Monthly Archives: December 2010

ALSCW and Foreign Language Departments


re: the crisis, coming or already here, for foreign language departments in US Academe

As you know, ALSCW has been supporting departments of comparative literature facing termination, and has prevailed, in collaboration with the MLA and other associations, in reversing an execution at LSU Baton Rouge, and has brought about a stay of execution and a chance for rethinking the question at University of Toronto.

1. The situation at SUNY Albany is still in play, with drama and classics also on the block.  Rosemary Feal, our cordial ally (she’s executive director of the MLA and a member of the ALSCW too) has written this forceful article, which has been published in the MLA newsletter, the MLA website, and now on Huffington Post.  If you haven’t read it, it should interest you.

Rosemary G. Feal
Executive Director
Modern Language Association
(646) 576-5102

Your Immediate Past President,

Susan Wolfson

SUNY Letter

ALSCW & Comparative Literature

For more on this topic, see or earlier post, Foreign Language Programs in Academia

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Boston Local Meeting-September 29

On September 29, a group of literati gathered in a book-lined room of Boston University’s Editorial Institute, found on the emblematic Bay State Road, to hear a paper given by Cassandra Nelson of Harvard University. This marked the first annual local meeting of the ALSCW in Boston, and it was quite a lively event, to say the least.
The presentation, “‘Corrigeé si on peut dire [‘Corrected, if you can call it that’],” highlighted instances of textual variation in More Pricks Than Kicks, a lesser-known work by Samuel Beckett, and sought to explain the progression of how they came to be. Though the notion of a diachronic study of textual variation across successive editions of a text may seem abstruse or unapproachable to even the more daring among us, as it turns out, it is a topic that inspired attention, awe and many a guffaw from the audience.
Nelson was the editor involved in the 2010 reissue of More Pricks Than Kicks and shared the saga of how this collection of prose and its four preceding editions came to be (which, with many details elided for reasons of space, can be summed up as: Beckett resisted more upon each pressing, the publishers got pushier, and the proofing went rogue). It was her task to pore through each edition: the original 1934 Chatto and Windus release, one of the lowest grossing books of the time, and the second, third, and fourth editions of just 100 copies each published in 1968, 1970, and 1971, which were typed on typewriters and stapled rather than bound.
Beckett had wanted to distance himself from the work and was more than hesitant to have it further propagated, but upon the vow from his publisher at Grove that it would be produced only once and solely for use by scholars, he reluctantly agreed, and it is clear that his reluctance was well warranted. These later editions were advertised in Grove’s catalogue against the wishes of Beckett, and were fraught with textual discrepancies, ranging from minor issues of punctuation that can be attributed to negligence, to the omission of particular words (seemingly motivated by an overly liberal editor), to the outright “jazzing up” of certain words to reflect modern vernacular and contemporary standards of decorum.
After the laborious task of compiling a chart cataloguing the discrepancies from text to text, Nelson was then ready to begin selecting which version to base editorial decisions on  (no easy task given the extent of the variation and the impossibility of being certain with whom the responsibility for these changes lay). She mainly sided with the 1934 version because it was the one with which Beckett had the most editorial input and many of the variants seen in later editions—such as replacing B.T.M. (“bottom”) with “arse” and “——” (for an unspecified expletive) with the much more decisive “fucking”—were updated to conform to modern standards of [in]decency, making them inauthentic to the style and period of the original work.
At the close of the presentation, it was evident just how considerable the task of editing can be, particularly when it involves constructing an accurate representation of a work that has gone through so many stages of proofing and publication. The audience engaged Nelson with questions and further observations, out of which debate was sparked regarding the underlining capabilities of manual typewriters, the possible referents of “his” in the line “A horse was down and a man sat on his head,” and whether “asterisked” should be considered a verb or an adjective in the text, but more importantly, if it is a suitable substitute for “buggered.” When the discussion died down and the wine bottles were discarded, it is no great leap to say that many in attendance were inspired to pick up More Pricks than Kicks, and, at the very least, had a renewed appreciation for the conscientious editor.

Samantha Madway

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David Ferry Broadside


An excerpt from Virgil’s Aeneid translated by David Ferry is featured as a new ALSCW broadside — the second in a series of broadsides designed by Zachary Sifuentes for the ALSCW. (See the news article about our third broadside – a poem by Jane Hirshfield – here.)

Ferry, a lifetime member of the ALSCW, is an award-winning translator and poet currently teaching at Boston University. The new broadside contains his translation of the Golden Bough passage from The Aeneid. The image is purple and gray, with an elegant and airy quality appropriate for the subject matter. You can read more about designer Zachary Sifuentes and see his other two ALSCW broadsides on our Broadside Gallery webpage.

Brendan Ryan (ALSCW Intern; Boston University)

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Jane Hirshfield Broadside

ALSCWJane Hirshfield’s previously unpublished poem “For the LOBARIA, USNEA, Witches’ Hair, Map Lichen, Beard Lichen, Ground Lichen, Shield Lichen” is featured on a new broadside — the third in a series of broadsides designed by Zachary Sifuentes for the ALSCW.

After graduating from Princeton University and studying at the San Francisco Zen Center, Hirshfield began her career as a writer, teacher, and translator.   Her work has been described as including elements of both western and eastern poetry, while using simple language that is subtly inviting to complexity.

The poem featured in the broadside presents a personal reflection on the metaphor of lichens and is set in Garamond next to a beautifully re-imagined cross section of map lichen.  The image is green and gray, with the lines of the poem itself incorporated into the body of the lichen. You can read more about designer Zachary Sifuentes and see his other two ALSCW broadsides on the ALSCW Broadside Gallery webpage.

