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Emerson: A Teacher For Readers and Writers

      The world is filled with many different authors with a plethora of thoughts to pour out into their writing, each one doing so in their own unique way. In their lives people are exposed to these different ways of thinking and writing and will eventually make a conclusion as to which ideas and writing styles they find value in. One brilliant writer that many people find value in is Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is a writer of many different things, but one type of writing he was well versed in is that of the essay. During the 19th century, Emerson wrote many essays and read them to many audiences. His writing contained many philosophical ideas about knowledge and the nature of mankind. While these writings are almost two hundred years old, people still find joy and knowledge through them today. That begs the question, why Emerson? What makes him stand out from the many other writers of his day? The difference is that Emerson’s work is written for both readers and writers. Readers can gain the knowledge of knowledge itself, where it comes from. While writers have his pieces on the influences of a writer and how they can use it to their most advantage. Someone interested in the idea of learning literature from all angles will most certainly benefit from Emerson’s writing.

      Readers benefit from the philosophical aspect of Emerson’s writing. His work, especially that present in The American Scholar and The Poet, allow for a reader to look into the very origin of knowledge, how one obtains it. These writings can give readers a new perspective on the other works they pick up in the future. The American Scholar shows the reader three central influences of mankind, these are nature, books and the past, and engagement in action. In the nature section Emerson speaks of it as a sort of origin to all knowledge, where it all began and how it will never end. The past is a section centered around previous literature and how one can find knowledge in other people’s knowledge. It is sort of like a food chain, one animal eats nature and the other animal eats the animal that eats nature, thus gaining the energy of both the animal and the nature. In this quote, “The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.” he speaks about the original ideas of past literature, a scenario in which the process was simply nature to pen, but now we have past literature to guide us. This is why he finds past literature so powerful, it is a pure version of nature’s influence. This allows the reader to think about the influences of the author’s works, to ask questions such as “What was this author’s influence in writing?” Finally, he talks about action being an influence. By keeping these influences in mind, they can be used to improve any endeavors that the reader may use them for. Knowing where knowledge derives from is the best way to find one’s own knowledge in life and future readings. Emerson’s work inspires a reader to think critically about where the information came from and how the author was influenced to write the piece.

      Emerson’s work is difficult for many people to dissect, but this is another way it benefits the readers of his pieces. It teaches his readers not only the lessons within his work, but to comprehend more philosophical writing like his. It is like when teachers assign Shakespeare to their students. It aims to teach about the literature of the day and how to decode more complicated language they are not so familiar with. Simply put, it is another way for people to hone their reading skills. It is not only valuable for what the reader is reading, but how well they know how to read. Emerson’s work is wordy and contains many complicated sentences that don’t make sense right away, meaning that a reader will improve by reading his work. Take this sentence from his essay Politics, “This accident, depending, primarily, on the skill and virtue of the parties, of which there is every degree, and, secondarily, on patrimony, falls unequally, and its rights, of course, are unequal.” Examples of this type of wordiness are not hard to find in his work, rather it is hard to find a sentence that is simple to read. His work is built to be digested and understood, not simply swallowed whole without thought or effort. The wordiness of Emerson’s writing is also something that can build one’s creativity as a reader. His words are often crafted in such a way that a reader can derive different meanings from. For example, this line from his essay The Poet. ““The beautiful rests on the foundations of the necessary.” When I first read this line, I interpreted it as saying that something must first be necessary to be beautiful. Like a house, it needs foundation before the beautiful house can be built. An annotation on the line said that beauty will find a way to be necessary. These are two very different ideas centered around the same line. Finding our individual meanings behind lines is a creative endeavor that Emerson’s writing takes his readers on. Emerson’s readers are more well versed in the ability to find the knowledge and value in more complicated writing.

      The work Emerson did during his lifetime doesn’t only benefit the average reader, but also the writers that choose to read his essays. The origin of knowledge topic that Emerson tackles in many of his works benefits writers just as much as it benefits readers. The American Scholar dissects the influences of man that allow a regular person to become a scholar. It pinpoints these important aspects of knowledge, and how it is obtained, which will allow writers to improve their work when taking these things into consideration. Much of Emerson’s work, such as The Poet, The American Scholar, and Quotation and Originality, can be seen as tools that help writers figure out where to find inspiration and knowledge. These essays are dedicated to teaching this subject. In his section on nature in The American Scholar he writes, “The scholar must needs stand wistful and admiring before this great spectacle. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end,” Emerson urges writers to take the influence of nature into their own hands, make of it what you will. It isn’t simply inspiration from nature, it is what it means to the writer that creates an original thought on the matter. However, he also mentions the value of utilizing past literature as a scholarly influence. This is also the case with Quotation and Originality. This essay teaches the reader about a very important aspect of writing and coming up with ideas. It focuses on the idea of quotation and how that can be used to create originality, as well as the idea that there may be no originality. In this essay he states, “that, in a large sense, one would say there is no pure originality. All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands.” This quote shares the idea that every “strand” or new idea is not purely a new idea but instead a mixture of the old and the new. The idea of a lack of originality is an important thing to teach writers of today because it is something many struggle with, but this essay shows writers how this can become something beneficial to them and their work. He also states the value of this pattern by stating, “What he quotes, he fills with his own voice and humor” This indicates to a writer that writing is not about finding the most original ideas, but is instead about utilizing those pre existing ideas in a way that is personal to one’s self in order to create the piece of the thread that is new.

