Barth, Lity) Hello, My Name Essay

Pages: 9 (2993 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

My content area is English literature, so for an example of a blog I'd like to use the personal English lit blog of Jenny Davidson. Davidson is a Professor in the English Department at Columbia University in NYC, and is also a Young Adult novelist (The Explosionist and Invisible Things).

Davidson's blog is particularly interesting in the way that it combines the ordinary process of a blog -- providing links to published content, with some commentary from the blogger -- with facts about her daily work as an Ivy League English professor. On Sept 5, 2014, for example, she offers the full syllabus for a graduate seminar she is teaching on women's fiction in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


My content area is English literature, and last semester at UHV I took a seminar on postmodern American fiction, and wrote my term paper on the novelist Thomas Pynchon. Because Pynchon attracts a devoted academic fanbase, there is a designated Wiki site devoted to annotating and discussing his work.

The useful thing about the Pynchon Wiki is the provision of linked footnotes to all of the novelist's books. As a result, Pynchon's novel published late in 2013 -- Bleeding Edge -- already has a substantial list of footnotes provided by the academics and knowledgeable fans who maintain the Wiki. The notes explain references in Pynchon's books, but also provide links and images for these references also.


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For my sample WebQuest for students of English, I would propose a question about a major English poem. Does John Milton's preface note to his poem "Lycidas" indicate that the poet thought he could foretell the future? The links provided for the WebQuest would be as follows:

Essay on Barth, Lity) Hello, My Name Assignment

This is posing a complicated -- but fun -- question to the students, but also is intended to present difficult matter (the influence of Classical literature on Renaissance-era English poets like Milton) in an accessible way. It helps to explain why "Lycidas" -- a poem about a dead friend -- is presented with the fiction of pretending the friend was an Ancient Greek shepherd (hence the title). But it also shows how the ancient conception of a poet as an inspired "bard" -- who had powers of prophecy -- may explain Milton's note at the beginning of the poem, where he notes that the poem "foretells" a major event of the English Civil War in the 17th century.


Given my focus on English literature, I think a useful technology lesson plan would involve teaching students how to use the Oxford English Dictionary. As a result, I think the assignment I would pose is to ask students to read John Keats's short poem "To Sleep" and then tell them to use the Oxford English Dictionary to argue whether the last line refers to death:

This is, of course, a trick question. Students often assume that the word "casket" in the last line of a poem about sleep is a reference to death. But the proper use of the Oxford English Dictionary can prove otherwise. Historically speaking, the word "casket" means a jewelry-box, and did so for John Keats (who was English and died in the early 19th century). The use of "casket" to mean "coffin" -- familiar to all students nowadays -- is shown by the OED to be a mid-19th century American usage. As a result, American high school students wrongly assume the use of the word in this poem makes reference to death -- whereas this association around the word comes from a different country and a later time period.


Because my content area is English, the national association relevant to this area is the NCTE, or National Council of Teachers of English:

One extremely useful and interesting resource provided by the NCTE is their "Intellectual Freedom Center," which gives resources and advice (and sample writings) for how to challenge censorship of books on the secondary level. Apparently such well-known novels as The Color Purple and Bridge to Terabithia have been subjected to censorship bans by certain school districts, and the NCTE helps to support teachers (and students) in their First Amendment rights to have access to literature, and to help support instructors in their efforts to demonstrate the value of teaching controversial books.


For me as a reader, the story in Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse" that is most successful in fashioning a new form of narrative out of old tropes is "Echo." I say this because it is interesting in taking up an ancient Greek myth that is already clearly allegorical -- the myth of Echo and Narcissus clearly has a meaning for its original hearers. Part of it is "Just-So Story" meant to explain from whence comes the phenomenon of reverberation that to this day we call an "echo" -- it is the supernatural presence of a departed nymph. But another part of it is clearly meant to illustrate some kind of human tendency -- Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in a pool. And what is most fascinating about this ancient allegorical myth is that it actually persists today in our own understanding of human psychology: it would be hard to discuss certain types of personality without employing the English word "Narcissism," which refers to a kind of pathological self-love, but which has ensured the immortality of the mythic figure just as surely as the word "echo" has perpetuated the other half of the myth.

As a result, Barth is already treating an ancient myth whose basic outlines have essentially been internalized by the English language itself -- "echo" and "narcissism" are quite literally part of our vocabulary in 2014, even if we have not heard the ancient myth that gives us these words. And as a result Barth begins his story with the idea of the kind of repetition that has kept this myth around for over two millennia: "telling the story over as though it were anohter's until like a much repeated word it loses sense." Except part of the fascination of Barth's "Echo" is that the way in which an echo senselessly repeats words here gains rather than "loses sense" -- "I can't go on. / Go on," "Who are you? / You.," "I? / Aye." What is most striking about this passage is the reversal of expecation: those who have experienced an echo by shouting in a large empty space know that the repetition of the sound ("hello, hello, hello") does end up removing the meaning from the words. Here, the echoes have unintended meanings: they provide a mocking response, and a way for the speaker to have a conversation with himself.

But of course this is a story that addresses directly the question of the meaning of stories. As the last line notes, "Our story's finished before it starts." This is because, in Barth's focus, the additional element of the myth is the blind prophet Tiresias. Obviously the idea of a man who can tell the future is analogous to the author of a fiction, who knows how the story he tells will end, but is customarily careful to maintain suspense for the reader. Yet Barth is interested in the opposite of this: what is the meaning of a story when we all begin reading knowing the ending? He presupposes his reader will know the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus before reading his version of it. Therefore, he can rely on the reader to share, in some sense, the most important element of Tiresias: already knowing the future of the narrative. Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection, Echo wastes away into a hollow voice that inhabits vast empty spaces. That is why Barth's last pages in this story employ two unfamiliar, but wonderful, words: "suiscience" and "autognostic." These two strange words both mean the same thing (based on Latin and on Greek), which is self-knowledge. Weirdly, what we as readers get by following a story that we already know the ending to, is the possibility to reflect on ourselves. We repeat the story a second time to apply it to our own situation, like Echo -- we make ourselves the central figure even in something that should not focus on the self, like a story about other people. [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Barth, Lity) Hello, My Name" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Barth, Lity) Hello, My Name.  (2014, September 22).  Retrieved May 28, 2020, from

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"Barth, Lity) Hello, My Name."  22 September 2014.  Web.  28 May 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Barth, Lity) Hello, My Name."  September 22, 2014.  Accessed May 28, 2020.