How to get Crafty — the Beginning – Morgner and Tawada

Try the following 3 sets of exercises in class today or at home (hand in electronically to me today, Thursday, May 23rd, or next Tuesday, May 28th).  MOOCER’s If you’re just following along, give these strategies a try with any short story that you admire.

here we go!

1.  Take a look at the first 3 sections of Morgner’s “Love Legend.” With 1-2 partners  (but not more) or on your own, consider and write down answers to the following questions:

  1. what mystery (ies)  does the author establish in the first section?
  2. is the author doing a narrative description or are we in a specific scene?
  3. what phrases of description jump out at you? Come up with 4
  4. in parts 1, 2, and 3 what pieces of information emerge to describe the “stranger.”  Name at least 3. How are they spaced/arranged in the narrative?
  5. What physical gestures does the author use to show sexual tension/competition?

Now take a look at the opening paragraph of both “Canned Foreign” and “The Talisman.”

1. Are we in scene in these first sentences? What author (that we have read in this class) is this approach imitating?

2. In “Canned Foreign” how many times does the author narrate a fact using “oftentimes” or use some other indication that what she’s talking about is habitual or repeated?

3. Is “The Talisman” or an essay? What would you argue, and what evidence would you use to argue this point?

The turns of the middle: Morgner and Tawada

Take a look at sections 4, 5, and 6 of Morgner’s story. John Updike once said “I love the middle — it’s where everything happens.” Think about that as you consider and write down answers to the following…

1. What kind of narrative do we get right after “Your place or mine? Mine.”? What are we expecting? Why don’t we get it?

2. React to this first sexual encounter.  What words in particular surprise you?

5. what tension gets created in section 5? What’s the problem?  are we in scene or in narrative description? Explain how this is working.

6. what physical responses does Morgner choose in sections 5 and 6 to show how the protagonist’s emotions are changing? Name at least 2.

Now look at the Tawada stories:  

1. In “Canned Foreign” there’s a sort of almost scene on p.3. what’s the “turn”? What does the protagonist “realize”?

2. Where are the “turns” in “The Talisman”? (hint — they happen about halfway through the story). Name 2.

twisting towards the end: Morgner and Tawada

Take a look at how these authors move towards the end…

Consider and answer the following:

Morgner: what surreal/unreal plot twist does the author insert in the last 1/3 of the story? Take a look at sections 7, 8, 9 and 10. How has the tempo of the story shifted? Why?

Tawada: the focus shifts towards language in “Canned Foreign.” What specific objects does the author introduce and use in the rest of the story? Where in the time frame of the story do those objects exist?

There’s a yet another “turn” = an anti-turn where there’s resistance to the first turns in ‘The Talisman.” What does the author make happen?

Resisting the hegemony — _Lives of Others_ quick brain storm

Hegemony = the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.  Merriam-Webste Online Dictionary

A hegemonic portrayal of history is one that is “dominant” and serves whoever (or whatever) is “in charge.”

After looking at THE LIVES OF OTHERS, think about what current events, social injustices, political issues, and real-world problems are being “hegemonically” narrated by the media. As you can see from the film, these narratives are persuasive and powerful.

Now think about now and here — about your life and your neighborhood and the people you know.

What injustices, social/political issues, and problems do you care about personally that are being under- or even non-reported? 

Jot down a list of these concerns, if you have several. If you have 1, start brainstorming about a possible story, series of poems, screenplay, telescript, or play about your concern.

if you do not have a real concern of this type, then make one up!

Please turn this in to me via email or penzu by 4:50.

If handing in a hard copy, please hand in by 4:50 sharp. Thank you so much!  

GDR/BRD – East/West Germany — a divided history with divided interpretations and how I blundered into the middle of the divide

After World War 2, “Germany” was divided into 2 different countries — the German Democratic Republic (die Deutsche Demokratische Republik) and the Federal Republic of Germany (Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland). The former was dubbed “East Germany” and the latter “West Germany.” The GDR was an officially communist country under the close scrutiny of and in close proximity to the Soviet Union. The Federal Republic was a democratic nation, and a close ally of the US. The history of these two nations and the history of the dissolution of the Soviet Union are stories that are being fiercely debated right now. The fall of the Berlin Wall directly precedes the birth of most of the people in our class, and so most students never knew this two-state Germany, and know only the triumphalist narrative that celebrates the destruction of communism and the triumph of democracy in the region.

