Cover Letter

Dear viewer, reader and internet stumble-uponer alike,

This website is meant to serve as a source of information on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Gold-Bug, a treasure-hunter tale that focuses on the themes of cryptology and discovery to take readers on a manic journey across on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina in pursuit of buried pirate fortune. This website represents a semesters worth of work on the topic for English 170W, an introduction to literary theory course at Queens College under the guidance of Professor Ferguson.

Published in 1843, the story was Poe’s “claim to fame” and is one of the earliest examples of American detective fiction. This website includes pages overseeing various topics, including Poe’s biography, scholarly research into his inspiration and motive for the piece, its resulting influence, literary theoretical analysis, investigations into the use of modern tools like Wordle and Ngram, and much more.

Because the work is based heavily in connections to Poe’s life, much research into the author’s background is necessary to create a website adequately committed to the story. Many of the processes used to acquire enough information on the author consisted of tedious research, from websites, scholarly journals and biographies in order to grasp a full understanding of Poe. For instance, its on good authority that Poe had a real interest in cryptology and treasure hunting, an important point when analyzing a story written by him on such fields.

In order to complete this site, I also had to explore venues and ideas that before were unknown to me, such as physical tools like Wordle and Ngram, as well as intellectual schools of thinking like new critiscm and structuralism. In order to create a site that thoroughly explained a work in regards to these elements, I had to become schooled in them well enough myself, a task that could be daunting at times.

The entire process has definitely made exploring the digital humanities a strength of mine. As a writer, its difficult to make the jump from pure academic writing to twitter, where whole ideas are expressed in 160 characters or less. This class has undoubtably improved my social media writing, to the point where I would consider it a strength of mine. It has also allowed me to learn how to navigate digital tools like this blog and others more fluidly.

Although I still wouldn’t consider it a strength of mine, this class has definitely improved my comprehending of literary theories and my ability to analyze texts through these methods of thinking. After all this time and all this writing, I’m still not crazy confident in my ability to do this. That being said, most of these theories still are new to me, having only been exposed to them for a few months or weeks. Reading through the literary lens and coherently expressing my thoughts on the matter is one of the biggest challenges as a writer, but hopefully I did an adequate job in expressing my analysis in the pages set aside for doing so on this site.

As for other challenges, I still need to get better at jumping in with both feet in regards to subjects that don’t really spark my interest. Its fulfilling to make connections to texts, and to be able to analyze and understand everything the author attempted to relay, but there comes a point where I’d rather not examine a story from every possible viewpoint. So will say this makes me a bad English student, and that may be so. But for me, its more about the beauty of the prose and the way it makes you feel as a reader. That said, I definitely need to work on investing myself whole-heartedly into the various forms technical analysis when it comes to literature.

I hope you enjoy the website, or at least the pretty colors.

Sincerely,
Joe Trezza

Eugenides close reading

“Madeleine had been trying to beat Alton [in tennis] her entire life without success. This was even more infuriating because she was better than he was, at this point. But whenever she took a set from Alton he started intimidating her, acting mean, disputing calls, and her game fell apart. Madeleine was worried that there was something paradigmatic in this, that she was destined to go through life being cowed by less capable men. As a result, Madeleine’s tennis matches against Alton had assumed such outsize personal significance for her that she got tight whenever she played him, with predictable results. (10)”

 

Eugenides builds the story of Madeline’s tennis follies from the begining, and by doing so lets the reader feel as if they themselves are going through a journey like hers.  With every mistep, we are driven closer to the ultimate goal, much like Madeline, and then snatched back at the last moment, burdened to try  again.  By using words like “beat”, “without sucsess”, infuriating”, Eugenides begins his annecdote by introducing us to Madeline’s view and struggle. 

Tennis is a game played for recreation if not professionally, and since there is no hint of Madeline being a professional, tennis here is meant as a way for her to play for her, not for money.  This is why the words ‘beat” and ‘without sucsess” are important.  These words indicate that there is more at stake then pleasure, and they start the snowball effect that tennis has on Madeline’s manic state. 

Madeleine worries that her shortcomings on the court will have a “paradigmatic ” effect on her life.  This word choice is important because it has to do with the study of linguistics, one studied in english theory classes that the main character so thoroughly enjoys.   

The author makes purposful note of Madeline’s “tight”ness when playing these games, a word choice important for its multiple meanings.  “Tight’ can mean physically her muscles can tighten, causing her to be slower on the court; it could mean that she got emotionally upset, and that her clouded mind prevented her from having physical success.  The word “tight” also implies a surroundedness and the feeling of enclosure, or trapping.  Madeline could feel tight under the web of her father’s sucsesses agaisnt her, this sense of defeat fueling her manic obsession to spring free from the trapping every time she gets thrown back below it.    

 

Web Wednesday Nov. 16

Poe’s The Gold-Bug is a work of fiction based on a small South Carolina island that revolves about a recluse’s obsession with code-breaking and the finding of buried treasure.  My question – Is there any evidence to suggest that Poe’s writing on these topics has any connection with a real-life experience that he crutched on for inspiration?

To answer this question, I will need to find information on the biography of Poe, including his upbringing, life-experience and the details of his professional career.  Where did he grow up?  What sparked his interest in writing?  How was his writing received during his career?  Was he poor, perhaps?  Did he personally have any experience with code-breaking, and if yes, where did he learn the skill?  I will need to research these details, using phrases like “Poe’s past”, “Poe – inspiration”, “Private Life of Edgar Allen Poe”, and others of the sort.

