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Fresh Family Rap

Now, this is the story all about how

Henry James Sr. and his kids turned out

And we'd like to take a minute

Just sit right there

And we'll tell you bout the Jameses and their life of despair.


All over the world they were born and raised

Outside the classroom they spent most of their days

Reading' and learnin' on their own instead

(‘cept for little Alice all laid up in her bed)

When their good old dad

Who spent some time abroad,

Started callin’ all their education flawed

They went to one boarding school before he volunteered,

“We’re going back to Europe for the third time this year”


Alice suffered and withered and twisted her curls

Cause Daddy didn’t think that learning was for girls

She sat in her bed and bitched at Katherine Loring.

She wrote in her diary and said, “These people are so boring.”


These siblings, well at least they weren’t poor

Except the two who got cut off after the war.

But no one remembers Bob and Wilky’s plight

Too bad, cause they were alright.


Well Henry was a bachelor, lost in his work

Hanging out with Alice (who was going berserk)

Over his fiction there was much debate,

Sealing his fate,

Then he burned up all his letters, leaving us to speculate.


William struggled with decision and wrote a lot of rules,

His theory of pragmatics winning over fools

If anything we can say his papers are dense,

But we liked him on occasion – that’s just our two cents.


Sooner or later, they all met their fates:

Alice died of cancer but Henry had to wait.

They left us great gifts

And now our story sits,

And you’ve met the power family known as House of Wits.

 10th blog posting—(3/28/10)

I try. Really, I do. But I just have such a hard time with this psych stuff! I was busy searching for sentences that outlines some kind of point that also seemed important and decipherable. I stumbled into a passage outlining negatives (which it turns out were kind of but not totally the point of the lecture--oh well) and thought, "Elementary, my dear William."

"Let anyone pronounce anything, and your feeling of a contradiction being implied becomes a habit..." (ah, there's my favorite word!) "...If you express doubt, your expression contradicts its content, for the doubt itself is not doubted but affirmed. If you say disorder, what is that but a certain kind of bad order?"

I was intrigued, and grateful a few passages later when I got some concrete examples to wrap my mind around:

"Somehow, life does, out of its total resources, find ways of satisfying opposites at once. This is precisely the paradoxical aspect which much of  our civilization presents. Peace we secure by armaments, liberty by laws and constitutions..."

That's more like it. I'm starting to wrap my mind around this...

"The truth is that which you implicitly affirm in the very attempt to deny it. " And here is something that I think can really be applied to life today. Who doesn't know that feeling of denying the very things are most true?

Only then he started talking about absolutism. And all was lost.


9th blog posting—(3/28/10)

I don't think I'll be surprising anyone when I say that the psychology/William unit has been my least favorite of the semester. I often have a hard time getting through the readings. I, like Fabelhaft, was lured into a false sense of interest by the story about the squirrel- but it was all downhill from there. I found the article to be wandering, and the promise of concrete examples to which we can apply the theory of pragmatism was not met. I did, however, identify with one passage:

"What would be better for us to believe’! This sounds very like a definition of truth. It comes very near to saving ‘what we ought to believe’: and in that definition none of you would find any oddity. Ought we ever not to believe what it is better for us to believe? And can we then keep the notion of what is better for us, and what is true for us, permanently apart?"

And it continues on from there. I liked this so much because I feel like the overarching theme of our class has been to find the ways in which the lives and writings of the James family are relevant to us today, and I feel like this passage can be really relevant to life today. We should always believe what is better for us, but we cannot keep it separate from what is true for us. What if the things to say and do and believe because you know you should, become the things you actually believe, even if it goes against principle? And is that a bad thing?

I have a lot of questions, Mr. James. Maybe we'll get to work through them in class.


8th blog posting—(3/28/10)

Oh, William. William, William, William. You have failed me. Your PhD Octopus reeks of political correctness! How could you be so shortsighted?

"The first way lies with the universities. They can lower their fantastic standards (which here at Harvard we are so proud of) and give the doctorate as a matter of course, just as they give the bachelor's degree, for a due amount of time spent in patient labor in a special department of learning, whether the man be a brilliantly gifted individual or not. Surely native distinction needs no official stamp, and should disdain to ask for one. On the other hand, faithful labor, however commonplace, and years devoted to a subject, always deserve to be acknowledged and requited."

