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Author Topic: Banning books is the dumb way to go  (Read 2120 times)

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #20 on: 29 Dec 2020, 14:58 »
Truly, articles such as these are built for people like I to read, and go wild over. However, that same reason also means that I am particularly distrustful to such articles. This seems too outrageous to be entirely true. As the likely intended fish for this bait, I find it mediocre, odious and irresponsible.

Although I will concede that I think that if you, an English teacher, consider the Odyssey 'trash', then I jolly well think you have no blasted business what-ever in that field. Most children will likely find it quite boring, but it is their inheritance. Withholding it, even if they do not care for it, is frankly abominable. This matters. It is not but a past-time. It is a legacy, and such things are invaluable, no matter how ugly or stodgy. That is, if someone did say that. It seems unclear. This is a slanderous thing to say, if they have not. And even if they did say so, it does not warrant what this article has done.
I am particularly distressed that someone who, allegedly, said so, is presented with a full name but without context. It is simply not done. Particularly if the veracity of that claim is doubtful. Pundits and political figures, entities in 'the great game', can be 'called out'. What is effectively a civilian cannot.

I am sufficiently irritated by the very idea that Homer is outdated 'trash', and that anyone who professes to teach language seems to hold pride in the idea of getting those works scratched off the curriculum, that I would very much like to give them a piece of my mind – but I will not. What good would it do? None for me, none for them, what-ever. What good has this done, but given some very unpleasant people a place to pour bile? Particularly if it is not even quite true.
If that 'service' is intended for me, to give me something to shout at, then I decline it. Even if I do care, even if I will not take one step back on the question of Homer, this trial by pillory is utterly unworthy. Frankly, I find it irresponsible. Much more so than the individuals quoted.

Cancel culture is an odious and abominable phenomenon, but the best way to keep it in check is to not participate in it. This irresponsible article does, and it is most unimpressive. It is just about tempting people to succumb to poor form. Taking the necessary but also quite destructive need to speak your mind and turning it into a cudgel.

Now, more generally, curriculum and school literature is always a fine line. Indeed, some would wonder what is the use of teaching literature in the first place. What to teach, and why? What can a child read without damage? What to replace it with? And what is the good and proper thing to read now, at this time?
Of course, that will always be changing. As will the curriculum and the tolerable books. Is the point of teaching literature to give the children an idea of its history, of their legacy? Is the point to give them a certain outlook on life and literature? Is it about giving them a joy of reading, an appreciation of the written word's beauty? All? None?

It is an impossible equation, and yet we bungle on with it all the time. Much like schooling in general, I suppose, but it does mostly work. Agree or disagree on the particulars – I cannot imagine that anyone would not wish to give children their legacy, the knowledge that they are owed, the possibilities within that knowledge, and a glimpse of the beauty of all things.


The school library, however, is a different question.

I am forever hearing that tablets and reading devices are the future, since they can hold theoretically infinite books. Where they (or an economic substitute) are available and feasible, they could be a great boon for the school library.
Space is not an object – only the devices and the infrastructure, both of which seems to rapidly become a necessity for a 21st century school anyway.
If age appropriate content is an issue, then the pupils could, theoretically, unlock access to more problematic works with age. They could come with warnings, disclaimers, a switch between sanitised and original text. They could come with context, or additional information.
All of which would take work, but it would be work well spent – more so than thrashing out which books to bin and which to keep every other year.
With electric books available, and armed with some sort of ratings and warning system, I believe a vast cornucopia of books can be provided to all pupils who seeks them. It does not solve the question of curriculum, but it helps.

I don't see how posting on a forum is any different to tweeting from an account with relatively few followers to very little engagement. Even if the teachers had behaved irresponsibly (they haven't), digging up the tweets of people with no profile and publishing them in a national newspaper can be ethically troubling even when the content of the tweets is genuinely disturbing.

To be clear, the Odyssey could have a place in any literature class, but it definitely does not have a place on lots of curriculums. This is an absurd and calculated overreaction from anti-intellectual conservatives.

I disagree. I think that it is a vital part of a curriculum in the west. However, using the internet outrage phenomenon as a weapon simply because I disagree with you or someone else on this matter would be beastly, that is a certainty. That I do agree with you; that it is quite simply not good tone to mark out civilians as targets on the internet – not now, not at this time, not now that the internet has become what it is.

KyriakosCH

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #21 on: 29 Dec 2020, 15:01 »
I don't see how posting on a forum is any different to tweeting from an account with relatively few followers to very little engagement. Even if the teachers had behaved irresponsibly (they haven't), digging up the tweets of people with no profile and publishing them in a national newspaper can be ethically troubling even when the content of the tweets is genuinely disturbing.