As a baby-boomer who was the child of Republicans, I grew up thinking “East Germany” was a scary place — a kind of German-speaking Soviet Union, where everyone hated Americans. But I was interested in German language and literature.  My college boyfriend convinced me to study German, because that’s what real intellectuals did. So I started. My boyfriend went to Hamburg for a junior year abroad and I visited him there. We went to Berlin in the January of 1974. We visited East Berlin during that trip, because my boyfriend had become a Marxist and was very excited to show me the GDR.

I have written about that first experience, which was extremely negative. Years went by. I married a different man. But my interest in German remained, and as it happened, the GDR offered summer school courses for teachers of German for very low prices, and a senior colleague suggested I go to one to improve my German. For a grand total of $250 I was able to attend a seminar for 3 weeks.  That sum of money covered room and board as well as classes and excursions in Weimar, where my favorite German authors once lived. I was very nervous about going. I stocked up on pharmaceuticals, and tampons, took a train over the border, and held my breath. This was the summer of 1985. My teacher was also my roommate in a house owned by an architect and his wife. Everyone was incredibly nice — except for the Yugoslavian poet who wanted to know why the stores were open 24 hours a day in the US, and why everyone insisted on eating steak. I had a tough time explaining President Reagan to my Polish friends who were attending the seminar. “But isn’t he just a really bad actor?” one of them asked.  “And wasn’t he in a space movie with a monkey?” someone else said. It was a strange experience trying to represent American politics in a foreign language, and the interactions that I had with my Polish friends, my teacher, and the many artists I met during my stay in Weimar got me wondering if East Germany was really as “bad” as I’d been hearing.

Perhaps my most startling memory was when I left Weimar by train and arrived in Frankfurt, which was in “West” Germany. Frankfurt was and is a big commercial metropolis. I walked into the train station and encountered an absolute barrage of ads, people trying to sell me things, and stores selling rolex watches, expensive suitcases, and diamonds. I think I realized for the first time, how much we live in a society that is all about buying and selling things. I have never forgotten that shock — that feeling of being absolutely buried in commodities. I think that was my first awareness of living under capitalism.

The second time I went to the German Democratic Republic, I went to Berlin. There though a chance research connection, I met and spent significant amounts of time with a man who was an SF/Fantasy editor. He introduced me to a number of amazing writers. I got to experience that once again the place for political discussion and critique was happening in the world of that kind of writing. It was great. These writers were using sf and fantasy tropes to imagine utopian worlds as well as nightmarish scenarios. As usual, SF/Fantasy had an active fan community who met frequently and communicated via magazines and comics and newsletters.


Then the Wall came down, and all the publishing houses that published those wonderful writers closed down because the government that subsidized them no longer existed, and none of those writers could get published.

My last visit to Berlin was right after the Wall fell, and there was a McDonalds’ going up on every corner. 165844_10150895207024720_2023285528_n

I worry that the more complex history of the GDR is being buried under a kind of rhetoric that does not do justice to the people who lived there, who actually believed in socialist ideals (like my teacher did), and who hoped for something better after the Wall fell. “They” had propaganda but “we” have propaganda too.

As a writer, I feel that it is important to share what I saw of the GDR from my own small perspective.

The unwillingness of many Berliners to part with the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall testifies, in my humble opinion, not only to a wish to celebrate freedom, but also a concern with preserving the complicatedness of the past. The nostalgia for the Wall and for the GDR (sometimes called Ostalgie) is a symptom of a deeper awareness that the truth of the past is somehow eluding these overly simplistic accounts.


poetry as witness — the exile and the survivor — for Tuesday May 14th

The theorist Theodor Adorno once observed that “there can be no poetry after Aufschwitz,” but actually, there’s ALOT of poetry after the Shoah and WW2. Here are 3 incredible poets. (Kolmar did not survive the Shoah, but is too good to leave out).

Interesting fact: poetry seems to be the first form that people turn to in the wake of disaster/trauma.

Question: Why might that be?

Paul Celan and Else Lasker-Schüler are incredibly interesting writers. Celan is considered THE great Holocaust poet. He lived in various places, as your handout shows, and died in Paris. Lasker-Schüler also lived in various places, and ended up in Jerusalem, where she most definitely did NOT fit in. Her play I and I is one of the most fascinating plays ever written.  Enjoy!

Lasker-Schueler  Celan  kolmar

The Third Reich, WW2 and The Holocaust: 2 different timelines and why this all matters

Attached are 2 different timelines outlining the events of the Third Reich, WW2, and the Holocaust, or the “Shoah” (“Shoah” means “calamity” in Hebrew).


What is not so evident in either of these timelines is the considerable resistance to Hitler mustered by leftists  — many of whom were themselves Jewish. The most comprehensive and reliable history of the Shoah thus far is the book Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry by Leni Yahil.

