Bybilleder: writers and artists on Copenhagen

Update: I’ve now also had a look at another new find, Her er DK (2017) – see the foot of the post for details

Place writing in the British mould is thin on the ground in Denmark so I have to take what I can get.

Bybilleder: kunstnernes og forfatternes København (2016) consists of 75 snippets from Danish literature over the past 250 years set against 75 paintings, selected and presented by art historian Bente Scavenius and literary critic Bo Tao Michaëlis; 360 pages for DK 399. Reviews: Kopenhagen Magasin, Litteratursiden, Love Copenhagen.

Another of those too-big-to-handle offerings from Strandberg, this one had generøse bidrag from a total of nine fonde, but still could hardly be considered an impulse buy. Borrowed from the library on a 14 day loan, so an academic style read will have to suffice. And I’m not likely to buy it as a trophy to sit on a shelf.

In the authors’ respective forewords there’s lots of the usual glowing prose which sucks the life out of me: for BSc it’s a hyldest to Copenhagen, an oplevelse, noget til inspiration for hjerte og hjerne…then we’re heads down into the paintings and the extracts, some on different coloured paper, mainly poetry, often so short as to feel pointless (probably the shortest contribution is eight lines Uden titel (1969) from Inger Christensen), and in largish print, introduced at considerably more length by our two authors, with brief biographical notes pointing to the subject’s main works.

We are taken chronologically through the great and the good, uncritically and seemingly unselectively. It’s an encyclopedia, a reference book – a text book, even – in presentation and style. What aids are there? Zilch – just an a-z list of authors and source without page numbers, nothing for the paintings. I’d quite like to know there are two pieces from HuskMitNavn, feks, and an index by place and a timeline wouldn’t go amiss either. There are some nice pieces, but it doesn’t come together as a whole, lacking comparisons between the genres and any form of analysis. And psychogeography it ain’t – the excerpts may mention a place, but it’s rare they are _of_ a place. Which tends to be the problem, as identified already.

The usual place related suspects (from Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson to Amalie Laulund Trudsø via Hermann Bang and Tom Kristensen) are represented in the 75 strong selection, of which I have probably heard of around two thirds of the writers and a third of the artists. Sadly, there is no space for Asger Jorn’s Fin de Copenhague – he is instead represented by Døddrukne danskere (1960) –  but there is room for a poem apiece from half-Danish film actor Viggo Mortensen and a certain Prins Henri (husband of the queen), which I originally thought was a performance art style joke. It passes without comment from BTM.

A quartet of artworks which caught the eye:

  • Allan Otte’s Nørrebro udtræk (2014) – a 10m x 1ocm frieze of Nørrebrogade, with places moved around to fit and no people (which is his thing); commissioned by Nørrebro Teater
  • Niels Strøbek’s Gårdparti i seks dele (1970) – representation of a typical apartment building in the brokvartere
  • Peter Land’s Copenhagen 11. December 1999, Hurricane II (2000) – portraying Copenhagen’s great storm, when everything was up in the air
  • Jesper Christiansen’s Ved et torv om morgenen (2013) – Gammeltorv, one of a series of paintings produced for Københavns Byret; Kierkegaard lived nearby, taking his daily menneskebad down Routen, as Strøget was called at the time

This last is complemented by Morten Søndergaard’s M for Marmor (2011), taken from Bakkehusalfabet (in lib) which he wrote while in residence at Bakkehuset, and more than short enough to reproduce here:

M for Marmor

Carrara-marmor med indskrift

Husene taler med deres mærkelige marmorpladstemmer: “Her skrev Grundtvig”, “her boede Søren Kierkegaard”, “her blev Hans Christian Andersen født”. Men hvem er det, der taler? Det er, som om husene er udstyret med stenstemmer, so hakkes ud på gavle og facader. Hvem siger noget? Er det tiden selv? Her! Der! Den! Dengang! Vi går forbi og tænker hvert sit. Aha, det var altså mindeværdigt, aha, den person var altså værdig til marmorens evighed. Stenord og stensætninger finder plads i arkitekturen, det bløde kød skal mindes i hård sten. Men hvem er det, som siger noget med husets mund?

Søndergaard is musing on the voices behind the marble plaques found in Copenhagen, emanating from houses and cut out of facades. Who is speaking – is it time itself? Is one person more worthy of an eternal memory in marble than others? Flesh memorialised in stone…who is speaking through the mouth of the house?

BTM sees the setting of plaques on buildings as the Protestant equivalent of the pilgrimage to relics and shrines. Dating from the 19th century, when public interest in the lives of artists exploded and the enlightened bourgeoisie began to make pilgrimages to cultural places, today it is a form of tourism, encouraged by turistbranchen.

This tickled me, not least because there are so few plaques in Copenhagen, and those there are, are so understated as to be practically invisible. Signage is also limited. Evidence of history is hard to find on the streets.

To finish…the more Danish books I look at the more I wonder at the differences between the UK and Danish markets, a reflection perhaps of general cultural differences. For many Danes the UK is bad taste corner, while Brits gape at Danish lampshades. Style, design, call what you will, is downplayed in the UK in favour of verbal dexterity and understatement. While in Denmark another new place-based title, Her er DK, is hailed for its lovely design.

And Strandberg do lovely things, if shading into something to look at rather than to read. For the record, here’s a pick of their other publications from urbanist corner:


Her er DK (2017; FB): “en bog om ukendte steder og oversete seværdigheder”; 217 writers contribute overlooked places throughout Denmark; examples include Cykelslangen (hardly overset, Martin Zerlang!); for the record, it’s DK 349 for 270 pages, some weird sub-A4 size; reviews: Jyllands Posten (paywall), Søren Ryge in Politiken (seemingly not asked); all very lovely and unlikely to scare the horses.

Purloined from the library, I note that the book is described as “et geografisk opslagsværk”, ie it’s not intended to be read from cover to cover; and it certainly feels like something to leaf through rather than read, although that may be because it’s brand new and from the library. It’s so pristine you feel like you should be wearing white gloves to handle it.

A Peter Plys (aka Winnie the Pooh) epithet at the start sets the tone: “Hvad slags historie holder han mest af? Han vil helst høre en historie om sig selv.”

There’s a geographical arrangement, starting with Nordvest, by coordinates rather than region, now that’s novel. The contributor is noted with initials not by name at the end of each piece. The contributions are often v short, too short to make much of a lasting impression. We have registre by place and name, which cross-refer to page number rather than place, that’s just annoying; I couldn’t be bothered to juggle the book to refer back to some, and I have a hunch that the list is on the website anyway (yes! See Hvem og hvor). As ever, I’m left wondering who the target market is (and how much quasi-public support it got) – for me, disappointing, although alternative forms of presentation might have helped.

While the choice of place tends mainly to the lovely, Vestegnen has three entries:

  • Rødovre: Damhustorvet, or “porten til Vestegnen”, by MSQ (Maria Skov Quistgaard, journalist, Information)
  • Albertslund: photo of Bytorvet, by VCB (Vesle Cosman Brøndum, kunstner)
  • Hvidovre: Friheden by NEO (Najat El Ouargui, strategisk analytiker ved Rigspolitiet)

#FLcuriosity: my research project

Harness your curiosity and use it to undertake your own research projects in a scholarly manner!

Quite. #FLcuriosity, aka Developing your research project, eight weeks from 27 June, University of Southampton.

Week 1: starting an academic research project

  • think about what inspires you (broad topic area)
  • consider what skills you might develop through undertaking a research project (transferable skills)
  • think very clearly about what exactly you are getting into by undertaking a research project (checklist)

A good research project will look at the work of previous scholars, will build upon that, while adding original views and interpretations, so that you get the opportunity to make an original contribution to the subject that interests you.

Week 2: drafting a research proposal

You might just end up researching and carrying on finding things that you find are really interesting, but never narrow down a research question…work out what you’re interested in…not coming up with a list of everything but rather picking something and sticking to it and creating a research question from that.

  • document your thoughts as you go along in a research log (mindmaps!)
  • home in on a research topic that meets your requirements
  • develop a draft hypothesis that is broad enough to give you scope to explore but narrow enough to be manageable
  • write a draft research proposal  (approx 200 words)
hypothesis

draft hypothesis: To what extent have tuition fee increases reduced the number of students applying to UK universities?

