Monday, September 27, 2004

At the Stadium Club

Students in my American Literature and Culture class have to post responses to chapters from Don DeLillo's Underworld on our course website and present them before the class. Below are three of my questions, followed by a transcript of a student's response (this student, I might add, is the first post before the class, so kudos to him or her) and my response.

Ch. 3 (pp. 91–100)
Q: Explain the significance of the setting for this chapter--the Stadium Club. How does this ballpark setting compare with that in the "Prologue"?

Q: We learn that Nick Shay now owns the Bobby Thompson home-run ball. How did he come into possession of it and, more importantly, why did he want to own it? What significance does the ball hold for Nick?

Q: Summarize the remarks that Nick's dining company--e.g., Brian Glassic, Big Simms, and Jane Farish--make about The Shot Heard Round the World and the historic ballgame.

Response (The text is unedited, as submitted by the student).

Huge differences between the settings of the chapters three and the prologue seem to exist. However, one similarity between these two chapters is the fact that in both chapters, Dodgers are playing against the Giants. Nonetheless, the differences prevail similarities. In the prologue, we learn that the audience is made up of famous characters such as Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra, Jacky Gleason and Toot Shor. In fact, each one of these characters is actually viewing the game from the benches, unlike the characters in the chapter 3. Nick, Big Sims, Brian Glassic, and Jane Farish are watching the game drinking whiskey and eating, while sitting apart from the field (DeLillo 91). Moreover, in the chapter three, Jane who is a female is being company to Nick and his friends, thus watching the game as well. Unlike in the prologue, no female is being mentioned at the stadium. However, the greater difference in the settings of these two chapters is the location where games are being played, more specifically, which towns they belong to. In the prologue, both Giants and Dodgers are New York’s teams. However, these teams have moved west in the late 50’s (DeLillo 93). Likewise, after the game of 1951, when the Thompson hit the homer, the atmosphere at the game seem to be different as well. Before, Dodgers vs. Giants game seem to be more exiting than it is forty years later. Nevertheless, another difference between these two teams after the 1951 game is the status, position, and the significance of these two teams. “We had real Dodgers and Giants. Now we have holograms (DeLillo 95)”.

Moreover, we learn that Nick Shay has the Bobby Thompson’s home-run ball. Glassic, who is a friend of Nick tells us a story of how Nick got to own the ball. A dealer they met while ago, convinced them that he had Bobby Thompson’s home-run ball. In addition, the dealer told Nick and Glassic how he was able to trace the ball. After they heared his story they were convinced ninety nine and nine-tenths percent that this was the same ball from the October third, 1951 game between Dodgers and Giants (DeLillo 96). Nonetheless, the reason why Nick purchased the ball was not because Giants have won and because he wanted to have it as a symbol and memory, but because Dodger have lost. “Well, I didn’t buy the object because of the glory and drama attached to it. It’s not about Thompson hitting homer. It’s about Branka making the pitch. It’s all about loosing (DeLillo 97). Furthermore, Nick explains that the ball is about mystery of bad luck and loss. He says that it is the only thing in his life that he owned (97). Nick’s reasoning for buying the ball, even though unusual, shows how serious fan he was of Dodgers, and how much their loss seemed to shape his life. We learn that loss of Dodgers caused a lack of interest, desire and passion for this team. Similarly, later on in the novel, as the readers we find out that Nick used to live in New York for quite a time, and that he moved west. Perhaps, the author is suggesting that Nick followed the path of his ex hometown teams. Both Giants and Dodgers “moved West, taking Nick’s heart and soul with them (De Lillo 93)”.

