Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Miranda Likes Big Books

"Contrary to what the Board of Studies seems to think, a 'text' is not 'anything'. The term implies something in a written format, poetry, drama or prose. Not an image or a film clip. Similarly, Shakespeare was a playwright, Coleridge a poet and Huxley an author. They were not 'composers' … We are … readers or viewers, not 'responders'."
Roland Brennan, Australian Year 12 student
Quoted by Miranda Divine,
Sydney Morning Herald.
Miranda Divine writes a column for the Sydney Morning Herald. She was also part of the Australian Government's National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy from 2004 to 2005. I read Miranda's texts just to see what she will say next as it is usually pretty irate. Today's piece is titled At sea in junk, but classics ahoy and describes the sorry state of an education system that would teach "Films, websites and various multimedia offerings". Miranda laments the lack of "big books" in the proposed syllabus, that I blogged about recently. The "big books" seem to be those that pass the 300 page mark as those of 213, 216 and 291 don't make it. BUT the 304 pages of Patrick White's The Aunt's Story is described as a "gem". Miranda implies that Harry Potter is also good as the latest is 607 pages! It does get more bizarre.
Divine goes on to quote at length (above) the essay of a final year student who is a product of the system that is supposedly so hopeless. His one dimensional concepts of text, authorship, and criticism seem to fit the prejudices of Miranda. He feels cheated because:
"King Lear … has now been deconstructed and rebuilt within the framework of modern theories such as feminism, Marxism and existentialism."
This is strange stuff. How are we supposed to read King Lear, as a Londoner in 1606 would have? How is that possible? There are so many ways of reading a text as complicated and as historically situated as King Lear? When I read it I thought the passages at the cliffs were about the simulacra of mediated reality.....but that's just me, perhaps I am one of those 'lost at sea'. So much so that I would not consider Marxism or existentialism particularly modern (my grandfather was communist).
However, there is a light at the end of our ignorance. The youngsters who manage to survive the postmodern hell of high school, suddenly demand "the classics" when the get to university:
"There is hope, Spurr says, as the students he sees in first-year university are increasingly demanding to be taught the classics, hungry for real literature and fed up with incoherent jargon."
Maybe they are so afraid of failing courses that they are now paying thousands of dollars for that they are happy to be told what to think, knowing that it will get them a pass and then they can get through the university with the smallest debt possible.

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