Department of English and Applied Linguistics News

English Faculty Conference Presentations Spring 2013

Christy Williams

“‘The Little Mermaid’ as Guide: Using Fairy Tales as Maps in the Korean Drama Secret Garden. American Comparative Literature Association Conference. Toronto, Canada. 4-7 April 2013.

The 2010-2011 Korean television drama series Secret Garden takes as its central metaphor Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” to anchor a cross-class love story in contemporary South Korea. Kim Joo Won, a prominent businessman, becomes obsessed with stuntwoman Gil Ra Im but sees no future with her due to his social obligations. He proposes that she be his mermaid—stay by his side and then disappear into bubbles when the relationship ends—but she resists.

This paper explores how the fairy tale is used by the characters to both navigate and circumvent their own situation, to communicate desire, and to bridge the gap between their different places in the world. Once their understanding of each other is transformed by a magical soul swap, the fairy tale is still the touchstone to which they return to try to navigate their exceedingly complicated relationship, but it is an ineffectual map until it is rewritten and the characters devise for themselves a different ending to the story.

The series reflects both the appeal of fairy tales as a map for lived experience and their limitations in providing actual guidance. In addition, the cross-cultural translation (and, for a non-Korean speaking audience, multi-cultural re-translation) that depends on the audience’s familiarity with the tale to see both its significance in the series and the ways in which it is transformed by the series speaks to the ways in which Western fairy tales have traversed the world.

Andrew Opitz

"Hawaii: A History of Division and a Vision of the Future"
American Comparative Literature Association conference.  University of Toronto, April 4 - 7.

Dr. Opitz’s paper will examine the contentious history of land division in Hawaii, with a special focus on how the capitalist vision of private property and commodity production displaced a subsistence economy dependent on the careful management and rationing of resources. It will compare the rise of the Hawaiian plantation system with similar economies developed in the transatlantic Caribbean and on the island of Antigua in particular. Finally, it will examine the strengths and limitations of recent attempts to re-imagine and/or recreate pre-capitalist mountain-to-sea land management districts (ahupua'a) as a corrective to the social atomization and wasteful consumption of life in twenty-first century America. Drawing on primary sources from Hawaiian history, literary works imagining pre-contact Hawaii, and works of materialist criticism, he will argue that Hawaii is both an example of the perils of late capitalism and an opportunity to imagine alternatives.

Christy Williams

 “Transforming the Fairy Tale in Kelly Link’s ‘Travels with the Snow Queen.’”

The 34th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Orlando, FL. 20-24 March 2013.

The adaptation of fairy tales into modern works of fantasy is a well-established tradition, and the history of fairy tales is itself a history of adaptation, as tales have been reworked and re-envisioned across cultures and centuries. These new fairy-tale texts are often complex, multilayered works that not only update an old favorite for a new time, making the fairy tale culturally relevant for today’s audience, but also critique the ideologies of the old tales. In adaptations that blur genres, as Kelly Link’s do, the change to narrative genre conventions of fairy tales—the opening and closing formulas, external third-person narration, linear and sequential plot sequencing—can facilitate these plot-level ideological and cultural critiques.

Williams will explore how Kelly Link plays with the fairy-tale genre in “Travels with the Snow Queen,” an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Andersen’s theme of the transformative power of love and Gerda’s devotion to Kay is mirrored and refracted in Link’s story in a way that questions those concepts and the fairy-tale tradition that presents women’s sacrifice as normative. While Link’s story critiques the fairy-tale tropes of female devotion and transformative love, it also engages in a critique of contemporary discourse on relationships and romance. Link’s story additionally engages in narrative parody, imitating the second-person address to the reader that begins Andersen’s tale and then twisting it so that her second-person narration is maintained throughout the story, addressing both character and reader, thereby encouraging reader-identification with Gerda, who identifies with the fairy-tale princesses alluded to throughout the text. The critique of fairy-tale ideologies within the plot is complemented by the parodying of the narrative conventions in Andersen’s tale and the use of narrative techniques that disrupt readers’ expectations for fairy tales.


Kathleen Cassity, chair,  

“Only Connect: Strategies for Engaging Reluctant, Under-prepared, and Inattentive Writers”   Conference on College Composition and Communication  in Las Vegas,  Nevada. March 13-16, 2013.  

Among the three speakers on the panel are Cassity herself and HPU Instructor Jeff Breitenfeldt.

This panel explores strategies for engaging learners in the first-year composition classroom, focusing on how best to reach those who are reluctant, under-prepared, or attention-challenged. The panelists share a commitment to critical pedagogy as articulated by such scholars as Freire, Giroux, and hooks, and share the assumption that engagement is the first step toward critical consciousness.

