One of the most profound and striking books on my mid-year reading list was Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. It was perhaps this text which not only prepared me for this semester’s weekly task, but inspired a desire to commence an ongoing dialogue – or should I say relationship – with the texts I read. Gone are the days of one-sided conversations – here’s to an age of carnal love: of not gently caressing a book’s pages, but fervidly blotting every inch of white with my own ink; of not simply wondering about what I do not understand, but demanding and scavenging for answers; of not momentarily envisioning its scenes, but finding them in all I see. Here on this blog I will expose the joys and passions, the pains and frustrations, and every emotion and feeling which these texts evoke from me – vulnerably, honestly.
How effective do you think Charles Dickens was in pointing to the heart of the problem with contemporary education? Have we learned anything since his day? Write a short piece that expresses your sense of the value of Dickens’ educational views for our own times.
From my experience as a student in the Australian education system, I found it quite distressing when reflecting on Dickens’ work to find that we have made very little progress in the years since this book was written. While my personal experience of the classroom was much more relaxed atmosphere than that of Mister Gradgrind’s classes, the fact that the teaching methods are, across a larger scale, much the same – a teacher standing at the front of the class, forcing facts into “vessels” and asking them to be regurgitated back either verbally or on paper – shows that contemporary education is of the same nature as Victorian education.
As products of the digital age, where the internet is the Bible, it is important for educators and those dictating what is taught to ponder on what it is that they can offer students. Clearly, information is somewhat useless: why waste time in an artificially lit, sweat-scented classroom when you can attain the information being taught from the comfort of wherever you wish to be? While the current classroom setting can be beneficial in the sense that it occasionally directs students to potentially useful information, I believe that – like Dickens – the learning process ought to give students a sense of freedom, and a chance to learn practically.
“You are a belligerent student in Mr. Gradgrind’s classroom. In a short, punchy paragraph tell Mr. Gradgrind exactly what you think of his teaching methods.”
“In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!”
But I want more than facts, Mr. Gradgrind “sir”!
‘Girl number twenty” Mr. Gradgrind said. “I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’
‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ she explained, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.
‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’
What good are FACTS, “sir”, if FACTS won’t help you accept the truth?
“Now girl number twenty… Give me your definition of a horse… Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!”
A definition! Oh poor, poor Sissy… She works with horses, she loves horses – I’ve seen her helping her father tend to the lovely, sick animals with such tenderness, such compassion – and yet here she is, reduced to a dumb and speechless number because she cannot describe the living animal she adores in lifeless, scientific terms!
Mr. Gradgrind “sir”, Sissy Jupe knows more about horses than your narrow mind ever will!
Image source: https://goo.gl/images/QZXDCz
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Try to explain as simply as you can what you think William Blake is trying to convey in these mysterious lines.
These four simple lines convey a most critical aspect of Romanticism… nay, of many literary periods. It is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, deriving meaning from mundanity. The Modernists were especially known for this approach to life. However, the Romantics pushed this notion even further, connecting the ordinary to the sublime – something Modernists fall short of. Whilst the term “sublime” can be used as an adjective to describe external scenes, the Romantics regarded the sublime as a “physical grandeur transformed into spiritual grandeur”. This definition is evident in Blake’s cryptic lines. Attaching terms such as “Heaven” and “Eternity” with relatable and accessible objects and concepts – “Wild Flower”, “an hour” – describes the consanguinity between the physical and spiritual realm. In terms of the writing itself, Blake’s capitalisation of the common nouns and concepts displays his high regard for them.
This is a fantastic blog post. You draw clear parallels between the two stories, explaining how the visuals can be manipulated according to the event you choose to see represented. I especially like the link you made between the “god of war” title and Antony’s role in the story. There’s not much constructive criticism I can give, except perhaps that you proofread before you post (you wrote “to” instead of “two”, but that’s a minor issue). Otherwise, fantastic job!
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Explore a vivid and meaningful moment in your own experience- similar to Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”- and write a short poem or prose piece that captures the intensity and significance of the experience.
When the sun goes down tonight we shall glow like burning amber;
our hair will alight – parched logs catching aflame,
eyes sparkling like stars I cannot begin to name, but you…
you can read the night sky and tell me its stories.