Either work downwards, or if you already have a topic you wish to explore, work backwards to broaden out your focus to identify what subject it is that your project actually falls under – and accompanying approach and methodology.

Week 3: undertaking research and recording your findings

How to find and select reliable sources, as well as how to record the origins of these sources to make sure you can prove where your evidence came from.

Should be ‘meat and drink’:

  • familiarise yourself with commonly used book and journal terminology
  • put a system in place for systematically checking out sources and recording your findings
  • consider why searching out primary sources rather than using secondary information can give you the ‘edge’ in your research project
  • experiment with ‘exploding’ out the terms of your draft title to get you started with your research (try post-its or a mindmap); it’s about knowing a lot about a little, not vice versa, so keep the theme of your research narrow, focused, and ideally measurable:

Screenshot

Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is rubbish.

Week 4: choosing an appropriate methodology

  • find out what type of research methods are appropriate for your topic
  • consider the benefits and drawbacks for the research methods you have selected and whether your research questions and hypotheses may need re-thinking
  • update your research proposal to include your methodologies

The different types of methodology are broadly split between:

  • quantitative – produce quantifiable outcomes; you are likely to have clearly set out responses (variables) to questions you ask, eg yes/no responses, likelihood or degrees of satisfaction questions on a given scale, allowing for statistically reliable and significant analysis of and between variables, which may infer something about the sample population, and if a representative sample, the wider target population
  • qualitative – do not provide as structured responses and as such fewer inferences can be made beyond the individuals sampled, however less structure means less restricted answers, often providing very rich and contextual data; we might  want to know beyond a yes or no answer, instead trying to achieve a ‘well maybe, I’m not sure though, because of x, y and z’ type answer that tells us far more
  • consider also mixed methods

Questions:

  • which sources of information might be instrumental in answering your research question?
  • how will you obtain sources of information appropriate for your research project?
  • how may you wish to analyse them?
  • how you might wish to look at your source material and what methods of analysis will you use to investigate it more closely?
  • consider the potential biases you may encounter with the sources of information and analyses you have chosen – think about how these biases could impact upon your project and weigh up some of the advantages and disadvantages of your choice accordingly

Week 5: academic reading and note taking 

Academic reading is a very practical way of dealing with books and materials. Instead of reading through every single piece of the material, begin by going straight to the sign posts:

  • chapters – read the opening and concluding paragraphs and ask: “is this relevant?”
  • index – look for keywords
  • signal words – ‘therefore’, on the other hand’

Three main approaches:

  • scanning – locate specific information (statistics, details, particular names or keywords) by just looking at the page, in particular the key terms
  • skimming – read a longish text or parts of one (eg the first and last couple of lines of paragraphs) to get the gist (the main idea) of what it contains; the aim is not to get a detailed understanding but rather an overview that may be relevant to your enquiry
  • critical close reading
  • see Barbara Fillip on What happens when I read a non-fiction book and Different ways of reading

At the heart of much academic writing is an argument. An academic argument can vary in form according to the subject area; however, there are shared common elements (claim, data, justification). You need to be able to deconstruct and understand an academic argument when reading and create an argument in your own writing.

Effective note taking means identifying the information which is relevant without noting everything down. Using appropriate academic reading skills can save you time. When note taking, where possible put the information in your own words and, if you don’t, make sure that you have a system that makes this clear otherwise you could end up plagiarising.

Note taking tools:

  • blogging and mind mapping
  • annotating – highlighting, underlining, writing in the margin; summarise afterwards to avoid plagiarism
  • Docear – imports and organises PDFs with notes into a mind map
  • Read Cube, Scrivner and Zotero – all show PDFs in one half and a notebook on the other half to take notes while reading
  • a notebook – half-processed writing

Week 6: referencing

By the end of this week you will be aware of the different styles of referencing and know how to set your references out to an academic standard.

Understanding academic integrity (Soton’s regs) and plagiarism. Referencing styles, including Harvard, Chicago, Modern Humanities Research Association (MRHA; Soton guide), Modern Language Association (MLA), OSCOLA…

A Harvard reference, yuk:

Lipson, C (2006) Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More London: The University of Chicago Press

Useful online tools include Endnote and Mendeley (tutorial).

Week 7: writing up your research

Ways of making sense of the sources and results you have gathered and how to go about structuring your essay, as an essay plan:

  • establish a time limit and/or word count
  • lay your sources out, either physically or digitally, and work out which ones fit to which parts of your essay
    • for or against style essay –  arrange them on two sides
  • introduction –  set out the context and tell the reader what they’re going to be told, what your overall position will be and exactly how you plan to guide the reader through your work
    • ie context, hypothesis, structure
  • main body – explore in more depth the importance of your research, what the background to it is, and what work has already been done in this field
    • show examples as evidence of the issues that you’ve considered in shaping your general point of view
    • for each section outline your point, provide evidence for it, then link it back to your research question, and on again to your next point
    • make a counterargument for every point to show that you’ve thoroughly considered all sides of the argument
    • literature review – document work that exists in your field already, its significance, and your take on it
    • methodology section – explain complicated methods, or forms of analysis
    • ie  overview, examples, paragraphs
  • conclusion – a very clear statement of your argument in a way that satisfies your research questions
    • what the implications of your work are, who agrees with you, and where further research might be useful
    • reveal your results, followed by a discussion which indicates what their significance is and the impact on your research questions
    • tie all the strands of evidence together into one coherent piece of work
    • ie answer, argument, implications

Write an abstract (around 200 words) after you have finished writing up your research project, summarising what your project contains:

  • what you set out to do and why (hypothesis and research questions)
  • how you did it (methodology)
  • what you found (results and conclusions)
  • recommendations (whether you have any will depend on the type of research project)

But Why is academic writing so academic? See also #acwri post, and, rather more me, Engage 2014.

Week 8: presenting your research

A bit academic, at this juncture.

Tools: PowerPoint | Sway | Prezi | overview

#FLdigireading: Reading literature in the digital age

Updates for 2017: New technologies challenging author and reader roles: “how online social networking technologies enable authors and readers to interact in ways that were previously not possible [and] how this can impact understanding of a written work, and how it can shape an author’s ongoing or future work”…Reading on reading, copious links from the new Reading on Screen (@onlinereaders1) project

Reading literature in the digital age from the University of Basel, on FutureLearn, ran from 28 March for six weeks. Led by Philipp Schweighauser, Head of American and General Literatures.

How do we read literary texts today? Learn new ways of interpreting texts, from time-tested methods to computer-assisted practices such as distant reading.

In the course you will:

  • learn how to interpret a work of literature without using any contextual information
  • reflect on the costs and benefits of online reading
  • encounter a method for reading thousands of literary texts with the help of computer algorithms
  • think hard about the feel and smell of books

How we read today: different media

Offline and online, print book and ebook…reading always implies the use of a specific medium of reading, and  the technological possibilities of the medium fundamentally shape our reading experience with far-reaching cognitive and social effects.

Reading habits have changed substantially over the last three decades. A National Literary Trust 2013 survey found that today’s young people “are now much more likely to prefer to read on a computer screen rather than a printed book or magazine”, while a 2015 survey found significant gender and ethnic divides between online and offline readers: “girls continue to outpace boys in their enthusiasm for reading outside school at all age levels, with black girls in particular showing a prodigious appetite for literature”.

How do the new forms of reading impact the cognitive processing of the texts we read? When we read texts online or as ebooks, do we get as deep an understanding of them and remember as much of them as we do when we read a print book? See Anne Mangan’s 2014 study, which suggested that ebook reading impacts our cognitive processing negatively.

See posts on ebooks and digital literature, reading long form and reading the Berlin ebooks.

In our learning community, ebook readers and print books seem to be the favorite reading media. A sizeable minority has abandoned reading print books altogether, be it for reasons of space, mobility, or money. A majority treasures print books for their sensuous and aesthetic qualities, valuing their look, touch, and smell…reading literary texts in different media means reading literary texts differently. We could even say that it means reading a different literary text.

How we read today: new strategies

See post on different ways of reading.

