Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reading Period 15: January 12-25: Greece

Class meeting: January 25
Due date: January 24, 7pm

Long Read: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, chapters 2 and 3.

Short Read: The Iliad, by Homer. Book 22, The Death of Hector


Fragment by Sappho (read all the translations here)

Some an army of horsemen, some an army on foot
and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
on this dark earth; but I say it is what-
ever you desire:

and it it possible to make this perfectly clear
to all; for the woman who far surpassed all others
in her beauty, Helen, left her husband --
the best of all men --

behind and sailed far away to Troy; she did not spare
a single thought for her child nor for her dear parents
but [the goddess of love] led her astray
[to desire...]

reminds me now of Anactoria
although far away,

--Translated by Josephine Balmer

Creative Assignment:

Create a set of before and after illustrations for the characters in The Metamorphosis. Begin with the "status quo" before Gregor was transformed into a bug. End with the final moments of the novel. Use objects, colors, facial expressions, angles, and lighting to indicate the difference in everyone's situation before and after.


Sappho, from a wall painting in Pompeii
One of the most challenging literary jobs is translator. Translators study linguistics and languages, and also literary forms and devices, and work hard to bring life and meaning to ancient and contemporary texts, giving access to audiences that wouldn't normally be able to read them. Sometimes this involves changing idioms and vocabulary to make it relatable for readers in a different culture or time. The most important step in translating is understanding the original work and what the author was trying to communicate, so that rather than giving a word for word decoding, a translator can give readers the intention of the author. After reading all the translations of the Sappho fragment, decide which one you think is the best. Then write your own translation of this poem, giving it meaning for a contemporary audience. Even though you can't understand the original Greek, glean the meaning and message from the other translations before you create your own. You can change some of the references and vocabulary to fit 2016. Your post should include a short explanation of which translation you liked best and why, and then your own translation.

Writing Assignment:

Think about your life and how you feel about your existence at this moment in time. If you were to wake up transformed into an animal that reflects your situation, what would you be transformed into? A hamster in a wheel? A caged bird? A velociraptor? A slug? A robot? A tiger? A lamb? Write a short story in which you describe what happens when you wake up in the morning and experience your own metamorphosis. You can choose whether you can communicate with your family or not, depending on the level of alienation you wish to portray.


Write a 300 word essay about any aspect of Greek art or architecture that interests you, and also an outline of that essay. Whether you write the outline first is up to you, but you must include the outline with your post. Make sure you choose a topic that you can at least summarize in 300 words, and cite the web site(s) from which you derived information.


Read this 19000 word letter that Kafka wrote to his father, and then write a 19000 word letter to your own father. JUST KIDDING! Don't do this one. You have other choices. YOU HAVE CHOICES! Go back! Write about Greek urns! Or being transformed into a wildebeest! Do it!


No quiz! Finish reading Metamorphosis and study for the final exam. There will be at least one question on the final to check that you read the end of the book.

Final exam prep:

1. Read over your notes.
2. Read over all the old quizzes.
3. Read over all the old blog posts.

The final will cover everything in geography from the Phillippines to Austria/Romania/Hungary and everything in literature including The Good Earth, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Metamorphosis.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reading Period 14: December 15 - January 11: Romania / Hungary / Austria

Class meeting: January 11
Due date: January 10, 7pm

Long Read: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Part 1

Short Read: "A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka. As you read this translation, it will make more sense if you know that the hunger artist's "impresario" is sort of like his handler or owner. The master of ceremonies of his show.

Poem: "I Love My Life's Dark Hours" by Rainer Maria Rilke


I love my life's dark hours
In which my senses quicken and grow deep,
While, as from faint incense of faded flowers
Or letters old, I magically steep
Myself in days gone by: again I give
Myself unto the past:—again I live.

Out of my dark hours wisdom dawns apace,
Infinite Life unrolls its boundless space ...

Then I am shaken as a sweeping storm
Shakes a ripe tree that grows above a grave
'Round whose cold clay the roots twine fast and warm—
And Youth's fair visions that glowed bright and brave,
Dreams that were closely cherished and for long,
Are lost once more in sadness and in song.

Creative Assignment:

If Gregor Samsa had only been able to communicate with his family, how different his story would have been! If you're like me, then as you were reading, you were pleading with Gregor just to nod his head, or spell out his name in bread crusts, or something! Just by eliminating this one form of connection, Kafka dooms his character completely. Rewrite the first section of Metamorphosis (at least 300 words) as you imagine it would be if Gregor could communicate with his sister. What conversation might they have? How might they manage to talk back and forth, given that Gregor can't form human words? How might the story go differently and how might the family approach the problem with this change in the way his "metamorphosis" functions?


