Literature paradigms

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Literature paradigms

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Apr 21, 2014 6:33 am

While the ACF nationals discussion thread continues to metastasize into an all-purpose clearinghouse about all sorts of hot-button issues in the game today, I wanted to take the occasion to start a separate thread on literature "paradigms," inspired by a post made by Ted in the former thread.

There, Ted wrote this paragraph:
To offer a concrete example, I wrote the lit portions for ACF Regs 2011 (and to a lesser extent HI 2010) to push the canon towards tossups on works rather than authors—specifically major works rather than tossups focusing mainly on an author’s minor works. But I also wrote them for both specialists and generalists to enjoy. Evan Adams had a similar goal with VCU Open 2011, which was another important tournament in the easy-answer “movement.” A few years later, the canonical literature paradigm has replaced the Yaphe paradigm, and I’m amused to see that people are finally writing the sort of questions I always wanted to play now that I’m semi-retired.
This discussion will necessarily be a bit belated--2011 was the busiest year of my career, so I missed whatever discussion surrounded this "push" toward "canonical literature." Anyway, here goes.

Presumably, what Ted means by the "Yaphe paradigm" is the fact that one kind of literature tossup I like to write is one that takes a relatively well-known author as its answer (e.g. "Henry James"), but gets there by beginning with a description of a relatively obscure work (e.g., say, "The Ivory Tower"), then proceeds to description of a relatively better-known work (e.g. "Washington Square"), then proceeds to a very famous work (e.g. "The Portrait of a Lady"). I do like to write such tossups, and I'll try to explain why in a bit. But this isn't the only kind of literature (or, mutatis mutandis, humanities) tossup I like writing. There are at least four different varieties of literature tossup I like to write:

(1) The aforementioned "author from descriptions of increasingly famous works" tossup.
(2) Tossups on "canonical" works solely from what I have referred to elsewhere as "clues from intrinsic features" of those works--I believe this is equivalent to what Ted describes as his "canonical literature paradigm," though I am open to explanation of any difference between what I write and what he advocates.
(3) Tossups on works or authors where a number of the early/middle clues are drawn from literary theory, defined as "the kind of stuff people read (=I read) in upper-level undergrad and (to a lesser extent) grad school courses."
(4) Tossups on works or authors where a number of the early/middle clues are drawn from secondary materials that are accessible to the "common reader"--so things like the New York Review of Books, or studies and biographies written for a general (non-academic) audience.

A few further points about each of these.

First, as to the "canonical" literature category (i.e., #2 above)--I value it too! For instance, here are tossups I wrote for last year's ICT:

This novel's protagonist lives at the Hotel Stentorian, where she receives advice from Mrs. Heeny. Its protagonist has her portrait done by Claud Walsingham Popple, and advances in the world after marrying Ralph Marvell. This novel centers on a family that comes to New York from the town of (*) Apex, where the protagonist met the man she eventually marries, Elmer Moffatt. For 10 points--name this 1913 novel that centers on social climber Undine Spragg, a work by Edith Wharton.

answer: The _Custom of the Country_

At the end of this work, the protagonist recognizes that he can't ask the Rojax Corporation to take him back. Its protagonist has been deceived by a theater agent named Maurice Venice, and foolishly invests his last savings in lard futures at the behest of Dr. Tamkin. Much of this work takes place at New York's Hotel (*) Gloriana. For 10 points--name this Saul Bellow novella about failed actor Tommy Wilhelm, whose title translates a phrase from an ode by Horace that urges not trusting the future.

answer: _Seize the Day_

Such episodes as "The Bagman's Story" and "The Convict's Tale" are interpolated into this novel, whose minor characters include a drowsy "fat boy" named Joe. The title character of this novel goes to prison after his landlady, Mrs. Bardell, sues him for breach of contract after mistakenly thinking he had proposed to her. Other characters include the Cockney servant (*) Sam Weller and Tracy Tupman, a member of the title character's club. For 10 points--name this novel, the first by Charles Dickens.

