Capstone Journal

A record of thoughts for the English Capstone class.

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Monday, December 17, 2001
All done. Hope you enjoyed the project, portfolio, and letter, Professor Fox. May your holidays be great!

Monday, October 22, 2001
Been awhile since I've been here. Here's the news:

Yay me! It's about the post-modern urban fantasy, and how it's dissolved so much of the conventional lines of morality in order to attempt to show the REAL world. I'm using examples from Laurell K. Hamilton, Joss Whedon, and Neil Gaiman. I'm going to talk to Professor Fox about research, since I'm not sure what I actually COULD reaearch. Rather, I want to use examples to show how the characters and situations created by these people (Hamilton and Gaiman are authors, but Whedon's a creator, soo...err..*g*) are an attempt to take the reader and urban fantasy to a new level by making it MORE REAL than it's been before. The choice of protagonists, for instance--Whedon uses a valley girl and souled vampire, Hamilton uses a necromancer(?!), and Gaiman has, respectively, two pretty darn normal and really weak guys and an ex-convict--is pretty revealing. I have a partial outline currently that goes like this:
I. Introduction
A. Myths go back a long way, but some images are too persistant to vanish.
B. Recent resurgance by making myth alive and real in the "real" world
1. Works like Neil Gaiman and Laurell K. Hamilton
2. Shows by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) and Angel (A)
C. These shows reinvigorate or discredit old myths and add new layers to them. As well, they also challenge the conventional notions of the good-evil continuum, bringing urban fantasy firmly into the postmodern age.
II. Fiction
A. Introduction: Fiction, especially speculative fiction, always has been used to try and "wake" people up. Recently, some modern fantasy has taken a turn down a path called "urban fantasy," bringing the imaginary in closer contact with the real.
B. Laurell K. Hamilton
1. Some authors accomplish this by a "what if...?" or alternative universe setup. In the case of Hamilton, she simply makes everything real.
a. Vamps, witches, boggles, magic--all of it exists
b. Vamps have been made LEGAL; magic has been written into laws--the world has enfolded the supernatural and seems familiar with it
2. Hamilton's main C, Anita Blake, is a mixture of both worlds. She's human, but a necromancer, meaning she has the inborn (and VERY powerful talent) to raise the dead. But she is also a killer, known to vamps as "The Executioner"; thus her ties between life and death are strangely balanced. As the series continues, her ties with the supernatural become deeper--she loves both a vamp and a werewolf, and she is a vampire servant. Through all this, she continues her fight to be HUMAN--and also where to draw the line in killing others.
C. Neil Gaiman
1. His three main novels--Neverwhere, American Gods, and Stardust--are all journey stories. But they also explore the relationship between the spiritual with reoccuring symbols.

More on all o' this later, but it is late, and I have miles to go before I sleep...jya!

Thursday, September 27, 2001
Yes, I've been a little lax in my Blogging. I intend to use some of tonight and tomorrow to catch up on my notes. Maybe a bit of Sunday, too, if I can ever figure out when to study for my other classes. *la sigh* Sleeping sometimes takes up waaaaay too much of my time.

On Tuesday, again we discussed our project proposals. WHY DIDN'T I GET THAT THE PROJECT DIDN'T HAVE TO BE ABOUT HUCK FINN? Oooh, I'm such a dork. But the proposal, shoddy as it was, seemed to go over well. I'm thinking of maybe dropping the linguistics angle all together, simply because of time restraints and that I have another linguistics project to do. The book critique angle is not totally my forte--if reading my past papers has anything to say about it, at least--but I think it would be an interesting study. So I'm leaning more towards that. If I decide to go WAY out of line, I might do a study of Elves in fantasy as the utopic society. But that would require reading more than just McKiernan fantasy, where they are utopia. (Actually, most non-human races represent the utopia. But I digress...)

Today we discussed the Smiley book about Liddie. What a drastic difference in styles! It was sort of shocking, actually, to hear about the progress of that book. But at the same time, makes sense in the post-modern world. I'm glad to hear one Smiley critique, and that's that HF is boring. WHEW. I agree, for the most part. A lot of times throughout the book, I went, "This is an AMERICAN classic? THIS?! I'll take more London, please..." I guess I'm just the Po-Mo type o' classical reader, even if I do like old style fantasy and that sort of thing.

Not much more to say, but I'll add as the time goes. Jya.

