Looking Ahead: Back to the Future

On Friday, we’re going to be watching parts of the Robert Zemeckis film, Back to the Future (1985).  Lately, the 1980s have been on a lot of people’s minds for a lot of reasons.  Think about what was happening in our country, the world, and in our culture that could have caused anxieties about the distance between the past and the hope for a future.  In order to prepare for Friday’s class, you may want to read about Reaganomics, the savings and loan crisis, the Cold War, and the films of John Hughes.

It also wouldn’t hurt to explore some of the links and videos below. Continue reading


Reading Agenda for the Upcoming Week

Here’s a list of texts that we’ll be reading in the upcoming week.

On Tuesday, we will read a short piece, the opening chapter to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  If you are not familiar with this book and its place in US culture, read up on it at Wikipedia.

On Wednesday, we’ll be reading two essays, “Detroit Arcadia:  Exploring the Post American Landscape” by Rebecca Solnit and “Supermarket Pastoral “by the environmental journalist Michael Pollan.  This is a part of a chapter from his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  In addition to exploring these readings, I encourage everyone to look at this amazing photo essay / collection by James D. Griffioen. Continue reading

Looking Ahead: Henry David Thoreau, “Economy” and “Sounds”

I have finally scanned the readings for tomorrow’s class. They are available here:  Thoreau’s “Economy”  and Thoreau’s “sounds

Here are some questions to keep in mind when reading Walden.

Thoreau’s Walden marks our transition from British literature to the American literary tradition.  We have finally arrived at Leo Marx’s assertion that pastoral works in English literature, like The Tempest, are precursors to the same concerns, desires, tensions, and challenges that typify the American experience. Continue reading

Looking Ahead: Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience

William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience is a series of poems that dramatizes the fundamental pastoral movement we have seen in many of our texts:  the journey from a world of innocence to a reality of experience.  Each “song of innocence” has a companion “song of experience.”  Blake is a poet who believed that “without contraries there is no progression,” and these poems, according to Blake, show contrary states of the human soul.

How do these poems show progress?  What tensions to they hold against each other? What is the difference between one of Blake’s songs of innocence and his songs of experience? Continue reading

Looking Ahead: Milton’s “Lycidas”

Tomorrow, we’ll be making yet another transition into a Renaissance function for pastoral:  expressing vocational authority. Before (or maybe after) reading Milton, take a look at the first stanza of Spenser’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene. (Read Wikipedia if you’ve never heard of this epic).

Spenser’s 1st stanza in The Faerie Queene

Lo I the man, whose Muse whylome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shephards weeds,
Am not enforst a farre vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds:
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds,
Whose praises hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song. Continue reading

Looking Ahead to the Country House Poems

On Thursday, we’re going to be looking at Raymond Williams’s chapter, “Pastoral and Counter-Pastoral” comes from his famous book, The Country and the City.  Williams is best known for his analysis of that key pastoral tension, the distance between the country and the city, in terms of labor and class structure.  After reading Williams’s chapter, consider the following questions as you prepare for discussion.

According to Williams, why is the country always dependent on the city, and vice versa? Continue reading

Looking Ahead Again to The Tempest

Here are some things to keep in mind as we move toward the end of The Tempest.  We’ve already got a good framework in place when it comes to the pastoral.  After reading Virgil’s Eclogues, we should have come to realize that a very typical pastoral dynamic is deep sadness, which is a basic emotion that is complicated by a number of factors, including bitterness, frustration, guilt, a sense of one’s own culpability, or a fear.

We see this pastoral dynamic, what we might call an elegiac attitude, in The Tempest over and over.  In Act 5, Scene 1 Prospero reaches a point where he says:

                              But this rough magic
I here abjure; and when I have required
Some heavenly music (which even now I do)
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms of the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

The stage direction says that solemn music is playing in the background, one of the many moments in the final two acts of the play in which sounds, hearing, listening, and music supplement the elegaic tenor of the pastoral drama. Continue reading

Looking Ahead to The Tempest

A word of advice on reading Shakespeare.  The text will take you more time than usual work through.  If you are having problems understanding what’s happening, don’t be afraid to consult aids like the No Fear Shakespeare.

In our first week of class, we worked toward defining pastoral as a genre.  It is highly stylized poetry, usually singing contests, where shepherds sit in a rural landscape and lament lost land, loves, and the complications of life.  There are other markers of this convention, but you get the idea.  Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a drama, which has its own set of conventions, so we cannot refer to it as pastoral in the strict sense of the word. Continue reading