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Spring 2010

Honors 385 / Spanish 442 / Humanities 400G

JUNGLE BOOKS: PRIMITIVISM AND EXOTICISM IN MODERN LITERATURE

Tarzan

Why do modernism and primitivism so often go hand in hand? What are modern people searching for when they go off into the wild? We will explore these questions as they appear in 19th and 20th century literature and cultural theory. Reading journal, one shorter paper (5-6 pp.), one longer one (8-10 pp.), two brief oral presentations, active participation in class discussion.

LECTURE AND DISCUSSION IN ENGLISH.

WRITING AND PRIMARY READINGS IN SPANISH FOR STUDENTS IN SPANISH 442.

BOOKS

Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos/The Lost Steps
Gallegos, Doña Bárbara/Dona Barbara
Rivera, La vorágine/The Vortex
Sarmiento, Facundo/Civilization and Barbarism
Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives
Williams, The Country and the City

MORE

Poetry by R. Darío, O. de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto,” Les Blank’s film Burden of Dreams, Coco Fusco’s video The Couple in the Cage, lectures by Edward Said, film and tv versions of Doña Bárbara.

FURTHER INFORMATION FROM LESLIE BARY, lbary@louisiana.edu.

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Posted by on September 26, 2009 in News, Plans

 

Take Home Final

Rules: Two densely written, well argued, analytical essays of 500-700 words each. Each essay must include an extensive discussion of a different novel, although you may choose comparative topics and refer to other texts. You must, however, show serious work with and thought about two of the following three novels: Los pasos perdidos, La vorágine, La casa verde. You may narrow down these topics as you see fit. Please title each essay in such a way as to indicate your focus. What I am looking for are interesting, cogent explorations, not ultimate answers. Pueden escribir en el idioma que quieran, con tal de que yo lo sepa leer.

POSIBLES TEMAS:

1. Mujer y selva. The jungle as woman / as the feminine. Woman and jungle as Other. Woman and jungle as “dark continents,” chthonic forces to be tamed. Is the jungle voyage, in our texts usually undertaken by men with women (ambivalently) by their side, a masculine enterprise or a drama about masculinity? Why is it that it in the jungle, the narrators of Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine focus so strongly on the struggles in their relationships with the lovers they have brought from town? What is at stake in the voyage to the jungle: civilization? manhood? identity? race? all of the above? how are they intertwined?

2. The jungle or the uncivilized – the primitive – is a constant theme in modern literary and cultural discourse because it is the apparent opposite of civilization (and it could, perhaps, remedy some of civilization’s discontents [Freud]). Yet in many of the texts we have read, the locations and characteristics of the “civilized” and the “barbaric,” the the modern and the primitive, become confused or blurred, as though these stark dichotomies had shorted out (so to speak). Discuss, using examples. Why and how does this happen? What do you think its implications are?

3. In any two of our novels, how does the jungle function as setting, character, symbol, metaphor? What does the jungle seem to mean, or, how does the idea of the “jungle” generate meaning?

4. Most characters in La casa verde are in some way, at the very least, inhabitants of the jungle, not city people who have traveled to it. How do their “jungle” experiences differ from those of Cova or the narrator of Los pasos perdidos? Do we see the jungle through their eyes? Do they describe it in ways that at all resemble the descriptions of the people from the city? Does anyone in the novel – or the narrator – use jungle tropes we have seen in other texts?

5. In both Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine the hero is seeking some form of authenticity – which in Los pasos perdidos is explicitly located in art, and in La vorágine, more obliquely, in poetry. How are art, authenticity, identity, and masculinity intertwined in these narratives? When does the “native” or the “primitive” resist consumption as art? How does this affect the experience of the hero and thus, the sense of the text?

6. La vorágine presents the jungle as a whirlpool, that pulls the “civilized” character in and ultimately (or so it is suggested) eats him up. La casa verde as text presents its narrative, national history, and the jungle itself as a kind of web. How do these images work to imbue the jungle, as it is presented in these texts, with the meaning it may have in each?

7. Many of our narrators and narrators present the jungle as being outside history. Does the material in the novels actually support this construction of the world? How do non-Western histories, or fragments of them, appear in these novels to push against the narratives of the West?

8. Both La vorágine and La casa verde engage, and perhaps criticize the discourse of civilization, barbarism and nation we saw articulated in Sarmiento. How do they do this?

9-10. DOUBLE QUESTION (you would have to do this in five pages). Many of the narratives we have studied focus on the story of a “civilized” character who, in the jungle and with either “barbaric” or utopian “primitives,” seeks liberation from the pressures and distortions of civilization. At the same time they seek to assert some form of power or control over the jungle, so that it will conform to their expectations and give them what they need. That is to say that they that they seek, simultaneously, to civilize what is “barbaric” in modernity through a reunion with the “primitive,” and also to control or defend against what seems to them to be chaotic, dissonant, or simply incomprehensible in their experience of the “primitive”.