I'm appalled! Why, the very definition of higher learning must be that there is a standard, and if you do not meet the standard you not receive the award! We NEED standards! (Okay, I'll tone down the exclamation points.) Standards are not a suppression of individuality or creativity, but a necessary measurement of skill level. We cannot just march around handing out PhD's to people who spend a "due amount of patient labor" because then the degree has no merit. We only want the most "brilliantly gifted individuals" teaching students. Granted, Will, you have a point that a PhD does not make one an excellent teacher (I had a high school history teacher who held a PhD but had zero social skills, no control over the classroom, and was very creepy). Anyhow, I'm quite disappointed that dear William hold this opinion about inclusiveness. While I agree on some of his finer points, he is blind to the necessity of standards. I can see that what Bryn Mawr did was a bit ridiculous, but I do not think it was totally unreasonable. Perhaps the professor really learned something in the pursuit of his PhD and was a better teacher for it. 


7th blog posting—(3/22/10)

Other than being impressed that William James invented the term hypothesis, I was kind of bored by the theoretical and religious nature of "The Will to Believe" but I became very engaged with the ideas in the text that were more concrete, like the situation in which a whole train of passengers is robbed by a few highwaymen because the robbers trust each other to behave in a certain way and the passengers do not. The functioning of society, according to James, rests on the condition of co-operation.  I don't really have any detailed thoughts on this other than I found it interesting, but I'll check back in after our class discussion and let you know.

The other passage from "The Will to Believe" that I wanted to touch on is from the final paragraph of the article, when James quotes Fitz-James Stephen as saying "If a man chooses to turn his back altogether on God and the future, no one can prevent him; no one can show beyond reasonable doubt that he is mistaken." I just found this so...profound, as I completely agree with it but some of the major wars of the world have taken place over religious conversion of those who take into their own hands the responsibility to force God on those who choose not to believe, or to believe differently. It hasn't seemed to matter that no one can show beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone else is mistaken, from the Crusades to the war in Iraq, there have been people who are convinced one way or another, and seek to convert or destroy.

How is is that James (or Stephen, actually) can state such a simple solution to such a huge source of conflict, and yet no one is capable of listening?



6th blog posting—(3/16/10)

In the spirit of my first response to William James, I'm taking a less structured approach than I usually do to these postings. I really enjoyed our class discussion yesterday about the stream of consciousness--I had a significant amount of trouble with the reading itself (I think all his graphs and scientific....ness threw me off) but a lot of things came together for me during the discussion. Feeling more positive, I approached our piece for tomorrow, "Habit." I'm surprised to admit that I actually found Habit to be much more readable and relevant than I originally found the stream of thought piece, perhaps because it's something I think about on a more regular basis. I've read a lot of different things regarding habit-formation, mostly in magazine diet articles. I spent a long time believing that it took 21 days to make or break a habit, only to read last week that it can take as many at 250. What I found really interesting in the James reading was the idea of habit as things like buttoning shirts or tying shoes, rather than just a tendency to eat a whole can of Pringles at once or the inability to get up before 8:45 for my 9 AM class. The article suggests that the structure of daily life depends on habit (I had an aha! moment with the phrase "creatures of habit"). I thought the balance between discussion of scientific neural pathways that form habits with real-life examples made the article relevant today, and it made me feel not quite as guilty about that can of Pringles yesterday.

Just blame it on my deeply trenched neural pathways.



Mid-Semester Course Evaluation

I'll just come right out and say it: I love this class. The only complaints I have are things that I can understand the necessity of, like rushing through such a big book so quickly (I found it hard to keep up with the reading, but I managed!) and essentially losing a member of class discussion each day to note-taking (although when I was working on my most recent paper/project, class notes were immensely helpful and I was grateful for them). I'm really enjoying the material, the class discussion, and the freedom to experiment with different formats for our essays. I have to admit, I almost broke down in tears last night when I was trying to get my images into the text editor for my blog post--but again, with some creativity (aka re-sourcing all of my images with the help of a reverse-image search engine) I made it happen. Serendip is interesting, but ultimately I think I like working with it.  

Bonne vacance to all!

Day 12: Henry James, c’est moi?