Lay reading techniques, products of and responses to the digital age. What do you do when you read texts online?

  • hyper reading – unlike ‘linear’ reading takes us into multiple directions which cannot be foreseen at the beginning of the reading process
  • social reading – a collaborative form of online reading that incorporates discussion into the reading process and turns it into a communal experience; see post on tweeting about reading

Professional reading techniques:

  • close reading – deliberately ignores all historical, social, political, and biographical contexts to focus on the text itself, zooming in on the words on the page and teasing out all the subtleties of the literary forms, and devices, and structures that make up a text; as practised on #FLHouseLit; see Sarah Dillon on R4’s Open Book (also connection with digital reading techniques in its forensic intensity, perhaps)
  • historical contextualization – placing texts in their literary-historical context – part of which is the literary-geographical context – see stedssans category and page, #FLwordsworth and #FLfairytales
  • distant reading – Moretti; surveys, analyses, and describes even thousands of literary texts to identify general patterns and large scale historical developments across centuries and national borders, drawing on the methods of the natural and the social sciences; some of the most interesting outputs are not interpretations but visualisations (graphs, maps, trees); relationship with text analysis
  • surface reading – also not interested in interpreting literary texts, but focuses on a variety of things inc the materiality of books: some interesting stuff here; relationship with experimental writing

Close reading is one of the most widespread scholarly methods in literary criticism and constitutes an indispensable tool, the bread and butter, for professional readers. Formalist, ahistorical, too strenuous, too reductive, relevant to scholars only, not well suited to the digital age with its information overload, or a useful tool for interpreting literary and other texts?

Developed from a 1920s experiment by English literary critic IA Richards, but today more closely associated with the (American) New Critics, who dominated literary scholarship in the 1950s and 1960s. Poems that bear out such a close examination are characterised by multilayered relations between words, sounds, and meanings, with ambiguities, paradoxes, ironies, and tensions contained within the organic unity of the text. Literary texts don’t need to serve any psychological or social function, to educate us or strive to make the world a better place – instead, they carry their value in themselves.

My classic 1980s degree in German was studied almost exclusively through close reading, although no one ever called it that. A module on the literature of the Weimar Republic, employing historical contextualisation techniques, was considered rather risqué and not quite proper.

Hyper reading is the type of reading you perform when you look anything up on the web, eg skimming webpages, following hyperlinks, downloading files, cutting and pasting text you find useful. See James Sosnoski’s 1999 essay, Hyper-readers and their reading engines, classing hyper reading as screen-based, computer-assisted reading practices. Hyper reading takes place online and is a non-linear form of reading, where hyperlinks can take us into any kind of direction, instead of proceeding smoothly from page one to page two, and so on. (Hmm not convinced this only takes place online.)

Sosnoski’s eight hyper reading strategies:

  • filtering – selecting what texts or what parts of the text you read; with the help of search engines we filter the countless pages that make up the web and select but one or a few
  • skimming – locating the parts of a text you find most interesting, eg via a table of contents
  • pecking – a less structured and more random activity; randomly reading a bit here and a bit there, without respecting a text’s internal structure or coherence
  • imposing –  we attribute less coherence, unity and authority to hypertexts than eg a poem or a novel; we impose our interest on the text and use it for our ends, imposing our own specific significance on it
  • filming – privileging visual materials over texts; hyper readers film hypertexts
  • trespassing – ‘textual burglars’ raid hyper-texts and cut and paste whatever they find interesting; the danger is plagiarism and related
  • de-authorizing – authorship on the web is often difficult to determine; hyper readers don’t really care who authored a website and tend to treat them as if they were completely in the public domain; any link a website has to another website is an act of de-authorizing that website by putting it to one’s own uses
  • fragmenting – breaking texts into smaller units, relevant to purpose, thus fragmenting the text

Two more from Katherine Hayles’ How we think: digital media and contemporary technogenesis (2012):

  • juxtaposing – opening two windows, placing them side by side to eg cut and paste text; reading across two or more texts
  • scanning – rapidly reading through a website to identify interesting parts

Which of these go beyond stating the obvious? But still useful for typology lovers.

How does constant exposure to hyper reading affect us and what we can do about these changes?  Benefits and risks:

  • several studies show that people read less print, and they read print less well (Hayles)
  • other studies find that people, including digital natives, are reading more novels again – how to convert the increased digital reading into increased reading ability, and how to make effective bridges between digital reading and the literacy traditionally associated with print’ (Hayles)?
  • Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies (1994) warns against the disappearance of ‘deep reading’, the experiential equivalent of close reading, the cognitive and emotional effects that solitary, close, concentrated reading has on readers
  • much more of this from Nicholas Carr and The shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains (2010; article); continual on-screen reading changes the neuronal structures of readers’ brains

Can online social reading sites turn reading into a whole new communal experience? “Social reading is a form of collaborative reading that takes place online, incorporating discussion into the reading process and thus turning it into a community experience”. Hmm…depends v much on the ‘community’ – not ideal for the anti-social.

See Glose, SocialBook (and the Open Utopia pilot project), The Golden Notebook Project (2008), book clubs…and Bob Stein’s (founder of the Institute for the Future of the Book) essay A taxonomy of social reading: a proposal.

  1. Does the collaborative practice of social reading truly enhance our understanding of literary texts?
  2. Does social reading allow for a free exchange of equals?
  3. Will social reading ever replace solitary reading?

How can historical contextualization help us understand a literary work? Investigating the historical contexts of a literary text is one way to make sense of it. The literary-historical contexts of a work include, among others, the institutional aspects of its publication, its relation to the dynamics of various literary and artistic movements, and the connection of its author to other authors.

New Historicism has been a leading theoretical school in the humanities over the last three decades. New Historicists such as Stephen Greenblatt and Jane Tompkins developed a new historical approach to literature and culture.

New Historicists no longer believe that any historical era is dominated by one worldview shared by all – any era is shaped by competing worldviews and ideologies. History is neither progressive nor teleological. The world is not continually improving, for if that were the case, something like the Holocaust could have never happened. Likewise, history does not move toward a telos, an end or a goal. A teleological view of history would for instance argue that eventually, all the world will resemble Western liberal democracies, while New Historicists propose that history is much rather shaped by competing forces and changing power relations.

Historians’ desire to fully know and understand the past is illusory. The past is the past and as such, never directly accessible to us. Louis Montrose: the historicity of texts and the textuality of history. When we read literary texts we need to take into consideration that they were written and read at a specific moment in history, at a specific time and place whose social and cultural configurations were different from our own. The texts that historians and literary scholars write are also shaped by their time and place.

The textuality of history means that the past is the past and as such, never directly accessible to us. In most cases, the past comes to us in the form of surviving texts. Those texts that historians call sources. The texts from the past that historians call sources always already interpret the past, provide a certain perspective on the past that needs to be interpreted by us. New Historicists also note that the texts from the past that we actually have access to today are only a minute fraction of the texts that were actually produced and only give us certain perspectives on the past.

Perhaps the most important notion of New Historicism is cultural work (Jane Tompkins), going against the idea that literary texts simply mirror or reflect the world. For New Historicists literary texts are an integral part of the world in which they are read. They negotiate, comment on, and intervene in social and political debates of the time. Hence historical contextualisation is also good at providing opportunities to deal with questions which are related to literature only indirectly but which nonetheless strongly influence our perception of it.

Distant reading is a quintessentially digital method of analysing literature, relying on computer programmes. In many ways it is not reading at all – or at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Moretti: “We know how to read texts. Now let’s learn how not to read them.”

Computer programmes, with the help of methods borrowed from the social sciences and natural sciences, are breaking new ground in dealing with literary texts and provide fascinating insights about literature. This strategy, developed by Franco Moretti, represents an attempt at utilizing big data analytics for the purposes of literary scholarship.

Three main arguments for distant reading:

  • not “years of analysis for a day of synthesis” (Marc Bloch) – instead of embarking on close readings of the semantic and syntactic intricacies of single individual literary texts literary scholars can now use large databases, scan thousands of literary texts and identify recurring patterns and large scale historical developments
  • traditional literary scholars tend to focus on a rather narrow selection of literary texts written by eg dead, white males; distant reading promises to pry open the canon to also include largely forgotten works of literature
  • a promise of greater objectivity – traditional literary scholarship tends to be subjective in the end, shaped by the literary scholar’s own norms, values, and prejudices

Try out the Google Ngram Viewer (about) or Euterpe, an examination of French scientific poetry from the Enlightenment to the beginning of the 20th century, led by Hugues Marchal. Or not.