To be clear, the Odyssey could have a place in any literature class, but it definitely does not have a place on lots of curriculums. This is an absurd and calculated overreaction from anti-intellectual conservatives.

I represent Homer, and as the ancient greek saying goes: "every non-greek is a barbarian"  :=

Seriously, though, as the above poster also said, you can't be a teacher of literature and say nonsense like "I'd rather die before teaching Homer again" & "hahahaha, I finally managed to take Homer out!" - you clearly lack the skills for the job. If kids don't get it, your job is to teach them what of value is there; if you don't see anything of value, it'd be fine if you weren't teaching literature but not fine as things are.

Bonus text:

THE WORM AND THE ANGEL
by Lord Dunsany

As he crawled from the tombs of the fallen a worm met with an angel.

And together they looked upon the kings and kingdoms, and youths and maidens and the cities of men. They saw the old men heavy in their chairs and heard the children singing in the fields. They saw far wars and warriors and walled towns, wisdom and wickedness, and the pomp of kings, and the people of all the lands that the sunlight knew.

And the worm spake to the angel saying: "Behold my food."

"Be dakeon para Thina poluphloisboio Thalassaes,"* murmured the angel, for they walked by the sea, "and can you destroy that too?"

And the worm paled in his anger to a greyness ill to behold, for for three thousand years he had tried to destroy that line and still its melody was ringing in his head.

*It's from the first book of the Iliad. About someone walking silently on the edge of the noisy and tempestuous sea.
« Last Edit: 29 Dec 2020, 15:34 by KyriakosCH »
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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #22 on: 29 Dec 2020, 15:15 »
I don't see how posting on a forum is any different to tweeting from an account with relatively few followers to very little engagement. Even if the teachers had behaved irresponsibly (they haven't), digging up the tweets of people with no profile and publishing them in a national newspaper can be ethically troubling even when the content of the tweets is genuinely disturbing.

To be clear, the Odyssey could have a place in any literature class, but it definitely does not have a place on lots of curriculums. This is an absurd and calculated overreaction from anti-intellectual conservatives.

I represent Homer, and as the ancient greek saying goes: "every non-greek is a barbarian"  :=

Seriously, though, as the above poster also said, you can't be a teacher of literature and say nonsense like "I'd rather die before teaching Homer again" & "hahahaha, I finally managed to take Homer out!" - you clearly lack the skills for the job. If kids don't get it, your job is to teach them what of value is there; if you don't see anything of value, it'd be fine if you weren't teaching literature but not fine as things are.

Oh, indeed. Of course, all pre-faced by the fact that it is my opinion on the matter. I consider it entirely correct, but it is reasonable to disagree.

To re-iterate, however, such a hideous attitude towards Homer and their very profession - IF it is TRUE - is still not reason for inviting an internet hate barrage. Very poor form. A veil of anonymity would have been the decent thing to do, in this article. Truly, if I ever do write articles myself, I shall remember this principle.

(As for the barbarian question - it is an amusing quote! But with the vast influence of the greeks upon the world that came after them, could it not be said that everyone is greek? :3 )

KyriakosCH

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #23 on: 29 Dec 2020, 15:22 »
^_^
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Ali

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #24 on: 29 Dec 2020, 15:51 »
Seriously, though, as the above poster also said, you can't be a teacher of literature and say nonsense like "I'd rather die before teaching Homer again" & "hahahaha, I finally managed to take Homer out!" - you clearly lack the skills for the job. If kids don't get it, your job is to teach them what of value is there; if you don't see anything of value, it'd be fine if you weren't teaching literature but not fine as things are.

Yes, but the important thing is that no one is saying that. What they're saying (even if you disagree with it) is entirely different in context. It's not a direct or representative quote, and I would expect a literature enthusiast to take more care about what they read. You're tilting at windmills (see, I've read books).

I don't see how posting on a forum is any different to tweeting from an account with relatively few followers to very little engagement. Even if the teachers had behaved irresponsibly (they haven't), digging up the tweets of people with no profile and publishing them in a national newspaper can be ethically troubling even when the content of the tweets is genuinely disturbing.

To be clear, the Odyssey could have a place in any literature class, but it definitely does not have a place on lots of curriculums. This is an absurd and calculated overreaction from anti-intellectual conservatives.

I disagree. I think that it is a vital part of a curriculum in the west. However, using the internet outrage phenomenon as a weapon simply because I disagree with you or someone else on this matter would be beastly, that is a certainty. That I do agree with you; that it is quite simply not good tone to mark out civilians as targets on the internet – not now, not at this time, not now that the internet has become what it is.

