Mean Time: “The Good Teachers”

“The Good Teachers,” by Carol Ann Duffy appears to be a reflection on a girl’s time in school. At the beginning of the poem, she mentions how she prided being a good student and earning the respect of her teachers when she writes, “You love Miss Pirie. So much, you are top/of her class” (Duffy 7-8). Then, later in the poem, Duffy writes, “But not Miss Sheridan. Comment vous appelez. /But not Miss Appleby” (Duffy 13-14) indicating that not all of the girl’s teachers in school were likable. It appears that these teachers who do not garner the respect of the girl turn the girl away from having a good attitude about school. Duffy writes at the end of the poem, “You roll the waistband/of your skirt over and over, all leg, all/dumb insolence, smoke-rings. You won’t pass” (Duffy 19-21) implying that the girl rebels by becoming more sexual, insolent, and a smoker. The phrase, “all leg” is a reference to her newfound sexuality, “dumb insolence” refers to the girl’s new habit of talking back and becoming disrespectful of her teachers, and “smoke-rings” probably refers to her taking up smoking. The poem traces the path of a student through school that is probably not all that unfamiliar to the ones that we might have taken or seen others take. A lot of us in high school had friends who became sexually active, disrespectful of teachers, smokers, or a host of other rebellious qualities. In this particular instance, it is doubtful that Duffy wrote the poem about herself because in her notes, the names of the teachers in the poem change as the drafts of the poem progress. For example, at first, Duffy uses “Miss Robinson” as the name of her history teacher, but then in the final draft, the history teacher’s name is “Miss Ross.” This is a poem to which all of us can relate, especially since Duffy uses the second person throughout the poem. It feels as if Duffy is speaking directly to us. The fact that she appears to use generic teacher names further depersonalizes the story from Duffy and allows us to enhance our connection with the story. If Duffy used her personal teacher names, then it would automatically attach the story to Duffy because we would read the poem as her unique experience instead of a general form that could be applied to ourselves or people we knew.


The World’s Wife: “Salome”

“Salome,” by Carol Ann Duffy, is a poem told from the point of view of Salome, a biblical character who is the stepdaughter of King Herod. According to Oscar Wilde, who wrote a play featuring Salome as a character, Salome lusts for John the Baptist, and when he rejects her, she uses her political influence to have him beheaded. After John the Baptist is beheaded, Salome kisses his severed head. Duffy’s poem is based off of Oscar Wilde’s telling of the story. The poem begins the morning after all of the events of the story occur, where Salome appears to be hung over, which implies that Salome had been drinking the night before. Consequently, Duffy writes that the lust for John the Baptist that resulted in his eventual beheading was simply a mistake Salome made while she was intoxicated, similar to a one-night stand induced by alcohol. The beginning of the poem is marked by confusion, as she questions the name of the head next to her on the pillow, “What was his name? Peter? Simon? Andrew? John?” (Duffy 14-15). Next, she claims that she is going to, “clean up my act” (Duffy 25) and “get fitter, /cut out the booze and the fags and the sex” (Duffy 26-27). Salome’s vow to improve seems characteristic of someone who feels guilty of overindulging in simple pleasures, and it adds to Duffy’s characterization of Salome as “party-girl” who seems temporarily remorseful. Finally, Duffy completes the sarcastic and understated tone of the poem by using the phrase “and ain’t life a bitch” (Duffy 35) when Salome finds that the man she thinks she slept with was actually just a severed head.
Duffy’s notes seem to help reveal her intentions for the poem. For example, she makes lists of words that rhyme or sound good together, such as “bitter, butter, batter, etc” with the apparent intention of creating a poem that flows well. If she were more concerned about meaning, she would have chose words based off of meaning not sound. Finally, the biblical references in the poem are built slowly through the drafts. She starts off with the name Peter, and then slowly adds in John and Simon, followed by Andrew. The earlier drafts of “Salome” do not seem as associated with the biblical story as the final draft, and it is apparent that Duffy realizes this as she rewrote her drafts. By making the poem biblically flavored and then adding in words that flow, in addition to phrases such as, “ain’t life a bitch,” Duffy seems to aim for a poem that is a mildly sarcastic, irreverent, and funny version of a classic story.


Caul

In the poem “Caul” by Carol Ann Duffy, she uses the caul as a metaphor for the fortune in her life. A caul is a membrane that can be found covering a newborn baby’s head shortly after birth. It is very rare for an infant to be born with a caul. According to European tradition, a child born with a caul is said to have good fortune throughout his or her life, and in some areas, a caul was even used as a charm to protect the owner from drowning. In the first stanza, Duffy writes that she was born with a caul, and although she does not remember anything about the object, she still hopes to carry the good luck that it allegedly brought to her. In the second stanza, Duffy writes “the past is the future waiting for dreams/and will find itself there.” This verse means that the past is something that we can only dream about, and her caul is among her past items to which she no longer has access, similar to her good luck. In the next verse, she claims that it was sold to a sailor, which references the belief that cauls protect the owner from drowning. This verse furthers the idea that her luck has departed, as someone else now has possession of the caul. Additionally, sailors are known to travel long distances, which would emphasize the point that not only is her caul gone, but it is probably very far away. Next, Duffy writes about how her caul now is nothing but shriveled, old, and possibly lost at sea. Finally, she concludes in the last two stanzas that she is all that is left of her caul, as it is now lost. This poem probably is a metaphor for the luck or fortune that Duffy has had in her life. Although her life may have began as privileged, since cauls are supposed to be a harbinger of good tidings, but over the years, her life has become more of a struggle. What began as a promising existence soon turned to struggle. As the years pass and the time between now and the last time she possessed her caul increases, her fortune further diminishes. Perhaps Duffy was born to a privileged class and now she struggles with money. Another suggestion is that through the years, since she is homosexual, she has begun to come to terms with her sexuality, and people have unfairly judged her for it.