The importance of the Shoah for World History is an interesting issue to ponder. Why does it “matter” to Non-Jews, and particularly to people of color in the US and elsewhere, involved with their own deep struggles? The genocide of Native Americans was surely more extensive than the Shoah, and the African Diaspora — otherwise known as the Middle Passage — has been estimated to have enslaved between 12 million and 60 million persons of African descent — many of whom died in transit. That is a terrifying number. Professor Emeritus Irwin Wall once speculated that the Nazis actually studied the American plantation system, and that they may well have modelled the concentration camp on that arrangement. When we read the opening of Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, we certainly can feel a shiver of recognition as well as horror at the practice and events taking place on US soil.

Perhaps two people give us some insight as to why the study of this part of history is important.  One of them is the philosopher Jacques Derrida who observed “we must make links to Auschwitz” — implying that we must seek connections between the Shoah and what has happened and is happening in other parts of the world.

The other — my personal favorite writer on the Shoah — was not Jewish, but was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner. Tadeusz Borowski’s short story “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” and his short novella “Auschwitz, Our Home” make observations about how money, power, othering of certain people, and terror are used to oppress people everywhere, and that therefore the Shoah is a crucial moment in history to understand, analyze, and  — by understanding — resist in all its present and future incarnations.

This observation seems relevant to me (it’s from “Auschwitz, Our Home”):

“You know how much I used to like Plato. Today i realize he lied. For the things of this world are not a reflection of the ideal, but a product of human sweat, blood and hard labour. It is we who built the pyramids, hewed the marble for the temples and the rocks for the imperial roads, we who pulled the oars in the galleys and dragged wooden ploughs, while they wrote dialogues and dramas, rationalized their intrigues by appeals in the name of the Fatherland, made wars over boundaries and democracies. We were filthy and died real deaths. They were ‘aesthetic’ and carried on subtle debates.

There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.”

German and European avant-gardeisms for beginners (a nutshell in a nutshell with a tiny bit of a manifesto at the end))

Europe and particularly Germany in the early 20th Century are awash in what we still today recognize as avant-garde art movements. Avant-garde = French for vanguard — the troops at the front of a battle.

Expressionism (starts in Germany)

courtesy wikipedia

courtesy wikipedia

Futurism (predominantly Italian)

Dada (which will turn into Surrealism- international with a strong German component)

The Blue Rider (der Blaue Reiter- German)

courtesy wikipedia

courtesy wikipedia

Bauhaus (mostly architecture and furniture-German)

These movements are all interested in the new:  in using the challenges to human thinking and living presented by technology, industrialization, and modernity in general to create art forms that either mirror that fastness (cinema), and/or they may resist it by creating work that challenges professionalism, the idea of talent or genius, the traditions of literature and art, and the very assumptions of values that we consider “good.” In particular, Expressionism and Dada critique the war machine of Germany and Europe.  The original cut of the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari did not include the frame story — making it a radical critique of power, violence, and thought-control, which many believe was an indictment of WW1.

Greil Marcus sees the Dadaists as the first “punks” and his book Lipstick Traces discusses the role of the avant-garde in the creation of the punk rock scene.

Very few artists working in Europe are not influenced by these movements. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is considered a textbook example of Expressionism. Brecht was definitely influenced by Expressionism. Kafka is a somewhat more complicated case. Yet he too is clearly rebelling against older forms of writing, and is arguably using Expressionism and Dada to formulate his own very weird, and haunting aesthetic.

Perhaps the best way to think about what these avant-garde movements are trying to do is to think about the aesthetic from a point of view put forth by a group of critics called the Russian Formalists. Operating right after WW1, the Russian Formalists argued that art had to slow down perception in the viewer/reader, by making art “strange.” The art put forth by Ernst, Picabia, Hans and Sophie Arp, Kandinksy, Klee, and the Bauhaus builders all aimed to do that. To astound, to trouble, and to slow us down — to force us to pause and consider what we are looking at/reading/experiencing. This is probably why these artists remain my personal favorites — they inspire me to make work that tries to make people think and feel.  Differently.

Here is a nutty example of how powerful this work can be for people:

historical background to the turn of the century — Germany (Yay! the country finally exists [sort of])

The following is exerpted from the Wikipedia article “the German Empire.” Use the following only as a very simplistic jumping-off point for more research about aspects that interest you personally.