While watching the game, eating and talking, Nick and his friends touch up on several great tissues, most of them having the connection with the game of 1951. The day the Giants have won, Nick alone listened to the game from his roof. However, unlike the others, since he was the only Dodgers fan in his town, their loss brought huge suffering to Nick. “I died inside when they lost. And it was important to die alone. I had to listen alone. And then the radio told me whether I would live and die (DeLillo 93)”. Nonetheless, other idea they discussed was the difference between the day when President Kennedy was killed and the winning of Giants. According to DeLillo when JFK was killed everyone closed themselves inside their houses. On the other side, when Giants won, everyone went inside (95). Later on, we learn that everyone rushed inside other than Nick. Likewise, they discuss the reasons why Thompson homer continues to live, forty years later. They say that it is because things were worn out, replayed, “The scratchier an old film or an audiotape, the clearer the action in a way (DeLillo 98)”. In other words, the more people talk about things and remember them, as well as record them in their minds that are film and audio tapes, more lively the events turns out to be.

In conclusion, perhaps the alternative title for this chapter can be “The Power and Impact of History on Its Creators”.
“He thinks about what it (baseball) means,” Glassic said. “It’s an object with a history. He thinks about losing. He wonders what it is that brings bad luck to one person and sweetest of good fortune to another. It’s a lovely thing in itself besides. An old baseball? It’s a lovely thing, Sims. And this one’s got a pedigree like no other”.

===

And my response...

Dear X

Thanks for posting your response early on Monday evening. That should give everybody plenty of time to read it before class tomorrow. Thanks too for signing up to go first. Your response is a good length—about 2 pages when I print it out double-spaced in Times New Roman 11 pt. font.

Let’s look more closely then at how you responded to the questions…

1. Q: Explain the significance of the setting for this chapter--the Stadium Club. How does this ballpark setting compare with that in the "Prologue"?

Your argument is that the differences between the two locales is greater than the similarities. Although both the prologue and this chapter are set during a baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers, you note that both the location of the game and the atmosphere are quite different. It’s no longer the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the New York Giants, but the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the San Francisco Giants. The teams have moved out West. Since the games are set over forty years apart, it is not surprising to note that the specific people in the audience are different. I liked that you contrasted the two groups of spectators who DeLillo chooses to focus on and that you identified the woman, Jane Farish, in the audience as marking a significant gender difference. Could you say anything more about Jane’s presence? I’m not sure if we can read this scene as being about gender differences in any significant way. It seems to me that Jane’s lack of knowledge about the game of baseball is more a function of her being a Brit than of her being a woman. In any case, her outsider position there as a filmmaker creates a situation that justifies all of the commentary about baseball going on in the game.

In your revision, you should try to include a few statements that provide readers an overview of the nature of the conversation that Nick, Jane, Big Sims, and Brian Glassic have about the game and the setting. For example, the setting in which they watch the game—the Stadium Club is a matter of debate. Brian wants them to eat quickly so they can go sit in the stands with the other fans and hear the game, but Big Sims insists that they’re there to “eat a meal and see a game” (92). Sims emphasizes that they can watch the game fine from where they are, and disregards Brian’s insistence that the crowd noise is an essential part of the experience. (Here, you might think about how this episode relates to William S. Burroughs’ remarks about the way a soundtrack, that is, the background sounds, can completely change the nature of an event that one is watching.) Aside from the fact that this is, apparently, not an end-of-the-season game, one major reason, then, that the atmosphere is less intense is that it is taking place behind glass in a restaurant. Brian clearly finds this to be an unsatisfactory way to watch a ballgame. The experience isn’t authentic. He says “this isn’t reality. This is virtual reality” (92).

This latter remark is related to the quote you excerpted about the game being a hologram. I’m glad you cited this. Can you comment upon Brian’s remark for us? Contextualize it a bit. What is a hologram, and in what way are these teams holograms? Do you see how this comment, which depends upon a technological metaphor, is related to the other remark by Brian that you cite. Brian says that “The scratchier an old film or an old audiotape, the clearer the action in a way” (98). In your revision, spend some more time contextualizing this remark. I don’t think your gloss (In other words, the more people talk about things and remember them, as well as record them in their minds that are film and audio tapes, more lively the events turns out to be) is an accurate interpretation. Take note of how and why Brian first makes his claim. It is in response to Sims’ story about a “pitcher named Donnie Moore who gave up a crucial home run in a play-off game and ended up shooting his wife,” that is, a story about a black man’s inability to live with what he regarded as his failure (98). Sims’ argument is that unlike Branca, who gave up The Shot Heard Round the World but could still become a baseball legend, Moore committed suicide, because as a black man he “was not allowed to outlive his failure” (98). Brian responds by suggesting that Sims’ racialized interpretation misses the point, and then gives his analysis about why “[t]he Thomson homer continues to live” (98). Brian’s analysis is based upon a claim about older mediating technologies and how they affect our perception of a sporting event. Try to make Brian’s claim explicit.

