Need a volunteer or two

I agree with you, Jaysen, which is why I spent lots of time in classes where we actually wrote stuff and very little in classes where we analyzed other people’s stuff. But then, all of this was background to my actual degree, which is in engineering. So clearly I am but a crude barbarian among the Literary Elite. :stuck_out_tongue:


What is the correct interpretation of a sunset? How is it different from the correct interpretation of a sunny April morning? Does it matter whether the sunset is over the North Sea, or over the Hawaiian islands? How do April mornings in Boston compare with June afternoons in the North Cascades?

Even assuming that there is a universal meaning in WCW’s poem, why does the critic think he’s capable of describing that meaning more accurately than WCW himself did?

Thank you for the Billy Collins poem. It is wonderful.


English is not Lojban. Words, phrases and sentences can have many meanings and interpretations. The kind of exercise Jaysen is undertaking would be impossible without this. Intelligent puns, double-entendres and such things would not exist.

Punctuation is not a magical cure all. Quotes included. They can be used to provide special emphasis, irony or sarcasm (imagine someone doing little bunny ears while they speak), or can simply illustrate that the bit in the quotes is the only part which is directly lifted from somewhere else.

That’s all by way of saying I didn’t see the distinction either, and I’m a pretty awesome person.

Indeed, yes.

… which was the core of my objection.


We’ll put you in the back row, to get whacked with Jaysen. (On second thought, that phrase has decidedly ambiguous overtones; perhaps instead we’ll put in in back to build brass-tubing catapults with Ioa. <[url]Spammer Hell]>)


What I’m doing in my class sounds nothing like what your assignment is. We don’t care what the author meant either. (edited to clarify: We aren’t interested in pursuing “what the author meant” either.) Right now, we’re in the process of reading a text against itself to destabilize the meaning. This is done to illustrate the limitations and unreliability of language. Then we show how language itself is a game that constructs its own meaning to suit a given circumstance. By doing so, we are supposed to prove how there is no reality present in the text, but it is only symbolic to other illusions. That sunset that Katherine asked about, it’s dependent upon whatever context it’s put into. Then, say, we could show that the sunset is symbolic of something. However, its symbolism is dependent upon whatever the text has constructed. Katherine’s sunset can then invade reality. When I see a sunset I’ll unintentionally compare it to the sunset Katherine described, and that’s when reality and illusion collapse into itself.

Confused? I know I am. While this may be a fun game to play at times, why bother doing it? It all seems so pointless and confusing, and to make matters worse my professor seems to encourage that view. The point is to make it pointless and confusing? And I’m paying good money for this!

I should point out this is a reading class, not a writing class. I don’t see much value in learning theory as a means to improving your writing. In fact, I had one professor confess to me he found that pursuing theory actually killed his ability to creatively write. You have to learn how to compartmentalize the two.

This literary piece of work made millions…

[code]In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey
Butane in my veins so I’m out to cut the junkie
With the plastic eyeballs, spray paint the vegetables
Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose
Kill the headlights and put it in neutral
Stock car flamin’ with a loser and the cruise control
Baby’s in Reno with the vitamin D
Got a couple of couches sleep on the love seat
Someone keeps sayin I’m insane to complain
About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt
Don’t believe everything that you breathe
You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve
So shave your face with some mace in the dark
Savin’ all your food stamps and burnin’ down the trailer park

Yo, cut it.

Soy un perdedor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Double-barrel buckshot)
Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
Banned all the music with a phony gas chamber
'Cause one’s got a weasel and the other’s got a flag
One’s got on the pole shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nose job
The daytime crap of a folksinger slob
He hung himself with a guitar string

Slap the turkey neck and it’s hangin from a pigeon wing
You can’t write if you can’t relate
Trade the cash for the beef for the body for the hate
And my time is a piece of wax, fallin’ on a termite
That’s chokin on the splinters

Soy un perdedor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Get crazy with the Cheeze Whiz)
Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Drive-by body pierce)

Yo bring it on down
(Soy un perdedor I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?)
(I’m a driver, I’m a winner; things are gonna change, I can feel it.)

