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October 28, 2007

OPTIONAL: Grace Paley stories

  • If you were trying to describe Grace Paley’s stories, or Paley's "voice," how would you?
  • How is sense of place important in her stories? Is this a particular place? How does she create depth/setting?
  • If she puts politics into the story, how? Does it overwhelm the story?
  • In the story "Living," the narrator keeps coming back to, “I was dying.? How does that affect the story? How would you describe the distance between the narrator and the events of the story? How does that change/affect your view of things?
  • What questions would you ask about these stories, if you were presenting them?

OPTIONAL: Voice

  • How would you define "voice"?
  • How would you describe your own authorial voice? Do you know it when you see it? Is it still under construction?
  • Does "voice" matter? How much?
  • Do you try to develop your voice? Why/why not?
  • What unanswered questions do you have about voice?

October 23, 2007

OPTIONAL: The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun

What storytelling moves does this film make that you might use in writing a story?


  • For instance: Consider the opening scene. A woman is arrested in the marketplace. The market people surround her, watch her humiliation, but do nothing to assist her. Might there be a parallel between the market people as spectators, and us--movie viewers (readers)--as spectators?
  • Why does Mambety create this film in an almost "fairy tale" style? What effects does it have on you as a viewer? What are the modern possibilities of using a "fairy tale" style, which ends (very differently from "Douloti") in a manner that is almost happily ever after?
  • What other storytelling moves did you notice? Which could and couldn't be used in text?

Mike's Presentation

Mike will present Eva Marie Ginsburg's "The Kettle."

The Kettle
Eva Marie Ginsburg

In truth, the pot never called the kettle black. It never spoke to the
kettle directly. Nor did any of the pots, but every time the kettle
whistled, they expressed their disgust by turning slightly toward one
another, shifting a handle up, or rattling their disapproval. None of them
liked the kettle. It had a soft black finish, like charcoal, and a very
queer asymmetrical handle, white plastic with maddening black lines that
came in varying widths and ran in different directions. It had been
designed by some prestigious Swedish artist whose name nobody knew how to
pronounce. It was supposed to look very modern and dramatic, but everybody
knows pots and kettles are for cooking in, not for looking at, and the pots
liked to jeer at it. They ridiculed it with rattles and bumps. They
muttered behind its back. They scoffed and they tittered, and sometimes,
next to it on the stove, they gleefully splattered the kettle with grease.
They could all tell from the lines on its handle and the way its spout
stuck out, calling attention to itself, that the kettle considered itself
more important than the others. And then there was the matter of its
whistle, the way it screamed when it boiled and got louder and louder until
the man came to turn it off—as though the kettle believed the man existed
to serve it, and not the other way around. The very idea of the whistle
outraged them. Besides, to add insult to injury, the kettle had been given
to him by the woman.

That the woman never came around anymore changed nothing. They knew all
about it, knew how the kettle had been bought at an expensive store and
wrapped up in December with pretty paper and a ribbon, and had been
presented along with some extra-large mugs and loose luxury tea leaves. The
pots knew all about it, how the man and woman had eaten the stuffed chicken
breasts and the apricot couscous and finished the bottle of red wine, and
the pleasure they’d had. The pots told themselves it didn’t matter, that
they were more important because the man had bought them himself, with
money that he earned those nights he came home too late and too tired to
cook. They were capable of cooking so many things, soup and fried rice and
pasta and chocolate mousse, but the kettle was only good for boiling water,
something any one of them could have done.

They couldn’t forget, though, that night the woman had brought the kettle,
the meal and the wine and the candles she lit around the house, and the way
the man sang to himself after she left. They despised the kettle, but
secretly they envied it, even though the woman had been gone for many
months now, even though the pretty box had been thrown away and the man
cooked more simply these days and had stopped singing softly in the
kitchen. They were beginning to tire of mocking the kettle. They wished
they had a sweeter way to pass the time.

Jeremy's Presentation - "The Scarlet Tilt"

Jeremy is presenting Richard Brautigan's "The Scarlatti Tilt."

The Scarlatti Tilt

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.? That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

“I was trying to describe you?

I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any other girl I’ve ever seen before.

I couldn’t say, “well, she looks just like Jane Fonda except that she’s got red hair and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star.?

I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.

I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma, Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or ’42: somewhere in there. I think I was seven or eight or six. It was a movie about rural electrification and a perfect 1930s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids.

