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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

It seems unfathomable to me that five years ago on this day, with a succinct, autogenous “Hello, World!” announcing its quiet arrival on the heavily populated, cyber literary landscape, Archetype was launched.  Conceived originally in 2009 to chronicle my academic journey through Chapman University’s dual Master of Arts in English and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and provide a forum for peer critique and camaraderie, I promptly posted passages from one of my short stories (“Windmill Ridge”) and my novel-in-progress Time of Death and invited classmates to contribute their work.  I also published original essay excerpts on Jonathan Franzen and the waning of a literary America (“Antisocial or socially isolated?”, “‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book”), mirrors and reflective imagery in world literature (“Masks, Manipulation, and Madness”), and the notion of the invoked doppelganger in fiction (“The Self We Seek”), all of which I was studying in those first few months of back-to-school bliss.

362px-Th_Richter_Dame_in_der_BibliothekLike any creative endeavor, the site evolved as I did and soon reflected my deepening involvement in and abiding commitment to literary and academic pursuits.  In addition to promoting Chapman fiction and poetry readings and publication opportunities in those first years, I mined journals and the Internet for interesting and informative local events taking place beyond the university’s borders.  Details regarding local and national writing contests and Calls for Submissions were and are still posted regularly, as well.  In 2012, I added a section for the growing number of my guest blog posts, my interviews, and other places where I’ve stumbled pleasantly upon my own work in the cybersphere.

Followers know that I most often post poems and passages that have timely personal significance.  From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer plum, each post, like a journal entry, suggests precisely where I am intellectually and emotionally.  Early on I rejoiced to find pictures, particularly nineteenth century oil paintings, that evoked or complemented the literary piece I was posting, and I now spend nearly as much time searching for corresponding artwork as I do on literature.

Thanks to my passionate professors and their fascinating courses on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the life and works of Virginia Woolf, female enchantresses of modern British literature, and Gothic and fantastic fiction, Wilde, Woolf, and the works of A. S. Byatt, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe were frequent early Archetype subjects.  Posts on Wilde culminated in November 2009 with the writing of my course thesis on The Picture of Dorian Gray (“The Act of Creation,” “Wilde Irony”), while Woolf reigned in the fall of 2010.  (Click on these links to review excerpts from “The I in the Portrait: A Bakhtinian Analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray and “On the Wings of Angels and Butterflies: The Chaotic Journey to Woman in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.”)

Anichkov Palace Library in St. Petersburg, 1869

Anichkov Palace Library in St. Petersburg, 1869

My penchant for Russian literature and philosophy was also soon discovered, and I immersed myself and, by extension, Archetype in Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov and began to examine just about everything through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin.  Later courses exposed me to the intriguing life and works of Gertrude Stein (“Back to Bakhtin: The ‘I’ in Ida), Junot Díaz, Ralph Ellison, and many others, and every newly encountered author was explored here to some extent.

The craft of writing is another recurrent theme on Archetype; “Genetics-Based Grammarianism,” “In Celebration of Technique,” “Last Writes,” “More is More,” “Not Quite Write,” “Drafting Perfection,” and “A Sense of Style” are my personal favorites.  However, it is the angst of writing about which I tend to muse and articulate most freely; “Why Write?,” “One True Sentence,” “Bird by Bird,” “Write About Now,” “Demons and Darlings,” “The Reality of Rejection,” “In conclusion…,” “A New Summer of Writing,” and “The Write Stuff” all convey my own grapples with the creative stall and feelings of inadequacy.

Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton, 1904

Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton, 1904

With the MA in English attained two years ago, a few modest writing awards under my belt (“Praise for Time of Death,” “On the Write Track”), and conferral of the MFA degree scheduled for November, I’ve been in the process of considering what’s next these past few months – for me academically and literarily and for this site (“A Silent Abyss,” “A Beginning and an Ending,” “Writing in the Afterlife”).  As I’ve mentioned recently on Archetype (“Это правда?”) and in an interview on TreeHouse, I’m planning to apply to various Ph.D. programs in English, Comparative Literature, and/or Rhetoric; however, with applicant admission rates of approximately four to five percent at local universities, I’m keeping the likelihood of acceptance in perspective.  Nonetheless, the pursuit of admittance will be next year’s undertaking and will, of course, be recounted here.  For the immediate time being, my focus will remain on completing and defending my MFA thesis, a 150-page excerpt of Time of Death (twenty-six pages to write as of this post’s publication!); submitting my short fiction and nonfiction work to various conferences and journals; and preparing for both the General and Literature in English Graduate Record Examinations.  And there is still the full novel to finish and market (“This is the Year,” “This is That Summer”).

During the last sixty months, I have published 593 posts about literature, critical theory and writing technique, literary figures and events, submission opportunities, favorite poems and passages, articles of interest, books I’m reading, papers I’m writing, other literary blogs I’m following, conferences I’m attending, and demons I’m wrestling.  Archetype celebrates holidays, welcomes new seasons, and even gives the occasional nod to lunar activity.  Finally, personal aspects of my affective life and literary journey are memorialized and shared (“Write of Passage,” “Cartwheels Under the Arch,” “Pathetic Fallacy,” “Beyond Words”), even when the discovery and healing are mine alone.  The site maintains a small but seemingly loyal band of subscribers and blogroll partners, to whom I feel completely accountable and utterly grateful.  I hope you will all follow me as this final chapter at Chapman closes and a new narrative begins.

