“Moments happen quickly, and changes come slowly.”

Summer school

The title of this post, and its contents are synthesis and reflection of my thoughts while reading James Nahachewsky and David Slomp’s book chapter “Sound and Fury: Studied Response(s) of Curriculum and Classroom in Digital Times,” originally published in Beyond ‘Presentism’: Re-Imagining the Historical, Personal, and Social Places of Curriculum (2009).

Similar to Borges‘ introduction, “like all men, he was given bad times in which to live,” we find ourselves in complex times that have yet undeniably coalesced into a present “moment” that might be described as a Digital Age. The arrival of these digital times has arrived with

“a shift in perspective that recently has thrown many modernist educational boundaries and underlying assumptions into doubt – including constructs of learner and teacher, and schooling itself (Gee, 2004; Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). This shift is due, in part to young people’s own fluid, de-territorialized meaning-making afforded by the consumption and, perhaps more importantly, the production of digital texts.”

Nahachewsky and Slomp present the problem of how confronting these new realities of the digital age reveals a contradiction in that “digital texts, as created by young people become sites of action and agency [while] Arguably, brick and mortar classrooms are not.” The language arts, the authors note, are uniquely situated to reveal the particular opportunities such times present the study of pedagogy, as new media arise, changing the relationships between students, teachers, and even broader educative communities beyond our institutions. Using the shift brought to text by the digital age as a corollary, the authors begin to outline a structural transformation that is beginning to be seen in literacy education.

“The spaces of classroom and educational digital texts create complex dialogic ‘contact zones’ (Bakhtin 1981), where we may witness the representation of learner, teacher, and curriculum in interesting, complex, and non-traditional ways.”

Highlighting the example of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education, Nahachewsky and Slomp note that democratic governments have engaged the collision of the 21st century and its burgeoning technological revolution to provoke discussion around the revolutionizing of curriculum itself, though the section of the paper begins with a quote from Jerome Bruner’s Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986):

“Language- can never be neutral, it imposes a point of view not only about the world to which it refers, but toward the use of mind in respect of this world.”

Because while the governments of the western provinces strive toward a collaboratively determined common curriculum that will best prepare young Canadians for the digital and globalized 21st century, “The primary issue the Ministers [of education from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the North West Territories] identified in the agreement was the need to optimize the limited resources of the provinces in improving education [emphasis from the original].” The point of view “imposed,” and which frames the narrative of educational reform contextualizes the task as one of necessity rather than aspiration.

One needn’t suggest that fiscal responsibility shouldn’t constitute an aspect of educational discourse; but by beginning from this foundation, the “authors” of our curricular narratives – granted such voice by the democratic processes guiding public policy in Canada – limit the possible iterations of curriculum that might better contribute to education’s guiding purpose(s) than those created solely out of financial necessity. With the broad focus of literacy, the authors summarize the purpose of language learning expressed in the WNCP, which presents literacy as a tool:

“To facilitate thinking, define culture, develop personal identity, build interpersonal relationships, extend experience, facilitate reflection, contribute to a democratic society, construct and convey meanings, and facilitate metacognitive awareness.”

But while even optimists among us might appreciate these strokes of application that these democratic processes have sketched out on our collective behalf, the authors emphasize what is not included in this discussion of education’s future, what is not part of the narrative authored on society’s behalf: “the question, To what end?”

“…to what end do we use language to facilitate thinking or to construct meaning?”

In other words, what is understanding? And what is it for?

The affordances of new media in these digital times has further contributed to the disruption of the narrative of the singular author, a process that has been at work throughout the modernist period and which dates back to the Enlightenment period. Such philosophical movements are congruent with Bruner’s suggestion “that our use of language has a constitutive role in creative social reality and concepts of our selves.” 

To paraphrase Michael Wesch, our digital times present us with the opportunity to witness Marshall McLuhan‘s edict that “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,” in real time, largely through the critical study and experimentation with different forms of texts encountered in the language arts classroom. Indeed, Nahachewsky and Slomp point out that “this has important implications for the culture of education and the concepts of self that teachers and students co-construct.”

As the revolution of text online has challenged the notion of a single authorial rendering (even of an original work or act), so too might the digital age present the opportunity to consider the direction and construction of meaning to be a collaborative act between students who are guided in this process by a teacher. However well intended, our present schools are places where

“students are seen as participants who are given a role as ‘performing spectators who play out their canonical roles according to rule when appropriate cues appear.”

Bruner notes further than “this role causes the child to only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it.” However much this framing might offer a shift in perspective to today’s educators, it has been more than one hundred years since Maria Montessori lamented that while “it is true that some pedagogues, led by Rousseau, have given voice to the impracticable principles and vague aspirations for the liberty of the child […], the true concept of liberty is practically unknown to educators.” (Montessori 1912)

More than one hundred years ago, Montessori wished

“to direct the teacher to awaken in him[self], in connection with his own particular field, the school, that scientific spirit which opens the door for him to broader and bigger possibilities. In other words, we wish to awaken in the mind and heart of the educator an interest in natural phenomena to such an extent that, loving nature, he shall understand the anxious and expectant attitude of one who has prepared an experiment and who awaits a revelation from it.”

