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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Charles Dickens Still Matters...

I confessed to shooting and "killing" my "Reading List for 2008" nearly two months ago. It wasn't going well, I was way, way behind on my book count for the year, and it was actually beginning to feel like a chore of sorts rather than reading for pleasure. So I decided to call it off for 2008. That, of course, doesn't mean that I am not making an effort to complete it (Premise Contradictory to Facts). I picked up Charles Dickens "Great Expectations" and got into a tete-a-tete with young Pip, all of this reminiscing of my own feelings of guilt, insecurity and fear as a young child. The opening chapters display such a vivid universal experience... the young child navigating that narrow pass between rule and choice, ethics and fear of punishment. While many argue that Dickens has fallen out of favor with academia because "it is too easy to read," I still argue that we shouldn't throw out a classic for--and pardon my being specific about this--books like Jodi Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper." Now, mind you, Ms. Picoult's book made me cry this past summer (we had to read it for summer reading), and it was indeed a moral/ethical and critical plot, well organized and exceedingly thought-provoking... but Dickens it was not. Why do we continue to give in to young people's "demands" to make literature "relevant," when it in reality it is the ROLE and OBLIGATION of the teacher/instructor/professor to make the Great Classics relevant and insightful and human... oh, I forgot, that takes a great deal of effort and work (insert sarcasm here). I'll get off my rant here, sorry.

Young Pip is the archetypal child of wonder being beaten into submission (both physically and emotionally) by the adults around him. I wonder why Dickens chose not to give Pip's sister a name (she is referred to by her husband's name in the first few chapters)... could it possibly be because she is too ugly (in an emotionally abusive way) to portray? Uhmm, I wonder. So I read on with a sense of my own frightful childhood, fear based upon thinly disguised religious guilt and repressions, etc. I am happy for young Pip "being in my life." Dickens certainly STILL matters very much.

I picked up a copy of "Writing About Visual Art" by David Carrier and I am enjoy it tremendously. My students had a test today in one of my classes and between monitoring them and pacing around I got through the introduction of this fascinating book. I do need to learn to write about the visual art, and this book seems like the perfect instructional manual. It's more like essays than instruction but the wealth of knowledge is palpable and easily accessible. More on this later.

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