answer: The _Pickwick Papers_ (accept The _Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club_)

At the end of this play, one character is told that he is free to come in at 11 for his first day of work, as he will come in at 6 by the end of the week. That character makes a revelation about his Australian parentage to demonstrate that he is technically a "foundling," which makes him--even though he is a professor of (*) Greek--eligible to inherit a munitions company. For 10 points--name this play in which Adolphus Cusins loves the title officer in the Salvation Army, by George Bernard Shaw.

answer: _Major Barbara_

These are all "tossups on major works of literature whose clues solely derive from intrinsic features of those works." I like and value such tossups; I just don't value them exclusively.

Next, as to the "author from descriptions of increasingly famous works" tossup. As I suggested in the other thread, I developed a fondness for these because I felt that they embodied an aspect of my own life as a serious reader of literature--namely, my tendency to read extensively in and about any author in whom I developed an interest. To diverge into autobiography, my practice here derives from the fact that my great hero as a literary critic is Edmund Wilson, whose approach was to take an interest in a writer, read (almost literally) everything written by that author, and then write an essay considering that author's oeuvre as a whole. I've always found that Wilsonian approach immensely interesting, and it's largely shaped my thinking about this kind of question.

When writing these, I do try to distinguish between "stuff I can't expect anyone to possibly know" and "stuff I think it is possible that other people will know." For instance, speaking of Wilson himself, I wouldn't write a tossup of this sort on him (starting with, e.g., a description of "Upstate," followed by a description of "The Triple Thinkers," followed by a giveaway on "Patriotic Gore"), because even though those are all fantastic books, I wouldn't expect anyone to have read any of them. But I don't have qualms about writing the structurally similar Henry James tossup sketched out above, because I think that James is an important enough writer that it is plausible that people will be acquainted with even his minor works. (For instance, I myself took both undergrad and grad school seminars on James in which we cut very wide swathes through his corpus.) It is possible that I err--even frequently err!--in my attempts to distinguish between "this stuff is probably only known to me" and "this stuff could plausibly be known by the good lit players of today"; but I am trying to make such differentiations.

Finally, as to my categories (3) and (4)--i.e., tossups where a significant number of early/middle clues are drawn from "extrinsic" sources. I would have thought, following recent post-ICT discussions, that this is where I am held in greatest opprobrium; still, I like and would defend such questions. First, as to (3), I think it's fine to have a subset of lit questions that reward people for reading the kinds of criticism that one reads in English classes--these are my humanities equivalent of the "science questions should only reward people who have taken actual college-level science classes" movement, though I only allow myself a small fraction of such questions, and I only allow myself to use such clues as early/middle clues before modulating to more generally accessible stuff. Second, as to (4), I think it's fine and proper to reward people whose reading life includes things like the NYRB, New Yorker, or similar general-audience texts--i.e., texts that are not encountered in coursework, but which might be read by anyone who takes an interest in a given work or author.

In the spirit of the remarks made about advocating for question styles in the other thread, I should make clear--if it isn't clear from what I've just written--that I'm in no way opposed to what Ted describes as the "canonical paradigm." I think questions like that are great, I write them myself (or, I try to write them--again, I am open to being told by Ted or someone else how questions like the ones cited above diverge from what he is calling the "canonical paradigm"), and I was happy to play them in my playing days. In addition, however, I also enjoy writing (and enjoyed playing on) questions from the other categories briefly described above, which is why I also continue to include them in the spectrum of tossups I write for high-level NAQT sets.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by theMoMA » Mon Apr 21, 2014 11:19 am

Ted's "canonical literature paradigm" likely also includes a form of tossup absent from your list: a tossup on an author with clues drawn from a small number (usually 2 or 3) of well-read works. These tossups are a fairly recent innovation, and basically function like two or three interwoven tossups on the works themselves. (Occasionally, people will write an author tossup using clues drawn solely from one work, usually because that work has an unwieldy title or is somehow otherwise difficult to answer.)