      In spirit of the themes of Quotation and Originality, it is important to mention how Emerson’s work can teach a writer to write in a more philosophical and meaningful way as he did. Just as readers can hone their reading skills by studying Emerson’s work, writers can also find new tools to utilize for their writing toolkit. Emerson had a way with words that felt intelligent and knowledgeable, he could tell an audience that two plus two was five, but do it in a way that almost makes them believe him. This is a very valuable skill that writers can pick up from his work. One way he does this is by overexplaining in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Take the opening sentence of his essay The Poet as an example of this style, “Those who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual.” This is one sentence that could have been summed up in less time, but he chose not to. Giving the reader more information to chew on allows them to be more convinced by his ideas, which is a technique that writers can take away from his work and use in their own way. Emerson also utilizes metaphors and anecdotes in his writing to further prove the points he makes in his work, this is another technique that gives the reader more to think about and a foundation that allows them to believe Emerson’s claims more thoroughly. These are skills that are extremely valuable for writers who are learning to sound more professional or persuasive in their works. The American Scholar and Quotation and Originality taught readers that literature of the past influences current writing as well as inspires current writers to write, and Emerson’s work is no exception to this idea.

      Ralph Waldo Emerson provided the world with unique, philosophical work that continues to inspire people in the present day. His works are ones that can be utilized in a plethora of different ways which allows it to stay valuable even when it has been over one hundred years since they were first written. His writing not only teaches his readers about the topics he was passionate about, it also teaches them how to better interpret more complicated works such as his. He also teaches writers the art of finding knowledge, and inadvertently teaches them how to articulate that knowledge through his unique writing style. Emerson is a writer that is useful for many different people with a plethora of literary backgrounds. 

The Language of Quotation and Originality

      Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing can be difficult to comprehend upon first the first read through, but why is that? An author’s writing style is something that can set them apart from others and create an artistic vision of their own. Emerson’s writing employs many philosophical and abstract ideas in order to explain phenomenons he sees in the world, which often have to do with education and creation of artists. His essay Quotation and Originality is a great example of his writing style mixed with the themes he chooses to write about. Emerson utilizes different philosophical ideas and anecdotes in order to create a particular tone that is very unique to him.

      One of the most obvious things that a reader will observe in Emerson’s writing is his use of particularly philosophical language throughout his essays. Philosophy, as it presents itself in Emerson’s work, is the study of knowledge itself. Emerson has a fascination with the idea of mankind’s knowledge and where it develops from, this essay is no different. Quotation and Originality focuses around the idea of reusing, or quoting, different ideas and how a world filled with quotation could contain any sort of originality. The way he speaks of these ideas in his writing is not said in the most obvious ways. This philosophical aspect is present in the way that he writes sentences, in a thought provoking manner. In the beginning of this essay he writes, “Our debt to tradition through reading and conversation is so massive, our protest or private addition so rare and insignificant, — and this commonly on the ground of other reading or hearing, — that, in a large sense, one would say there is no pure originality.” This sentence could be as simple as “Due to ideas being reused there is no originality.”, but it isn’t. Two things are occurring in this sentence alone. For one, he puts the ideas into a different situation that helps to explain it better, he refers to the ideas we’ve used as our “debt to tradition.” The use of these kinds of metaphors are one of the things that allow him to create the philosophical feeling that his essays tend to give off. The second thing is that he leaves this statement somewhat open ended. In the beginning, he is addressing the reader as his equal and ally in thought when he says “our.”. However at the end he refers to the person thinking about the idea as “one”, giving the reader room to either identify with the thinker or not. It is thought provoking.

      A quick look at any Emerson essay will show that he was one to add many anecdotes to his work. An anecdote is a short story about a person’s life. These can often be used to convey an idea and be employed as an example of what the person is referring to. In this essay, he employs this small story, “Thirty years ago, when Mr. Webster at the bar or in the Senate filled the eyes and minds of young men, you might often hear cited as Mr. Webster’s three rules:” Emerson could have easily written the rules himself and implemented them into his essay, but he chose to tell it in a small anecdotal account of an event that people may have experienced. This approach can often make the subject of an essay feel more real and authentic. It is sort of like the common phrase spoken by teenagers to their math teachers today, “When will I ever need geometry in the real world?” Unless the teacher has a halfway decent answer, the students will assume that the material is not useful. When I was in highschool, I had a math teacher answer the question by talking about all the measurements he needed to do when opening his own deli, and I haven’t forgotten that story. Anecdotes make things feel personal and important to a reader. It shows the reader a real world situation of whatever it is the writer is trying to convince them of. Anecdotes also help with Emerson’s signature wordiness. It would take much less time to explain it quickly without a story than to add a story onto the end of something that was already explained well enough, but Emerson is not looking to make his messages more digestible and easy to read. The anecdotes sprinkled within his writing creates a situation in which readers need to think a little deeper to understand the point he is trying to make, which lends itself to making his writing style unique and thoughtful.

