Bruce Jackson

Classes

Spring 2010

Narrative Voice
Mondays, 610 Clemens, 3:30-6:10

This seminar will explore narrative voice, the design of which is perhaps the key strategic task confronting any narrator in any medium. Narrative voice incorporates the identity and point of view of the narrator; it is the constructed person offering these words and the point of view that constructed person occupies or claims to occupy.

Narrative voice is always a construct, even in third-person omniscient fiction and in autobiography: Faulkner, Hemingway and Damon Runyon didn’t talk like that; the narrator of autobiography knows things and posits an audience unimaginable to the person taking part in the experiences recounted or constructed, and writes from a point of view (later in time) that did not exist when the events in the narration occurred. Nick Carraway’s narrative voice in The Great Gatsby is not the voice of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Nick is a character not only in the events of the three summer months in New York he recounts but in the narration itself, which occurs in the Midwest over a subsequent two-year period. None of the three sound film versions of Gatsby figure out what to do with Nick and his voice, and that is one reason (by no means the only reason) all three are lousy films. The most preposterous narration in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—the monster’s Arctic shipboard account of his life after his separation from his creator—is believable because it is embedded in a more-or-less believable narration (Victor Frankenstein’s story to Walton), which is itself embedded in the ordinary epistolary narrative of the slightly absurd and highly naïve explorer Walton. The narrative voice of Albert Camus’s La Chute belongs to Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a self-proclaimed “judge-penitent,” who responds to unquoted words of his unnamed interlocutor in a way that the first person monologue becomes a dialogue, with the unnamed voiceless interlocutor gradually melding with the equally-voiceless reader.

The narrative voice of someone reading aloud from a book of myths is not the same as the narrative voice of the source of that text, even though the words uttered may be identical. Some narrators occupy one narrative voice from beginning to end; others hand it off to others as they go: Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and Absalom, Absalom!, or Homer in The Odyssey, for example, and Cormac McCarthy in No Country for Old Men. Voice is at the heart of the best detective fiction: there is no Holmes without Watson; Conan Doyle couldn’t have occupied that narrative slot. When you read a Raymond Chandler novel, such as The Long Goodbye, you realize how masterful Dashiell Hammett was in the deceptively simple third-person not-even-close-to-omniscient voice of The Maltese Falcon.

Voice is a character in all narration in the same sense that color is a character in film. This seminar will explore the various ways that character performs.  There is a great deal of theoretical and analytical material that will be of use, going back to Bakhtin, Genette, and Booth.

English 413: Great Directors (The Buffalo Film Seminars XIX)
Tuesdays, 7-10, Market Arcade Theater

This class is an experiment in looking at and talking about films. It’s a regular UB class, but the general public is welcome to attend. We meet in the Market Arcade Film and Art Center in downtown Buffalo on Tuesday nights. (There’s a well-lighted, monitored, free parking lot directly opposite the theater’s Washington street entrance. The theater is directly opposite Metrorail’s Theater District station.)

The two of us introduce each film, we screen it, we take a short break, and then we talk about the film with the students and anyone in the audience who wants to join us. The non-student part of the audience has been running over 200 people for each screening, about half of whom stay for the discussions.

The Buffalo Film Seminars are grounded in two underlying assumptions. The first is that watching a good film on a television set is like reading a good novel in Cliff’s Notes or Classic Comics: you may get the contour of the story but not the experience of the work. Movies were meant to be seen big, in the company of other people. The second is that a conversation among people of various ages and experiences about a good movie they’ve all just seen can be interesting and useful.

We try to pick films that will let us think and talk about genre, writing, narrative, editing, directing, acting, context, camera work, relation to sources. The only fixed requirement is that they have to be great films--no films of "academic" interest only. You can go to www.buffalofilmseminars.com for the latest information on the schedule, as well as a full list of all the films we’ve programmed in the first twelve series, and other information about the screenings and the class.

At the first meeting of the class (in the lobby of the theater), registered students get a series pass that provides free admission to all of that semester's films. Since we show films and talk about them in the same class meeting, and since a few of the films each semester are long, we sometimes go well past the class-ending time in the UB schedule. Usually we're done by 10:30.

There are no exams. Students have to maintain a notebook/diary reflecting their reactions to all the screenings, discussions and print and listserv readings. The notebooks will be collected and graded three times during the term.

For more information go to http://buffalofilmseminars.com



Fall 2009: on sabbatical


Spring 2009

English 697: The Great Depression and the Rediscovery of America
Mondays 3:30-6:10, 610 Clemens

(I had no idea when I prepared this description for this seminar last fall that what I'd thought of as a course focusing on a key period in American social, economic and artistic history would turn out to have such painful currency. Scholars in a dozen fields and politicians across the ideological spectrum are looking to the Great Depression for lessons that might make the present mess however much shorter or less painful. Ideologues on the far right—e.g. Fox News and historian Amity Shales—are busy rewriting the history of the 1930s in an attempt to make FDR the villain of the piece. "The past," as a character in William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun put it, "isn't ever past. It isn't even past. We'll tune the seminar accordingly.)

