special projects

1. Read The Sot-Weed Factor and write a report on the book that is aimed at providing those of us who have read other Barth but not this particular book a general sense of it – an overview of modes and themes. Prevent yourself from getting too fancy. Describe the book and its method or approach or mode, and possibly put it in the context of others we’ve read by the same writer. Due March 26 - Rivky

2. Read Coming Soon!!! A Narrative and write a report on the book that is aimed at providing those of us who have read other Barth but not this particular book a general sense of it – an overview of modes and themes. Prevent yourself from getting too fancy. Describe the book and its method or approach or mode, and possibly put it in the context of others we’ve read by the same writer. Due March 26 - Ashlee

3. What was John Barth like as a professor, teacher, colleague, MFA program mentor, etc., at Penn State, SUNY Buffalo, and Johns Hopkins? What courses did he teach? Try to speak with or correspond with people who knew him (perhaps as students) at any of these places. What was/is Barth’s sense of academia for the writer? Due April 9 - Alice

4. Interview Max Apple about John Barth, asking him absolutely everything you can think of that might help us introduce ourselves to Barth’s work and his person(ality). Due April 16 - Gwen

5. What does Karen Finley teach at NYU? In what program or programs does she teach? What can you find out about her situation/place there? Try hard (use energy and journalistic/reporting skills) to reach people (students, former students, colleagues) who can give you some first-hand info. Due February 6

6. Read books and articles about modern and contemporary performance artists and try to get a sense of how and to what extent Karen Finley befits the history and development of this particular art form/mode. How is her art and practice considered relative to that of Laurie Anderson, Kathy Acker, Holly Hughes, Joan Jonas, Yves Klein, Andy Kaufman, Vito Acconci, Vaginal Davis? And consider the influence on her of Lenny Bruce. Learn enough about these three theatrical/avant-garde phenomena sufficient to describe Finley's art as part of the lineage of: (1) the Living Theater, (2) Ubu (Alfred Jarry specifically and Theater of the Absurd more generally), and (3) Artaud. And: Is there – might there be – any connection with the Spoken Word movement, with the mode of one-act plays, with self-performative dramatic monologists? In short: to what extent is it helpful to think of Finley in the context of contemporary drama? Then talk with Caroline Rothstein, a young/emergent one-woman-show/spoken-word performer, and try to gauge the impact Karen Finley has had on the new generation of wordy feminist performers. Due February 6 - Josh

7. Write a report after investigating Ron Silliman’s attitude toward academia. Research every possible aspect of the issue. Read his blog for entries/mini-essays that talk about academic approaches to contemporary poetry, about academic poets, etc. Educate yourself about his (and other Language poets’) early engagement with theory and see if you can discern and explain to us the difference (if there is one) between his and their approach to theory and that of university academics. Can you find out specifically why Silliman has not taken a position at a university, unlike so many of his LangPo colleagues? Note that “Lit” (a long poem in The Alphabet) was written during a year when Silliman was teaching at a university. Read all of “Lit” and tell us how that poem responds to that experience, positively or negatively? Read several of his talks and/or essays of literary interpretation (including interpretations of movies on the blog, if you like; and/or reviews of new books) and see if you can discern and report on differences between his approach in such essays and that of the typical academic writer. Does Silliman respond at all to the potential irony of his recent acceptance as a poet into the canon of contemporary poetry taught at universities – to the “popularity” of language poetry in academe? Make an appointment to speak with Charles Bernstein and speak with him specifically about this topic (not others). Convey Bernstein’s response in your report. Due February 27 - Matt

8. Interview Bob Perelman (in person) about the importance of and impact of the “Talks” series that he hosted in the Bay Area – and which brought together many of the “language-centered” poets and other avant-garde comrades in that scene. Then broaden the questions so as to get BP to discuss the impact on Ron Silliman’s ideas and poetry of the collective thinking/theorizing about poetics that was going there in the late 70s and early 80s. In what ways did the communality of that group of young poets (and their elders, such as Robert Grenier) shape Silliman’s writing overall? How did being part of a so-called “movement” affect Silliman in general? What were the down sides, and what were the advantages? How did moving away from the Bay Area affect this, if at all? Due February 27 - Amelia