However as we look to the educative narrative presented in Canada today, we might note the Federal Harper Government’s discussions of scientific discovery have similarly limited its scope to invest “scarce resources” in research that offers a practical return on investment, thus affirming the broader cultural narrative of perpetuating an infinite growth economy as our highest purpose.

As it is in education, the question To what end? is not included in the discussion of why we ought pursue scientific discovery (if not to achieve predicted economic outcomes), and the omission represents an abandoning of principles around which our cultural, social, artistic, political and moral traditions each originate and continue to revolve, those traditions which coalesced and were articulated during the dawn of the era of mass-printed texts.

Following the invention of the printing press, Europe witnessed the transformation of its public sphere(s) (Habermas 1991), with paradigmatic shifts visited upon religion, politics, science, philosophy and the arts. The ability of greater and greater numbers of people to encounter and freely share new ideas delivered a cataclysm upon the singular narratives of public affairs constructed with absolute power by monarchs and churches, and is the overarching arc of justice which guides foundational schools of western philosophical thought to this day. Broadening the base of authorship in the creation of a collective narrative led directly to the transformation of the existent structures of the preceding paradigm.

We might learn from these events, as the advent of our modern, digital technologies presents what may constitute an analogous ‘moment’ of cultural revolution where the discussion of what might be is at least as relevant for discussion as the prospects of what must be. In fact, we have learned much from those who sought to uphold the mantles of chalice and crown throughout the various Enlightenment revolutions employed various arguments to make their case, and should proceed skeptically with those who would tell us what “must be.” With the traditions of scholarship and tools we have acquired in the age of empiricism, the test to establish what “must”…

must be of the strictest rigor.

In the meantime, it is equally important that modern educationists explore and discover what can be, as it is central to the task of creating a fuller perception of nature and humankind which the traditions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political philosophy demand of us.

Summer Book Project: Narcissus & Goldmund

Image courtesy of Solomon Says

I first read Narcissus and Goldmund ten years ago this February – finishing it at 11:33pm on February 16th, 2004 (the inscription in the back cover tells me). It’s likely that I was at my house on Barbara Circle, in Little Rock, an idyllic three bedroom where I spent my senior year of college. It’s possible that I was traveling somewhere with our track team, laying in the back of a team bus taking us north to the indoor tracks of the midwest, or biding time in a hotel or at one of our early season meets.

The note in the back of the book only gives the date and time.

I’d already read some Hermann Hesse by then – Siddhartha and Steppenwolfto be sure, perhaps even Demien (which I purchased at Little Rock’s fabulous Lorenzen & Co Booksellers). But after ten years, Narcissus and Goldmund has stuck out, somehow: there was something about this parable that effected the twenty-three year old me greatly. Delving into the passion at the heart of artistic expression, I recall the book presenting some sacred devotion to life, love and connection that however subtly contributed to the momentum of my post-collegiate years.

This past July, as I began thinking about these youthful books and first (re)read On the RoadI coupled Narcissus and Goldmund into a short list that I thought might capture the transformation that Literature had wrought on my young mind and life. The list included (or has grown to include):

Through On the Road I was heartened to discover in the text that neither of us had aged so terribly that the experience made me cringe. True, there was sadness where before I may have seen lust or excitement, fear where before there had been confidence. But alongside what Kerouac had to say to me at thirty two rang loud and clear the message he had for the younger Bryan, and it was a lesson I’m still grateful to have been taught.

With Hesse I had a similarly passionate relationship as a younger man, reading nearly everything I could get my hands on between the ages of twenty and twenty-five: Steppenwolf, Demien, Rosshalde, Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund (The Glass Bead Game site on my shelf, a treat to myself for some future date when I can read a “new” book by a favourite long-deceased author). Each of them is dog-eared and wildly underlined; the’ve been lent to friends and frequently to students (especially a yellow and yellowing copy of Demien that is currently on a vacation with one of the TALONS alumni). Concerned as so many of his stories and characters are with discovering one’s passion, voice and place in the world, he is what I consider to be an essential voice for wandering youth.

But I’ve long held Narcissus and Goldmund somewhere above his other works – more profound, more lasting, or all encompassing. I’m not sure what, exactly, and so I sat down this February, somewhat coincidentally to see what all the fuss had been about all those years ago.

As in most of Hesse, there is the ring of a Jungian call to pursue one’s heroic calling in life that Narcissus presents his younger pupil Goldmund as he counsels him away from life at the seminary:

“Natures of your kind, with strong, delicate senses, the soul-oriented, the dreamers, poets, lovers are almost always superior to us creatures of the mind. You take your being from your mothers. You live fully; you were endowed with the strength of love, the ability to feel.”

