Friday, March 27, 2015

For Monday: More Tales of Soviet Life

NOTE: Be sure to read the post below this one for Exam #2 information and the updated schedule.  

Zoschenko (all stories): pp.247-259
Dobychin (all stories): pp.261-265
Shalamov (all stories): pp. 320-331

Answer 2 of the following questions:

How does Zoschenko mock the idea of Soviet progress and the equality promised by Communism?  What truths do his ironic little stories help his countrymen (and other readers) see?  Consider the following line from his story, “Electrification”: “Light’s all very well, brothers, but it’s not easy to live with.”  

In some ways, the characters in Zoschenko and Dobychin’s stories, though free and living in cities, are similar to the prisoners of Siberia in Shalamov’s tales.  Why is this?  How do they often act similarly, and forget their basic humanity in naked self-interests?  

Why do you think Dobychin’s stories are so unfinished?  Each one seems to begin and end without development, merely showing a few quick scenes or bits of dialogue before fading away.  Why might he have wanted the stories to seem incomplete or unsatisfying?  

In Shalamov’s story, “The Snake Charmer,” he chides his friend who tells stories to the other criminals in camp, saying, “I’ve never told novels for soup.”  Why does he, as an educated man, refuse to tell the stories he’s read for the illiterate prisoners?  What does he mean when he says “that always seemed the ultimate humiliation?”  

Updated Schedule and Exam #2


F 27   Zamyatin, The Lion /Inber, Lalla’s Interests/ Bulgakov, The Embroidered Towel  
M 30  Zoschenko, Dobychin, Shalamov (read all stories from each author)            

W 1     Exam #2 (in class)
F 3       No class: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival

M 6     Context: European Colonialism
          W 8     Burroughs, Tarzan
F 10     Burroughs, Tarzan / Critical Paper due (extension!)

M 13    Burroughs, Tarzan
W 15   Burroughs, Tarzan
F 17     Context: Comics and History

M 20   Satrapi, Persepolis I
W 22   Satrapi, Persepolis I
F 24     Satrapi, Persepolis II

M 27    Satrapi, Persepolis II
W 29   Wrap Up/Final Exam Discussion

Final Exam: Monday, May 6th @ 9:00

EXAM #2—Wednesday, April 1st, European Short Stories
  • Bring your two books to class: Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Russian Short Stories
  • The exam will consist of Two Parts: (1) a series of short passages from the Russian stories, which ask you to identify the author & story, and to explain the relevance of the passage, and (2) a longer essay question based on Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  You may use your books on the exam, but it helps to have read the stories before hand so you don’t have to flip around looking for the passages. 
  • Hint: go over your blog responses since many of the questions/ideas will come from them. 

ALSO: Note that I gave you a 1-week extension for your Critical Paper, now due on Friday April 10th by 5pm.  Please e-mail me with questions or concerns, or come to my office hours.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For Friday: 3 Stories of Soviet Life

For Friday: Stories of Soviet Life

Zamyatin, “The Lion” (pp.201-205)
Inber, “Lalla’s Interests (217-221)
Bulgakov, “The Embroidered Towel” (pp.223-234)

Answer 2 of the following questions…

1. Under Communism, it was easier for women to become writers, which is why we get our first female writer, Vera Inber.  Many people would expect a woman to write stories about children and the family, and she does…but how does she use a “children’s story” to satirize the new world order in Soviet Russia? 

2. V.I. Lenin, one of the leaders of the 1917 Revolution, felt very strongly about film, writing that “you must remember always that of all the arts the most important for us is the cinema.”  As we discussed in class, this was because film is very direct and emotional and makes propaganda more effective.  He was much more skeptical of other art forms, notably literature since it was more subjective and ambiguous.  Why doesn’t one or more of these stories function as good propaganda like Battleship Potemkin?  How does it show another side to Soviet Life that didn’t make it on the big screen? 

3. Bulgakov’s powerful short story, “The Embroidered Towel,” is a revealing look at the beginning of a country doctor’s career, documenting his first attempt at an amputation.  What makes this such a profoundly human story?  While many of us won’t become surgeons, why can we relate to the doctor and his inner dialogue?  What might he be suggesting about everyone as they become adults and start careers in their chosen fields? 