I disagree with you, Reiter, but I respect the fact that you're taking a consistent stance against online abuse.

However, it's simply a matter of fact that the Odyssey is not on every western curriculum. Many people (including me) went through school without studying it, and society has not collapsed so far.
« Last Edit: 29 Dec 2020, 15:53 by Ali »

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #25 on: 29 Dec 2020, 16:47 »
I am pretty sure I was not taught a single line of Homer throughout all my school days (I listened to the Iliad and parts of the Odyssey as audio books in my twenties, in Fagles' translation — given the oral history of the poems I feel that was a good format), though we may have had some of the stories via retellings for children: at least my primary school library had a whole series of retellings of Greek mythology. (I also rather suspect that I picked up the gist of the Odyssey mainly from those Italian Donald Duck stories that use various classics as their basis.) We did do one or two Greek tragedies and some bits of Plato's dialogues, though.

Honestly I don't think Homer should be a priority for the literature curriculum. Certainly not in Norway, and probably not in the US. (If you want kids to do it in Greece, that's fine.)

As stories they are far removed from having any relevance to modern Norwegian school children (with the important exception of any that are boat migrants or refugees from warn-torn areas). At most the kids will appreciate parts of the Odyssey as somewhat amusing fairy tales about outwitting giants and sailors being transformed into pigs by a witch, etc., but honestly they'll have heard plenty of local fairy tales that are just as good (you don't even get the Trojan Horse bit!). As poetry they are obviously not accessible in the original, so you're left with whatever literary merits the translations have. And even if the translation is brilliant, a faithful rendering will be dense reading, with the unfamiliar form and all the epithets and allusions to mythology, so unless you devoted at least a semester to it (meaning other texts couldn't be covered), you wouldn't be able to get through more than a few stanzas because of all the background you'd have to explain.

Sure, Homer has historical importance, so there are arguments why he should be taught. But there are so many worthwhile texts in our literary history that the vast majority of texts that might merit inclusion in a school curriculum will inevitably have to be excluded. In my case we read Lord of the Flies and Hamlet and Snorre and Ibsen and Undset and Hamsun (among others), and I feel strongly that I got more out of those than I would have from Homer, so I'm happy that we didn't cut any of them from the curriculum just to cover some episodes from the Odyssey.

I don't know what the teachers have against Homer to celebrate his exclusion from the curriculum, but certainly the epics reflect a system of values very different from ours that would need to be addressed in teaching them. If anything, I would say Agamemnon, Achilles, Odysseus and the other Achaeans have a lot in common with the Huns in Borges' story. (The Huns, of course, are themselves represented in epic poetry via the sagas and lays of the Niebelungen, where Attila the Hun is an important character.)

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #26 on: 29 Dec 2020, 17:09 »
As an adult, I read the Odyssey in Chapman's 17th C. English translation, which I suspect is not particularly faithful. It maintained the verse, but Romanized the gods. I get the impression the translator made an effort to Christianize the representation of Jove/Zeus, casting the other gods as facets of him. At school we might have heard the story of the Cyclops, but we certainly didn't engage with Homer's writing at any point.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #27 on: 29 Dec 2020, 18:18 »

Well, no. It is not a catastrophic omission, as it were. It is, however, a mistake. A pity. A mighty archetype that has been with us so long, and a window into another world, and a point of reference through the ages – it is a gift withheld. Its absence will not collapse our world, but it makes it poorer.

Relevancy, I think, does not matter. Not, at least, as what that term implies. Most novels do not feature telephones or the internet, and is thus woefully irrelevant to the life of a child today. And yet, of course, they are, for so little has truly changed. Something that literature helps to bring across. Something that I think it should bring across. A modern child in a smart villa in, say, Bergen - Norway, would soon discover that they are more closely united to Oliver Twist than either would know, despite their circumstances. Ink on paper is a splendid way to discover this.
Indeed, relevancy is an illusion for what is relevant to you changes as you observe something.
For instance, Arabian poetry may not have seem relevant to me, but having had the opportunity to examine it in manhood, I see how it is universal. Indeed, Arabian literature is a trove of treasures I am just now discovering, and it is splendid. That is how the written word is so radiant; it breaches all types of relevancies, and yet you meet the same things in it, wherever you go.

I would agree that that curriculum seems to have been an excellent, solid piece nonetheless, although I remain unconvinced as to why they left such an important part of it out, even though it certainly did make up the difference. Homer is, of course, a hard digest, but the act of learning to read what is sometimes difficult and stodgy texts, to understand references you might not just at once – or indeed circumnavigating something that you do not have the frame of reference to understand – is as valuable knowledge that much exceeds the historical importance of the text.