Class Notes 

DISCLAIMER: I apologize if I misrepresent anything that anyone said. It’s so hard to think and listen and transcribe all at the same time. Let me know if you want me to change or remove anything!

Our working paper topics:

jrlewis: Henry James’ imagination as the tyrant

aseidman: short stories to fill in the “gaps”

Penguins: also thinking about a creative piece, not sure

kkazan: also the tyrant, who is Isabel’s tyrant at 4 points in the book, through poetry and images

MissArcher2: using images to fill in gaps in the text, or alternatively, what might I learn if I image rather than write?

Calamity: look at different covers for “Portrait of a Lady” editions—Isabel judged the frontispieces. What can you tell about a book by its cover?

Fabelhaft: turn of the screw: question of reality/crazy in juxtaposition with Buffy episode.

Marina: what is the definition of a lady? Ladies in history in comparison of ladies throughout history.

exsoloadsolem: joyce carol oates’ spinoff of turn of the screw- pedophilia and homoeroticism in the spinoff (filling in blank spaces)

kjmason: speech act theory, whether words on a page in the book can ever fully convey what happens—relate to Real Thing

Up next (after break): William James and several visitors to help us through.

Anne: What do we think about the idea that narrators are all tyrants and we are their subjects?

kjmason: Interesting, makes me think of Orwell’s 1984, they control of lines of perception entirely

Anne: So what is the role of the reader?

kjmason:: You can be one of several characters: fight against it or go with it, which is very Henry James. What is the lesson of the master? Who is he telling you to be?

fabelhaft: Reading Henry James is like being placed in the middle of the woods and told to use clues like broken branches to find your way out. He’s sneaky.

exsoloadsolem: As more of my favorite books become movies, I’ve been thinking that books leave it to the reader to imagine in a way that movies do not. I was angry that none of the hobbits looked the way I imagined them. You have your own version of these characters in your head.

Anne: If we had had more time we might have looked at movie versions of Portrait of a Lady…

fabelhaft: I saw the movie, and watching Isabel go about her life was more frustrating than reading. It was depressing, when you read there is hope.

Calamity: Movie adaptations are especially tyrannical because of time limitations—hundreds of pages left out, director chooses to change it. Campion changed the end of the novel completely.

Anne: So what is the role of the reader there? Can we think about reader response theory? What happens to that if you conceptualize the author as the tyrant?

jrlewis: I think of blogging as an interesting use of reader response theory. The reader can directly comment on the text in real time.

Anne: Comments have less effect on the blogger than they think. So let’s talk about the readings. I’m sad to be leaving Henry, we haven’t quite done him justice. I picked these 3 increasingly concentric and enlarging circles, modern mediations on James. First up is Ozick’s lesson of the master. About her personal life, got totally messed up because she read Henry James too long. Later, she wrote “What Henry James Knew”, characterizing him as the archetypal modernist. He defines for us what it is to be modern. Finally, we have subjunctive time: Henry James as index to what she thinks all lit should do, not bound by empirical world but invited into the as-if world, things that have not been realized in historical time.

fabelhaft: Google Books didn’t have the complete texts.

Anne: So no one emailed me, no one read it?

exsoloadsolem: I didn’t want to be the troublemaker whose laptop sucks and couldn’t read it.

Anne: No one thought it might have been my fault?

MissArcher2: We have unwavering faith in you.

Anne: This is an interesting pedagogical moment. Moving on: is it possible that we are reading books too young? Can young people without these life experiences really feel the weight of these books? Is your whole curriculum aimed at the wrong era of your life? Ozick says she misread the lesson of the master: it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t tell her to try to live in her 20’s as he did at 60. Reactions?

kjmason:: I’ve been relating Portrait of a Lady to certain quandaries in my own life lately, and it was interesting to hear Ozick say we should not listen to him, don’t let him tyrannize you.

Anne: we have been talking about the degree to which we will let Isabel tell us how to live our life (think back to conversation about whether you would stay true to a promise after you found out it was based on a misreading?)

Calamity: everyone has read a book in their youth that was too big for them, but you still appreciate parts of it. They still have some meaning.

kkazan: something to be gained by years later, when you reread it’s a marker of change in yourself.

Anne: the book is the same book but I was a different person

Kjmason: even if you are prematurely exposed you might not be aware of it until later. Who knows?

fabelhaft: I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m like, crap, HENRY JAMES is still following me with his advice.

