With Hemingway

Ambos Mundos

Italy, Spain, Cuba – half the world is filled with the places that he appropriated simply by mentioning them. In Cojimar, a little village near Havana where the solitary fisherman of ”The Old Man and the Sea” lived, there is a plaque commemorating his heroic exploits, with a gilded bust of Hemingway. In Finca de la Vigia, his Cuban refuge, where he lived until shortly before his death, the house remains intact amid the shady trees, with his diverse collection of books, his hunting trophies, his writing lectern, his enormous dead man’s shoes, the countless trinkets of life from all over the world that were his until his death, and that go on living without him, with the soul he gave them by the mere magic of his owning them.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway

Last week I was fortunate once again to travel to the island of Cuba and visit the Ambos Mundos hotel and bar that once housed Ernest Hemingway before he purchased and moved to his estate Finca de la Vigia. His first Cuban home, Hemingway began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls in room 511 at the hotel in the heart of Old Havana.

Havana Daytrip

When I graduated from university, my sister and I spent the following summer working at a Boy Scout camp in the Ozark foothills, and made a pact to read nothing but Hemingway for the balance of our time at the camp and en route back to Vancouver. He and I shared a birthday (July 21), and as a creative writing student I had learned from professors with deep affections for authors I hadn’t yet digested: among them Hemingway, William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. At the outset of my life beyond school and what promised to be an adventurous summer – my sister and I would leave the summer camp after six weeks in the woods to fly north and road trip across Canada – we seemed to have been presented a fitting venue to finally set teeth to Papa’s ouvre.

I had started For Whom the Bell Tolls before M. got off the plane with her copy to To Have and to Have Notand we marched forward from there:

I finished For Whom in a tent in Molena, Georgia, at a National Certification School for the Boy Scouts.

A Farewell to Arms, and Green Hills of Africa were read mostly near the scout camp pool in Damascus, Arkansas.

I read To Have and to Have Not in the tent that was my home that summer.

Islands in the Stream went down riding the train from Montreal to Toronto.

There were others, of course: The Sun Also Rises, Old Man and the SeaA handful of short stories: “The Killers,” “Hills like White Elephants,” “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and others. And by the time we crossed the continental divide, Hemingway’s protagonists and prose had enveloped the colour and tenor of our adventure.

View from Ambos Mundos

At twenty two years old, and newly graduated with a degree in creative writing, our summer in the woods and the ensuing journey home represented the discovery of an all-too-enourmous canvas upon which to paint my sister’s and my lives. Saying goodbye to intense and short-lived friendships, taking on the struggles of life outdoors, travel, not to mention fears about what lie ahead in terms of what I would do with my college education, Hemingway’s plots and conflicts provided a matter-of-fact commitment to the rough, sad, beauty of life.

In Niagra Falls, on the first afternoon of our trip, we found just more than $117 in our shared savings account, and more than 3000 kilometers between us and home.

Outside of Thunder Bay we drove into the darkening night and creepy dirt-road northern towns looking for a place to pitch our tent.

And upon arriving home, we learned that our mother had been diagnosed with cancer (which she would eventually beat).

Each of these difficulties was embraced with Hemingway’s words ringing in our ears: “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.” And as we crested the rocky mountains and entered again the lush and coastal climes of British Columbia, we had come to see ourselves as characters as large in life as the continent we had just crossed. There was little need to express this grandeur in hyperbole or poetry, however; the stark terms of Hemingway’s words created a notion of quiet heorism that was somehow the least any of us could do with our minute lives.

Papa's CornerYears before I would begin teaching a high school course in philosophy, Ernest offered a view on the good life I could embrace: “So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

In the years since I’ve been guided by other artists, and other authors: Bob Dylan, Garcia Marquez. Springsteen. But in the spirit of Dylan, “I remember every face, of every man that’s brought me here,” and to stand in Hemingway’s lobby, and turn the knob on the door that he slept behind, is to touch something intangible that has profoundly shaped my life as an adult.

Last fall, I read The Dangerous Summera disappointing visit with an aging author in which his lesser qualities run too close to the surface: his infatuation with the brutal “beauty” of bullfighting, chief among them, perfectly representative of the shortcomings in his work around his own image, as well as masculinity and misogyny. But even while acknowledging these shortcomings, the ripples that he made with his mind in the world demand to be reckoned with, if only for me personally as someone who his work  has profoundly touched and influenced.

Sipping an icy lemonade in the lobby bar surrounded by pictures of a formal idol, a depressed man (along with fellow 21st’er Robin Williams) with whom I share a birthday, what he had created in his mind’s eye and invoked in my own imagination became real once more.

I was able to breathe its air, and touch its humid surfaces. To know that it and the life I had conceived in my mind as a young man are in fact still real.

Learning on (and of) the Web

Slide05

“…ds106 is not just ‘on’ the web—it is ‘of’ the web.”

