the Devil’s gay?

The thing I found most striking about “Mrs. Faust” in the manuscript actually turned out to be my mistake.  I repeatedly misread “the Devil’s boy” for “the Devil’s gay” in the manuscript.  I thought this would be a really funny twist to the story of Dr. Faustus, seeing as he was almost obsessed with the devil and then sold himself to the devil.

Aside from that, I was surprise to see so little on “Mrs. Faust” in the manuscripts because its one of the longer poems.  I only found the last stanzas (11th-15th), and I saw that Duffy wrote the last portion of the poem over and over with a few edits here and there. Looking back at the poem, this seems to make sense because the end of the poem is the kicker, and Duffy would want to word it just right. I also found in another portion of the manuscripts, that Duffy scribbled, “Mrs. Faust – he had no soul,” before she began writing the poem.  I thought it was interesting that Duffy actually started the poem with the end, which is the most ironic and clever line.

Duffy repeated most the 11th stanza, the part about Helen of Troy.  I thought it was intriguing that Duffy wanted to perfect this stanza the most out of the rest because this reveals that Dr. Faust cheats on Mrs. Faust and where she is most wronged.  Perhaps this further justifies Mrs. Faust’s lack of love for her husband and her apathy later when he is dragged to hell.

Furthermore, I noticed that the rest of the poem was written with few edits and adjustments, showing that perhaps the rest of the poem flowed easily to Duffy.  I find this very impressive given the amount of vivid imagery portrayed through the diction in lines like, “I heard/ a serpents hiss,/ tasted evil/ knew its smell,/ as scaly devil hands.”

I wondered if Duffy added the other parts of the poem at the last minute.  Although the end of the poem is the most interesting and sinister, the beginning and middle of the poem is essential too because it relates the story of Dr. Faustus to the everyday person in today’s society.


Duffy’s no Shakespeare or Spenser

I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with my title and of course I’m being facetious.  However, after reading Duffy’s drafts of “Prayer,” a part of me wished she had followed through with all the conventions of a Shakespeare sonnet.  Yes, she’s a poet laureate and must be a literary genius, but I didn’t see much mastery in her meter or rhyme.  I thought that if she wanted to use the form of the sonnet, she should do it well and follow through with it.

Maybe Duffy didn’t want to be restricted by the sonnet form and perhaps wanted to put her own spin on the sonnet and modernize it, but I would’ve been more impressed by the poem if she showed that she could still convey the message she wanted within the confines of a Shakespearean sonnet.  I’ve written numerous sonnets (both Shakespeare and Spenserian) and each one was extremely time consuming and sometimes frustrating to write (mostly because of following iambic pentameter perfectly is a bitch.)  However, whenever I complete my sonnets, I’m proud because it’s a difficult task that requires discipline and a strong command of language.

I saw in the manuscripts that Duffy had written a first version of “Prayer” that was COMPLETELY different from the final published version.  Then when she changed the poem to more like the one we’ve read, I saw that she attempted to write in iambs by the stressed marks above the first line of poetry.  However, after the first line there’s no established meter, and to me it seems like Duffy just gave up on it.  I saw that there were very few edits in terms of her meter and structure but more for her diction.  This showed me that Duffy cared more about presenting her own words and message than following the conventions, but I believe the best poets are stylistically versatile.  Duffy’s other works usually lack rhyme and meter.  In “Prayer” she could’ve demonstrated that she can write within conventions and do it brilliantly.


Life of the Author

In the second half of The World’s Wife,  “Demeter” stood out most to me because I couldn’t help but see autobiographical elements within it.  After Professor Croxall showed us the letter explaining that Duffy created this collection of poetry in order to support her newborn daughter, I saw that “Demeter” was a very fitting last poem.  In this way, the author’s life has significance to the meaning of the work.