Surface reading is not unitary method or a school of thought, but rather a general attitude towards literature that manifests itself in a set of heterogeneous practices linked by common presuppositions about the nature of cultural experience in general, such as the one claiming that by focusing on the meaning of literary texts we exclude and lose sight of another important dimension of literature.

Is the medium the message? To what extent do different media determine or preconfigure our reading experience and our interpretation of individual texts? The medial, material and technological preconditions of all communication forms, including reading.

The emergence of new media has a transforming effect on both society and the human psyche. What is the message of your cell phone? What psychological and social consequences does it have? How has it changed the way we think and act? How has it affected the structures and interactions of local, national, and global communities? What is the message of ebooks? Health effects, how the reading experience is enhanced or diminished by features not available for print books, the legal, political, and economic consequences of the increasing distribution and use of ebooks.

Why does the materiality of books matter? Since the 1980s scholars of modern literature have begun to devote increasing attention to those features of books that medievalists and Renaissance scholars have always considered crucial: the stuff that books are made of (their size, weight, type of paper, and binding) and the texts that surround the text proper (the cover, the copyright pages, marginalia).

  • in 1997 French literary theorist Gérard Genette coined the term paratext to name all those texts; paratexts are the portals through which we access the text proper, ‘thresholds of interpretation’ ‘thresholds of interpretation’ which significantly shape our reading experience, including our attempts to make sense of what we read
  • in the 1980s and 1990s Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Ludwig Pfeiffer invited us to focus on the ‘materialities of communication…all those phenomena and conditions that contribute to the production of meaning, without being meaning themselves’
  • in a more recent special issue of Representations (108.1 (2009): 1–21) Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus introduced the term surface reading to name a kind of reading strategy that focuses on the surfaces of texts, ‘what is evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts; what is neither hidden nor hiding; what, in the geometrical sense, has length and breadth but no thickness, and therefore covers no depth. A surface is what insists on being looked at rather than what we must train ourselves to see through.’

How is print culture responding to the challenges posed by digitalisation? One way is via remediation, the dynamic relation between older and newer media and the way they refashion and adapt to each other. In 1999 J David Bolter and Richard Grusin published Remediation: understanding new media, aiming at updating McLuhan’s insights for the 21st century. One of their central claims is that new media do not simply replace older media. Instead, they rework and redeploy older media, retaining some of their features and functions while discarding others. Media history is, in other words, not a series of radical breaks and ruptures, but rather a series of continual refunctionings and redeployments of older media by new media.

Remediation is defined as ‘the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms.’ It’s not only that new media remediate old media. Old media such as films and books also remediate new media such as computer games and hyper texts (retrograde remediation).

See eg McSweeney‘s Issue 19, Old Facts, New Fiction, & a Novella, which imitates and puts to new uses the multimedial quality of newer media:

By giving us the freedom to read these various texts and images and look at them in any order, this literary cigar box gives us the freedom to combine text and images in multiple ways. And that’s precisely the kind of freedom that we have learned to appreciate from hypertext. But this literary object here, all of this together, does something more than imitate hypertext and the world wide web.

It also does something that these newer media cannot do. It gives us a very sensuous and haptic access to these texts, these images here. We take these various artefacts into our hands, marvel at how well they’re made, and position them on the table next to each other, combining them in various ways. So McSweeney’s meets the challenge of new media by creating beautiful tangible literary objects. These material haptic qualities are well-nigh impossible to reproduce on the computer screen. McSweeney’s takes up the glove and competes in the medial arena, following its own maxim to create ’little, heavy, papery, beautiful things’.

Bolter and Grusin outline two major strategies in the medial competition between old and new media:

  • hypermediality – a ‘style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium’; an early example of hypermediacy would be medieval books of hours, which contain beautiful illustrations that draw readers’ attention to the materiality of the book itself
  • transparent immediacy – where the goal is to make the reader or viewer forget the medium and give in to the illusion that what they experience is immediate and direct, eg 3d movies and fantasy novels

Verdict: the number of linked posts on reading and related shows that much of this was useful revision. An efficient FutureLearn MOOC, then, if not groundbreaking for me. My strategy remains curated reading, the introvert appropriate approach to social reading, which all too often though tends towards half-reading.

Update: interestingly, the Digital Reading Network‘s Simon Frost picks up the idea of curated reading from the other side with the concept of the ‘Net Work’, capturing “the idea of the work as an event which consists of people, places and bibliographic objects”. See also Reading the age of the Internet (Language and Literature 25(3)).

A related issue is the dissemination of literature in the digital age, as seen at Danish public libraries. See IVA’s Ditte Balling and CROWD, including its INTRE:FACE conference (posts), for more.

#FLRobert Burns: the Robert Burns MOOC

Quick look at Robert Burns: poems, songs and legacy (#FLRobertBurns) from the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow kicked off on 25 Jan, obv, for three weeks.

Who was Robert Burns? What made Robert Burns a poetic genius? And what made Robert Burns a global icon?

You’ll examine archive material, original publications and manuscripts by Burns himself, recordings of Burns songs and examples of objects used to commemorate the poet. You’ll also look at and learn to interpret a selection of Robert Burns’ works in the context of Scottish history and culture.

Setting things in a wider context, you’ll also develop your understanding of Robert Burns’s reputation – from the rise of Burns Clubs and Burns Suppers following his death, to the continuing celebration of the poet today through Burns Night, Hogmanay (New Year) and beyond.

A counterpoint to #FLfairytales and #FLwordsworth, then.

Who was – and is – Robert Burns?

Rabbie wordcloudKicking off by debunking Rabbie related mythology, the first week proper had 21 steps, the sort of thing which makes me groan. Anyway, step 1 invited a one word response on something called AnswerGarden to the question: who was Robert Burns? I went with ‘Scot’. There’s quite a nice wordcloud emerging (see right).

How are we to understand the man and his reputation? What transformed him from the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ first discovered in the 18th century into the instantly recognised celebrity he is today? Burns occupies different roles throughout his life – poet, farmer, exciseman – and has indeed meant different things to different people at different times.

For some he is a ‘national bard’ and Scottish patriot; for others he is a major British poet; while others still might argue that Burns is a citizen of the world. Burns has also been regarded a somewhat contentious figure. His many romantic liasons, for example, have raised controversy, yet they have also provided inspiration for some of the most memorable love poetry ever written. For some Burns is more a radical figure, one who speaks on behalf of the common man (and woman).

Three things from the intro I didn’t know:

  • he brought Scots poetry back into vogue
  • he was an avid collector and editor of Scots songs, as well as writing many new ones himself
  • by the time of his death at the age of 37 he had made at least five women pregnant on at least 13 occasions and sired at least 12 children

Edwin Muir (1887–1959): Burns is ‘to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious’.

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978) ‘Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name / Than in ony’s barrin’ liberty and Christ’!

Born in 1759, in April 1783 Burns began a first Commonplace Book (a type of scrapbook or notebook), marking the beginning of his sustained endeavours as a writer. In 1786 that he published his first volume of poetry: Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock. The success of the Kilmarnock edition put an end to his supposed plans to emigrate to the West Indies. Instead he travelled to Edinburgh to promote his poetry and prepare for the publication of a 2nd edition, the ‘Edinburgh Edition’, in April 1787.

In the years that followed Burns produced several of his most famous works, however in the latter part of his life he moved away from poetry, investing much of his time and creative energy collecting and composing songs.

Burns was a freemason and wrote numerous poems inspired by and for his Masonic brethren. The Freemasons played an important part in the posthumous commemoration of the national bard, securing the tradition of the Burns supper and commissioning and/or contributing to numerous statues and memorials.

 

 

Lots of poetry reading and textual analysis!

Poet or songwriter?