I think the debate over the form of literature questions reflects a fundamental tension between quizbowl's aspirational and practical aims. Aspirationally, quizbowl aims to test the boundaries of the players' knowledge, and ideally, to expose players to new and interesting things. But practically, players can only be expected to know so much, and questions are only so long. A good question balances its aspirational goals against the practical reality of a player's knowledge.

I find, and I think Andrew's post at least contemplates a similar feeling, that I tend to write aspirationally and edit practically. That is, when I'm immersed in a subject and have all the sources in front of me, the bounds of what I think players might know about that subject become quite expansive. But when I'm editing, I tend to take a more levelheaded approach, and take a harsh and critical look at what players might actually be expected to know. I've personally found that it's especially difficult to strike a good balance when you're editing your own material, but others may disagree.

That's all a little far afield from the original post, so I'll try to bring my tangential thoughts back into the fold. I think the the various "non-Ted-canonical" paradigms that Andrew identifies serve an important function in quizbowl, and that function is aspirational: to test the boundaries of what players know, to see if players know things outside of what they've heard in packets or studied for quizbowl or read in an extremely well-read book, and to expose players to new and interesting things. (I don't mean that no one should be expected to know these "aspirational" clues; I mean that these clues contemplate a knowledge source independent of "things I've heard in quizbowl" or "things I've read in a core canonical work.")

The idea that literature tossups should be based entirely on clues found within a core set of extremely-well-read works is rooted in practicality: these are the things that players are most likely to know. But, in my view, a strictly core-canonical approach is too restrictive, both because there are other interesting and important things to know than "intrinsic features of works themselves," and because the amount of those works (and their intrinsic features) are fairly finite. I would not like to see quizbowl become a game in which someone who can keep track of the intrinsic features of some arbitrary number of the "most important" books is deemed to have learned everything there is to know about literature.

To wrap it up, I'd say that recent lit-writing innovations on the practical side are fantastic for the game because we're now better at asking about things that the players are likely to know and know well. I find it an extremely persuasive paradigm for a good chunk of questions in every tournament, and as I've said in the announcement thread, it's the overriding view I'm adopting (and Ike is implementing) for this year's Chicago Open. But I wouldn't confuse the emergence of these practical changes with the need to kill all other forms of questions. An important part of this game is still probing the boundaries of what people know and introducing people to new and interesting ideas.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Muriel Axon » Mon Apr 21, 2014 11:37 am

Can you expand more on (4)? I agree that it's fine in theory to reward people for reading "general-audience texts" like the ones you mention, but I can't think of many examples where those are the kinds of things I could reasonably expect people to buzz on. And the exceptions (say, "Why Bother?") are mostly works that have taken on a life of their own, so I wouldn't consider them to belong in (4) anyway.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Ike » Mon Apr 21, 2014 2:24 pm

I agree theoretically with what Andrew Yaphe has said. I think a "pluralistic" approach to writing literature tossups is the way to go because you are testing literature knowledge.

The problem with those "obscure work description-obscure work title-more famous work description-more famous work title" structure was that they were much easier to answer early without actually reading the author. The example that comes to my mind is Alan Paton as Weiner pointed out after MO 2009 - most players in the field - then and now - are more likely to have learned about Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful and Too Late the Phalarope from packets and wiki studying then to have busted open those texts for their own intellectual growth. So it's probably unwise to use those types of questions for most tournaments if you don't know what you're doing.

What I find distasteful about the current canonical approach is that large swathes of potentially askable literature are now left by the wayside. For example, I think the Yaphe type-1 literature tossup works perfectly well on someone like Percy Shelley, where one can have read hundreds of his poems by just obtaining the Norton critical edition on Shelley. But I don't think I played a single tossup on Shelley in the last years of my career which suggested that he has other askable works besides Ozymandias, Adonais, Ode to the West Wind, and Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and the Masque of Anarchy.

