Week 3: Bottom’s Dream- Wordsworth’s Leech Gatherer and Metaphors Galore!!!!

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(Be sure to click on all the links- some you will find very useful)

Bottom’s Dream in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most amazing, inexplicable moments in all of Shakespeare. Here is a character, at the bottom of the social hierarchy – like so many of Shakespeare’s most loved characters-  who has glimpses of a kind of knowledge -presented in broken sentences and muddled allusions to religious texts- that lift us, soaring, into space beyond the limits of reason. Bottom IS both a character AND a metaphor. How can a character be a metaphor? By simply embodying an idea that is way beyond his understanding, and in this instance he embodies the idea that the highest understanding is found where we least expect it- at the Bottom (in theology this is called the incognito of revelation- meaning that the most ordinary and common things can be the site of the most extraordinary). Here is the bottomless Bottom (courtesy of Daniel Parke’s Production):Bottom’s Dream

In A Midsummer NIght’s Dream Bottom is the link between down-to-earth reality and imagination- did he not literally AND symbolically find himself in bed with Tit(it)ania? The whole play in fact is about imagination- its dangers and its transformative powers. The duke Theseus (the rationalist) has little understanding of these things as we hear in his speech linking poets to lunatics:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

More than cool reason ever comprehends.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,

Are of imagination all compact....

But Shakespeare, through Bottom- and through what happens to the lovers in the forest, shows us that the imagination does have a transformative power.

Our exploration of Wordsworth, of his close observation of what goes on inside our minds (in “Tintern Abbey” & “Resolution and Independence“) – illustrates how poetry can provide a means for lifting us beyond the shifting, unstable movements of our emotions and vagrant thoughts. Here we saw how the leech gatherer was such an “admonishment” to the young Wordsworth who allowed himself to fall so easily into depressive, self-destructive thoughts & how Tintern Abbey was the stimulus for a deep, collected state of mind that the poet felt he was able to carry with him into the everyday world. We saw this process replicated in a smaller way in the poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud”. So the romantics continue to reveal themselves to be a powerful resource for managing the way we live our lives even- or especially – in today’s frantic world:

I could have laughed myself to scorn to find

In that decrepit Man so firm a mind

And of course as well as being a figure or character in a poem, the leech gatherer is also a metaphor for the way life could be lived, filled with resolution and independence despite the difficult circumstances one might find oneself in.

Metaphors and all modes of Figurative Language (metaphors, metonymy, simile, synecdoche, paradox, irony, symbolism) were the core subject of Introduction to Literary and Dramatic Forms this week. These are the building blocks of your own creative and essay writing. More importantly -as we discovered-  figurative uses of language (like metaphor) are much more than just technical devices, they are in fact ways of deepening our understanding. For example finding the metaphors that describe the way that we think can reveal the nature of own minds (the processes of our own minds for example). Emily Dickinson explores this powerfully in her poem “the brain is wider than the sky”, where she finds ways of describing the brain as that which contains the whole universe, even, perhaps, God. And what does the simile in the last line mean?

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,
  For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
  With ease, and you beside.
The brain is deeper than the sea,         5
  For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
  As sponges, buckets do.
The brain is just the weight of God,
  For, lift them, pound for pound,         10
And they will differ, if they do,
  As syllable from sound.

Another, darker poem where she also uses a metaphor to evoke the condition of her mind is ” I felt a funeral in my brain” – worth looking up. 

Blogging: Questions and Answers:

So how are we all relating to this experience of literature blogging now that we have hit week 3? Most of us have by now mastered the new WordPress.com platform for our literature blogs. Yes, there have been teething problems with this new interface, but these have largely been sorted out. The biggest issue has been how to make our blog visible to each other. The easiest way seems to have been to simply click on the URL of someone else in the class and “Request Access”; when they then respond with “yes” to the email they receive requesting your access-  all is fine. Alternatively, just after you have created your blog- if you have made it “Private” (as recommended)- you should get a button that says “Add Viewers to my Private Blog” This is where you post either the WordPress login name  (eg the michaelgriffith1 part of http://michaelgriffith1.wordpress.com) or the student email address (s000 etc. @…..) into the Users/Invite New Users window. You can do 10 of these at a time. Some of you have elected to go public and that has solved all access problems, but until you are fully aware of all the implications of doing this (copyright, etc…) I would not recommend this.

As administrator of this blogging experience, it has been very satisfying for me –despite the effort- to be connected to each of you (one-on-one as it were) and to hear your on-line responses and your peer reviews of the literature we are studying. There have been many creative and highly enthusiastic moments where people have been able to express – in words and images- their deepest thoughts beyond what is possible in the tutorial or lecture situation. And there have also been some really excellent, supportive peer interactions where you are getting to know each other’s thoughts and impressions. So the community of literature students is expanding and collectively we are sharing and deepening our reactions and understanding.

Using this technology for teaching is of course brand new; for all of us (teachers especially) it is an experiment in enhancing students engagement with their subject and their learning. I sense that (once the technological issues are sorted out) it works really well and gives people a space to speak and share ideas, feelings and creative, imaginative responses. Where else would this happen without the blog environment?

As all of you are interested in the work of creative writers it stands to reason that you might welcome this space to develop your own writing skills across a spectrum of writing modes (academic, creative, formal, informal, journal, poem, story, critique, discussion….). This is what the blog environment tries to provide: an additional space to expand the horizons of your writing and to open more channels of communication with your peers.

This is the first year that we have tried this exercise with incoming first year students (who will shortly be able to connect with second and third year students too).  I have been doing this with the latter groups for some years now, so it will be really interesting to get feedback (and please give it- as comments to this blog) on how you are finding the exercise and what you think could be done to improve your enjoyment of the whole process.

Here is a nice cartoon and a great blog to go with it on the whole question of the educational value of blogging- Click here.

Have a look also at these seven good reasons for blogging in a teaching environment- Click here.

I have had an important question from a number of you along the lines of what is the difference between creative and critical when it comes to my blog?

Answer: simply stated “critical” in this context means analytical, for example analyzing a piece of literature for its meaning and effect; “creative” means using your imagination to interact with a text either by adding something to it, responding to it imaginatively (eg a letter to a character in a story or poem, or even to the author), or using the text as a springboard for an imaginative work of your own (e.g. a poem or a story). Clearly there may be overlaps between “critical” and “creative”. An analytical piece may be very creative and a creative piece may demonstrate a deep analytical understanding.  So don’t get too hung up on the differences, just be sure that your literature journal blog explores a number of different modes of writing before the end of the semester, a whole string of analytical comments for example is not so good.

Enjoy preparing for the coming week.

MG

The Author

I am a university teacher in Sydney Australia. I am passionate about using blogging and internet technologies to stimulate creative responses in my students towards the literature they are studying.

2 Comments

  1. I am really enjoying this challlenging technological whirlwind of experience….baptism by fire is the way to go in this instance :D
    sahra

  2. Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

    Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

    More than cool reason ever comprehends.

    The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,

    Are of imagination all compact….

    I like the word seething it shows how intense it is for people who live in a troubled mind…i think that the madmen were often considered soothsayers back in the dark ages and they weren’t just considered the great unwashed babbling miscreant on the street and disowned as is intended in this day.

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