9. Go back and read as much as you can about the attack on Karen Finley during the NEA crisis, 1990-1998 – especially focusing on 1990-91. What did Senator Jesse Helms say about her? What did Novak and Evans (conservative columnists) write? What did the Finley/NEA Four controversy have to do with the general “culture wars” of the late 80s and early to mid 1990s? What effect did the whole controversy have on Karen Finley’s career? How has the NEA been affected? What is the status (legal and also informal) of the concept that considerations of “decency” should guide the awarding of federal grants? Due January 30 - Eitan

10. Barth’s “The Exhaustion of Literature” was taken as a polemic – a rallying cry against conventional fictional realism (John Updike, et alia) and for experimentalism and postmodernism. It seems that Barth was somewhat surprised that it was taken as such a strident and dogmatic statement. (Read his new preface to the essay to get a sense of his response to the initial response.) Research as hard as you can to find out the impact that essay had. What were the responses to it? What kind of reputation does the essay have? How does it figure in tellings of the history and development of contemporary postmodern fiction? Read around in two or three scholarly books that summarize the development of postmodern American fiction, and tell us where Barth's "Exhaustion" fits in them. Then read reviews of Lost in the Funhouse and summarize what reviewers said about that book and its place within the “argument” between conventional realist fiction and narratively experimental postmodern fiction. How do responses to Funhouse befit the “place” of “The Exhaustion of Literature” in the discussion of literary trends in the 1960s? In what ways are the two texts paired? Then speak with Rob Friedman, who was (briefly?) Barth’s student and who may have witnessed (or at least heard directly about) an argument between John Gardner and Barth on the issue of whether fiction should be “moral.” Tell us what Friedman has to say about how that argument was staged and what effect it might have had on him and others of his cohort as writers. Due April 9 - Chase

11. Interview two young Penn feminists – Grace Ambrose and Trisha Low (both C’11) – about the impact reading and seeing and meeting Karen Finley had and has had on them. Write fully about their response. What specifically attracts them to and excites them about Finley? Due January 30 - Lindsey

12. Talk with as many readers of Silliman’s blog as you can find, and try to ascertain an overall sense of what impact the blog had had on contemporary poetry and poetics. There are proponents and detractors of the blog, but nearly everyone in the poetry world admits that Silliman’s early move into the blogosphere has drawn a positive attention – to his work, to his status as a certain kind of arbiter from a certain recent generation of poets, to his ideas and positions (e.g. about the “School of Quietude”). Write a summary and assessment of the impact and importance of Silliman’s blog. Naturally, this will require you to read many, many of the blog’s entries across the years. Come upon some controversial blog posts and follow responses to them (as comments in the blog itself but also elsewhere). Due March 12 - Shelby

13. Read at least ten reviews of Giles Goat-Boy and write a summary of them. What trends do you find? What was the overall response? Did reviewers feel that this book continued along the path Barth’s work was going, or did it seem to them to be a change in direction? Due April 2 - Tatum

14. Contact Ron Silliman and ask if you can speak with him for 30 minutes about this specific topic: what impact, if any, has the move from the Bay Area to the Philadelphia area had on his life and writing? Is the change specifically discernible in his writing (in particular poems)? In the development of his ideas in general? In his coming upon topics or forms for new books and projects? Also: in the Bay Area he was generally proximate to a vibrant writing scene of colleagues, but in the Philadelphia area he is somewhat remote from such a scene. Has this possibly more literarily solitary mode had an effect? (Or has the capacity of the internet overcome any such tendency toward isolation?) Due March 12 - Emily

15. Find two or three novelists or short story writers who befit the mode of fiction in which John Barth is so obviously NOT engaged. Be sure you are talking with such writers who are at least somewhat familiar with Barth. Talk with them and try to learn of their qualms and hesitations and doubts about Barth’s “postmodern” mode. Why do they dislike Lost in the Funhouse, for instance? Summarize for us their misgivings about Barth and his mode. Due April 16 - John

16. Read Barth's newest book, Final Fridays, and write a report for us that summarizes and describes it - and relates it, where possible, to the other works we've already read. This is being published in March, so it'll be hot off the presses when we read and write about it. You'll be the only one, likely, to have read it when Barth visits and we can be sure Barth will want to have someone's response to his newest publication, so you'll be a star. Due April 16 - Daniel