Anagnorisis and Peripeteia

World Literature

September 8th, 2009

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It is only logical that after reading Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex that we watch a video featuring Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs, right? Maybe not, but the connection should become clear after you watch the video.

Our (my) goal in this class is to help you understand the connections between fiction and reality—that the stories we tell must in some way mirror our lives in a way that is sometimes obvious, oftentimes obscure.

A student asked today why Oedipus is relevant today. This was a great question (and one you should always ask of all your classes). Here’s the response I gave:

Oedipus’ story is relevant because it is essential. That may seem like a circular definition, but by “essential” I mean “basic to the human condition.” I gave a few examples of non-essential literature, both graphic novels because I knew the student was familiar with them: Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, both of which happen to be by Alan Moore. Watchmen is a brilliant revision of our view of superheroes; one that takes familiar characters (such as Batman) and subverts them (The Nite Owl) in a way that makes us see these characters in a different light. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen does something similar with characters from Victorian and Edwardian literature. The original superheroes and the characters from the late 19th century reflect earlier characters, and so on. Part of the fun of reading them is “getting” the references, and having one’s notions turned on their head. The other part of our interest in them is that they provide an interesting perspective on what it means to be human (in a skewed or magnified way, in the case of superheroes).

Oedipus, for modern readers, contains only the latter. Oedipus’ story is tragedy in it’s most pure form, and it is the simplicity of the story that speaks to all of us, that makes it essential.

In this video, Mike Rowe experiences what Aristotle called anagnorisis and peripeteia when castrating sheep. Oedipus is a pure example of a man whose view of his own life is turned upside down (peripeteia) by a single realization (anagnorisis).

Beyond the Freudian interpretations (every man is in a battle to overcome his father’s shadow, etc), Oedipus, with the simplicity of a fairy tale, clearly highlights an aspect of our own lives (hopefully not literally) directly, without muddying the vision by relying on previous works.

That’s why we read Oedipus.

Third Hour Final Unit

British Literature

February 8th, 2009

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During the last three weeks of this session we will be pulling from everything we’ve done before: critical analysis of texts, cultural analysis of works, integration and synthesis of works from different eras and cultures, and explication of literary devices.  "How will we do this?" you ask?  By answering an apparently simple question:

What do Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wilfred Owen’s "Dulce Et Decorum Est," H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (and The Days of the Comet, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness), the Danse Macabre, 1984, punk music (The Clash!), Twitter, Wikipedia, The Wisdom of Crowds, The Starfish and the Spider, DIY, Internet piracy, and podcasting have in common?

Our answer can be as simple and complex as we want, but it will take our understanding of all these cultural phenomena and works and the skills we’ve acquired this year to pull off a solid answer.

Now that’s a cumulative test.

Frankensteinian Stories

British Literature

December 5th, 2008

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The projected due date: December 12, 2008.

The task: To take a theme (see image below) from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and create a new work explore it with an original work.  This work can be visual (painting, drawing, CGI), tactile (dance, sculpture, diorama), auditory (song), or written (poetry, short story, essay, screenplay, comic book).  If I haven’t mentioned a medium you’d like to work within, just post a comment.

The goal:  We’ve discussed the role of fiction in society (to take an aspect of life and magnify it), we’ve discussed what Shelley might be trying to tell us, so now it’s your turn.  Create a work that explains an idea, thought, action, problem, or other aspect of life in a new and interesting way for your audience.

The rules:


"Monstrous" parakeet:

Galvanic Art: “Twitch”

British Literature, Internet Goodness

November 20th, 2008

Themes: ,

I found this site [Warning: The site contains images of dissected frogs that have been implanted with computer parts] while I was researching galvanism yesterday, and forgot to post the link.

Check out the "Project Exhibition Essay" in the middle of the page for the Frankenstein connection.

Remember, I’ll be looking over your reading journals tomorrow.

Victorian Essay Links

British Literature

November 17th, 2008

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Remember, you will be writing over how aspects of Victorian culture may have impacted or brought about the novel you are reading.  Look into the life of the writer, the major historical events that came before the book was published, and any other information you can find about the historical background of the book.

Post a comment below or send me an email if you have a question.