On The Impossibility of Teaching Anecdote of The Jar

Fri Oct 19, 2007

My course blog for an American Lit survey at ECU last year gets about ten-to-twenty hits each day for “anecdote of the jar analysis” or similar. I told the students in that class that this would be likely to happen and that they were writing for future generations (and even developed a poster presentation based on this alarming pedagogical thesis).

Other than habit and general inertia, one of the reasons this happens is that it’s a deeply mysterious poem, one that probably deserves no place in freshman and sophomore anthologies. (I can and have done much better with “Sunday Morning,” “Emperor of Ice Cream,” and even–(men lie about it)–“The Comedian As The Letter C.”) Here’s a partial list of topics I’ve tried:

  • Procopius, demonology of

  • anecdote, etymology of

  • America, secret actuarial history of

  • phenomenology, fuzziness of

  • Grecian urn

  • Tennessee, geography of

  • trains, influence on poetry of

  • New South, development of

  • artifice, artifact, artificiality

  • Sewanee

  • dominion, reference in Genesis to

  • Fugitives and Agrarians

  • George Steiner, command of American regional idiom of

  • Stevens’s accent, Anglicized quality of

  • Mason jars, mass-production of