The Real Deal

In The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy writes poems about the wives of famous or mythological men. As time progresses, the true lives and personalities of these world changing or well-known men become shrouded in myth. These individuals are known only for their great achievement or blunder, and not for the men that they really were. Seeing these men through the eyes of their wives opens up an entirely new perspective into their lives. Despite the fact that Duffy’s poetry is merely her personal opinion or satire on the person’s life, The World’s Wife makes the reader sit back and think. Although Aesop was certainly influential in that his stories have stood the test of time, was he really annoying and preachy to those around him during his life? Furthermore, she can add a humorous twist to a dark story, such as in “Mrs. Faust.” Although Faust paid the price for all of his wealth and riches, he was not a great husband, and Mrs. Faust appears to be glad that he is now gone. In addition to a selfish, non-existent husband no longer being in her life, she also gets all of the wealth he collected during his lifetime. This new point of view that Duffy gives us allows us to see deeper into the main character, or allows us to see all of the repercussions, be they humorous or hurtful, of the male character’s actions.

It is said that behind every powerful man there is a powerful woman. Although Duffy’s poetry seems to vaguely reference this phrase, her version is slightly different. Duffy’s reads, “behind every powerful man, there is a pragmatic, witty woman.” Consequently, Duffy gives women the role of keeping men in perspective. One can almost imagine the almost sit-com-like scene when King Midas comes inside, and the only thing that his wife says to him is, “why on EARTH would you wish for THAT?!” It is definitely a collection of poems that reminds men to listen to their wives.


Map of Early Modern London Evaluation

Peter Marcinkowski and Taylor Pershing

The Map of Early Modern London is a collaborative project sponsored by the University of Victoria. The project consists of an interactive map of London between the years of 1560 and 1640, as well as extensive supplementary information on the history and literature of the time. The map is subdivided into thirty-two sections. Clicking on an individual section reveals the area in a close-up window with labeled points of interest. An individual point can be selected, which reveals further information about that particular point, including figures or events associated with that location. Read the rest of this entry »


Losing the Incentive to Build

Mark Sample’s suggestion that Digital Humanities is about sharing in addition to building provides an important addition to the definition of Digital Humanities. The information age has brought about many new sets of tools that can assist in enhancing our understanding of subject matter in the humanities. These tools can include computer algorithms that allow us to look at literature or poetry in new ways, such as the Mapping Mrs. Dalloway project, or these tools can help us to communicate what we have discovered, such as email or twitter. Since it is safe to say that the positive effect of any creation is dampened when the creation is not shared, then sharing can be considered as equally important to building. If we build and do not share, then there is only a small contingent of scholars privy to the newfound information. As a result, the rate of further discovery is slowed.

Sample, however, raised an interesting question for me. In this day and age, intellectual property is increasingly difficult to protect. When information spreads very quickly, it means that many different people have the opportunity to quickly reuse this information and the credit to the original author can be easily lost. So the question is, will the fact that sharing is now encouraged by the Digital Humanities reduce the incentive to create, since credit may not be given where credit is due? For example, a lesser-known scholar could create something, and then post it on his blog. Then, another scholar could quickly copy it, post it to his own blog, and take full credit for the creation. It would certainly be very difficult to challenge, since the Internet is relatively unregulated. Although I am aware that this already happens to some degree in any discipline, the question is, will this plagiarism increase to the point that creation is stifled because people realize that they have a higher than normal probability to lose credit for their work?


Hectic Afternoon

Although Afternoon, by Michael Joyce, has an interesting storyline, the format seems to cause difficulties for the reader’s comprehension of the plot. From what I have gathered, the story consists of a man who is out to lunch with a friend. At some point, he has reason to believe that his son, Andy, and his ex-wife, Lisa, are involved in a car accident. The events in the story then shift to his pursuit of information regarding the whereabouts and status of his son and ex-wife.