Goldmund’s sensitivity is aesthetic, where Narcissus’ is logical, and the novel makes a case for the superiority of the former as we follow Goldmund away from school to bathe in the personal riddles of time and the nature of the self on a pilgrimage that may be characterized as spiritual without being religious.

There is an exaltation of mystery here that I no-doubt found inspiring as a fifth year senior looking ahead at graduation.

“Oh how incomprehensible everything was, and actually sad, although it was also beautiful. One knew nothing. One lived and ran about the earth and rode through forests, and certain things looked so challenging and promising and nostalgic: a star in the evening, a blue harebell, a reed-green pong, the eye of a person or of a cow. And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all; but then it passed, nothing happened, the riddle remained unsolved, the secret spell unbroken, and in the end one grew old and looked cunning like Father Anselm or wise like Abbot Daniel, and still one knew nothing perhaps, was still waiting and listening.”

In the spring of 2004, I was on the verge of graduating from university. I had lived in Arkansas for most of five years, beginning when I was scarcely 18, and the life I had established for myself in the south would soon be over and in many ways irretrievable. While this is true in some ways of all experience, leaving Little Rock brought with it the additional mourning that most of my friends from that time would be returning to their own home countries and cities across the States, and whether I was conscious of it at the time or not, I was comforted through Goldmund’s experience of death bringing his life into a crystalline focus:

“He thought that he, that all men, trickled away, changing constantly, until they finally dissolved, while their artist-created images remained unchangeably the same.

“He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do.”

Indeed, a journal entry from the afternoon of February 12th, 2004 – that was written on a charter bus taking our track and field team north to compete at an indoor meet the University of Iowa – is freckled with Hesse quotes, and captures a purely preserved expression of my mind at the time:

“We are in a western-looking saddle of the country, with sparse snow around the trees that flank farmers’ fields. It feels like Wyoming, the sun-bleached yellow terrain, mountainous as we run down the ancient Ozarks. Dirt roads and barns abound, as do the hawks riding updrafts against the dusty foothills, bullet holes against the blue sky.

“It is a place that lends itself to a trip through one’s mental landscape, and easy to become lost in your thoughts up here, and as we ascend a ridge-winding two-lane highway and climb above a soil-rich rolling valley – Marshall Welcomes You, the sign says – something says to me, Merritt, BC, and in a flash I see British Columbia. It is fleeting though and only a moment before the small-town churches and Missouri mom-and-pops begin to dominate the scenery, and Canada is an infinite ride away into the North.

“Home is both a million miles away and yet somehow coming closer than I care to have it. Anyone who cares to read these words will traipse through these last few dozen pages and tire of the time I have devoted to the loss and remorse the idea of leaving Arkansas has brought me. But it is something which weighs mightily upon me.”

As with Kerouac earlier this year, I am happy to find in the rereading of Narcissus and Goldmund that my younger self was fortunate to encounter an author and a companion such as Hesse. Goldmund confronts his own existential nausea with a devotion to applying his aesthetic sensitivities – as both the cause of Goldmund’s inspiration as much as it is his torment – to art that was able to capture “the solemn feeling of a rare and great experience which he might perhaps know one more time in the course of his life or which might remain unique.”

With so many of my own life experiences nearing an end, my anxiety was given solace in attempting to live with what Hesse called:

“A deep reverence, a great earnestness, and at the time a secret fear of the moment when this high, unique experience would be over, classified, swallowed by the routine of days.”

Reverence alone, Goldmund realizes, is not enough, however.

“In order to create a work like this, one had not only to carry images in one’s soul; one also had to have inexpressibly trained, practiced hands. Perhaps it was after all worthwhile to place one’s entire life at the service of art, at the expense of freedom and broad experience, if only in order to be able once to make something this beautiful, something that had not only been experienced and envisioned and received in love, but also executed to the last detail with absolute mastery. It was an important question.”

It is, and it’s one of many pieces of the book that struck me in 2014 as much as in 2004. Almost thirty three, I’m no longer looking out on adulthood as the Void Beyond University so much as I am poised between the path I’ve created of it thus far, and the possibilities it holds into the future. Ten years on from both Hesse and graduation, I have accumulated a good many of the life moments and experiences that will have cumulatively determined who I was in this life. And while my interpretation of the wrestling with that question may have shifted, it feels central to feelings about my self and life today as much as ever.

Like Goldmund, I have remained “in his dreams or his thought-filled moments of rest, overlooking a flowering or wilting valley, […] all eyes an artist.” With him I have “longed desperately to halt the gracefully drifting nonsense of life with [my] mind and transform it into sense,” though of late this has taken on a more intellectual aim than artistic.

