March 2011


This was my first encounter with an author whose work I’ve read. Beforehand, I’d thought it would be weird- maybe Whitehead would say something to completely alter my understanding of the book, maybe he’d be super egotistical, maybe I’d hate the book afterwords. None of these came to fruition. Thankfully. I really enjoyed the visit. It opened up the more. I don’t if I can fully describe it, but one thing we had addressed in class was the fact that Sag Harbor was semi-autobiographical. It refreshing to see some of the similarities between Whitehead and Benji, specifically the shared sense of humor. You could tell that while Benji was a creation of Whitehead, he kept some of Whitehead’s traits. This was especially true when Whitehead revealed that the mishearing of sacadilliac was something he had done. Some other moments that stood out to me were when he described the process of writing a book. I liked the explanations of how he came up with a name or an idea, because that’s always something I wonder about when I read a book. I really enjoyed Whitehead’s visit. I learned a lot about Sag Harbor and the writing style. It was also very interesting to get to know Whitehead in the context of the Q and A, and then to see him perform (as Prof. Bowen says) at ATS. All in all, it was great!

I thoroughly enjoyed Colson Whitehead’s visit to campus and felt that the question and answer question was effective in helping to understand his novels and it also was fun to get to know the author behind our readings. The question that most interested me was the star wars question because it really showed insight to Whitehead’s personality. Not only did it indicate his past and his hobbies, it also showed the way he thinks. His response was not what I expected and shower the intricacies of his thought process-the question had nothing to do with R2D2 but yet Colson twisted the question into his own response and discusses the mechanics of the movie. I felt that this response showed his personality, his thought process and gave an insight to his life outside of writing.

I didn’t expect to be as moved by Colson Whitehead as I actually was. I found him to be incredibly approachable and, although I was nervous and afraid of saying something stupid, welcomed any and all questions. His sense of self as a writer is what I found most interesting about his visit. First of all, even though he is a critically acclaimed author he didn’t act like one, he just seemed very human. As Chloe mentioned earlier, it seemed as though he was speaking with us as opposed to at us which I thought very much enhanced his visit. I also really enjoyed how directly and personally he spoke about his own process and ways of picking names, procrastinating, etc. I found the way he discussed his voice to be very interesting, especially considering it was something we discussed in depth during class. His voice took the back burner to his character’s/protagonist’s voice(s). His writing really isn’t about him making a statement, it’s about his characters making a statement, which I thought for a writer of his stature was refreshing and very unexpected. He was witty, clever, funny, approachable and genuine, and I think I greatly benefited from his visit to campus. He has been able to make a name for himself through writing, something I can only aspire to do, and seeing him do so inspires me.

I enjoyed Colson Whiteheads visit immensely.  His humor and honesty about Sag Harbor brought him down to the land of mortals. His blatant honesty about how there is no plot was refreshing as I envisioned he would answer the question which would have consisted of talking about the slow plot and the reason for it being an anti-climactic story but instead he simply said, “There is no plot.”  His humor was also refreshing, when he talked about “the long line of jerks” and “how he procrastinates,” made him seem real and tangible.  The fact that he admitted to procrastinating made him seem human and brought him down to a level where we could easily relate because we have all probably procrastinated at what point. The humor and honesty he brought to the both the Q&A and the lecture were wonderful and I can definitely see myself reading more of his novels.

I was very intrigued by Colson Whitehead’s visit. I thought his humor and fluidity were exceptional. Rather than a Q and A, it felt as if Whitehead was talking with us, not to us. I really enjoyed this because it made the visit less formal which I found unique for such a young, successful author. Prior to his visit, I was entirely annoyed by the absence of a plot in “Sag Harbor.” However, after Whitehead admitted that he intended for it to have no plot I was entirely OK with it and in fact more interested in his work as a whole. I also found it fascinating when Whitehead discussed the writing process as a whole. I loved how he was able to put works down but always came back to them, regardless of their success, showing his genuine passion for writing. The fact that Whitehead doesn’t believe that writer’s block exists was also interesting because it showed us as readers and writers how to approach our work in different ways. I can definitely see myself reading one of his other novels in the near future and am very happy that we were given the chance to meet with someone so established as himself.

Whitehead’s visit was interesting. Before heading to the session I thought it would be boring, but I ended up enjoying every part of it. He was honest in a humorous sense, but always seemed to have confidence whenever he was describing the process of his works. Whitehead seemed to enjoy talking to us, even when there were random questions I would have never imagined hearing. I definitely liked the fact that he didn’t give me the answer I wanted after I asked my question because it gave me a different perspective, in which I hadn’t thought about previous to his answer. It was all helpful, and overall I think his humor carried the session, because it kind of tied everything together.

