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Archive for the ‘Language and Literature’ Category

“Something has happened to me, something that I must record. I strain to recapture my feeling of purple. It quickly comes, and there I am in my imagination weaving in and out of desolate trunks with my eyes wide open. In a flash of energy, I write several sentences on this experience. But then rises in my mind that amassment of sludge and the doll fragment. I think to myself that I shouldn’t be excited over this season of sordid appendages and squalor. I stop writing. I look over what I have written. It is turgid, hyperbolic. With slight disdain, I begin to mark out extraneous words and phrases. I feel the brisk satisfaction of making lean what had before been bloated, of rubbing off a layer of dirt. In the end I am left with a three tight sentences and the slow-burning rapture of successful creation, the play of energy and form, the beating heart and the mind that’s chilled.”

–Eric G. Wilson, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 46-47

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Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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Recently, some pioneering work in neuroscience has begun to suggest what English teachers have long known: that the power of literature is the power of alterity, creating the possibility of encountering the other in a form not easily recuperable, not easily assimilable to the self. “Imaginative sympathy,” we used to call it. To read literature well is to be challenged, and to emerge changed.

–”Dead Poets Society Is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities

 

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Prophetic words from 1995:

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species….Because it means the end of innovation….This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death.

“Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they’ll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups.

“Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That’s the effect of mass media—it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same.

“Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity—our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees.

“But we haven’t figured that out, so now we’re planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity.”

–Michael Crichton, The Lost World

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An experimental film version of Finnegans Wake.

“At Oxford, I was taught that every particle of a poem can amplify its meaning, and when poets get it right individual words can add volumes of sense. Trying to fill in some of their blanks is a useful lesson in this fine art.”

Diagraming famous first sentences from classic literature.

New way to learn Chinese characters.

“Want to Become a Better Writer? Copy the Work of Others!”

“56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using”

Poetry quiz.

Chart shows who dies and how in Shakespeare’s tragedies.

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Betrayal.  Revenge.  Conspiracy.  Murdering your way up the ladder of power.  People usually associate these plot elements with Shakespeare’s tragedies, but I see them operate most strongly in his histories.  That’s one reason why those tend to be my favorite of his works.

Besides just being The Sopranos on an Elizabethan stage, the language here is where Shakespeare gets the most deliciously vicious.

Consider some of the lesser history plays.  Even there, the dialogue tends to be enough to make one’s blood boil.

Henry VI, Part II takes us into the War of the Roses, which was also the historical basis for Game of Thrones, so you know this’ll be full of politically venomous mayhem:

And even now my burthen’d heart would break,
Should I not curse them. Poison be their drink!
Gall, worse than gall, the daintiest that they taste!
Their sweetest shade a grove of cypress trees!
Their chiefest prospect murdering basilisks!
Their softest touch as smart as lizards’ sting!
Their music frightful as the serpent’s hiss,
And boding screech-owls make the concert full!
All the foul terrors in dark-seated hell—  (III.2.320-328)

And this one has my favorite lines of all in Shakespeare’s early plays:

Upon thy eye-balls murderous tyranny
Sits in grim majesty, to fright the world.  (III.2.49-50)

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“Call up your courage again. Dismiss your grief and fear.
A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.
Through so many hard straits, so many twists and turns
our course holds firm for Latium. There Fate holds out
a homeland, calm, at peace. There the gods decree
the kingdom of Troy will rise again. Bear up.
Save your strength for better times to come.”

This is a quote from Brigham Young.

Here, the Mormon leader motivates discouraged pioneers as they survey the barren, hostile wilderness they’re passing through, after being driven out of their ruined home.  He reminds them that they’ve already suffered greatly before and endured.  He inspires them with a vision of their destined goal: the establishment of a new headquarters for their people in a land to the west.  Their civilization is to be a re-establishment of a great order that had been lost.  This powerful, cheering attitude helps the people strive and successfully realize the prophecy.

Oh, no, wait.  That’s not right.  This is actually a quote from the Trojan hero Aeneas in Virgil’s epic The Aeneid (Book I, lines 238-244, Robert Fagles trans.).

Here, the Trojan leader motivates discouraged soldiers as they survey the barren, hostile wilderness they’re passing through, after being driven out of their ruined home.  He reminds them that they’ve already suffered greatly before and endured.  He inspires them with a vision of their destined goal: the establishment of a new headquarters for their people in a land to the west.  Their civilization is to be a re-establishment of a great order that had been lost.  This powerful, cheering attitude helps the people strive and successfully realize the prophecy.

Sorry, folks.  Don’t know how I could have mistaken those two episodes.

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The Function of Books

“This is the function of books — we learn how to live even if we weren’t there. Fiction gives us access to a very real history. Stories are the best democracy we have. We are allowed to become the other we never dreamed we could be.”

Colum McCann

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Annotating Dan Brown

A bit of harsh language, but hilarious and spot-on:  http://www.themillions.com/2014/01/dumbest-thing-ever-scribbling-in-the-margins-of-dan-browns-inferno.html

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The Art of J.R.R. Tolkien

This link collects some drawings by Tolkien.  They’re quite good.

Reminds me of when we were in Seattle last summer and we visited the EMP museum.  The fantasy wing had an exhibit of Tolkien’s manuscripts and drawings for Lord of the Rings.  Fascinating stuff, but taking pictures wasn’t allowed.

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The best thing about this joke is that, in order to make it work, I only have to write as well as a five-year-old.

Portrait

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Recently found this great dramatization of the classic poem, set to Loreena McKennitt’s song.

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tumblr_kvj83mv8YY1qz6t3mo1_400I recently finished Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which languished on my to-do list for far too many years.  I loved it greatly.

I knew I was in for a special experience when I saw Hardy defend his controversial work with this quote from St. Jerome in an introduction:

“If an offense come of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed.”

Hardy’s style impressed me.  It wasn’t loquaciously luxurious, nor was it bitterly Spartan, but as a work of both sympathy and criticism, it melded those two extremes into a lovely new amalgam.  Some examples I liked:

“She thought, without exactly wording the thought, how strange and godlike was a composer’s power, who from the grave could lead through sequences of emotion, which he alone had felt at first, a girl like her who had never heard of his name, and never would have a clue to his personality.” Ch. 13

“Unexpectedly he began to like the outdoor life for its own sake, and for what it brought, apart from its bearing on his own proposed career. Considering his position he became wonderfully free from the chronic melancholy which is taking hold of the civilized races with the decline of belief in a beneficent Power. For the first time of late years he could read as his musings inclined him, without any eye to cramming for a profession, since the few farming handbooks which he deemed it desirable to master occupied him but little time.

“He grew away from old associations, and saw something new in life and humanity. Secondarily, he made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known but darkly–the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees, waters and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate things.” Ch. 18

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Humor In Ulysses, Part V

From the next-to-last chapter, and illuminated by yours truly to augment the obviousness of the joke:

 

 

Untitled

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