As for the difference in value between Homer and modernity, I would say that is part of the point to teach it. Such things change, and I do believe even children benefit from being made aware of this, of seeing it. Knowing that the values of Agamemnon's men and those of we who live now differ – and knowing why – is very important. Addressing it is not only a necessity, it is the point. Relevancy and understanding.
As an early surviving archetype, it stands tall still, and the gifts from trying to understand it is greater than the sum of the tale itself. And truly, what I mean by legacy does not limit it for Greeks alone, or that it is of less value to a Norwegian, as it is sufficiently old and vast that it transcends the modern nation-state. But I admit, if I had my way, Chinese and Indian epics would get their time on the bench here, too.

Now. I shall admit that having now threshed the matter through for a while, I see the impossibility. There is too much splendour, too much importance, to press into the teaching machine. It is impossible. There will always be glaring omissions, for want of time. What of Snorre Sturlasson? What of the Mahabharta? What of Milton, and Confucius? There will never be time, not even if I got to run my own public school!

Provided, of course, it is for a want of time that works are omitted, rather than foolish notions of what is appropriate and what is relevant and what is dangerous.

It is uplifting, in a way. That this vast treasure hoard around us is too great to survey, and hopeless to choose from. We can only pick which choice pieces to display.
But if such is the case, I argue that the most important part of literature in school is to point to this vast field and say 'Look. Take it! It is yours!', and open the pupil's eyes to this beauty, and to make them brave in the face of its hideousness.


To me, Homer is of greater importance than a 'mere' book. It is an archetype, a guide to a vast tradition, and a place to cut your teeth. But I see now that it may not be as utterly indispensable as I imagine, IF its replacement fits the same profile.

And, most importantly, that this replacement is not taught 'simply' as a book to know about. It is greater than that. If it can be replaced with just about anything on paper, what would be the point on spending school time studying books? If it should be taken off the curriculum for being distressing or problematic, how would one expect the pupils to learn what to do when they encounter such things in the wild? One would think it would be critical to the 'anti-biased' thinking that this here Disrupt Text movement seem to want.

Then again, I now remember when I recently watched some literature show on television, where one of the culture big-wigs in the studio said, very earnestly, that there was no inherent value in reading. In short, sending and receiving on the telephone or simply watching The Name of the Rose on Netflix is just as good, and books have no inherent value. He was met with general agreement, I seem to recall.

I myself and what I want literature and its reading to be may simply be wrong. I do not quite know anymore.

Still, it is mighty fun to thresh it out!

Ali

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #28 on: 29 Dec 2020, 19:15 »
I think it's correct to regard an effort to change the curriculum as a politically motivated act, but it's huge mistake to regard efforts to keep the curriculum the same as politically neutral. They're both political, and neither of them shows greater respect towards abstract notions of literary or cultural value. Regarding the curriculum as if it were a monolithic and unchanging syllabus of Great Texts is an appealing conservative fantasy, but it's also clearly nonsense.

I agree, we shouldn't necessarily hide books which are deemed 'dangerous'. But which books does society deem dangerous? Is anyone afraid of Homer or Shakespeare? Or are the readers of the Wall Street Journal terrified that anti-racist (or pro-gay or pro-trans) literature will appear on the syllabus?
« Last Edit: 29 Dec 2020, 20:42 by Ali »

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #29 on: 29 Dec 2020, 20:22 »
Well, if there's one thing to be said for the Greek classics, they are at least not anti-gay. (Though unless I misremember, Achilles's love for Patroclus is not explicitly sexual in Homer.)

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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #30 on: 29 Dec 2020, 20:32 »
Depends on the text :) I'd say it's more common to find such works in the early roman period, for example that work about a trip to Knidos to see the famous statue of Aphrodite, which was supposedly (but afaik not in reality- it's not at all his style either) written by the great Lucian of Samosata.
Then again, other famous latin works are against homosexuality, for example that of the latin Lucian (of Apulia), about the youth who got transformed into a donkey.
I don't recall any reference to homosexuality in the romance "The Ethiopika" - not that those romances were high-brow literature, they seem to have been the penny-dreadful of the hellenistic era.

I do recall a story of an athenian boy who killed himself (don't recall if the story is in Plutarch; if so, obviously it was written half a millenium after the time) so as to avoid King Demetrios' advances (rape attempt). Demetrios was the ruler of Macedonia at the time.

Anyway, there was also infatuation with spartan women, who (due to the way their state was set) controlled all the money, and apparently were mostly interested in looking very hot and athletic. After all, the first woman to win in the olympic games was from Sparta.
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Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #31 on: 29 Dec 2020, 21:36 »
Relevancy, I think, does not matter. Not, at least, as what that term implies. Most novels do not feature telephones or the internet, and is thus woefully irrelevant to the life of a child today.