Yet in several cases these characters lose, in different ways, the “restraint” and the focus on work which are the hallmarks of “civilization” and modernity. At other moments the apparent “disorder” of the jungle appears to win (whether the characters maintain their “civilized” focus or not). Another problem is that the “primitive” is often not a pure origin, but a colonized space which has already been deeply scarred by Western exploitation, so that it is in fact a product of Western culture – its source of wealth, but also the place where the West deposits its waste.

(Is the “horror” Marlow sees the horror of evil itself – or of an uncontrollable Otherness – or much more concretely, of what Belgian colonialism did to the Congo? Why is it important that this question is hard to answer? How does that apply to La vorágine and/or La casa verde?)

Consider: 1) What is at stake in this struggle with the jungle / the primitive / the “timeless”? What issues does it engage? Why are is the theme of the jungle so prevalent, and so compelling? 2) In these narratives, which often emphasize the standpoint of the urban or “civilized” character, is there also material which pushes against the Western view, and thus allows the jungle to be something more than a mere mirror of the Western self? Discuss, engaging at least two of our recent readings in some detail.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2008 in News, Plans

 

Station Break: The Gods Must Be Crazy

There are of course many primitive-and-civilized, jungle-and-desert related films and books I have not included in our syllabus, and still more I have not even seen or read. One of these films is The Gods Must Be Crazy (see clips and teaching aids in our video list). People who have not yet planned their oral presentations – and you know who you are – might wish to consider it.

Another idea is to revisit Torgovnick on modern art and relate her comments to Carpentier, remembering that he has severe doubts about the strength of modern European art (as critique of bourgeois society) in comparison to the mind-blowing artistic experience that is Latin American reality. 😉

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2008 in News, Plans

 

Facundo, y Planes Generales

El jueves en clase decidimos que el examen parcial NO CUBRIRA Los pasos perdidos, sino Conrad y Sarmiento (y los textos relacionados que hemos ido explorando). Las preguntas en su versión final aparecerán el 4 de marzo, y el examen se entregará el 11 de marzo a lo más tardar (se puede entregar antes, por supuesto).

De Facundo vamos a leer los primeros DOS capítulos – el primero para el jueves (28 febrero) y el segundo para el martes (4 marzo). Hay enlaces al texto completo en readings. Vamos a comentar entre otros temas la semejanza entre el “desierto” sarmentino y la “selva” de Conrad; nos referiremos a las teorías de EDWARD SAID sobre el “otro” y DORIS SOMMER sobre las ficciones “fundacionales” en América Latina.

El 6 de marzo presentaré yo sobre LOS PASOS PERDIDOS, libro que empezarán ustedes a leer para el martes, 11 de marzo (también se entrega el examen parcial ese día, por lo cual por favor planeen bien su tiempo).

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2008 in Plans

 

Herzog, Torgovnick, The Couple in the Cage: comentarios de la clase

Aquí van algunas de las ideas de la clase. Ninguna es de una sola persona – he juntado en cada párrafo las ideas de varios. The next journal entry, on Conrad, is due Tuesday, February 26. You can write on any aspect of the novella you would like, or try out questions on HD from the Midterm Question Bank (that page is subject to constant refination and change until we actually do the midterm).

[1] Herzog estalla en una crisis cuando la jungla no le obedece. Marlow describe la selva en términos semejantes o peores a las que usa Herzog, pero no tiene la misma reacción (violenta) ante las experiencias malas en la jungla, y su opinión cambia. Intelectualmente Herzog es más consciente que Marlow – sabe que la cultura indígena tiene valor y que el (neo)colonialismo es malo – pero el que ve las cosas de una matera más compleja, ambigua (en vez de ambivalente), matizada, y deja que la selva trabaje en su conciencia, es Marlow.

[2] The natives, whom Herzog compares to lions, are not so untouched by Western culture as he would like to believe. . . . Furthermore, they have a (human) culture of their own. They are not just living by instinct – killing and eating – like lions.

[3] I think the fascination of the Westerner with the primitive is, in fact, a fascination with himself and his reaction to the primitive. Instead of endeavoring to see the similarities and universalities we share with them, Herzog dwells on the differences. He fails to see that his men are taking advantage of the prostitutes, not the savages. Any time Westerners invade “primitive” lands, it seems that we become far more savage than the savages would ever be. Being near the “primitive” brings out the savage in us. The most interesting thing about that is that this kind of savagery does not necessarily exist in primitive culture.

[4] It is apparent that the constant fascination with the primitive in Western culture requires evaluation not just of what Western culture consists of but also of how to differentiate it from the unknown lives of the “uncivilized savages.” . . . The Western desire to unwrap the secrets of the “primitive” is obvious, but it is less obvious why this is so important to us. The fact that we as Westerners try to place the primitive at the end of a spectrum (of the “human”) in relation to our society is itself quite daunting to “unwrap,” because much as we attempt to polarize there are similarities, blending, and other connections between “us” and “them.”

