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Beginning Uncle Tom's Cabin

Notes Towards Day 12 of Emerging Genres
Beginning Uncle Tom's Cabin

I. announcements and coursekeeping
Performance of British Sign Language Poetry by Paul Scott and Rachel Sutton-Spence this afternoon, Thursday Feb. 28, 4:30 in Sharpless Auditorium in the KINSC at Haverford
Rachel will talk about some of the techniques used in BSL to create poetic effect, and Paul will perform some of his original work to illustrate these techniques - and to entertain and delight.
link to your first set of webpapers (comments to come this weekend...)
Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain (NYTimes, 2/21/08):
among the youngest Internet users, the primary creators of Web content (blogs, graphics, photographs,
Web sites) are...digitally effusive teenage girls....“Girls are trained to make stories about themselves"....
expected to be social, communal and skilled in decorative arts. “This would be called the feminization of the Internet"....
(cough) reminder that most of you owe the rest of us some weekly postings (on UncleTom'sCabin...?)
keep on reading, next 100 pp. for Tuesday (won't finish til after break....)
nightmare about (not being able to) teaching a science lecture class

III. look over some postings from the past week

  • about classic narratives
    ...our discussion of Terror Management Theory....Perhaps this is what makes certain books that focus on death comforting...In the same way that our culture gives us rules and set expectations that shield us somehow from death, a book that talks about death gives it some sort of order, and that order is the buffer.

    The phrase “instant classic” is often now used to describe new novels (or films, or albums), but can there be such a thing? How long must a piece of literature be around before it can be considered for the “classic” category...?

Claire: I... think maybe there exist several different types of classics....books...that are significant because of the impact they made when they were first written....not well-constructed work of literature...meant to be social commentary...recognized as socially important. ...from an artistic perspective....made an impact on literature...entertainment popularity at the time they were published....remembered as The Books of this decade.

OED: ad. F. classique, or L. classic-us of the highest class, of the first order

perhaps we're revising the hierarchy? refusing a single order of hierarchy?

  • about formalism

    Calderon:What was interesting was that Propp did not pay much attention to the function of the motifs, but instead what fairy tales have in common...the common structure

    the tree structure of "Call me Ishmael," complete with determiner phrase...

    Ellen: I'm not really sure, like I said, how much use this will be in examining Moby Dick, or Bakhtin's theory of speech genres, since these structures deal with the physical grammar of sentences, not so much the underlying meaning (that would be a semantics course).

    Hannah's overview:
  • Tynyanov’s “The Literary Fact"...emphasizes change....
  • Propp...looks for invariance...
  • Bakhtin latter argued that "speech genres"...are primary while literary genres are secondary....
  • Bakhtin praises the novel as the only living genre...ever growing and constantly using other genres....
  • Moby-Dick is an exemplar of his kind of novel because it is very much in contact with reality and does new things with the novel form.
  • Melville ...would parody the Formalists...would argue that “a book is but a draft”...there is no such thing as a complete, closed can’t understand the world from your armchair, and you can’t understand a book without digging into its context.
Megan: I find it hard to comprehend any form of art without a basis in the socio-political spectrum....I'm having trouble even comprehending a Russian formalist approach because I'm constantly trying to extrapolate to find significance and value to form without even meaning reading Uncle Tom's Cabin I'm finding it almost impossible to distance myself from the text...I have a feeling that this is why... it has been so popular. She also speaks directly to the reader at times, very blatantly telling them how to think-- ...It's easy to digest, the message is clear...

let's work with these claims,
think together about how Stowe's novel fits into all of this...
your reactions to the first 100 pp.?

the reactions of a few other readers....

James Baldwin,
"Everybody's Protest Novel,"
Notes of a Native Son (1949)
Uncle Tom's Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous,virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle Tom's a catalogue of violence...what constriction or failure of perception forced Mrs. Stowe to so depend on the description of brutality--unmotivated, senseless--and to leave unanswered and unnoticed the only important question: what is was, after all, that moved her people to such deeds. How is it that we are so loath to make a further journey than that made by Mrs. Stowe, to discover and reveal something a little closer to the truth?...truth, as used here, is meant to imply a devotion to the human being, his freedom and fulfillment. This creature is...something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity--which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves--we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves. It is this power of revelation which is the business of the novelist, this journey towards a more vast reality which must take precedence over all other claims.... we find ourselves bound...first without, then within, by the nature of our categorization...the failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.
Jane Tompkins,
Sentimental Power:Uncle Tom's Cabin
and the Politics of Literary History,"
Glyph (1978)
the popular domestic novel of the nineteenth century represents a monumental effort to reorganize culture from the woman's point of view...this body of work is remarkable for its intellectual complexity, ambition, and offers a critique of American society far more devastating than any delivered by better-known critics such as Hawthorne and Melville....the enormous popularity of these a reason for paying close attention to them. Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first American novel ever to sell over a million copies, and its impact is generally thought to have been incalculable....Uncle Tom's the summa theologica of nineteenth-century America's religion of domesticity:...the story of salvation through motherly love....the sentimental novelists...gave women the central position of power and authority in the culture the inability of twentieth-century appreciate the complexity and scope of a novel like Stowe's...stems from their assumptions about the nature and function of literature. In modernist thinking, literature is by definition a form of discourse that has no design on the world. It does not attempt to change things, but merely to represent them, and it does so in a specifically literary language whose claim to value lies in its whose stated purpose is to influence the course of history...which therefore employ a language that is...common and not qualify as works of art. Literary texts such as a sentimental novel, which make continual and obvious appeals to the reader's emotions and use technical devices that that are distinguished by their utter conventionality, epitomize the opposite of everything that good literature is supposed to be....

There is a clear stand off
between Baldwin and Tompkins

A local critic gives us a possible resolution...??

First: a little cultural background.
What do you know of blackface?


the genre played an important role in shaping perceptions of and prejudices about blacks generally and African Americans in particular. Some social commentators have stated that blackface provided an outlet for whites' fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar, and a socially acceptable way of expressing their feelings and fears about race and control. Writes Eric Lott in Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, "The black mask offered a way to play with the collective fears of a degraded and threatening—and male—Other while at the same time maintaining some symbolic control over them."