Category Archives: Arts and American Culture


Thinking about a unit on African American Gothic. There’s a ton of stuff out there on the wider genre of Gothic and many people have noted that literary genres such as the slave narrative are effectively Gothic texts. I tried doing something along these lines a few years ago. We used Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to talk about themes of captivity and haunting. Certainly you could read a film like Night of the Living Dead not only as a story about mass consumption but as a dramatization of the pro-segregation campaigns collectively known as ‘Massive Resistance’. Duane Jones, who plays the hero Ben, fends of soulless hordes driven by their zombie white-supremacist ideology. He would go on to act in Ganja & Hess, which takes up the vampire legend for its own purposes.

Here’s a photograph (left) made by Gordon Parks– better known perhaps as the director of the seminal blaxploitation film Shaft-– titled American Gothic, Washington, D.C. The visual rhyme with Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic (right) forms the basis of Parks’s resignifying gesture, one which is then complicated by the substitution of a US flag for the frame house in the original. If Wood called his painting American Gothic ironically, by virtue of the presence of a single arched (gothic style) window, does Parks’s choice of a flag indicate that the nation itself is (ridiculously, improbably) gothicky?

SPR 20

Hi Everybody,

I hope you’re doing well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our situation and I’ve decided to give everyone an A for this course.

Starting today, I am no longer requiring you to do any assignments. You do not have to take KW2 or take the final exam or write the essay.

If, however, you would like to complete some or all of the remaining work for this course then please email me. I would be delighted to evaluate anything you submit.

Again: no one has to do any more work and everyone gets an A.

Take care of the people around you.

I hope to see you all again in the Fall.

Best Wishes,


House (310/485)

It’s interesting to compare the two marriage-related conversations between Lily Bart and Sim Rosedale. Note that Rosedale is Jewish, which in this period means he’s not really “white.”

(Who IS white? Take the test and find out: ).

Lily’s distaste for Sim is certainly a product of the generalized anti-Semitism of her circle (and broader society). But there’s more to it than that. Consider the language employed by Wharton to characterize their marriage-related interactions. What metaphors and images does she use? Are there themes in play at these two moments that are reproduced elsewhere– for example when Lily frequents the Gormer circle or in the passages concerning her conflict with Bertha Dorset?

On Wednesday afternoon I’ll give you a prompt to consider relating to this topic.

Storyworld (225/310/425/485)


In research on natural language processing, the terms mental model (Johnson-Laird 1983) and discourse model (Webber 1979) are used to refer to non-linguistic representations of the situation(s) described by a sentence or set of sentences, i.e., a discourse (Stevenson 1996; see SITUATION MODEL). Models of this sort are global mental representations enabling language users to draw inferences about items and occurrences either explicitly mentioned or else implicitly evoked in a discourse. Storyworlds, in turn, can be defined as the class of discourse models used for understanding narratively organised discourse in particular. In this sense, narrative comprehension requires reconstructing storyworlds on the basis of textual cues and the inferences that they make possible (Herman 2002).

Storyworlds are thus mental models of who did what to and with whom, when, where, why, and in what fashion in the world to which interpreters relocate (Ryan 1991) as they work to comprehend a narrative. Like Jahn’s (1997) cognitive frames and Emmott’s contextual frames (1997), storyworlds function in both a top-down and a bottom-up way during narrative comprehension. Top-down, they providethe presuppositions guiding readers to assume that fast food restaurants and electron microscopes are not components of the world of Proust’s Recherche. But, bottom-up, a given story-world is also subject to being updated, revised, or even abandoned in favour of another with the accretion of textual cues, as when the reader of a text featuring an unreliable homodiegetic narrator gradually realises that the storyworld is not at all the way its teller says it is (see RELIABILITY).

More generally, when compared with cognate narratological terms such asfabula or story, storyworldbetter captures what might be called the ecology of narrative interpretation. In trying to make sense of a narrative, interpreters attempt to reconstruct not just what happened but also the surrounding context or environment embedding storyworld *existents, their attributes, and the *actions and *events in which they are involved. Indeed, the grounding of stories in storyworlds goes a long way towards explaining narratives’ immersiveness, their ability to ‘transport’ interpreters into places and times that they must occupy for the purposes of narrative comprehension. Interpreters do not merely reconstruct a sequence of events and a set of existents, but imaginatively (emotionally, viscerally) inhabit a world in which things matter, agitate, exalt, repulse, provide grounds for laughter and grief, and so on — both for narrative participants and for interpreters of the story. More than reconstructed timelines and inventories of existents, then, storyworlds are mentally and emotionally projected environments in which interpreters are called upon to live out complex blends of cognitive and imaginative response.

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