      The two things analized in the previous paragraphs both help to create the overall tone of Emerson’s writing in this essay and in general. As stated, the style that Emerson chooses to write in is significantly more wordy than many other authors. This causes the reader to have a more serious attitude toward what he is writing about, it gives them a reason to think hard about the contents. In the case of Quotation and Originality, he begins with a long metaphor about animals and how they relate to the contents of a library or news room. Without reading the title, it would be hard to even comprehend what the subject of the essay could possibly be, but that is the idea behind the tone of this piece. It sets the reader up to think a little harder than they normally would. The tone of the piece is serious and thoughtful, these are the feelings that are brought to a reader when presented with this wordy and philosophical writing style. 

      Emerson’s tone in his writing is greatly affected by his use of anecdotes and philosophical ideas. These writing techniques coupled with the topics he chooses to write about create pieces of work that are both thought provoking and entertaining for many people around the world. While Emerson often cites the past as an influence on the knowledge present in his lifetime, his writing style is unique enough to be an influence on the writings of today’s authors.

The Past In The American Scholar

      The past allows for growth and influence to occur in many different areas in the lives of mankind. Despite the past being full of old ideas and values, it is perhaps one of the biggest influences on life and creativity in the present day. This is a theme which is very prominent in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay called The American Scholar. The essay utilizes a philosophical view of being a scholar in order to discuss the different influences on man and how they manifest in life. Emerson cites three large influences. These are nature, past, and action. The section of the past talks about the reasons why the past is an important influence in general as well as the ideas conveyed through literature and how people learn from it to gain knowledge in the present. 

      Emerson cites the mind of the past as the second greatest influence of man. The past is not only a brilliant treasure chest of old ideas, it is also a map to new ones. This sentiment can also be found in the quote by Maya Angelou, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” The past is one of the greatest influences on the future, making it a heavy influence on man as well. In the introduction of his essay, he mentions that “Thus far, our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any more. As such it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct.” The idea of an indestructible instinct implies the idea that the past’s influence is still upon us in such a way that literature stays as a relevant and useful art form. He also mentions the idea that this is only a moment in time, that the past of literature overcomes the present due to its longevity, and the present may be inspired by literature for years to come. Emerson states about the past’s influence on man, “In whatever form, whether of literature, of art, of institutes.” Any sort of past idea in any form can come to influence the present day ideas. 

      While Emerson gave credit to different past artforms in shaping today’s ideas, he puts special emphasis on the influence of books. Many authors choose to write about their ideas and even their experiences, meaning that books are designed to be a gateway into “the mind of the past” as Emerson calls it. Books are one of the largest influences when it comes to looking at the past in order to shape the present. This is due to the fact that any book can inspire and evoke a plethora of different thoughts and ideas for whoever chooses to read it. “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.” He gives the correct use of a book a vague definition because of the many different inspirations it can spark in the mind of a reader. Think of all the different reasons someone may need to read. One book can be used for research on the book’s topic, amusement, an example for authors learning to write, or even used in an English class to discuss the different themes and ideas brought up in the story. All these different uses could apply to any single book and yet each usage inspires a different sort of idea. This is how readers use the past to influence their present and future. They are influenced and inspired by the authors of the past who shared their ideas with the future by creating a permanent representation of them through literature. As he stated, this power can be abused as well. He warns against utilizing the influence of past minds to an excessive amount, as this can cause one to meander away from their original thought. Someone wise should use the old to come up with something new, not simply create a clone of the old. It is most important to add something to an idea in order for it to grow and become more in depth and exciting. 

      The idea of the past having an influence on the spirit of a scholar is all around. People are inspired by many different things to create new ideas. The spirit of being a scholar often comes from an inspiration from the past. For example, someone may have had a teacher in their lives that inspired them to teach in a similar fashion or even inspired the career choice in general. Every single genre of books came about because someone decided to write about something in a particular way, causing others to be inspired to do the same. It seems that the “spirit” of a scholar refers to their inspiration, their genuine interest and excitement about their field of study. One of the biggest motivators for this type of spirit is through past success of others. Watching others do well at something can inspire someone to do the same for themself. Many different things can create the spirit, but the past is one of the biggest motivators to continue having the spirit of a scholar and the passion to continue having new ideas.

      Many different ideas have come from ideas before. The majority of movies, books, and music today have some sort of inspiration from a past one. This can come in the form of sly nods to past films in a current one, a certain writing style being coined by a past author and being recreated by another, or even modern music sampling past songs. However, sometimes using influences can get someone into trouble. Although Emerson’s statement that books can cause a scholar to veer away from originality was said back in 1837, this idea can be applied to today’s artforms as well. Utilizing an influence too much can often result in the people responsible getting into trouble due to copyright. Stealing an artistic vision from someone is no longer inspiration to create something new, it is simply trying to pass old ideas as new ideas. This is exactly what Emerson warned about with books, using to influence too much can cause a lack of originality. The past repeats itself when different forms of media come to light.

