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CONFIRMATION MESSAGES: Within two days after receipt, I'll email you an initial confirmation letting you know that I received your journal set, and a week or so afterwards I'll email you a more formal message with your grade for that set. If you don't receive a timely initial confirmation, it's your responsibility to let me know very soon (not weeks later!) – if I don't confirm receipt, I may well not have received your message and you will need to resend it.

FORMATTING OF JOURNAL SETS Use a common typeface like Times New Roman, Calibri, etc. and ordinary point size and margin settings. On average, "a page" means approximately 500 words. Don't skip several spaces between individual entries, but please include an initial bolded title line for a given author or text so I know what you're writing about. On average, by "a page," one means approximately 500 words. Or as the mafia boss Sam Rothstein says to his hapless chef in Scorsese's Vegas film Casino, "From now on, I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin. An equal amount of blueberries in each muffin…. I don't care how long it takes. Put an equal amount in each muffin."

Journal Set 1 (Weeks 1-6): the first section of the course concerns short fiction. 1-1/2 pages of reflections (single-spaced) total for each of our primary assigned authors should do fine. In a few cases, we are reading short critical texts about the primary authors -- include some reflection on at least one such critic's comments for each relevant author (Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner). Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of SUNDAY 03/04.

Journal Set 2 (Weeks 7-11; see syllabus for due date): the second section of the course concerns poetry. Since I have assigned short poems by quite a number of poets for variety's sake, what I would like to see is a few detailed paragraphs (single-spaced) each on at least several of the authors assigned for each poetry week. In other words, you don't need to cover all of the authors for any given week, but you should address several of them and not skip over any week's authors. In one case (Harlem Renaissance), we are reading short critical texts about the primary authors -- include some reflection on at least two such critic's comments. Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of SUNDAY 04/08.

Journal Set 3 (Weeks 12-16; see syllabus for due date): the third section of the course concerns drama. 2-3 pages of reflections (single-spaced) total for each of our primary assigned authors should do fine. Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of FINAL EXAM DAY.


Start by creating a single file for an entire journal set: then you can add all your entries for the set to it. Don't wait until near the due date for the full journal set to do the entries; instead, write down your reflections as we go through each author's work. That way, you will find the journal sets less burdensome and they will be what they should: a chance to get credit for working out and confronting your own ideas and questions about the texts we will study. Ideally, you should do your individual entries before we discuss the works or portions thereof in class since that would allow you to participate better and get more from class sessions, but doing the entries not long after a class session is certainly acceptable.

What should go into the individual entries that make up a given set? Focus on each text's specific language, themes, and structure to develop your comments, and on substantive questions or observations that arise about the works themselves as you read and reflect. Do NOT bother with the following: detailed biographical material, ideas gleaned from professional online or hard-copy "notes," or vague generalisms about life and literature. As the British romantic poet William Blake once wrote, "to generalize is to be an idiot." (Of course, that's in itself a generalism, but still ….) Your thinking should be your own, not a copy-and-paste job. It would be unfair to suggest that all of the online notes one finds on the Web are inaccurate or inept, but the truth is that they usually say what "everybody knows." Simply retailing what everybody supposedly thinks about a given work won't encourage you to learn anything in the deepest sense (the kind that means something to you personally) from your engagement with literary works. Strike out instead on your own path. The Impressionist critic Walter Pater said that any critic's first task is to register and come to grips with his or her own impressions about the object being experienced. Pater was right: if you can't get clear on your own impressions, on your own questions and observations, you're not likely to say much that interests anybody else. Make that clarity your goal, then, in the journal entries and full sets that you develop.


While you will probably want to maintain your journal set by means of free-form entries as noted above, you may find one or more of the following questions useful on occasion as a means of developing your own ideas.

1. For one part of your longer entry on a given author/work, consider a very limited portion of the text -- a stanza or two from a poem, a short passage from a longer prose work, or a small section chosen from within a scene in a play. Analyze it in as much detail as you can: what formal, thematic, or other matters are most important to attend to there, and why?

2. What did you find most difficult to understand (or, alternately, to accept or like) while reading the text/s assigned for this author? What did you do to try to get past the difficulty you describe and understand the work better? Explain with reference to some specific quality that you can tie to a specific part of the text, not with vague and general remarks.

3. Offer an assessment of what you consider most worth noting about one text assigned for a specific author: in other words, what do you take away from your experience with the work, what realizations or problems, etc. has it brought into focus for you? Explain with reference to specific qualities or issues -- don't respond with vague praise or unqualified dismissal.

4. Why not generate your own specific, substantive question/s and respond, as if you were writing a thoughtful study question or set of them for a particular author/text?

Period or Movement-based Questions

5. To what period and/or movement does the assigned text belong? How do the relevant Norton Anthology's author/period/movement introductions (or other critical material you specify) influence your understanding of the text's meaning and value? How do specific qualities or characteristics of the text illustrate or, alternately, play against the movement-based or period-based expectations you brought to that work?

Genre-based questions

6. If the assigned work is a poem, the key thing to discuss is usually its quality as language -- I mean that in poetry, it's often not so much "story" or "action" that matters most, it's the medium itself: the refined, thought-provoking, emotion-inducing, clarity-enhancing arrangement of words on a page. Words are playing in a very intense spotlight in poetry. How is that quality on display in the particular poem/s you're now reading?

7. If the assigned work is prose fiction (a short story, novella, or full novel), the key thing to discuss is probably its way of proceeding as narrative, i.e. as a piece of writing that tells a story. What strikes you about it as a story -- is it the story itself? The narrator? The characters? What's distinctive, that is, about this particular piece of story-telling fiction by this author? Discuss with reference to one or more specific passages in the text.

8. If the assigned work is a drama, one key thing to discuss is often the play's manner of representing an action: a play's script is meant to bring carefully delineated or imagined events to life on a stage and thereby to evoke an intellectual/emotional response in an audience. What specific resources (language, structure, settings, realism, symbolic content, character development or revelation, etc.) does the playwright most fully bring to bear in order to further the play's aims as a representation of some "action"?


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