I’m finally getting around to reading Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and I’m finding it really exciting and helpful. Of particular interest is his emphasis on memorization as a form of intellectual emancipation. Thinking ahead to my Heidegger class for next year, it occurs to me that if I could get every student to memorize one important paragraph from Being and Time, they could conceivably wind up being ahead of a student who passed an exam on the best-ever lecture course in terms of actually understanding how to read Heidegger.

My colleague Aron Dunlap has suggested incorporating a memorization component into our literature class next semester, and while I was open to the idea before, now I’m positively intrigued. Have any of you incorporated memorization into your teaching, specifically of poetry? What were your experiences?

What depends on a red wheelbarrow?

Yesterday in class, we discussed a poem that is virtually obligatory for every introductory literature class: William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” For those who aren’t familiar, it goes as follows:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The discussion in one section became very heated, in part because one student recalled a teacher who “spent an entire class on this because she hated it.” Ultimately, despite my efforts, a sense emerged that the poem was so vague as to be meaningless, or susceptible to whatever meaning one projected onto it.

Now it’s clear that there are many interpretations. Yet I have a simple one, which I advanced in class.

Read the rest of this entry »

Raw: A Poetic Journey

I  just found my copy of Raw: A Poetic Journey, which has yet another subtitle, Finding a Way From Conflict to Revelation, in my mailbox.  The book is edited by Amiee Saude Sims, features a foreword by Jennifer Knapp, and is published by the new press NuWine Press.  The book is a collection of poetry and reflections by LGBT Christians and their supporters.

My contribution is a poem and reflection of my Divinity School days, back at the University of Chicago, where I took a summer course with the University’s poet-in-residence, Alane Rollings.  The course was, I think, a typical creative writing course, and as a college course cross-listed as a graduate-level course in the summer, it had a bunch of high school kids in the class.  In fact, I think I was the only one who wasn’t a high schooler in the class.  Read the rest of this entry »

“Ecstasies before bunnies’ burrows”

In a certain way, I think the likes of Herman Herman — for whom “‘though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright” — might very well agree with the cynicism, much bemoaned & beloved, expressed by Michael Houellebecq about nature.

I have no time for those pompous imbeciles
Who go into ecstasies before bunnies’ burrows
Because nature is ugly, tedious and hostile;
It has no message to transmit to humans.

How pleasant, at the wheel of a powerful Mercedes,
To drive through solitary and grandiose places;
Subtly manipulating the gearstick.
You dominate the hills, the rivers, and all things.

The forests, so close, glitter in the sun
And seem to reflect ancient knowledges;
In the depths of their valleys must lie such marvels,
After a few hours you are taken in;

Leaving the car, the irritations begin;
You stumble into the middle of a repugnant mess,
An abject universe, deprived of all meaning
Made of stones and brambles, flies and snakes.

You miss the parking-lots and the smell of petrol,
The serene, gentle glint of the nickel counters;
It’s too late. It’s too cold. The night begins. The forest enfolds you in its cruel dream. (via Collapse IV)

Reading this today, I most immediately thought of Lewis Mumford’s wonderful bit comparing Ralph Waldo Emerson and Melville:

Emerson was the perpetual passenger who stayed below in bad weather, trusting that the captain would take care of the ship.  Melville was the sailor who climbed aloft, and knew that the captain was sometimes drunk and that the best of ships might go down.

Where the lesson of one such captain, Ahab, drunk with monomania if not drink, was that the “pasteboard mask” covering such truth might ultimately be there for a reason, and that one should strike through it with care; it seems to me that Houellebecq exemplifies one possibility of what becomes of us when there is no mask at all, when it, perhaps, has already been stricken.


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