      However, the influence of the past is not only present in the media, it is present in people’s own personalities. Many of people’s traits come from past experiences with people who have them. Even who a child grows up to be is heavily influenced by the past of their parents and how that affects their choices in raising them. The values and beliefs people hold often come from their parents, and their parent’s parents, and the parents before them. The past heavily influences the different beliefs people hold about the world around them. Someone’s own past allows for their wisdom to grow and become vaster. In his section in the influence of action, he states “Of course, he who has put forth his total strength in fit actions has the richest return of wisdom.” This can also fit into the idea of past experience giving wisdom and inspiration in return. The person who knows what not to do will often be the person who had to experience the consequences of doing what they should not do, this is what being wise is all about. Making mistakes in the past will subsequently inspire future decisions. The idea of finding inspiration through action is like learning from one’s own past instead of the past of others.      The past gives mankind a plethora of knowledge and wisdom. In The American Scholar, Emerson taps into this idea not only in the section that was specifically written for this topic, but also in the other sections of the essay. The influence of the past can strengthen the influence of action and show why literature prospers throughout society. The past can be used to explain many different parts of society as we know it. This influence can be as simple as knowing not to eat food that has gone bad because people of the past have gotten sick, to as large as structures of government being created because a similar model worked in an ancient society. According to Emerson, this wisdom is greatly spread by literature. It is the way many people learn about the past and become inspired to write and read themselves. Books are something that inspire people in many different ways and are cited by Emerson as being one of the greatest influences on a scholarly spirit. Looking at the essay, one can see many philosophical ideas, many of which come from past societies ways of thinking. The way people have thought throughout time has influenced how American scholars think in Emerson’s time, and today.

“Five on the Western Edge,” By Steve Brooks, Stephan Vincent, Beau Beausoleil, Hilton Obenzinger, and Larry Felson.

      Often when a book of poetry contains as many authors as this one, it is some sort of anthology that collects many poems and puts them together. However, this is a book that is written by five authors who worked together to create it. As Stephan Vincent states in the introduction of the book “I had the notion that by drawing four other poets together, that we could make a book that would reflect the many and various obsessions of our lives.” This book was created in such a way that allows different poets to work off each other and create one piece of work. In order to look deeper into the language and poetics used in this book, it is important to look into each section. Each of the five authors have their own section of the book that shows their own ways of poetry as well as balancing well with the other four. 

      “The Ocean in a bottle” is the name of the first poem that begins Steve Brooks section of the book, which is labelled with the same name. The first thing I noticed about this poem was that it had a very simple structure. There are ten stanzas, some with two lines, some with three, and some with four. Having it separated out in this manner allows for easy reading that flows nicely along the page. This is a good first impression to this section as the majority of this author’s poems followed this same skeleton like structure, simply meaning the paragraphs aren’t beefed up and it is easy to see all the words at a glance. This beginning poem also brought back that word “obsession” from the introduction blurb, allowing a reader to really remember this theme over the course of the book. It returns in the words “My obsession is not insight.” When it comes to the language throughout this section, the best way to describe it is using average words to make profound and sometimes complex statements. Take this quote from the poem “At Home in Moline” as an example, “I wander around in my parent’s house looking for the magic spot from which to experience everything.” Separately, all these words are rather average and nothing one would need to search a thesaurus to come up with, but together it gives the reader something to think about. Much of the language in this section falls under this category. This author also seems to take inspiration from his real life friends and family, or implements recurring characters, because there are a few names that continue to appear in the poems. 

      The second section, Stephan Vincent’s, opens with a piece called “Express Time” which already shows a great difference in writing style from the previous author. Flipping through Vincent’s section, it is easy to tell why he was the one writing the introduction because of the way his poetry looks. He tends to go for a more paragraph-like structure to his poetry. The first poem has no breaks in stanzas, it is only one continuous paragraph of writing. Each of the lines are much shorter than expected from a paragraph in an essay, giving it more of the poetry feel. The structure of this poem makes sense for the content as he is seemingly ranting about this so called “woman writing poetry” in his head. The use of words such as “rip me apart” gives an angry feel to the poem and the unbreakable monologue only heightens this feeling of losing control over one’s emotions. Along with having beefier poems, he also plays with his space on the page. There are times that he’ll separate the parts farther than expected and really make use of the page given to him. As for the language, he tends to use very viscous and intense wording. He does not soften the blow of big emotions but rather lets it be free in the open for all to see. This allows the reader to almost feel the same emotion as him, rather than simply hear about it through softer words.