4. Karl Marx, writing in The Communist Manifesto (1847) which influenced Lenin and the new Soviet Order, wrote that “the theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”  By this he means that if people didn’t own “private property,” there would no longer be a class system of rich/poor, educated/uneducated, important/uninmportant, since everyone would be more or less equal and have access to the same goods and services.  According to these stories, is the class system gone?  Is everyone equal?  How do normal citizens of the new Soviet Union see themselves and others as “Communists”?  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

For Monday-Wednesday: Battleship Potemkin

We're going to watch the film Battleship Potemkin this Monday-Wednesday, with writing/discussion to follow in-class on Wednesday.  

On Friday, we're going to read the following stories, if you want to get started: Zamyatin, The Lion , Inber, Lalla's Interests, and Bulgakov, The Embroidered Towel  I will post questions on Wednesday afternoon.

See you in class!  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

For Friday: Leskov, The Steel Flea & Critical Paper (see below)

For Friday, be sure to read Leskov's story, "The Steel Flea" (108-136): there are no questions, but we will have an in-class response when you arrive on Friday (so make sure to read!).

Also, I assigned the Critical Paper assignment today, though it's not due for several weeks.  Start thinking about it, and let me know if you have any questions!

Critical Paper: Literary Time Travelers

Imagine that one of the authors from class has miraculously escaped his own century and emerged in our own.  Now that he is trapped in this world, being an author, he will naturally start writing about the 21st century much as they did the 18th or 19th century.  What would he think of this brave new world?  Was it everything he hoped and dreamed of?  Would he be amazed, inspired, and proud of humanity?  Or simply pissed off, since his descendants clearly didn’t read any of his books? 

Choose ONE of the books from class and write a 4-5 page paper from the author(s) perspective using the ideas in his book, poem, or stories.  Would Voltaire approve of 21st century justice after escaping the barbarism of the 18th century?  Would Wordsworth or Keats be sympathetic to the Green Movement—or horrified by Climate Change?  Would the Grimm Brothers like how Disney adapted their stories for a new generation?  And what would Pushkin, Tolstoy, or other Russian writers think of the conflicts of class and race going on in America today?  The trick to this paper is using ideas and passages in the stories to compare to situations in our own world.  What does Voltaire seem to satirize most about his society in Candide?  Would he find the same things in America today?  What would he satirize if he were writing in the 21st century?  Try to use the book as a frame to examine our own society through old ideas which, when read, become quite new and relevant once more. 

Be sure to introduce quotations by offering a brief introductory tag, so we know who is speaking and from what source.  Then cite the page number at the end so we can find this quotation.  For example, a quotation from “The Queen of Spades” might look like this: As Pushkin writes in his story, “The Queen of Spades,” “Chekalinsky shuffled.  Hermann chose his card and placed it on the table, covering it with a heap of bank notes.  It was like a duel” (Pushkin 25). 

The last page of your paper (which doesn’t count as one of the 4-5 pages) should be a Works Cited page, listing alphabetically all the works you quote in your paper.  Make sure to list individual poems and stories and not just the book they came from.  For example, if you quote the passage above from “The Queen of Spades,” it should look like this:

Pushkin, Alexander.  “The Queen of Spades.”  Russian Short Stories from
     Pushkin to Buida.  ed. Robert Chandler.  New York: Penguin Books, 2005. 

Ø  Make sure you use specific examples from the works you choose.  Don’t summarize the plots and/or make sweeping generalizations.  Focus on short passages (quote them) that would illustrate important ideas from the author’s perspective. 
Ø  Don’t use too much: if you use Grimms’ Fairy Tales, try to use ideas from only 2-3 stories so you can be clear and specific.  The same goes for poetry: only use a few poems so you can relate analyze these ideas and relate them to our own world. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

For Wednesday: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

Painting of Tolstoy by Repin
For Wednesday: Dostoevsky, “Bobok” (pp.81-96) & Tolstoy, “God Sees the Truth But Waits” (pp.98-105)

Answer 2 of the 4 questions that follow:

1. The narrator of “Bobok” tells us early in the story that “The wisest person of the one who calls himself a fool at least once a month—an unheard-of quality in this day and age” (82).  What is he talking about in this passage?  How does this passage, and others like it, help describe the narrator’s character and beliefs?  What kind of person is he, and how are we supposed to feel about him as a narrator (do we trust him, etc.)?

2. In the 19th century, Russia was famous for its prison camps scattered all across Russia and Siberia, and many of the criminals were falsely accused (like Aksyonov).  Why might the government consider Tolstoy's story dangerous for people to read, especially those who didn't personally experience the camps?  Does his story, despite its moralistic content, also have an anti-government message?  