Toward the end of the book, Narcissus directs me to consider the merits of complementing this pursuit with more art, and heart:

“Our thinking is a constant process of converting things to abstractions, a looking away from the sensory, an attempt to construct a purely spiritual world. Whereas you take the least constant, the most mortal things to your heart, and in their very mortality show the meaning of the world. You don’t look away from the world; you give yourself to it, and by your sacrifice to it raise it to the highest, a parable of eternity. We thinkers try to come closer to God by pulling the mask away from His face. You come closer to Him by loving His creation and re-creating it. Both are human endeavors, and necessarily imperfect, but art is more innocent.”

Because just as the more academic or reflective posts on this site are records of ideas and expressions of an evolving self, there are emotions and realizations captured in these aged books of both Hermann Hesse and my own ink that light the way to an understanding that yet eludes meaning, an exaltation of

“How mysterious this life [is,] how deep and muddy its waters [run], yet how clear and noble what emerge[s] from them.”

On Jack’s 92nd Birthday

Jack Kerouac would be ninety-two today (March 12th), a birthday the New Republic has celebrated with a Reconsideration originally published in December of 1972. Noting a recent change in fashion that “left Kerouac’s work inert and his legend inactive,” William Crawford Woods set out to devour the scope of the author’s “one vast book” of a life in literature, discovering (in Dharma Bums)

Kerouac’s special grace—which is, at his best, to shower mindful tenderness on the crummy specifics of the day-to-day. It’s a grace given no- where more freely than in this book, where the writer’s later bleaker vision (“Why else should we live but to dis- cuss . . . the horror and terror of all this life . . .”) is crowded off the page by animal enjoyment. The uniform celebration of food, sex, art and exercise that is the core of the book suggests the intellectual sensuality that was the core of the Beat esthetic: poems and women, both to be made.

This past summer I made a point of rereading On the Road more than ten years since I discovered it as an undergraduate, and was struck with the same sense of energy:

Like Wordsworth, Kerouac’s work is not so much craft as it is a beatific exaltation of This Moment in Life, spoken plainly in the language of the people. Not to say this wasn’t also Hemingway’s concern; but one gets the sense that for him or Fitzgerald, there is an intellectual factor at work. In Kerouac, the mind is an obstacle to be overcome in deference to the Now, and the image Kerouac creates of Dean and their mutual quest is a story of saints engaging in communion with the people and the land  West, where the Beats introduce the transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson to the American Night.

Woods points out that Jack’s legacy is rightly obscured by rising tide that drowned modernity’s brief infatuation with “spontaneous prose,” noting that:

Kerouac, by subscribing to so strict a program, had made himself into the one thing he professed himself to be at war with: an academic from the start. Another novelist might discover his materials and methods painfully from book to book, but Kerouac came with a design that only genius could save from formula, and I think we will see that that salvation was not forthcoming. For what the author did was write the same book eight, 10, a dozen times, and in the end his “spontaneous prose” was shuffled from volume to volume in an unspontaneous manner.

But as I discovered this summer, “I could have had worse idols than Jack Kerouac, who told me all about the pitfalls of the wandering life all the while extolling the virtues of the truly beatific moments their could be exchanged for.” He is, Woods reminds us today on what would be Jack’s 92nd birthday, “the kind of unanonymous writer to whom some of us have a specific special debt.”

On dipping a toe…

Reading...

Part of my summer plans to reread a few formative books of my university years. 

It’s been ten years almost since I consciously “outgrew” Jack Kerouac’s singular influence on my young mind. Having long exhausted myself of his optimistic early work, I petered out through Desolation Angels and Big Sur as Jack faded into alcoholism and a sense that, in repetition, the bliss of beat lost its lustre. I grew to think that perhaps this lack of depth was the cautionary tale of the Beats: that a slavish devotion to the sanctity of the Moment can blind us to exploring our future potential.

By the end of university (and since), I was looking for more in my life that Kerouac seemed to hold the blueprints to, and I haven’t looked back on him or the Beats (with the exception of Alan Ginsberg who, by living, has aged along with his work, a lot better) since.

So I might have approached On the Road with some skepticism that what had enraptured my twenty year old mind would convince my accumulated years (rest assured, I hear more judgement of myself here than of Kerouac). But I was immediately swept up in the warm weather freewheeling of the writing, and the fluidity of the early scenes.

Kerouac meets Neal Cassidy, and steels himself for the earliest of his ventures west with $100 in his pocket. From there we are in transport trucks’ cabs, the beds of pickups with nomadic labourers, and sleeping out in the open air on the high plains. It is 1947 and Kerouac and the characters populating these pages are huddled at the hearth of an energy that will come to set America aflame.