I had to Google Demeter and learned that she is the Greek goddess of the harvest and the fertility of the earth.  Duffy uses Demeter as a symbol of her daughter. The poem begins with the speaker in “winter and hard earth,” perhaps relating to Duffy’s life before her daughter.  Then halfway into the poem, Duffy constructs a turn to happiness, spring, and all things new.  She uses vibrant imagery when she writes, “My daughter, my girl, across the fields,/ in bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers,”  and perhaps symbolizes the arrival of her daughter as the start of Duffy’s new life as well.   Like most mothers would say, Duffy stated in an interview with the Times that the birth of her daughter was the single most important event in her life saying, “I divide my life into before and after [her birth] – they are separate continents.”

Although most of her poetry has darker themes and bleak tones, Duffy ends this collection with “Demeter,” which leaves a joyous, hopeful message.  Her choice to end The World’s Wife with this poem shows that perhaps she feels that despite all the hardships that come with being a woman, having children redeems all those pains.  Perhaps after having a daughter, Duffy wanted to emphasize this joy rather than other concerns.

Ironically, in the same Times interview, Duffy stated, “I want the reader to bring themselves to the poems, not be wondering about me. If a poem endures, the life is between the reader and the poem. The poet should not be in the way.”  Duffy didn’t intend for me to think about her personal life so much.  However, when Professor Croxall showed us her letter to her editor, from then we were exposed to her personal life and can’t help but to think of the life of the author.

Should the author be dead?

In The Death of the Author, Barthes argues that after the writer performs the act of writing, he is rendered powerless. Writing is a “performative, a rare verbal form… in which the enunciation has no other content… than the act by which it is uttered” (145-6). From this point readers can interpret whatever they want out of the performative. After reflecting on this point, I realized that this philosophy had been disputed and supported in my education (both implicitly and sometimes explicitly) for as long as I could remember. Some of my high school and college instructors would emphasize that we could interpret whatever we wanted from the texts we read as long as would could support it. On the other hand, other instructors would be more inclined to tell us if there was a definite right or wrong in a piece of literature. Also, for some reason, whatever side they took on this issue wasn’t really an indicator of whether they were good professors or not. Therefore, I am still trying to make up my mind about this extreme postmodern ideology.

After reading texts such as The Death of the Author, it is easy to become nihilistic, thinking that nothing can be known or communicated. Barthes states, “Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on the text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing” (147). This idea emerges from philosophy dominant in the second half of the twentieth century, focused on a profound disbelief in grand explanatory theories that make absolute claims to knowledge and truth. This philosophy also calls into questions the general idea of human progress.

However, I can also see that perhaps this essay isn’t calling for nihilism but rather for relativism. According to Barthes, the author must die for the reader to be born. The readers have the power to make whatever they want of the work. With the death of the author, it’s the readers’ responsibility to find the meaning of works. This creates endless possible meanings to works of literature, and all interpreted meanings can be valid. I find this both liberating and utterly frustrating.  I can be misinterpreting Barthes’ essay at this moment, but according to him, I as the reader have the last say because his voice has been dead since the moment he wrote down those words.  When do you know when the reader shouldn’t hold that authority?

NINES Project Evaluation

Candice Bang and Michael Bolleter

NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteeth-Century Electronic Scholarship) is a  “a scholarly organization devoted to forging links between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first” (“What is NINES?”).  The project was founded in 2004-2005 to serve scholars’ needs for digital research in the nineteenth-century British and American literature.  The project is an interface for nine different peer-reviewed databases, which aggregates digital material of 19th century work.  Its main target is to provide a place, which helps facilitate peer review, creation of digital material, and development of software tools for new and traditional forms of research and critical analysis.

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One elucidation just leads to another challenging question

Mark Sample’s view of digital humanities simply makes more sense to me than Stephen Ramsay’s.   Before I even began to learn more about the field, the term digital humanities to me evoked more of a sense of openness and independence. Sample’s article supports my initial perception of digital humanities.  However, Sample’s ideals also make me want to further question the legitimacy works published and released online.