The German Empire
On 10 December 1870 the North German Confederation Reichstag renamed the Confederation as the German Empire and gave the title of German Emperor to the King of Prussia as President of the Confederation.[22] During the Siege of Paris on 18 January 1871, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.[23]

The 1871 German Constitution was adopted by the Reichstag on 14 April 1871 and proclaimed by the Emperor on 16 April,[23] which was substantially based upon Bismarck’s North German Constitution. Germany acquired some democratic features. The new empire had a parliament called the Reichstag, which was elected by universal male suffrage. However, the original constituencies drawn in 1871 were never redrawn to reflect the growth of urban areas. As a result, by the time of the great expansion of German cities in the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century, rural areas were grossly overrepresented.

Legislation also required the consent of the Bundesrat, the federal council of deputies from the states. Executive power was vested in the emperor, or Kaiser, who was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. The emperor was given extensive powers by the constitution. He alone appointed and dismissed the chancellor, was supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and final arbiter of all foreign affairs. Officially, the chancellor was a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in charge of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc.) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers. The Reichstag had the power to pass, amend or reject bills and to initiate legislation.
Although nominally a league of equals, in practice the empire was dominated by the largest and most powerful state, Prussia. It stretched across the northern two thirds of the new Reich, and contained three fifths of its population. The imperial crown was hereditary in the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling house of Prussia. With the exception of the years 1872–1873 and 1892–1894, the chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of Prussia. With 17 out of 58 votes in the Bundesrat, Berlin needed only a few votes from the small states to exercise effective control.

Industrial power – overview
For 30 years, Germany struggled against Britain to be Europe’s leading industrial power, though both fell behind the United States. Representative of Germany’s industry was the steel giant Krupp, whose first factory was built in Essen. By 1902, the factory alone became “A great city with its own streets, its own police force, fire department and traffic laws. There are 150 kilometres of rail, 60 different factory buildings, 8,500 machine tools, seven electrical stations, 140 kilometres of underground cable and 46 overhead.”[24]

Lacking a technological base at first, the Germans imported their engineering and hardware from Britain, but quickly learned the skills needed to operate and expand the railways. In many cities, the new railway shops were the centres of technological awareness and training, so that by 1850, Germany was self-sufficient in meeting the demands of railroad construction, and the railways were a major impetus for the growth of the new steel industry. However, German unification in 1870 stimulated consolidation, nationalisation into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth. Unlike the situation in France, the goal was support of industrialisation, and so heavy lines crisscrossed the Ruhr and other industrial districts, and provided good connections to the major ports of Hamburg and Bremen. By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight, and forged ahead of France.[32]

Industry in specifics

Industrialization progressed dynamically in Germany and German manufacturers began to capture domestic markets from British imports, and also to compete with British industry abroad, particularly in the U.S. The German textiles and metal industries had by 1870 surpassed those of Britain in organization and technical efficiency and superseded British manufacturers in the domestic market. Germany became the dominant economic power on the continent and was the second largest exporting nation after Britain.
Technological progress during German industrialization occurred in four waves: the railway wave (1877–86), the dye wave (1887–96), the chemical wave (1897–1902), and the wave of electrical engineering (1903–18).[33] Since Germany industrialized later than Britain, it was able to model its factories after those of Britain, thus making more efficient use of its capital and avoiding legacy methods in its leap to the envelope of technology. Germany invested more heavily than the British in research, especially in chemistry, motors and electricity. Germany’s dominance in physics and chemistry was such that one-third of all Nobel Prizes went to German inventors and researchers.
The German cartel system (known as Konzerne), being significantly concentrated, was able to make more efficient use of capital. Germany was not weighted down with an expensive worldwide empire that needed defense. Following Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, it absorbed parts of what had been France’s industrial base.[34]
By 1900, the German chemical industry dominated the world market for synthetic dyes.[35] The three major firms BASF,[36] Bayer and Hoechst produced several hundred different dyes, along with the five smaller firms. In 1913, these eight firms produced almost 90% of the world supply of dyestuffs and sold about 80% of their production abroad. The three major firms had also integrated upstream into the production of essential raw materials and they began to expand into other areas of chemistry such as pharmaceuticals, photographic film, agricultural chemicals and electrochemicals. Top-level decision-making was in the hands of professional salaried managers; leading Chandler to call the German dye companies “the world’s first truly managerial industrial enterprises”.[37] There were many spinoffs from research—such as the pharmaceutical industry, which emerged from chemical research.[38]
By the start of World War I (1914–1918), German industry switched to war production. The heaviest demands were on coal and steel for artillery and shell production, and on chemicals for the synthesis of materials that were subject to import restrictions and for chemical weapons and war supplies.