The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by at night, for sewing and reading and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters and washing machine, and they couldn’t listen to the radio.

Then they built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wires over fields and pastures.

There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along.
They looked ancient and modern at the same time.

The movie showed electricity like a young greek god coming to the farmer to take away forever the dark ways of his life.

Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch the farmer had elecric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings.

The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read a newspaper by. It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to “The Star Spangled Banner? or seeing photographs of president Roosevelt or hearing him on the radio.

“…The President of the United States of America…?

I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio.

That’s how you look to me.

October 16, 2007

Artiera's Presentation - "The Bullfrog and His Shadows"

Artiera is presenting "The Bullfrog and His Shadows" by Bruce Holland Rogers.

The Bullfrog and His Shadows
by Bruce Holland Rogers

In the middle of the day, the frogs held a council. "It's unbearable," said one. "The herons hunt us by day, and the raccoons prey on us at night."

"Yes," said another. "Either one is bad enough, but both herons and raccoons together mean that we never have a moment's peace."

"We should demand that the herons leave the pond. Banish them!"

"Yes!" all the frogs agreed. "Banish the herons! Banish the herons!"

All this noise drew the attention of a heron who was fishing nearby. "What was that?" she said, approaching. "Banish who?"

The frogs looked at her beak, which was like a sword for stabbing frogs.

"The raccoons!" chorused the frogs. "Banish the raccoons!"

"That's what I thought you said," said the heron. She went back to fishing.

"The raccoons!" the frogs sang. "Banish the raccoons!"
With the policy decided, there arose the matter of who would inform the raccoons of their exile. One frog after another was nominated for the post of sheriff, and one after another declined it. Then the bullfrog was nominated. "Of course! He's the biggest! He's the very one for the job!"

"I don't know," said the bullfrog, who had been silent all through the deliberations. "I am big, but raccoons are bigger. I am one, but they are many."

"Well, then," volunteered another frog. "We'll come along with you!"

"Yes, we'll come along!" agreed the frogs. "We'll all come along!" "And you'll stay with me, no matter what?" said the bullfrog.

"We'll stick to you like your shadow," said one frog.
The other frogs agreed. "Like your shadow."

The bullfrog was still reluctant. The others had to pledge their faithfulness all afternoon. Finally, they had repeated so many times that they would stick to him like his shadow that the bullfrog agreed to lead the delegation.

The sun set. The herons flew to their roosts above the pond. In the twilight, the bullfrog said, "The raccoons will be coming soon. But you're all going to stand by me like my very shadow, right?"

"Like your shadow! Like your shadow!" chorused the frogs.

The sky turned purple. "Even if five or six raccoons appear together?"

"Like your shadow! Like your shadow!"

Stars shone in a moonless sky. It was very dark. There was just enough starlight to see the raccoons when at last they emerged from the undergrowth. There were five of them, a mother and her grown kits.

The bullfrog hopped onto the shore. "Villains!" he cried. "Be gone! Raccoons are outlawed at this pond! Away with you! You are banished!"

"Indeed?" said the mother raccoon. Her kits sniffed the bullfrog, who trembled but held his ground. "On whose authority are we banished?"

"On all of ours!" the bullfrog said. He expected a chorus to back him up. There was only silence. He turned and saw, just before he was eaten, that he was the only frog ashore.

The help of most allies falls short of the mark,
For even your shadow slips off in the dark.

October 11, 2007

"Douloti the Bountiful"

GENERAL QUESTIONS

  • Why read something like this, something constructed so different from "Western" narratives? What might you take from it?
  • Your own general questions...

PARTS I-IV

  • Why so much history about Bono and Crook before we get to Douloti? The narrator says, "So many things came up as I tried to tell you how Ganori Nagesia became Crook Nagesia. These things must be said. In the world of Seora village, Bono is just as true as Ganori." Why must these things be said? Who is this narrator? What kind of person is telling us this story? What sort of expectations are created by the opening? Why start this way and not some other way?

  • How would you describe the point of view? When/where does it shift? How?

  • What do you make of the more technical features of the text? Why does she run some dialogue together (and not use quotes)? Why does she use line breaks, like poetry, in some places, such as 49-50? Why so many short sentences? Or rather, not why, but what are the effects?

  • Why does Spivak translate the word for upper-caste men as "god"? Some translators shy away from this. Why does Spivak embrace it? What effect does it have on the story?