We take a closer look at Burns as poet and songwriter…We also take a trip to visit our friends at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway to look at some of the publications and manuscripts held in their extensive collection, and you’ll even try your hand at transcribing a manuscript in Burns’s own handwriting. Together, we’ll examine some of the influences on Burns and his career collecting and reworking traditional songs.

Robert Burns wrote or collected two songs for every poem he produced, and was clearly both a success as a poet and as a songwriter. It is probably true to say, however, that his song-writing is thought of as a subset of his work as ‘a poet’.

  1. It is probably Burns’s love of ‘rhyme’ that led him into an increasing interest in song from poetry.
  2. However it might also be noted that his first creative production was the song, ‘O Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass’ (1774), and that among his earliest work is a number of other songs.
  3. Burns selected and adapted tunes for his songs, but he did not write original tunes.
  4. Many of his works such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ or ‘A Red Rose’ were often published without music in editions of his work as though these were poems.
  5. Burns refers to himself as ‘poet Burns’ and as a ‘rhymester’ rather than as a songwriter.

Among Burns’s most celebrated songs are his Jacobite pieces, such as ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’ (from the mid-1790s), his love songs, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (1791) and ‘A Red Rose’ (1794), and also ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (1788). As with ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ existed in a number of versions going back to the 16th century, but it is Burns who really popularises the title-phrase, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, reworking its emphasis and the material within the song. Burns made the song into something appropriate to a new age of emigration, a more universal sentiment where friends and families are rendered asunder.

What made Burns an international icon?

Hundreds of biographies, edited collections and critical studies of Burns’s life and works have been published since the bard’s death in 1796, and there are over 3000 translations of Burns’s works into foreign languages, but Burns’s literary works are just one aspect of his legacy.

Since the 19th century Burns has been celebrated at Burns Suppers, in Burns related statuary and memorabilia and at grand centenary celebrations such as those held across the globe in 1859 and 1896. Innumerable composers, artists and performers have been inspired by Burns.

Statues and public memorials to Robert Burns were being erected across the globe as early as the mid-19th century. By 1909 over 40 had been commissioned in the UK, and a minimum of five in Australia, three in Canada, one in New Zealand, and nine in the USA.

Some trivia related to Burns’s reputation:

  • Burns coined the popular phrase ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’ in his poem ‘Man Was Made to Mourn’
  • like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the title of JD Salinger’s famous novel Catcher in the Rye comes from one of Burns’s poems – ‘Comin’ Thro’ the Rye’
  • US President Abraham Lincoln was a real fan of Burns and could recite pieces of Burns’s poetry by heart

For dedicated fans only! It may be my heritage but I had no idea yer man was quite that huge, and it’s definitely not my period. Having said that, listening to the songs easily brings a tear to the eye.

Rabbie linkage:

#FLfairytales: HC Andersen and place

Updates:

  • Walking the same streets: Hannah’s postcard from Copenhagen
  • Henriette Steiner at Writing Buildings (Friday session 6): “tracking down Andersen’s ‘home’ in Copenhagen can be a rather perplexing undertaking as he lived in around 25 different places in the city (vs James Joyce’s 2o Dublin homes, then 10 in Trieste, eight in Zurich and 19 in Paris)…writing about these very concrete buildings, allows a range of themes, such as representation, temporality, daily life and urban order, to be approached alongside questions concerning the value placed at buildings for being sites of production of writing, the role of these sites in the experience of the literary tourist, and how this negotiates themes left-over from Romanticism and thus from Andersen’s own time” – in this connection it is interesting to note that proposals for a HC Andersen visitor centre on Langelinie were put forward by the government in 2014, aimed particularly at Chinese tourists, however Politiken reports that nothing has happened as yet; meanwhile Odense is planning on opening a new HC Andersen Eventyrhus in 2020
  • Anne Klara Bom (Academia.edu) on HCA as cultural phenomenon, glocal traveller etc; A story of experience (from p22; uses discourse analysis)
  • Hans Christian Andersens Orient – interesting ARTE doc; in 1841 HCA traveled east, tapping into Orientalism and Classicism on a sort of Bildungsreise; one of the first to visit Athens as a traveller; interesting factoids: his mother described him as a ‘wilder Vogel’, an Einzelgänger with an ‘unruhiges Ich’ who wanted to be famous, HCA visited 29 countries in Europe and North Africa, spending nine years of his life on the road and buying his first bed at the age of 61; fame came first in Germany and Sweden, then France and England, and last in ‘totbringende Dänemark’; he made sense of the world through the eyes of a child
  • new Danish biog out (732 pages)…the CPH Post has an update on all those statues

Notes from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre (English) based at SDU in Odense, new on Twitter for the MOOC. Six weeks, started 19 October. New translations of nine (of a total of 157) fairy tales (defined as an original tale written by a specific author, central in German Romanticism) covering 17 years of HCA’s life (1805-75) on offer.

As with #FLwordsworth it’s the place and cultural heritage stuff I’m after – fairy tales aren’t my thing, although the one about the hens (Det er ganske vist) came as a pleasant enough surprise when I was learning Danish.

In week 1 HCA was presented as a ‘mouldbreaker’ in the established literary community, having come from a working class background, with his fairy tales both universal and culturally specific. Still read all over the world, they are rooted in a Christian culture confronted with modernity.

We were asked to take a moment to consider the man behind the writer:

  • How did he think of himself as an artist? In what way can we understand his role as a mouldbreaker in the established, literary community in relation to his background as a working class lad?
  • What is the connection between HCA’s special use of the fairy tale genre and the way his life was shaped?
  • How can we understand the fact that the author never really – not even as a confirmed celebrity – succeeded in settling down, neither in the outside world, nor in his own imaginary world?

HCA achieved fame and acknowledgement as an artist in both Europe and America while he was in his prime. He was a traveller who undertook long journeys in especially Europe, but he also reached North Africa and Turkey. In his native Denmark, he also travelled a lot, taking residence at manor houses and castles which were, at that time, significant cultural meeting places.

HCA was a restless person who did not create a home for himself but felt ‘at home’ in the journey itself. He travelled in a Europe that was getting ready to become modern. This HCA registers with both delight and fear in his writing. This is also registered in the form of artistic reflections on time, place and distance. When HCA said To travel is to live, he was not only referring to outer journeys but to travelling as a form of existence.

HCA had many homes, for home was the artistic universe and the journey itself, one could say. He travelled all over Europe, time and time again, something that is reflected in his novels, travel accounts, fairy tales and stories as a treasure trove of localities. HCA visited counts, kings and artists, locations and landscapes, because he was full of an insatiable thirst for experiences and a restless longing for the inner balance he probably found in his art, but never wholly in his life.

On 28 October the team sent out a message with details of HCA’s three autobiographies, not least The fairy tale of my life (1871): “HCA wished to present his own life as a fairy tale and wrote in a poetic style. All this lead to a “a strong interest in the personality…during his lifetime and the fantastic story of his life…the beginning of the creation of a myth surrounding the author, which appeared to be a kind of mythologization of the relation between life and art. It offers strong evidence of the romantic belief in genius.”

Then a definite tut tutting about this approach, not helped by word order and general obfuscation: “to judge Andersen from a biographical point of view only is to reduce his great and challenging work. It has been and still is the task of interpreters of Hans Christian Andersen’s life and work to adjust this picture and to try to discover his work independently of the romantic figure of the author – and not least to evaluate the modernity of his original fairy tales.”

Biographies (which the team may/not approve of) include Jackie Wullschlager (2000; Amazon) and Paul Binding (2014; reviewAmazon). Internationals in Denmark in particular will enjoy Michael Booth’s Just as well I’m leaving (2005; Amazon), his first riff on Denmark and its idiosyncracies, framed round HCA’s European travels.

The fairy tales

Week 2 looked at the folk tale inspiration and two analysis models (how many?), comparing The tinderbox and the Grimms’ The blue light with the folk tales that provided inspiration:

  • the actantial model: the quest
  • the narrative pattern ‘home-away-home’, also found in the Bildungsroman

actuant

The protagonist – or hero – of the folk tale is the key element. The upper axis represents the fact that a donor gives an object to a receiver – the latter being the protagonist. This is often the king which gives his daughter, the princess, to the protagonist. The lower axis represents the fact that the protagonist has to overcome various obstacles in his quest for the object and that he will have to face and conquer an antagonist and will receive assistance from a helper as a part of this process.

