special projects

on Ashbery

1. Read all of Three Poems (Ashbery’s important book of prose poems) and then read as many critical commentaries on this work as you can find. Write a report for us about the work (in simple terms – keeping in mind that most of us will not have read more than “The System” from that book) and summarize the critical response to it. Also contact Stephen Fredman (who has written a book about prose poems) and interview him about Three Poems; summarize what he tells you about the importance of that work. (due January 21) Anna Strong

2. Get from Lily a list of all the recordings on PennSound’s Ashbery page that feature JA talking or being interviewed. Listen to all these, and write a report summarizing these recordings and then describing for us generally what JA’s approach to such occasions is. How does he prefer to talk about his poetry? What are his favorite topics? How does he handle difficult questions? (due January 28) Josie Elias

3. Arrange to speak with Marjorie Perloff by telephone about the importance of John Ashbery to American poetry from her point of view. Write a report on what she tells you. Ask her detailed questions. (due January 28) Shelby Rachleff

4. Do some digging around (some "reporting," as the journalists call it) and talk to some people who can tell you about the personal relationships between and among the New York School poets of the first generation. Be sure to start with the close relationship between Ashbery and O'Hara, and go back to their time (with Koch and others) at Harvard. This special project should not exclude fun social info, gossip, juice, dishing. See #6 below and consult with the person doing that project, to be sure the two don't overlap. Be sure in your report to touch on the relationships between the first and second generation New York School - Ashbery and the others' relationships with those (like Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer) who followed them but are personally and politically very different. (due January 28)

5. Talk with all of the following contemporary poets, asking each (by email or, preferably, by phone) about the importance of John Ashbery to their development as poets. Which of the Ashbery books or poems is most important to each?  Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, Jena Osman, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Taije Silverman, Chris Funkhouser, Tan Lin, Kenny Goldsmith, Ron Silliman, Greg Djanikian, Rae Armantrout. (due February 4)
Naomi Shavin

6. Read Lehman’s book The Last Avant-Garde and one other book about the New York School of poetry in general. In addition, look hard in the library and across the web for general descriptions of the New York School and the importance of these poets to the development of postmodern American poetry. Then write a report that summarizes (1) what the so-called “New York School” is and where Ashbery fits into it; and (2) what the critical response to the New York School has been and what its importance has been. (due February 4) Sarah Lindstedt
on Malcolm

7.  Click here to download a PDF document, which is a list of all (or at least most) of Malcolm's magazine publications. Please look carefully through this list, crossing out articles that eventually found their way into books. Then read at least six - and preferably more - of the other pieces: essays, notes, reviews, comments, etc. Write a summary of these, simply describing for the rest of us what they are about and what their mode - so that those of us who haven't read these materials can have a sense of them. (due February 18) Joe Pinsker

8. Read the Reporter at Large piece that Malcolm wrote for the New Yorker also entitled “Iphigenia in Forest Hills” from the May 3, 2010 issue (use Franklin to access the New Yorker archive through the University’s subscription). Comb this piece carefully, and do as much digging and comparison as you can to trace Malcolm’s process in fleshing this article out into the book by the same title. What additional interviews or research did she conduct? What did she keep and what did she change? Write a detailed report with all of your findings. (due February 18) Nina Wolpow

9. Read as much as you can – if not the entirety of – Fatal Vision, the controversial book that is the subject of the literary law suit that Malcolm reports on in The Journalist and the Murderer (available at Van Pelt!). Write a detailed characterization of McGinniss’s narrator in this book and his attitude toward his subject matter in creating this “nonfiction novel.” Pull out quotes if it’s helpful. Be prepared to help us understand McGinniss’s narrative strategy as we analyze and discuss the work that Malcolm created and her approach. You might also check out the DVDs of the TV miniseries based on the book by the same name (also available at Van Pelt!), and report on the miniseries and particularly what it is about Fatal Vision that lends itself to the TV miniseries format. (due February 18) Glenn Shrum

10. Read and summarize for us Malcolm’s other book about psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis, the Impossible Profession (available at Van Pelt!). This book is an expansion of a two-part Profile of psychoanalyst Aaron Green (pseudonym) that Malcolm wrote for The New Yorker also entitled “The Impossible Profession,” published in the 11/24/80 and 12/1/80 editions. Be sure to also investigate critical response to this book, and also any interesting Mail or letters to the magazine in response to the Profile. If feeling particularly ambitious, pay an actual visit to the Freud archives in Washington, D.C. to supplement your research. (due February 25) Becky Havivi