Mad Ones

Because even if it will prove eventually fatal, the romanticism, the reverance and revolutionary energy dripping from Kerouac’s descriptions in the early passages has taken me in a way I’m not even sure it did in my early twenties. To reread On the Road all these years later brings with it the expanded awareness of what the book’s ideas wrought in the larger culture, but also a more intimate sense of what notions and self I took from it, and having been running with ever since.

 

One of the things I remember being enamoured with as a young writer – to my benefit and detriment in equal measure, I think –  was Kerouac’s fervent devotion to the creation of a beautiful spontaneous phrase.

 

Kerouac's Rules for Spontaneous Prose

Following America’s Lost Generation authors, Kerouac and the Beats are actors in the literary folk tradition of Walt Whitman and Woody Guthrie – little wonder On the Road had such a profound effect on Bob Dylan. Like Wordsworth, Kerouac’s work is not so much craft as it is a beatific exaltation of This Moment in Life, spoken plainly in the language of the people. Not to say this wasn’t also Hemingway’s concern; but one gets the sense that for him or Fitzgerald, there is an intellectual factor at work. In Kerouac, the mind is an obstacle to be overcome in deference to the Now, and the image Kerouac creates of Dean and their mutual quest is a story of saints engaging in communion with the people and the land  West, where the Beats introduce the transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson to the American Night.

Prophet

And while it might be easy to write off such sentiments as the definition of youthful idealistic hyperbole, I am still struck with how intoxicating it all is. That I remember reading good chunks of On the Road in the back of a charter bus taking my track team to Iowa lays my own experience on top of Kerouac’s descriptions:

As in a Dream

I forget sometimes that for five years of my life, I existed in a pretty solitary world. True, I was often surrounded by people; but in flying back and forth, bussing across the south and prairie states, running races and finding my way in school an life so far from home, my experience was mine alone and I was writing it in my own mind. With all that such an opportunity afforded me, I could have had wore idols than Jack Kerouac, who told me all about the pitfalls of the wandering life, all the while extolling the virtues of the truly beatific moments their could be exchanged for.

How many times in those years would Kerouac, if not able to offer advice, be able to say he’d been there?

 

I suddenly found myself in the street with no money. My last dollar war gone.” 

“It was sad to see them go, and I realized that I would never see any of them again, but that’s the way it was.” 

And yet how many times would I learn to know what he had been chasing: “The great blazing stars came out, the far-receding sand hills got dim. I felt like an arrow that could shoot out all the way”

Having met him again after so many years during these last few days in the first week of summer, it’s a joyful reunion.

Nowhere Everywhere

Talons debate the "Good" Books

My Favorite Book Shop .........As the TALONS Novel Study has progressed, I have waited for the discussion of six diverse novels – listed here – to begin to overlap into a meaningful discourse of the nature and the value of literature. Yesterday in class I asked a question posed by Clare and, to some extent, Kiko, on their blogs recently, hoping that across generations of literature there might be a common thread or reasoning behind our study of the Great Books. Clare asks:

So if Catcher in the Rye is no longer making us re-think society as it did in the 1950s, does that make it less important?

Similarly, Kiko wonders about the nature of treading the trampled ground of books like Catcher or Lord of the Flies:

How many people had done that before me? Is the size of that number a good thing, or a bad thing? Why does this matter to me at all? I have a slightly different perspective on everything than everyone else in the world.

Being that each of these questions meets an answer in a subjective truth (excellently supported and given context in a comment by Michael Kaisaris), I reposed them to the entire class the following afternoon, creating a stir that boiled over into a debate that not only continued in the classroom long after the 3 o’clock bell, but in a Facebook thread that appears to have consumed many members of the class throughout the evening.

Here are the highlights of what was discussed: Book Worm

The question I want to put out there is “What makes art great?” Great art is something that makes a person feel. If a person is making connections, predictions, having intuitions, thinking, or especially feeling emotion, the art is important. If a reader feels stronger about Twilight than Romeo & Juliet, I think that may also be the greater art. At least, to that select individual.

Katie

I agree that fan fiction has significant relevance to our society and that, in a hundred years, it could be very useful to understand the values and what not of society today. However, I do not offer it the same “importance” (although maybe we should find a less subjective word) than, say, a Douglas Coupland book. While I suppose one could argue that each would provide an equal understanding of today’s culture to future generations, one can’t argue that they would be of equal value to a person’s philosophical concept of the world and their position within it. By reading fan fiction, I doubt anyone would learn more (that isn’t to say that there is nothing one would learn) about themselves or gain much insight into our fundamental raison d’être than by reading a Douglas Coupland book or other piece of “good literature.” There is a reason it is called that and fan fiction is not. “Good literature” challenges our ideas and society’s rules more so than fan fiction ever could. It is because of this that it is more important.

Saskia

Were both forms of writing made equal though? Both were created by a person who wanted to express themselves and they way they saw something. Shallow or not, both fan fiction and literature were written by a person who was passionate enough about something to write it down and take the risk or putting it out where the world can access it.