Alan Levine

The advent of the web enables a type of individual inquiry and collective synthesis that makes new experiments in constructivism possible. But creating the conditions for such epistemological emergence can be a challenging possibility to consider.

As Osberg and Biesta note,

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Such a conception of knowledge-creation presents a problem for educators in imagining a means of assessing the type of collaborative inquiry necessary to bring about this type of learning. However, Gardner Campbell has created a daily pop quiz that may provide a template for a daily barometer of individual engagement:

Slide18

The pic of Gardner Campbell included here was taken by Michelle Lamberson

To achieve top marks on this type of quiz, learners must be engaged in generating personal courses of study around shared themes, the fruits of which can then be woven together in expressions of individual and collective synthesis that become the processes of learning in the classroom.

Osberg and Biesta describe a similar process of emergence based in “the idea that knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next.”

“Knowledge is understood, rather, to ‘emerge’ as we, as human beings, participate in the world. Knowledge, in other words, does not exist except in our participatory actions.”

Bonnie Stewart characterized the shift in thinking surrounding open learning environments such as MOOCs as indicative of a cultural transition driven by digital technologies:

When communications are seen as key to learning, the numeric focus of the information-centered paradigm cannot be reconciled with the significant and varied body of educational research which foregrounds the importance of interactive (Dewey, 1938), situational (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and critical (Freire, 1970) perspectives on learning. The communications approach focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement. “The Internet encourages discussion, dialogue and community that is not limited by time or place. The role of educators in this world is to facilitate dialogue and support students in their understanding of resources” (Weller, 2007, p. 6).

This facilitation involves the planning and design of learning environments and activities, to be sure; but these preparations are best informed by educators’ own experience and learning in these environments, and in the same spirit of inquiry that is being asked of the students. As one of the TALONS articulated a few years ago now, to exist in the Age of Information is to participate in it.

In a rash of social studies blog posts that were published in late January of 2011, as the class was studying Louis Riel and the Northwest Rebellion and the Egyptian people were staging a revolution in Tahrir Square, TALONS now-alumni Megan comes to a realization at the heart of literacy in the digital age:

And then you come back to me. Still sitting in front of her computer, and still on the opposite side of the world. I am a child, in this age of information. But I am also part of the age of information. I have just as much say in what occurs as everyone.

If what happened in Egypt is any indicator as to what can be accomplished through communication, I think that maybe, I need to realize, or maybe we (and I’m talking to all my fellow youth out there) need to realize that if we organize we can accomplish something big. People may say that children and youth are better seen, and not heard. But you know what? We are the new generation, and we should have a say about what sort of world we are growing up into.

So hey, there’s my two cents. Just tossing it out in the world of the internet.

But I guess you might say this:

I know that it actually matters now.

I am a participant in this age of information.

An important aspect of participating in the age of information is developing a personalized means of accessing, filtering, saving, sharing and synthesizing the cultural voice of the zeitgeist being expressed across the culture. To provide meaningful experiences in this emergent environment, educators are challenged to engage with information in new ways made possible by the read-write web, and social media.

bell hooks describes such a process of “engaged pedagogy” as “more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy.”

“For, unlike these two teaching practices, it emphasizes well-being. That means that teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.”

The question of well-being brings into focus many educators’ difficulty in embracing the Digital Age and its myriad publishing tools, social media, and unending streams of information.

How do I read it all? 

Where do you find the time? 

Etc, etc… 

In the five or so years I have been teaching and learning in blended learning environments that attempt to seed the type of culture implied by the advent of digital publishing technologies, I’ve settled into something of an information workflow that allows me to read and reflect on an ever-rising tide of information, but also to organize those readings and reflections, and publish my own thinking to a fluid community of peers and students not only in the present, but also into the future.

Appropriately, this process has emerged over time, and continues to. But a lot of it looks like this:

Feedly ReadsReading

Favs

I stopped surfing around to the sites I tended to find interesting reads or views on a few years ago now, opting instead to follow my favourite sites on either Twitter, or in an RSS reader such as Google Reader. Now, unfortunately having lost the Reader, I’ve moved to Feedly, which does almost everything the former used to, and which is likely similar to many offerings from Digg Reader and a host of others.

My RSS feeds are collected into bundles that I can check at various intervals throughout the week: my News folder is a daily check, while Education, or Arts and Culture generally get more attention on the weekend. Something like Food or Music are generally lower in the pecking order, but as I flick through any of these folders, I am generally not so much reading what I find as filtering and saving the intriguing items for later on.

I do much the same thing on Twitter, where I use my Favourite option to save interesting things for later viewing more than as a sort of Facebook “Like.” 

Now, a lot of people probably participate in these first two steps, and that’s the last they ever see of these links and blog posts and other data flying across the web. But this type of reading demands a later stage in this filtering process where these items can be logged into digital long-term memory.

Delicious bitsWhich is where a service like Delicious comes in (Diigo and other sites can serve the same purpose here), as I then spend time – maybe once every few weeks – going back through those Favourites and Saved articles from Twitter and Feedly, and organize them for longer-term storage.

