From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The New Yorker and the World—Course Description (h)

[a] City RF
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We have made it to the conceptual middle in our discussions, and have developed a good idea of how to manage the pressures that will inevitably work their way(s) into our lives during the course of the semester. Now it is time to get back to the details of our "The New Yorker and the World" syllabus. We left our discussion a few days ago in order to embark upon an extended digression about the importance of pacing ourselves through the beginnings and middle (the long middle) of the term. That little two-part essay is worth reviewing if you missed it,* but let's assume that you have the message ("pace yourself") down, and are ready to push forward to the midterm assignment on the course syllabus.*The embedded essay can be found at "f" and "g" in this series of course description posts.
[b] Foundations RF

We left things with the end of Week Five, having completed Brendan Gill's detailed account of his many years at The New Yorker, and having read the December 1941 and August 1945 issues of the magazine. As we enter the territory I have described as "the middle," we are nearing the week-long autumn break, and it is necessary to make sure our foundations are strong enough to sustain a full week away from classes. By the time students have finished Brendan Gill's Here at the New Yorker and read full months of issues from 1925, 1929, 1936, 1941, and 1945, they will  be ready to power into the midterm break with the kind of momentum than can be carried right to the other side. "Halfway" means nothing, as we have discussed.

Week Six begins with perhaps the only New Yorker issues in this course that are not linked specifically to a pivotal event of one kind or another. "Nothing happened" in July 1955, and it is a good time to enjoy four straight issues of the magazine that are not fraught with tension in the aftermath of a major national or world event. The biggest change in the magazine for us by this point is that, after 1951, The New Yorker was being managed and edited by Mr. William Shawn, who was to remain at the helm of the magazine for thirty-six years. Harold Ross had died in 1951, and the transition to Shawn, while not seamless, was powerful and lasting. By 1955, the magazine was his, and he had begun to shape a new generation of writers, even as he maintained the quality of veterans such as A.J. Liebling, E.B. White, and James Thurber.

Ironically enough, after two straight books—over the course of four weeks—that provide a fully history of the magazine, right up until the present, we now will turn to three more weeks that backtrack to the detailed story of Harold Ross, The New Yorker's founder and editor for a quarter century. Beginning in Week Six, we will read Thomas Kunkel's Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker. This 1995 biography takes the reader (that's us) through Ross's entire life, including the thirty-two years he spent before founding The New Yorker and pushing it into the forefront of American letters. During the week, we will read about not only Ross's youth, but his education and, especially, the entrepreneurial imagination that launched one of the nation's great magazines.

[c] Span RF
The following week, Week Seven, is significant for several reasons. We will finish Kunkel's biography of Harold Ross, and will clean up our New Yorker knowledge as we prepare for a nice, long, autumn break (nine full days—two weekends and an entire work week). The second half of the Ross biography deals with The New Yorker through the late-1930s and into the years of World War II. By the time students have finished the book, they will know Harold Ross as well as they know their Beloit College roommates. It might even be a little scary, because they may well start to imagine just how they might found and manage their own publications. Some could even decide to join the staff of the Beloit College Round Table. 

We will also read a distinctly sobering month of New Yorker publications. The month on the syllabus is December 1963, and national mourning will blanket the magazine, even as the editor, William Shawn, worked to keep his agenda of lively nonfiction and reporting at the forefront of the magazine. It takes some serious reading-between-the-lines to see this editorial contrast during a month as difficult as that containing the Kennedy assassination. It will show precisely the relationship between a horrific national tragedy and Mr. Shawn's (channeling Harold Ross's) goals for a magazine, which he hoped would be so influential that it could transcend "the news." Only a few months in the publication's history would challenge the line between world events and great nonfiction that has nothing to do with them. We will reading them all (1929, 1941, 1963, and 2001). This month was one of the hardest.

We'll learn a lot, and we will be in good shape if students have a solid sense of American history in the twentieth century, a very good knowledge of The New Yorker's literary past, and an extraordinary understanding of the management and editing skills of the magazine's founder, Harold Ross. They will write one more "Talk of the Town" essay and put together a little sketch (turning them in by the end of classes on Friday, October 12th). Their skill level by mid-October, after doing seven such assignments up until that time, will have built to a point well beyond "just o.k." Most students will be on their way to writing and reporting with confidence and precision.

[d] Exploration RF
They will leave for a full week of autumn break. Some will return to their homes, seeing the pets, siblings, and parents they left eight weeks before. Others will hit the road to explore territories in, around, and beyond the Midwest. After five complete books (including the summer reading) and seven full months of historical New Yorker magazines, not to mention seven "Talk of the Town" essays and sketches, students will be ready for a little bit of rest.

I am counting on them bringing a copy of The New Yorker with them, but I will also be recommending lots of sleep. They'll need to be rested when they get back, because they will head right into the middle of the middle—the all-important midterm assignment that will set the tone for the remainder of the class.

We'll cover the midterm assignment tomorrow, and then wrap up this series of posts.
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