Anne: what do we think of Ozick’s claim that the true lesson of the master is never to venerate that which is complete/perfect? About that as emerging from the work of Henry James

Calamity: I didn’t get that as the lesson. It’s a good one, the classic “no one is perfect so if they seem perfect you are just missing something”.

fabelhaft: if it’s too good to be true it probably isn’t true.

Anne: Isabel had an ideal of what a marriage would be/how a wife would be have, and her ideals did not serve her well. Is this an example of the lesson of her master? Is the idea played out in either of the short stories?

fabelhaft: The Monarchs look like the perfect couple to serve the artist’s purposes but they are actually useless.

Penguins: works for “The Turn of the Screw” because the governess is so optimistic about her position but then see what occurs.

jrlewis: And the little boy says he is outside just to show governess he can be bad (pushing back against ideal of perfection).

Anne: If we take everything we have read about James together, it can be read as a caution against living life according to ideals. Are we old enough for this lesson?

kjmason: We are at the correct point in our lives to receive this if we were to take it to heart—however we probably won’t because we are so young.

Anne: do you think of yourselves as idealists?

Calamity: I am a cynic.

aseidman: Anyone who is not an idealist who refers to themselves as a realist gets crap for it.

kkazan: Do you have to be just one?

Anne: Yes.

kkazan: Well on certain things I am and others I’m not.

kjmason: I agree.

kkazan: In personal relationships I try to be an idealist, esp. other’s relationships. Politics etc., I am a cynic.

Anne: Portrait of a Lady suggests you rethink that.

kkazan: I don’t know if it’s possible. I can’t change what my default reading is. I can try to calm myself, rationalize, but I will always start with an idealist view.

Anne: Is your education teaching you to be more skeptical? Fabelhaft nods. You’re nodding. Do you want to tell us more about that?

Fabelhaft: We’re always taught to question, to be more skeptical.

Anne: I tried to trick you when we read the Real Thing. Are you ever encouraged to be more believing?

aseidman: If we read a critic who we find to be overreaching, we are taught to try to see that it is possible.

Anne: So you believe the authority of experts in your field.

kkazan: It depends on your field. English major are taught to question, but scientists are taught to prove.

Anne: Ideally, education should be a loop that includes the believing game and the doubting game. Both believing and skepticism can be destructive on their own. We do encourage skepticism, though, too much perhaps. Other thoughts before we move on?

fabelhaft: My default setting is sporadically optimistic.

Anne/fabelhaft: Skepticism caused by lack of reliability?

Marina: I’m a cynic.

Penguins: I would love to be an idealist but I’m forced to be a cynic.

Anne: so what did Henry James know? (We ourselves had an exellent example of idealism: you all thought I was right and we were wrong about the Google Books document.)

exsoloadsolem: I get nervous about potential for catastrophe. I have this theory that if I expect anything but the best then I’m going to lay down and die. I have to find reason to exist. That’s why I need the idealism.

kkazan: expect worst, hope for the best?

exsoloadsolem: I’m not surprised by the worst, but I don’t expect it.

Anne: You could have asked me for the full text! Moving on! Why is Henry James so important?

Calamity: The article is saying that Henry James is the man who knew too much and then he chooses to tell us some things but we also just tend to not know as much as he knows.

Anne; How much does he know?

Fabelhaft: Henry James doesn’t spell it out for us but he knows all the evil. That has to be hard.

Anne: Ozick highlights the cleverness at the end of  “The Turn of the Screw”, not naming the evil, seeing potential in all of us to create more horrific scenes than he could write.

MissArcher2: The text said that he left it to us, are we to assume that he knew?

Anne: Ozick says Henry James did not want to know too much, that he was careful not to. What do we know about what he knew? Ozick’s characterization of James is similar to James’s characterization of Isabel Archer. She has a willed ignorance, very clear boundaries. What MissArcher2 is saying is did he know the horror? His invitation to imagine the horror for ourselves, did it come from ignorance or knowledge of the horror himself? What happened in his life?

Calamity: Ozick goes back to his getting booed off the stage at his playwriting. That seemed too much focus on ne moment for a complete “PHOOM”. I had an issue with the argument that all of his arguments are meant to be rooms with a view open to the light—clearly NOT the case.

