Puget Sound English Department

February 24, 2010

The Death of Irony

Apparently, the move to embrace the “snark”–a new mark of punctuation intended to help readers interpret irony or sarcasm–is gaining ground. The mark–for those of you whose communication devices lack it–is most simply indicated by adding a tilde (~) immediately after the period following a sentence meant to be read ironically, or sarcastically. The creators of The Snark’s self-appointed official website (“Home of the Verbal Irony Mark”) offer a history of attempts to designate irony, presumably as wielded by authors less skilled that Jonathan Swift, whose 1729 satire “A Modest Proposal” is, I believe, still the gold standard for literary irony.

The site also offers a somewhat apologetic explanation for the slippage between sarcasm and irony, deferring to the linguistic gods of popular usage (see “FAQs”), along with instructions for adding the snark to your compositional and punctuational arsenal (usefully provided along a continuum from borderline-computer-illiterate users to the highly technologically savvy).

Will it catch on? Should it? If verbal irony is made visible to everyone, will it still be…well…ironic? Or does part of the effect of irony rely on its potential for exclusivity?

Your English faculty await the latest developments in this saga with bated breath.~

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You Can’t Judge a Book…

Filed under: International,Literature,Publishing — ATH @ 1:42 pm
Tags: , ,

by its cover; nor, apparently, by its title.

The Bookseller has just published its shortlist for the Diagram Prize, an award given to the “Oddest Book Title of the Year.” theBookseller.com‘s blogger on the topic, Horace Bent (no, you can’t make these things up), suggests with some glee that “oddity is recession proof”–and, apparently, independent of the larger worries facing the publishing industry. This is all to our benefit, as we can bask in the glow of oddity without ever reading a page. Link to Bent’s current post, with the short list in its entirety, is here. In the meantime, a few highlights:

Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua?
Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter

Bent also reflects on the selection process, answering the burning question of why Bacon, A Love Story didn’t make the cut.

For those of you yearning for more, Sarah Lyall’s witty article from the NYT offers gems from past contests.

The Diagram Prize has been awarded annually since 1978. Might we suggest a course on “The Diagram Prize Winners” to follow Professor Kupinse’s wildly successful current course on recent winners of the Booker Prize?

February 18, 2010

Tempest in an (Antique) Teapot

PBS is promoting a new edition of “American Masters” featuring The American Novel. Great, no? You’d think that your dedicated English Department members would be ecstatic.

And we are, sort of. Because if you poke around the site a bit, something quite strange begins to emerge. Take the Timeline feature. Nifty, no? Scroll to the left…all…the…way…back…to……1826.

Yes, folks; apparently the PBS “Experts” have decreed that 1826 is the year of origin for the American novel, during a period known as “Romanticism.” (Perhaps the fact that they are celebrating “200 years” with a timeline that includes only 186 years should have alerted me to potential problems). Presumably, the outpouring of novels that succeeded the Revolution is unworthy of critical–or popular–attention. Sorry, Charles Brockden Brown, Susanna Rowson, Hannah Foster, Royall Tyler. You don’t count. James Fenimore Cooper makes it into the series, but just barely, and in a clearly subordinate role as precursor to the good stuff.

Clearly the earlier works are far less well known, and yes, we English profs are always happy to see programs that encourage, feature, or acknowledge books.

But still, it concerns me that a series presumably interested in exploring the substance and breadth of a rich American literary tradition so closely resembles the reading list I had in my AP literature course, lo these many, many years ago.

To be fair, it is obvious from the website that the producers have made an important and necessary effort to acknowledge the tremendous influence writers of color have had on the American novel, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries; Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Gish Jen, Zora Neale Hurston, Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston, Louise Erdrich, and Ralph Ellison are there alongside predictable figures like Kurt Vonnegut, Ayn Rand (!), Faulkner, Hemingway, Salinger, Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck. And, of course, no series can or should try to do all things; I appreciate both the limits of the genre and the need to create a coherent and engaging set of programs, rather than attempt an impossible comprehensiveness.

But in its conception, the series appears to hew pretty closely to the party line established by F.O. Mathiessen’s The American Renaissance (1941), which canonized the writings of a select group of male authors (Thoreau, Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman) at the expense of far more popular women writers of the era. His book articulated the values that dominated the study of American literature for decades: the notion of the great writer as a brooding, alienated, masculine genius, whose work dramatized the individual’s psychological turmoil set against a backdrop of nattering, unappreciative, stultifying (feminine) society.