Thursday, September 20, 2001
Today we had a fascinating lecture on editing, tossing in tidbits about the Pierce Project (Peirce?) and the various screwups that have occured in printing. Now I don't feel so bad about nitpicking novels and such that I read, finding the little errors that jump out at with a right cross to the novel's dream, knocking everything on its side for a moment. Very cool. Actually took notes, too, for one of the first times in class, on the differences between editing to present original text and editing to present the author's original intent. There's not many of them, so I won't put them here; they're in my easily accessible notebooky, after all. :)

I probably should discuss project ideas. I'm kinda torn in two, perhaps three, directions on this whole deal. In an attempt to incorporate more of my linguistics concentration into English, I want to do a study of Twain's dialect. Actually, it'd be more like a research paper, presenting if this is actually a pretty fair interpretation of those five dialects spoken in the South. I'd also enjoy reading other versions of the Huck Finn story, be it the letters in the back of the back or the "True Adventures of Huck Finn" or even the Jane Smiley book, perhaps. Then I'd do a sort of critique on them based on the novel, how they diverge, what sort of new themes this brings up, and how they reflect our modern times. Lastly, there's the censorship iussue. I'd love to take a look at how texts prepared for classrooms are bowlderized and why, or why school districts are so very rigid on what kids can read. Hell, we read Martin Eden in AP English, and somehow I wondered how that got past the board. Chock full of good stuff, yes, but it's not a popular London book, from what I can tell. But I never heard of Huck Finn in our curriculum...strange. Perhaps I could check out the English curriculum of my high school or several high schools around here, and ask them why or why not they have or don't have Huck Finn on the list. There's an idea...

More than that, all of these would safely cover all three aspects of English: Lit, writing, and linguistics. It's just a lot of work in a semester that's going to be a lot of work. *sigh* This keeps up, I will have to quit my job.


Tuesday, September 18, 2001
It's such a gray day out. Rain, clouds, little sun. I kinda like it, though. Suits the mood, and perhaps is more conducive to discussion, since the bright days distract people thoughts from classes. I think...:)

Class, class, class. Today we discussed the Lester article in connection with race issues. Lester's article is not a lot of fun to read, because it has such a low opinion of how Twain treats race. It's hard for me to give his ideas credit when I have some knowledge about how Twain felt about racist issues. A hard critic of democracy he was, but of democratic ideals...I think he held them fully. I think he truly believed that people should be held equally. However, I do have to consider Lester's arguments in their context of this time looking back on the book. T.S. Eliot did make a good point when he said that literature from the present/future DOES reach back and change the way works of the past are looked at. The same works for concepts and ideals of the present/future reaching back and coloring the works of the past. A guy in class made a very good point about how looking at Huck Finn through a racial lens will distort the overall picture. It brings to mind Goblin Market,which was a Victorian poem I read for class last semester. It used to be called children's literature, but now it's anthologized at higher levels because there are so many OBVIOUS sexual and religious connotations, including seduction of a woman, rape, and lesbian overtones, as well as a female Christ figure. To the 20th century readers of our class, it was flat out AMAZING that anyone would let children read this poem. But to the Victorians, it seemed all right. I'm sure these sorts of splits will come up more and more between literature of the present and past.

As for my views...well, I'm horribly ambivalent on the whole racial issue. As mentioned earlier in this log, the rampant use of that "n" word was simply amazing to me. I never adjusted to it, even as the book progressed. On the same token, I don't think Huck Finn can really be taken as a racist book. It is a reflection of the time it was written in (well, the time before it was written), and I think it gives a fairly accurate description. I also think that Twain really did layer some subtle irony in the book, especially around racial portrayals. All in all, Jim is the best moral character in the book--even the protagonist can hardly be seen as someone to emulate. Jim is the bastion of family values and free values; the Duke, the King, Huck and others along the river are all somehow flawed in this respect. (Which makes the one author who used Jim's son to write a letter to Huck about his telling of the tale much more credible in his assertions, IMO.) However, there is some stereotyping...but again, I can't help but wonder if this was stereotyping or simply versimilitude. *throws up hands* So it looks like I'll never have a firm, set opinion or side to take on this racist issue. And technically, I don't really care. It's not my primary focus when I look at the book. I'm more concerned about the authorial technique and dialect than I am about analyzing the personality of Twain through his novel. I know it's a good focus to have, but I cannot adopt it because of my ambiguous attitudes. I apologize if I am supposed to find all issues equally fun...I just don't.

I'll end on that lovely note. Ta!