Anne: What’s interesting about what you are saying Calamity, is that Ozick is giving us a very dramatic reading of Henry James’s life with a monocausal explanation as to what diametrically changed the kind of writing he did—he went from writing rooms with a view to dark impenetrable spaces. If we have learned anything from Henry James it is that that kind of writing is possible. Any event that happens has multiple causes and you can never know for sure what the cause it. Her reading of his life is very un-Jamesian. She constructs a melodramatic narrative that is possibly inappropriate given his teachings that we cannot know things.What do we think about this idea that he is the primal, archetypal vision of what modernism is? Has anyone read James Joyce, Virginia Woolf? How does James compare to any of them?

Fabelhaft: I read some Woolf—they both have long complicated detailed sentences.

Anne: Faulkner also was a great modernist with unending sentences. Why is hat characteristic of modernist style, those long unending sentences? Does this make sense to us?

Fabelhaft: I was too young, if I reread it I would get more out of it.

Anne: Woolf is famous for saying that realist fiction preceding her thought that describing the material worlds in as much detail as possible was reality, there is no reality except inside you and that is what you must write about. Very much like James. Why are other modernists passé if James becomes more compelling/contemporary? He is more and more modern as life goes on as we get used to others. What other modernists have you read? How are they alike/different from James?

kkazan: Faulkner. In terms of gaps they are similar, a lot happens but little is explained. Differently, the sentences are more tangled but try to be more simplistic?

Anne: sound and the fury is the best example actually, a sexual family story that is told four times, first from a fairly stable, realistic point of view, next from the point of view of the brother, etc. devolves as it goes along. Anyone read Joyce?

jrlewis: Yes, gaps are definitely a theme.

Anne: Anyone read Ulysses? No? We don’t really have enough data to judge here, but nothing we have said so far suggests that James is unique in being our more compelling contemporary. So, Ozick’s take is that James is a modernist because his works vibrate with unconscious cognition, a strangeness that arises in modernism beyond our or authors capacity to explicate. That is what Ozick is defining as modernist sensibility.

kkazan: How does that play with his being the most philosophical writer than a novelist, vice versa for William? Philosophical writing thinks it can get to the answer, right?

Anne: let’s table that until we’ve read William. Ozick said that James created the façade of comedy and the horror behind. Last class we talked about whether POAL is a tragedy or a comedy. This is a great way to look at that. Okay, so what sense did you make of subjunctive time?

Fabelhaft: I didn’t understand it but I liked it.

Anne: Explain how you can like something you didn’t understand.

Fabelhaft: I like the Whitman poem and that things aren’t bound to the time they are written, they can transcend. Mind-boggling!

Anne: how can they write passages that describe future events? How do we explain that? Exsoloadsolem, you’re our historian.

exsoloadsolem:: Theres a historical theory of a cyclical nature that is popular.

Anne: Well this isn’t cyclical, it’s counterfactual. The world as we experience here is only a part of the tiny possibilities that could be actualized. If you use the as-if, literature can evoke all that has not happened. That makes literature distinctive from history.

exsoloadsolem: Absolutely, we talk about what happened not what could have happened, i.e. famous poor choices, not much discussion that has to do with realms of possibility.

Anne: Wai-Chee Dimock’s work is so astonishing because it is the largest claim that can be made on behalf of literature: it makes available to us the restoration of the fullness of time. Reading James though Vonnegut, to say not only do we not need to be bound by nation, but not by time either. What do we think about that? Fabelhaft said it messed with her head.

exsoloadsolem: It made sense, sort of. It’s a reasonable approach and a very interesting one, but I’m so linear from four years of history I cant imagine it.

kjmason:: I read Slaughterhouse 5. It’s really interesting how he pulls off taking you back and forth between worlds.

Anne: What Ozick highlights is the ability to bring to us the suffering of the animals. The imaginative writer can do that. She invites us to think of the world differently, of literature as a representation of other possibilities.

Calamity: It’s easy for literature to take this on. You can’t change history but all literature has to imagine is the author writing something differently. It’s the one place where it could easily be something else.