In Delicious, I’m able to save links to my Saves and Favs that I want to hang onto (helpfully, they have a Chrome plugin that lets me do this right from the page or article itself), as well as as descriptive tags that will help sort different articles, videos, posts or resources.

During the summer, when I have more time to cook, I actually send the favourites from my Food folder to another ap called Pocket which turns my iPad into a cookbook.

This way, as I approach a unit in Social Studies, for instance, or find myself in an email debate with one of my colleagues, or am writing a blog post about something one of my students blogged four years ago, I can consult Delicious and search the tag for “Confederation,” or “Enbridge Pipeline,” or “Student Posts,” et voila. 

Publishing

Blog Tags

When it comes time to publish, I find myself torn between two extremes of blogging or sharing: namely either the carefully-crafted or long-winded dissertation on a topic; or an attempt to capture a moment in time (which can still tend toward the long and windy…). This applies across platforms, to my blog probably as much as Twitter, or Youtube, or Instagram or Flickr.

But the important part of publishing or sharing online is that it can become the natural exhalation of all that good stuff I’m taking such pains to ingest with Feedly and Twitter and, y’know… life. The mass collections of data that these services offer in potential – much as the possibility for learning in life outside of screens – exists in proportion to our ability to synthesize those streams of information into our own view of things.

And it is this potential that I find so riveting about the social, metaphysical, and epistemological transformations brought about with the advent of the Digital Age.

In this view it is important to see one’s own publishing (especially in blogged form) as a node in a network of other information: thus the use of hyperlinks and reference to others’ ideas as support remains an essential quality. But so too does the impetus to organize new posts within a structure that will continue to organize your work into the future. So here we can see blog tags and categories, Youtube playlists, or Flickr albums playing an important role in your own informational tail being accessible, searchable and available to you six months or six years from the date of publication.

Over time these blogged gardens of links and stories and photographs can require weeding, and one is reminded of the health that returns to many of our perennial plants after a thorough trimming of its branches and tangled intersections.

Don’t be afraid to trim, hew, and hack. Unfollow, unsubscribe, reevaluate your workflow. As the Boss says, “there’s no right way to do it. There’s just doing it.”

Why Collaborative Inquiry?

Puzzled

In a facilitator’s guide for Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, Jenni Donohoo presents the formation of professional learning communities as a means of addressing “adaptive challenges,” or those “for which the necessary knowledge to solve the problem do not yet exist” (Vander Ark, 2006 p 10). Many aspects of professional development seeks to approach these types of adaptive challenges, as many aspects of teaching and learning presently find themselves in flux.

With increasing classroom needs, revolutionary changes in technology and information literacies, in an evolving culture dealing with widespread anxiety and mental health concerns, classroom teachers and extended school communities confront diverse language language needs and an increased awareness around gender and sexual identity, among other unique challenges. In British Columbia, public schools face the additional challenge of an ongoing and tempestuous negotiation between different stakeholders over curricular reform, teacher-contracts, and the role of education in society.

The convergence of these myriad adaptive challenges – “for which the necessary knowledge [does] not yet exist.” – seem an appropriate place to engage a process of collaborative inquiry which allows participants to “adopt new values and beliefs.”

In such times, Levin notes that “the challenge of change is compounded by pressure from others to remain the same” (Levin, 2008 p 81), but that “change in schools come from ‘thoughtful application of effective practices in particular contexts” (p 81).

“When members of professional learning communities (PLCs) engage together in investigating challenges of practice, their understanding of these challenges grows deeper and is more unified, practice grows more sophisticated and powerful, and the group develops a tighter sense of camaraderie and common purpose.”

This type of cultural cultivation allows teams to “construct common understanding, share knowledge and experience, and develop common goals.” Developing a culture of inquiry enables sustainable change and the ability of an organization to respond to the evolving needs of a community:

“High quality professional learning includes learning communities that apply a cycle of continuous improvement to engage in inquiry, action research data analysis, planning, implementation, reflection and evaluation.”

But merely putting such a model into place is not enough to ensure such a culture will take hold. In fact, such cases are shown to be rare; where they are shown to be successful it is because of meaningful learning activities are undertaken to drive the process forward.

Donohoo presents a four stage process:

  1. Framing the Problem
  2. Collecting Evidence
  3. Analyzing Evidence
  4. Documenting, Sharing, Celebrating

Teams begin by determining a meaningful focus, and developing an inquiry that will allow them to collect evidence in their classroom, personal practice, or collaboration with a colleague. Once evidence has been collected, it is brought back to the team for analysis before being shared and documented for the wider PLC, and used to consider further inquiries. These stages are “the same stages used in action research.” However:

“The difference between the two approaches is that collaborative inquiry is conducted by a group of educators interested in addressing a school, department, or common classroom issue driven by student learning needs.”