Whitehead on PBS

In music it seems that the identity of the artists carries enormous weight on the music being produced. I think much more so with music than with poetry. The artists background (i.e. race, gender, origin) has massive weight on whether their music is considered “good”. The fact that poetry is generally fiction seems to be a given to most. But often, in music an artist is judged upon whether their music is realistic and factually based; and if not,they are criticized. I would ask Whitehead if he sees the artist as a more necessary part of looking at music than the author in poetry?

At this point in his novel Sag Harbor, the question that I would want to ask Colson Whitehead would be “Have you ever written, or attempted to write, poetry at some point in your career?”, primarily because of his first two pages of Sag Harbor. I am a huge fan of the structure of his novel, particularly because he introduced the narrator Benji two pages into the novel, not right from the start. Colson’s introduction about “getting out” and the following paragraphs as well reminded me a lot about poetry. The way he flowed from sentence to sentence, using descriptive imagery about non-related elements, but connecting everything indirectly, as if the only way to figure out Colson’s primary intention was to break each paragraph, sentence, and word down, seemed to read like poetry in my opinion. I also had to re-read these first two pages a few times just to get a clear idea of what Colson wanted to say, and that also reminds of poetry in my opinion.

The question I would most want to ask Colson Whitehead (to this point at least) is:

“What’s the best insult you’ve come up with and why?”

Without knowing the guy I can say that I feel like this is a question he would appreciate because it is informal and will probably take him back a couple years. Also, I would get the privilege of being the recipient of Colson Whitehead’s favorite insult, which may or may not scar me. For life.

While reading Sag Harbor I could not help but notice Whitehead gives information in a scatterbrained way.  For example, in many of the chapters I cannot give exact summaries because so much information is given, the plot is diluted.  At times this effect makes it hard to follow the book and brings a sense of confusion and stagnation of the plot.  I am probably not yet deep enough into the novel to connect this writing device to the meaning of the book but I would love to understand why he writes in information in a diluted way.

From reading what I’ve read so far of Sag Harbor there’s not much of an interesting question I can ask.  I’ve come to realize that I would most likely ask him if he’s ever experienced a sense of “wanting to change” who he was to fit what others wanted to see. Did he ever dress or act a certain way, that allowed him to be put in a specific category among society?  Since I’ve gone through it, like I’m sure many other people have in a way, I’m sure he somehow experienced it. The question ties in to if he was ever really comfortable in his skin, and I’m sure he’d have no problem answering a question like that.

What was the primary inspiration for writing a piece such as Sag Harbor, and where did you find the ability to discuss racial contexts sarcastically yet so smoothly? This is the question I would ask Colson Whitehead because I think it inquires a lot about his writing style. Although we have not read his other works, I’d also be interested to see if he uses the same sarcastic style and cynical undertones while allowing comic relief. I am interested to hear about Whitehead’s childhood experiences and how they may tie into Benji’s lifestyle in the novel. I think Whitehead’s writing style is unique in more ways than one, in that it has the ability to talk about dark themes in such a light context, and I am eager to learn how he came to terms with black oppression and furthermore how he was able to express it in his writing.

Considering what we’ve been talking about with Yeats and Plath, I’d like to know what his stance on the authorial intention is. Does Colson Whitehead think that an author should have control over his/her work? For instance, what side would he, as an author, take in the Ted Hughes vs Frieda Hughes publication of Ariel? Along the same lines, I wonder how Whitehead views his works. Does he see any of his life and experiences in them? Does he think that readers and critics should look for the author’s experiences in his/her works? This is similar to Yeats; if Whitehead did place some of his experiences into Sag Harbor, what’s his stance on aligning the text and the author? Does he agree with Formalist critics?

I am interested to ask which form of writing he believes is most effective. His new york times articles were sarcastic and he used long nicknames to get his point across. However, while his novel employs some of this writing styles, the satire is toned down and he’s telling a story rather than analyzing his experience. I would ask which tone/voice he most prefers writing in? Which one attracts the most readers?

After break, we get to meet Colson Whitehead!  Such an awesome opportunity deserves awesome, thoughtful questions?  Now that you’ve read some of Whitehead’s essays and gotten into Sag Harbor–and now that you’ve been honing your skills, vocabulary, and thought processes as a literary thinker for seven weeks–what questions do you want to pose?  These questions will clearly go beyond off-the-rack type factual questions (e.g., “Where were you born?”) and instead try to put Whitehead in conversation with the issues we’ve been discussing in class.  Ask away!

