For Tuesday (9/19)

For Tuesday, read through Chekhov’s “The Looking-Glass” and label every piece of text that contributes to characterization.  Follow the coding method I illustrated in class, e.g. Mode: facet:example:trait, as in ID [Indirect Definition]: action: “dreaming”: imaginative or DD[Direct Definition]: “unutterable terror,” etc.  If you have time, begin reading Joyce’s “Two Gallants” from Dubliners.

If you need to refresh your memories, check out Nariman’s excellent notes on our class wiki.

For Thursday (9/14)

I’ve posted our Mystery Text assignment.  Check it out and bring any questions to class.  As you start digging into the assignment, you can refresh your understanding of the theory and practice of semiotics by looking at our class notes.  Most recently, Tiffany has posted some excellent notes from our class on Whitman.

For Thursday, we’ll start talking about characterization.  Read over my quick guide to characterization here.  And, read Anton Chekhov’s very, very short story – – “The Looking-Glass” – – here. We’ll use the Chekhov story to illustrate points we raise in our discussion.

For Tuesday (9/12)

Meet our first mystery text!

Your goal is to read this poem semiotically.  Let’s deploy our familiar equipment: read the poem a couple of times; divide a sheet of paper into two columns; start noting significant terms in the left column; add potential opposing terms in the right column; look for patterns.  As you look for patterns, try starting with the most concrete term(s) in the poem and working outward from there.  Bring your semiotic worksheet to class on Tuesday.

For Thursday (9/7)

For Thursday, let’s read some new poems – –  semiotically!  Take one of the three poems assigned to you: Ai’s “Conversation,” Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck,” or Margaret Atwood’s “Morning in the Burned House.” (If you can’t remember which is your poem, just choose one.)

Let’s repeat the approach we used with Whitman on Tuesday:

  • read the poem through once or twice – – not really to interpret it, but to become more familiar with it
  • divide a sheet of paper into two columns
  • start listing terms from the poem that seem significant
  • as you list, note any binary oppositions or paired terms that seem to relate to each other – – putting an opposing term in the column across from the first term
  • try the “most concrete” technique.  (Remember “perfume” in “Song of Myself”?)  Find the most concrete term in your list and use that to start mapping oppositions and to group or relate terms together

Remember: semiotics  – – a la Saussure – – is all about difference and the way that meaning is produced through difference, e.g. the “what” only signifies through the “not-what.” “Perfume” in “Song of Myself” only accrues its rich meaning through its differences from the “atmosphere” and, further, from the “wood” and being “undisguised,” etc.

Bring your semiotic worksheet and a copy of your poem to class on Thursday.

For Tuesday (9/5)

Let’s read some Whitman – – semiotically! (Feeling a bit fuzzy about that last term?  Check out Alex’s super-excellent class notes on the wiki.)

First, read through the excerpt from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass/”Song of Myself.”  As you read, underline or highlight particular words that you find interesting or significant.

Second, with Chandler’s discussion of binary oppositions in mind and recalling Saussure‘s claim that language is a “system of differences without positive terms,” divide a standard 8 1/2″ by 11″ sheet of paper into two columns.  Enter your first interesting/significant word into the top of the left column.  Look back over the words you’ve underlined/highlighted in the poem.  Do you see any words that seem very different or contrast with your first term?  If so, enter the oppositional term in the right column across from your first word.  Remember, you’re only using actual words from the poem.

Keep proceeding through the excerpt, adding words to the left column and entering their opposite terms in the right column.  Not all of your significant words will have an opposing term in the poem.  In these cases, leave the matching right entry blank.

Finally, once you’ve worked through the whole excerpt, go back and look at your list of binary oppositions.  Do you notice any patterns?  Does your list of particular words from the poem reflect some more general opposition?  (Think about our (too) brief discussion of the Jason DeRulo video – – where the signifier “hawaiian shirt” seemed to belong to a more general opposition between “workers/servants” and “vacationers/customers” etc.)

Bring your semiotic worksheet to class on Tuesday.  Enjoy!

For Thursday (8/31)

For Thursday, read the excerpt from Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners.  This piece contextualizes Saussure’s work a bit more broadly and deeply.

After you’ve read Chandler on semiotics, take a look at the Jason Derulo video I posted on Tuesday and the Duran Duran video above.  How would you read these videos “semiotically”?

Finally, if you need a refresher on Saussure, check out Gabriel’s excellent notes, posted to our class wiki.

See you soon!

For Tuesday (8/29)

For Tuesday, read the excerpt from Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics.  Skip the first full page and start with “Chapter IV: Linguistic Value.”  And, be sure to read Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” You may find Saussure a little challenging.  Don’t worry.  Read the excerpt and write down at least one question about the piece.  Bring the question to class.

Also, I’ve sent out invitations to the class wiki.  If you haven’t received an invite, let me know in class on Tuesday.  Click on the link in the invite email and register for the wiki.


Welcome to our motherblog for English 480, Junior Seminar.  Here you’ll find information, announcements, updates, a few stray reflections and ruminations, as well reading materials for our course.  A live, hot-linked course syllabus can be found in the column to the left, along with a link to our course wiki.  Enjoy!