3. Why would Dostoevsky write a story about a group of corpses from every social rank/class arguing with one another in their graves?  What are they chiefly arguing about, and what does the author (or the narrator) want us to see in their bickering?  How might this relate to some of the social satire we encountered in “The Queen of Spades”? 

4. When Aksyonov forgives Makar Semyonov for setting him up, he suddenly “felt a weight off his heart.  He stopped feeling homesick, he no longer wanted to leave the prison, and his only wish was to die” (104).  In the next paragraph, he actually does die.  Why is this a “happy ending”?  Why would the act of forgiveness make him want to abandon his family and chance at a pardon and simply give up on life entirely? 

Friday, March 6, 2015

For Monday: Pushkin, "The Queen of Spades"

For Monday: Pushkin, “The Queen of Spades” (from Russian Short Stories), pp.5-26

NOTE: In class on Friday, we discussed the historical background of Russia and introduced the role of literature (and Pushkin’s contribution to it) in fighting against the age-old monarchy that dominated Russian life.  Pushkin was one of the first Russians to write literature in Russian instead of French, which was considered the language of literature and high culture.  He almost single-handedly made Russian a literary language, and borrowed from the rich tradition of Russian fairy tales which his grandmother told him as a child (a connection to Grimms’ Fairy Tales!).  He was also strongly influenced by the English Romantic poets, and knew the works of Wordsworth, Keats, and others.  Be sure to read the biographical introduction that prefaces the story for more information about Pushkin. 

Answer 2 of the 4 questions that follow:

1. Pushkin writes this story in an unusual style, particularly compared to modern-day stories.  He includes phrases such as “One morning—this was two days after the evening recorded at the beginning of this tale, and one week before the scene from which we have digressed” (11), which sounds like someone telling a story orally.  Where else do we ‘hear’ someone telling us a story, instead of writing it down?  Why do you think he does this?

2. In many ways, “The Queen of Spades” is structured like a traditional fairy tale from Grimms’ Fairy Tales: a man hears about a magic card trick which can make his fortune, and decides to steal it from the old woman (like a witch) who possesses it.  Is there a specific story from Grimms’ Fairy Tales that this story resembles, and if so, how might they share the same moral, theme, taboos, or characters? 

3. Writing about the card games played among gentlemen, Pushkin writes, “Each unsealed a new pack.  Chekalinsky shuffled.  Hermann chose his card and placed it on the table, covering it with a heap of bank notes.  It was like a duel” (25).  Based on this passage, how might Pushkin be satirizing upper-class behavior, particularly when it comes to “games” and social activities?  Where else do we see “duels” taking place among normal people in polite society?  Why are the stakes so high?

4. Perhaps the most interesting and fully-formed characters in the story are the two women, the Countess and her young ward, Lizaveta Ivanovna.  Why do you think Pushkin spends so much time showing us the inner lives of these two women from different generations?  What might we learn about Russian society—or about women in general—from this double portrait?  Discuss a specific passage in your response.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Revised Schedule and Reminder About Class

Remember, NO CLASS on Wednesday since I'll be out of town.  Below is the revised schedule taking into account the snow days we had recently.  Be sure to have our next book, Russian Short Stories, since we'll start reading it next week (following the schedule below).  I'll introduce these stories, as well as the cultural/historical traditions of Russia on Friday to help you get into the material.  See you on Friday! 

M 2      Grimm, Fairy Tales
W 4     [Class cancelled]
F 6       Intro to Russian culture/literature

M 9      Pushkin, The Queen of Spades
W 11   Dostkoevsky, Bobok & Tolstoy, God Sees the Truth, But Waits
F 13     Leskov, The Steel Flea

Spring Break: M 16 to F 20

M 23   Zionyeva-Annibal, The Monster & Teffi, Love, A Family Journey
W 25   Zamyatin, The Lion / Bulgakov, The Embroidered Towel  
F 27    Zoschenko, Electrification, Pelageya, The Bathouse, The Crisis, The Galosh, The                Hat

M 30    Exam #2

W 1     Context: European Colonialism
F 3       No class: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival

M 6      Burroughs, Tarzan
W 8     Burroughs, Tarzan
F 10     Burroughs, Tarzan

M 13    Burroughs, Tarzan
W 15   FILM: TBA
F 17     FILM: TBA

M 20    Film Discussion
W 22   Satrapi, Persepolis I
F 24     Satrapi, Persepolis I

M 27    Satrapi, Persepolis II
W 29   Satrapi, Persepolis II
F 1       Wrap Up/Final Exam Discussion