      The third section is called “Harness of Bone” and it is by Beau Beausoliel. This seems to be a man destined to write poetry as his name translates to “beautiful, beautiful sun” in French. His section kicks off with a poem called “Night Train”. Most of his poems have many stanzas with few lines, giving it that same light feeling as Brooks’ poetry in the first section. He does not play around with the page much either, choosing to keep his words to one side of the page for each poem. He seems to write in more metaphoric ways than the other two. Instead of writing exactly what he means, he’ll use an example to make the reader come up with the thought on their own while they go through the piece. Such as the line “I was swimming with bitter fish”, this is likely not what really happened, but in the context of the poem, means something different than stated directly to the audience. Using metaphors allows for the audience to stop and think about what is being said, and perhaps those ideas will differ depending on the emotions the reader feels about that particular topic. Metaphors are something that makes the audience think.

      “Landlord” begins the fourth section written by Hilton Obenzinger. Although this introduction poem follows a simple paragraph like structure, it does not necessarily represent Obenzinger’s writing as a whole the way the other three did. As the reader flips through the pages, they are met with many poems that look different from one another. Most of the poems tend to have big chunks of words, but the way he utilizes page space is unique. For example in the poem “Lamentations and Determinations”, he allows his sentences to traverse across the entire page, opposed to leaving it only in the center or left margin as many poets do. He also uses the fact that he is typing to his advantage, using all caps, bold, and italic lettering. This shows the reader what is important and what to remember from the pieces. He is similar to Vincent’s section, this one uses harsh language to describe struggles. It makes a reader feel that they too are living this struggle alongside the author. Having a more seemingly random placement of words on the page also allows the poems to feel more angry, as if judgement was clouded while they were being written. The premise of “Landlord” does set the reader up for the content side of his poetry. He writes about events that people see in society and shows his problems with those moments. He describes having a landlord as creepy, that the landlord is simply a person in possession of a key. 

       Finally, comes section five entitled “Intimacy Under Capitalism is a Fantasy/Agony” by Larry Felson. This section contains many bulkier poems with lots of words, most notably “GreyHound Meditation: The Santa Ana Freeway” which covers nearly the entire page with words, making it feel like one giant paragraph. The second page of the poem is filled with words in all caps, specifically the names of places. He is on the freeway, describing it by naming off each place they pass along the way. Finally, the poem ends with the line in all caps, “NOTHING IS AS NATURAL AS THE ABILITY TO RESIST.” The poem reads much more as a story than most poetry tends to. The opening poem for this section is called “Falling in Love again in a bar in Portland”. This poem describes things in a way that makes them feel almost surreal and not of our reality. The line “and how our bodies become blue flashing bodies,” shows this concept well. It is describing people, but it does not feel like a person but rather some type of creature that would possess a flashing blue body. These descriptions are also mixed with description and dialogue that feels very human and relatable for many people, allowing the poem to feel grounded in reality while having more fantastical descriptions. One of the more average sounding lines is “A dancer, on the way to the stage, brushes me, her warm wet flesh on my arm.” Most readers will be able to imagine and feel that sensation of someone’s body touching theirs as they walk past because it is something that happens to everyone all the time. As the name would suggest, this section centers much of its attention on the idea of love and the issues surrounding it. A word that continuously appears in each poem is “bodies”, especially in the poem “The Face in the Body”. The body in many of these poems is often there to represent intimacy in a way that doesn’t feel like love, but rather empty. 

      Returning to the idea of this book being a sort of collection of “obsessions” from the five authors, each author shows this theme in their own way through their wording. Brooks shows through his language an obsession that is fueled by the beauty of the world. He utilizes simple, easy flowing words to create something that feels soft and passionate. Even when writing about things that upset him, he uses these simple words to soften the blow.  This differs greatly from the next section by Stephan Vincent. While Brooks shows his passion by beautiful words, Vincent’s obsessions are given in more real and harsh words and phrases. The reader is given the opportunity to feel what Vincent feels about his obsessions, he is obsessed in the sense of being angry and unhappy with these things. Beau Beausoliel completes a sort of poetry sandwich that is created between these three sections thus far, he is another, more soft poet to top off the harsher words of Vincent, but also compliment the nice words of Brooks before him. He enjoys writing in metaphors, he adds in an idea with meaning to him that the reader must uncover to really understand it. He is someone who seems to be more quiet on obsessions, not raving about its beauty or its downfalls, but rather telling in a way for people to think about more in depth. Obenzinger’s section contains more harsh wordings in the way that Vincent’s did. His writing shows an obsession with ideals of society itself. He uses words that feel like they could be present within a political debate which further deepens this theme throughout the section. The final section is an interesting mix between fantastical writing and more realistic writing. Showing that while he can see the badness in the world, Felson also takes the time to admire the beauty and poetic nature of these life moments. Each of the five authors took this theme of obsession into their own direction.

      Although this book is a collection of five different authors, it is clear that what is said in the introduction is true. They may be different and their obsessions may vary, but putting all together creates a piece that many people could find themselves in. Even if someone only relates to a single work within the book, having this many minds allows for something for everyone. The mix of harsh to soft to metaphoric language allowed it to feel more exciting and unpredictable. When the softer sections enveloped the more harsh language, it sort of allows a reader to both prepare then also come down from the emotions that come with more intense words. The soft sections want the reader to know what the feeling is and enjoy reading about it, the harsh sections want the reader to feel the same emotions to truly understand what the author has in mind. Then finally, writing in a more metaphorical way inspires the reader to think about the feelings, not simply know them or feel them. Putting all three of these together allows for a reader to have all three concepts in their reading experience, they will know, feel, and think of all these different emotions encapsulated into the language the authors choose to use.

