Emily Dickinson: radical or restrained?

Emily dickinson
Emily Dickinson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was Emily Dickinson a radical poet of the avant-garde, challenging the regularized notions of predominantly male poets and editors regarding stanza shape, typographical publication and distribution, spelling and punctuation, visual and verbal presentation, erotic love, and so on? Or was she a poet of restraint, who restricted herself to a few traditional patterns of meter and stanza, referred to the wayward Whitman as “disgraceful,” and wore her prim white dress as a sign of those renunciations best expressed in that wildest word “No”?

Article on New York Review of Books site.

RUG students – note you have full access to this journal online with your library password.

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World Literature: The Controversy

English: Top view of 1765 de l'Isle globe A 17...
A 1765 de l’Isle globe, showing top view. Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surely we should study world literature? It gives us a chance to encounter something new and challenging. On the other hand, simply because there is so much of it, this encounter may be shallow and reductive. Part of the ongoing debate about this can be found in Caroline Levine’s review of some recent books on the topic, ‘For World Literature’


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What should students study?

A passionate defence of a traditional curriculum that looks at English literature syllabuses in polarised terms (there’s nothing to prevent departments from dealing with Shakespeare, Milton etc. and gender, empire, sexuality etc.

In 2011, the University of California at Los Angeles decimated its English major. Such a development may seem insignificant, compared with, say, the federal takeover of health care. It is not. What happened at UCLA is part of a momentous shift in our culture that bears on our relationship to the past—and to civilization itself.

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton—the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements and replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing. In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”

from Heather Mac Donald, ‘The Humanities and Us‘ (follow link for full text).


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World War One: Read about it

A photograph showing a French bayonet charge t...
A photograph showing a French bayonet charge taken during the Great War. Note the sword bayonets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As this is the centenary of the outbreak of the war there is a flood of books on the topic. Which ones are worth reading? See this roundup of titles from the New York Review of Books:

The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen

Enhanced by ZemantaIf you want to write your own book on the subject you may be interested in the freely available war diaries that have been published by the National Archives in London: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war/

Cinema & philosophy lectures at RUG

Full Program:
30 January (6-8pm): Patricia Pisters (University of Amsterdam).
Powers of Affect: The Neuro-Image in Digital Screen Culture
Respondent: Barend van Heusden. NB: see full details of this talk below.
27 February (6-8pm): Martin Seel (Goethe University Frankfurt).
The Ethos of Cinema
Respondent: Judith Vega
27 March (6-8pm): Josef Früchtl (University of Amsterdam).
The Art of Gesture: Returning Narrative and Movement to Images
Respondents: René Boomkens & Annie van den Oever
1 May (6-8pm): Murray Smith (University of Kent).
From Reflex to Reflection: Thinking and Feeling in the Cinema
Respondent: Julian Hanich
22 May (6-8pm): Gregory Currie (University of York).
Can Film Be Philosophy?
Respondent: Miklós Kiss

Location for all lectures:

Faculty of Arts, Harmony building, Marie Lokezaal
Oude Kijk in ’t Jatstraat 26, Groningen.
Patricia Pisters (University of Amsterdam).
Powers of Affect: The Neuro-Image in Digital Screen Culture
Cinema in the digital age has become a brain cinema. In today’s

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cinema we move through character’s brain worlds rather than following their actions or looking through their eyes. In films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004), Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010), and Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2010) we see characters hooked up to a kind of brain scanning machine to mark the entering of brain worlds. However, also when it is not so literally emphasized contemporary cinema has become a ‘brain cinema’ that runs in parallel to recent discoveries in neuroscience and which differs in major ways from previous dominant modes of filming. In the tradition of Deleuze’s movement-image and time-image, I propose to call this new mode of cinema ‘the neuro-image’. The brain-worlds of the neuro-image are full of senses, gestures and affective forms of resistance. This lecture will focus on the primacy of affect in contemporary culture with a focus on ‘neurothrills’ (that are before or beyond narrative suspense) and affects of surveillance in Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2004) and Evidence Locker (Jill Magid, 2004).

Patricia Pisters is professor of  film studies at the department of Media Studies of the University of Amsterdam.  She is one of the founding editors of  Necsus: European Journal of Media Studies (www.necsus-ejms.eu)  Publications include The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory (Stanford University Press, 2003) and Mind the Screen (ed. with Jaap Kooijman and Wanda Strauven, Amsterdam University Press, 2008). Her latest book is The Neuro-Image: A Deleuzian Film-Philosophy of Digital Screen Culture (Stanford University Press, 2012). See also www.patriciapisters.com

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Eminent popular science writer plagiarises work

This lack of attribution was totally inadvertent and due to carelessness on my part. It in no way reflects on my publishers, Faber and Faber, and I take full responsibility. When downloading material from the internet as part of my research, and coming back to it after a gap of maybe weeks or sometimes months, I simply did not recall that I had not written these passages myself. It is my sincere hope that no damage was done to any individual by the inclusion of any of these passages.

Prof. Lewis Wolpert made an easy mistake, but his excuse probably wouldn’t be accepted by an exam board. All the copies of the book involved will be taken from the shelves.

See article in The Guardian.



In What Is It About Middlemarch? at Vulture.com a writer who is not a supporter of the general principle that literature is morally improving makes an argument for the change in perceptions that reading  Middlemarch can bring about.

The article quotes Virginia Woolf who wrote that Middlemarch was ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up ­people.’ If this sounds a bit sedate we can look to what Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter:

‘What do I think of Middlemarch?’ What do I think of glory except that in a few instances this ‘mortal has already put on immortality.’ George Eliot is one.’

George Eliot (Wikimedia Commons)
George Eliot (Wikimedia Commons)

There is no ideal degree structure. The modular one we use (and which is very common) makes it very difficult to fit in longer novels such as Eliot’s. 5 ECTS divisions allow flexibility in the composition of the degree, but they also ensure that it unlikely that longer or challenging texts such as Middlemarch (longer but easy to read), Joyce’s Ulysses, or The Lord of the Rings will ever appear on the syllabus. Some of the students now are the lecturers of the future so the academic prospects of longer novels don’t look very healthy.

As a final remark I shouldn’t say anything, however brief, about reading longer works without addressing an observation that seems to appear every second week in popular articles about changing reading habits. The internet generation cannot, it is said, deal with extended reading, a fact blatantly contradicted by the success of the later and longer Harry Potter novels, or a casual glance at the size of science fiction and fantasy novels that are both large enough to be used as furniture and often in interminable series (a trilogy is now short). The obvious fact is that people can give sustained attention to anything they’re interested in, and it is both silly and condescending to treat any generation of readers as congenital invalids.