Make sure to give:
1. One personal response (minimum 150 words) each to Lecture 1 & Lecture 2 (2 posts total).
2. Two more responses (50 words minimum) to two different classmate posts in each of the two Lecture discussions (4 posts total)
I will post other responses later.
**This will be a total of 6 posts for this Discussion**
Use your own idea, write what you learn and what you think. Please read the Lecture very carefully! Show you have read the lecture and understand it.
READING STREET SIGNS, MENUS
Before we talk about reading different kinds of literature, like poetry, short stories, dramas, novels and essays, we should know a few things about reading in general. A fellow named Frank Smith said the two most important things to understand about reading are 1) that it’s a strategic activity, and 2) that we never master it, we just get better and better at it the more we practice.
Reading is strategic because we have to find out, for one reason or another, what something means. And, usually, we have to find out what something means so that we can decide what to do. An easy example is street signs: we have to learn early what the different shapes, colors, and words mean on those signs so that we can behave properly at 4-way stops, decide which off-ramps to take or decide just how much over the speed limit we’re willing to go in our sports cars. If a person can’t make sense of the signs, the traffic accident is sure to follow quickly.
Or, take something a little more sophisticated—like restaurant menus. Most menus, we learn from experience and practice, are arranged by courses: appetizers, soups, salads and so on. When we run into one that doesn’t work in this sensible and orderly way, we might get momentarily confused. If only I could find the darned cheeseburger I’m craving! Chinese menus, for example, used to be arranged in columns—“I’ll take one from column A, two from column B,” etc. It’s not that these Chinese menus are senseless; it’s just that they work with a different ordering strategy in mind. And sometimes we run into something really interesting: take, for example, the menu that is arranged according to courses—but has no prices printed on it! One interpretation—a very happy one, would be that the food was free, even the lobster. But, we don’t live in the perfect world. What the absence of prices means, of course, is that “money is no object;” that if you have to ask how much something is, then you probably shouldn’t be at that restaurant in the first place.
What the street sign and menu examples show is that you have to know things to figure out what signs and documents mean; it also means that you can be wrong interpreting those meanings. Yup, wrong. Of course, you can be right, too.
Now, all of you are excellent street sign readers, and I trust you’re all pretty good menu readers too. But what happens when the thing put under your nose is LITERATURE: like a freaky poem by e. e. cummings (who almost never uses any capital letters and spreads them weirdly all over the page), or a short story by Raymond Carver that gets at the history of whole love relationships in only five pages, or a good old Shakespearean tragedy, like King Lear, where you have to wade through Elizabethan verse like wading through a swamp? Oooh! Your heads can turn to granite or mush or Swiss cheese in two seconds flat.
In fact, they did a study once (and I’ve tried it a couple times myself and it works) to see which half of a classroom would be able to interpret two similar documents with more ease. Here’s what they did. They composed a nice, interesting forty-four word sentence. To one half the class they gave the sentence to them just like that—as a sentence, and to the other half of the class they used the same forty-four words in the same order—except they wrote it on the page like poetry—like this:
To one half the class they
sentence to them just like that—as
a sentence, and to the
of the class they used the same forty-
four words in the
they wrote it on the page like poetry—
And here’s what happened: the people who got the “sentence” version had no trouble understanding it; the people who got the “poetic” version were all confused. Because the second version looked like poetry, they figured it had to be difficult, profound, “heavy,” “for geniuses…” Of course, we’ve been taught that poetry is special, hard, creative, weird—and so, not so easy to understand (sort of like math, come to think of it), but it can be understood if you know the strategies which writers use when they craft special language called “literary language.” What we want to investigate this semester is what these literary strategies are and get good at seeing how they are used by good writers to get us to understand the power of their work, be it poetry, drama or essay.
Ok, this is it for lecture one. You’re supposed to learn a few key things from it:
–reading (and writing for that matter) is strategic
–the more you know, the better you can strategically read a text
–interpretations of texts can be right or wrong (but this doesn’t mean I think that teachers
always have the “right interpretation”)
–literary texts can best be understood if we know the kind of special games of language
that writers use when they write poems, fiction, etc.
Poetry Lecture: “Reading as the Discovery of Design”
There is an idea in our culture that it is not good to analyze creative things like works of art because many believe that if you try to apply reason and logic to things that are artistic, they can only be ruined. Reason kills beauty. Art is supposed to be felt but not understood; and if you understand it with your mind, you can no longer feel it with your heart.
Well, these are silly ideas in my estimation. I would suggest that beautiful things get MORE beautiful the more we see, through careful analysis, how they have been created, that is, how they have been designed. The designers of a Porsche sports car, for example, would just die to have the chance to show you how carefully and brilliantly they have designed their motor car—how all the parts hang together to create a driving experience unparalleled by any other (I have heard this from Porsche owners in marketing focus groups. They say: Once you’ve driven one, it ruins any other driving experience). One axiom to this course is simple: if something is artistic, it is very well designed, and seeing that design can only improved the experience of it.
All the good artists I know, whether they are poets or teachers or football players or good parents, work very hard at thinking about what they do and “getting everything just right.” You should not be shocked to know that a good poem might take months or years to get just right. The point is this: getting it “just right” is a matter of getting it designed so that it will be beautiful and so that beauty will be recognized by the people who look at it. Poets, for example, if they are any good, DO NOT WANT READERS TO GET WHATEVER THEY WANT out of a poem; good poets want a variety of readers to get what they, the poets, are saying precisely and powerfully.
As a matter of fact, the word “art” is a Latin word, and it does not mean creativity or beauty; it means…hold your breath now…it means…”ORDER.” Yes, an artist is one who orders, not one who merely rebels against all order (it’s so much easier to destroy that to construct!). Yes, some ways of ordering things get old and boring, and when that happens we have to change those orders—maybe even destroy them altogether. But, we are not to leave things in a state of chaos; we must design new orders. That’s what artists do, thy design new orders (or they use old orders in brilliant ways that haven’t been discovered yet). Shakespeare, for example, wrote approximately 150 sonnets. A sonnet is a poetry form with lots of rules and restrictions. Did you hear Shakespeare whining about how he had to conform? No, you saw him USE those restrictions to make kick-ass beauty. Ten of his sonnets are perfect (you’ll make pleasurable noises involuntarily); the other 140 or so are quite competent. I dare you to write ONE GOOD SONNET in your lifetime (Don’t worry: I will not give such an assignment to you in this class!!).
Or, we can even look at this idea in athletic terms. When a bunch of beer-guzzling, Dorito-munching fans yell “beautiful catch” at the TV, they aren’t merely being metaphorical; the catch is beautiful because it has been made under conditions of compelling limitation and duress (much like a good poet can make something beautiful even though he is restricted to a handful of syllables per line, a limited number of lines, and the pressing need to rhyme in one limited pattern or another). So, a defenseman hangs from the receiver’s shoulder and the sidelines tell him he can’t go a step further to get the ball. The receiver must lay himself out, parallel to the ground, stretch like a just-wakened cat and strain to grab the ball with two fingers. It sticks. Poetry in motion.
So, you see…