in terms of reading them and thinking about the words. “Roses and works of art are beautiful in themselves.” (102) I like this comparison. This essay too has similarities to “Tradition:” “The stuff of art is always the same, and always it must be converted into form before it can become art: it is in their choice of converting-machines that the ages differ conspicuously.” (105) Like many of the other readings, the Fry reading emphasized the importance of color and light in Impressionism. One element of his essay that I found interesting is that he chose, for his “typical representative of the French genius,” Degas. (263) I guess this surprised me because there are so many more well-known French Impressionists. He seems to find most interesting about Degas that he “never allows himself to adopt a formula of any kind.” (265) He found the best medium for Degas to be pastels. (267) In the second Fry reading, he seems to be defending some of his earlier writings, stating that he has tried to be as objective as possible but basically that everyone can view things a different way based on their own sensibilities.

Goldman: Goldman also emphasizes the importance of the 1910 exhibition. I liked her explanation of how Post-Impressionists differed from the Impressionists. They preferred oppositions of color/planes of color, rather than concentrating mostly on the importance of light and color as major elements. (125) Her main argument, however, seems to be about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf and their viewpoints on art as opposed to those Roger Fry and Clive Bell. It seemed to me that the main conflict between the two groups was about color and its importance as an artistic element. Is color part of the form? How important is color? I thought the basic difference as indicated by this article was that color was more crucial for Virginia and Vanessa: “For [Vanessa] Bell, colour is in fact form, and therefore, presumably structural.” (135) Virginia goes in the Vanessa category: “Woolf, I suggest, is keeping with the English Post-Impressionists under Sickert’s influence, records social change in terms of new colours.” (142) Clive and Roger, on the other hand, “…shifted the emphasis…away from colour towards more significant form…” (137)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blog Four

Blog Four
Eliot, “Prufrock” and other Early Poetry

Torrens: I think that the primary argument of the Torrens piece is that there are identifiable connections between Eliot’s essays and his poems. “The critical essays…help us understand them [the poems].” (46-7) He goes through several essays and shows how they are connected to certain poems. The most expansive connection is made between “Hamlet and His Problems” and “Prufrock.” Torrens notes that “Hamlet” argues for looking at the play as a whole rather than concentrating on Hamlet and, as the title of the essay suggests, his problems. Looking at the “larger construction” allows the author’s intent to come through. (47) Torrens advises that there are connections between the two heroes, Hamlet and Prufrock (“solitary pain”), and between Prufrock and Polonius (futility). (48) He concludes that these links may indicate a link between Prufrock and Eliot himself and muses that the poem may have served as a means of “ ‘emotional relief’” for the author. (48) In addition to this main theme, I also appreciated an earlier idea in this piece, wherein the author notes the changes that were occurring around Eliot (i.e.—in the world) and within the author’s life himself. (46) I know that we have talked about many writers in this period wanting to keep themselves out of their writing, but this seems like it would be more difficult in practice.

“La Filia Che Piagne”: What immediately struck me about this poem were the lovely images that it evoked. Honestly, I was surprised to find such nice impressions. I think I came into this week a little worried that all the poems were going to be both boring and depressing based on the essays we read last week. As a result, this poem, which I read first, came as a nice surprise, with its “garden urn,” sunlight in the hair, “autumn weather” and flowers.

“Preludes”: The narrator here seems to be describing different parts of the day (evening, morning, six o’clock). None of them seem particularly pleasant, and there are many disagreeable images (“grimy scraps,” “faint stale smells of beer,” “soiled hands,” etc.). To me, this poem was about city life and its yucky side.