Soy un perdidor

I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(I can’t believe you)
Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Sprechen sie Deutches, baby)
Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Know what I’m sayin?)[/code]

My favorite line.
So shave your face with some mace in the dark

I would guess in the end, it all comes down to personal like. Since most “artists” (this includes writers) have their own style then they sometimes end up having their “fan base”.

Some people innovate. Others emulate. Some people use a price tag to qualify something as “top notch”, others use different “scales” to judge something. Myself. I think most “literary pieces” are just snobbish garbage but then again I am a southern redneck with different tastes.

In the end the reality is Jaysen needs someone who has published a short story to help him with a school project. Any takers?

Sometimes simple is faster.

I wonder how he would read “You need to die” written on his wall?

Keep in mind I want to know how this works. So the focus for me in this class, as I stated it to the professor, is to sit with a purpose, a meaning, and then tell a story to convey that meaning to someone else. My first story (and I just decided it this morning) will be to convey the fear of a hidden secret. I could sit down and spew out about 10K words in the next day or so and get no closer to you getting that feeling than I have with this post. On the other hand, I get lucky. Ask vic-k. He has a few of mine that I think are not too bad (but I am not really ready to have them eviscerated by the real craftsmen). I am tired of luck.

That said, the prof says “we will talk about what the author means in his story” and I’m sitting there thinking “cool, who do I get to meet?” (also not a question to ask a prof). Here is my opportunity to see the craftsman and ask him questions while I admire his work. But noooooo. We’re just gonna guess.

BAH! I don’t need to guess. I know folks that might be willing to actually tell me what they did mean. Then, once I understand the form and have read and have my own thoughts, then I can find out if I am getting it.

Let me use a story. I dabble with making furniture. I had a great idea for a table. The drawings were wonderful. the pieces were cut and shaped. I assembled it. It fell over. I went down the carpenter around the corner and showed him my plan. He looked me square in the eye and say “It will fall over”. He pointed to a table and told me to look at a table he had built the was remarkably like mine. As I looked at it I started to see some very small differences. 1/4" blocks, simple recessed skirting, small butterfly joint. I opened my plan, made a few adjustments, showed the changes to him and he charged me $10 (for not being smart enough to ask him first).

That is how I have approached writing to date, bass ackwards (there may be young ones reading). I just don’t like the idea of guessing what Katherine meant when she wrote “You need to die” on my wall. If Katherine doesn’t want to explain, then I can guess, but if Katherine will explain then there would be no confusion.

As I noted previously, I’m just seeing if anyone would be willing.

The best writers in the world are really just great story tellers.

“Good Judgement comes from Experience. Experience comes from a lot of bad decisions.”

The craftsman had experience. You cannot teach experience. You can only teach from experience.

I am to assume your professor is a top notch author who has published many books?

Or are you paying a lot of money to have someone teach you something they themselves have no real experience in doing? :slight_smile:

The Carpenter who had experience could just look at your table and tell you what was wrong.

The blacksmith, who had never built a table, wanted to charge you a small fortune to teach you the “theory” on becoming a carpenter.

I am not knocking learning theory or basics or anything.

But in the end, you will learn more from your failures if you have the fortitude to persist at what you are doing even in the face of failure. That is experience.

It depends on whose blood she used to write the message.

Huh? I never wrote any such thing. I’m sorry to hear that someone did, but it wasn’t me.

Your carpenter story is how I learned to write:

  • write stuff
  • have people in the class tell you where it “fell down”
  • read stuff that doesn’t fall down
  • write more stuff
  • repeat

So I’m a little baffled by this professor’s approach.


Katherine, I was abusing your statement that you don’t want to rehash what you wrote. I used the example of someone writing “You need to die” as an absurd point for “relative analysis” (my phrase). There isn’t much room for interpretation. In reality I was attempting to suggest that there is a point where writing is what it is. Which is what I believe your view of it can be boiled down to. I think.

I’m reserving judgement. If I find that I like what he suggests for methods/techniques then I may adopt them. If my writing improves in my own opinion then I win. If not I get the credits and I can forget the entire class as easily as the milk I was supposed to pick up on my way home from work.

