English 145

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Yesterday the brave souls of English 145 at Penn lobbed Natalia Ginzburg, Paul West, and Annie Dillard around the room—declaiming, declaring, rebutting, suggesting, insisting on asynchronous points of view.

West, via his essay "Remembrance of Things Proust," emerged variously as brilliant, smug, teacherly, full of his own conceits, and ultimately vulnerable. Ginzburg, with her classic "My Craft," riled the suspicious among us with her declaration that, "When we are happy our imagination is stronger; when we are unhappy, memory acts with greater force." In "To Fashion a Text," Dillard won the hard-to-win with her words, "What impels the writer is a deep love for and respect for language, for literary forms, for books. It's a privilege to muck about in sentences all morning. It's a challenge to bring off a powerful effect, or to tell the truth about something. You don't do it from willpower; you do it from an abiding passion for the field... Willpower is a weak idea; love is strong."

We took a break. We caught our breath. We leaned in toward the end of the day. We sat for a moment with Larry Woiwode, his words: "All experience is simultaneous, stilled and sealed in itself, and we manage daily by imagining we move from minute to minute, somehow always ahead. Our multiple selves collide at every second of intersection, one or the other vying for supremacy, the scars of the past flooding through the present texture of our personality, and maturity is knowing how to govern the best combination of them."

Finally we agreed to read Ondaatje's Running in the Family, perhaps my favorite memoir of all time. It's not just story. It's not just language. It's the making of memoir, revealed.


bermudaonion said...

I'll have to look for Running in the Family since I love a good memoir.

woman who roars said...

I miss being in school. English classes most of all. Its amazing to hear other peoples thoughts on a passage you've just read - everyone sees something different with a few unifying truths.

I think I want to go back to school!

septembermom said...

I could be in an English class all day. I miss the analysis, discussion and debate about great literature. This was a very interesting post, Beth. Larry Woiwode's words give us much to think about it. That's what life should be about: stimulating conversation spurring more thought and maybe some creativity.

Beth F said...

Your favorite or not, I don't think I'll be reading the Ondaatje memoir. I hated The English Patient, and I'm not sure I'd tackle him again, even in nonfiction.

poetjanes said...

Enjoy Running in the Family with your class! Just finished up our discussion last week. A few students were baffled by the lushness of the prose. But many were won over by the sheer magic of his storytelling.

Sherry said...

I always enjoy getting a peek at your teaching; the students' learning.
Going now to write that Woiwode quote in my commonplace book. Love it.

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