Marina Warner on the Disfiguring of Higher Education

From LRB, 19 March, 2015

“Faith in the value of a humanist education is beginning to look like an antique romance. I flattered myself that by teaching I could perhaps make a difference, spark a young mind, foster an older, returning student’s aspirations, and act as the catalyst of that self-discovery described by Seamus Heaney in The Redress of Poetry when he writes, ‘we go to poetry to be forwarded within ourselves’; literature, Heaney says, gives ‘an experience that is like foreknowledge of certain things which we already seem to be remembering’. I think we could say that we go to education, too, for these experiences, to be forwarded in ourselves and to recognise things we only glimpsed dimly before. Despite the warnings against cruel optimism, I still hold fast to the life of the mind – its beauty, its necessity.

Rachel Cusk on Writing

This is from the LRB, 4 December 2014:

“She (Rachel Cusk) was reading Knausgaard, and coming to think that the whole idea and practice of fiction, as conventionally understood, is ‘fake and embarrassing .. utterly ridiculous’.  The real point of writing, her piece quotes Knausgaard as saying, is not to do with making things up, but with ‘drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows… Not what happens there, nor what actions are played out there, but the there itself’ — and this is where, in Cusk’s view, creative writing courses come in.  People come along as a first step in the effort to start uncovering and developing their own self-relations and their relations to the world.  ‘Very often a desire to write is a desire to live more honestly through language … The notion of “finding your voice”, simplistic as it may sound, is … a social goal.””

Pluck and Courage

For those of you interested in book descriptions, here’s one to wrap your head around.  A family member is arrested for killing a hula dancer … which doesn’t happen every day.  This is in the “cozy mystery” category of BookBub, which evidently means no bone and gristle allowed.  And also evidently means gender demeaning descriptions such as “pluck and courage”.
Dying for a Daiquiri by Cindy Sample

Laurel is looking forward to attending a beautiful Hawaiian wedding, but her vacation turns deadly when a family member is arrested for killing a hula dancer. Does she have the pluck and courage to solve the case?

$2.99 $0.99

Available for a limited time

Pockets of Me Time

My problem is that I wake up in the morning and look at the stoppages in my upcoming day – those deadlines and times which determine when your privacy begins and ends again, those times of the day which require you to do something with somebody else.  Visits are that way.  Doctor’s appointments are that way.  Picking up your child from school is that way.  For many years I have contrived to create more and more spaces of uninterrupted “me time” for myself, time uninterrupted by any obligation to anyone.  It’s somewhat like the Bill Maher joke about “that kind” of party, where it’s Friday night and you don’t have to be anywhere until next Tuesday.  Though it’s not the partying I crave so much as that stretch of time, opening up, unblocked by stoppages of any kind. Summer brings this on.

I remember a funny little movie I once saw, some experimental short of some kind.  In this movie a man would get into an elevator and press the down key.  As he went down to ground floor he used the time in the elevator for himself, performing little acts of rebellion, at first doing little things like maybe taking off his shoes one day and putting them back on before getting to ground floor.  The next day he did shoes and socks, getting more and more efficient.  Then shoes, socks, and tie, and back again, then trousers, then shirt, etc .. all frenetically speeded up actions in faster motion, then a final brush down and wipe of the comb before he strode manfully out of the elevator, on his way to work.  He may have drunk tea at one point … I have entered ghost memory now.

If anybody knows of this movie, or how to search for this movie, I would love to know.  We’re going back about 35-40 years.  I always thought of the movie as a deep metaphor for how we create pockets of time for ourselves, inside the crush of our everyday lives and duties.  I thought that the first time I saw it, perhaps long before I was able to put into words what the movie meant to me.

I also remember a New Yorker cartoon (or was it Paris Match?) of two little cartoon character men, inside two cages.  Actually one cage contained the smaller one, and inside the smaller one was a hapless little man, being taunted by the other man because he was not locked in the little cage, but was in fact still in a cage.  Constraints.

But getting back to the “stoppages” in my day… I have in the past felt guilty at times for being such an introvert, which in my book simply means “quite happy to be alone.” I was cheered to hear on NPR that Burt’s Bee’s founder, Burt, had a saying… “Any day that nobody’s visiting and I don’t have to go anywhere, that’s a good day.”

Time.  Feel it.  It is ample.  Summer is ample.

What fiction is for

This remarkable quote is from President Obama, speaking with Marilynne Robinson

Are you somebody who worries about people not reading novels anymore? And do you think that has an impact on the culture? When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.

 

Kafka is funny

kafkagregor‘The “signal frustration in trying to read Kafka with college students,” that “it is next to impossible to get them to see that Kafka is funny… nor to appreciate the way funniness is bound up with the extraordinary power of his stories.” Part of the problem arises from the fact that “Kafka’s humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary U.S. amusement,” especially to “children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance.” So what kind of jokes can we find in Kafka’s stories, if we know how to get them?

‘Therein, Wallace argues, lies another part of the problem: “It’s not that students don’t ‘get’ Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them that humor is something you get — the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have,” all of which gets in the way of perceiving “the really central Kafka joke — that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle.” Of course, as Wallace adds in one of his signature footnotes, since “most of us Americans come to art essentially to forget ourselves — to pretend for a while that we’re not mice and all walls are parallel and the cat can be outrun — it’s no accident that we’re going to see ‘A Little Fable’ as not all that funny.” But read enough Kafka, preferably outside the walls of a classroom, and you’ll get a much more expansive sense of humor itself.’