Not sure it makes sense but that is my approach.

So how’d it come out?

I’m of two minds with critical theory. On the one hand, it can be a useful too. On the other, anything taken to excess isn’t overly useful. shrugs

I’m avoiding it. Right now we are writing more than reading.

To reiterate garpoo’s enquiry, Master Jaysen, how did it turn out? :confused:

No volunteers. Professor and I are avoiding the entire topic for now. I’m sure he’ll make me deal with it soon though.

I missed this thread when it started a month ago, and probably Jaysen’s assignment is over, so any response now is moot. Interesting to me is the discussion that ensued from his original posting, where the comments become almost a seminar on The Problem of Meaning, The Uses of Interpretation, and The Descent of Text. (part of literary studies, but also of exegesis in scriptural analysis).

Let’s go back to the first posting:

First thing I notice is that we never learn the actual assignment. No quotation from the professor’s instructions, whether written or oral, and I certainly hope they were written. We have to rely on Jaysen’s paraphrase, that he must write an “analysis” of “two published stories.” What kind of analysis, and the exact meaning of published, is uncertain. A Marxist reading of Internet fan fiction? A feminist take on ESPN columns? The mind reels with confusion and excitement.

I’d also like to know why “creative writing” is in quotation marks. Often that signals irony, even sarcasm, as though the writer doesn’t like the term or feels awkward about using it. To me it hints of a bias or else uncertainty, echoed in the jocular “just buy a book.” Meaning what, exactly? Are two stories likely to get treatment in a critical-analysis book? In practical terms, this may mean go to Spark Notes or some other paper-mill site and buy/copy something there. (Warning: that sort of stuff is rarely any good, and it’s easily detected.)

And finally, there’s Jaysen’s take on the assignment, to “guess what the author meant.” Many of you have responded to this element, pointing out that meaning is elastic, relative, and evolving as time goes by, and that the beauty/power of literature is not fixed, like the answer to a problem set. I totally agree, and wonder why the professor did not bring up the “intentional fallacy” to address this issue: we can rarely know an author’s intentions, and often authors have no idea what they thought or meant, anyway. (The Robert Browning anecdote: “Madam, when I wrote those lines, only God and I knew their meaning. Now, only God knows.”)

Were I counseling Jaysen, I’d say: OK, your background is in science and technology. You are used to solving problems and finding the correct answer or solution. Literature is not a problem set. It’s like a dream, not wholly logical but full of possible meanings. Get out your intuition and dare to take some chances when you interpret. Try to build a reasonable, persuasive case for your reading. But don’t think of it as being absolutely right or wrong. Think of it as a big Maybe that was fun to imagine and build.

In fact, many of my colleagues in science and technology tell me that their Eureka moments come out of just that sort of thinking. Creative writing is a possibility everywhere.

Yo pilgrim,
I have avoided engaging with the mob on this topic, since attempting to maintain the level of erudite, intellectual cut and thrust, is beyond my capabilities, and would send me into shut-down if I were foolish enough to contemplate it.

However, this may have some relevance, or not. And, it could even be off-topic :frowning: .

In 1998 I had a fleeting (very), acquaintanceship with the thesis proffered by T.S. Eliot., that it wasn’t necessary to know anything at all about a poet’s lives and circumstances, when reading poems written by them. Even if the poem is a response to traumatic events in that poet’s life. The poem should stand on its own merit period!!

The only exception to this rule he was prepared to countenance, was WB Yeats. Unfortunately I never did get round to discovering, just what it was about WB, that caused him to think this way. I expect the truth is out there somewhere waiting to be unearthed.
I hope this may add something concrete to the discussion.
Take care


Hey, Skipper, you are still at the head of the crew. One of TSE’s ideas about meaning was the “objective correlative,” a mouthful but nicely explained in this Wiki article: … _criticism

About the exception rendered to Yeats, I dunno. He gave an address on Yeats in 1940, saying that he saw the poet as both an elder and a contemporary, whose work is ever young. Which is very grand praise, and I agree with Tom.