Much was made of HCA’s humour and irony, plus the violence found in many tales, all of which I’m thinking has a specific Danish flavour, although the Grimms had their moments.

Week 3 contrasted two versions of the same tale, drawing out HCA’s particular narrative style and language:

The spectre (1830) adopted the sophisticated style typical of the literary fairy tales (Kunstmärchen) developed by German Romanticism (writers like Chamisso, Tieck and ETA Hoffmann), whose approach was often marked by ironic reflection. Far from reproducing the impersonal style of the folk tale, The spectre was a piece of literary art, showing the signature of a cultivated writer cumulating explicit references to the Arabian Nights, the Bible, Goethe and Danish contemporary authors.

Its reception, however, was negative, with HCA accused of having missed “the epic tone” of the folk tale. Disappointed, HCA gave up this kind of experimental rewriting and decided to revisit the folk tale genre as part of a literary project of another kind: storytelling for children.

The travelling companion (1835) adopted the more familiar form of the folk tale. HCA purified and simplified his narrative style, aiming to revive the folk tale material and to refresh its imagery. The style resulting from this effort became HCA’s special signature, and to some extent imitates the tone of the folk tale. Nonetheless, he still wrote literary fairy tales. His art was to develop a strategy of storytelling that appears to be simpler than it is.

The ‘exemplary’ analysis of The Spectre makes it sound a gadzillion times more interesting than the more popular fairy tale, almost modernist, a fairy tale about a folk tale. Chief linguistic differences highlighted are general verbosity and description – place and nature writing, very on trend! – vs simplifying the artistic expression.

Week 4 and The little mermaid (1837), one of HCA’s first self invented tales. These meant something special to him and marked his breakhrough as a writer, making him an international star. The tale touches upon traditional questions related to Christianity and ‘modern’ questions such as the identity crises of the main subject. It doesn’t conform to the models (above), doesn’t have a Happy Ending and is open to many interpretations. OTOH Disney’s 1989 version does, and isn’t.

Published along with The emperor’s new clothes, now that is a good one.

Week 5 focused on HCA’s ‘modern’ approach, via two new fairy tales: The story of a mother (1847) and The snow queen (1844):

From 1835-42, HCA carried out his project of writing a series of Fairy tales told for children with increasing success. However, in 1843, he gave his work with the genre a different orientation. The appellation ‘told for children’ disappeared as he published a collection entitled New fairy tales, composed of four tales of his own invention without any immediate debt to folk tales, including The ugly duckling.

In these tales HCA managed to raise religious questions by the means of apparent transgressions of genre conventions, eg qualifying tests, the fight with the antagonist, religious meaning…His intention was to fictionalise – or allegorise – a ‘basic idea’,  a project completely incompatible with the folk tale’s perception of the world.

Week 6 looked at The red shoes (1845) and invited participants to write an essay on HCA’s topicality and cross-cultural relevance, quite interesting as it goes. A quick look at the sections on The red shoes confirms that it is just as traumatic as remembered.

The longer the MOOC went on the more distressing the tales became – are the later ones read to children today, undoctored? Part of the Danish canon? They seem to belong to another time, with the illustrations on the MOOC and most collections evoking the last century.

Perhaps as a result retellings abound – see Angela CarterTransformations (1971; Anne Sexton’s retellings of the Grimms; article inc a diagram by Kurt Vonnegut) and A wild swan and other tales (2015; Michael Cunningham retells the Grimms and HCA; “The steadfast tin soldier turns out happy”; interview). Also Marina Warner’s Short history of fairy tale.

The course took a standard litcrit line, seemingly very popular in Danish higher education, however more innovative approaches must be around somewhere, for example #corpus analyses, distant reading, dataviz of the models? A social network of the Golden Age, based on who HCA rubbed shoulders with, not least Kierkegaard? Should anything be read into the fact that the last conference seems to have taken place in 2005, the year of his bicentenary? Also, how about HCA’s reception and (re)interpretation in Denmark, influence on eg Lars von Trier? How much are his other writings read and performed today? While at rejse er at leve gets cited fairly frequently in newspaper travel sections, is it more than a quote?

As Most Famous Danes HCA and contemporary Kierkegaard make a troubling pair. What is quite fun is that both enjoyed a walk in the city, but while Kierkegaard relished his menneskebad HCA became an old snob, preferring to hobnob with the nobility, or to travel.

HCA and place

HCA plays a key role in Denmark’s (rather limited) literary tourism offerings, focused exclusively around the fairy tales. See Visit OdenseVisit Fyn and HCA’s Odense (app and PDF) for full coverage. I have paid duty visits to his hus (aka museum, opened 1908) and barndomshjem (childhood home, opened 1930) in Odense, officially Denmark’s fairy tale city – even the pedestrian crossings pay homage.

It’s possibly all a bit much, a theme explored by KØS, the museum of public art, in their tour of Denmark’s memorials. See the talking statue version of the 1888 HCA statue in the city and accompanying debate.

pedestrian crossing in Odense

pedestrian crossing in Odense

HCA left Odense in 1819 aged 14 for the big city. He lived in countless/18 places during his 56 years in Copenhagen – see Indenforvoldene for details. Highlights include the kvistværelse (attic room) at Vingårdsstræde 6, now part of shopping mecca Magasin’s museum, where he lived from 1827-28, and three locations on Nyhavn. From 1834-38 he lived at nr 20 – an unreadable plaque marks the spot on the first floor. From 1848-65 he lived at nr 67, and from 1871-73 at nr 18 (reconstruction), now housing an HCA themed shop in the ground floor, plus smart apartments owned by the National Bank upstairs. He is buried in Assistens Kirkegård.

There are two statues in CPH, on HCA Boulevard and in Kongens Have. The eternally disappointing Little mermaid perches on a rock on Langelinie (1913, a gift from Carl Jacobsen) – the domestic reaction may perhaps be seen in Bjørn Nørgaard’s genetically modified twin, installed just round the corner in 2006. We also have Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor on Kultorvet, and the story of The Ugly Duckling appears on Carlo Rosberg’s mural in Hvidovre town hall.

HCA elsewhere

Museums Odense offers full details of HCA’s travels, with 30 itineraries from 1831-73 and contemporary maps. Having done a double take in Bratislava in December it’s nice to confirm that HCA visited Pressburg on 3 June 1841 on his way home (journey 6). When asked to write something about the city he said that there was no need to, as it was already a fairytale. Bless.

HCA statue in Bratislava

HCA statue in Bratislava by Tibor Bártfay, erected on the 165th anniversary of his visit in 2006

Another anecdote to enjoy is HCA’s relationship with Dickens. A search brings up their first meetings in London and Ramsgate, and then HCA’s doomed visit in 1857, where he over-stayed his welcome by nearly a month (story) – according to the CPH Post the “bony bore” with the “clammy hand” was the model for Uriah Heep (rhymes with…).

At rejse er at leve has a full list of his travel writings for further exploration, while writing about Denmark includes Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager i Aarene 1828 og 1829 and Fodrejsen (1829).

Linkage:

#FLwordsworth and place

Updates: see The Romantic poets and Bristol, with 23 new Lyrical Ballads, a series of Coleridge Lectures inc Kathleen Jamie on Poetry, the land and nature and Melissa Harrison on Reimagining the city, a nature writing day and a walking guide. Also a series of historical walks at Being Human 2015, fab…Romantic landscapes: geography and travel (event report), and the Wordsworth Trust’s Wordsworth Countryside app (article).

More new projects and finds: Geospatial innovation: a deep map of the Lake District (@LakesDeepMap)…Re-Imagining Wordsworth in Ulster (storymap; @NBWordsworth)…Reading and mapping Swallows and Amazons in the digital ageMapping Wordsworth’s residence in London…Alex Cochrane on walking with ColeridgeMapping literary visions (The Age of Innocence)…@RomanticismEHUWilliam and Dorothy Wordsworth: ‘All in each other’ reviewStanding up for the curmudgeon in tweeds

William Wordsworth: poetry, people and place (courseTwitter), from Lancaster, on FutureLearn, started on 7 September for four weeks.

