What follows is a written version of a 10-minute jag I started off my British Literature survey class with today. Seth Godin podcasts plus the time of the semester plus my own need to write a conference paper in the coming weeks plus my desire to help students write their own research papers for my class led to this. Continue reading “Fear and Apathy”
Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself all summer: what do I do when something I just read left me confused?
(Why do I bring this up after the Earth and Its Inhabitants section of The Discarded Image? No reason. No reason.)
It’s connected to another question: why read literary criticism?
Here’s a quotation from the literary critic Harry Berger I keep coming back to on these two topics.
We are to make use of what our heritage has given us…We are to face it with an attention at once respectful and vernacular—submitting to those who have most deeply pondered our condition, yet thinking their thoughts in our heads and for our lives.
When I read something like The Discarded Image I feel the weight of someone who has “deeply pondered our condition” and I take seriously the task of thinking his thoughts in my head in my own language.
A bonus? These two moves—submitting then thinking—are a pretty good description of what our relationship to scripture should be.
Keep reading. Keep pondering. Keep thinking.
In this class exercise, we start with this quotation from Roger Lundin and Susan Gallagher’s Literature Through the Eyes of Faith.
In place of the long-standing Aristotelian view of metaphor as substitution, as a process in which poetic words ‘stand in’ for literal ones, we could perhaps say that the metaphorical process is one of interaction. When we use a metaphor, we say that one thing is another. We take a word from its conventional context and apply it to a new situation.
In my courses, I define “critical thinking” as the ability to articulate the position of the person who disagrees with you. We have a great opportunity to practice this skill at the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight where I give students this assignment.
Early in the semester, I give students the following quotation from John Ruskin’s 1877 history of Venice.
Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last.
I then give them this thought experiment.
Let’s say the year is 2115 and an English class (at this university?) is discussing the historical context for the popular fiction of the late 20th and early 21st century: Gone Girl (2012), the Harry Potter series (1998-2007), 50 Shades of Grey (2011), the Left Behind series (1995-2007), and…we had to go there…the Twilight Series (2005-2008).
- What “truths” would these books communicate about the late 20th and early 21st century?
- What “deeds” and “words” from the period would need to be paired with this “art” to help it make sense?
- It appears everyone of you have encountered Shakespeare’s art in his plays. What “truths” could you infer about the “deeds” and “words” of Shakespeare’s time?
- What kinds of “deeds” and “words” seem most important for understanding an author who wrote in Shakespeare’s time?
On our last day discussing King Lear, we focus on Cordelia. Continue reading “Finishing Up King Lear”