Hi all- an amazing week all round. In first year we had the luxury of reading four fantastic stories: Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”, James Joyce’s “Araby”, Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Hanif Kureishi’s “Blue, Blue Pictures of You”. These represented Anglo/New Zealand, American/European, Irish and Anglo Pakistani perspectives. Talk about international literature! But what is so striking about all these stories is the extent to which they deeply question the social contexts they are describing; they take us to the core of the human experience dramatized in each case. There is that wonderful epiphany for Laura in Mansfield’s story. She, from the outset, has something in her heart that resists the superficial “life is such good fun” mentality of her mother’s upper middle-class. Laura is someone who seems to be on the verge of questioning deeply the meaning and purpose of her life. And so the event in which the man is killed down in the village becomes a catalyst for her deeper self questioning, indeed her realization of what is most important in life… and it is not buckets full of lilies, thousands of cream cakes and jolly jolly parties… there are deeper questions at stake for her. And so much is summed up and expressed in those fleeting, fragmentary closing words of hers: “Isn’t life,” she stammered, Isn’t life-“.
James Joyce is some one about whom the word “Epiphany” is used very frequently. Nearly all of his short stories in his collection “Dubliners” have a moment in them where a character comes to a profound realization about something in their lives. This is of course what an epiphany is (“A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization”- Answers.com). So the narrator in Araby who describes so vividly his young passion for Mangan’s sister is, in the closing scene of the story, suddenly made aware of himself in a totally new light. Suddenly brought face to face, as it were, with his own limitations and the uncertain nature of the world in which he lives: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger”. This is a heartrending story, so vividly told, so deeply felt and so true to human experience. I would encourage anyone to read more of Joyce’s “Dubliners”.
Ernest Hemingway, for all his macho, womanizing, masculinity writes an amazingly perceptive yarn about the insensitivity of the male species, their wish to control the world according to their desires -even if it means “letting the air in” to the womb of his so-called beloved, to put an end to the child that threatens the “good-fun” time of the relationship. In a sparely written two and half pages this master of dialogue captures the depths of a relationship that has come to a dead-end because of an unwanted pregnancy. An amazing story in its subtle and hidden methods of suggesting levels of feeling beyond words… And that closing line is so rich with mutliple interpretations as we discovered in the lecture yesterday (your responses!): “I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine”.
And so what about dear old Haneif Kureishi? What an incredible “Blue, Blue” story that was!
Haneif has become something of a cult figure in the London writing scene and it is not hard to see why. Not only does he experiment with the shape and form of his stories -the shape mirroring the events of the story itself- but his subject matter is “right on!” as one might say: experimental life-styles, uncertainties- sexual and personal; anyone growing up in these times would feel much common ground with what Haneif describes, and especially with the questions he raises about the nature of love? How many different forms does it have?
So my suggestions for your LiveJournal entries this week: use any one of these stories as a starting point for writing the opening paragraph of a story of your own. Is there an event in your life like the narrator’s in “Araby”, or like Laura’s in “The Garden Party” where you have clashed with the values of your parents? Is there a scene in your own experience that matches the descriptions of the apartments in “Blue, Blue Pictures of You”? Is there a conversation -like Hemingway’s – that you can recall from your own experience full of hidden suggestions…. Or you might like to expand on the story you started in yesterday’s lecture… Or you might like to simply write an appraisal of which of these stories you liked best or why? Or you might simply like to describe something that’s happening in your own life right now…. that can often be the beginning of the best kind of writing: fresh, immediate…. Over to you
Second Year: This week we explored more of the Romantic poets. Wordsworth in particular. That poem about the Leech-Gatherer is amazing I think. It is a description of the way an old decrepit man can bring about a sudden change of heart and mind in the speaker who is consumed with his own misery.
This is of course at the core of Wordsworth’s philosophy -expressed in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads: that those people who live WITH nature are shaped by it, tempered by it, and acquire its stability and inner confidence. I think this poem tries to prove this point. We also looked at those poems in which Wordsworth “turns the table” on bookishness. When I teach these poems I always have the uncomfortable feeling that the response that is really required is to leave the lecture hall and go and listen to the birds in the bush! But as many of you pointed out quite rightly, had it not been for Wordsworth’s own bookishness, he would never have arrived at this perception of what human beings really need! But despite this paradox, I do find myself very much in sympathy with Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us”… with its sense of how we are being robbed of our fullest human possibilities by our over-reliance on the material things in our world. What do you think about this?
So here are a few suggestions for your LJ this week. How about trying to do a Denise Levertov… can you write a “the World is Too much with us” poem… using this line and then building your own poem from this?
Or do you have a story about someone who is from the country, relatively “uneducated” formally, but who has an amazing wisdom… is there anything in your experience that can support Wordsworth’s outlook.
Or perhaps there is something in your own life that you would like to share: this can often make the start of a great story…
Or you might simply like to comment on which poem in this week’s feast you enjoyed most… and why…… Over to you
Third year: we had a ball with two of Shakespeare’s sonnets (those wonderful macadamia nuts that require gentle manipulation until they soften and release their delicious centres!).
It is extraodinary how a room full of engaged minds can really help to bring insight and eventually understanding to these complex miniature works of art. I love the process! And this coming week more of Twelfth Night….
So some suggestions for 3rd years… I would love to tempt some of you into trying to write a sonnet… that is a real challenge… but how to start. It is a common creative practice to take a line from a great poet and then build your own poem from that. Use the line as your first line and then try and build your own thoughts for 14 lines… anyone willing to give it a try?????
And then I would love to hear what some of you have to say about the FOOL in our world today…. wise or foolish….
You might also like to share your own experience so far of coming to know Shakespeare: are things beginning to shift and change for you -in your understanding- as you become increasingly aware of the context in which Shakespeare wrote….???????
Then I would love any or all of you to start wandering/wondering (?@#$!%%%$#@!!>??) through first year LJs and commenting as appropriate… but be sure to keep a copy of your comments in your own journal…….
Over to you … and out…..