American Culture as Collage Notes
Recapping the Poetry Reading: Claudia Rankine and Solmaz Sharif
• Understanding their works as collage: taking old ideas and language and putting them in
a new frame, allowing them to make new statements
• The difference in experience between reading the poems on the page and listening to
them: the effect of her calm voice and countenance combined with the powerful words
• Think about her in connection to Laurie Anderson (who we’ll look at later in the
• ‘Double Consciousness’ → WEB DuBois, in Souls of Black Folk.
o When you’re in a minority group, you’re always occupying two positions at the
same time: your own experience and the experience of the majority group (in
order to function within the culture)
o Will be relevant when we talk about Langston Hughes
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
• 1817-1862 (died at age 45); Walden published in 1854
• He went to Walden Pond for two years (1845-1847) even though this is presented
artistically in the book as being one year.
• A book about nature, not a book about wilderness→ Walden Pond was not actually that
far removed from civilization. Not a hermit.
• What is the genre of this book?
o Part memoir, part self-help
o Intellectual autobiography
o Similar pieces to the political satire in Gulliver’s Travels
o At the time of its publication: seen as sheer escapism
• Made connections to: Hesiod / Works & Days and J. B. Jackson
• The American idea of having a garden / yard stems in part from Thoreau
• Thoreau explaining how to be a writer: Is that the whole point of Walden?
o Stanley Cavell / Senses of Walden: he very carefully reads all of Walden as a
manual on how to be a writer
• Panharmonicon that the true orator / lecturer is able to create: Thoreau lectured like
• Lyceum, Chautauqua: where Thoreau lectured
• Significance of the “I” / first person: Thoreau thinks there’s a reason he should talk about
himself, the only experiences that he has an intimate knowledge of
o Anything you tell me that you have not experienced for yourself, I take as
o Central epistemological question in this book: what can I know, how can I know
it, what can I trust as being real and true?
o Travel writing was the most popular form of writing at this time: Thoreau thinks
that every personal writing is travel writing because it will take you to a different
land; understanding the “people of New England” as if from the outside. Maybe
traveling in Concord