Tuesday, August 31, 2010
But asking critical questions should not devolve into a mere parlor game. That is, we should not teach our students that the aim of every reading is to bring up the questions that might debunk the wisdom at hand, and then leave it at that. We must ask the question of belief. Is this poem true? Can you use this poem? Or are you living in a way that’s better than the poem suggests you might live? To these queries, we should expect only heartfelt answers.
By refusing to ask such questions once we have coaxed the work’s vision forward, we are leaving our students where we found them.
In my experiences, though these great “essential questions” are always POSED in lecture or discussion, I don’t feel like they’re ever actually DISCUSSED. They're very rarely applied directly to our real, modern-day lives, and even more rarely do we actually interact with them in a personal way. WHY are we reading a particular work? How does it specifically pertain to us? How can it help us? What is it saying to the world today?
What about you? Do you find that your classrooms center on the “culture of cool” (Edmundson's term for a general depersonalization of the classroom [and the modern-day culture at large] in place of students’ possibly-embarrassing genuine investment and self-discovery)? If so, has this been beneficial to you as a student of English? As an individual in your everyday life? Have you ever actually been changed by a work of literature? Is this growth of the reader even important or necessary? Is literature the appropriate venue for this kind of growth/self-discovery?
Although I agree that Edmundson’s rhetoric is a bit extreme at times (especially regarding the ineffectiveness of the modern-day liberal arts college), his focus on literature as a tool for the reader to discover his/her Final Narrative matches my views well. As a reader, I have always attempted to extract core truth(s) from literary works, test whether these statements are valid against the backdrop of my life, and then evaluate whether it’s necessary for me to alter my opinions or lifestyle based on this new knowledge. I do also believe that literature can and does serve other important purposes – as a tool to record history, or as an aesthetic pleasure, for example – and that the dissection of works via the New Criticism method can be illuminatingly worthwhile. However, in my opinion, Edmundson’s assertions capture what I have always found to be literature’s highest calling: it asserts the truth that someone else has discovered, and presents it to me to ponder and perhaps adopt in a life-changing sort of way.
In a weird way in sorta felt to me like an old novel. To go even further it felt a bit like perhaps the first novel ever written - Don Quixote. Its probably a horrible comparison, but whatever, its my post I guess. I thought this for two reasons:
1. I thought Mazzuchelli was making fun of the traditional novel form the same way Cervantes was making fun of the chivalry tales prevalent at the time. The allusion to Hesse really started me on this, I think.
2. He's trying to make an original form of charachter. For me, almost the thesis of the novel was that scene where Hana is giving a sculpting lesson in which she states that a sculpter is transforming a finite space. I think thats how Mazz views a charachter - or perhaps people in real life - as a finite enitity floating within the infinite space of a finite book. Hell, even the narrator is a sorts doppelganger within Asterios' own mind.
He's putting down his own idea of a charachter in this abstract form of graphic just like how Cervates put down his rather new concept of charachter in a form never really done before - straight prose with consciousness.
Sporadic thoughts, sorry, but hopefully they relate to each other enough.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
On pages 6-7 of Why Read?, Mark Edmundson writes
Universities have become sites not for human transformation, but for training and for entertaining. Unconfronted by major issues, students use the humanities as they can. They use them to prepare for lucrative careers. They acquire marketable skills. Or, they find in their classes sources of easy pleasure. They read to enjoy, but not to become other than they are. “You must change your life,” says Rilke’s sculpture of Apollo to the beholder. So says every major work of intellect and imagination, but in the university now—as in the culture at large—almost no one hears.
When I picked up this book to begin to read it, I had some fairly high expectations. For the most part, I enjoy reading. Literature classes offer a chance for me to explore works that maybe I would not consider reading on my own otherwise, whether it be because I have heard negative reviews of the books in question or because I haven’t even heard of the books in the first place. So this book, Why Read?, a book about reading, seemed great. I really thought I would enjoy it—enjoy being the operative word.
And then I start reading this book and here’s this Edmundson guy telling me that I am totally, utterly, entirely wrong, and I probably won’t learn anything if I’m doing it to enjoy it. He accuses today’s college-student population of being completely consumer-driven, and incapable of improvement and change because we want everything we do in life to entertain us. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to enjoy what we do here in college. There is a difference between entertainment and enjoyment, and Edmundson seems to have made them one and the same. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing with your life, in or out of college, then why do it? With our undergraduate studies, we are preparing for the rest of our lives. It is perfectly fine to want to enjoy it, especially if it costs $25,000 a year. So what, instead, is the “point” of reading, and college overall, according to Edmundson? What is his definition of “enjoying” reading, and what is yours?