Tuesday, March 30, 2021

About Shelley

As a proud geek and devotee of quizzing, who was inevitably the last to be picked for any sporting team, one might have thought that I’d have approved of the Hackney New School, which claims to have all but eliminated bullying by replacing playground football games with poetry, chess and quizzes.

Pupils have memorised poems Ozymandias and Charge of Light Brigade [sic] off by heart and recite them as they line up for lessons or when they are eating lunch, [headteacher] Ms Whelan said... “Just yesterday a group of year 9 students beat me in a name the capital cities quiz, this would have been unthinkable two years ago.”

Well, um, yes, but. Knowing about poetry is, as Sellar and Yeatman had it, A Good Thing. But there’s something about learning it by rote and chanting it over lunch that feels almost cult-like. I do wonder what the radical Shelley, who was booted out of Oxford for his heterodox views on religion and much else, might have made of this; and ultimately what it means for education. 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away... 

(I’ve got an uncomfortable feeling that Tennyson might have approved, though.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

About remembering

I’ve been supping again from the well of Georges Perec, specifically his Je me souviens/I Remember. Inspired by the work of the American Joe Brainard (and in turn an inspiration for the Scot Gilbert Adair), it’s a list of memories, each prefaced with the words “I remember...” The point to the project is that although each memory is essentially banal (“I remember candy-floss at fairgrounds”), when read together they create something approaching a life, a personality. That said, if Perec didn’t have the imprimatur of literary quality bestowed by his role in the Oulipo group, would his book be any more profound than one of those interminable talking head shows in which fading celebrities pretend to recall Alvin Stardust or 9/11 or ra-ra skirts or the music for The A-Team?

I’m tempted to have a go, though. Watch this space...

Monday, March 15, 2021

About symbolism and the like

I’ve long admired Samuel Beckett’s exasperated response to overreaching critics, that if he’d really meant his play to be about God he would have called it Waiting for God. Haruki Murakami (who, as I usually point out at moments like this, bequeathed the title of this blog) is inevitably more polite, but he comes from pretty much the same place:

I’ve had a number of opportunities to discuss my work with college students in their classes, and the students always seem to end up confused, because they can’t find the theme or the point of my stories. But that doesn’t bother me at all.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

About Norton Juster

Norton Juster, who died a few days ago, is obviously best known for having written The Phantom Tollbooth, but was also an architect and, for many years, a university teacher. Not that he appears to have had much enthusiasm for education as it’s practised.

“Everyone’s worried about education, but it's really the appearance of education and the credentials of education they're worried about. I think at birth we should give every child a Ph.D.”

I picked up a few credentials along the way, but I’m pretty sure I learned more from The Phantom Tollbooth.

Friday, March 12, 2021

About rice shot from guns is gay as a picnic

This popped up on Twitter a few days ago. I think it’s real (Betty Hutton certainly was, and led a strange, rather sad life) but the words seem to come from another planet, or a David Bowie b-side at least. There has to be a creative use for them, but what? And how gay is your picnic?