Katie

Importance, in my opinion, is related to how much a work influences society, not how much it reflects the society of the moment. Take Catcher in the Rye, for example. It was revolutionary at the time it was written and changed the way people thought about teenagers. Even today teenagers who read the book can identify with Holden Caulfield. He certainly influenced my perspective on my own teenage angst. Has Twilight influenced society other than to increase the sale of vampire t-shirts and create great fodder for jokes? I don’t think so. Katie brings up the point about people who love Twilight getting more out of it than literature. Maybe they get more enjoyment out of reading Stephanie Meyer, but they aren’t getting more understanding of the world or getting any new opinions to consider.

Ariana

I think almost all literature is about their philosophical concept of the world and their position within it. When people write, their morals, beliefs, ideals, ideas, opinions, personality and themselves are written in. You can’t write anything without that, whether it is shallow or not. Even jobro fanfic represents that. What the writer thinks about the world and their place in it as a jobro fan.

Louise

There are certain ways you can look at things like fan fiction and see what it says about society, but on the other hand, there are works of art that I believe are more important to society and literature as a whole, things that will ‘stand the test of time’. I think it all boils down to one thing: If we were to keep, say, ten pieces of art, from any time period, which would they be?My Favorite Book Shop ......... The ones that changed society the most, the ones that made people stop and think and realize what is really happening, either in their time, or in the past. I think what really makes art great is that it can say something that people will look at and feel something about, whether it’s a personal connection or a greater understanding of people and/or society.

Kiko

It would all come down to who was picking. Everyone would chose 10 different pieces and then this argument would go world wide. We would no longer be the only ones debating over “fluff” versus “literature.” Yes, you would pick the ones that have contributed to society the most but even if you instantly ruled out fan fiction, Twilight, etc. How would you finalize your top ten picks of art? Why is one classic book more important than another? “…we can rate it’s importance in terms of the impact on society. ” Won’t each individual have their own thoughts and feelings on how each piece of art has impacted society? It still boils down to perspective. You could argue this until the end of time. Everyone sees things differently gets something different out of everything they read.

Katie

In the end, it is the affect a book has on all of society or the majority of society that determines where it stands and whether it will be remembered as a book of great importance. Reiterating some of what Kiko wrote, it the ones that made society as a whole stop and think, the ones that changed society’s perspectives (in the present or the past) that will last. Fan fiction or other fluff, though it may somehow be very important to an individual, does not make the cut.

Saskia

I don’t think anyone writes a book thinking that it’s going to change society. I agree with Louise that they write it to say something for themselves and if it ends up being important enough to change a reader, then that’s great. And if it resonates with a lot of people, then I guess it might change society a little, but I don’t think many books have changed society; people don’t read books and instantaneously change.

Clare

Reading Is Fundamental “There are two books that I’ve read in my life that disturbed me in such a way that I felt they literally shook my faith in humanity. ‘Blindness’ was the first and ‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood was the second.” Dave Truss left this comment on my blog post about Blindness, and I definitely agree with him. Books do change people. They change how one views society, how one perceives life, how people think… the list goes on. Maybe all books don’t, maybe no book you’ve ever read has changed you, but some people are heavily influences by books.

Kiko

These books didn’t change society by themselves. However, they definately contributed to that change in a big way. Look at Kiko’s post above. Let’s take banned books for example. Why have books been banned throughout history? Because they deal with issues that governments or schools don’t want people to consider. If books had no profound impact on the opinions of the nation, there would be no point in outlawing them. I don’t think anybody would ever consider banning Twilight because it doesn’t challenge anybody’s faith or bring up any revolutionary ideas (not to say that all books need to be banned to be considered “great”).

Ariana

As for Twilight…
  • putting others before ourselves
  • love is unconditional (however cheesy it might be)
  • being perfect isn’t as great as it might sound
  • people are not always what they seem
  • perfection on the outside does not always mean perfection on the inside
  • with great power comes great responsibility
  • It’s okay to lean on people for support
  • stereotypes/ don’t believe everything you read (about vampires for instance)
How this would fundamentally change someone…
  • changed way some people saw themselves. Before, they might have considered themselves “average” but now they are more confident in their right to talk to someone they’ve previously admired or even been intimidated by.
  • effected how people viewed their problems (angst), ability to speak to others about them
  • made people realize they could be accepted even if they deviate from the norm.

Katie

If you look deep enough you can find themes, even meaningful themes, in any novel from fan fiction to Twilight. And maybe these themes have an affect on people. However, I disagree with the word fundamental. While the great works (such as those mentioned earlier) take on new ideas or new perspectives that shifted the way people saw things, the themes you listed in Twilight are not new. They appear over and over in almost every novel you read. There is no fundamentally different or thought-altering idea in Twilight and that is one of the many things that separates it from other literature.