You don’t need to address all of the conversational threads (it’s amazing how many of them are there once you begin to look for them) in your revised answer, but in order to answer the following question thoroughly (Q: Summarize the remarks that Nick's dining company--e.g., Brian Glassic, Big Sims, and Jane Farish--make about The Shot Heard Round the World and the historic ballgame) you’ll need to read more carefully.

You’ve already alluded to one of the major threads—failure and losing—when you remark upon Nick’s reason for purchasing the ball. The longer quote that you give at the end of your response (which I take to be your ‘favorite’ excerpt) is the one that you’ll want to comment upon further.

I’m not sure what to make of your title. In class, you’ll have to explain who you understand to be the ‘creators of history’ in this chapter. For what it’s worth, I would try to come up with a title that alludes to either (1) the alleged inauthenticity of the experience of watching a ballgame in the Stadium Club or (2) the way the Shot Heard Round the Word signifies is associated with failure in Nick’s mind.

My possible titles, then, are: “A Virtual Ballgame” (alluding to Brian’s comments) or “To Commemorate Failure” (The reason Nick gives for buying the ball).

In conclusion, the conversation reported on in this chapter covers many topics. It’s easy to overlook them, but you did a good job of getting some of the important ones on the table. The quotations you chose to cite focus our attention on some of the key issues that DeLillo raises. In class, we’ll all work on how to read passages closely in order to better contextualize these quotes.

Thanks,
++++

Anyone who claims that teachers don't work hard can kiss my ass. If I calculated my actual hourly wage, I'd cry.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Power of History

This Tuesday, my American Literature and Culture Class will begin our analysis of Underworld by discussing how Don DeLillo came to write his Cold War-era epic. "The Power of History," an essay by DeLillo that was published in The New York Times Magazine shortly before Underworld's debut, provides insight into DeLillo's thoughts on the relationship between historical events and their fictional representation. Read it.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Don DeLillo's Underworld Chapter by Chapter

This week my American Literature and Culture class ("Significant Connections: Making Sense in Postmodern American Literature") begins reading Don DeLillo's mega novel Underworld.

From each class from Sept. 28 through Oct. 28, students will present short responses to the daily readings. Two people will be assigned to cover each chapter of the novel. Each person will write a short response about the chapter that he or she has been assigned and will post this response on the Blackboard course website. Responses will be due (posted on the Blackboad) the day before their section is covered in class.

To help students decide which chapters they want to sign up for, I've posted the following chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Underworld.

PROLOGUE: THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH (pp. 9–60)

PART 1—LONG TALL SALLY: SPRING–SUMMER 1992 (pp. 61–134)
Ch. 1 (pp. 63–84)
Ch. 2 (pp. 85–90)
Ch. 3 (pp. 91–100)
Ch. 4 (pp. 101–7)
Ch. 5 (pp. 108–17)
Ch. 6 (pp. 118–22)
Ch. 7 (pp. 123–34)

MANX MARTIN 1 (pp. 137–50)

PART 2—ELEGY FOR LEFT HAND ALONE: MID-1980S–EARLY 1990s (pp. 153–272)
Ch. 1 (pp. 155–60)
Ch. 2 (pp. 161–6)
Ch. 3 (pp. 167–86)
Ch. 4 (pp. 187–93)
Ch. 5 (pp. 194–209)
Ch. 6 (pp. 210–21)
Ch. 7 (pp. 222–36)
Ch. 8 (pp. 237–51)
Ch. 9 (pp. 252–61)
Ch. 10 (pp. 262–72)