In concluding the opening chapter of a lengthier guide for facilitators, Donohoo shares three primary considerations in implementing a collaborative inquiry model: Timing, Forming a Team, and Fostering Academic Discourse.

“The best time to introduce a collaborative inquiry is when the process of school improvement planning takes place,” Donohoo advises, adding that:

“By introducing collaborative inquiry as a strategy for school improvement, it will help team members understand how it relates to the work that is already happening in schools.”

In forming inquiry teams, Donohoo cites Katz et al. (2009) and suggests formal leaders “distribute leadership, identifying those teacher leaders who are in the position to lead in a focus area because of their expertise” (p 75).

However, it is the consideration toward fostering academic discourse which provides the greatest challenge – and in turn the greatest opportunity – for schools engaging in collaborative inquiry, highlighting MacDonald’s observation that

“teachers must be willing to expose their struggles and failures with their colleagues must be willing to tell the truth, or teams will go through the motions of collaborative inquiry but never see results” (2011 p 45).

Developing a rich dialogue that allows participants to reflect on and evaluate their own practices in the context of communal inquiry creates the opportunity for teams “to collaboratively generate knowledge while investigating problems of practice.” In closing, Donohoo refers to both Senge (1990) and Vander Ark (2006):

“Senge (1990) used the term ‘learning organizations’ to describe organizations that transformed themselves to meet adaptive challenges and become knowledge-generating versus merely knowledge-using organizations. Vander Ark (2006) noted that meeting an adapting challenge required ‘creating the knowledge and tools to solve the problem in the act of working on it” (p 10).

Such a model of inquiry is congruent with a constructive view of professional development described a few posts back:

“This act of development is a constructive act, one which suits the principles of democracy that we are all – regardless of subject speciality – charged with teaching in our classrooms, and a process we are obligated to engage in as citizens in a democracy, as well as teachers, and professionals. And if we are to provide this type of learning in our classrooms, we should be engaged – and are compelled to be engaged, in the language of our own members’ guide and professional expectations –  in a similarly constructive development of our own practice and profession.”

Not everyone will buy into the process deeply, maybe even especially at first. And it is a colleague’s prerogative to engage in professional development in this fashion. However, if small groups or pairs of colleagues are supported and given time and opportunity to experiment and explore their practice – and document and build through an ongoing praxis of inquiry – these relationships being fostered across a staff could enact a profound shift in school culture.

Epistemology, Pedagogy and Democracy in the Digital Age Bibliography

The Virtual Self @nora3000 at #Brocku [visual notes]
The Virtual Self, visual notes by Giulia Forsythe on a talk by Nora Young at Brock University March 2013 (Learn more about Giulia’s amazing Visual Practice here).

It has been a treat to delve deeper into the web of scholarship that charts the intersection of so many different philosophical inquiries that concern pedagogy as a branch of the digital humanities these last few weeks. The metaphysical and epistemic questions that guide our social, ethical and political discussions around the larger purposes of curriculum cast an incredibly broad net, but are undeniably arising out of the digital revolution in communicative technology we are living through. And so my bibliography covers a lot of ground:

  • What is knowledge in the digital age? How is it attained, where does it ‘live’?
  • If in fact knowledge has changed, how should we go about teaching in this new era?
  • And how do these shifts in knowledge and social processes affect the nature and purpose of citizenship?

Answers to these questions lie in fields of sociology, philosophy, political science, and education, but I have tried to locate and share readings that plot the intersection of these topics as relates the narrower field of ‘curriculum.’

Andreotti, V. d. O. (2011). The political economy of global citizenship education. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4), 307-310.

Biesta, G. (2013). Learning in public places: Civic learning for the 21st century. Civic learning, democratic citizenship and the public sphere.

Biesta, G. J. J. (2012). Doing Emancipation Differently: Transgression, Equality and the Politics of Learning. Civitas Educationis. Education, Politics and Culutre, 1(1), 15-30.

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada, http://www. downes. ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012. pdf.

Feldman, S. B., & Tyson, K. (2014). Clarifying Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice in Education International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Social (In) Justice (pp. 1105-1124): Springer.

Garcia, J., & De Lissovoy, N. (2013). Doing School Time: The Hidden Curriculum Goes to Prison. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 11(4).

Howard, P. (2014). LEARNING COMMUNITIES AND DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP IN ONLINE AFFINITY SPACES: THE PROMISE AND THE PERIL. INTED2014 Proceedings, 5658-5658.

Khoo, S.-m. (2013). Between Engagement and Citizenship Engaged Scholarship (pp. 21-42): Springer.

Lentz, B. (2014). The Media Policy Tower of Babble: A Case for “Policy Literacy Pedagogy”. Critical Studies in Media Communication(ahead-of-print), 1-7.

MacGregor, J., Stranack, K., & Willinsky, J. (2014). The Public Knowledge Project: Open Source Tools for Open Access to Scholarly Communication Opening Science (pp. 165-175): Springer International Publishing.