I think you take a different meaning from "relevance" (or "relevancy") than I do. Relevance does not imply complete identity or recognition, but rather some ability to relate: to connect it to one's own experience (external or internal, personal or second-hand). I believe that pre-modern literature has a higher threshold to achieve that connection because it rarely features any kind of psychological realism, which when present offers a ready bridge. Few readers will have faced a situation like Hamlet's, but we can emotionally relate — directly or indirectly — to his resentment of a stepfather, to his indecision in the face of a moral dilemma, to the way he lashes out in anger and grief, etc. Achilles's petulant refusal to fight, and his uncontrollable rage after Patroclus's death, on the other hand, are more opaque to us, more alien. In the Odyssey, I can only hesitantly identify Odysseus's experience of dislocation upon his return, and perhaps Telemachus's absence from growing up without a father, as points of connection for a contemporary audience.

(On the other hand, a number of interpreters have retold the stories in various ways to bring out some of the emotion perhaps latent in the original. I'm thinking particularly of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason and Circe by Madeline Miller. They do however rely on some pretty heavy revisionism. Oh, and as I've just learned, the poem by Tennyson, which turns out to be the source of a number of lines I recognize, apparently in part from Skyfall, and which I find rather good: "Yet all experience is an arch wherethro' / Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move.")

For instance, Arabian poetry may not have seem relevant to me, but having had the opportunity to examine it in manhood, I see how it is universal. Indeed, Arabian literature is a trove of treasures I am just now discovering, and it is splendid. That is how the written word is so radiant; it breaches all types of relevancies, and yet you meet the same things in it, wherever you go.

Oh, interesting. I recently read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám by Edward FitzGerald for the first time (not the most faithful rendering, I'm told, but I thought the interpreter might help smooth the way into the text). I must admit that my appreciation was limited. Do you have any recommendations for what I could try, given that I'm limited to English translations?

I would agree that that curriculum seems to have been an excellent, solid piece nonetheless, although I remain unconvinced as to why they left such an important part of it out, even though it certainly did make up the difference.

At a guess, the "classic epic poetry" quota was taken up by selections from the Norse corpus (themselves not very extensive).

Homer is, of course, a hard digest, but the act of learning to read what is sometimes difficult and stodgy texts, to understand references you might not just at once – or indeed circumnavigating something that you do not have the frame of reference to understand – is as valuable knowledge that much exceeds the historical importance of the text.

As for the difference in value between Homer and modernity, I would say that is part of the point to teach it. Such things change, and I do believe even children benefit from being made aware of this, of seeing it. Knowing that the values of Agamemnon's men and those of we who live now differ – and knowing why – is very important. Addressing it is not only a necessity, it is the point. Relevancy and understanding.

Indeed, but I don't think either of those lessons require Homer specifically.

But I will not argue that you are wrong. Something is no doubt lost when command of the classics (as traditionally conceived) is no longer expected of students, and it is valid to regret that loss. However, as Ali correctly points out, to instill that knowledge comes at an opportunity cost of learning other things, of opening up to reading other kinds of texts, and we should not be blind to that cost simply because it has been the traditional choice.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #32 on: 29 Dec 2020, 23:25 »
The major problem when deciding a curriculum will be time. I don't know if pupils or students in other countries mostly read novels or complete works; in Norway the norm is short stories or excerpts from larger works, and the occasional full work. Thus, even in Ibsen's home country, you may go through school and only have read/watched one or two of Ibsen's plays. The Norwegian subject is not fully a literature class, however. There're all kinds of writing and reading skills, analysis, grammar and extended culture (because it doesn't fit anywhere else, I suppose).

Many students think that a typical short story is much shorter than the norm, simply because their school textbooks mostly contain short stories only a few pages long. Again, it seems that time is the criteria used for choosing this text over that. I think it will be difficult to find a course that delves into the actual text and poetry of the greek classics in any depth below university level here in my country.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #33 on: 29 Dec 2020, 23:43 »
If we're talking about the Odyssey, I don't remember ever being asked to read it in full in school, and personally, I don't see why it should be either. There are several million books in existence,
and I personally think there are lots of books that can spark more interesting discussions than a work whose biggest influence on western society was giving filmmakers some ideas on what monsters to put in their blockbusters.

But even if you disagree and think the Odyssey is one of the greatest books ever, from my experience, our teachers were so pressed for time we could barely fit one book into a school year,
so that would just mean excluding another work if they were to choose the entirety of the Odyssey as part of the curriculum. I for one think Right-Wing Women by Andrea Dworkin is one of
the most eye-opening books I've ever read and I'd wish everyone would read it, but I'm not going to say it's censorship because it isn't part of every school curriculum.


Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #34 on: 30 Dec 2020, 00:46 »
I think it's correct to regard an effort to change the curriculum as a politically motivated act, but it's huge mistake to regard efforts to keep the curriculum the same as politically neutral. They're both political, and neither of them shows greater respect towards abstract notions of literary or cultural value. Regarding the curriculum as if it were a monolithic and unchanging syllabus of Great Texts is an appealing conservative fantasy, but it's also clearly nonsense.

I agree, we shouldn't necessarily hide books which are deemed 'dangerous'. But which books does society deem dangerous? Is anyone afraid of Homer or Shakespeare? Or are the readers of the Wall Street Journal terrified that anti-racist (or pro-gay or pro-trans) literature will appear on the syllabus?

Oho! I understand what you mean. I lay no claim to neutrality in this question. There is no such thing, truly. I understand that there is a political motivation, of a kind, in my wish to keep the classics in the curriculum, and my severe reticence in seeing it changed. And, indeed, there is no such thing as stasis. Things do change, over time. It is a tempting thing, to pretend to belong to the old sensible in the face of a vast, lunatic modernity coming to rip it all down and replace it with vapid fashions of now. It is, of course, much more complicated than that, and I do my damnedest to remember that.

As for outright dangerous works, I admit they are few. Neither of the examples would be. 'Dangerous' was the wrong word to use, as it carries a certain emergency and fear with it. Works that are considered malinfluential, problematic, odious or hateful, at a first glance, or as a basic reaction.
The works that were to replace them are not a danger, either. They would well have merits beyond being what the current climate demands, and they, too, deserve their time at the desk, but I am wary of them becoming a replacement, and being treated as an improvement – an an idea that all books are the same, and what matters is that they are a good fit for the present.

Now, I suppose 'The Anarchist's Cookbook' or some other insurgency manuals are the only truly dangerous books, and I could understand why they would make no appearance – but the question of such books and their availability is a different matter, I suppose. Ironically, an old CIA-issue bomb making leaflet or some-such on the loose would probably be considerably more dangerous than a traceable and supervised darknet site. Intriguing, how it falls sometimes.

I think you take a different meaning from "relevance" (or "relevancy") than I do. Relevance does not imply complete identity or recognition, but rather some ability to relate: to connect it to one's own experience (external or internal, personal or second-hand). I believe that pre-modern literature has a higher threshold to achieve that connection because it rarely features any kind of psychological realism, which when present offers a ready bridge. Few readers will have faced a situation like Hamlet's, but we can emotionally relate — directly or indirectly — to his resentment of a stepfather, to his indecision in the face of a moral dilemma, to the way he lashes out in anger and grief, etc. Achilles's petulant refusal to fight, and his uncontrollable rage after Patroclus's death, on the other hand, are more opaque to us, more alien. In the Odyssey, I can only hesitantly identify Odysseus's experience of dislocation upon his return, and perhaps Telemachus's absence from growing up without a father, as points of connection for a contemporary audience.

(On the other hand, a number of interpreters have retold the stories in various ways to bring out some of the emotion perhaps latent in the original. I'm thinking particularly of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason and Circe by Madeline Miller. They do however rely on some pretty heavy revisionism. Oh, and as I've just learned, the poem by Tennyson, which turns out to be the source of a number of lines I recognize, apparently in part from Skyfall, and which I find rather good: "Yet all experience is an arch wherethro' / Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move.")

I see what you mean, in the matter of relating. That is a different question, and I do agree that there is need to tread carefully. It is easier for someone young to see themselves in, say, a trodden and beaten little boy suddenly getting a whole new life and going off to a wizard school than in a warrior leaving his team because he feels unfairly treated when the king takes away his slave. Even so, there is things to recognise in Achilles and the men and women around them, and with some training, any distance can be bridged, and what was alien to the reader become familiar. Personal experiences are important, but to look beyond even them..! Oh, splendour, the world is greater than comprehension will allow!
It is another power of the word; that we can be invited into the hide of anything and anyone, eventually. Some works makes it easy, some are very difficult. I do think the young should be encouraged to try this, however. It is splendour, and one of the requirements of modern civility and life is the ability to look beyond the self and into the condition of the other. Learning to relate, first in familiar surroundings and then in hallowed or horrid or alien circumstances, will be of immeasurable help.
I may over-estimate the contemporary audience, particularly the young. But I want to believe that I am not, that anyone can step over. Far better it is than to not push them enough. Indeed, with so much other media all around them, making the fantastical familiar, I imagine the young of today can, with practice, put their eyes and heart where-ever they choose.