Anne: The only place? What about art history?

jrlewis: It happens in science all the time, you experiment and say its consistent with your hypothesis. Negative results are unacceptable so scientists all the time edit conclusions/twist observations. And I don’t think manipulation of facts is unique to science. Textbooks are written to portray specific histories.

Anne: What about the reversal of time? Does that happen only in literature? Two things going on in this essay: we shouldn’t think that what is happening in our world is all that is. Secondarily, the claim that literature is the space where that “as if” is represented. Is it special and unique in the way that she claims here?

MissArcher2: Can you say what you mean by reversal of time?

Anne: So that means that what Henry James wrote in 1915 is not constrained to that moment in which he wrote it. It’s applicable not only to what came before it but to anything that might come after it also.

MissArcher2: I think that you have to consider the constraints of time. You can say, oh look at what this person wrote in 1915 and how it applies to what happened here in 1947 but the fact is that he didn’t write what he wrote about what happened in 1947.

Anne: Or did he? I think that’s what she’s asking. She’s saying that maybe it can be applied that way. Unfortunately, our time is up, so we’ll have to continue our discussion in a parallel universe.


5th blog posting—(2/22/10)

As difficult as it was not to choose one of the fabulous passages about Isabel Archer and the way she thinks or one of the many things Isabel herself says, I was particularly struck by a passage towards the end of Chapter 19, on p. 217 (in my copy), in which Madame Merle talks about the refusing of marriage proposals.


"It's a very good thing for a girl to have refused a few good offers—so long of course as they are not the best she's likely to have. Pardon me if my tone seems horribly corrupt; one must take the worldly view sometimes. Only don't keep on refusing for the sake of refusing. It's a pleasant exercise of power; but accepting's after all an exercise of power as well. There's always the danger of refusing once too often."

With our discussion last week of what it means to be a lady, I found this to be a very telling passage about the level of calculation and perhaps even manipulation involved in behaving like a lady in James' time. Though Isabel seems more genuine and innocent than Madame Merle suggests, this sort of "power play" made me see that "ladies" perhaps sought to gain control of their lives in whatever way they could.

I can't believe I'm about to admit this on the internet, but I used to have something of a fixation with watching marriage  proposals on YouTube. It struck me after reading this passage that the best videos involve the "lady" as a completely passive ingredient of the proposal: she is always none the wiser to what is about to happen to her and is always thrilled to say yes--the ones in which she says no are no fun to watch and don't usually make it online in the first place. Madame Merle suggests taking control of your own destiny by refusing a proposal in order to gain power, as long as you aren't shooting yourself in the foot and ending up with no more offers or a lesser offer than you had previously received--in this regard, the lady is allowed to be just as calculating as the man is when he springs an intricately planned proposal upon his unsuspecting girlfriend. I do not, however, think that this is what Isabel has in mind when she refuses proposals from Lord Warbutton and Mr. Goodwood--she is more pure in her intentions of knowing that marriage to either of these men will not make her happy, and thinking that there must be something else out there in the world for her to experience. 

Here's my all time favorite proposal video, for your viewing pleasure: I know it's long, but if you have the time (and are entertained by such things in the slightest) then go for it! (If you skip to about the 6 minute mark, you'll see everything you need to see without the background info.)


4th blog posting—(2/14/10)

It took me a long time to get a grip on what was going on in "The Real Thing" --it was not until I had read the entire story that I felt I understood even a little bit what "the real thing" means, but I can certainly say this: the short stories of Henry James have a very distinctive style! They are designed to make you think, and have an uncanny way of throwing you into the middle of an unsettling situation and leaving you to sink or swim, much like the characters themselves.

The line that stood out to me is at the very end of the text: "...the real thing could be so much less precious than the unreal." I think this line really sums up the point of this story for me about as much as you can "sum up" a story like this, and it was the main thing that really helped me understand the tale. Here is this artist attempting to paint characters, and he has models who are, in actuality, those people--but they do not make good models of that type of person. Instead, it is the "commoners" who make the best models. This made me wonder if it had something to do with the modeling/acting ability of the Monarchs--if there is just a certain dramatic light in some people that does not exist in others. It made me think of Hollywood: movie directors do not go out and hire people with medical training to play doctors in their movies, but instead people with the stunning ability to transform themselves into someone else. In this case, too, perhaps it is the "unreal" that makes for better fiction than the real thing. I also thought it was curious how this applies strictly to the arts/fiction: no one wants an actress performing their open heart surgery, even if she played a doctor on TV for ten seasons.