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2008 in Ideas, Plans

 

Midterm Question Bank

Midterm instructions: choose two of the following topics, but not both #2 and #3.

Write a cogent, well-argued 500 word essay on each of the questions you choose. Think before you write – review the texts and the notes, and perhaps mull it all over for a day or two so that you have a clear argument in mind when you begin to write.

Be sure you can back up what you say with concrete evidence from the texts, and feel free to narrow the questions down (they are intentionally broad, so that you can take up the aspects of them which best fit your specific interests).

Feel free to refer to other texts we have examined, but remember that this exam focuses most squarely on Conrad and Sarmiento.

1. Hypothesis: if we consider that both “modernity” and modern colonialism began in 1492 with the discovery of America – with industrialized slavery and the creation of transnational corporations following closely on its heels – we could then say that the “savagery” of the “primitive” world, brutalized by colonization, is one side of the coin, and the spiritual emptiness of the modern / civilized world, sterilized by industrialization, is the other. Refine this hypothesis and discuss it in relation to Conrad and Sarmiento.

2. To what extent does and/or does not Heart of Darkness endorse or reproduce the discourse of Kipling’s 1899 poem The White Man’s Burden? Explain, citing specific examples from the texts.

3. To what extent do you and/or do you not agree with Torgovnick’s reading of Heart of Darkness, and why? Be specific.

4. How are the jungle and the pampas represented in Conrad and Sarmiento? In what terms are they described? Are they always dark or desolate? What else are they? What emotions are attached to them? What do they appear to represent? How can we tell? How do the descriptions of the land and the people work in the broader context of each narrative? How do the ideas of the civilized and the primitive play off against each other and/or intertwine themselves with each other?

OTHER STUDY QUESTIONS – FOR THE FURTHER STUDY AND THE FUTURE

1. What is the importance of Kurtz’ amazing voice?

2. At what point in his narration does it become clear to Marlow that he is going “to the heart of darkness”? Is this significant? How?

3. Go to our resources page and read some of the material on “Orientalism.” Then consider: is HD participating in “Orientalist discourse?” How? [This is a good question to choose because we are going to talk about Orientalism in connection with BOTH Sarmiento and Carpentier.]

4. [Relate Carpentier’s novel and Torgovnick, chapters 3-6 and 8.]

5. Look up two different, and ideally contrasting scholarly articles comparing HD and Apocalypse Now. What questions seem to drive the comparisons? Do you agree with them? Why? As a start toward this, check out my post on one such article, and the study questions in it.

6. Are there differences between the experience and attitude of Marlow and of Herzog in Burden of Dreams and/or of Willard in Apocalypse Now? Explain. What do these differences reveal and/or conceal about tropes such as the primitive, the voyage upriver, and the construction of the Western self in relation to the primitive? [Note that all three characters are agents, not originators or directors of colonial enterprises: Herzog is an artist who intends to do good, Marlow is on a job, and Willard is on a military mission for someone else. What does their positions as intermediaries enable them to see or to reveal, and to evade and conceal, which another position would not? And on second thought, is it Les Blank, who observes Herzog, and not Herzog himself who, in BD, occupies the Marlow/Willard position?]

LAST. Feel free to think up other good questions, including questions on Tarzan and The Jungle Book, and post them in the comments section here!

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Ideas, Midterm, News, Plans

 

Exhibiting “Others”

In class Thursday, February 7, we mostly discussed the two films we have seen, as well as parts of Torgovnick, chapters 2 and 7.

We decided to make the writing assignment (on the films/Torgovnick) due Tuesday instead of today, so that everyone can see the films. They are still on 2 hour reserve at the library. Monday at 3 I will change the loan period to overnight, so that people who want to study the films for future projects can take them home.

Tuesday in class we will share and compare ideas generated from our writing. We will also begin our discussion of Heart of Darkness. There is no specific number of pages to read for Tuesday – just start, and keep in mind that you are to be finished at the very latest by the following Tuesday, so pace yourself.

The study question for Tuesday is: how is the jungle represented in this novel? In what terms is it described? (Cite specific examples.) We will begin our discussion there, and continue by considering the novel in relation to Torgovnick’s seventh chaper, on HD.

Our discussion continues Thursday the 14th of February, which is also the date of Megan’s presentation on Apocalypse Now and other film related to HD. How does HD represent the Western self and exhibit the non-Western “other”? will be a key question for us on those days.

A journal entry related to these two study questions will be due Tuesday, February 19th, when we will wrap up our discussion of HD and transition into Facundo. Thursday, February 21, we will discuss Facundo and Stana will give her presentation on Tarzan.

Here is lagniappe on the question of exotic “others” and the way the Western “gaze” sexualizes the primitive and associates it with the feminine, the nonwhite, the body (often divorced from mind and soul): information on the Hottentot Venus.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2008 in News, Plans