And, truly, thank you for that link! It is a delightful poem, and I am happy to know of that web-site now.


For instance, Arabian poetry may not have seem relevant to me, but having had the opportunity to examine it in manhood, I see how it is universal. Indeed, Arabian literature is a trove of treasures I am just now discovering, and it is splendid. That is how the written word is so radiant; it breaches all types of relevancies, and yet you meet the same things in it, wherever you go.

Oh, interesting. I recently read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám by Edward FitzGerald for the first time (not the most faithful rendering, I'm told, but I thought the interpreter might help smooth the way into the text). I must admit that my appreciation was limited. Do you have any recommendations for what I could try, given that I'm limited to English translations?



Oh, goodness, no! I am still very much a beginner, and you are likely far more versed in it than myself. I can only recommend hunting for a wide selection, and see what takes your fancy from there. It is a vast field! I, too, rely on translations. Arabic is a fascinating language (or family of languages, I am still not sure), but it is beyond my reach for now. If I find a promising vein, I shall get in touch.

At a guess, the "classic epic poetry" quota was taken up by selections from the Norse corpus (themselves not very extensive).

That is time well spent, I shall say, although it is a pity that there must be a choice. I barely recall my school days, but I do remember a disappointing lack of Norse verse in it. Although, the Nordic mythology lessons did a lot to fill the gap. I may have been too cyclopean (ha!) previous. There are, after all, other lessons, that may make up for what the literature lessons simply do not have time for. Nonetheless, there was a glaring omission of Beowulf, I recall now.

Speaking of omissions, Johan Ludvig Runeberg was absent. And in that case, I do suspect that the reasoning may have been political. He is certainly not a hard read or unrelatable. I imagine that he was simply considered a bit 'icky' – martial and nationalistic – when they were pruning the curriculum, so poor old Runeberg had to bite it. A pity, really, considering the joint heritage he represents.

Homer is, of course, a hard digest, but the act of learning to read what is sometimes difficult and stodgy texts, to understand references you might not just at once – or indeed circumnavigating something that you do not have the frame of reference to understand – is as valuable knowledge that much exceeds the historical importance of the text.

As for the difference in value between Homer and modernity, I would say that is part of the point to teach it. Such things change, and I do believe even children benefit from being made aware of this, of seeing it. Knowing that the values of Agamemnon's men and those of we who live now differ – and knowing why – is very important. Addressing it is not only a necessity, it is the point. Relevancy and understanding.

Indeed, but I don't think either of those lessons require Homer specifically.

But I will not argue that you are wrong. Something is no doubt lost when command of the classics (as traditionally conceived) is no longer expected of students, and it is valid to regret that loss. However, as Ali correctly points out, to instill that knowledge comes at an opportunity cost of learning other things, of opening up to reading other kinds of texts, and we should not be blind to that cost simply because it has been the traditional choice.

Perhaps... Perhaps. It is a good point. With a holistic (is that the right word) method of education, where each part links and aids the others is the best. Tradition, I hold as very important, but there may indeed be a time when the gains taken at its expense outweighs the loss. I suppose that I am simply unconvinced that the exchange will be any good, but I am always prepared to be surprised.

Well, if there's one thing to be said for the Greek classics, they are at least not anti-gay. (Though unless I misremember, Achilles's love for Patroclus is not explicitly sexual in Homer.)


It is important to remember that the way we see these things are always changing. Truly, antiquity were no less bothered and baffled by sexual matters than we are now, I would wager, only that their peculiarities and distinctions are different. It is very complicated, and I do not think a direct adaption to modern culture can be made without some misunderstandings along the way.

If we're talking about the Odyssey, I don't remember ever being asked to read it in full in school, and personally, I don't see why it should be either. There are several million books in existence,
and I personally think there are lots of books that can spark more interesting discussions than a work whose biggest influence on western society was giving filmmakers some ideas on what monsters to put in their blockbusters.

But even if you disagree and think the Odyssey is one of the greatest books ever, from my experience, our teachers were so pressed for time we could barely fit one book into a school year,
so that would just mean excluding another work if they were to choose the entirety of the Odyssey as part of the curriculum. I for one think Right-Wing Women by Andrea Dworkin is one of
the most eye-opening books I've ever read and I'd wish everyone would read it, but I'm not going to say it's censorship because it isn't part of every school curriculum.

I disagree, on the premise that it is not only a book (if there was ever such a thing as 'only' a book), as it carries so much more else with it, and have meant so much more than merely an inspiration for monster-makers (as an aside, consider the Aeneid! The implications and inspirations of that work, and what it meant to Rome, which could be monstrous for two!).

