In order to help us read the course texts analytically and prepare to discuss them in class and in written work, this course will require a regular response to the readings. Instead of writing interpretations, however, you will be following a practice with a history dating back to the Renaissance: commonplacing. To make a commonplace book, you compile and organize excerpts from your reading. A reader who is commonplacing looks for passages of text—short or long—which catch her eye, either because they are interesting in themselves, or because they spark a connection to some other reading she has done or some problem she has been thinking about. When she finds such a passage, she copies it over into the commonplace book. Copying helps to fix the passage in memory by associating what the eye has seen with what the hand does. Sometimes—but only sometimes—after copying a passage, she writes a comment of her own as well. But mostly she is assembling a scrapbook, a collection of finds, possibilities for further thought.
Over time, then, your commonplace book becomes a record of your reading—an account of your interests, your idiosyncratic pleasures, your questions and insights. And a commonplace book is also a resource: it holds those parts of the book that you think you may want to use again, to quote, to imitate, to criticize, to write about. Think of the ordinary meaning of “commonplace”: a phrase that gets repeated by everyone. A commonplace book is a source of material for reuse. In this class, the material will be a source for you to use in your writing about the course texts.
The blogging assignment
Historically, the commonplace book was a bound paper object, only sometimes shared. But our own moment has reinvented the commonplace book in a wide-open online form: the blog. This is how you will commonplace in this course, using the shared coursewide blog, e20fic21.blogs.rutgers.edu. (That stands for “Early 20th-century Fiction, Spring ’2021.”)
You will be required to contribute to the blog every other week, usually by noting at least one excerpt from one of the week’s readings. To receive credit, the commonplacing assignment for the week is to be completed by 5 p.m. on Sunday.
When you choose an excerpt, you may pick anything that catches your attention as particularly significant, suggestive, difficult, infuriating or otherwise interesting. You need not have finished all the reading to choose an excerpt worth commonplacing. In fact, it is better to commonplace as you read, not after you have finished: the knowledge that you have to choose passages to blog should help focus your reading attention. But it is not productive to commonplace exclusively from the first few pages of the reading…and I might wonder how much of the reading you are doing.
I find it helpful to hold back on writing out a full response to what you copy out. That can come later. Instead, make very minimal notes—a few words, a phrase, a sentence or two at most. The blog format helps a great deal, because you can do some of your note-taking by assigning tags, as many as you like.
On occasion, your assignment will be different: some weeks you won’t be required to commonplace, and some weeks you will be asked to write a little more analytically. I will announce these variations in advance.
Getting set up to post
At the start of term, you will receive an e-mail when you can start using the blog. Before you begin posting, you must choose a pseudonym. The course blog is meant to be an extension of the safe space of the classroom, but it is also on the public Internet.
Once you log in, you must edit your profile. Click the “Howdy, your name here!” text all the way at the top right of the black menu bar on the page.
Fill in a nickname for yourself in the blank next to nickname, then choose to “Display name publicly as” your nickname:
Then save your nickname by clicking “Update Profile” at the bottom of the page.
It is essential that you refer to other students on the blog only by their pseudonyms.
Adding a blog post
To add a post, you must be logged in. If you do not see the menu bar at the top of the page when you go the blog site, log in again using the Log in link on the right side of the page.
When you have logged in, you can write a new post by clicking the “+ New” link in the menu bar at the top of the page.
Choose the passage you are commonplacing. In your text editing program or in the WordPress post editor, copy the passage over. This step is important. Type the text carefully, getting a feel for what it is like to write the words you are thinking about. Usually, you will notice more about the text as you write it out than you initially did when you read it. Carefully record the source for the passage, including author, book title, publisher of the edition you have used, place and date of publication, and page number.
You may also write a single discursive comment. It should not be long—a few sentences or a paragraph at most. The discursive comment is optional.
You can prepare your entries in the WordPress editor, or you can use a different text editor and then copy and paste the text into the WordPress editor. Do not use Microsoft Word to prepare the text for copying into the blog. Pasting from Word will produce many formatting problems. Use a text editor, not a word processor: text editors are programs like TextEdit or BBEdit on Macs and Notepad or Notepad++ on Windows (all free).
Once you have prepared the text, you must add metadata to the post. This means:
- adding a title;
- setting the post “category” to “Commonplace”;
- tagging the post with as many labels as you like. It’s useful to tag the post with the last name of the author you are quoting from. Think about what is notable in the language of the passage, in its position within a text, in its relationship to other reading we have been doing. You may use the tags others have used, or make up new ones.
When your post is ready, including the passage, the citation, and the tags, click “Publish.”
Commenting and blogging more
You are welcome to comment on other students’ commonplace book entries and to commonplace more than is required. Please remember that this is work for a class and that your comments must be appropriate to the classroom setting.
Just as you must note the source of each passage, if a passage someone else has chosen sparks an idea for you, you are free to reuse that passage in your own commonplacing or in your papers. But because the act of selecting a passage is an interpretive act, you must attribute that act to its source. Because each commonplace entry is a blog post, you have an easy way to cite: you need only mention the URL of the blog post, together with the date of the post and the pseudonym of the poster. To obtain a URL for a post, click the title of the post. You can copy the link of the page you get sent to from your browser’s location bar. That is a “permalink” to the post.
Your own re-use of someone else’s act of commonplacing will be most meaningful if you add your own commentary to your citational commonplace book entry.
Individual commonplace entries will not be graded, only checked for timely completion. Particularly thoughtful use of the commonplace book will improve your course participation grade as well. You will receive no credit for an entry that is not posted when I check the blogs.
There are only three possible grades for this assignment:
- 4.0. 0 to 2 blog entries missing or late.
- 2.0. 3 or 4 blog entries missing or late.
- 0. More than 4 blog entries missing or late.