 

430PX-~1

 

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Lately I’ve struggled with the word constraint of a guest column I write.  No matter how concisely I try to present my ideas, I’m routinely asked to cut between twenty and forty words from each submission.  Not long ago, I spent a painful weekend pruning over 4,000 words or roughly fifteen pages from a complex essay that took over a month of previous weekends to write.  All this excising of carefully crafted thought has left me increasingly puzzled by and frustrated with the stringent word count restrictions imposed by editors, literary and academic conferences, and writing competitions, and I’m wondering for the umpteenth time in my literary career…why is brevity so universally celebrated?  And when exactly did less become more?

In a world of tweeting, texting, cinquains, and the widely popular flash fiction and short shorts, the art of epic articulation is no longer appreciated and extolled.  As writers, we are called upon constantly to synopsize, abstract, and shorten our work.  Most literary journals and conference calls for submissions set essay and story limits of 2,000 words, which not only makes comprehensive analysis or lavish storytelling impossible but also, quite frankly, cramps my style.  Heck, my list of works cited typically comprises 1,000 words alone.

The length parameters of most submission opportunities are about a third of the critical essay and creative prose minimum page requirements in graduate English and Creative Writing programs.  Weeks and even months of research and writing are required for a 15- to 25-page paper or narrative of “publishable” quality, which needs to be summarily condensed to a scant seven pages in order to meet the submission guidelines for publication or presentation.  Any writer who has attempted to abridge fiction prose or an essay or a column to meet an editor’s space limitations knows well the instability of what remains once its structure has been so severely compromised.

I’m doing my best to adapt to the attention deficit world in which we now live and must attempt to create.  As I write each blog post, column, essay, and fiction piece, I monitor the number of words at the bottom of my computer screen like a frugal taskmaster, making more efficient choices and trying not to lament all that is left unexpressed too much.  But it hasn’t come easily.

In the end, with just a few hours remaining before my recent target conference submission link was closing, I read the culled fragments of my original 6,000-word Bakhtinian analysis of Oscar Wilde’s only novel and decided against submitting it.  The part was simply inferior to the whole.  Call me verbose; I still believe more is more.

 

The seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time") total over 4,200 pages and an estimated 1.2 million words.

The seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”) total over 4,200 pages and an estimated 1.2 million words.  (Photo by Amakuha.)

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For my first Major Authors essay of the semester, I’m attempting somewhat ambitiously to apply the butterfly effect of chaos theory to the love and life choices of Clarissa Dalloway and Lily Briscoe.  With the premise solid in my mind and supported amply by a week’s worth of fruitful research, the words should be flowing onto the page.  However, like Lily, I’m struggling a bit with my own creative commitment issues and where to begin…  

She took her hand and raised her brush.  For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstasy in the air.  Where to begin? – that was the question at what point to make the first mark?  One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions.  All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by deep gulfs, and foaming crests.  Still the risk must be run; the mark made.  

~ Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse 

 

The Pointe du Grouin, France, by Alan Hughes, October 2005

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The 2011 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention will take place March 23-26 at the Hilton Pittsburgh near Point State Park and Market Square.  The convention theme, Beyond Words, emphasizes the power of the written word to not only inspire but also to nurture, instruct, serve, and give voice to the voiceless by writing for nonprofit organizations and causes.  Activities at the convention will include a “Words Into Action” workshop, Open Mic and Bad Poetry nights, and the annual Red and Black Gala Dinner and Awards Celebration. 

Online submission links to the 2011 Sigma Tau Delta Call for Papers will be available beginning October 15 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on November 15.  Papers and panel proposals must be submitted online.  Due to the increase in the number of submissions relative to the presentation time slots available, the following changes have been implemented to the acceptance process for 2011: 

~ Conditional acceptance will no longer be offered.

~ Only one paper per author will be accepted for presentation, even if multiple submissions in various categories score well.

~ Abstracts have been omitted.  Submissions must now include three keywords that embody the submission. 

The deadline for most award applications, including Outstanding Chapter Award and Outstanding Literary Arts Journal Award, is October 30.  Scholarship applications are due on November 22.  To review the calendar of upcoming deadlines, visit http://www.english.org/sigmatd/news/calendar.shtml#due.

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“The world always looks straight ahead; as for me, I turn my gaze inward.  I fix it there and keep it busy.  Everyone looks in front of him; as for me, I look inside of me; I have no business but with myself; I continually observe myself, I take stock of myself, I taste myself.  Others always go elsewhere, if they stop to think about it; they always go forward. […] As for me, I roll about in myself.” ~ Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Works, translated by Donald M. Frame

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, one of the most prominent writers of the French Renaissance, was best known for inventing the essay form and popularizing it as a literary genre.  His volume Essais (which, translated, means “Attempts”), published in 1580, is a compilation of some of the most influential essays ever written.

File:Michel-eyquem-de-montaigne 1.jpg

Painting by Thomas de Leu

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