PARTS V-VII

  • Where does the tension/movement come from?

  • "Douloti understood some and didn't understand some" (91). This happens throughout, that she understands only parts of conversations, only part of what is going on around her. Is our understanding (or lack thereof) supposed to imitate Douloti's? To what extent does our understanding mirror Douloti's? Is this an effective narrative strategy? What are the upsides and downsides?

  • Was there a way out for Douloti? Why doesn't Devi let her take it? What sort of different story would it be if she did?

  • Other things you notice, questions about what's going on, etc.?

October 9, 2007

Kamal's Presentation - “The Tale of the Town on the River"

Kamal is presenting an excerpt from The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, titled “The Tale of the Town on the River."

“The Tale of the Town on the River?
Excerpt from The Pillowman

Once upon a time in a tiny cobble-streeted town on the banks of a
fast-flowing river, there lived a little boy who did not get along with the
other children of the town; they picked on a bullied him because he was
poor and his parents were drunkards and his clothes were rags and he walked
around barefoot. The little boy, however, was of a happy and dreamy
disposition, and he did not mind the taunts and the beatings and the
unending solitude. He knew that he was kind-hearted and full of love and
that someday someone somewhere would see this love inside him and repay him
in kind. Then, one night, as he sat nursing his newest bruises at the foot
of the wooden bridge that crossed the river and led out of town, he heard
the approach of a horse cart along the dark, cobbled street, and as it
neared he saw that its driver was dressed in the darkest of robes, the
black hood of which bathed his craggy face in shadow and sent a shiver of
fear through the little boy’s body. Putting his fear aside, the boy took
out the small sandwich that was to be his supper that night and, just as
the cart was about to pass onto and over the bridge, he offered it up to
the hooded driver to see if he would like some. The cart stopped, the
driver nodded, got down and sat beside the little boy for a while, sharing
the sandwich and discussing this and that. The driver asked the boy why he
was barefoot and ragged and all alone, and as the boy told the driver of
his poor, hard life, he eyed the back of the driver’s cart; it was piled
high with small, empty animal cages, all foul-smelling and dirt lined, and
just as the boy was about to ask what kind of animals it was had been
inside them, the driver stood up and announced that he had to be on his
way. “But before I go,? the driver whispered, “because you have been so
kindly to an old weary traveler in offering half of your already meagre
portions, I would like to give you something now, the worth of which today
you may not realise, but one day, when you are a little older, perhaps, I
think you will truly value and thank me for. Now close your eyes.? And so
the little boy did what he was told and closed his eyes, and from a secret
inner pocket of his robes the driver pulled out a long, sharp and shiny
meat cleaver, raised it high in the air and brought it scything down onto
the boy’s right foot, severing all five of his muddy little toes. And as
the little boy say there in gaping silent shock, staring blankly off into
the distance at nothing in particular, the driver gathered up his bloody
toes, tossed them away to the gaggle of rats that had begun to gather in
the gutters, got back onto his cart, and quietly rode on over the bridge,
leaving the boy, the rats, the river and the darkening town of Hamelin far
behind him.

Caroline's Presentation - "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"

Caroline is presenting an excerpt from J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

They waded out till the water was up to Sybil’s waist. Then the young man picked her up and laid her down on her stomach on the float.

“Don’t you ever wear a bathing cap or anything?? he asked.

“Miss Carpenter. Please. I know my business,? the young man said. “You just keep your eyes open for any bananafish. This is a perfect day for bananafish.?

“I don’t see any,? Sybil said.

“That’s understandable. Their habits are very peculiar. Very peculiar.? He kept pushing the float. The water was not quite up to his chest. “They lead a very tragic life,? he said. “You know what they do, Sybil??

She shook her head.

“well, they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas.? He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. “Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door.?

“Not too far out,? Sybil said. “What happens to them??

“What happens to who??

“The bananafish.?

“Oh, you mean after they eat so many bananas they can’t get out of the banana hole??

“Yes,? said Sybil.

“Well, I hate to tell you, Sybil. They die.?

“Why?? asked Sybil.

“Well, they get banana fever. It’s a terrible disease.?

“Here comes a wave,? Sybil said nervously.

“We’ll ignore it. We’ll snub it,? said the young man. “Two snobs.? He took Sybil’s ankles in his hands and pressed down and forward. The float nosed over the top of the wave. The water soaked Sybil’s blond hair, but her scream was full of pleasure.

