Negotiation II

UPDATE: The committee has approved an abridged version of Pamela if you prefer it. For more details, see my comment below.

I wrote this comment before I knew that, and Khurram and Jordan responded before that, too.

So now our question is only, which do you prefer:

  • an abridged Pamela, or
  • Phyllis Wheatley?


Hi, All. Phew. Ok.

I really want you all to be happy with the list we write, despite the fact that there will inevitably be some compromises for all.

I know that the students in the evening class are feeling like they made a lot of concessions to the desires of the students in the afternoon class. Only one person in the evening class has read More’s Utopia, and they agreed as a group that they really wanted Antony and Cleopatra. They respected the afternoon class’ choices on those two points.

I know also that the students in the afternoon class are concerned about the length of the novel that the evening class chose. So I’ve drafted this document in an effort to balance your concerns.

The Honors Exam List

I’ve spoken off the record to the chair of the honors committee about it to get his perspective on this before he submits the list. He says that he can see a few different ways to look at it, so I’m passing his insights along to you:

  • The total list of 20 texts will inevitably include texts of varying lengths. So some long texts will be on the list, no matter what you choose; that is part of the deal. The committee will take the length of your texts into consideration when they make their list, so, if you choose long texts, they will probably choose shorter ones.
  • Our list doesn’t have much poetry from the 18th/19th century, so the evening class could replace Pamela with a poem or set of poems that they choose. Alternatively, you could leave that to the committee, noting that this is the reason why we combine the lists: to fill the holes we leave, inevitably, since we only have 10 texts.

We can negotiate this, and I invite you to post your thoughts below in the spirit of democracy, collegiality, and intellectual community. And since nobody was in both class’ conversations except me, everybody should be especially mindful of the concerns of your classmates as I described them above. We’ll all work together through the spring, and I know that you all share your best interests in common, ultimately.

So, let’s begin with this one caveat: If you decide to replace Pamela, I think the evening class should have the first choice for the text that replaces it. As it stands, the students in the afternoon class have had disproportionate say in the list, which seems arguably ok, because there are more students in the afternoon class, so that reflects a democratic process. But now we have one early text from outside our syllabus, and it was chosen by the afternoon class, without any input from the students in the evening. I think it’s only fair now to let the other early text come from the evening class.

Also, I think the stakes of this question have become higher than they need to be. You will all be able to write on the exam about the texts that are most important to you.

And I think we will take a field trip to the public library.**

**the lions in front are named Patience & Fortitude
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10 Responses to Negotiation II

  1. Khurram says:

    So close…

    Alright, I’m going to throw this out there as a suggestion. Haven’t discussed with anyone, so this is really just a starting point:

    What about Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phyllis Wheatley as a straight swap for Pamela?

    -18th century, so a straight-up century swap for Pamela
    -Poetry, which prof identified as thin/missing from our list for this period
    -Decidedly western, perhaps even double-western given that it was written by an African-American slave but published in London for historically significant reasons
    -Written by a woman, addressing Zabrina’s concern about the latest version of the list
    -Not lengthy: if we wanted to include the whole collection, the free Kindle version is 66 Kindle pages. Of course, poetry’s accessibility isn’t generally a function of its length, but within the context of the debate I think this addresses length concerns that Jordan and Kaitlin had with Pamela, and many of us had with other works we’ve considered during this process
    -Historically complex
    -Historically relevant: Wheatley is credited as the “first published African-American poet.”
    -Critically robust: There seems to be a lot of critical dialogue–both historical and modern–about Wheatley’s work, whether she was exploited, whether she was restricted, whether her work has aesthetic value or derives most (if not all) of its value from her historical importance
    -Flexible: We can analyze the poems on a per-poem basis, but with a quick look at the critical discussion surrounding the work and the poet, we could write about identity and restricted identity, social expectations, aesthetic value, historical significance, freedom, revolution, utopian policies, religious expression, religion in America, representation, etc. Some of these are broad enough to be near-universally applicable, but I think there are more ways to consider Wheatley’s work than “first published African-American poet,” though it does seem that a lot of the flexible discussion starts from that point
    -I’m throwing this in as a personal pro: this text isn’t a personal favorite (nor do I hate it, I’m pretty neutral on it), so its suggestion comes entirely from a desire to construct a balanced list that we can all agree on

    Cons (aside from “I never read it”):
    -Even though I think it has dexterity, the obvious importance of the work is so obvious as to be perhaps foundational to its discussion, and I think you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if you’d really have to stretch your interpretation to write about it in any way other than its “first” status
    -Poetry: I covered this a bit in the length pro, poetry’s accessibility isn’t generally a function of length, and perhaps the language of older poetry (relative to us) makes this work even more challenging. The obvious caveat to this con is that no one will be studying in isolation
    – Though a period swap for Pamela, its content and literary significance is different. In fact, I wonder if it’s more historically vital instead of crucial to the literary canon the way Pamela is
    -Probably hasn’t come up in any discussion about the list so far

    Would also add that I don’t think we have to pick the whole work, we can select poems from the collection. Someone who feels they can make those selections should feel free to do so.

    So, I mean, it’s a start, right? There are certainly more pros and/or cons that I’ve missed. Add them if you know them. This forum was made to address that last con.

    • Khurram says:

      Phillis* Wheatley

    • This sounds good to me Khurram, thanks for suggesting and outlining it in such detail. I think this is a good fit to assuage some of our classes concerns and maintain what both sections want out of the list.

    • I completely agree with Khurram, and I think Wheatley is the best compromise for both classes while also being flexible enough to use on the exam. Great suggestion and I hope we can all now move forward in agreement.

      • gfisk says:

        Thanks, everyone-!! I’m so glad to see a satisfying resolution on the horizon, and I’m excited to read this list with you in the spring.

      • Venessa says:

        I concur with this opinion. I think that’s a great substitution of the novel and it satisfies the requirements. There has been a lot of debate and I hope as well, that this will be something we can all agree with.

    • Zara Diaby says:

      I agree with your analysis and proposal.
      It places me at ease and from the comments on the blog, I feel others agree.
      Thank you for taking the time to provide us with an outline.

      I have read Phillis Wheatley before and I have found her poems to be dense but her history/literary content makes her a great candidate for our list.

    • Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

      Weighing in post-update from the honors committee: I agree that Wheatley would be a good addition to our list. She is a writer with literary and major historical significance, whose poetry would provide a rich source of material for our exam and an in-class discussion next term. Personally, I would prefer to read excerpts from her book of collected poems over reading the abridged version of Pamela. I think Wheatley adds something more to our list — as a writer from early-America, a female writer, an African American voice, which we have few of bar the 21st c. — her perspective (and genre) is fulfilling an area that we have little representation for, as of now. The text seems manageable, as well as interesting and rich. Wheatley’s poetry, though it never came up in our previous discussions, as per that last con you mentioned, is a fitting compromise between the classes. Thanks for the suggestion (and the outline!), Khurram.

  2. gfisk says:

    Khurram, I think you are a hero of these negotiations. I commend you for your efforts, from beginning to end!– to reach a solution that is intellectually sound as well as reasonably satisfying to all concerned. Salutations to you, and to everybody!

  3. gfisk says:

    P.S. (Sorry for always doing that!), with a small point: Both classes submitted lists that had 6 men and 4 women, so that ratio remained constant across both.

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