Martin, C. (2011). Philosophy of Education in the Public Sphere: The Case of “Relevance”. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 30(6), 615-629.

Monteiro, H., & Ferreira, P. D. (2011). Unpolite Citizenship: The Non-Place of Conflict in Political Education. JSSE-Journal of Social Science Education, 10(4).

Queen, G., Ross, E. W., Gibson, R., & Vinson, K. D. (2013). I Participate, You Participate, We Participate…”: Notes on Building a K-16 Movement for Democracy and Social Justice. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor(10).

Rice, J. (2013). Occupying the Digital Humanities. College English, 75(4), 360-378.

Schugurensky, D., & Silver, M. (2013). Social pedagogy: historical traditions and transnational connections. education policy analysis archives, 21, 35.

Sidorkin, A. M. (2010). John Dewey: A Case of Educational Utopianism. Philosophy of Education Archive, 191-199.

Sidorkin, A. M. (2014). On the theoretical limits of education Making a Difference in Theory: Routledge.

Siemens, G. (2014). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.

Talisse, R. B. (2013). Sustaining democracy: folk epistemology and social conflict. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 16(4), 500-519.

Willinsky, J. (2013). Teaching for a World of Increasing Access to Knowledge. CALJ Journal, 1(1).

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.”

Literacies of Participation | Bonnie Stewart & the MOOC as Trojan Horse

With thanks to Michael Wesch

With thanks to Michael Wesch

Alongside my focus this year in TALONS on the concept of engagement, I’m buoyed to read Bonnie Stewart‘s paper in the MERLOT Journal of Online Teaching and Learning which looks at MOOCs and the open course structure as “a Trojan horse for an ethos of participation and distributed expertise.” Bonnie begins with an acknowledgement of the popular discourse surrounding open courses and how this distracts from the conversation the original authors of the MOOC story were having:

This variety of responses to MOOCs is indicative of the fault lines becoming increasingly visible in the terrain of contemporary higher education. The term MOOC gets conflated with online education, with globalization, and with networked learning – to the point where public conversation about the topic becomes what Jackson (2013) calls “that most dangerous topic of discussion: a subject about which everybody needs to have an opinion” (para. 2).” “

Some voices position MOOCs as synonymous with the privatization of higher education (Bady, 2013), while others – looking at very different course models – claim that they do not so much change the game of higher education as they are “playing a different game entirely” (Downes, 2012, para. 4).”

Rather than wade into this arena of the debate, Bonnie looks at the implicit ends of learning in the open:

“This position paper takes up MOOCs neither as the future nor the death of academe. [Instead, it will] consider the possibilities of the phenomenon, in all its forms, for the sociocultural growth and spread of digital literacies. Rather than argue for or against a single perspective on MOOCs, my premise is that it may be productive to consider their potential as large, immersive – and largely unintentional – environments for acculturating people to new digital literacies.

I get a similar distaste for conversations about educational technology that revolve around this sort of Savior / Beelzebub duality, and am generally much more excited to conceive of the ways in which digital tools can support and extend physical communities. We spend a lot of time in my classes working on group processes, collaboration, communication toward a synthesis of ideas; and I like to think that taking these skills – some of which are outlined in our courses’ prescribed learning outcomes, some of which fall beyond their scope – onto the web bears immense potential for the state and future of our global community.

What is exciting about teaching courses like Philosophy 12, or Introduction to Guitar, or the TALONS Socials cohorts in a blended – face-to-face and online atmosphere is in one sense the support digital tools bring to the course’s content areas. But I think my real passion is lit as I see the implicit ethos of the web finding its way into my students practices, online and off.

In other words, the implicit focus of the course moves beyond information to communication: 

When communications are seen as key to learning, the numeric focus of the information-centered paradigm cannot be reconciled with the significant and varied body of educational research which foregrounds the importance of interactive (Dewey, 1938), situational (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and critical (Freire, 1970) perspectives on learning. The communications approach focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement. “The Internet encourages discussion, dialogue and community that is not limited by time or place. The role of educators in this world is to facilitate dialogue and support students in their understanding of resources” (Weller, 2007, p. 6).

Which brings me back to engagement, and learning design as a means of bringing about positive collective engagement, in the physical classroom, and beyond its walls.

The skills learned in one realm cannot help but influence the other.

Here’s the full pdf of Bonnie’s paper: Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? 

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.

Marquezologue

As part of my summer course work finishing up PDP at SFU, I took an eight-credit Designs for Learning Language Arts course with Dr. Carolyn Mamchur – to this date one of the most intelligent, warm and inspirational people I have yet encountered – during which each student was to study their favourite author. Since declaring English as my major some five years earlier, I had “belonged” to several authors: Wordsworth, Hesse, Hemingway, Whitman, Coupland, and even John Krakaur. But by the time of my course with Carolyn, I was enthralled by both Bob Dylan and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Each’s obsession with magic and the ethereal nature of their art absorbed me that summer to the extent that I wrote a short novel during those months with characters who lived at the corner of streets named Zimmerman and Gabo in homage.