Listen here, you young poet you. 
Read at least one of these "Letters to a Young Poet," written by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a 19-year-old German boy about to go into the military. He questioned Rilke over whether his poems were any good and if he should keep writing. Especially the first letter has some very good advice about the writing life. For this assignment, write a poem in which you take into consideration some aspect of Rilke's direction to this young man. If you can do it, quietly, thoughtfully, I encourage you to "go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows." Then write about something that you "see and feel and love and lose." When you post your poem, let us know what advice you are responding to, or what advice you are reacting against. For example, Rilke cautions young writers not to write love poetry, but then wrote this:


When my soul touches yours a great chord sings!
How shall I tune it then to other things?
O! That some spot in darkness could be found
That does not vibrate whene'er your depths sound.
But everything that touches you and me
Welds us as played strings sound one melody.
Where is the instrument whence the sounds flow?
And whose the master-hand that holds the bow?
O! Sweet song—

Writing Assignment:

Alienation means feeling like you don't belong, either to society or even to yourself. Alienation is a major theme of both Metamorphosis and "The Hunger Artist." In a 300 word essay, tell how Gregor Samsa and the hunger artist are both alienated from society. Think about their differences in circumstances and their similarities. Don't just say "Samsa is alienated because he's been turned into a bug." That's obvious, but doesn't really tell what the alienation means. Explain the things he can't do now, the rituals and social structures he can't participate in, the connections that are severed because of his situation. Then talk about the hunger artist and how he's isolated, unable to engage with society. By whose choice is each man alienated? Could either man willingly end his alienation? What do you think Kafka is trying to tell us about alienation in a post-industrial world?


Rilke and Kafka both lived in Prague in the late 19th century, when Prague was the capital of Bohemia and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Kingdom of Bohemia no longer exists, nor does the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Have you ever even heard of these places? What happened to them? Do some research and write a 300 word essay on the history of the last 150(ish) years of Prague. Make sure you document (just link to) the sources you used to write your essay. Illustrate it with a photo of any building in Prague that's relevant to Rilke or Kafka, if you can find one. This link may help.


1. What is Gregor Samsa's job?
2. What does that job require him to do on a usual day?
3. Who lives in the apartment (or flat) with Gregor?
4. Who comes to visit on the morning of his transformation, and why?
5. How do we know that Gregor's words are not understood by the people outside the door?
6. What does the Chief Clerk say the boss thinks about Gregor?
7. How does Gregor manage to get the door unlocked and open?
8. According to Gregor, what is hard about being a traveling salesman? List at least two things.
9. What is the Chief Clerk's reaction to Gregor's appeal to him?
10. What was Gregor's father's solution to the problem created by Gregor's presence?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Reading Period 13: December 8-14: Turkey

Class meeting: December 14
Due date for quiz: December 13, 7pm
Due date for assignments: December 20, 7pm
Due date for turning in your paper: In class, Monday December 14

Long Read:

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, chapters 7-12

Short Read:

You've heard the song, now read this short article about the name change in this city. It's also an interesting dissection of how language and politics are linked, and how semantic battles play out, and why it's always important to examine your source.


"Moving Water"
"Only Breath"
"Not Here"
These poems by the Persian poet Rumi can all be found on this page.

Creative Assignment:

The Hagia Sophia is considered the perfect example of Byzantine architecture (the Eastern Roman Empire). Create a drawing or painting or colored sketch of this building, including the domes, spires, and the "wishing column." You'll have to do a little research to figure out what that is and how it works.


Take one of these first lines of Rumi's poems, and create your own poem after it.

1. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
2. What the material world values does not shine the same in the truth of the soul.
3. The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
4. If you want what visible reality can give, you're an employee.


Turkey is currently a very dangerous place to visit or live. Tourism is definitely suffering as the Syrian civil war has put the whole region in crisis mode, plus Turkey recently shot down a Russian plane and is on the brink of war with that superpower. Yet take a look at this Turkey tourism web site. In the spirit of this cheerful, inviting web site, write a 300 word essay making Turkey seem like a great place to visit, completely ignoring the current situation. Use specific examples of things to see and do in Turkey, based on this site. Bonus points if you include satirical references to the looming conflict with Russia.

