Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Starting Over

Since my laptop crashed I've been frantically trying to write some portions of my thesis. My notes are mostly gone, so it's like a fresh start... which is usually good, but not always. I've started with a chapter on The Fruit of the Tree

Here's a little of what's been mustered:

Like many writers of her moment, Edith Wharton was deeply concerned with questions regarding nature and artifice. Although as scholar James L. Machor, author of Pastoral Cities, suggests, this concern was not a “central configuration of her work” but rather “a part of the imaginative pattern” (205). Still, even as a few threads in a finely wrought cloth, this part of the pattern is important and persistent across many of Wharton’s novels. Manchor looks to the canonical novel The House of Mirth for his example. There he finds that both the language and plot positioning of Nettie Crane’s story exhibit Wharton’s dissatisfaction with the notion of the “the home as pastoral enclave in the city” (206). For Manchor Lily Bart’s death “constitutes perhaps Wharton’s most ironic, tragic comment on the tenuous appeal but final inadequacy of urban-pastoral projections” (206). Although I find this reading quite compelling, I am somewhat troubled by its through reliance on the symbolic for it’s portrayal of the pastoral project. Of course when dealing with humanity and its cultural products, everything has a symbolic status, nevertheless I think an equally interesting critique of the urban-pastoral can be found in Wharton’s second, and less acclaimed novel, The Fruit of the Tree. In this work the urban-pastoral project in described in both symbolic and ecologic terms.

The opening pages of her 1907 novel The Fruit of the Tree establishes the tension between nature and artifice through Wharton’s descriptions of Justine Brent and John Amherst, two of the primary characters. Wharton presents Justine Brent in the following terms: “[s]he did not use, in speaking, the soothing inflection of her trade: she seemed to disdain to cajole or trick the sufferer. Her full young voice kept its cool note of authority, her sympathy revealing itself only in the expert touch of her hands and the constant vigilance of her dark steady eyes” (4). From this beginning Wharton develops traits in Justine that remain pivotal throughout the novel. Justine, although she fades into the background of the text for several chapters is really the main character, and it is through her perceptions that the reader first glimpses John Amherst who initially seems to be the main actor in the text.

Wharton states:
The nurse, sensitive by nature and training to all physical characteristics, was struck at once by the contrast between his alert face and figure and the silent way in which he moved. She noticed, too, that the same contrast was repeated in the face itself, its spare energetic outline, with the high nose and compressed lips of the mover of men, being curiously modified by the veiled inward gaze of the grey eyes he turned on her. It was one of the interests of Justine Brent's crowded yet lonely life to attempt a rapid mental classification of the persons she met; but the contradictions in Amherst's face baffled her, and she murmured inwardly "I don't know" (5)

Although this passage will likely slip from the readers mind as the text becomes powerfully focused on Amherst, this initial presentation of him is quite meaningful. Justine’s confusion regarding Amherst is well justified by the end of the novel, and so here Wharton is giving the reader exactly what she suggests in her description of Justine Brent, a character that is perceptive, honest, “sensitive to physical characteristics” and given to “rapid mental classification of the persons she met”. Justine Brent represents a scientific mind, a naturalist of sorts, in a highly urbanized setting. The contradictions in Amherst are troubling to her, but for the reader they seem perhaps enticing, after all the many appears to possess both a physique made for action and a mind made for reflection, two traits highly valued in men by western culture. If this troubles the perceptive Brent the reader might imagine that perhaps this is only because a girl in her “lonely” circumstance has not yet met a man possessing so many fine qualities.

However, Wharton’s prose continues to favor Brent’s perceptions. Outside of the hospital in the next chapter Justine “was amused to see that he [Amherst] failed to identify the uniformed nurse with the girl in her trim dark dress, soberly complete in all its accessories, who advanced to him, smiling under her little veil” (8). Brent can identify Amherst in the dim October evening, but he cannot pick her out, the language of this passage suggests that the reason for this is that Amherst has made her a social “type”, a nurse, rather than having examined her physical traits as is Justine Brent’s method.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tagcloud After Thursday

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Will it Never End?

Seriously.... I feel like this is the term from hell, and winter break promises little relief. The paper is in process, but I am not sure it is making any sense. Oh well. I will simply be glad to be done with it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Yes. Today I am 31.... I still procrastinate.... 9 more pages to go.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Grading Portfolios Yet Again

Last stack of portfolios is on my desk... Grading. Final grading.... so exciting to be almost over this term. Just a few big papers left to crank out.... Aghhhhhhhhhhhh

Saturday, December 6, 2008

GP Once More

We're down south. Lots going on here, not much work being done, but overall i'm having a great day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Introduction So Far

On November 9, 1989 representatives from fifteen countries gathered together to discuss the politics of food. From their discussion the Slow Food International movement was formed and began to promote their manifesto that, “[i]n the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer” (“Manifesto” par. 8). Since its inception the Slow Food movement has spread to 122 countries. This movement is not the only one of its kind. In recent years the focus on food has been a critical part of the ecological movement, introducing new concepts and even new language to describe the human relationship with food (locavore for example). These movements represent a sensible ordering of thought around a logical central idea. Food is a logical point around which to organize ones feelings and actions regarding their relationship to nature and resource use, because food is one of the few items that make obvious human reliance on and interconnection with the natural world.

The body of American literature contains multitudes of works focused on humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Many of these works, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, rely upon a worldview which vilifies the urban and elevates the wild as a sacred place apart. This tension between urban and wild is a central element in Willa Cather’s 1925 novel The Professor’s House. Characters such as Tom Outland and Louis Marsellus seem emblematic of this dichotomy. Even their names provide support for this concept, Outland (out-land) as the mesa dwelling place apart, and Marsellus (mar-sell- us) as the eager capitalist who Cather portrays as corrupter of Outland’s legacy. While this division has been widely accepted in many circles for generations, the concepts of glorified “wild” and vilified “capitalist” are not in the end polar opposites, but rather reflections of a similar human desire to manipulate and organize the natural world while conveniently ignoring the relationship between humanity and nature that exists at all levels of landscape.

A useful place for interrogating this binary in The Professor’s House rests in Cather’s representation of gardens. According to garden enthusiast and philosopher Mara Miller, “[t]he task of the garden is to mediate those tensions or polarities which are important for a given culture” (25).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ending with a Boom/ Beginning with Slow Food

It was the last regular day of 121 for my classes today. We ended on a great note, especially in my 10 am class. They were so intensely interested and interactive, it was tremendous. We laughed and joked and learned. I was totally delighted by the experience and I hope some of them will end up in my 214 class. 

In my own work, I've been pleasantly surprised to find that very little has been done addressing food and ecocriticism. In my brief preliminary search I found only a few links. One of the most interesting was a Call For Papers that I wish I'd found sooner.  Even this however does not make the link between food, ecocriticism and fiction. It seems much more interested in the literature of slow food or locavore movements. 

I am eager to really begin the paper, hopefully my enthusiasm will last. 

I also need to find a copy of "Loving Ourselves Best of All". A brief glance at this article has me pretty excited.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ecocriticism and the Locavore

Today I started working on the introductory paragraphs of my Cather seminar paper. In the paper I intend to look at how productive garden's in The Professor's House occupy a place between the idealized wild and vilified city. For me the garden is a place that destabilizes the civilization/nature binary. 

To kick off the essay I've begun by looking at how food has become intimately related with ecology and environmental movements. I will claim that food is a logical point around which to organize ones feelings and actions regarding their relationship to nature and resource use... then examine it in the Cather novel... 

It is only a beginning, but if feels like a good move.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Teach This

Today it became clear that my students don't/didn't understand warrants. The better part of the day was spent explaining warrants in detail and providing a number of exercises to help them get some practice with warrants. It went especially well in my 10am class where students took initiative and began working with other students outside of their groups. In my 8am there was also one remarkable instance of a student working beyond the scope of the assignment to provide a fellow student with some tutoring. 

We also revisited information literacy by discussing context and how context effects rhetoric. We talked about how to search for information about the historical context of an essay, and how to determine if something historically concurrent is also relevant. 

It was a highly productive day in the classroom. 

Outside of the classroom, not so much, but hopefully I can set things right in my own academic house before the week is out.