Thursday, September 13, 2001
Although today was supposed to be a discussion of the dialect in HF, there was a lot of talk about the language that was used around the events at the WTC and the Pentagon. Essentially, this was a repeat of a lot of things that we talked about in LPG class, which now that I look at it, I didn't blog. It was about language use around the WTC/Pentagon catastrophe, and extending beyond that, language use in talking about how we'll deal with the people that attacked us. In some sense, it was a much more chilling discussion than the one in LPG because the American leaders are beginning to talk about how hard and fast we're gonna hit. It makes me shiver. At the same time, Prof. Fox gave a speech on how we should seek peace and not bring the might of America down on whoever did this, and it makes me mad. I wanted to yell at him in class, and I think a couple of others did, too...but he has a point. I just can't see how, in the world of realpolitik, it'll work. My Poli. Sci. class keeps coming back to me, reminding me of how often times there is not one sweeping solution.

I ramble, yes. Oops. :)

We did get around to a little discussion of dialect later on in the class, in which we talked about ways that dialect is used: for characterization, for humor and deragatory purposes, or to emote more (such as when people slip into their native tongues in order to better express themselves). Prof. Shepard (our speaker for the day) got a little bit into things like eye dialect (in which words are spelled differently but not pronounced differently, like "duz/does"; also, the use of apostraphes to convey a word is spoken dfferently (because = 'cause). She started to get into the social aspects of it, but then class ended. I would comment about this, but I tend to find it rather silly. :) I know, I know, I should be more sensitive, and I try to be, but the rationalist in me just starts crackin' up.

More next time. C-ya!

Tuesday, September 11, 2001
This was the class I found out in. A friend and Poli. Sci major got a call from Washington, from a friend who wanted to tell her he was all right. Then we walked down the hall to watch TV in another room until class began. When I left that room, the Twin Towers still stood. When I saw the news later, they were gone. Unreal.

It also turned out to be the most surreal class of the day, and my first experience with the "Shutting the Door" academic policy. Essentially, the way to survive in a class is to shut the door, close the world out, and focus on the text. Since the first three classes I had were literary, that's how we went.

In this case, we discussed the ending of HF and the controversy over it. Basically, a lot of Modern authors think that the last ten chapters were just *CRAP*. Many call it a farce, and think that Twain just diddled out an ending, reintroducing Tom and turning Huck and Jim into the minor, insignificant characters at the end. They point out that Huck and Jim have matured on their trip down the river, but Tom has not, and by putting them under his wing again, the whole blooming of characters that comes out of the book is severly curtailed.

I don't quite by into this. :) I think the ending is fine, though a little over the top. I think that Huck and Jim both assert superiority over Tom in a more subtle way. Aside from that, I think there's somethings worth noting. Huck adopts the name "Tom Sawyer" during this time, and in that way, reverts back to being more of a boy again. As I pointed out before, there's a dichotomy between Huck on the river and Huck on land, with RiverHuck being more primative and likeable and LandHuck struggling with the constraints of society. Also, Huck has just made the decision to "go to hell" on the account of Jim, to save his friend no matter what society says. Working through that decision in a farcial manner is very much like a lot of people; for example, those who make great decisions in their lives usually factor some sort of humor into it to defuse the reality of what they're doing. I can see Huck and Jim aiding in this comedic escape simply because both realize how much deep water they're actually in by doing this. It defuses that tension, which I think a lot of Modernists really hate. Another thing is that Twain always satirizes something when he goes onshore, and in this case, I think he's satirizing the drawn out escapes of prisoners in adventure novels. Not only that, the fact that the prisoners always leave behind some totally decipherable sign of their identity is mocked as well. I love when the women describe what they found in Jim's cabin, calling him a crazy person. In a sense, Tom is a crazy person--he's crazy with dreams. He reminds me a lot of my little brother.

Anyways, we went around the class and asked what people thought about the ending, then discussed why some of us felt betrayed and why some liked it. A lot of this is influenced by the Modernist thought (minus Eliot, amazingly enough) that predicted this had to end in tragedy. The sudden comedy at the end is a bit shocking in that light, IMO. We discussed then how ending a story can be so hard, and I agree totally. As a writer, I have an amazingly hard time ending stories, or even getting towards the end, probably because there's so much of a feeling Let down. That's the end? That's IT?? Then he asked how we would rewrite the ending, and there was no true consensus on what would be a good idea...though no one favored the tragic ending.

Next class is a study in dialect, and my LPG professor shows up to talk about that. Since I'm thinking about looking in depth at the dialects of the book, I can't wait.

'Til then!