Look at the Ottoman Empire! It's YUUUUUUUUGE. 
Writing Assignment:

We have been discussing examples and anecdotes in class. In expository writing, examples and anecdotes can be used to support your thesis statement, but they're not the same thing! An example is a category of situations, and an anecdote is a specific situation. For example, if your thesis statement is "The beach is fun!" you may provide the following examples: Waves are fun to jump. Sand castles are fun to build. It's fun to watch the seagulls. And you may provide anecdotes about one specific sand castle you built, one specific time you jumped in the waves, or one funny thing that a seagull did. To practice differentiating between examples and anecdotes, write a 300 word essay with the thesis statement: "I have more fun with my friends." Use examples of things you enjoy doing in groups more than you enjoy doing alone, and include anecdotes of specific times when you enjoyed being with your friends more than you would have enjoyed being alone.


Your paper is due on Monday in class! Please bring the following things:
1. Nice shiny final draft, printed.
2. Rough draft with my comments on it.
3. Peer editing form that your parner gave you AND the draft your partner commented on.

Remember as you revise that you're writing for an audience that has not been sitting in our classroom. They don't know about the character archetypes and they did not hear our discussion of The Brothers Karamazov. Take the time to explain everything, because you're writing for a person who needs everything to be very clear. This was a challenge with everyone's paper! You all need to consider your audience and make sure you're giving enough background information on your ideas for them to be understood. Assume nothing. Explain everything.


1. What real life person does Khattam-shud remind Haroun of?
2. What is Khattam-shud's evil plan to ruin the Sea of Stories forever?
3. What essential part do the Chupwalas remove from Butt the Hoopoe?
4. What details about Batcheat do people keep finding important to mention?
5. What language does Mudra speak, and how does Rashid communicate with him?
6. What is Mali's job and what does he look like?
7. What trick does The Walrus play on Haroun?
8. What clever wish does Haroun make to save the world?
9. What happy ending comes to the sad town that had forgotten its name?
10. What happy ending comes to Haroun and his father?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reading Period 12: December 1-7: India

Class meeting: December 7
Due Date: December 6, 7pm

Long Read:

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, chapters 1-6

Short Read:

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita by Sri Swami Sivananda (pages 7-16 of the linked PDF).


Poems by the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, read by Salman Rushdie in Urdu and then in English:

This web site has more of his poems with English translations. The translations are forced into rhyme -- not sure how wonderful the poems become after this treatment.

Creative Assignment:

Create an illustration of one of the scenes in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Use color and create your image on unlined paper. We should be able to determine which scene you are illustrating by looking at the picture.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories has been compared to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz because of its imaginative landscape and nonsense elements. The scenes and characters in these stories are absurd because they're obviously just made up out of someone's crazy imagination. However, as the novel is teaching us, such imaginary landscapes have value even in absurdity. Write a 300 word description of a made-up place like Kahani. Give it a name. You might include its origins, its inhabitants, its modes of transportation, its plants and animals, its history, its purpose, its imports and exports, its holidays, its landmarks, etc. Make sure your absurdity is on point.

Writing Assignment:

Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988. It was rejected by Muslims as blasphemy, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against Rushdie, ordering any Muslim who saw him to kill him. Learn more about this fatwa and write a 300 word essay about this topic. You may look for biographical information about Rushdie, for news of what the actual effects of the fatwa were at the time, information on what a fatwa is (historically and in modern times), or more about the Ayatollah Khomeini. You can use quotes from Rushdie to support your ideas, anecdotes of specific incidents, quotes from Khomeini, examples of other fatwas, etc. Whichever direction you take your essay, please cite your sources.


Watch the movie, "Gandhi" from 1982, about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the revolution in India, proponent of non-violence, and a popular spiritual leader and hero of India. Write 300 words about Gandhi's life, based on what you saw in the movie. You can include a personal response to the film -- what you thought of it and if you were inspired by Gandhi's ideas as a result. Here's the trailer for the movie, to give you a taste of what it's like:


1. Give a line from chapter 1 that shows you are being told a story, not just reading a book. Where does the narrator make his presence felt?
2. What is the difference between a glumfish and a pomfret?
3. What is Haroun's mother's reason for leaving?
4. Why does Haroun blame himself for his father's inability to tell stories?
5. Why does Butt not stop to pick up or deliver the mail when driving to the Dull Lake?
6. Why does Haroun think that Dull Lake is in the Moody Lands?
7. What is Haroun's second clue that the places in his father's stories might be real?
8. What is a P2C2E?
9. Why has Kahani remained invisible?
10. Who is the stranger arrested by the Guppee patrols?