Rumpelstiltskin

What Levi-Strauss assets about the use of repitition in myth is entirely accurate in the case of Rumpelstiltskin.  The pattern which sees the daughter continuously trading goods for help from the small man is an obvious one.  Even when after her tasks are completed and the man returns again, there is a series of deals the two make that basically defines their relationship as one based solely on the notion of qui-pro-quo.  Do this for me, and I’ll do something for you, an eye for an eye, etc.

The constant repeating of this main theme serves as a vessel that builds the structure of the piece as it progresses, and it is this structure that brings tension along with it.  The results of the first few exchanges between the characters turn out peachy for all involved, yet after seeing this, readers can accurately predict that the plot will continue to be based on similar deals until one of the agreements goes awry.  There will come a time in the piece, eventually, when both characters again run the gauntlet of their unstable relationship and only one comes out on the other end – in essence, the growing tension of the piece overcoming and collapsing its structure.

And this is exactly what happens.  The relationship between the daughter and manikin reaches a point of no return when the little man asks for the now-Queens’ daughter.  It’s a heavyweight battle – the Queen versus a savvy traveler who believes he has this battle of wits won.  All of the past repetition in the piece, the repetition that built the structure and allowed the growth of the work, leads up to this climax.  And it is a powerful one, where the tension produced from the structure and growth proves too much, causing the manikin to burst and crumble in front of our eyes.

Analyzing “Rumpelstiltskin” with the Orchestral Method

Web Wednesday Nov. 2

According to Freud’s writing, in order to mimic the way he interprets dreams in the reading of literature, we must first separate the abstract and turn it pictorial. To do this, we must take large ideas and condense them into more succinct pictures. These pictures then represent the larger ideas at hand.
That being said, Step 1 would be to take the text and interpret what it is on the surface. What is actually happening? Literally?
Next, for Step 2, we would have to take all that is happening and condense it into smaller ideas that can represent the entire picture.

Mapping the Steps Saussure Would Take

Step 1) First a Semiotician would read the words on the page and identify the location of the signs in the text.

Step 2) Next an image must come to mind in relation to these symbols, of which one at a time, the reader must ponder.

Step 3) Next the word’s meaning is determined based on a compare and contrast system. We eliminate all the things that the word is not, and eventually determine what it is.

Step 4) One must keep in mind that the signs used in writing are arbitrary and that the value of the letters themselves is purely negative as well.

Step 5) After performing steps 1-4 for each line individually, bring the entire piece together in a similar fashion.

Web Wednesday : Annotating Shakespeare (10/19)

O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out

When it comes to the article in “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” about piece 65, there are things a New Critic would agree with and things that the same critic would not. For example, the critic would applaud the post’s straightforward – line by line, at some points even word by word – breakdown of the text. Yet because these critics believe in excluding historical context from their analysis, they would not be a fan of the way the post explains the word “o’serways” in line two, especially when they tell the reader that the word is not used often in the present time. A new critic would look at the word, see what it means, and just take it as that.

Another example of an explicitly non-new criticism is the breakdown of line 5, which reads “O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out”. In the analysis the writers of the post focus heavily on the connotation of the individual words, and in this, imply a sense of interoperation from the reader, which new criticism prohibits.
The post is inconsistent though in the way that it shifts from purely connotative analysis to denotative anaylsis and back. For example, a new critic would enjoy reading the first few sentences of the post’s analysis of line 6, which describes the line “Against the wrackful siege of battering days,” by defining the word “wrackful”. The next few lines though, give historical context, which new critics loathe.

Overall, there are an equal number of aspects, I believe, of this analysis that new critics would applaud and despise. The tedious breakdown of individual lines and words would put a grin on any new critic’s face. Yet at the same time, some of the techniques used in this breakdown and analysis would leave those same critics scratching their heads.

A Semiotician would not advocate such an intensely close reading as a New Critic would. instead of meticulously breaking down each word, a semiotician will go for more of an overview of the poem, and in this overview, identify the important signs in the text.

After coming across the necessary sign, an image will then surface in the mind of the Semiotician, giving the reader a picture on which to base his interpretation of the word off of. For example, the phrase “summer’s sweet honey breath” in the annotated line above. Based on this sentence, we can picture the scene; sun shining, a warm breeze blowing through the clear skies, just over the fresh green grass.

This is what we think of, next we need to determine why. We can identify “summer” as “warm and pleasant” because we know winter is not these things. We also know that fall and spring are seasons that can have aspects of both warm and cold weather. Because we know that the season in question is not winter, fall or spring, we can assume it is summer, the time of warm air and beach days and pleasantries.

This view of summer allows us to successfully comphrend the rest of the line. Because the “sweet, honey breath” flows through summer, we know that it must be a warm, happy wind. It is not the brutal gusts of winter or the chilly winds of early spring and late fall. By a process of elimination and the image the sentence painted, we are able to successfully comprehend the line.

Adding the Digital Humanities to Richter’s Map

I think it’s fair to say that there is no one place the digital humanities can fall under on Richter’s map of literary theory.  Instead, there are undeniably qualities of different digital humanities tools that can fall into different sections of the map.  For example, the Ngram, which is nothing more than a statistical analysis of a text against others, has elements that would categorize it under the formal theory, which takes a quasi-sceintific approach to literature.  To me, analysis and line graphs scream “science”.  But then there’s the Wordle, a strictly visual tool that I’m not sure fits in anywhere on Richter’s map.  Then again, it has elements of the rhetorical approach, which stresses the relationship between art and audience.  If you can create art using words in a text, there is definitely a relationship  present between reader and literary work.  What seems pretty clear to me is that there is significantly less evidence tying the digital humanities to the expressive approach to literary theory.  There is not much in the way of author-work relationship when using the digital humanities.  In the experience in this class anyway, it has seemed much more audience-work driven.


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