Second Thoughts 02/21/20

This week honed in more on poetry and allowed us to practice the more technical, writing style part of analyzing poetry instead of trying to uncover a sort of deeper meaning in the poem. We did this by people in the class picking a poem they liked and we would point out things we noticed about the piece.

As we went through this process, it was good to be reminded to focus on the writing of the poem itself, even if pointing out things like the number of lines felt too obvious to point out. The important part of poetics is recognizing the structure of the poem and the content to an extent, take the content for what it is. We take the time to analyze the words chosen and why they work for the style of the poem. This went along with the lesson on metaphors from last week. Learning the way in which words are structured is a good way to learn to improve my own writing. The stylistic words, use and parts of metaphors, as well as simply the structure of poetry will allow me to improve my poetry skills in the future. Sometimes, the basic things feel less simple when you take the time to really understand how and why they are being used.

Something else I feel has been highlighted this week is my liking toward more simple poetry rather than bulkier poems. Reading over several in class, I took a liking to poems that were short and sweet with underlying meanings rather than ones that were really descriptive and a bit long winded. This realization on Tuesday, and the week prior working on poetry, helped me to choose what type of poetry I would like to explore during our next essay due Wednesday. The book I chose has shorter, less bulky poems that I think I’ll really enjoy taking a deeper dive into over this weekend.

I enjoyed getting to learn about the different poetry books that my peers had chosen. On Tuesday when we each took a book off the table, I liked listening to what everyone noticed in their choices and how it was the same or different to mine. I noticed that many poetry books come with separated parts throughout the book. Mine had three parts and different to others in the class because the parts of mine did not have titles, only being labelled as one, two, and three. By skimming through a few poems out of each section, I noticed that each of them seemed to represent a stage of life. The first being childhood, second adulthood, third elderly. I noticed this trend between the first and second poem so I was pretty excited when I read one from the third section and it mentioned being called grandpa, seemingly confirming my theory. I was lucky because the book I chose for that day happened to match up to the types of poems I enjoy. Most of the poems had a short and sweet structure that allowed for easy skimming while I figured it all out in the short amount of time I had with it.

Second Thoughts 02/14/20

In class this week we went more in depth with the idea of breaking down different works in order to figure out both what the author did to accomplish the work and simply the ideas that were found inside of the text. Something I found interesting was the beginning of the book “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” by Italo Calvino. It broke the fourth wall by addressing the reader and stating what the reader may be doing as they continue through the passage. A few months ago I actually was trying to look up books that broke the fourth wall as I’d seen it done in movies and video games and was interested in taking a shot at it in the form of writing. I could not find any examples until I was shown this in class.

We had a look at five different poems to help us to dissect the idea of what a metaphor entails. After reading over the different poems, the conclusion I was drawn to was that the definition of a metaphor is “Talking about something in terms of another thing in order to describe a particular set of traits found in the subject of the poem.” This brought up the two parts of a metaphor, target and source. The target of a metaphor is the thing in which the metaphor is trying to describe. The example we used was the idea of telling someone you love “You are the sun.” In this cause, the target is the “you” character of the metaphor. The source of a metaphor is the thing mentioned in order to derive certain attributes to describe the target. In this cause, “the sun” is the source of the traits being used to describe the target.

I found the poem “You Fit Into Me,” by Margaret Atwood to be particularly interesting. I enjoyed the way the author subverted the audience expectations of where the poem was going. Although I did not understand exactly what “a hook into an eye” meant when I first read it, I still found myself being surprised by the ending. This is because when I saw the beginning phrase of “you fit into me”, I was expecting it to lead to something that is happy. As if the author found a perfect person in their life who fit together with them like a missing puzzle piece. Once I read the part about the hook in the eye, my initial reaction was to wonder how this was going to be considered a good thing by the end of the poem. Perhaps that while love can hurt it is worth it? But then it describes exactly what type of hook and that the eye is open, making there be no payoff to the love story poem everyone expects, but creates a sort of shocking reality of what this relationship was really like.

The rest of the poems I enjoyed as well. I liked how the one called “Metaphors,” by Sylvia Plath seems strange and mysterious upon first read, but yet makes perfect sense once you are given the context that the woman is pregnant. While the other three poems were good, they did not stand out among each other in my learning process the way these two did.

Contextual Criticism

Contextual Criticism 

      Many people find reading to be an enjoyable pastime that takes little effort for them to part take in. Although this seems to be the most well known way of reading, there are many different ways in which one can approach any literary piece. Like writing allows for many choices to be made along the way, reading comes in many shapes and forms that can allow someone to see the information presented differently than another might. Researchers of literature will have a lens in which they use to look at literature called a school of criticism, this is their way of practicing literary theory. Literary theory is defined by Jonathon Culler as a way in which to understand literature through many different lenses. Literary theory is not only language, but also the interpretation of language in many different ways. One school of criticism used to understand literature is contextual theory. This is an interpretation that utilizes the context of the text as a way to analyze and understand it.