“Portrait of a Lady”: As Torrens notes (47), it would be difficult to approach this poem without thinking of Henry James and his work of the same name. What stood out to me here was another Shakespeare reference (“Juliet’s tomb”). Eliot may be critical of Hamlet as a character, but he clearly has an appreciation for Shakespeare. Also, we have more images of flowers (“a bowl of lilacs in her room”). I have to say that I really loved the second portion (II) of this poem. I could imagine the lady described standing in the room with the bowl of lilacs, twisting one around her finger as she talked. I thought the description and imagery were just perfect and lovely. As in “Preludes,” time seems to be passing. This seems to be an idea that Eliot likes to show.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: Although I had read this poem before, I think it was somewhere in the range of eighth grade. As a result, I obviously remembered little about it, so I considered this to be a fresh, new reading. I identified three major themes or ideas in the poem. First, the speaker seems worried about time passing (life measured with coffee spoons and “I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”) and the aging process, as indicated by the repeated worries about thinning hair. Second, the speaker is concerned about how people perceive him and how he appears to others (“bald spot,” “arms and legs are thin,” etc.) Finally, the speaker seems to be fascinated by women, especially their skin and motion/movements. This theme has the most interesting images that indicate a lot of observation and consideration by Eliot, including the repeated “the women come and go” and the stanza that includes “arms that are braceleted and white and bare” and “perfume from a dress,” which the speaker finds to be a distraction.

“Prufrock’s Pervigilium”: My first task was to define “pervigilium,” a word with which I had no familiarity. I found that it was a Roman nocturnal festival in honor of a god. With that being said, I wonder if there is not another definition. If not, I am excited to hear in class how this definition is connected to the poem. The best I can tell, this is a part of “Prufrock” that was cut out, and I think it was a good decision. The images in this piece seem to be more in line with “Preludes,” in that they seem to be all about the dirty, unpleasant city rather than about the three themes that dominate “Prufrock.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blog Three

Blog Three

Early Modernist Poetics

CCM 2: This chapter summarized how Modernist writers went about achieving monetary success. I found the process fascinating. Basically, they went against the way books become successful today, which is through mass market paperbacks which they hope to sell in as large a quantity as possible. During this period, writers like Eliot and Joyce only had a few copies of books published. These were sold at an elevated price because they were presented as items for collecting. It is similar to how some baseball cards today are released in very small lots, thereby drastically increasing their re-sale value. This concept seemed ahead of its time and was quite clever. The most detailed example given was Ulysses, which was released at 1000, on three different “levels” of quality and therefore cost. (56) My immediate thought upon fully grasping the structure was to wonder how this type of scheme was affected by the Depression, so I was pleased to find that the author answered this question. The answer was that this structure collapsed, thereby turning the writers to academic settings. (62) I also liked how the author had really given thought as to WHY this worked: “Which is why the deluxe or limited edition acquired such prominence: it transformed literary property into a unique and fungible object, something that nearly resembled a painting…” (61) It seems that this whole set-up was something of an admission that the work being done in this period was not particularly appealing to those who were not part of the intelligentsia.

The article also explored the connection between literary journals and Modernism, concentrating on Little Review, Dial and Vanity Fair. The author asserts that each (in the order listed) represented a moment in the growth of Modernism. (51)

Hulme explains how romanticism and classicism are different and why classicism is better. He believed that a revival of classicism was occurring just prior to World War I. I thought he explained the difference with two key elements. The first is religion, which classicism has but romanticism does not. I particularly like the explanation on page 95: “You don’t believe in God, so you begin to believe that man is a god. You don’t believe in Heaven, so you begin to believe in Heaven on earth. In other words, you get romanticism.” The other difference is the presence or lack of “reservation,” which classicism has but romanticism doesn’t. (96) I thought the key sentence to explain classicism was this: “The great aim I accurate, precise and definite description.” (101)

The Pound article gives advice to new poets. He starts out with three basic principles (page 58), then expands to include several different aspects of writing. I think he is trying to give sincere advice. I particularly liked that he concluded that one should ignore “men who have never themselves written a notable work.” (60) Like Hulme, he advises precision. (63)

“Tradition”: On first reading, I absolutely loved the idea of this article, which advised the importance of a sense of history. Basically, Eliot is saying that you have to know and understand what came before you to be a good writer. As a historian, I appreciated this premise. The more I considered this idea, however, I became less comfortable with it. This seems problematic in terms of a writer’s creativity, though I’m having trouble putting my finger on the precise problem. I also struggled with the following: “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion…” (43)

“Hamlet”: Eliot is tremendously critical of Hamlet, which he calls the “Mona Lisa of literature.” (47) He believes that the play is to some degree a failure because Hamlet “is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible…” (48)