E222 American Literature Journal Instructions, CSU Fullerton Fall 2013



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CONFIRMATION MESSAGES: Within two days after receipt, I'll email you an initial confirmation letting you know that I received your journal set, and a week or so afterwards I'll email you a more formal message with your grade for that set. If you don't receive a timely initial confirmation, it's your responsibility to let me know very soon (not weeks later!) – if I don't confirm receipt, I may well not have received your message and you will need to resend it.

FORMATTING OF JOURNAL SETS Use a common typeface like Times New Roman, Calibri, etc. and ordinary point size and margin settings. On average, "a page" means approximately 500 words. Don't skip several spaces between individual entries, but please include an initial bolded title line for a given author or text so I know what you're writing about. On average, by "a page," I mean approximately 500 words. Or as the mafia boss Sam Rothstein says to his hapless chef in Scorsese's Vegas film Casino, "From now on, I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin. An equal amount of blueberries in each muffin…. I don't care how long it takes. Put an equal amount in each muffin."

NOTE ON GENERATING MATERIAL. I recently decided to try to work up good study questions for all or most of our authors, and will be posting them as I write them. The first set is available as Questions from Whitman through Chopin. You are welcome to select some of these questions to help you generate thoughts for your journal, though using them is purely optional. If you use them, please included the question and number so I'll know which ones you are responding to.)

JOURNAL SET 1 (Weeks 1-4): Whitman through Kate Chopin. Suggested length of individual entries: 1/2 page on Whitman, 1/2 page on Dickinson, 1 page on Twain, 2 pages on James, 2 pages on Chopin. Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of MONDAY 09/23.

JOURNAL SET 2 (Weeks 5-8): London through E.E. Cummings. Suggested length of individual entries: 2 pages on London, 1 page on Frost, 1 page on W.C. Williams, 1 1/2 pages on T.S. Eliot, 1 page on either Wallace Stevens or E.E. Cummings. Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of MONDAY 10/21.

JOURNAL SET 3 (Weeks 9-12; see syllabus for due date): Hemingway through Hurston. Suggested length of individual entries: 1 page on Hemingway, 2 pages on Faulkner, 1 page on Hughes, 1 page on Hurston. Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of MONDAY 11/25.

JOURNAL SET 4 (Weeks 13-16; see syllabus for due date): Tennessee Williams through Shepard. Suggested length of individual entries: 2 pages on Williams, 1/2 page on Cheever, 1 1/2 pages on Ginsberg, 1 page on O'Connor, 1 1/2 pages on Shepard. Due Date: Email all entries clearly labeled and bundled into a single MS Word or similar file by the end of EXAM DAY, 12/19.


Start by creating a single file for an entire journal set: then you can add all your entries for the set to it. Don't wait until near the due date for the full journal set to do the entries; instead, write down your reflections as we go through each author's work. That way, you will find the journal sets less burdensome and they will be what they should: a chance to get credit for working out and confronting your own ideas and questions about the texts we will study. Ideally, you should do your individual entries before we discuss the works or portions thereof in class since that would allow you to participate better and get more from class sessions, but doing the entries not long after a class session is certainly acceptable.

What should go into the individual entries that make up a given set? Focus on each text's specific language, themes, and structure to develop your comments, and on substantive questions or observations that arise about the works themselves as you read and reflect. Do NOT bother with the following: detailed biographical material, ideas gleaned from professional online or hard-copy "notes," or vague generalisms about life and literature. As the British romantic poet William Blake once wrote, "to generalize is to be an idiot." (Of course, that's in itself a generalism, but still ….) Your thinking should be your own, not a copy-and-paste job. It would be unfair to suggest that all of the online notes one finds on the Web are inaccurate or inept, but the truth is that they usually say what "everybody knows." Simply retailing what everybody supposedly thinks about a given work won't encourage you to learn anything in the deepest sense (the kind that means something to you personally) from your engagement with literary works. Strike out instead on your own path. The Impressionist critic Walter Pater said that any critic's first task is to register and come to grips with his or her own impressions about the object being experienced. Pater was right: if you can't get clear on your own impressions, on your own questions and observations, you're not likely to say much that interests anybody else. Make that clarity your goal, then, in the journal entries and full sets that you develop.


While you will probably want to maintain your journal set by means of free-form entries as noted above, you may find one or more of the following questions useful on occasion as a means of developing your own ideas.

1. For one part of your longer entry on a given author/work, consider a very limited portion of the text -- a stanza or two from a poem, a short passage from a longer prose work, or a small section chosen from within a scene in a play. Analyze it in as much detail as you can: what formal, thematic, or other matters are most important to attend to there, and why?

2. What did you find most difficult to understand (or, alternately, to accept or like) while reading the text/s assigned for this author? What did you do to try to get past the difficulty you describe and understand the work better? Explain with reference to some specific quality that you can tie to a specific part of the text, not with vague and general remarks.

3. Offer an assessment of what you consider most worth noting about one text assigned for a specific author: in other words, what do you take away from your experience with the work, what realizations or problems, etc. has it brought into focus for you? Explain with reference to specific qualities or issues -- don't respond with vague praise or unqualified dismissal.

4. Why not generate your own specific, substantive question/s and respond, as if you were writing a thoughtful study question or set of them for a particular author/text?

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