One of the projects I was to undertake as a final assessment for the Mamchur course was an address as Garcia Marquez, a daunting task given the ability of his writing to somehow encapsulate all of man’s experience on earth: sadness and joy, nostalgia and exaltation, death and birth. Below is the text of my speech, which I delivered along with slips of paper sporadically given out to the members of my class. To date it is the last university assignment I have completed, and one of my favourite pieces of creative writing, even though many of the best phrases are stolen (with credit given – though something has happened to some of the footnotes…) from the master.

Marquezologueþ

We all must end up here, where the light of the day dissipates and congeals, and we are separated from our memories, taken from this life. Many people survive on the thought that they will avoid this moment somehow, that through certain actions or words life might spare them a death filled with abject horror. I count myself among those who have wished that this were not the truth of living, who have asked to what end I have been sequestered here in an absurd fear, and in many ways I have generated my life as if perpetually facing this final scene. I have sought to see the world from a place outside of time, for it is our brief lives which are responsible for our obscured view of the truth. From a simple desk, with its wide surface and view of the sea through the brass-fit framed window, I have tried to touch this death where memory is stolen from us, committing myself to paper and ink as a means of final survival.

For years now many people have assumed that I have given more to my vocation than a commitment to the long patience of creation. My name is seldom mentioned without the epithet of magical, or fantastic, and to those outside my immediate circle of family and close friends I am no doubt seen as something more than a man who spends his time alone with his books. People do not want to believe that I have made my work the act of sitting behind my desk for the longest of hours, smoking cigarettes end to end – addicted as I am to the sensation of inhaling the same smoke, over and over again, until I die – scribbling with pens and variously typeset keys. They have always supposed that there has been something unreal behind the work spaces – collectively known to my family as the Caves of the Mafia – I have etched into each of my homes. It is a very human unwillingness to see the words of a page and assume them supported by nothing more than a man at his desk, filling pages with combinations of the letters. As if the lack of magic in a piece of artwork or moment in life would not be the utmost fantastic!

I should confess though that as a young man I had dreamed the life of a writer to be so many other things. By the age of twenty-five I had followed Hemingway to Europe, along with the romantic idea that I had somehow already achieved a literary immortality (in the brief run of daily newspaper columns that amounted, really, to nothing). I had just dropped out of the faculty of law after six semesters devoted entirely to reading everything I could get my hands on and reciting from memory the unrepeatable poetry of the Spanish Golden Age. I had already read, in translation, and in borrowed editions, all the books I would have needed to learn the novelist’s craft, and had published some stories in newspaper supplements that had won the enthusiasm of my friends and the attention of a few critics. The month before I was to turn twenty three, I had passed the age of military service and was a veteran of two bouts of gonorrhea. Every day I smoked, with no foreboding, sixty cigarettes made from the most barbaric tobacco, sleeping with the best company wherever I found myself at night. What more could I have wanted?

For reasons of poverty rather than taste, I had anticipated what would be the style in twenty years time: untrimmed moustache, tousled hair, jeans, flowered shirts and a pilgrim’s sandals. In a darkened movie theatre, not knowing I was nearby, a girl I knew told someone: ‘Poor Gabito is a lost cause.’

But I already did not belong to that same world as was attempting to grade my successes. My wardrobe and carousing of those days spoke to the fondness I had begun to hold for George Bernard Shaw’s declaration that, From a very early age, I have had to interrupt my education to go to school. As the acquaintances of my youth and law school began to pull away into the shadows of financial and romantic security, I only continued to withdraw, along with several inseparable friends, living on essentially less than nothing, preparing to publish a radical new magazine. The desperation of each action in those days gave my life a sensation of vitality, and if you will excuse the expression, integrity. To the immense disappointment of my parents, I could have no more returned to my studies than I would have been willing to sacrifice my very soul.

My mother and I journeyed during this time in my early twenties to sell the house of my grandparents, where I had grown up until the age of eight. When she met me in the company of my friends, she mistook me for a beggar, and spent the balance of the trip urging me back into law school at the behest of my father, whom I had not seen in several months. On the returning train, she realized I was not asleep, and asked me: ‘What are you thinking about?’

‘I’m writing,’ I answered. And I rushed to be more amiable: ‘I mean, I’m thinking about what I’m going to write when I get to the office.’

‘Aren’t you afraid your papa will die of grief?’

I eluded the charge with a long pass of the cape.

‘He’s had so many reasons to die, this one must be the least fatal.,’ I said, though it was not the most propitious time for me to attempt a second novel, after having been mired in the first one and attempting other forms of fiction, with luck or without it, but that night I imposed it on myself like a vow made in war: I would write it or die. Or as Rilke had said: ‘If you think you are capable of living without writing, do not write.’

‘So what shall I tell your papa?’

Tell him I love him very much and that thanks to him I’m going to be a writer.’ Without compassion I anticipated any other alternatives: ‘Nothing but a writer.’

