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Wednesday 31st August - MG: LITERATURE&LIFE

About Wednesday 31st August

Previous Entry Wednesday 31st August Aug. 31st, 2005 @ 08:09 am Next Entry
An extraordinary day outside, for the last day of winter. Temperature up around 21 as I stepped out of my car at Strathfield at 7am. Decided to go for a brisk walk to take advantage of this glorious morning. I heard that there were storms and violent winds due this afternoon...
Yesterday's teaching was experimental but successful I think. In my 20th Century group we tackled Virginia Woolf's "Monday or Tuesday" - short piece of modernist writing which demonstrates some of her more radical strategies. Here, and elsewhere in her writing she is obsessed with the "truth" and whether it can be reached through the processes of creative writing. Can language be adjusted, fine-tuned, stretched away from the conventional rules of grammar so that the "truth" eventually shines through? This is the experiment she sets herself, capturing every nuance or moment of her internal thoughts and imaginings, together with fleeting external impressions to produce something that does eventually look rather like a Braque or Picasso cubist painting.... maybe I am stretching things a bit here... but there is a similarity in the way she flouts the conventions of ordinary discourse.....
So I broke the class up into groups of 2 - each group dealing with a paragraph- then I linked the groups of 2 to make groups of 4 - so that they could share their ideas- then I extracted a "keynote" speaker from each group so that each group could have a public voice- and hey presto! there were some extraordinary insights, visions, understandings... so how to play the catalyst and get the fruit of 20 young active minds to perform, express, perceive.... in some measure I think the whole process worked... although it would have been good to have had another 30 minutes.... Let's have a national protest: "WE WANT 90 MINUTE TUTORIALS!"
So what came out of this process was illuminating: Virginia Woolf IS, essentially writing about... discovering... exploring... the process of writing and imagining itself: "Blot the shores of it out!" She depicts the mind of the creative artist or poet in the process of constructing, exploring her reality.... and she does so with a real sense of the preciousness of the space for free imagination that she creates... the heron embodies her glorious sense of freedom, flying above church and state... almost in touch with the heavens (but not quite)... partaking of the distance and detachment of the white clouds.... And she is also very aware of the muddy world of the external world around her with its voices hinting at imperialist domination "black figures and their bright eyes" (black servants... someone suggested)... "plate glass preserves fur coats" (the insularity, the sealed world of the rich power brokers... and so Virginia Woolf herself, through her imagination cuts free from this... her marble fireside platform becoming, in her imagination, a magic carpet... metaphor for the freeing magic of the creative word itself... and does this bring her closer to the truth? well that still remains an open question... partly resolved by the shift from that one consonant (thus the extraordinary magical power of script, of words!) Z to C = Lazy to Lacy... Congratulations to that bright observer who noted that this shift indicated a movement from passivitiy to something more active and involved: now the piece of writing itself has indeed become "Lacy"... as in constructed, beautiful... but still detached from the world below.. rather like the heron.... and so the sky, at the very end, after concealing her stars, reveals or unveils or BARES them.... the stars, being -as some bright spark in the class noted (PUN INTENDED!)- symbolic of guidance, of light, of direction... indeed they are... as in that classic instance of the Magi... led to Bethlehem by the guiding star... but this symbolism of course preceding but including Christian symbolism.... so well done... both Virginia Woolf classes....
In Australian Literature we devised a similar classroom strategy... inspired by the success of 2nd years... and workshopped - in all three groups- that massive, powerful, thought-provoking poem by Kenneth Slessor, Five Bells. Slessor, the father of literary modernism in Australia produced this amazing poem as an attempt to bring some closure over the loss of a friend who was drowned while on a harbour cruise in Sydney Harbour. His body was never recovered, but Slessor tries, through the power of his creative language, to bring Joe back into focus through memory and imagination. Our classes noted very quickly the similarities here between this theme and that of Helen Garner's Joe Cinque's Consololation - so we were on the lookout for similarities and differences in the kind of closure that both literary works produced. Slessor's poem is massive and needs days to ponder... but in the hour we did reach some quite focussed conclusions about the poem: the way it tries to capture the essential life of Joe... even if this life is only the stringing together of fragments of memory: in his flat in Melbourne, in Sydney, in his journal (items of journal text here just thrown into the poem... very modernist this!). What we also noted is the extraordinary way in which Slessor - the master poet- was able to recall certain memories - such as night they spent together in a lightning-filled storm in Moorebank- memories which metaphorically depicted the very problem that Slessor was having in reconstructing Joe Lynch's life.... like flashes of lightning... glimpses, but nothing substantial. We also discussed the way the poem balances the horizontal clock time of living memory (symbolized in the sound of the mechanical five ships bells AND in the "straight enormous glaze" of the surface of the harbour) against the vertical time which seeks to penetrate the surface of the harbour, explore the depths and find some meaningful connection to Joe's essential life. In its last stanzas the poem ask deep philsophical questions about the meaning of life and death, about the seemingly unbridgeable gap between these two domains... and many of us felt that despite the aesthetically beautiful imagery describing the waves on the harbour in the last stanza, the poem ends with a sense of inconclusiveness... maybe even hopelessness that the creative effort has failed... we began then to think how Helen Garner manages to not be filled with despair at the end of her attempt to "Console" Joe Cinque... and his parents....
Enough for today!
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
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