Saskia

But ideas are used over and over again and maybe the 500th time it is used it makes a difference. Yes the ideas in Twilight aren’t new but they were also read by many many people who have in some way been affected by those ideas.

Andrea

A classic work should say something of value and draw attention to fundamental human problems. It should support or condemn a point of view. That means saying something more significant than: “Vanilla ice cream is indescribably amazing,” even if that statement is true and will maybe cause ten people who have never tried vanilla ice cream to visit the grocery store. The message doesn’t have to be new, but it should at least take a new angle or provide new evidence.

Ariana

It’s about whether some books are greater, or more important to society, than others. Also, I think we need to get away from some random person in some obscure place. For a book to be considered “great,” it needs to effect a substantial portion of the population. One person doesn’t make it or break it.

Ariana

It’s not about a book being great? Then what is great literature? I don’t think that anything has to impact society. It’s the importance we’re talking about, not the impact. We’re all random people in random obscure places.

Louise

Louise, that blew my mind. I am sitting here at my computer, feeling like such a random person in a random obscure place.

Katie

For many people Twilight was one of the first books that they actually enjoyed reading; that was the case with many people I knew in middle school and for them Twilight was a good book because they hated reading as then they found a book they could actually enjoy so they probably got a lot more out of the book than you or I did.

Andrea

As Andrea mentioned with Twilight and I can say with Harry Potter, those books are the reason that a lot of people came to enjoy reading – I would consider that a huge impact and thus, “important.”

Clare

Stalin once said that “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic.” Well, I say “If a book is bought and read by a million people, it’s a best seller, whoop-dee-do. If I read a book and enjoy it, it’s a divine miracle.” The ability of a book to affect many people (society) doesn’t make it a good book in an individual’s opinion. Millions of people bought The Da Vinci Code but I recommend reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Why? Because my in MY opinion it’s better. This may be different for different people, and they may say my book which ain’t a best seller sucks because it wasn’t economically successful. This brings me back to the fan fiction/fluff vs. classics/non-fluff. If people can connect with the writing, then the literature has done it’s job. If teenage girls can connect with Jonas bros, then that’s them, and the fan fiction didn’t fail in communicating a message and representing that segment of society. It seems to me that these days (modern times) with the internet, TV, face book, and all that what could have been great pieces of art are melted and conformed to something that would sell well, and thus receive marketing and cast a wide net for audience. Small things and exquisite literature that probably won’t sell well are discarded for conformists. This is quite disturbing in that the conformist stuff are what our era will be remembered for.

Steven

Depending on who you are you will get different things out of different literature. Overall, society might deem some books as having more to offer, but it is still up to the individual to decide and/or discover what they value the most. In school, it is beneficial to study some of the same novels that humans have labeled as ‘important.’ However, every person is unique therefore no one has the right to judge what importance they find in the art they see.

Katie

Novel Study Blog Post Topics

Prayers for the Dead - Dennis VannattaAs the TALONS class sets out on a novel study that will see them reading a range of five different novels in small groups, much of their “work” in flushing out the themes, symbols and technical aspects of the stories will be happening on their blogs, a process I am not alone in harbouring excitement to begin. In a class of voracious readers, with several leaders in not only the study and criticism of literature, but also the appreciation, and honouring of it, I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that I felt a little like Santa Clause yesterday handing out copies of the novels the class had chosen from the predetermined short list. And today, on a sunny afternoon, late into the first week of local Olympic hysteria, as we sat down to begin an hour of Sustained Silent Reading – or Writing, but more on that in a minute – the group quickly fell into rapt meditation over their selected books; a few put finishing touches on blog posts introducing their stories, but for the most part, all was quiet, as the enjoyment of literature is meant to be.

To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by. Yann Martel What is Stephen Harper Reading?

stillnessDuring class for the next few weeks, we will be using our study of literature in the form of novels to cultivate this stillness so difficult to attain in our modern surroundings. As someone who spent my most illuminating college years locked in dorm, apartment or rented rooms with books, blank pages and music, but who has since succumbed to becoming the doting father of both a laptop and iPhone which are all but constant appendages in my working life, I know that at least some of my job as an instructor and mentor of English literature and writing – indeed, the reflection upon the very aspects of life which demand stillness to be appreciated – depends on creating opportunities for my modern students to enjoy silence, stillness, and the sounds and creations of their imaginations.