It had begun six years earlier, when I had read Kafka and been struck as if by lightning. As Gregor awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He lay on his hard, armorlike back and when he raised his head a little he saw his vaulted brown belly divided into sections by stiff arches from whose height the coverlet had already slipped and was about to slide off completely. His many legs, which were pathetically thin compared to the rest of his bulk, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

I had set out just like that, after reading The Metamorphosis, at eight o’clock the next morning, to find out what the hell had been done in the novel from the bible on up to what was being written at the time. For the next six years, I dropped out of studying. I dropped out of everything. Kafka had written a novel that opened the door to the possibility of a singular literary voice, the idea that with a long enough patience, new literature could still be contributed. Years later, when I would be months into the initial drafts of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, I was buoyed by the naïve confidence that in my dreams I was inventing literature.

At twenty three though, what can one know about motivations? I couldn’t conceive of a direction for my ambitions – I merely suspected that I was the master of my own destiny, and if I would declare that I was fearless loudly, it was to ward off the prospect of encountering my greatest of fears in truth and reality. On the trip with my mother, to sell my deceased grandparents’ home, I would encounter my own mortality in the vision of a crumbling house and decaying town, a realization so decisive that the longest and most diligent of lives would not be enough for me to finish recounting it. Now, with the sum total of my hundred years behind me, I know it was the most important of all the decisions I had to make in my career as a writer. That is to say: in my entire life.

‘I’ve come to ask you to please go with me to sell the house.’

My mother did not have to tell me which one, or where, because for us only one existed in the world: my grandparents’ old house in Aracataca, where I’d had the good fortune to be born, and where I had not lived again after the age of eight. More than a home, the house was a town, hosting several sittings of each meal throughout the days that would end with a cocoon of hammocks struck up and upon one another in the courtyard.

But in those memories of my pre-adolescence, I was much more interested in the future than the past, and so my recollections of the town were not yet idealized by nostalgia. I remembered it as it was: a good place to live where everybody knew everybody else, located on the banks of a river of transparent water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettle drums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet. A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquiades, put on a bold public demonstration of what he himself called the eighth wonder of the alchemists of Macedonia. He went from house to house dragging two metal ingots and everybody was amazed to see pots, pans, tongs and braziers tumble down from their places and beams creak from the desperation of nails and screws trying to emerge, and even objects that had been lost for a long time appeared from where they had been searched for most and went dragging along in turbulent confusion behind Melquiades magical irons. ‘Things have a life of their own,’ the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. ‘It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.’ Œ

I never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature, and this thread of my appreciation for the mysteries of the world is often what is attached to my writing as surreal, or – that wicked title again – magical. I owe this sense of wonder to the tutelage of my grandmother, solely, who was seized by the feeling that there was a man bigger than all of us walking through the plantations while nothing moved, and everything seemed perplexed at the passing of that man£. She was a credulous and impressionable woman, in whom the mysteries of daily life struck much terror. She saw that the rocking chairs rocked alone, that the scent of jasmines from the garden was like an invisible ghost, that a cord dropped by accident on the floor had the shape of numbers that might have been the grand prize in the lottery, and her influence peopled my reality with the silent stirrings of another world.

I left Aracataca at the age of eight and did not return for fifteen years. Though my parents had experienced the brief encounter with history that the town enjoyed – the result of a banana plantation which lasted until just before my birth – I grew up in a village from which the wider world was already in retreat. Ignorant of the erosion the place would see in my displaced years, my childhood home began to crystallize into gems of nostalgia I would take to be the truths of my life until many years later. The sensation of having survived on rations of so many false memories became the thriving current of my life, and I have become indebted to afternoons such as when my grandfather paid the thirty reales and we were led into the center of a tent, where there was a giant with a hairy torso and a shaved head, with a copper ring in his nose and a heavy iron chain on his ankle, watching over a pirate’s chest. When it was opened by the giant, the chest gave off a glacial exhalation. Inside there was only an enormous, transparent block with infinite internal needles in which the light of the sunset was broken up into colored stars. Disconcerted, knowing that children were waiting for an immediate explanation, my grandfather ventured a murmur: ‘It’s the largest diamond in the world.’

‘No,’ the giant countered. ‘It’s ice.’Œ Œ

During the two days I would spend in Aracataca with my mother, I reencountered the streets of my lost youth, gripped in the endless haze and heat of its eternal siesta since the banana company’s departure some twenty five years earlier. The exodus had left the town in the fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of a biblical hurricaneŒ. It was as if there had been a fearful dry storm of volcanic thunder and lightning and the awesome polar wind which had turned the bowels of the sea upside down and carried off an animal circus set up on the square of the former slave port where for weeks afterwards men caught elephants in casting nets, drowned clowns and giraffes hanging on trapezes from the fury of the tempestæ.

