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Introduction to African American Literature

English 2674

Summer 2010


Today’s objectives…

I hope you leave with answers to these questions…

  • How can I succeed in this class?

  • What is the point of this class?

  • What the heck was Toni Morrison talking about?


Syllabus

  • Please read over the syllabus carefully in the next week.

  • Essential questions

  • Text: 2nd edition Norton Anthology.

  • Schedule: chronological, skim-the-surface tour of the literary tradition.

  • Week 7: Your choice.

  • Grading: 500 points total. 10 point scale. (90 – 100 = A, etc)

    • On grade inflation.


  • Composition or spiral notebook.

  • Short (50-100 words) daily entries designed to prepare you to get the most out of readings and discussion.

  • INQUIRY: write in your own journal. Pose a deep discussion question about the reading and ponder it.

  • RESPONSE: write in a classmate’s journal. Respond to their inquiry questions with your own thoughts.

  • Turn in at beginning of class, pick up at end.


  • If you’re absent and have a classmate’s inquiry journal, you’re putting them in a difficult position.

    • Don’t be absent!

    • Contact them and arrange to get it back to them.

    • Write your email in your journal in case this happens.

  • You will receive 1oo% if…

    • Each entry contains a relevant reference to the assigned reading and demonstrates that you read the entire selection carefully.

    • Inquiries pose a thoughtful question.

    • Responses address the question at issue.

    • Length requirements are met.

    • Work is completed on time.

  • You will NOT receive credit for IR Journals on days you are absent, and they cannot be made up.


  • Groups Presentation starting next Wednesday and throughout the semester

    • See schedule in syllabus for dates.

    • Groups of 8.

  • 30 minute presentations based on research.

  • Sign up on Moodle opens today at 1:00 and closes Friday.

  • Assignment specifics can be found on the assignment sheet (on Moodle and part of the online syllabus).

    • Key words for success: creativity, research, collaboration.


  • Project 1, Project 2, & Final Exam

    • Will be announced in class and posted on Moodle.

    • Academic essays based on assigned readings and in-class discussion.

    • Best way to prepare: read carefully, write thoughtfully in your IRJ, do your part to have rich class discussions, take good notes in class.

    • Hint: Project 1 will likely be involve the theme of LITERACY and will probably require you to use at least one of Morrison’s ideas from “Unspeakable…”


    Bonus points

    • Watch and write responses to any of the 5 films listed in the syllabus.

    • Each response will earn between 1 and 20 points, based on the quality of the ideas and the writing.

    • You may complete up to 3 bonus assignments during the semester.

    • Films can be obtained at the EBR public library. Some are at Middleton and some can be found online.


    Help is available.

    • I’ve listed 7 sources for help.

    • If you are struggling, please seek out help proactively and early in the semester.

    • Office hours: MT 1-2:00. I am also available by appointment.

    • Everyone should visit my office hours at least once during the semester.

    • Please read this handout for important guidance:


    Other important expectations.

    • Academic Integrity.

      • LSU Code of Student Conduct

    • Academic Civility

      • Be a contributing member of the class, not just a warm body in a seat.

      • For one hour a day, set everything else aside.

      • Phones, computers, newspapers, other class work should be in your bag during class.

        • If there is a good reason you need to use a phone or laptop during class, please talk to me in advance.

        • If you have something more important to do, please do it elsewhere.

        • Hint: texting under the desk is not as stealth as some folks think it is.


    Your tasks for this week

    • Sign up for a presentation (on Moodle starting at 1 pm today).

    • Make suggestions about Week 7 reading (on Moodle; optional)

    • Get a text ASAP. Remember: 2nd edition.

    • Read Morrison, Jacobs (T,W) and Douglass (Th,F).

    • Write Inquiry 1 for tomorrow (R1 Wed; I2 Thurs; R2 Fri)

    • Read the syllabus carefully and email me any questions it raises for you.


    Today’s objectives…

    I hope you leave with answers to these questions…

    • How can I succeed in this class?

    • What is the point of this class?

    • What the heck was Toni Morrison talking about?


    Toni Morrison

    Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, 1987

    Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993

    Professor of American Lit at Howard,

    SUNY and Princeton


    Toni Morrison“Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature” (1988)

    I. Race/Blackness as the “unspeakable unspoken”

    A. Today: well-intentioned “colorblindness”

    For 300 years black Americans insisted that “race” was no usefully distinguishing factor in human relationships. During those same three centuries every academic discipline…insisted “race” was the determining factor in human development. When blacks discovered they had shaped or become a culturally formed race, and that it had specific and revered difference, suddenly they were told there is no such thing as “race”… (2300)


    B. Historically: African American presence as “the ghost in the machine,” fundamental but invisible

    We can agree, I think, that invisible things are not necessarily “not-there”; that a void may be empty, but it is not a vacuum. In addition, certain absences are so stressed, so ornate, so planned, they call attention to themselves; arrest us with intentionality and purpose, like neighborhoods that are defined by the population held away from them. (2306).