Explore the influence of the Lake District on Wordsworth with this free online course, filmed at his home…Through readings and discussions focusing on Grasmere and the landscape of the Lake District, the course will explore why this location was so important for Wordsworth.

Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere from 1799 to 1808, producing much of his greatest work, including ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (aka Daffodils) and The Prelude. As an intro we are invited to pen a poem about a favourite place in the Romantic style and share it on #some tagged #NaturesPoets. So it looks like it’s more about the poetry, which I hated at school, than (the) place, which as a Scot I find rather tame, but we shall persevere, in particular as one of the team, Sally Bushell, was behind Mapping the Lakes (and v2) and is writing a book on reading and mapping.

Introducing Wordsworth and Lyrical Ballads

Week 1 is made up of 16 steps, yikes. Most useful is Sally on key principles of the ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads (1800), identifying Wordsworth’s four key ideas:

  • the poet – “a man speaking to men”, ie a communicator speaking on behalf of others representing ‘the common man’, speaking directly to all rather than a writer, no different from you or I
  • subject matter:
    • the everyman, equally capable of feeling deeply and responding to the world; “it is not just gentlemen who have strong feelings…those living a rustic life have a truer, more authentic relationship to the land”
    • common things and situations
    • place, ie the world around you – celebrating the power of the mind to internalise the natural world and be strengthened by it, asserting the power of a subjective, individual response; Wordsworth liked a private space, where he could pace up and down as he wrote his poetry; he often wrote poems on the spot, in a direct response to the natural world
  • language – as close to everyday speech as possible, but with a certain colouring of the imagination to freshen the experience
  • “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”; it should communicate directly and to the heart

Also a useful PDF on close reading poetry and a vid on how to read and interpret manuscripts, stressing context and their uniqueness.

Sadly the two poems for the week have simply served to remind me of my issues with the Romantics, but it’s all very well done, even with a ‘make your own manuscript’ task. Best takeaway so far has been the brief account of Will and Dorothy’s trip to Germany in 1798 – I have a feeling he visited Copenhagen too. (Hmm…at the very least he wrote a poem called The Danish Boy and owned a copy of Molesworth. Maybe have a closer look at Romantikstudier.dk.)

‘Spots of time’: childhood, education and memory in The Prelude

The week 1 round-up states that “Wordsworth has evoked powerful responses, not all of them favourable” and Sally admits in the summing up vid that he is uniquely polarising, so I feel partly vindicated in skipping the pomes. Maybe I will re-visit epi 3 of The Trip, which I haven’t watched yet this year. There’s more than one form of engagement in these changing times…

OK, week 2, with The Prelude and its 24 manuscripts spanning over 40 years.

Central to The Prelude are the two themes of childhood and memory. While much of the poem describes Wordsworth’s childhood adventures in the Lake District, the poet is equally concerned with how he remembers these episodes and what ongoing influence they have in his adult life. Wordsworth describes his most influential childhood episodes as ‘spots of time’…key moments in our life that continue to have an important influence on us, especially if we reflect back on them.

‘Spots’ are powerful memories where you can’t quite get to the root of that power, often involving an element of transgression, making you see the world differently – plus a process of defamiliarisation or even distortion when remembered. The spots themselves are often visual, and not a continuous memory.

From the week 3 email and summing up vid it’s clear that the team just love the Padlet exercise for the week, seemingly FutureLearn’s new thing: “Wordsworth’s concept of ‘spots of time’ has been inspirational for many of you and we’ve been particularly struck (and sometimes moved) by participants’ descriptions of their own ‘spots of time’.”

There’s also a make your own Goslar Letter task, which asks:

  • How does the letter-form affect your response to the poetry?
  • What difference does it make to read the poem in this context?
  • How important is Coleridge (the recipient of the letter) to Wordsworth, as the first reader of this poetry?

The letter was a joint production from William and Dorothy to Coleridge, and is named after the German town in which it was written. It contains passages of poetry that would eventually be included in The Prelude. Very nice! In particular that the MOOC isn’t all about discussing.

‘Michael’ and Greenhead Gill: Wordsworth and the importance of place

Week 3 visited Greenhead Gill near Grasmere, the setting and inspiration for ‘Michael’, Wordsworth’s tale of a shepherd, first published in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800):

About half a mile from Wordsworth’s house, it was also the place in which the poem was written. At the opening of the poem Wordsworth invites us to come to this place and think about the poem being set and written there – it’s very space specific. He describes the fields and hills as a living being even more than his own blood. It’s almost as if Michael is a human embodiment of the landscape…

Wordsworth wrote the poem in a sheepfold. He takes this sheepfold, an ordinary, everyday object we might take for granted or overlook, and turns it into the key symbol for the poem, loading it with human meaning and emotion and significance. The poem makes you notice the sheepfold – it makes you think about it, an ordinary thing. So loading that ordinary object with meaning is making it stand for something greater than itself – it becomes a symbol. The role and meaning of the sheepfold as symbol changes throughout the course of the poem…

Is Michael’s relationship to the place unique and special or universal? Think about the ways in which we connect to the place in which we live, or the place in which we were brought up, and how this shapes our identities.

It’s a tragic tale, and by the end of the poem there is no trace of Michael’s cottage – nothing remains except the poem telling the story. (They weren’t called the Romantics for nothing…)

Next up, a personalising place exercise (NFM) to be posted on this week’s Padlet wall, while in manuscripts corner we looked at Wordsworth’s difficulty in writing the poem as well as writing outside. By linking the writing of the poem in the sheepfold to the representation of place in the poem he creates multiple layers of meaning:

He doesn’t just wander about aimlessly or roam the hills. He does have very specific sites and also he likes to walk up and down, sort of pace up and down, and various critics have make the point that the rhythm of the poetry that he’s writing is then sort of matched to the rhythm of his walking.

How important is setting and context for writing or working well? Can you think of examples in your own life of working better in one place than another, or of needing certain things around you or having particular rituals before settling to write?

Being Dorothy

Week 4 (24 steps!) explores the process of homemaking and engages more fully with Dorothy’s life and work.

The siblings arrived in Grasmere in December 1799 and established a household at Dove Cottage – see from Goslar to Grasmere. They made it into a ‘true home’ through their domestic arrangements, through cultivating the garden and through their writing. They also established a sense of community, frequently visited by friends.

Their writing included letters, such as one written by William to Coleridge on Christmas Eve in 1799, which is compared and contrasted with his unpublished poem, Home at Grasmere:

What differences in response to the Wordsworths do you experience between reading the account of coming home in prose and in poetry? What does the writer choose to emphasise, and why, in each case? How does the form (a private letter a poem written for publication) and sense of audience (to a close friend; to all readers) affect the writing?

See Letters of Note and Davy Letters for more letters, plus:

Think about how important letters have been in your own lives. Are there particular letters that you remember vividly? What role did letter writing have in your life and has this role been taken over now by email and social media? Is there something different about the experience of writing and receiving a letter to these forms of communication?

William and his friends are generally referred to as The Wordsworth Circle. In the summer of 1802 William, Dorothy and their close friends, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary and Sara Hutchinson, carved their initials into a rock face, aka ‘The Rock of Names’ – the importance of inscription and the naming of places as a process of settling in to somewhere.

Marking local objects is important for the Wordsworths in developing their sense of home. The rock, now in the garden of Dove Cottage, was halfway between the cottage and Coleridge’s lodgings at Greta Hall in Keswick, hence a literal meeting place and personal landmark, symbolic of their friendship and illustrating their relationship to landscape…Have you created any names or nicknames for special places? Think about the type of places you named, how you named them and who uses these names.