For those of us who spend most of our time trying to draw attention to the rich, complex, multi-faceted novels that emerged in the eighteenth century, the PBS series looks like a disappointment in the making, reinforcing curricular biases that neglect an important part of the story of the American novel. I’m hoping, however, to be pleasantly surprised. You can check for local airings of the episodes here.

On Campus: “My Name is Rachel Corrie”

MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE
A dramatic reading taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie, the 23 year old activist and Evergreen College student killed in Gaza in 2003. Edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner.

Performed by Angelica Duncan, directed by David Domkowski. With Michael Storslee as The Reporter, and including a post-performance discussion with Rachel’s parents, Cindy & Craig Corrie and Assistant Dean of Students at UPS, Kate Cohn.

ONE-NIGHT ONLY, Wednesday March 3rd, 7 PM in UPS’ Kilworth Chapel . Doors open at 6:30. Seating is first-come, first-served.

February 16, 2010

Kenyon Review Short Fiction contest: Deadline 2/28

Filed under: Creative Writing,Uncategorized — tnimura @ 4:39 am

The Kenyon Review is sponsoring its third annual Short Fiction Contest. Writers must be 30 years or younger; submissions must be 1200 words or less. The deadline is approaching fast: February 28th! Good luck, everyone!

February 14, 2010

Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

We note with sorrow the passing of American poet Lucille Clifton, Pulitzer Prize Nominee, and Winner of the National Book Award for Blessing the Boats (2000). In addition to her acclaimed poetry, she was an active author of books aimed primarily at African American children. The former Poet Laureate of Maryland, she celebrated the lives of women and African Americans in a powerful, original voice. You can find a fuller description of her work, and some examples of her poetry, at her poets.org page. For a brief introduction, there’s also Jocelyn K. Moody’s biography of Clifton, from Modern American Poetry.

At her passing, we wish for her the blessing conveyed in her own “blessing the boats”:
“may the tide/ that is entering even now/ the lip of our understanding/ carry you out/
beyond the face of fear/… may you/ open your eyes to water/ water waving forever/
and may you in your innocence/ sail through this to that” (full poem here).

February 12, 2010

Watch for it…

Filed under: Activities off Campus,Alumni News — ATH @ 6:27 pm
Tags: ,

Professor Nimura is in talks with some of our awesome alums to feature their recent exploits here. More soon, and we’d love to hear from you if you have news, updates, or adventures to share with our community.

February 4, 2010

Last Call for Poetry! (Free!)

For those of you with a free evening tonight, here’s a golden opportunity from Copper Canyon Press to hear 2009 Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin, and a group of younger poets:

Our benefit reading, W.S. Merwin & Friends is this Thursday, February 4, 7:00, at Town Hall Seattle. (That’s TONIGHT).

The Seattle Times recommended the event, The Stranger starred it, and it is co-sponsored by the indomitable Elliott Bay Book Company.

1) Some general admission tickets are still available: W.S. Merwin & Friends.

2) Free student tickets are available! Through the generosity of donors from around the country, there are approximately 75 free student tickets to distribute. To claim student tickets (2 per person max, please), send an email to studentcomp@coppercanyonpress.org. In the body of the email include the names to be added to the will call list. Tickets will be held until 10 minutes before the reading, then released as needed.

February 2, 2010

Considering Becoming a Teacher?

From Shirley Skeel, in Media Relations, a chance to get the real story:
The School of Education will present a discussion on “A Career in Education? Practitioners Talk about What Life in Schools is Really Like” at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9 in Trimble Forum.

Three teachers will speak about their experiences teaching in a variety of settings. This will be followed by what promises to be a lively and informative discussion. Food will be served. All campus members are welcome to attend. The event is presented by the Teaching and Counseling Professions Advisory Committee.

February 1, 2010

E.T., Phone Home!


The title of this post is, I know, a cheap shot. What was once known, with some disdain, as “Sci-Fi” is now the burgeoning realm of Genre Fiction, and boasts such illustrious authors as H.G. Wells, Neal Stephenson, Mark Twain, and Octavia Butler…and many, many more.

A member of that fine tradition, George Clayton Johnson, will be in the Puget Sound region this week, discussing his extensive career and his new book, Twilight Zones: Scripts and Stories.

He’ll be speaking at the Olympic Room at the Tacoma Public Library on Thursday night, February 4 at 7 p.m., with the doors opening at 6:30 p.m. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in Tacoma, you can catch up with him in Seattle, on Saturday, February 6 at 1 p.m., in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Seattle Central Library. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.

There’s a link with library contact information here.