11. Dig into Janet Malcolm's relationship with The New Yorker. What is it? What is her relationship to the magazine beyond her own writing for it? What is the history of that connection? (due February 25) Jess Bergman

12. Research everything you can and report on the libel lawsuit that Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson brought against Janet Malcolm following the publication of In the Freud Archives. Report on the circumstances of the suit itself, and everything you can find about the media response and its effect on Malcolm's career and reputation. After going back through The Journalist and the Murderer and specifically paying attention to Malcolm's more self-reflective passages, particularly about her process as a journalist, did anything come out at the trial that shocks you or changes your personal opinion of her and her work? (due February 25) Julia Schwartz

13. Read as much as you can of Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and its "sequel," Everybody's Autobiography. After reading these two firsthand accounts of Stein's life with Toklas, how does your opinion of Malcolm's Two Lives change? To what extent does Malcolm's bio engage critically with these texts, and to what extent does it participate in the same modernist genius myth-making? Write a report on your observations and be prepared to talk, in class, about how both Stein and Malcolm approach biography. (due March 11) Kenna O'Rourke

14. Using JSTOR and other sources for literary criticism, investigate 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s critical -- particularly feminist -- readings of Sylvia Plath's poetry and biography. Summarize a few of what seem to be the most dominant or popular viewpoints on Plath, and any mention they make of Hughes along the way. Be sure to read Marjorie Perloff's essay about Plath (we can help you locate it). How do the critical responses generally compare to the portrait that Plath gives in The Silent Woman, and the Plath and Hughes that we get to know through her work? (due March 11) Willa Granger

on Garcia

15. After your initial screening of Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her and reading of the screenplay, go back and screen the movie a second time while reading along very closely. Characterize Garcia's style as a director. What types of camera angles, scene transitions, lighting, etc., does he use to bring his characterizations and descriptions of scenes as written to life on screen? Be sure to use examples of specific scenes, matched with Garcia's notes in the screenplay. (due March 25) John Valadez

16. Do as much intense research as you can to discover the facts of Rodrigo Garcia's involvement in the adaptation and development of In Treatment. What role did he play in the producing, direcdting and writing of the episodes? How involved was he during season 1? Start on this early. You will probably have to arrange to speak with people who are going to be hard to track down and get on the phone. Of course you'll begin by combing the web for stories and reports about the show. (due April 1) 

17. One of the most unique aspects of In Treatment is its "real time" timescale -- where one minute of the TV show as the viewer sees it is one minute in the characters' lives. Do some research into the use of real time in TV particularly but also in film, and also into the critical reception of In Treatment particularly attentive to this time element. How have other TV writers used this element, and how does Garcia's use of real time compare? (After all, as Season 1 aired on HBO in early 2008, FOX had already aired 6 seasons of 24, which also works according to this real time principle) (due April 1) Henry Steinberg

18. Read Gertrude Stein's Three Lives, her earliest published work. What are the similarities you see between Rodrigo Garcia's portrayal of women in Nine Lives and Stein's? What are the differences? Dig around and try to find if Garcia has ever spoken about Stein's influence on his work. Are Garcia's cinematic vignettes (in Things you Can Tell Just By Looking at Her and Nine Lives) more or less effective psychological portraits than Stein's Three Lives? (due April 8) Erica Kimmel

19. Do some research on the use of vignette in film. What are the cinematic movements (and specific films) most associated with vignette as a narrative mode? What are some classic films told in vignettes? Write a short report on how Garcia's three vignette movies that we've watched fit into a cinematic tradition. (due April 8)
Alex Zimmer

20. Screen Tired of Being Funny (written by Garcia, 2009), Fathers and Sons (TV movie, segment 2 "1117 Caleb's Path Road" was written by Garcia), "Celia" (a WIGS short on the web), and "Mary" (another WIGS short). Summarize each of these works, and compare them with the other Garcia films we have discussed. (due April 15) Adam Pearlson

21. Arrange (well in advance) to speak first with Marcia Olglesby and then Jon Avnet about the "WIGS" series of scripted drama for the web. Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia co-created the project. Learn as much as you can about the project overall, and about Garcia's role in it. Write a report describing in detail what you learn. (due April 15) Emily Cutler

in general 

22. Get lists from Lily and Al of students who have taken the Fellows seminar between 2000 and 2012. Interview as many as you can and find out what they remember from the experience - and how, if at all, this seminar has influenced their career, their approach to contemporary writers, their attitude about meeting famous people, etc. What impact does Fellows have? What differences are there between this project (reading and then meeting eminent writers) and other approaches to the study of literature? Also get a sense of the evolving format and of the various "big moments"/surprises that have occurred in the process of moving such big-time personages through the little cottage.

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