So, for my examples of Real Things, I present to you two things: the first, like jrlewis's example, (/exchange/node/6055) comes from the TV show House. My dad actually told me a while back about this article, which talks about a doctor who now writes for the show. He uses his experience with patients and rare illness to create a level of authenticity for the drama. This is an interesting case of someone with medical training who also has a flair for the creative and is able to contribute to the writing of a show. What I found most interesting about this article was the line "Foster said his new life is less different than it might seem -- both are about storytelling." I think that House in particular, because it is about diagnostic medicine in which you must discover a patient's history and contemplate their symptoms to find a diagnosis, is about storytelling, and this lines up perfectly with the difference between the real, which exists as it is, and the unreal, out of which the artist tells a story to make it seem like something real.

The second example comes from my favorite author of contemporary fiction, Jodi Picoult. She writes stories that deal in detail with religion, illness, euthanasia, divorce, fertility issues, autism and many other sensitive topics, all centered around families and courtroom drama. Picoult talks on the FAQ page of her website,, about the research she does to give herself the knowledge to write about these topics. She spent time living with an Amish family to write her book about Amish life--is this less authentic than a memoir written by someone who is or grew up living in the Amish lifestyle? Perhaps, but it is also perhaps more relatable because of Picoult's creative ability- her work draws and and appeals to a wider audience. Through this extensive research, she is able to cover multiple topics rather than to write solely about her own experiences, as we would see in a single memoir.

I feel like I am rambling now that it is late, but I liked this story a lot and I feel like it made me think about reality and authenticity in a new way.

Now, to bed. 

3rd blog posting—(2/8/10)

A passage that I stumbled across in my reading of this text that I thought was most telling is on p. 29, beginning with "Suddenly, in these circumstances..." and ending on the next page with "Then I again shifted my eyes--I faced what I had to face." 

I thought this passage was especially revealing about the governess and what is going on in this story, or rather, in her head. I think its very interesting that she describes the presence as a "feeling"--she knows a presence is there before she looks up and sees anything. She is concerned that Flora will notice, but the reader has no indication that Flora is aware of anything--especially curious, in light of the following chapter, in which the governess professes to Mrs. Grose that Flora did see the figure and is simply not letting on to the governess that she did. I feel like this passage in particular indicates the madness of the governess, even though other elements of the story (how would she know what Peter Quint looked like?) cannot be explained as such. 

Another element of this story that I found very interesting is the governess' constant referral to Miles and Flora as "Them." She speaks with a certain fear of and separation from her charges that I think is fascinating, since she seems to like the children and enjoy taking care of them, for the most part. It's an interesting bit of foreshadowing. 


Class Summary 2/1/10 – The After Life of Alice James

After starting the day off right with Anne getting the projector up and running without calling for help, we delved into discussion of Alice James’ illness as disability with our guest speaker, Kristin. She told us how she had always loved Alice James, and brought a unique perspective to the table, being a disabilities studies scholar who is “engaged by how illness and disability are represented by others and….by those with them.” She is also a former Victorian scholar and feminist theorist (which played heavily into our discussion) and has personal experience with chronic illness.  

·      Kristin told the class that she did not date the entries she kept in her personal diary during her “invalid life” because the days were often not distinct from one another, and wondered aloud whether Alice dated her entries as a way of specifically separating time for herself.

We then tried to tackle the question of problems in narrating a chronic illness—because there is no clear beginning, middle, and end structure to chronic illness narratives, we end up with a circularity that is unsatisfying. Chronic illness, perhaps, is “endlessly defying closure.”

  What are the challenges of the diary form? Kristen offered her personal solution of writing in fragments, which we talked about as being difficult to follow for the outside eye.

Chronic illness is constantly telling a story, and a diagnosis depends on the patient’s ability to tell a story about their body (which reminded me of the TV show House, where patients are always lying and making it harder for the doctors to diagnose them accurately). A diagnosis is an affirmation.

·      The experience/story of a chronic illness is constantly being reframed and reinterpreted by the listener. With a typical illness narrative, the audience expects the patient to either recover or die—something that does not happen with chronic illness, such as Alice James was suffering. When your story doesn’t make sense to them, everyone has their own theory.