      There are a plethora of reasons one might decide to use contextual criticism when reading a text. This way of reading allows for certain details to make more sense in a text. In a way, it is more of a generalization of some other literary schools that will hone in on more specific context such as disabilities. Contextual criticism can allow for an interpretation to be more accurate because it is done within the context of a piece. We’ve all had the experience of walking by a conversation and finding whatever small portion we heard to be odd without the context. This type of literary criticism takes that feeling out of reading and encourages the reader to better understand where the author was coming from when writing the piece. For example, a piece written on race in the 1930s will be much different than one written in 2014. Someone utilizing contextual criticism would take note of this and realize that the difference between the two perspectives is due to the times they were written and the ideals of those respective time frames. This way of reading can help put more perspective into the thoughts of the author and the thoughts of characters written by the author. 

      There are many different ways in which someone can find context in the text in order to use it in their literary analysis. One way is finding the context within the text itself in what the words reveal. The type of language used may help a reader identify the timeframe that the piece was written in. One example that many people can identify is the use of Elizabethan vocabulary in Shakespeare’s plays. Because of his work, this type of speech is easy to identify for many readers. The language used can also help to indicate the intended audience for a particular story. One with many swear words may indicate a more mature audience. The text itself can also reveal biases that the author has or call the audience to action over certain issues. Everyone has biases, but they may vary depending on the context in which the text was written. In this case, one might want to do research on the time it was written and the views they had on these particular topics in that era. We’ll go back to the example about a text with implications on race. Even in a work not regarding the issue, perhaps a fiction author writes something that seems to indicate poor taste toward people of color. This is a situation where having context would be very helpful. Upon further research, it is discovered that this text was written by a white man in the 1930s. For this time frame, it was a normal mindset to have, but in a modern day it is one we know to be unfair. 

      Context not only helps us to understand what was written based on the circumstances, but can also help to put together clues on what it is like in the minds of people in these circumstances. Contextual criticism can help a researcher to learn about certain contexts based on the literature produced. A lot of what we know from history was hidden in the literature of their time. We know a lot about philosophy in ancient Greek societies because of the literature they left behind. This allowed us to study many works of the time in order to paint a picture of what their lives were like. This is an example of using literature to better understand the context. Another example is people who write autobiographies. These are like an entire book of context. They can often help people to learn what it is like to live in whatever context the author wrote it in. The DIary of Anne Frank is a great example of this. While not an intentional autobiography, the diary still allows a reader to put themselves in the shoes of this young girl to understand  her situation. We are given the context of Nazi Germany, but the stories told by her give us an idea of what it would be like in that time period.

      Context is almost vital to many other schools of criticism. It is something that can often fill in gaps that a reader may find when reading about different ideas than their own. Contextual criticism is a way to judge a piece’s worth while also taking into account the ideals and conditions the author was under when they picked up the pen. It can also bring to light what type of biases or agendas may have been behind a certain piece. Contextual criticism allows the reader to peer out from within the author’s mind as they read the text, willing to understand each part in reference to what the author may have been going through. The most important aspect is that this way of thought can be used for any text a reader picks up. Overall, this is a good and more broad way in which one could use schools of literary criticism to better understand the ideas presented to you through literature.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith, et al. What’s Left of Theory? : New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory.

       Routledge, 2000. 

       Call Number: PS24.W48 2000

Johannes Willem Bertens Literary Theory : The Basics. 2001

       Call Number: PN94 .B47 2001

Charles E. Bressler, Literary criticism : an introduction to theory and practice, 2011

       Call Number: PN81.B666.2011 

http://english.unl.edu/sbehrendt/StudyQuestions/ContextualAnalysis.html

Second Thoughts 02/07/20

This week we have made our way out of the tutorial period and have gotten more into the actual class curriculum. Tuesday we took time again to hear from essays written by our peers. We discussed the answer to the question “What is English?” and quite a few people came to the same conclusion as me, a study of language, but more in depth because we are English speakers.

On Thursday we read from a short story as well as some poems. This time helped me to figure out which details should stand out from pieces of literature in order to form a good analysis of it. For example, the poem “Etymological Dirge,” by Heather Mchugh would only make sense if you knew what the title meant. I didn’t think to wonder about the title’s significance and went straight to the words in the stanzas. I learned to think about the title a little before diving in because it could help me to understand what is in store for the rest of the poem. I also enjoyed “The Use of Force,” by William Carlos Williams, it was an interesting story with lots to interpret. Each person in a room could have a different interpretation, and it could all be correct. Those types of stories inspire me when I do my own writing.

What is English?