I believe that the version of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel we should read is the original manuscript found in her binder on her desk. Even though her husband Ted Hughes edited and distributed a version of her poems in the mid-1960′s containing other poems he felt were necessary additions, the original set of poems captures Plath’s main voice throughout. The original version represents her dark, depressing mood clearer than the edited version by Hughes because of the basic philosophy that the original version captures the “original” mood of the poems; the edited version simply destroys that authenticity and Plath’s genuine voice. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in their essay titled “The Female Swerve,” add interesting points relating to my opinion on the original version of Plath’s work vs. the edited version. For example, G+G comment “with little sense of a viable female culture, such women were plainly much troubled by the fact that they needed to communicate truths which other (i.e. male) writers apparently never felt or expressed….the evasions and concealments of their art are therefore far more elaborate than those of most male writers” (p. 292). This criticism by G+G really questions the edited version of Ariel by Ted Hughes, a male writer, because of the fact that he simply can’t understand Plath’s thoughts and emotions expressed in each of her poems. G+G’s criticism of male writers therefore parallels my opinion of choosing to read the original version of Ariel. Reading Plath’s original version may help us (the readers) to fully understand her final thoughts and emotions before she committed suicide, and Plath’s voice can live on through her original manuscript of Ariel.

It is astounding the amount of emphasize put on Sylvia Plath’s personal life. I can really see how a formalist reading of Plath is not the type of reading that one would prefer to use when her personal life clearly carries such weight in her work. But I can also see how this demeans her writing as dependent on her life as an author. Ted Hughes probably not only knew Plath best but also knew her writing best. But no matter how great his familiarity with Sylvia Plath’s poetry, Hughes revision of her work dips the pen of the male formalists who set the standard for great poetry in the work of Plath, a poet who being a women must create her own set of standards. I am not saying that women must have different standards than men but I am referring to the Toril Moi essay which makes the point that even when understanding feminist politics within literature, the literature itself is still being judged by patriarchal aesthetics (I think). Without Hughes revisions, all that is left is Plath’s own work which articulates the experience of a woman written by a woman. Ted Hughes influence not only injected patriarchal aesthetics into Plath’s work but also took away from the force of the work because now the work is not solely a woman’s experience articulated by a woman. I think that Ariel should be read as Plath’s own independent work rather than with Ted Hughes revision.

The way I look at which “Ariel” should be read is the same way I think of books. While a novel may go through many rounds of edits and be subject to many different people’s opinions, the author has the final say about what constitutes the final version of the book. (Of course there’s always the argument that the publisher could decide not to publish the author’s version of the book, but there are always other publishing houses…) So many different types of criticism are based upon the author, from biographical to psychoanalytic to feminist, etc, it is in this way that the author’s version of the text is so important. If another version of the work is published, it minimizes the role that the author played in its creation- something could be so powerful to a critic, which becomes the basis of this critic’s conclusions, that the author didn’t even include in his/her version. Because so many types of criticism take the author into account when analyzing the work, it should be author’s work that is studied and read. This especially holds true for “Ariel” given the amount of attention that is focused on Sylvia Plath when reading and analyzing this work. So many critics use the life story of Plath to discuss the poems that she has become almost indistinguishable from the speaker in many cases. It is for this reason that her version of “Ariel” should be used. Ted Hughes’ version of “Ariel” may be just as important, but I don’t think it should be read in the same way as Plath’s. His version has his influence on it and he chose the poems to be included; therefore, his imprint is on the works, which probably affects how the work is interpreted. Plath’s version of “Ariel” should be the version given the most weight and the one used for analysis.

I firmly believe that one should read the authors original work.  While Huges did a wonderful job editing Arielhis edits will still never be on the same level as Plaths’s original manuscript.  Plath wrote the poems in Ariel and placed them in a certain order for a reason.   While many of the critics we have read would scold us for even caring about who put this manuscript together there is an underlying importance of caring about the author.  Writing is a response to an antagonist.  The author can never truly be separated from the work because it is the author who decides to write about something physical, mental or emotional.  Even if there was a signed letter stating “this is not me, it is a narrator” there is a reason behind the creation of the narrator.  This is why originality is important.  Even if Plath is not describing her own life, her writing is still hers and therefore must be red as how she meant it to be read.   When original manuscripts are tampered with or changed even in the slightest detail, meaning can be lost.  Therefore, the original manuscript should always be read first in order to prevent the loss of any meaning that could have been lost in an updated and edited version.

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