Stories of gods long gone,
fizzled out and extinguished with the dreamers who conjured them.
As the burning gloaming dips into eventide our bodies wilt, but our hearts –
they beat ever strong, pumping the passion which
fuels this attraction through our veins.
The sky cracks and crumbles,
the mottled blue engulfed by the vacuum of black…
or, perhaps, it simply makes way for it.
Soft winds whisper through the window,
caress our cheeks, part our hair, gently push us together.
And once the grasshoppers commence their evensong,
so shall we.
American Literature helps me to expand the boundaries of my own experience
This could not be a truer encapsulation of my experience of and attitude towards this unit and the texts studied. The range of the texts we studied, written by authors from different racial, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, varied in style and subject matter, yet they all contributed to the richness of my experience of American literature, as well as enhanced my vision of my own life experiences. It was interesting to see how many authors, as well as myself, were able to share the same sentiments as people so different to them, from different eras, with completely different upbringings and lifestyles. Simultaneously, I realised just how different two people’s perceptions could be, even though their experiences appeared similar at the surface.
We began the unit with a focus on the writings of Indigenous Americans, and it could not have been a better start for me. Paralleled with my study of Indigenous Australian writings, the role of nature as a living being which provides support to its children was emphasised. I was made to question how the Native American sense of the importance of nature can be applied to make our own lives more whole and meaningful.
With Romanticism being one of my favourite literary movements, studying Transcendentalism was one of the highlights of this course. In my second blog post I reflected on the definition of wisdom, and how our experiences over time alter our levels of wisdom, thus altering the way we perceive the world.
Our comparative study of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman really resonated with me, as earlier in the year I had been exploring the theme of the power of the self in my writing. I also loved seeing how their sense of the spiritual manifested itself in their writing. Despite their obvious differences – both in writing style and personality – I learnt that they were similar at the core. This made me realise that, when interacting with people who seemed different to me, we were all human, and all had the same emotions.
The writings of African-Americans were by far the most confronting texts we had studied in this unit, especially James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man. It raised so many questions from me about human nature, about morals, compassion, prejudice. This, in turn, made me reflect on my own society and my own treatment and opinions of others.
Finally, our study of the Beat Generation was perhaps the most enjoyable lesson of the unit. Since I was already partially acquainted with figures like Ginsberg through Kerouac’s On The Road, I took great pleasure in reading A Supermarket in California, Howl, and especially Footnote to Howl. The last title especially impacted me, as it made me ponder deeply about my own spiritual experiences, and try to dissect them – see what they were made of.
American literature has enlightened my understanding of the world in ways I had not thought possible. It not only gives readers a snapshot of American society and attitudes throughout the ages, but also allowed me to view my experiences through various lenses, ultimately expanding my capacity for understanding the world and people around me.
“Australian Literature helps me to expand the boundaries of my own experience”
This could not be a truer encapsulation of my experience of and attitude towards this unit and the texts studied. This was not always the case, however. My experience of Australian literature in high school lead me to believe that my country’s literature was dull and inaccessible, characterised by snapshots of a history so over-romanticised and mythologised that it was shallow. This year, however, being exposed to so many literary gems and histories of individual beings – as opposed to objective, factual histories – my perception of my country has been altered in such a way that has allowed me to – often involuntarily – experience and understand it in ways that I never had before.
Beginning the unit with a focus on the phrase “the mountain has its own meaning” made me think from the very start not only about what Australians had to say about the land – something I was well acquainted with – but also about what the land had to say about the people, or to the people. This theme continued into our reading of Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance. In my creative piece about my favourite landscape, I tried to express my own connection to the land to the best of my ability; like the indigenous Australians, I too have always felt a deep connection to nature, often finding myself spiritually anchored and attuned when I took note of it, immersed myself in it. But being introduced to Mabarn reality through Scott’s powerful writing style forced me to confront the not-so-blatant magic in the everyday.
Similarly, my visit to the Art Gallery of NSW forced me to reflect on the society in which I live in. This made me question whether the immoral values of the European settlers are still ingrained and championed into our world today. It also gave me broader insight into the various stages of colonial and post-colonial Australia, and how different artists viewed the land and its indigenous inhabitants.