To this end, the class will set aside ample time – an hour and ten minutes this afternoon – wherein the class will be silent, still. As a means of progressing in their novel studies, students are asked to work quietly, and individually, toward a better understanding of their selected novel, whether in silent reading or writing as reflection or creative product. A novel is a personal experience, and with the following reflective writing prompts, I hope to share in my students’ struggle and enjoyment of reading over the next few weeks.The home office

I am asking that students blog regularly, trying to bear in mind Wesley Fryer’s recent advice (as well as this superb resource composed of Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Become a Better Blogger posts), and help to foster depth and discussion of their peers’ novels through avid commenting and discussion online, and during classes set aside for oral dissections and Book Talks with their peers (though stillness is one of my aims, I hope to not sacrifice the fervor and glee that accompanies the traditional TALONS literary arguments and informal debates). To this end I have proposed the following possible prompts for blog posts:

  • My Choice is… – Which novel have you chosen? Why? How do you hope for its reading to affect your study of English? See Andrea, Katie, Julie, or Donya’s examples.  
  • Passage Reflection – Take a passage from the text and supply as block quotation at the top of a post. Outline and explain the significance of the quote in terms of its relation to elements of the novel’s character, plot or theme development, as well as your personal connection to the piece. Clare asks a great question in hers (and shares a wonderful passage from another book here), and I particularly appreciate this lengthy passage very clearly articulated by Andrew.
  • Theme Synopsis – In developing your personal response to the novel’s theme, formulating ‘guesses’ at the author’s intended themes, symbols and underlying messages is an effective way to construct your own interpretation. Beginning this process early in your reading can be an effective means of noticing, and interpreting subtle details throughout the novel. Outline and support one (or many) theme statement(s) with your own personal reasoning supported by details and contextual evidence from the story. Nick, Andrew, and Katie have great theme posts already.
  • Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict or Point of View Analysis – Reflect upon one (or more) of these technical aspects of the author’s craft by utilizing the terminology applied to each of these major elements to summarize the unique choices and presentation used by the author. Check out Justin’s look at Atticus Finch, Louise’s description of Ishmael, or Jenna’s description of Little Brother’s Marcus.
  • Reflection on the Author’s Style Prose Language – There are as many ways to write as there are people using a given language, and as we delve into the works of traditional and contemporary masters of the written voice, I will be curious to hear your reactions and responses to the use and manipulation of language employed by your author. Veronica starts things off with a look at some of the NewSpeak in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.
  • Connection to Other Readers, Bloggers – Within and beyond our class are many various opinions, reviews and interpretations of the books we are reading, reading in general, or the craft of the novel and technical aspects of each story’s composition. Use this post as an opportunity to write a response, critique, or continuation of someone else’s thinking, and be sure to link back to their work!

Vancouver Loses its Last Duthie Books

bookstore in redThe advent of “the book itself [being] in the throes of a technological transformation, and book readers undergoing a major demographic shift” is often exalted as a revolution leaving no nostalgia for the dying bastions of literature and print that our local newspaper and independent booksellers represent. And while I most often share this excitement for the future, I cannot help but mourn for the loss of such local landmarks.

DUTHIE PRESS RELEASE

January 19, 2010 We are sad to tell you that Duthie Books 4th ave is closing. After 53 years, the last Duthies bookstore is closing. Goodbye to all that! The Duthie family: Cathy Legate, Celia Duthie and David Duthie, wish to thank all the customers, readers, staff, authors, and publishers who have been part of Duthie Books over the years, particularly our customers who have remained steadfast over these past 10 years at 4th Ave.

We have had 53 (mostly) happy years of bookselling in Vancouver. We have offered friendly recommendations, and stocked good books. For 53 years Duthies has provided a good book service to the city, championed BC and Canadian books, encouraged the public to read local writers, and helped to create a knowledgeable reading public. The book culture of Vancouver and BC has grown up and flourished around Duthies from publisher’s reps to publishing houses , authors, illustrators, designers, printers, literary festivals, and university writing and publishing programs have emerged in the Duthies milieu and many Duthies alumni work in all parts of the book trade.

Thank you and Good bye

Everybody knows that Independent bookstores have been under pressure from the ‘big box’ operations for many years now and it is clear that it is not going to get any better; the likes of Chapters, and Amazon are ruthless in their drive for market share and we cannot compete on price anymore. The book itself is in the throes of a technological transformation and book readers undergoing a major demographic shift.

It isn’t that I fear our burgeoning online networks won’t foster the same meccas of culture that the bound book’s trade and sale has meant to civilization, but while we straddle the boundary between old and new, I can’t help but think of what so many independent bookstores – in Little Rock, and across the American South, as well as in Vancouver and all points in between – have meant to my education, and done to help me quench my thirst for good books.

As part of our annual Eminent Person Study, our class takes a field trip into Vancouver to visit its local independent booksellers to absorb and celebrate the hubs of knowledge these places represent where they remain in our city. And I hope that we can continue in this tradition, as the power latent in walls piled floor-to-ceiling (and basement) in volumes which are each the result of the prolonged outpouring of an author’s passion are sacred places in the study of English. Like Ariana’s bookcases, they are monuments to literary souls.

Here is tonight’s CBC News piece on the closing of Duthie Books.