Sample begins by explaining how we should not try to define digital humanities based on its divides and tensions.  He writes, “The heart of the digital humanities is not the production of knowledge; it’s the reproduction of knowledge.”  This single statement elucidated the idea of digital humanities for me better than reading several articles on the topic.  It seemed to me that I had already known this, but I needed to see it expressed in this simple and clear way.   In the example of our Mrs. Dalloway mappings, we didn’t produce knowledge, but we reproduced what Woolf had already created into a different medium.

When I read Ramsay’s definition of digital humanities, I was dismayed to think that digital humanities could be a more restricted field than I once believed.   However, I could swallow this concept because if DH was more restricted, it seemed like a more legitimate study.  After reading Sample’s work, I agree more with Sample’s view of DH, but with such open and unrestrained sharing of works as he suggests, I think comes the question of legitimacy.  I know he states that we shouldn’t be preoccupied with this matter now, but I disagree.  I think quality of the works should come before unlimited mass sharing.  In theory, it’s nice to say we should look forward and not be “complacent, hesitant, or entrenched in the present”, but I don’t think anyone is.  Some people who responded to this article listed several self-publishing units already up and running.  Parlor Press for example looks well established and has developed works from 400 authors.   I simply hope that publishers such as this one have dependable reviewing before the works become available for everyone and anyone to read and reference to.

Are we supposed to get something out of this confusion?

This may sound extreme, but I actually felt dumber after reading Afternoon, A Story.  I tried several times to get through the disconnected fragments of text to find some significance, and my attempts were fruitless.  The first few minutes into reading were not so bad because I try to remain patient and try to find some meaning in the randomness.  However, as I read, I began to question more and more if there could be literary value in a work like this.  I would become intrigued with some portions of the text and want to read more about it only to be disappointed that the passage would take me someplace else completely.  Also, unlike a normal book, I couldn’t go back to read something I had read many pages/clicks back.  I found this to be frustrating because that wouldn’t allow me to reflect on or find connections between material.  Moreover, Joyce doesn’t allow the readers to become invested in anything in this work because it is so disjointed and all over the place.

I thought I was being far too critical and impatient in reading this work.  However, after reading Paul LaFarge’s article, “Why the book’s future never happened,” I felt reassured that it is acceptable to be dissatisfied in Afternoon.  I learned that this form of novel died out pretty quickly because people felt the same way as me.   LaFarge’s following statement really resonated with me.  “True, the hypertext offers you the puzzle-solving pleasure of making sense of the story, arranging the pieces in your head to see the whole mosaic, but why would you do that, if the pieces don’t suggest a picture you care to see? Not every puzzle has an interesting solution.”  This idea helped me articulate the frustration I was feeling because I couldn’t find interest or a purpose in reading this hypertext.

When I read, “This is not a flaw in the medium, though; it’s a failure of craft. With two exceptions (Shelley Jackson and Geoff Ryman…” I wished we had read one of these works instead of Afternoon.  I would like to see how the better quality and purposeful fragmentary prose compares to Afternoon.

Disconnect in Mrs. Dalloway

The lack of understanding between individuals is one of the most apparent Modernist themes in Mrs. Dalloway.  All throughout the novel, the speaker conveys thoughts through stream of consciousness, which disassociates the reader and emphasizes how difficult it is to understand others’ thought processes.  The Modernist idea of inherent disconnect between individuals is made most apparent in the end of the novel when Septimus kills himself, and Clarissa and party guests do not care for or mourn his death.  This scene is the most glaring example of a break in society because if a man committing suicide doesn’t rattle people, what will?

The party continues on with, “people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room”, and Woolf writes, “The young man had killed himself; but [Clarissa] did not pity him… with all this going on” (Woolf, 138).   Clarissa doesn’t think about how Septimus must have felt or how desperate he must have been to kill himself.  Instead, Clarissa just thinks about herself and how this event makes her feel.  Therefore, she is disconnected and very self-centered in her way of thinking.  I think Woolf sticks with this Modernist thinking which emphasizes individuality and relativism.  Woolf shows that there is a lack in human sympathy and understanding through both her style and themes.