As I mentioned earlier, the songs of Homer is a gateway, a glimpse into an old world, and a reflexion to our own, and an excellent place to cut reading teeth. As a story, on its own amongst untold millions, it is not much. It is the all-reaching legacy it represents, the timelessness, and the lineage, which is this archetype of a work's true value. As a book amongst others, it is mediocre. As an inheritance, and more importantly as a great gateway, it is invaluable.
Now, reading the Iliad and the Odyssey, back to back, in their entirety, would of course be too much, but that is not, in my mind, what should be done with this sort of literature. A few, choice verses, and a greater view of the picture, is all that it takes.

I remember so little from my school days, but I do remember that classics from antiquity were part of it. It was a very brief visit, shorter than it should have been, but it did awaken the interest, the understanding. Which is, of course, what literary studies should do, particularly if pressed for time.
What matters most in such studies, now that I think of it, is not to read great works to their final line and letter, but to grasp them. To learn what they mean, what they represent, what they are. For it is a fact of life that the most important reading you will do is not done in the school bench, but on your own – out in your own life.
I am grateful for having been introduced to so much splendour by the curriculum, but the books that have truly mattered to me have – of course – almost all been off the curriculum. The literature classes simply pointed me in their direction and gave me what I needed to hunt for them.

Now, I shall see about Andrea Dworkin. She seems quite intriguing, and I can never have enough books to read!

Danvzare

  • The Man with No Name
    • I can help with AGS tutoring
    • I can help with proof reading
    • I can help with scripting
    • I can help with voice acting
    • Danvzare worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #35 on: 30 Dec 2020, 16:48 »
I feel like I've stumbled upon one of the most meaningless hotly debatable topics in the world.
Because despite your views on the matter, the fact is, we're talking about books in schools.  (roll)

To re-iterate what others have already said, schools don't exactly have their students read books all of the time, and there are way too many books for anyone to agree as to what should be read by everyone. So arguing about censorship sounds like a moot point. There's no room for the discussion of censorship in that environment, as it quickly boils down to either:
"This should be censored!" "Yay! But it wasn't going to get read anyway!"
or
"This shouldn't be censored!" "Yay! But it's not going to get read anyway!"

I personally think there's more purpose to arguing whether or not Batman should be depicted as killing people or not.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #36 on: 30 Dec 2020, 18:15 »
And books in school matters, Sir. At least I think they should.

It is a slogging and difficult threshing to sort this business out, but it is well worth doing. Otherwise, what is the point? Disband literature classes all together, and spend the time saved on learning to draft C.V.s or make pie charts on the computer.

I suppose that is a greater discussion, however. What is school and education for? And where does 'non-practical' subjects and things like gymnastics and art classes fit into it?

Intriguing discussion, nonetheless. As for the example, I thought that bat-man did not kill people out of principle. Except, I imagine, 'by accident', now and then.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #37 on: 01 Jan 2021, 18:20 »
Getting yourself acquainted with the Odyssey and the Iliad — even if in a shallow manner — gives you a body of references which will help you understand, experience and enjoy a trove of artistic works. The influence Homer has had on the western cultural fabric is so pervasive that I can name off the top of my head at least a dozen «things» (among movies, books, songs, operas, computer games, product labels, a server name, so many paintings etc.) I "participated in" in the last month that have a direct connection (mostly character references, but not only) with those two books.
The achievement is so immense that is difficult to even put it into scale: towering and extremely popular writers (Virgil, Austen, Tolstoj, Cervantes, Rilke, Camus…) — their tales inextricably part of our collective spirit — do not come close to Homer (maybe One Thousand and One Nights).
On top of that (and themes of such a narrative significance that are still being discussed today) you have: tests, friendship, betrayals, ominous gods, assorted violence, passion, laments & some joy. So yeah, it seems to me an excellent bang for the buck.

Thank Zeus, because the above mentioned ubiquity, one does not need a willing professor to discover Homer by themselves (and awaken the interest in reading).
Nobody will die by axing the Iliad from the curriculum, but I would argue it is a mistake.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #38 on: 02 Jan 2021, 18:27 »
Now, I shall see about Andrea Dworkin. She seems quite intriguing, and I can never have enough books to read!
Well, there's a free PDF of the full book here.


Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #39 on: 09 Jan 2021, 13:08 »
Thank you kindly! Most intriguing - it shall be an interesting read. Happy to see it available free of charge. I seem to remember hearing of her in connexion to Ordeal, but she seems a most fascinating writer, with an intriguing perspective.

I complain so much about the internet, but I cannot argue that it makes sourcing books ever so much simpler.