The Great Depression was the third in a sequence of extended conditions in the first half of the 20th century that forever altered the character of life in America. The first was our avoidance of and then involvement in the so-called Great War, which made us a global power. The second was Prohibition, in which for the first time ordinary American citizens sought continuing relationships with professional criminals. And then came the Great Depression and the awareness that the Dream and the Reality were not the same thing at all.

This was the decade in which the Archive of American Folklore was established—the first agency in Federal government to seek words and music of ordinary people, rather than documents generated by the rich and powerful or anthropological reports about Curious Others. It was the decade in which the government intervened in the landscape as never before: Boulder Dam, Shasta Dam, Bonneville Dam on Oregon's Columbia River, the Lincoln Tunnel, the TVA, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was a time when popular and folk heroes were John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Al Capone, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Dick Tracy, Felix the Cat and the Lone Ranger. It was movies like Little Caesar, Scarface, Public Enemy, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, The Petrified Forest, The Plow that Broke the Plains, Barbary Coast, It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 42nd Street, Stagecoach, and Grapes of Wrath. It was the Scottsboro Boys, the Bonus Marchers, Woody Guthrie, Life and Time, Busby Berkeley, Clifford Odets, Social Security, and FDR's mantra: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

In this seminar, we'll discuss some of those books, events, films, music, heroes, and institutions. We'll look at the government's attempt to redefine America, particularly in the four component parts of the WPA's Federal One: The Federal Theater, Writers', Arts, and Music Projects. What did the government want from those projects and what did it get from people like Jack Conroy, Conrad Aiken, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Saul Bellow, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, and John Huston.?

Students in the seminar will talk about the readings, do one short oral report on a book from a list I’ll provide, and write a term paper.  

Texts will be:

Jerre Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers' Project, 1935-1943

Robert S. McElvaine, The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941

Andrew Bergman, We're in the Money: Depression America and its Films

Nokola, Charlotte and Paula Rabinowitz, ed.s, Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers 1930-1940

Studs Turkel, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression

Jack Conroy, The Disinherited ?

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind

Nathaniel West, Day of the Locust

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Richard Wright, Native Son

James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

English 413: Great Directors (The Buffalo Film Seminars XVIII)
Tuesdays, 7-10, Market Arcade Theater

Click here for Spring 2009 screening schedule

This class is an experiment in looking at and talking about films. It’s a regular UB class, but the general public is welcome to attend. We meet in the Market Arcade Film and Art Center in downtown Buffalo on Tuesday nights. (There’s a well-lighted, monitored, free parking lot directly opposite the theater’s Washington street entrance. The theater is directly opposite Metrorail’s Theater District station.)

The two of us introduce each film, we screen it, we take a short break, and then we talk about the film with the students and anyone in the audience who wants to join us. The non-student part of the audience has been running over 200 people for each screening, about half of whom stay for the discussions.

The Buffalo Film Seminars are grounded in two underlying assumptions. The first is that watching a good film on a television set is like reading a good novel in Cliff’s Notes or Classic Comics: you may get the contour of the story but not the experience of the work. Movies were meant to be seen big, in the company of other people. The second is that a conversation among people of various ages and experiences about a good movie they’ve all just seen can be interesting and useful.

We try to pick films that will let us think and talk about genre, writing, narrative, editing, directing, acting, context, camera work, relation to sources. The only fixed requirement is that they have to be great films--no films of "academic" interest only. You can go to www.buffalofilmseminars.com for the latest information on the schedule, as well as a full list of all the films we’ve programmed in the first twelve series, and other information about the screenings and the class.

At the first meeting of the class (in the lobby of the theater), registered students get a series pass that provides free admission to all of that semester's films. Since we show films and talk about them in the same class meeting, and since a few of the films each semester are long, we sometimes go well past the class-ending time in the UB schedule. Usually we're done by 10:30.

There are no exams. Students have to maintain a notebook/diary reflecting their reactions to all the screenings, discussions and print and listserv readings. The notebooks will be collected and graded three times during the term.

For more information go to http://buffalofilmseminars.com


Fall 2008

Faulkner (English 627 A_1, 627 B_1) Mondays 3:3—6:10, 610 Capen

During his great years—1929 through 1942—William Faulkner was the most experimental of American fiction writers: he developed or found a different narrative mode for each of his major novels. He is one of the few American novelists who was truly polyphonic: his characters' utterances scan so specifically you usually don't need "Sutpen said" or "Quentin said" to know who's talking (a good thing, since he often doesn't bother to write "Sutpen said" or "Quentin said."). We'll read and discuss Faulkner's major novels, several of his short stories, one of the biographies, and some criticism. Students will do one brief oral report on a critical or biographical work or on one of the novels we're not reading, and a term paper.

 UE141 CC Homer's Odyssey University Discovery Seminar. M 1-1:50, 610 Capen

English 413: Great Directors (The Buffalo Film Seminars XVII)
Tuesdays, 7-10, Market Arcade Theater

Home page: http://brucejackson.us 

Email: bjackson@buffalo.edu