      English as an area of study has come to entail learning to read and write more critically as well as with more technique and ability. The study of English has made its way into the majority of school curriculum across the United States. Along with this spread of the subject, it has also been a common option for college students to choose as a major. Despite English being such a well known field of study, the definition for what it entails can be puzzling. With English majors entering so many different fields from museum work to teaching, what exactly does this subject do to prepare students for so many different positions? The reading and writing that is perfected in the English major allow students to be more professional and provide a good groundwork to be paired with other studies.

      The end goal of many English classes is to teach a student to think critically, break down readings, to be able to speak ideas and articulate thoughts, and improve their writing skills through different techniques. In this way, English is a lot like other language courses. If a student takes a French course, they’ll learn French. Since the same student taking the English course already knows the language, English classes are designed for them to think about the words on the page instead of just knowing them. Although a course in the study of English can mean many different ways of these topics being executed, the main topics of reading and writing are always present. English has become so widespread as a main topic in schools due to its importance in real world application. Although one may not be writing essays or dissecting novels in their careers, it still allows kids of all ages to practice these important skills for the future. Students may have to write an email to a future boss, or may have to make sense of political articles when they decide to vote in the future. English classes provide skills that are not only used for the tasks assigned by the teacher, but can be important to many different life situations a student may encounter as they grow up and continue their academic and work careers.

       It is a well known idea that in today’s world, being able to read and write is essential to many different career paths. Being an English major also implies a strong critical thinking ability. English, in this case, means being able to write professionally as well as break down things written by others. These are useful abilities in many different careers causing English majors to be spread around a large spectrum of work. The study of English is one that prepares a student for the working world by learning to think critically and overall be an intelligible writer. The writing and reading that English classes do seems to be a different type than the casual reader or writer. English teaches students to write in a way that has depth and technique. This essay is not written in a way one would speak, or even written in a way that one would write to casually explain English to a peer. This is written in such a way to look professional and overall well done, this is the language in which people develop from English courses. Even the most creative outlets of writing have their own unique guidelines of which the writer follows. Different types of poetry often have these guidelines. Literature is also subject to the same idea. Students are taught to read more professionally, taking the time to understand each element of the text. Again, this is sort of like a literary language. The casual reader of a text may not notice underlying themes and styles of writing as well. With enough practice this sort of professional English language can become second nature in academics. This is also helpful when entering other areas of study.

      English is not the only class that employs reading and writing. In fact, most college courses will have the student doing at least one of the two, if not both. English is a subject that can go hand in hand with so many others. English majors are often double majors, meaning that they major in English as well as another subject. Many times, their second major is the field that they would like to work in, whereas English is an extra brick in their education tower. English is a way in which to heighten a student’s knowledge by teaching them what to do with it when it is presented to them. If one cannot read critically, it may be impossible to fully understand many texts from their other courses. 

      The idea that English can be an umbrella term for so many different courses can be confusing. For example, a student taking a creative writing class and a critical theory class is taking two English classes. Despite neither course being anything like the other, they both fit under this umbrella of “English”. English is like art in this way, so many things can be considered art even if neither are alike. When looking over the Keene State College English major, there are many options of courses to choose from. A nonfiction writing class can be chosen over a creative writing one, each are very different but could be critically to the studies of different students in different ways. Someone looking to be a journalist may take the nonfiction whereas an aspiring author may take the creative writing option. Simply the choices one can take to complete the major is telling of the wide variety of subjects that can be considered English. An English major for one student can be vastly different than the experience of another, yet they are under the same discipline of “English”.

      In short, I believe English to be the study of the English language. This definition is as broad as the study itself and can allow many different types of English courses to fit into the mold. English is meant to allow students to understand reading and writing in a way that can bring meaning and life to a text.

Second Thoughts: Week 2, 01/31/2020

This week as well as last week we discussed some things that would better prepare us for the course moving forward. We took some time to read a few excerpts of peer essays, go over some course guidelines and expectations, and also read a piece by a published nonfiction author.

The first couple days of class that we had last week were mostly used to teach us about the different work and discussions that we would be engaging in over the course of the next semester. I am enjoying the idea that this class is a creative space for us to explore different ways of reading and writing. This was especially apparent when we got to reading the passage about the ocean. Each of us had a somewhat different interpretation of the work and nobody was necessarily incorrect. I really enjoy having a space where readings can be discussed in depth in this manner. But overall, I don’t have much to say about week one. It went how you would expect the first few days of class to go, not the most interesting but certainly a necessary part of getting a course started.

This week we finished our first assignment for the class, meaning that there was more to discuss. I enjoyed being able to hear some pieces written by my peers and learned where their opinions were when it came to reading and writing in school. As someone who also doesn’t have much of a liking for reading, I felt that there were people I could relate to in the class in that regard. I also found it to be a helpful way to figure out the expectations that would be placed on me moving forward.

Although it has only been a few class periods, I have already found value in some of the things we did. For example, this website was so much more complicated than I thought it would be, but it was a necessary evil to teach me how to do this kind of thing. From this day forward, I know how to design my own website. Each thing we have done in class so far has been helpful and necessary which I appreciate. Sure, listening to teachers talk about what the next semester entails may be boring, but it is something that will allow me to understand the course more in depth as I continue throughout the semester.