Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Furthering the print and digital discussion

Boingboing, an eclectic and geeky news source which is quite entertaining recently posted an interview with a bookbinder.  An American teacher in Casablanca, he learned the trade from a local shop.  For a fun project he created an analog-digital version of genesis.  Read on when you get a chance, it's quite interesting.

Boingboing interviews a digital bookbinder.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Burton (another one) publishes Poe

In an interesting coincidence,  the next short story we will read as part of our unit on American Gothic Literature, Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, was first published in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine.  Check Friday for a link to the story which I will ask you to read over the weekend.

Tim Burton's rejection letter at 17

If the secret to success is failure, Tim Burton started early with a rejection letter from Disney at 17 for an illustrated children's book submitted while he was still in high school.

I hope this adds some perspective to the immensity of the exhibit we are soon to see.  Had he stopped at this first rejection he would not have become the Tim Burton we know today.

Disney to Tim Burton

In preparation for our field trip Thursday

LACMA has a thorough write up on the exhibition, as well as several interesting related blog posts which I encourage you to check out.  The perspective of the gift shop personnel is especially entertaining.

Tim Burton at LACMA

It's a fine time for a visit the Sleepy Hollow cemetery

Washington Irving is actually buried in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery.

And you could visit, were you in upstate New York.

Furthermore, the churchyard described in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an actual place which still exists two centuries  after the story was penned, and would be worth a visit as well.

Please see the attached link to the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Poughkeepsie Journal article on Washington Irving's Final Place of Rest

Puritans and the Apocalypse

PBS has a very informative piece about the Puritans, which explains precisely what the apocalypse meant to them. 

The earliest Puritan settlers are discussed, along with Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. 

Cotton Matther is discussed as well.  You will remember that he plays a pertinent role in Sleepy Hollow as the source of all Ichabod Crane's scary witch stories.

The Apocalypse in Cinema

As we discussed in class, the end of the world is a perennial favorite for blockbuster, and increasingly, indie films.  Apocalyptic ideas were popularized through the early Christian church and powered the Middle Ages, as the ascendancy of Catholicism owes much to a pliable laity who lived in fear of judgement and damnation at Christ's imminent return.  While Protestant Christianity took a variety of forms the Puritans refined the idea of apocalypse as a continual impending threat through such works as The Day of Doom, America's first best seller.  To this day American writers look to this trope as a way to spin a tale.  The apocalypse, regardless of religious affiliation, is part of our shared language.  As fictional narrative such a high-stakes tale makes for fine entertainment.  But as part of the collective unconscious the implicit risks are revealed in short-sighted political decisions.  Were we thinking more long-term, perhaps we would not be facing an environmental crisis.

The Los Angeles Times recently did an interesting round up of recent films centered on an apocalyptic theme.  I encourage you to read this to further contextualize the discussions we will be pursing in class over the course of the semester.

There's no end of apocalypse movies

Friday, September 16, 2011

Annotation for fun and intellectual profit

We will be reading several very dense texts in this class.  In order to follow and fully comprehend these works it will be necessary for you to annotate the texts.

I will be expecting to see notes in the margins of everything we read this class, and the denser the text the more notes I expect to see.

Anyone, even a top-notch Harvard professor, who reads challenging material will make notes in the margins.  Making notes allows you to read actively, not passively.  It is like having a conversation, versus listening to someone talk at you.  It is much easier to understand a complicated issue, or a simple issue presented in complicated language when you read actively and engage in dialogue with the text.

Techniques you may want to employ include underlining or circling ideas or phrases which stand out or confuse you, and noting questions or sudden "ah-ha"moments in the margins. It also helps to number a series of related ideas.

Please follow the link to a PDF put together by Hunter College in New York City.  You may find the example of annotation most helpful.

Hunter College's Guide to Annotation

Monday, September 12, 2011

A pamphlet war in France pitting French opera against Italian opera

Pamphlet wars were waged on topics other than politics.  In the 1750s in Paris a great pamphlet war was waged contrasting the virtues of French opera against Italian opera.  It was called La Querelle des Bouffons or the "Quarrel of the Comedians".  Rousseau was engaged in this pamphlet war because his interests encompassed both music and politics. 

BBC link on the Quarrel of the Comedians

Harvard publishes a book on pamphlets of the American Revolution

Pamphlets of the American Revolution

An Englishman of the Enlightenment who influenced later thinkers

Having mentioned Rousseau I thought I'd also bring up Locke.  He was an English philospher of the Enlightenment who theorized about an ideal form of government.  He believed in the fundamental goodness of people, and was one of the first Enlightenment philosophers to build his ideas out on that platform.

His Second Treatise on Government heavily influenced the founding fathers of the U.S., English rebels such as Paine and thinkers of the French Enlightenment such as Rousseau.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jean-Jaques Rousseau and the call for a civil society

In class I may have mentioned how the first part of Common Sense, with its description of a theoretically utopian society of happy people living together in the woods, mirrors ideas set forth by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  A French enlightenment philosopher who was something of an emotional romantic as well, Rosseau believed in the inherent goodness of human beings and expounded this belief in several works which contributed to the revolutionary spirit of the era.  Emile: or, On Education is a book in which he sets forth his ideas on the perfect way to educate a child so that they do not loose their inherent goodness.

Interestingly these ideas are also at the core of progressive education. Rousseau would no doubt be a big fan of Crossroads. You are no way obligated to read up on Rousseau, but if you have some time and are curious, a little research into the Enlightenment and Rousseau would expand the context in which you understand Common Sense.

A useful timeline of the Revolutionary War

A revolutionary war timeline at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thomas Paine and the Pamphleteers

The advent of the printing press brought a technological explosion somewhat analogous to the what has happened with the internet in recent decades.  Suddenly the means of making one's opinions known to a wide audience became available to anyone who could get their hands on a printing press.  As a result there rose up a new literary format "the pamphlet".  Today we think of a pamphlet as something that advertises a resort or explains a medical condition.  But in the late 1700s pamphlets were printed by rogue intellectuals and fire-brands who were engaging in spirited political debate with one another.  These pamphlets were given away to the right people, or sold in book stores.  The most famous pamphlet in America is undoubtedly Thomas Paine's common sense, a pamphlet which was written by Paine to support the American revolutionary cause.