    What intellectual feats had to be performed by the author or his critic to erase me from a society seething with my presence, and what effect has that performance had on the work? (2307).


    • [19th century white writers] could write about [African Americans], but there was never the danger of them “writing back.” Just as one could speak to them without fear of their “talking back.” (2308)

      • An imagined monologue, created by erasing half of the dialogue.

      • We’ll read a few of the many African American voices who DID write back and talk back.

      • We’ll reconstruct, reimagine the DIALOGUE of American literature and by extension, history and culture.


    How to read literaturea few tips extrapolated from Dr. Morrison

    • Pay attention to every word, every image.

      • nightshade and blackberries, 2316

      • “believed” versus “thought” he was safe 2319.

      • ANNOTATE your texts!

    • Remember that authors make choices.

      • Beloved’s confusing opening versus Song of Solomon’s journalistic one 2317 & 2320.

    • Read a text on its own terms instead of imposing yours.

      • “The subliminal, underground life of a novel…” (2321)

      • “Those who have entered the text” versus “those who resist it.” (2322)


    To ponder…

    • Other than melanin and subject matter, what, in fact, may make me a black writer? Other than my own ethnicity—what is going on in my work that makes me believe it is demonstrably inseparable from a cultural specificity that is Afro-American? (rel. to EQIII)

      • Your thoughts?

      • Morrison’s thoughts?


    To do…

    For tomorrow

    • Read Harriet Jacobs (first part)

    • Write Inquiry 1

    • As you read, consider key questions #2, 6 and 8.

      By the end of the week:

    • Read the syllabus.

    • Get a textbook (2nd edition!)

    • Sign up for a presentation

    • (optional) Make suggestions about Week 7 reading


    One important change to the syllabus (page 2)

    Key question #6.

    Please change it to:

    What does Morrison mean by “the unspeakable unspoken” and how do authors deploy it in their work?

    (changed from original)


    Key questions for today’s discussion (from syllabus)

    #8. How does Jacobs use this narrative to construct her own identity?

    #2. In what ways does Jacobs (and others in this narrative) resist oppression?

    #6 (rev). What is unspeakable/unspoken in Jacob’s narrative?


    Some background on Harriet Jacobs, aka “Linda Brent”

    Video clip: American Passages, 13:00.


    • General reactions, thoughts, responses to Jacobs?

    • What lines, phrases or words did you mark in the text?

    • What questions did you pose in your inquiry journal?


    Constructing identity in literature:

    How does Jacobs portray herself?

    • “I wish I were more competent to the task I have undertaken” (280)

    • Description of father , mother and grandmother (281-2)

    • Description of her first mistress: “I loved her, for she had been almost like a mother to me…my tears fell upon her grave” (283)

    • “My mistress had taught me the precepts of God’s word…” (283)


    Resistance to oppression:

    • 285: Grandmother’s tactic

    • 287: Unsuccessful tactic of nameless woman

      What’s the key difference?


    • What lesson does Jacobs seem to have learned about speaking the truth?

    • How is this reflected in her writing, here?

      • What is unspoken, but still made clear?

    • How is it reflected in her own strategy of resistance and how she describes it?

      • 290-291

    • “The degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe” (288)

    • “They were aware that to speak of [the ‘guilty practices’ of Dr. Flint] was an offence that never went unpunished” (288)

    • “Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I were not as silent as the grave” (288)

    • “Both pride and fear kept me silent” (289)


    Recap/synthesis and looking forward…

    #8. Constructing identity

    #2. Resisting oppression

    • Keep an eye out for paradox and irony throughout this section.

      #6. Unspeakable/unspoken

    • What role does silence continue to play?

    • How is silent resistance often related to trickster-like moves?


    #8. Constructing identityWhat changes and what stays the same about Jacob’sself-portrait?#2. Resisting oppressionWhat are the ironies or paradoxes of Jacobs’ escape?#6. Unspeakable/unspokenWhat role does silence continue to play?How is silent resistance often related to trickster-like moves?

    Harriet Jacobs, day 2. Key questions


    The garret and the loophole

    as paradox and as symbol.


    Your thoughts…

    • Key passages or phrases

    • Questions

    • Interesting inquiries you read and responded to?


    The unspeakable; silence

    • “Jenny” (303) contrasted to Benjamin (305) and Ellen (306)

      • Another paradox: under the system of slavery, to tell the truth is not virtue, but vice, not faithfulness, but betrayal. Slavery turns morality upside-down.