Caveat: This doesn't mean that for lower level tournaments you should use my reasoning as an excuse to write a bad tossup on Shelley that's just Lines form X, Lines from Y, Title X, Title Y. While that certainly can be done well at lower levels, you probably won't be doing it well unless you put significant time into the question. In fact, it was this type of corruption of Yaphe's intent that led to this entire revolution in the first place.
To wrap it up, I'd say that recent lit-writing innovations on the practical side are fantastic for the game because we're now better at asking about things that the players are likely to know and know well. I find it an extremely persuasive paradigm for a good chunk of questions in every tournament, and as I've said in the announcement thread, it's the overriding view I'm adopting (and Ike is implementing) for this year's Chicago Open. But I wouldn't confuse the emergence of these practical changes with the need to kill all other forms of questions. An important part of this game is still probing the boundaries of what people know and introducing people to new and interesting ideas.
Exactly, and let's be honest, why are you playing quizbowl if you're not playing to learn a lot of new material along the way? One of my favorite posts in the ACF Nationals thread is Matt Jackson's sentiment-laced one where he reminds all of us that quizbowl is all about learning. It's what it has always been all about for me, and what it will continue to be about. I hope players in the future will be more appreciative to tossups on Shelley that leadin with The Sensitive Plant - sure it's not a core work, it is interesting in its own right and provides a glimpse into Shelley's mind, circumstances and temperament.

In fact as an editor for Chicago Open, I encourage people to try submitting literature questions that mixes together any of the styles that Yaphe has outlined above and any of the styles that Ted and his partisans have (so as long as you test knowledge.) In fact, if you have another way of testing literature knowledge that hasn't been enumerated in this thread I encourage you to write questions in that fashion as well. To use the Shelley example further: if you have read that Norton critical edition of Shelley, write a question on Shelley about his lesser known works from that book, or write a question on Shelley that uses some of the criticism in the back of the book as early clues. I think CO will provide the richest possible experience when I receive numerous questions with various approaches to literature as a whole.

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Edited: Added addendum.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Nabonidus » Mon Apr 21, 2014 4:23 pm

Call me crazy, but even as my team's lit person I've always preferred tossups that began with something like "One work set in this city..." or "This animal appears in the title of..." or "A character with this profession..."

This style allows you to ask about multiple authors/countries/eras while ensuring that the answer is something even non-lit players will have heard of. Tying the answer into the narrative also makes the question less susceptible to rote memorization and rewards people who can think logically about fiction.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Apr 21, 2014 5:44 pm

I forgot a pretty obvious fifth type of literature tossup of which I am very fond--namely, the common-link tossup on a place, event, or whatnot given various literary clues about it. I.e., something like this tossup, which I wrote for ICT a few years back:

This event is the subject of a "philosophical poem" by Sir Richard Blackmore. A dream in which a shepherd was commanded to sing about this event led to "Caedmon's Hymn," and it is depicted as the framing of a "vast petrific" roof in ~The Book of Urizen~. Raphael says it occurred after the expulsion of rebel angels in Book 7 of (*) ~Paradise Lost~. For 10 points--name this cosmogonic event also described in the Book of Genesis.

answer: _creation_ (accept _Creation_; accept the _creation of the world_ or equivalents)

As the previous post in this thread indicates, these tossups allow you to trawl through a bunch of interesting (but not otherwise tossupable) material while still providing a gettable answerline.

As for my category (4) above, I have in mind something like the tossup I wrote for last year's ICT on "novelists," where the first sentence was a description of John Sutherland's "Lives of the Novelists." I doubt anyone is reading that in an English class, but it was widely reviewed in serious magazines when it came out, and Sutherland is a well-known "popular" literary critic.

