Charlie Parker, who?

In "Sonny's Blues," the elder brother challenged Sonny to name some jazz musician that Sonny admired. Sonny said "Bird," who is Charlie Parker (1920-1955), a brilliant saxophonist and jazz innovator working in New York in the mid-1940s. Below is the vedio clip of this "Bird." This post is for your reference. You are free to leave any comments, which are optional.

Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday (deadline: 10/5, 12 p.m.)

"Strange Fruit" is a song about the lynching of black people that occurred chiefly in the South but also in all regions of the United States. It is a famous protest song that condemns American racism and was performed most famously by Billie Holiday. This collective violence inflicted by a white mob upon the bodies of black people was notorious in American history. Lynchings ocurred frequently during the 19th century. Even by the 1950s, lynchings still existed, especially in the South. In the 1960s, lynchings rose as reaction against civil rights activism.

"Sonny's Blues" takes place in the early 1950s, prior to the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement. The story is set during the dark days of segregation and supposedly "separate but equal" accommodations in public facilities.

Enclosed in this post you can find a picture of lynching and a vedio clip of Billie Holiday performing "Strange Fruit." Below are the lyrics:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Listen to Billi Holiday's haunting and melancholy voice. Observe her emotioanlly arresting performance. Look at the photo of lynching. How do you make of this "strange fruit" here? The imageries presented in the song are so beautiful but are also horrifying. Wouldn't you wonder how much suffering Billie Holiday as an artist must have had to go through in order to sing like that? How does all this relate to Sonny's desire to become a Jazz musician? Look in particular at each brother's take on the subject of "suffering."


Real or not real, that's the question! (deadline: 9/28, 12pm)

"The Thing in the Forest" begins like a fairy tale: "There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in the forest." Do you believe what they saw was "real"? What evidence is there in the story for that reality? Are there clues to suggest that it might not be real? Does the fairy-tale quality of the first sentece influence your reading of the story?"

You can answer the above questions, or you can go to the older post "Trauma and Recovery" to answer the question there.


Why do we need literature?

In today's introductory class, we talked about why literature matters. We need this proper warm-up before seriously engaging our soul, mind, and even spine and muscle in the study of literature. I cited Oscar Wilde's remark on arts ("all art is quite useless") to start my point: art does not have any "practical" values. By arrogantly proclaiming "art for art's sake," Wilde is justifying the intrinsic value of art, which is separated from the "utilitarian," "practical," or the narrow-minded concept of life practiced by the philistines, who dedicated themselves to the worldly pursuits such as making money, limited themsleves to their comfort zones, and were generally hostile to culture, the arts, and the so-called "spiritual" things.

This understanding is crucial, since once you're here, you also need to justify yourself (to your parents or even society) why you are here, why do you study literautre, such a luxury and seemingly "unpractical" subject (unlike business, law, or medicine) from the perspective of the mainstream society.

You are here because you want to know the techniques to appreciate the sensual pleasure of verbal craftsmanship of many literary works, to garner the delightful play of reality and illusion, to liberate yourself from your limited existence and enter into other worlds and cultures, to expand your horizon, to cultivate empathy and the spirit of understanding, to have a critical mind to lift you beyond familiar ways of thinking, and so forth.

See, the reasons why you are here are endless and full of possibilities. It is so simple yet also so complicated. It is about how to be a human being. This explains why we need literature and why we need arts.

Therefore, welcom to the realm of literature. I hope all of you will enjoy the process of this exploration. Please also be reminded that sometimes the best pleasures require an effort that beginners like you tend to call "pain." But no pains, no gains, right?