Monday, February 23, 2009

Torrential Downpour

Art in our lives
Spoonbridge with Cherry
will temporarily be without its cherry (MPR).

I feel a vested interest in this work of art, not just because it is a Twin Cities icon. It is in front of Spoonbridge with Cherry that I proposed to my wife. It is with art I marked a momentous and memorable occasions.

In comp class today we're discussing David Guterson's "Enclosed. Encyclopedic. Endured. One Week in the Mall of America." Guterson mentions a mass wedding and a Christian worship service at the MOA. There's something tacky and trivializing about that, I (and several students) thought. Malls are crass and commercial places, not a place for a significant, life-changing ritual, and the materialistic consumption makes it an awkward place for religious worship.

But art feels sacred. In some ways art exists to bring meaning to our lives, and thus it is with art we may seek to mark meaningful occasions.

Lit Syllabus Overhaul
It started with Sharon Olds poetry: reading one student's negative reaction to Olds' poetry made me think "You know, why do I teach Olds' poetry? I don't have any special affection for this. Is it just because I've always taught it and I keep leaving it in the syllabus?" I considered dropping Olds from future semesters--but then discussion went well. Her poetry does provide us chances to discuss serious matters of poetry (for example, "The Victims" allows us to consider a duel meaning of the word "take/took," which allows us to illustrate how consciously we must read words in a poem). So I will keep Olds in the future.

And then I considered a scene in A Gathering of Old Men that reminds me of a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The men talk back to Mapes, and when he thinks he can stare them down in fear, they look back at him directly; and the men laugh at Big Nurse, and when she darts her eyes around to meet theirs, they still giggle. And I thought that on a gloss, these novels are similar: a group of men have lived in fear for a long time, but come together as a community to stand up to old authority figures. Do I need to teach both novels? But then of course that's a brief gloss--these novels are vastly different in narrative form and style, as well as specific subject matter. They are unique works that can both be taught.

I questioned changes to the syllabus over these specific works, even though my conclusion was these works don't need to be removed. Yet the questioning process has led me to consider a major reworking of my general lit class reading list.

For example, I've never taught a single work by my two favorite novelists, John Fowles and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky's masterpieces are too long to justify teaching in this course (exposure to variety is an objective), and I'm not sure if I'd want to teach any of his shorter works--but Notes from the Underground is definitely a possibility. I'll take another look at Fowles' The Ebony Tower to see if there are shorter works worth including--or I might just start teaching The French Lieutenant's Woman. Really, The French Lieutenant's Woman offers so many directions for discussion, it might just be perfect for the course.

See why I blog? I talk myself into teaching my favorite books.

It's stupid, but it's my life.
At We Have Mixed Feelings About Sven Sundgaard, I discussed some ways for parents to maintain a sense of culture during the time when raising small children dominates time and limits options.

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