Also, I find myself in agreement with Ike's post. When I write tossups of type (1), I prefer to write them on people like, well, Henry James--i.e., very important and prolific authors who wrote lots of things that are worth knowing about. Or Shelley--I still remember with fondness the tossup on him at Magin's first lit singles, which began with a description of "Peter Bell the Third." Having read the poem, I buzzed on that clue, and was much more pleased to hear it asked about than the umpteenth tossup on "Ode to the West Wind." As Ike says, the world of interesting works of literature is very large indeed--my impulse has always been to range as widely as possible in that world, while still trying to write questions that are going to be accessible to good teams (in their early/middle clues) and gettable for worse teams (at the end).
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Cody » Mon Apr 21, 2014 5:58 pm

theMoMA wrote:Ted's "canonical literature paradigm" likely also includes a form of tossup absent from your list: a tossup on an author with clues drawn from a small number (usually 2 or 3) of well-read works. These tossups are a fairly recent innovation, and basically function like two or three interwoven tossups on the works themselves. (Occasionally, people will write an author tossup using clues drawn solely from one work, usually because that work has an unwieldy title or is somehow otherwise difficult to answer.)
This is one of the major innovations/things people are discussing when they talk about the Adams/Gioia paradigm - deeper clues from well-read works, instead of surface clues from minor works - in an author tossup.
canonomics wrote:Call me crazy, but even as my team's lit person I've always preferred tossups that began with something like "One work set in this city..." or "This animal appears in the title of..." or "A character with this profession..."

This style allows you to ask about multiple authors/countries/eras while ensuring that the answer is something even non-lit players will have heard of. Tying the answer into the narrative also makes the question less susceptible to rote memorization and rewards people who can think logically about fiction.
Common links are plentiful in the Adams paradigm and you can find many of them in, e.g. VCUO 2011.

I mean, I guess it's worth noting that none of these paradigms strictly forbids all other types of tossups on literature works - you'll find a nice mix wherever you look.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Apr 23, 2014 12:21 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote: Finally, as to my categories (3) and (4)--i.e., tossups where a significant number of early/middle clues are drawn from "extrinsic" sources. I would have thought, following recent post-ICT discussions, that this is where I am held in greatest opprobrium; still, I like and would defend such questions. First, as to (3), I think it's fine to have a subset of lit questions that reward people for reading the kinds of criticism that one reads in English classes--these are my humanities equivalent of the "science questions should only reward people who have taken actual college-level science classes" movement, though I only allow myself a small fraction of such questions, and I only allow myself to use such clues as early/middle clues before modulating to more generally accessible stuff. Second, as to (4), I think it's fine and proper to reward people whose reading life includes things like the NYRB, New Yorker, or similar general-audience texts--i.e., texts that are not encountered in coursework, but which might be read by anyone who takes an interest in a given work or author.

In the spirit of the remarks made about advocating for question styles in the other thread, I should make clear--if it isn't clear from what I've just written--that I'm in no way opposed to what Ted describes as the "canonical paradigm." I think questions like that are great, I write them myself (or, I try to write them--again, I am open to being told by Ted or someone else how questions like the ones cited above diverge from what he is calling the "canonical paradigm"), and I was happy to play them in my playing days. In addition, however, I also enjoy writing (and enjoyed playing on) questions from the other categories briefly described above, which is why I also continue to include them in the spectrum of tossups I write for high-level NAQT sets.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time this week to engage in the array of intense hermeneutic debates that have arisen in the last few days. But I wanted to respond to this. First of all, I never wanted to suggest a focus on canonical topics means dogmatically excluding other types of questions (as the healthy number of hard tossups at this year's Nats will attest). Moreover, I actually value clues on secondary sources and theory. In fact, I’ve probably devoted more time to immersing myself in the world of literary culture than any other player of my age group—since I actually hope to become a literary critic and essayist (if such a thing can exist for my generation). Every year I get older, I enjoy Yaphe’s literary criticism leadins at ICT more and more. But I have yet to see someone buzz on one. And this is what I want to discuss. There’s a difference between discussing question-writing in the abstract and producing an actual tournament written to be suitable for an actual field.