Other Wordsworth places that took on special meanings:

  • Sara’s Gate – named after Sara Hutchinson and described in a joint letter
  • John’s Grove’  named after William and Dorothy’s younger brother
  • Wordsworth’s Poems on the naming of places – marking local objects, naming them at a particular site where they can see a very nice view of the landscape, maybe along a favourite walking route or where a particular memorable incident happened (see also William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1810/35), reviewed by Virginia Woolf, and Longfellow’s Poems of places anthology; 31 vols)

What do you notice about the process of naming? What different elements are involved? How do you think the different stages involved in the naming process contribute towards place-making? Naming as a kind of ‘possession of the local’ – what do you think this means? What are the positive and negative elements of taking possession of the local landscape and of local meanings?…

[Inscription] marks our being in a particular place at a particular time, celebrating a code of the private known to a few… a kind of possession of the local…relying on the fact that people won’t know them…it’s about personalising place…ordinary objects that could be easily overlooked…

So their relationship between landscape and writing is operating at a number of levels here. They’re marking the landscape, carving their names into it. They’re naming the landscape, giving these particular places special names, and they’re also writing about the landscape…for the Wordsworths, a sense of place and particularly home is something that has to be made, and it has to be practised. And it also has to be shared by a very close group of friends, and it requires a very active relationship between the landscape and those that use it…a shared use of landscape can enhance friendship and friendly experiences in places can bring forth feelings of togetherness, community, and a sense of home…for Dorothy, these names are particularly important because she uses them in a very specific way to recollect feelings of friendship – the names are as important as the places.

Dorothy wrote a journal in Grasmere (new illustrated edition) between 1800 and 1803, recording her and William’s life in Dove Cottage, writing about the natural world, the people she met and those who lived in the village, and about William’s poetry. The MOOC concluded with that old favourite, a comparison between her account of seeing daffodils in 1802 and William’s account of the same incident in his most famous poem, ‘I wandered lonely’, written in 1804 and published in two versions (1807 and 1815).

How would you describe the way that Dorothy’s journal entry is written? What does she tell us in this passage about her daily life, her social circle, and the mundane physical experience of walking? Consider the encounter with the daffodils particularly. How does Dorothy come upon them? What is her relationship to them? How does she describe them? Do you think that there are aspects of this journal entry that are poetic? Do bits of it seem more like poetry than prose?

The wrap-up vid explored the importance of walking to the Wordsworths, for example as offering a sense of arrival after an epic and memorable event (on arrival in Grasmere), but also as an activity they chose for its own sake. Walking in (and into) the Lakes was part of their process of ‘claiming’ and (place)making a home. Also, in 1790 while at Cambridge William walked 1000 miles across Europe over the course of three months, taking in not least Revolutionary France, but also Switzerland and Italy. Some of his poetry (and Coleridge’s) has the meter of a walking pace within the lines.

Thorougly enjoyable and thought provoking throughout, even without going near the dreaded poetry!

For the record, there was a fair amount of Wordsworth (and Coleridge) at Placing the author. See also Mapping ‘Wordsworthshire’: a GIS study of literary tourism in Victorian Lakeland. And while we’re touching on poetry, here’s CAMPUS Poetry School, the social network for poets.

My struggle with Danish writing

Updates:

I really struggle with contemporary Danish literary fiction. Following on from my rant about literary non-fiction in Denmark, or rather lack of same, here’s more. (But see the foot of the post for a positive turn.)

The cosy literary scene in Denmark feels like yet another closed shop for Team DK only. (OTOH Ken Follett is bizarrely popular.) Whatever happened to life experience and suffering for your art? Issues around creativity, originality and innovation do come up in dispatches now and then. This year we’ve had the Mette Høeg debate (good take from Labeet), plus Peder Frederik Jensen getting it in the neck from the great and the good.

Anyway, here’s some bile on three books which in theory should be right up my street, but which in the end were just another disappointment. The cultural gap here is more Atlantic than North Sea.

The coffee table book

Many books are brick sized (is there a quota?), produced in the best possible taste.

Københavnerne (Copenhageners; excerpt) by Pernille Stensgaard with photos by Anne Prytz Schaldmose, is a portrait of the people and places of Copenhagen. Published in 2013 by Gyldendal with a cover price of DK 350, running to 400 pages and weighing in at 2.2kg, the book is an updated version of København: folk og kvarterer (2002 and 2005), which also appeared in an English edition. Large piles of said edition were on sale at the airport last time I passed through.

Reviews and articles: Politiken | Weekendavisen | Magasinet KBH

The price of Danish books may mean that pple expect something for their buck, but this is ridiculous. You couldn’t even really call it a coffee table book – open, it is the coffee table. Its sheer size is a disincentive to picking it up, let alone to reading it. You can’t exactly curl up with it on the sofa, read it in bed or the bath, or take it with you on the train to dip in and out of. Actually, how can you read it other than at a desk?

I tried that and failed. I wish they’d consider publishing it in separate bits. The prelims will have to tell the story of the 11 areas portrayed – Sydhavn, Vesterbro, Frederiksberg, Nørrebro, Nordvest, Østerbro, Christianshavn, Amager, Ørestad, Islands Brygge and Indre By. Valby must be in there somewhere.

The front cover is of happy Danes bathing in the harbour at Islands Brygge, with the back cover an arty shot of people on bikes. The back endpaper is of Frederiksholm at Sydhavn, but the photo on the front endpaper (?that doesn’t sound right) is something I recognise as closer to reality – a grey portrait of slush on an empty Kalvebod Brygge in front of the Tivoli Hotel doubling as a Soviet apartment block, punctuated by red traffic lights. Leafing through this is pretty much reflected throughout – a minority of RL among the usual city branding shtick. Next, lug the thing back to the library.

The hyped debutante

Koordinater: Københavnertekster (Copenhagen pieces) was published in 2013 by Rosinante with support from the Danish Arts Council. It marks Amalie Laulund Trudsø‘s debut. (Debuts are big in Denmark. Why?) Amalie, born in 1988, recently completed her studies in Danish and Rhetoric at Copenhagen University. In the literary fiction genre, the book retails at DK 149,95 for 92 pages, and is made up of 60 short pieces named after a street in central CPH. Litteratursiden went bananas about it, with analysisdebate, more debate, a  book club and a review.

From the publisher’s blurb:

A book about moving to the city – and about the city moving into you…in 60 short pieces, each named after a street in Copenhagen, we follow a young woman getting to know the streets which one after another become part of her daily life. As the seasons change, so do her home and relationships. There’s a bonfire in the park, graffiti in the streets and a hamster on the draining board. And, of course, dancing, kissing and ample red wine.

This sat on my bookshelf for months, until I conceded that I was unlikely to read it. About leaving home and making a home in the big city, it verges on YA fiction not least given the author’s youth (you may identify with her). Then there’s the paragraph free texts presented in the best possible taste, which just evoke worthy dullness. It’s instructive to note that the place motif was not enough to provoke me to read it. Mind you, in the spirit of transmediality it would be possible to map the 60 streets…

2016 update: Amalie’s svære toer (difficult second), Sommerhus, has just been published, lots more small pieces on a significant place in the Danish soul, the old chestnut which is summer house (book list). From the review it looks just as much NFM (not for me) – one book blogger commented that it’s more about the language than anything else. On Litteraturlyd Amalie mentioned that she wrote her speciale on place in literature, and now there’s a guide for school students on Koordinater, drawing out some of these connections. See also Humanisten.

The read deal, but…

Harald Voetmann feels rather more interesting, not least because he has a degree in Latin. (Ironically, in my 20s I practically refused to read books by men. Now I’m going the other way.) Alt under månen (Everything under the moon), a bijou 168 pages for DK 180 (knocking on £20), is an historical romp about three Danish mystics from the 15th century, set on Hven. It takes the form of a diary kept by Tycho Brahe’s assistant and combines an exploration of man’s desire to understand and control nature with a Danish nobleman’s flight from his debts, the hunt for wild sex and the Philosopher’s Stone. All in 168 pages, remember.

If you read Danish there’s a 20 page extract on a journey to Hamburg. Unfortunately in a font to accentuate its historicity, which serves to accentuate Danish’s resemblance to an undeveloped Germanic tongue. Another of my problems with the Danish.

Update: Dorthe Nors!

Dorthe Nors (@DortheNors | Litteratursiden) seems to be on some sort of UK media retainer. Her latest, Mirror, shoulder, signal, came out in no short order in early 2017 (extract | interview), but tends a bit to the self consciously minimalist for me. In a nice twist, Janteloven means that she has been largely downplayed in the motherland (again) up to now – big feature in Politiken (14 May 2017; more).

More broadly, she gives good critique, coming with familiar concerns – perhaps she gets frustrated that no one seems to be listening. Here’s a selection: