07 October 2010

Cool Things I Learned From My Students About Dante and the "Pearl"Poet

“[The Pearl Maiden tells her father] he will be disappointed forever if his object of joy is anything but God.”  --Jordan Lettau

“[The Pearl Maiden] is frustrated that [the Dreamer] turns her death, which was a good thing for her, into a bad thing.”  --Janey Schell

“Both Dante the Pilgrim and our Dreamer are two mortal human beings who are trying, and failing miserably, to relate to women who have transcended the material realm.”  --Jonathan Frady

“When people are told what they want to hear, they do not learn anything.”  Audrey Olsen

“[The Dreamer’s] ‘quest,’ in the literal sense, is a quest for his daughter.  But in another sense, it is a quest to find himself.”  --Tom Barlow

“Men find God through their love for women, for in learning to love a woman, a man opens his heart to loving God and becomes receptive to Divine Love, which is the loves that saves.”  --Christina Berring
[gleaned from papers at the end of term Spring 2008]

04 October 2010

RLS320 Literature & Theology, Fall 2010

Literature & Theology                                                                                     Autumn 2010
RLS320                                                                                                           Professor Mead

            30        M         The Book of Job
             1         W         The Book of Job
             3         F          The Book of Job
             6         M         Student Reports on Dimensions of Job
             8         W         Student Reports on Dimensions of Job
            10        F          NO CLASS
            13        M         The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
            15        W         The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
            17        F          The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
            20        M         The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
            22        W         The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
            24        F          The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
            27        M         Burnt-out Case. 
            29        W         Burnt-out Case
             1         F          Burnt-out Case
             4         M         Burnt-out Case. Paper #1 Due.
             6         W         Burnt-out Case
             8         F          Burnt-out Case
            11        M         Brideshead Revisited
            13        W         Brideshead Revisited
            15        F          NO CLASS
            18        M         NO CLASS
            20        W         Brideshead Revisited
            22        F          Brideshead Revisited
            25        M         Brideshead Revisited
            27        W         Brideshead Revisited
            29        F          “The River,” Flannery O’Connor
             1         M         “Greenleaf”
             3         W         “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”
             5         F          “The Artificial Nigger”
             8         M         Poetry
            10        W         Poetry
            12        F          “Letter From  Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King
            15        M         Silence, Paper #2 Due.
            17        W         Silence
            19        F          Silence
            22        M         Silence
            24        W         Silence
            26        F          NO CLASS
            29        M         Silence
             1         W         Silence
             3         F          Edit Session
             6         M         Edit Session
             8         W         Evaluations. Research Paper Due.
            13        M         Research Paper Due. 10:00AM OM369


                                                Course Goals
This section of RLS320 is designed to explore how issues of theological import are played out in literary constructions.  In other words, literature offers the student of religion an avenue for uncovering how religious ideas can be expressed, negotiated, and understood outside of canonical texts.  One might say that all of literature is our Apocrypha.
To give focus to this section, I have chosen the idea of Suffering as a religious practice (or human inevitability) and specifically how the Book of Job presents its audience with images of patience, faith, and the likelihood of justice in this world.  We will spend the first part of the semester reading and talking about Job, then turn our attention to four twentieth-century novels and a few other texts, not simply to compare these texts with “Job,” but to enrich our reading of the modern texts by using “Job” as a lens through which to view the books.
We will begin by reading “Job” first as the original conversation between an impatient man and three other people; then as the responsive additions by a fourth person and God; then with the Prologue and Epilogue as a final level of redactive meaning.  Then, students will prepare presentations of two articles from a single section of The Dimensions of Job. The rest of the semester will be devoted to close and critical readings of our modern texts.
Ours is a small class, so your active and thoughtful participation is essential for its success.  Each student will have to shoulder the responsibility of arriving on time and prepared for pithy discussions.  You may miss up to three classes without penalty, but all classes missed after that will lower your final grade.  Class participation will constitute 20% of the final grade.
Papers #1 and #2 will be brief (1500-2500 word) essays that analyze significant sections of the literary texts through the lens of either your reading of “Job” or that of one of the scholars in The Dimensions of Job.  The research paper—which you should begin thinking about today—must be a serious interpretive essay using at least ten scholarly, peer-reviewed sources (3000-4000 words).  You may choose to write an interpretation of the Hebrew Scripture text(s); you may interpret a literary work through the lens of “Job;” you might even try your hand at writing a modern instance of this ancient story, provided this attempt has a sound and articulated critical foundation.  We can talk about this assignment.
Grades:                        Paper #1         10%
                                    Paper #2         10%
                                    Presentation    20%
                                    Participation    20%
                                    Research          40%
Required Texts:   

The Dimensions of Job:  A Study and Selected Readings. Nahum N. Glatzer, ed.
New York:  Schocken, 1975
                               Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh.  New York:  Black
                                                Bay Books, 2008.
                                    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  Muriel Spark.  New York:
                                                Harper, 2009.
                                    A Burnt-Out Case. Graham Greene. New York:  Penguin, 1975.
                                    Silence. Shusaku Endo.  Marlboro, NJ: Taplinger Publishing, 1980.
Recommended Text:   Job:  The Victim of Hid People. Rene Girard. Trans. Yvonne
                                                Freccero.  Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1987.
Supplied Texts:                        Poetry by Vassar Miller and Lucia Perillo,
                                                 Prose by Rev. Martin Luther King,
                                                Short Fiction by Flannery O’Connor.

Students who require special treatment must see the instructor as soon as possible, and he will make all reasonable accommodations.
Students must complete all work to pass the class.  Late papers are occasionally accepted, but only when arrangements are made prior to the original due date.  Students who plagiarize will fail the class.  Please see my plagiarism policy on my web page.

Office Hours:  MWF  10-11, TR 8:30-9:30, 10-1*
                        AND BY APPOINTEMENT.
                        OM 369, tel. 360-438-4336
* I sometimes have meetings during part of these hours (10-1).  You may leave me a voice or emessage, but I cannot promise to respond before the next class meeting.

Medieval Studies Fall 2010

        30    M     Introduction
         1     W     Marie’s Prologue
         3     F      Marie de France: “Guigemar”
         6     M     “Guigemar”
         8     W     “Equitan”
        10    F      “Bisclavret”
        13    M     “Lanval”
        15    W     “Yonec”
        17    F      “Chaitivel”
        20    M     “Eliduc”
        22    W     Chretien de Troyes:  “Erec & Enide”
        24    F      “Erec & Enide”
        27    M     “Erec & Enide” Paper #1 Due
        29    W     “Erec & Enide”
         1     F      “Yvain”
         4     M     “Yvain”
         6     W     “Yvain”
         8     F      “Yvain”
        11    M     Chaucer: Knight in “General Prologue”
        13    W     “The Knight’s Tale”
        15    F      NO CLASS
        18    M     “The Knight’s Tale” Paper #2 Due
        20    W     “Wife of Bath’s Prologue”
        22    F      “Wife of Bath’s Tale”
        25    M     “Franklin’s Prologue & Tale”
        27    W     “Tale of Sir Topas”
        29    F      Catch-up Day
         1     M     Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Part I
         3     W     Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Part II
         5     F      Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Part III
         8     M     Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Part IV.  Paper #3 Due
        10    W     Pearl, Sections I-V
        12    F      Pearl, Sections VI-X
        15    M     Pearl, Sections XI-XV
        17    W     Pearl, Sections XVI-XX
        19    F      The Faerie Queene, Book I, Cantos 1-2
        22    M     The Faerie Queene, Book I, Cantos 3-4
        24    W     The Faerie Queene, Book I, Cantos 5-6
        26    F      NO CLASS
        29    M     The Faerie Queene, Book I, Cantos 7-8
         1     W     The Faerie Queene, Book I, Cantos 9-10
         3     F      The Faerie Queene, Book I, Cantos 11-12
         6     M     Edit Session
         8     W     Evaluations
        13    M     Research Papers Due by Noon, OM 369.

                                        Class Policies
This is a discussion-intensive class.  It is imperative that you come to class each day fully prepared to engage in a thoughtful and educated conversation about our texts and the cultures that produced them.  We will focus on the idea of “romance” in medieval literature by reading prose stories, romances, dream-visions, allegories, and adventures to explore how this literature expressed ideas about how men and women create both identity and belonging; how gender roles both shaped and were shaped by ideas of identity and community; how morality was conceived, betrayed, and served; how class and its attendant functions of language (reading, writing, listening, etc), affects both the characters in the literature and the audience of the stories.

So, that’s a lot.  How do we get there?  We’ll start by reading slowly and carefully, by allowing the text to determine the terms and measures of our readerly analysis.  We’ll understand that these books were written a long time ago for an audience we might well consider quite alien to us and our sensibilities.  But just as when you enter a stranger’s house and you take off your shoes if that’d what’s done, or don’t smoke, or force down an obligatory beverage of welcome—so here we will look for the “rules” of each text and behave our readerly selves accordingly.  The meta-stuff can come AFTER we learn the terms of the other world.

Reading:  KEEP UP!  Read at least twice; this isn’t a newspaper.  There will be words you don’t know, customs you are unfamiliar with, and a lot of religious considerations that you might be a stranger to.  Write questions in the margins; circle and later look up any words you do not understand.  Keep a reading journal.  Keep asking yourself:  what are the rules of this world?  How do its characters understand reality?  How does the author seems to expect the reader (the medieval reader, or listener) to understand reality?  When is the author being satirical?  Humorous?  Serious? What is the relationship between the author and his or her characters?  What is the genre of the text (allegory, lai, epic, dream-vision, etc.) and how does the genre determine the work’s meaning?

Required Texts:       The Lais of Marie de France. Hanning &
                                     Ferrante, trans.  Grand Rapids,
                                    Michigan:  Baker, 2008
                        Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer.  Kolve, ed.
                                Norton, 1989.
                        Arthurian Romances. Chretien De Troyes.  Kibler, trans.
                                Penguin, 2004.
                        Sir Gawain & the Green Knight/Patience/Pearl. 
                               Marie Borroff,
                               Trans.New York: Yale UP, 2001.
                        The Faerie Queene, Book I.  Edmund Spenser.
                              Carol Kaske,
                               Ed.  Indianapolis:  Hackett, 2006

Office Hours:  MWF 10-11, TR 8:30-9:30, 11-1*
And By Appointment
*I sometimes have meetings during part of the 11-1 hours.

Grading:          Paper #1                  10%
                        Paper #2                 10%
                        Paper # 3                10%
                        Participation            30%
                        Research Paper        40%

Students with special needs must contact the instructor as soon as possible and he will make all reasonable accommodations.
Students suspected of plagiarism will have to convince the instructor that their work is original.  Plagiarists will fail the class.
You must complete all assignment to pass the class.
Late papers are occasionally accepted if arrangements are made prior to the due date.  Late papers often have a habit of lowering your paper grade by one letter a day.
Students who miss more than three classes will have their final grades lowered by one decrement per absence.

Goofus & Gallant in College Writing Class

Goofus skims through the reading—
when he actually does the reading.
He’s never taken a note, nor has he
ever once looked up in the dictionary
a word in the text he doesn’t know.
Gallant reads with a sharp pencil in hand.
He underlines passages that confuse, impress,
or trouble him.  He circles words he doesn’t know and looks them up later, writing the definitions in the margins.
Goofus strays into class, usually
around starting time.  He often brings his book, but usually doesn’t open it.  If he is talking in class, it’s off-the-cuff,
without much thought or reference
to the text.  Goofus usually finds school
texts boring.
Gallant arrives a few minutes early to class to look over the reading, his notes, and some ideas he wants to work on for his paper.  He
uses class discussion to test his ideas; he also
listens seriously to what other students say.
The more familiar Gallant gets with the texts,
The more interesting they seem.
Two minutes before class is over, Goofus readjusts his baseball cap and puts his untouched  text and note book back in his pack,  then heads out for the next class.
Gallant takes a minute or two to make notes of
the discussion points in class, to mark the
passages the instructor pointed out, and to ask
the instructor any questions he has.
Goofus begins his work for class after
Classes, practice, dinner, and a little
“me time” (four hours’ worth).  It’s
usually pretty late, so he’s tired and
not real patient.
Gallant actually schedules his work time.  He
always spends at least an hour in the library
when the sun is up.  He browses the stacks
and gets to know the reference librarians.
Goofus writes his “essay” a day or two
before the due date.  He never revises,
because he wants it “to be real.”
Goofus has never understood
paragraphs, so he just indents every
four inches.  Goofus finds ANY
source that mentions the title of
the book he is writing on and sticks
a quotation in—without explanation
or context—at least once per page.
Gallant has been thinking and jotting down ideas
for his paper since the class began reading the
book.  He has visited the professor  few times
to help work out his ideas and plot out his
thesis statement.  He has revised his paper
four or five times before the first edit
session.  He knows whether his sources
support, challenge or locate his thesis.
Goofus thinks that the formalities of
a Notes page and a Works Cities page
are so twentieth-century.  His paper has no notes, and a Works Cited page that is like a jigsaw puzzle missing half the pieces.
Gallant learns how freaking simple the Works
Cites and Notes pages are, so he does it
mostly right the first time, and gets it
perfect the second time.
When Goofus gets his paper back, he
ignores the marginal notes and
comments at the end and looks only at
 the grade, which he knows is far too low for the paper.  This confirms his sense that the professor doesn’t like him.
Gallant reads the comments and marginal notes, trying to figure out where his paper worked and where the logic was flawed.  Once a grammatical error is pointed out, he learns how to correct the problem.  He makes an appointment
with his professor if he has any questions.

Writerly Terms

Diction—the relative formality of a prose style. Diction is normally of three kinds: high, medium, and low. High diction can be likened to dress; as such it is the “tuxedo” of style. You might find high diction in written laws, contracts, diplomas, official pronouncements, etc. Medium diction (to continue the metaphor) is a jacket-and-tie affair. Most of the language we are exposed to is in medium diction. Essays, newspaper articles, textbooks, and most public speeches are medium diction. Low diction (to beat the metaphor into the ground) is the tee-shirt-and-sneaker approach to language. Our speech with cronies and intimates is often of low diction; we call it being colloquial. In order to make a thematic point or to create a sense of dialect, some literature is in low diction. And yes, that means that vulgarity, obscenity, and the like are beneath low diction.  Kind of makes you think. 

Tone is at once the trickiest and the most revealing aspect of anyone’s language. Tone is most often described with the same words one would use to characterize a person’s emotional state, e.g., “pensive”  “lighthearted” “angry” “sarcastic”. One helpful way to identify the tone of a piece is to ask yourself what mood the speaker seems to be in. Studying word choice and phrasing is a good way to investigate the tone of a work.

Voice is a grammatical term that concerns the origin of action in a sentence. There are two voices, active and passive. “John kicked the ball” is in the active voice. “The ball was kicked by John” is in the passive voice. In an active sentence, the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action; in a passive sentence, the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the action.
Note. The passive voice should be used sparingly, for deliberate reasons.

Mood is another grammatical term. There are three moods: Indicative, subjunctive, and imperative. (There’s also the interjection--Wow! —but let’s not worry about that) The indicative is a statement outright—“It’s time.” The subjunctive is sometimes hard to identify; it relates to statements that are contrary to pure, clean fact: “If I were a rich man” is in the subjunctive mood because the speaker expresses something which may not be true. Note that the verb is in the plural even though the subject is singular. The imperative mood is, of course, the simple command—“Study these terms.” Note that the subject, “you,” is understood and hence omitted.

Subject is the material that you are working with: a book, a project, an individual, etc.

Topic is the particular part of the subject that the writer concerns himself with in the essay. For example, your topic on the subject of the book might be the author’s use of similes, chapter length, the personality of characters, the omnipresence of humor, etc.

Thesis is the particular proposition, or argument, relating to the topic that you advance in a paper. A thesis is a statement of interpretation, as opposed to observation. The thesis is the heart of any critical paper.

Provocative & Interpretative Tests

I would not make 1-5 equal to A-F, but you want to be as close to 1 as you can



1)                  Thesis is greatly surprising, possibly upsetting.  I can easily think of 2 or 3 counterarguments that would offer it formidable challenges.

2)                  Thesis is unexpected, intriguing.  I can think of 1 or 2 counterarguments that would need to be explored in order for thesis to be persuasive

3)                  Neutral.  Thesis may or may not be proven.  The interest will be in the argumentation rather than the argument.

4)                  Thesis is expected, familiar, or apparent.  It would be hard for me to imagine a sound or attractive counterargument.

5)                  Thesis is descriptive, obvious, or unclear.


1)                  After reading this paper, I feel as if I have completely missed a rich layer of meaning in the novel.

2)                  After reading this paper, I feel that my interpretation of the novel has been substantially enriched.   Meanings that I sensed were there are now very much clearer.

3)                  Author uses novel for purposes of illustration, relying on conventional interpretations to support the thesis.

4)                  Occasional allusions to the novel’s artistic meaning are “safe” or obvious.

5)                  Thesis does not offer the reader any interpretive sense of the novel.

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