Brendan Ryan (ALSCW Intern; Boston University)

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The Common Reader









On Friday, November 5th at the ALSCW conference in Princeton, NJ, Patricia Hampl, Mark Edmunson, Mark Halliday and Phillip Lopate sat on a panel to discuss “The Common Reader” and the common, contemporary experience of reading.

Hampl focused on the relationship between the author’s mind and the reader’s mind, specifically in personal forms of writing. She cited Fitzgerald’s collection of essays, “The Crack-Up,” as a series of psychological breakdowns between story and poem that marked a shift from omniscience to an autobiographical and personal voice.

Mark Edmunson found that the common reader is one who reads for pleasure and easy enjoyment; with many people working a 40 hour work week and needing two incomes to get by, Edmuson explained, the common reader does not wish to undertake the strenuous effort required to understand complex texts. The media, also, no longer strives to shape tastes as it once did. If it took this approach, Edmunson hypothesized, the common reader would feel dumb. Taking a somewhat cynical approach to the topic, Edmunson saw the common reader as a kind of narcissus, not looking for a challenge so much as instant gratification.

Poet Mark Halliday spoke of the use of accessible versus difficult language in poetry, and his own inclination as a poet to identify with the common reader. Citing the tendency of common readers to conceive of poems as characterized by non-transparent, obscure language, Halliday argued for the power of simple, accessible language to convey complex ideas. He spoke of clarity and obscurity not as binaries, but rather as different methods of approaching a poem. Language with surface simplicity can convey an underlying difficulty, he related, while seemingly inaccessible language can convey the simplest of ideas. Phillip Lopate, the final speaker, called himself a common reader, one looking for an understanding of the way things are, what he called wisdom, or, the loss of innocence.


Matthew Connolly

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Longman Cultural Editions

We are still energized by our last great conference, and we wonder, if you had a chance to visit the book exhibits, if you saw the offer by Pearson Longman to receive your requests for a Longman Cultural Edition (those major works on the rack with the gorgeous covers) or a  Longman Anthology of British Literature.  If you’d like an examination copy, and you don’t  have the paper form for this request, you may send your request to

Joyce Nilsen: <>

If you need a refresher, you may visit the Longman site at

or for the Anthology

Since I’m General Editor of the Cultural Edition series, and on the Board of Editors for the Anthology, I had a special interest in bringing this exhibit to the conference, and would welcome your comments and feedback.

Yours sincerely,
Susan Wolfson
Chair, ALSCW Conference 2010
Immediate Past President, 2010-2011

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Foreign Language Programs in Academia

ALSCW member and MLA President Russell Berman has an important column in Inside Higher Education, responding to a keynote address by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fixture of the foreign policy establishment, delivered to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Annual Convention in Boston on November 19.  Berman addresses Haass’ proposal to turn foreign language instruction into a merely instrumental education, with the entailment, as at SUNY Albany, of dismantling the degree programs.  Which as you may imagine, would be accompanied by the dismantling of the professoriate, and using part-time, low-paid, benefit impoverished, transient adjuncts to manage this instruction.

I’ve commented at this site on Russell’s article, as have other Association members, including past president James Engell, and I urge you all to read this and add a comment if you like, and to forward the link.


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Ricks to Receive Award at MLA

Christopher Ricks to receive distinguished scholar award from the Keats-Shelley Association of America, presented by former ALSCW president  Susan Wolfson at MLA.

The Keats-Shelley Association of America’s annual awards dinner (at MLA) will be held this year on Saturday January 8th 2011.  A cash bar opens at 5:30 pm and dinner begins at 7:00 pm, at the Standard Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, 550 S. Flower at Sixth street.  You do not need to be a member of the MLA or a registrant at the convention in order to attend this event.

This year the Association will honor distinguished scholars Christopher Ricks and Julie Carlson. For reservations, send $60 to;

Steven Jones, Vice President KSAA – Loyala University Chicago

Department of English <>

Crown Center 421

1032 W. Sheridan Road

Chicago, IL 60660.

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Forum 4 Released

The ALSCW’s newly released study strongly suggests that two factors- a fragmented English curriculum and a neglect of close reading- may explain why the reading skills of American high school students have shown little or no improvement in several decades despite substantial increases in funds for elementary and secondary education by federal and state governments.

The report, entitled Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, And 11: A National Survey analyzes the responses of more than four hundred representative public school teachers who were asked what works of literature they assign in standard and honors courses, and what approaches they use for teaching students how to understand imaginative literature and literary non-fiction.

Some of the study’s major findings include that the content of reading curriculum is no longer uniform in any consistent way, that the works teachers assign generally do not increase in difficulty from grade 9 to 11, and that teachers generally favor personal responses or historical contexts over close analytical readings of texts.

The ALSCW in turn recommends; that high schools revise their English curriculum to incorporate a progressively more challenging core of literary and non-literary texts, that English departments at colleges and universities emphasize the analytical study of literature espeically in the case of students planning to become secondary English teachers, and that the US Department of Education and state legislatures give priority to the funding of professional development programs that emphasize close, careful reading.

To read or download the complete, 36 page report, visit the ALSCW’s website at

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Oct 22 Boston Local Meeting: Al Basile

The New England sect of the ALSCW gathered at Boston University’s Editorial Institute for its second local meeting this fall on Wednesday, October 22nd.  Al Basile, accomplished musician and poet gave a presentation, “Words and Music, and the Music of Words: the Writing of Song Lyrics and Formal Poetry” touched upon the nebulous nature of writing.  After sharing a childhood anecdote about the timing of rhyming billboards on a drive to Florida, he discussed the challenge that  lyricists face in fitting language into the constraints of tempo and rhythm.  Additionally, he addressed such topics as the intuitive nature of his writing process, the relationship between the writer and his creation, and more.  He also presented two poems, two songs, and two encores.

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