PART 3—THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING: SPRING 1978 (pp. 273–345)
Ch. 1 (pp. 275–304)
Ch. 2 (pp. 305–324)
Ch. 3 (pp. 325–45)

MANX MARTIN 2 (pp. 349–66)

PART 4—COCKSUCKER BLUES: SUMMER 1974 (pp. 369–498)
Ch. 1 (pp. 373–400)
Ch. 2 (pp. 401–22)
Ch. 3 (pp. 423–45)
Ch. 4 (pp. 446–68)
Ch. 5 (pp. 469–98)

PART 5—BETTER THINGS FOR BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY: SELECTED FRAGMENTS PUBLIC AND PRIVATE IN THE 1950s AND 1960s (pp. 499–638)
Ch. 1 (pp. 501–12)
Ch. 2 (pp. 513–635
Ch. 3 (pp. 536–54)
Ch. 4 (pp. 555–79)
Ch. 5 (pp. 580–95)
Ch. 6 (pp. 596–616)
Ch. 7 (pp. 617–37)

MANX MARTIN 3 (pp. 641–56)

PART 6—ARRANGEMENT IN GRAY AND BLACK: FALL 1951–SUMMER 1952 (pp. 659–781)
Ch. 1 (pp. 661–83)
Ch. 2 (pp. 684–95)
Ch. 3 (pp. 696–710)
Ch. 4 (pp. 711–29)
Ch. 5 (pp. 730–42)
Ch. 6 (pp. 743–52)
Ch. 7 (pp. 753–70)
Ch. 8 (pp. 771–81)

EPILOGUE: DAS KAPITAL (783–827)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Bereuter's Opposition to Iraq Ignored by Conservative Media

As a native Nebraskan who has always been frustrated and slightly baffled by the fact that the majority of Cornhuskers vote Republican, I was pleased to learn that US Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Nebraska, a senior Republican member of the House International Relations Committee, spoke out against the war of Iraq. His decision to break ranks with the GOP chickenhawks suggests that not all Republicans are willing to be puppets of Cheney and co. and is a sign that political independence.

As John Nichols reports in The Nation:

US Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Nebraska, the vice chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the senior Republican members of the House International Relations Committee, announced after a thorough review of the information available to him that he had come to the conclusion that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was unjustified. "I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action," explained Bereuter, who added that, "knowing what I know about the reliance on tenuous or insufficiently corroborted intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD (Wepaons of mass destruction) arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified."

Infuriatingly, Bereuter's remarks and his reasons for concluding that the pre-emptive militrary strike on Iraq was a mistake have been largely ignored by the mass meda, which continues to assist Karl Rove by focusing attention on the lies propagated by the so-called "Swift Vote Veterans for Truth," . Once again, the conservative media bury a real news story in favor of sensationalistic, discredited propaganda.

I'm curious about how Nebraskans, particularly those who back Bush, feel about Bereuter's conclusion regarding Iraq and the nasty campaign being run by Bush/Cheney. Any reports from readers in Nebraska are welcome.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Greedy GOP Tries to Steal Cash's Legacy

Further proof that Republicans believe they are entitled to own everything, including the legacy of the dead. First it was Sinatra signing on the big screen after Rudy Giuliani's self-serving and smug speech at the GOP National Convention. Now it's a Johnny Cash 'tribute' being staged so as to suggest that the Man in Black would endorse the Republican platform. Fortunately, singer Rosanne Cash, Johnny's daughter, issued a statement insisting that the event should "NOT be seen as a show of support for the Repubican agenda." Outraged fans, many of whom were responding to the manifesto posted at www.defendjohhnycash.org, bum-rushed the event, held at Sotheby's, to remind the Republicans that Johnny championed precisely those people whom most Republicans couldn't care less about, that is, the poor, prisoners, etc. See John Nichols's article "The Man in Black Bloc."