The writings of female colonialist authors such as Ada Cambridge and Lady Mary Gilmore particularly interested me. As a woman of the 21st century, it was intriguing – and rather disheartening – to see the progression (or lack thereof) of societal attitudes towards gender, especially in regards to ideals and roles of femininity and masculinity. Societal expectations aside, I was awed by the fact that although there were decades and eras between these writers and I, we experienced the same emotions of love, and yearning, and insecurity… That at the core, we were very much the same.
20th century literature again opened my eyes to the sense of spiritual fulfilment offered in nature. Despite being members of an increasingly materialistic society, writers like John Shaw Nielson reminded me that wealth is not measured by the quality of possessions, but the quality of experience. I found this especially comforting as a member of a consumerist society.
Australian literature has simultaneously captured and shaped the history of this country, and continued to do so; its influence on me is proof of this. It has allowed me to view this land through various lenses, ultimately expanding my capacity for understanding it and experiencing it.
Write a letter to Patrick White telling him what you think of any one of the texts you have read this week.
Dear Mister White,
To put it plainly: I am a huge fan of your work. In my Australian drama studies I analysed your play The Season at Sarsaparilla and it was by far the most influential play I have ever read; it’s been over a week since I read it, and I am yet to view the middle-class society in which I live in with the sense of normalcy and passiveness which I did prior to reading Sarsaparilla… Or perhaps, it is better that I continue to view it with an engaged criticism?
Whilst the play was perception-changing for me, it was your prose which really hit home.
From today’s massive, subversive and powerfully creative world of the Beats and beyond which artist and/or writer inspired you most? Which unresolved question did they bring to stir your imagination? Which innovation in language, in image most struck your sense of what was powerful and new?
|St Basil Liturgy of the Coptic Orthodox Church||
Footnote to Howl, Allen Ginsberg
The Cherubim worship you,
And the Seraphim glorify you,
Proclaiming and saying,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your holy glory.
Agios, Agios, Agios.
Holy, Holy, Holy, truly O Lord, our God,
who formed us, created us
and placed us in the Paradise of Joy.
|Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy !
Holy ! Holy ! Holy ! Holy !The world is holy ! The soul is holy ! The skin is holy ! The nose is holy !
The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy !Everything is holy ! everybody’s holy ! everywhere is holy ! everyday is in
eternity ! Everyman’s an angel !
When I attended mass this Sunday, like any other Sunday, I couldn’t help but pause in thought, stop concentrating for a short while after this passage was sung. Holy. A word I had always associated with religion, faith, God. The word is said 142 times throughout the liturgy, not including in the Eucharistic hymns. And here it was, on Friday afternoon, being played to my ears in a most… different context. On Friday afternoon I was forced to rethink a word which had become almost irrelevant, meaningless, powerless to me. A word as common and unnoticeable as cracks in an old footpath. To hear that the cock was holy, the asshole was holy, when I had been brought up with the idea that nothing and no one but God is Holy… But now, with these two passages side by side, I am realising that – unintentionally, and to a certain extent – they complement each other, as opposed to contradict each other. My thought process:
God is Holy
Heaven and Earth are full of God’s Holy glory
God created humans
The tongue and cock and hand and asshole belong to humans
Humans were created by God
Therefore, humans are a product of holiness
I still find it hard to blatantly agree with Ginsberg. Footnote has hardly left my mind since Friday, and whilst I find a certain beauty in in Ginsberg’s deep, deep awe and appreciation for the most common and mundane objects in his world, try as I might, I still can’t make myself comfortably agree with saying that these objects are Holy. Perhaps it is because they can be used in a way which is not holy. But Ginsberg clearly begs to differ… I suppose our differences lay in our individual interpretations and definitions of what Holy is.
This. Blog post. Is. The. Bomb. I was externally smiling, inwardly giggling like a kid at your description of this pair: “the aunts nobody really talks to but enjoy the company of, and give you obscure but loving gifts at birthdays (If one of those gifts happens to be a piece about the destruction of national landmarks, so be it)”. It made me develop an instant fondness for these women, perhaps even feelings of kinship – a sentiment I had not felt beforehand. I am now so inspired to get to know the authors of the texts I read and enjoy just as intimately as the texts themselves! Content aside, you write with eloquence and flair, making the role of the reader extremely enjoyable and effortless. So keen to read more of your work (-:
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