Kathleen Cassity

“Beyond Info-Tainment: How Humor Supports Transformative Learning”

Many educators working within the critical principles put forth by critical scholars such as Freire, Giroux, and hooks recognize the importance of engaging reluctant and/or under-prepared learners by creating a positive, humor-friendly classroom environment. Yet today many educational settings are constrained by a reductionist approach to outcomes and “measurable” achievements, with mainstream media often denouncing such efforts as the “dumbing down of education” or “info-tainment.” Cassity addresses the assumption that humor and enjoyment are substitutes for, or even impediments to, learning--a belief deeply rooted in elitist and patriarchal western culture. Aristotle believed “most people enjoy amusement and jesting more than they should,” while Plato stated that “men of worth must not be represented as overcome by laughter.” She connects Giroux’s call to educate for “radical democracy” with Jack Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning and his observation that critical thinking requires learners to adopt a “shifted frame of reference.” When learners have difficulty with critical thinking, says Mezirow, too many educators assume learners lack innate intelligence or are simply lazy, when much resistance may actually stem from the discomfort that often accompanies shifting one's frame of reference. New paradigms are especially threatening when an existing frame is deeply tied to a learner’s sense of identity; thus it is crucial that as critical educators, we do what we can to make that shift less threatening. Philosopher John Morreall’s taxonomy of humor demonstrates that laughter—like transformative critical thinking—also requires a “psychological shift.” Humor makes cognitive shifts more “pleasant,” enhancing the likelihood that learners can think within initially disconcerting new paradigms. Cassity explores comic theory in light of critical literacy and transformative learning theory to demonstrate how critical educators who engage students through humor are not “dumbing down” the composition classroom but are instead fostering the highest expectations.

Jeff Breitenfeldt

“Writing and Attention.”  

Advertisers know the value of engaging reluctant participants and over the years, they have developed complex graphical and language-based methods both to encourage engagement and to persuade. These methods are especially noticeable in today’s media environment where voices must compete against each other, typically through compelling slogans, images, the use of color and typeface, and disruptive placement. Our students need these tools in addition to an effective message if they are going to find and convince others through their own visual arguments. Perhaps more importantly, they need interest in a topic and a sense of relevance for the project in order to be engaged themselves. While Faigley, Kress, Wysocki, George, Trimbur, and others have emphasized material literacies, visual argument and multimodality in their work, the notion of integrating design to affect participation has been largely ignored. What remains under-explored is the way design can help a message succeed in in a crowded argumentative ecology and how that means of success can inform composition in other forms. Jeffrey Breitenfeldt 1 uses Richard Lanham’s economy of attention to conceptualize the relationship between message and presentation, drawing from contemporary examples (infographics, packaging, ads in public spaces) to show that design is a crucial interface between individual and datum. He also explores the connection between visual argument and traditional composition, paying particular attention to student enthusiasm and connections beyond the classroom. Lastly, Breitenfeldt outlines several strategies for implementing design principles into existing visual argument assignments to help manage attention while delivering a persuasive message. The goal is to scaffold existing prima facie knowledge of argument in advertising; engage students in producing effective visual arguments on issues they care about; develop awareness of attention, not just message; and suggest implementation of skills in a way that is transferable to more traditional assignments.

Laurie Leach

“Doing What Must Be Done: Sister Aloysius as the Protagonist of Doubt.”

14th Annual Global Conference on Perspective on Evil and Human Wickedness, Lisbon, Portugal March 10-12, 2013

John Patrick Shanley’s 2005 play Doubt: A Parable and his 2008 film adaptation leave a central question of the plot ambiguous: is Father Flynn a child molester, or is he a victim of character assassination by a determined nun who ‘just [doesn’t] like him’ and wants him out of her school?  Some readers and viewers see Father Flynn as the protagonist and Sister Aloysius as the villain, judging the play and film to be a parable about a rush to judgment and the abuse of power. On the contrary, I believe that a careful examination of the play and the film supports the interpretation that Flynn is guilty, but leaves open the question of the appropriateness of Sister Aloysius’ response. The play and film make very clear how tempting it is to cover-up rather than prosecute such cases, as we know only too well from the Catholic Church scandals of the early 2000s and the more recent Jerry Sandusky case.  Even though her approach may be flawed,   the refusal of Sister Aloysius to be intimidated by those who would have her look the other way is heroic.  The central question Doubt proposes for the contemporary audience is not so much ‘Is Flynn guilty?’ but rather ‘What is the right response to circumstantial evidence that children are being sexually abused?’


Deborah Ross

“Funny Sheesh!”

Hawaii International conference on Arts and Humanities January 12, 2013

As well-known humor theorists Yogi Bear and Booboo once posited, something funny is not always “funny ha ha.”  It may be “funny sheesh!”—that is, evoking a sense of amused wonder.  This essay applies these categories to the genre of humorous true-crime journalism:  for example, newspaper columns such as Chuck Shepard’s “Weird News,” radio spots with titles such as Knucklehead or Bozo of the Day, and web sites such as Dave Morland’s “Bozo Criminals.”  The author’s own response to some of these stories is wonder that anyone finds them funny in either sense.  Who exactly does laugh at the bozo criminal?  What ideological assumptions connect the reporter with this target audience? 

     The broader category of “weird” stories, so long a staple of tabloids such as the National Inquirer,  goes back to the earliest days of newspapers (for example, the woman famous in 1727 for giving birth to rabbits).  The subgenre involving criminals who foil themselves through stupidity has antecedents in Victorian children’s cautionary tales.  This ancestry is perhaps most telling, as the objects of ridicule in “numbskull news” stories must be seen to deserve their punishment; therefore, the humor depends on an implicit moral code.  And since moral beliefs are also political, a listener out of harmony with the story’s politics will quite naturally fail to get the joke. 

     Through analysis of several examples, the essay uncovers an ideology that dominates much of contemporary popular culture:  the myth of American self-reliance, which can be used as a means of blaming victims for their own suffering, much as a Dickens villain might self-righteously consign an orphan to the workhouse.