As a player, I enjoy criticism clues. As an editor, I didn’t think they were appropriate for this year’s field at ACF Nats. This year there were no lit grad students and very few English majors in the field, which means even the top lit players are unlikely to be exposed to academic criticism like the Frank Kermodes or J. Hillis Millers of the world. In my experience, they’re unlikely to buzz on any critical clue from a work or writer that hasn’t come up a lot before in quizbowl. T.S. Eliot: Yes. Elif Batuman: Fuck no. Reading ACF Nats this year, I was routinely surprised by just how little secondary knowledge good lit players possessed and was disappointed when the few well-known criticism clues I did include went unanswered. It’s baffling to me that more teams know Georges Perec than “le mot juste”. But it did teach me something: It’s difficult to judge what secondary clues a weaker field will know. (Similarly, this year's ICT proved that Yaphe would be wise to radically underestimate what literary theory and secondary clues people will know.) However, you can judge what type of plot clues the field will know, which is just one more reason I think they make preferable clues for this year’s national tournaments.

But what I’m really talking about is the issue of editorial responsibility. Basically, what do you think your role is when editing questions for a tournament like ICT or ACF Nats? So while I think criticism clues are intellectually defensible (especially for open tournaments like MO or CO with longer tossups and much stronger fields), I think they are pragmatically unforgivable for ICT questions. The goal of a national championship, more so than any other tournament, is to determine the best team in the field. Interesting must take a back seat to functional. And I think it’s irresponsible at a tournament like ICT to waste multiple lines of a four-line tossup on clues that realistically no one will get and then only including one middle clue (literally one) before going to high-school stock clues. In fact, the ICT is the worst possible format for this approach. Yaphe’s clues often feel violently mismatched with the ICT format—as though James Joyce had chosen to publish Finnegan’s Wake in a series of USA Today columns.

But to return to the larger point: I agree with Yaphe that any of these styles of questions can be justified as “interesting”, but think the whole discussion obscures a crucial distinction between a writer and an editor. The task of an editor—as opposed to a writer—is to consider other criterion than “interesting” to shape questions that will best suit his tournament. I’m past the point in my career where I’m going to attack you for writing a certain style of question, but I want to insist writing principles must always be grounded in producing good questions suitable for an actual field.
Last edited by Magister Ludi on Mon Sep 08, 2014 8:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by Nabonidus » Thu Apr 24, 2014 1:43 am

Personally, I appreciate tossups that lead in with nigh-ungettable clues provided they serve the additional role of pointing out why the work was groundbreaking, piquing your interest in the question and ultimately motivating you to go out and read the book. If you're trying to endorse a work, then using a tossup is generally more memorable than a bonus. That said, I agree this stance isn't very defensible in championships and/or tournaments with a very limited question length.
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Re: Literature paradigms

Post by sarahbei » Mon May 05, 2014 11:44 am

Ike wrote:Exactly, and let's be honest, why are you playing quizbowl if you're not playing to learn a lot of new material along the way?
canonomics wrote:This style allows you to ask about multiple authors/countries/eras while ensuring that the answer is something even non-lit players will have heard of. Tying the answer into the narrative also makes the question less susceptible to rote memorization and rewards people who can think logically about fiction.
I think it's particularly important to keep both of these points in mind, especially for new players. I remember when I started playing, I couldn't get any questions, but after a year, I'm getting a lot from simply remembering clues. No, this doesn't mean that I necessarily know the work, but it's encouraged me to read more. Just from playing older sets, I've been introduced to literature that I'd never heard of, and then read it, all in the name of quizbowl. And I have no problems saying that reading those books was fun. But that's just me, someone who already liked reading. The way lit questions are written can really pique a person's interest - I've seen it from science players. That's why it's vital to not be limited to writing one style of question. As important as it is to make sure that questions play into a specialist's knowledge, you also have to be able to acknowledge and reward the player who pays attention to the whole set, too.
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