The story’s format, displaying individual pages of text one frame at a time on a computer screen, greatly detracts from the reader’s enjoyment of the story. In my opinion, one of the most important parts of writing is effectively communicating your ideas and keeping the audience engaged. Keeping the attention of the audience can even help to accomplish the first goal. In Afternoon, the plot has elements in which people would stay interested. For example, there is a protagonist to whom the average person can relate, since most people know the feeling of worrying about a family member. Second, there is a mystery to be solved. Since the audience can relate to the main character, they even might be more interested in the outcome of the mystery. Unfortunately, the computer format really detracts from these positive elements. Since it is impossible to reread anything written on a previous page, and the way the author writes the events of the story out of order, it is easy to lose the order of events. Also, its impossible to hold your place in the story, so if your computer crashes, then you cannot go back and pick up where you left off. Both of these attributes of the computer format of Afternoon were very detrimental to my enjoyment of the story. In order for the computer format to not detract from the plot, small properties of paper books that make reading convenient need to be included in the computer format as well.


Teaching an Attention Span

In “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,” Hayles discusses the effects of the digital medium on reading comprehension. In the essay, she discusses how reading in the digital format has caused our attention spans to shrink, and our minds to become more adept at “hyper-reading” instead of “close-reading.” Although I agree that the quantity of information that is available through the Internet is so large that it promotes habits such as skimming or scanning, I believe that the shrinking attention spans of students are also the result of pedagogical practices. When I was in high school, teachers consistently gave assignments where we were supposed to read a novel, and then identify possible symbols or motifs in the writing. Consequently, as I read the novel, instead of focusing on the plot, I focused on the assignment, which, in turn, caused me to skim or scan the novel for anything that looked like a symbol or motif. There were many nights where I had several hours of homework in addition to club meetings or sports practice. As a result, reading the text to understand the plot, and then reading it a second time to find symbols was not feasible. Since my knowledge of the plot was not going to be tested or graded, I prioritized the objective that was accomplished through skimming and scanning. Therefore, I reinforced the notion to my brain that a long attention span was not necessary.

Personally, I think that our ability to understand the main ideas in a piece of writing is equally important to being able to identify symbolism or themes. Written words are a form of communication, and it is essential to the function of our society that we are able to understand each other’s writing. In addition, we must be able to understand the concept of symbolism, since it enhances and reinforces an author’s message. When students’ attention spans shrink, we cannot simply blame the Internet. We must adopt pedagogical practices that reward students for understanding both aspects of a work of literature.


Why is knowing how to code necessary?

During the essay “On Building”, Ramsay asserts that in order to be a digital humanist, it is vital that they build and know how to code.  Building is something that is essential to any discipline.  Therefore, it should not be considered strange nor counterproductive for Ramsay to require building to be one of the essential characteristics of Digital Humanities.  In any field, a final product of some shape or form, be it a new methodology, argument, or way of thinking, is almost a requirement for being considered productive.  For example, in order to be considered a biologist, it is essential to be actively doing research in order to discover more about the function of living creatures.  If one is simply learning knowledge of biology, then they are not a biologist.  I find it odd, however, that he did not spend more time defending his assertion that knowing how to code is essential to being a digital humanist.  Once more, I will use biology as an example.  A biologist uses many tools while exploring the world of knowledge that is stored by living creatures.  Although some of these tools may be straightforward to construct, others, such as a scanning electron microscope, may require more knowledge of chemistry and physics than biology.  Even though a biologist could never construct a scanning electron microscope, he would still be considered a biologist.  To make another comparison, a scanning electron microscope also requires computer programming that allows the biologist to interpret the data produced by the tool.  Similarly, the biologist probably has no idea how the programming works.  So the question is: what makes digital humanities unique?  Why is it so important that digital humanists know how to code and therefore know how to construct their own tools?  If Ramsay’s assertion were to be extended to every other discipline, there would be very few “true” practicers of any discipline.


Digital Education

Computers serve as excellent extensions of the human mind. They accomplish difficult and menial tasks in seconds that would take hours or days for a human to finish. However, it is important that people view computers as simply extensions of their own minds; similar to how a shovel or hammer is viewed as an extension of the body. During Chris Forster’s discussion of the definition of digital humanities, he lists “using technology in the classroom” as an aspect of the digital humanities. Since our society relies heavily on computers in our day-to-day lives, it is essential that students become familiar with using a computer in order to gain skills that are relevant to the workforce. However, it is also important that teachers and professors do not lose the forest from the trees. The purpose of teaching students to use a computer is to allow students to become familiar with a complicated tool that can help to make their lives easier. Instructors should not treat the computer as a separate discipline.

My mother is a technology specialist at an elementary school in the Atlanta area. There are several teachers that work at her school that are very concerned with introducing their students to technology in the classroom, so these teachers are very quick to introduce their students to new programs, games, or other digital devices. Unfortunately, these teachers have become so enamored with the computer by itself that the computer actually serves as a hindrance to learning. Instead of manually learning how to do long division, the teachers lecture students how to use a program that does long division for them. Consequently, the students never truly learn the mechanics of division and may have difficulty applying any concepts associated with long division later in life. For technology to be successful in a pedagogical setting, it is important that teachers first instruct students of the concepts behind what they are learning. Once students grasp a firm understanding of the applications and mechanics of the concept, teachers can start introducing shortcuts on the computer. Although learning to use computers is important for students living in today’s civilization, instructors should keep in mind that the computer is a tool that can be used to assist students once they learn and understand the basic material and should not interfere with the learning of basic concepts.