Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Choosing to teach online rather than in person at the University of Basel

With the Swiss government ending some coronavirus restrictions, the University of Basel announced that some courses could return to in-person teaching on Monday, 26 April. While two of my current courses were scheduled to be online for the whole semester, the other three could have returned to the classroom for the last six sessions. When I told the students I didn't want to do so, none of the 35 participants objected, and quite a few said that, in the current situation, they preferred to stay online anyway. And in an English Department staff meeting today, I learned that almost all of my colleagues had also heard the same from their students. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 April 2021)

Monday, April 19, 2021

"One of those mornings, common in early spring": Finishing "Barnaby Rudge"

I've just finished Charles Dickens's "Barnaby Rudge" as part of reading his work in chronological order. It was striking to read about the storming of the House of Commons during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 only a few weeks after the storming of the US Capitol in January. And a passage I highlighted in February as one of Dickens's amazing long sentences captures the season now so well; here's how it begins: “It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or forward into summer [...].”  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 April 2021)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Five points about the effectiveness of Taiwan's response to the coronavirus pandemic

In the Swiss magazine Republik, Katharin Tai addresses why Taiwan's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been so effective, with only 1073 cases and 11 deaths in a country of just under 24 million people. She identifies five points: 1. The country's experience with SARS in 2003, when only China and Hong Kong were hit harder; 2. The legal reforms which were then made; 3. The associated strengthening of institutions; 4. Effective public communication; and 5. The continuous identification of weaknesses in need of improvement. While Tai's comparison is primarily to Switzerland, Taiwan's experience can provide lessons for other countries as they respond to coronavirus and prepare for potential future epidemics. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 April 2021)


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lexical doublings in the beginning and ending of the first paragraph of "Cien años de soledad"

The first sentence of Gabriel García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad" ends with Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembering how his father Jose Arcadio Buendía "lo llevó a conocer el hielo". "Llevar" reappears in the final sentence of the novel's two-page-long first paragraph when Jose Arcadio Buendía digs up a suit of armor with a skeleton in it that "llevaba colgado en el cuello un relicario de cobre con un rizo de mujer." Such lexical doubling also appears in the paragraph's second and penultimate sentences with the figures of "piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos" and that armor whose "interior tenía la resonancia hueca de un enorme calabazo lleno de piedras." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 April 2021)

Friday, April 16, 2021

How many names are on page 134 in your copy of Claudia Rankine's "Citizen: An American Lyric"?

According to the printer's key, my copy of Claudia Rankine's 2014 "Citizen: An American Lyric" (in the original Graywolf publication) is the third printing. On page 134 is a list of names: "In Memory of Jordan Russell David / In Memory of Eric Garner / In Memory of John Crawford / In Memory of Michael Brown." This is followed by gradually fading lines saying "In Memory" again and again. When I taught the book in 2017, there were longer lists of names in the students' copies of the book (including Sandra Bland). More names keep being added, "because white men can't / police their imagination / black men are dying" (135). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 April 2021)


Claudia Rankine, "Citizen: An American Lyric", Graywolf 2014, 3rd printing


Addendum: This is from the 2015 Penguin UK edition, fourth printing:

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Clarifying a distinction between gerund constructions and relative clauses

For several years now, I have been trying to figure out why some gerund constructions that my students use sound off to me. Last week in the 111 Words class, we considered several examples and identified one source of the problem. In one of the examples, a student wrote about a song: "The guitar slowly fades out, hinting at all the stories never told." Here, the guitar hints at the stories, but in an alternative (which the student said she'd meant), "which" refers to the whole main clause: "The guitar slowly fades out, which hints [...]." Both formulations are correct, but it's good to have finally clarified the difference in implication. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 April 2021)



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

"I know what every colored woman in this country is doing." – "What's that?": An exchange in Sula and Nel's final conversation in Toni Morrison's "Sula"

In their final conversation in Toni Morrison's "Sula", Sula claims to understand Nel because "I know what every colored woman in this country is doing." Nel's response may confirm Sula's claim to know and just ask for clarification: "What's that?" But the need for clarification derives from placeholders in Sula's statement: both the interrogative pronoun "what" and the general "doing" are waiting to be replaced by specifics, with "what" even picked up by Nel's "that" (with another "what" asking for Sula's response). So Nel's question can also be seen as a provocation that challenges Sula's self-positioning as the one who knows, as with each woman asserts her agency in the exchange. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 April 2021)