A little respect

This story about the song “Respect” hits almost every theme we’ll discuss this semester in “Fluid Readers, Fluid Texts”: How and why does something come to be treated as a “text” in our culture? How do such factors as race, class, and gender enter into the equation? What’s “in” the text that doesn’t announce itself explicitly (and so must be discovered through “interpretation”)? How is the meaning of that text affected by its existence in multiple versions? By the identity of the “author” or the “reader”? How are both authors and readers shaped by culture? Where is the line between “identity” as an individual characteristic and a cultural artifact? And finally, what is “due” to each one of us by virtue of possessing an identity? What, in the end, is “respect,” and how do we show and get some?

Alice’s Adventures Underground at the British Library

Alice UndergroundThe British Library holds the manuscript of Charles Dodgson’s Alice’s Adventures Underground (1864), the forerunner to his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which he published in 1865 under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. On the library’s website, you can leaf through the 90-page book and view Dodgson’s 37 illustrations. How does the experience of reading the story in this format differ from the experience of reading it in a typeset edition on paper, or as plain or formatted text on a screen?

In class, we discussed the 1903 silent film version of Alice. You can find that at the Internet Archive.

Miscellaneous advice on writing

With papers coming due in my section of ENGL 170 between October 3 and October 10, this is a good time for some advice on writing. Here are a couple of suggestions from the experts and a link to one frequently updated source of interesting perspectives on the writing process.

First, if you find writing hard, you’re not the problem. Writing is hard. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who blogs at The Atlantic, speaks eloquently to some of the difficulties in the video below.

One of the writer’s hardest jobs is to make reading easy. It’s also one of the most important jobs, though some writers seem to forget this. Student writers, especially, fall prone to the fallacy that longer words and more complicated sentences will make them appear more intelligent. Not so, as this aptly titled article from the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology demonstrates with research (h/t @cjprender on Twitter). In fact, readers are most likely to impute intelligence to writing that exhibits lucidity, simplicity, and directness, as recommended in the SUNY Geneseo Writing Guide.

Self-consciousness about writing can make the process harder than it has to be. Rather than censoring  yourself every few words, try letting yourself write out at least one draft without stopping to revise anything. Then put that draft aside for a bit — at least an hour, preferably a day or so. When you come back to it,  you’ll find it’s not nearly as bad as you thought it was.

But it will still need revision. All writing does. And when you’re done, take some time to reflect on what it felt like to do this particular bit of writing. There’s a time and place for everything, including self-consciousness. You’ll write better if you have a good sense of what writing involves and strive to keep the whole process, with all its difficulties, in view.

One model of this good kind of self-consciousness is the Drafts blog at the New York Times website. The blog features writers writing about writing. Reading these writers’ self-reflections on their writing might give you some new things to think about in your own.


“Poetry Written in Porcelain” reads the headline in today’s New York Times about Edmund de Waal, potter and author. The headline asks us to consider de Waal’s carefully crafted vessels as metaphorical poems.

Or are we meant to take the statement literally?

“My making and my writing is one thing,” Mr. de Waal is quoted as saying “Pots turn into words, and words turn into pots.” And later: “When I make something, I hear it.”

This proposed equivalence between poetry and concrete objects isn’t new at all. You’ll find it, among other places, in Keats’ ” Ode on a Grecian Urn” and in Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica.”

If the “practice of criticism” has a theoretical side that consists, in part, of defining the terms in which that practice is conducted, then poetry is one of those terms we’re called upon to define.

What is poetry? Should our definition be broad enough to encompass de Waal’s pots as literal poems? If not, what would our definition require in order for the pots to count as metaphorical poems?