With her hand, when the float was level again, she wiped away a flat, wet band of hair from her eyes, and reported, “I just saw one.?

“Saw what, my love??

“A bananafish.?

“My God, no!? said the young man. “Did he have any bananas in his mouth??

“Yes,? said Sybil. “Six.?

The young man suddenly picked up one of Sybil’s wet feet which were drooping over the end of the float, and kissed the arch.

“Hey!? said the owner of the foot, turning around.

“Hey, yourself! We’re going in now. You had enough??

“No!?

“Sorry,? he said, and pushed the float toward shore until Sybil got off it. He carried it the rest of the way.

“Goodbye,? said Sybil, and ran without regret in the direction of the hotel.

The young man put on his robe, closed the lapels tight, and jammed his towel into the pocket. He picked up the slimy wet, cumbersome float and put it under his arm. He plodded alone through the soft, hot sand toward the hotel.

On the sub-main floor of the hotel, which the management directed bathers to use, a woman with zinc salve on her nose got into the elevator with the young man.

“I see you’re looking at my feet,? he said to her when the car was in motion.

“I beg your pardon?? said the woman.

“I said I see you’re looking at my feet.?

“I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor,? said the woman, and faced the doors of the car.

“If you want to look at my feet, say so,? said the young man. “But don’t be a God-damned sneak about it.?

“Let me out of here, please,? the woman said quickly to the girl operating the car.

The car doors opened and the woman got out without looking back.

“I have two normal feet and I can’t see the slightest God-damned reason why anybody should stare at them,? said the young man. “Five, please.? He took his room key out of his robe pocket.

He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled of new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover.

He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortegies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.

October 8, 2007

Joyce's "Young Adult" Stories in Dubliners

  • What feels common to these stories? What do they share? Are there any narrative strategies that seem to follow from one to the next?
  • Does "After the Race" seem different? If there is a reason for Joyce to call it his weak link, what is it? Does Jimmy lack depth? If you were to revise "After the Race," how would you do it?
  • "Two Gallants" has a sort of "surprise" ending, much more common in stories pre-Joyce than post-. Do you think it's an effective end for this story or not? Why is a surprise ending more or less effective here?
  • In "The Boarding House," how does he go about shifting point of view? What cues you that we're in someone else's head? How close do we get to each of the characters? How does he move us in closer, so that we feel what a character is feeling?
  • What are your questions?

October 2, 2007

Lou's Presentation - Accident

Lou's presenting "Accident," by Dave Eggers.

"Accident" by Dave Eggers

You all get out of your cars. You are alone in yours, and there are three
teenagers in theirs, an older Camaro in new condition. The accident was
your fault, and you walk over to tell them this.

Walking over to their car, which you have ruined, it occurs to you that if
the three teenagers are angry teenagers, this encounter could be very
unpleasant. You pulled into an intersection, obstructing them, and their
car hit yours. They have every right to be upset, or livid, or even
violence-contemplating.

As you approach, you see that their driver's side door won't open. The
driver pushes against it, and you are reminded of scenes where drivers are
stuck in submerged cars. Soon they all exit through the passenger side door
and walk around the Camaro, inspecting the damage. None of them is hurt,
but the car is wrecked. "Just bought this today," the driver says. He is
18, blond, average in all ways. "Today?" you ask.

You are a bad person, you think. You also think: what a dorky car for a
teenager to buy in 2005. "Yeah, today," he says, then sighs. You tell him
that you are sorry. That you are so, so sorry. That it was your fault and
that you will cover all costs.

You exchange insurance information, and you find yourself, minute by
minute, ever more thankful that none of these teenagers has punched you, or
even made a remark about your being drunk, which you are not, or being
stupid, which you are, often. You become more friendly with all of them,
and you realize that you are much more connected to them, particularly to
the driver, than possible in perhaps any other way.

You have done him and his friends harm, in a way, and you jeopardized their
health, and now you are so close you feel like you share a heart. He knows
your name and you know his, and you almost killed him and, because you got
so close to doing so but didn't, you want to fall on him, weeping, because
you are so lonely, so lonely always, and all contact is contact, and all
contact makes us so grateful we want to cry and dance and cry and cry.

In a moment of clarity, you finally understand why boxers, who want so
badly to hurt each other, can rest their heads on the shoulders of their
opponents, can lean against one another like tired lovers, so thankful for
a moment of peace.