This theme of disconnect between individuals can relate back to our class because technology is a contributing factor to the lack of connection between individuals.  Modernist philosophy emphasized that even with advancing technology, humanity was not progressing.  Thinkers during the early 20th century adopted this way of thinking when they began to see that technological advancements created more chaos and destruction especially during the World Wars.  I thought it is somewhat ironic that we are reading Mrs. Dalloway in our digital humanities class because this novel underlines the disconnect and digression of humanity and how they relate to technology.


Tying Up Some Loose Ends

I was glad that we were assigned to read, Stephen Ramsay’s “On Building” because so many of us in class were left to wonder what he meant by “building.”  I was also glad that he mentioned mapping because after reading “Maps” I was still skeptical about the nature of DH.  I thought this article touched on and fused a lot of the elements we are learning about in this class.

Ramsay helped clarify what he meant by building when he elaborated on what constitutes building.  When he writes, “All the technai of Digital Humanities – data mining, XML encoding, text analysis, GIS, Web design, visualization, programming, tool design, database design, etc – involve building; only a few of them require programming, per se,” I can have a more concrete idea of what DH even though I do not have a clue what most of those processes are.  I simply hoped we would eventually learn what some of those are in this course.

When Ramsay explained how mapping is an entirely different process, and a “process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise”, I could see how mapping Mrs. Dalloway would help us to understand DH further.  This is my third time reading Mrs. Dalloway, but this time, I’m already reading it in a completely different way because I’m paying closer attention to the places Clarissa goes to.  I’m still skeptical about how much the mapping will affect our interpretation of the novel in the end.  However, I can already see that having this mapping assignment has changed my reading of it.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but agree in calling this “DH whine” only when I attempted to read the comment thread and failed less than halfway through.  However, I still see the importance of active discussion in order to further theorize this field of Digital Humanities.

Effects of Globalization in “Sexy”

Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Sexy” reminded me of other contemporary works from immigrant second generation authors, such as Amy Tan and Sandra Cisneros, because it focuses on an ethnic sub-culture within America.  However, “Sexy” differs from those less recent works because it shows Indian-American culture from the perspective of a somewhat ignorant and naïve young woman.  More importantly, “Sexy” distinguishes itself from other second generational works because it underlines the idea of an increasingly globalized world and its impact on individuals.

In works by authors like Tan and Cisneros, the writers convey what it is like to be an immigrant in the United States.  However, in “Sexy” Lahiri doesn’t focus so much on cultural difference but shows that the world has now become much more globalized.  It seems to place cultural issues in the past and shows people of other cultures fitting comfortably in American culture.  Lahiri shows that through globalization we are more able to see and learn about other cultures, but because of the same tools (telephone, planes, etc.) that allow globalization, we’ve become disconnected from others.

Lahiri makes many references to this globalized world through symbols and through her characters.  First of all, Miranda’s affair with Dev represents her desire to see outside of her limited scope and culture.  Dev’s exoticness and knowledge of the world excites and intrigues Miranda.  Furthermore, Dev’s favorite place, the Mapparium, is a symbol of globalization.  When Lahiri writes, “In the middle of the room was a transparent bridge, so that they felt as if they were standing in the center of the world,” she alludes to the fact that in this day in age, no part of the world seems too far from reach.

Lahiri uses the character of Rohin as a parallel and a foil to Dev to highlight the theme of globalization and its effects on human relationships.  Like Dev, Rohin is fixated on knowledge about the world.  Rohin stares at maps, memorizes world capitals, repeatedly draws airplanes, and falls asleep on Miranda’s bed.  In all these ways, he is like Dev, but Rohin affects Miranda in a completely different way when he says, “You’re sexy.”   While Dev represented the disconnect and breakdown of basic human relationships (like marriage)  in respect to globalization, Rohin seems to show through his innocence, the possibility of a globalized world that is still capable of upholding close personal relationships.  And ultimately, Miranda’s interaction with Rohin is a connection that brings her back to reality.

Through “Sexy,” Lahiri shows that despite globalization and an increasingly disconnected world, our reality still lies in human connections.