In the heat of that first dusty afternoon it was as if we were also seeing that the sea had also been stolen, including not only the physical waters visible from our window to the horizon, but everything that was understood by sea in the broadest sense. The flora and fauna belonging to the water, its system of winds, the inconstancy of its millibars, everything. I could never have imagined that they would have been capable of doing what they did to carry off the numbered locks of our old checkerboard sea with gigantic suction dredges, and in its torn crater we could see appear the instantaneous sparkle of the submerged remains of the very ancient city of Santa Maria de Dareien, laid low by the whirlwind. We could see the flagship of the first admiral of the ocean sea, just as I had once seen it from my window, identical, trapped by a clump of goose barnacles that the teeth of the dredges had pulled out by the roots before we had time to order an homage worthy of the historic importance of that wreck. They carried off everything that had been the reasons for our wars and the motivations for our power and left behind only the deserted plain of harsh lunar dustæ that was my first encounter with the immediate weight of death. Until then, I had conceived of death as a misfortune that befell others, other people’s fathers and mothers, other people’s brothers and sisters and husbands and wives, but not my own. I was at the time a person whose life was slow, who did not see myself growing old, or falling sick, or dying, but now was someone who would disappear little by little in my own time, turning into memories, mists from other days until I would be absorbed into oblivion. Œ

Each thing, just by looking at it, aroused in me an irresistible longing to write so I would not die. I had suffered this on other occasions, but only on that afternoon did I recognize it as a crisis of inspiration – that word, abominable but so real, that demolishes everything in its path in order to reach its ashes in time. Standing in the room in which I had been born, scorching in the stillness of the afternoon heat, I examined the room with the clairvoyance of my last days and for the first time saw the truth: the final bed, the pitiful dressing table whose clouded, patient mirror would not reflect my image again, the chipped porcelain washbasin with the water and towel and soap meant for other hands, the heartless speed of the clock racing toward the unelectable appointment on my final afternoon. I crossed my arms over my chest and began to hear the radiant voices of the slaves singing the six o’clock salve in the mills, and through the window I could see the diamond of Venus in the sky that was dying forever, the eternal snows, the new vine whose yellow bellflowers I would not see bloom on the following Saturday, in the house closed in mourning, the final brilliance of life that would never, through all eternity, be repeated again.

In the light of that August afternoon began a period where I wrote down everything I thought, everything I knew, writing on pieces of cardboard that I would tack behind the toilet, writing down the few things I remembered to make sure that I would never forget them. I wrote down signs which would seize me on the yellow ledger margins that I would roll like cigarettes and hide in the most unlikely chinks in the house where only I would be able to find them in order to remember who I was when I would no longer remember anythingæ. Which is where I find myself at this moment, in the spilling purgatory of death, where so begin to erode my monuments of words, written over the past fifty years with only the most selfish of intentions: to steel myself against the natural ravages of time, and to enjoy during the brief course of my life a dialogue with those pieces of myself many people would ignore or otherwise take for granted. In the course of my many years I have learned that Life is indeed not what one has lived, but what one remembers, and how one remembers it in order to recount it. My youth, dreams and grim nostalgia which compose my soul and which will now dissipate in the swells of time have taught me that there might be no other village, nation, or universe except the one I could create in my own image and likeness, where space was changed and time corrected by the designs of my absolute willæ. I have only ever sought to achieve this experience in the effort of establishing a solidarity with the people of my home.

I have written so that upon my departure, the people of Macondo will hold their breath for the fraction of centuries my body will take to fall into the abyss, so that they will not need to look at one another to realize that they will no longer be all present, that they never will be. But they will also know, in this, my most personal of fantasies, that things will be different from then on, that their houses will have wider doors, higher ceilings, and stronger floors so that the memory of Colonel Aureliano Buendia might go everywhere without bumping into beams, and so that no one in the future would dare make disparaging remarks against either Florentino Ariza or Fermina Daza, because they will paint their house fronts gay colours to make the memory or Ursula Inguaren eternal, and they will break their backs digging for springs among the stones, and plant flowers on the cliffs so that in future years at dawn, the passengers on great liners will awaken, suffocated by the smell of gardens on the high seas, and the captain will have to come down from the bridge in his dress uniform, with his astrolabe, his pole star, and his row of war metals, and, pointing to the promontory of roses on the horizon, he will say in fourteen languages, Look, there, where the wind is so peaceful now that it’s gone to sleep beneath the beds, over there, where the sun is so bright the sunflowers don’t know which way to turn, yes, over there, that’s Gabito’s village£.

 July 30th 2006


þ All works cited are those of Gabriel Garcia Marquez unless otherwise noted.

Living to Tell the Tale

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis

Living to Tell the Tale

ΠOne Hundred Years of Solitude

£ Leaf Storm and Other Stories

Living to Tell the Tale

ΠOne Hundred Years of Solitude

æ The Autumn of the Patriarch

Love in the Time of Cholera

The General in His Labyrinth

æ Autumn of the Patriarch

£ Leaf Storm and other Stories: “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”