People tend to hold onto the notion that those who overcome a short-term illness are “strong” while those who suffer chronically are “weak.” People are eager to “support” family and friends through a short term illness, but after an extended period of time, have had enough and no longer know the social conventions of how to respond. Once the initial period of sending flowers and visiting the hospital has passes, and the patient is perhaps at home, the “novelty” has worn off and people may even assume that the patient is carrying on for attention.

Was Alice bored with her own lack of narrative? T

here is a Victorian concept of an invalid as pure and spiritual. 

·      Society has a need to see something physical—the physical manifestation of illness is important to the spectator.

·      What other forms lend themselves to writing about illness? Memoir (is it simply recounting the truth? When is stretching the truth too far?) or POETRY: a lyric is a moment in time, could work well with the fragmented nature of the diary form. One could get a sense of the illness without having to talk about it. Also, theater? There is a melodrama associated with fever/illness.

·      What’s up with the language of economics in the diary? Words like productivity, value, worth, etc? is she legitimizing herself?

 In Henry’s letter, he suggests that his sister was able to keep going through her illness—that the solution to life, for Alice, was illness. If she had not been ill, would her talents have gone to waste as she might have simply married and occupied herself with a family? Did her talents in fact go to waste, as she did not produce anything or leave anything behind except her diary?

Did Alice create a spectacle of herself by writing her diary? She was the object of interpretation, a “career invalid,” and there are competing narratives of the ill person and the family, so for Alice, her diary was her agency, her own version of events. 


2nd blog posting—(1/31/10)

There are a couple of things I want to point out today. The first is a passage that reminded me of what we talked about in last week's class:

"I remind myself all the time of a coral insect building up my various reefs of theory by microscopic additions drawn from observation, or my inner consciousness, mostly." April 7, 1890 (p. 109) 

I don't have much to say about that other than that given our discussion of "mind metaphors" I found this to be a really fascinating metaphor for Alice's mind (and the "real" Alice in contrast with Sontag's character, no less).  

Now: the entire entry from June 1, 1891 (p. 207 in my book), beginning with "One would naturally not choose such an ugly and gruesome method of progression down the dark Valley of the Shadow of Death..." struck me as very haunting. A far cry from what we think of as a "typical" response to a cancer diagnosis, Alice is grateful not for the time to say goodbye to loved ones or prepare herself but for the time to look forward to her impending death--time which, Alice says, "doubles the value" of the event. However, I wonder what she really means by this. A closer reading of the way Alice phrases her sentence suggests that though she has never been afraid of death, the longer she thinks about her life actually coming to an end, the more it starts to seem like a big deal in a way that she never previously felt it was. She writes that her death will be harder for Henry and Katherine to watch than for Alice herself to experience, expressing the notion that death is harder on the living than the dying. But though Alice on the one hand seems relieved to have a timeline in hand, this passage offers a glimpse of insecurity beneath her glib exterior. 


1st blog posting—(1/24/10)  

"I can talk about what I like. It can have a different ending. Perhaps I shall have a narrow escape. Perhaps everything will change at the last minute." –Alice, p. 37

I loved this line of Alice’s in Sontag’s play, for several reasons. It is almost uncharacteristically optimistic for Alice and it opens the door to a side of her that I had yet to consider. Even though we know Alice James was deeply depressed and experienced suicidal thoughts, here Alice is aware of when and how she dies, and yet we get a glimpse of hopefulness that she will escape her fate. Also, I thought this line sounded particularly like something Alice in Wonderland would have said. I actually feel that this line is a great metaphor for the mind—I think it is human nature to believe that we can cheat fate, to go on believing until the very last possible second that things can still turn out differently.

Additionally, the “note on the play” at the end of our text intrigued me. Framing the text as a play about women, about women's consciousness of self, about imagination and the reality of a mental prison, as well as the parallel drawn to Alice in Wonderland, gave me a new appreciation for the play--In fact, I wished I had read it prior to reading the play. I think Alice was conscious of her own imagination, which allowed to to fantasize that she could come to a different end--that, in fact, everything could change at the last minute, even when she knew intellectually that it would not. It is because of this that "the victories of the imagination are not enough", because, in the end, it is still what is real that is consequential. 



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