  • Silent resistance via “trickery”

    • Like HJ’s grandmother

    • Luke’s escape plan (309)


  • For tomorrow: Frederick Douglass and inquiry 2.

    **SKIP THE PREFACES, 387-95. **

    Key Questions

    #2.How did Douglass resist oppression?

    #6.What is “unspeakable” here?

    #8. What kind of identity did he create for himself in the Narrative?

    #11. In what ways does Douglass call attention to the “The American Joke”?

    Compare & Contrast Douglass and Jacobs.


    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

    The first of 3 autobiographies he would write.

    Among the most famous writers/speakers of his day.

    Aimed to create a “heroic image

    of himself” as a “representative man”

    Many later writers would follow his example.


    Key questions, Ch 1-2

    #2.How did they resist oppression?

    #6.What is “unspeakable” here?

    #8. What kind of identity did they create for themselves?

    With a partner: compare & contrast Douglass and Jacobs on these (and other, if you like) key points.


    “The American Joke” (key question #11)

    • “Nothing is ever as it seems”

    • The inescapable paradox of a nation built on freedom and enslavement simultaneously.

      • contradiction, or cruel joke, at the heart of the nation.

      • innumerable ironies and paradoxes to which many African American authors call attention.

    • Jacobs

      • Freedom via confinement (297-300)

      • “Free” states not really free under the Fugitive Slave Act (309)

    • Douglass

      • Songs: joy/sorrow

      • Religious hypocrisy


    For tomorrow: Finish Douglass; Response #2

    CONCENTRATE ON

    Ch 6, 7 (409-14),

    Ch 9 , part of 10 (417-429).

    SKIM OR SKIP the rest from 401-452

    KEY QUESTIONS

    #5 Writing’s link to freedom

    #11 The American Joke

    • N.B. Lots of irony and sarcasm—especially regarding religion & religious hypocrisy.


    Please sit according to the presentation group you’re in.

    Front of Class

    Windows

    Gospel & Spirituals

    Blues

    Jazz

    R&B

    HipHop

    take 5 minutes to exchange contact information, plan a meeting, or whatever first steps you want to take in planning your presentation.


    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,Chapters 6-7, 9-10.

    KEY QUESTIONS

    #5 Writing’s link to freedom (among other things)

    #11 The American Joke

    Your ideas, thoughts, reactions?

    Interesting passages?

    Conversations in IRJournals?


    Literacy as the key to…

    • identity and self definition.

    • mental and physical freedom.

    • Resisting oppression.


    Literacy

    The American Joke

    Power –vs- weakness (418-19)

    Christianity = cruelty (419-20)

    Holidays as “fraud” (428)

    • Hugh Auld’s reaction and the way Douglass interprets it (410)

    • Douglass’ ways of learning (412, 414)

    • The Columbian Orator and the importance of what he reads

    Signifying

    • Sarcasm

      • Ex. Calls Covey a “pious” man; means the opposite of what he says (419).


    Questions to consider

    • What would you consider the turning point(s) in Douglass’ narrative?

      • Is there a pattern in the language or imagery across multiple turning points?

    • What would you say about the relationship between the mental/intellectual and the physical for Douglass?

      • Is one more important?

      • Does the relationship change?


    Next week…after emancipation

    1865-1919: Reconstruction through “New Negro” movement

    Ida B. Wells, journalist, lecturer

    Charles Chesnutt, fiction writer

    Paul Dunbar, poet

    Booker T. Washington, educator, orator, politician

    W.E.B.Dubois, historian, sociologist, activist, art critic

    syllabus change: delete “The Goopherd Grapevine” (Tues).

    c

    a

    b

    d

    e


    Key Questions for Ida B. Wells-Barnett

    #2Strategies of resistance

    • What strategies does Wells-Barnett use to resist lynching and injustice?

    • What strategies does she advocate?

      #6The “unspeakable unspoken”

    • How does Wells-Barnett treat “unspeakable” topics?

    • What seems to be her relationship to silence?

      #10The role of literary hybridity

    • In what ways might Wells-Barnett’s text be considered a kind of “hybrid” form? Is this new, or is it something we have already seen?

      #11The American Joke

    • Note the ways in which Wells-Barnett calls attention to irony, paradox, and inconsistencies in the nation.


    (unused slides)


    Harper’s Weekly

    New York

    April 21, 1877


    The unspeakable

    • Anonymous, THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE, OR THE INHUMANITY OF DEALERS IN HUMAN FLESH EXEMPLIFIED IN CAPTN. KIMBER'S TREATMENT OF A YOUNG NEGRO GIRL OF 15 FOR HER VIRJEN (SIC) MODESTY (1792)


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