michaelgriffith (michaelgriffith) wrote,

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First day Semester 2, 2005

Today went well despite the hiccups caused by changing my email program over the weekend. I introduced the 20th Century with Powerpoint images together with interactive comments on this century as a whole: its barbarism, its artistic innovations, its moments of self-criticism (especially in the wake of the Beatles and the Anti-Vietnam riots). We then spent some time exploring the last paragraph of Conrad's Preface to The Nigger of Narcissus. Students were responsive. I read the passage then let them read again and then share their ideas in groups of three. The insistence on groups of 3 in a class that size was a little difficult. I will be more flexible next time. Then students shared in an open forum. There were many good insights into Conrad's sense of the importance of the artist in these times: providing a way of freedom from the tyranny of power and the excesses of industry. The artist creates a space in which humans can come alive to a different part of themselves... I did not cover all that I wanted to, but the space for students to interact with the content was more important than my opinions about the fate of the Western World... I gave enough of these!

The first 20th Century tutorials were on Hopkins and Thomas Hardy. I chose "God's Grandeur" and "The Impercipient" to illustrate two experiences of relationship to the divine. Hopkins sings his sense of wonder at the miraculous forces in the universe and despairs at Mankind's inability to sense this dimension. He presents his own faith in a divine force with passion and excitement. I tried to get students to develop a sense for hearing the meaning musically... letting the emotions behind the words speak to them through the rhythms, sound patterning and connotations of the imagery. There were some excellent insights: how Hopkins is like Conrad in his plea for reverence for a space of openness to nature beyond all the defiling and insensitive industry in the world. Hardy, on the other hand, laments his separation from God, open and honestly declares his spiritual bankruptcy... and yet, as a number of students saw, still presents himself as essentially connected to the divine, even if divorced from it: a bird..... with shorn wings.

In Australian Literature I had the first of two introductory lectures. We talked about Marcus Clarke's prophecy and Judith Wright as someone who illustrates the truth of his prophecy about "The Poet of our desolation..." She, like a number of modern Australian writers and artists has found a way of allowing the landscape to have a meaning beyond that which is imposed by our European acquisitive attitudes. Students worked individually and in small groups on the Wright poem and had many good insights into her vision: the fragment of stone is like a gateway into a different dimension... one free from the materialism, utilitarianism of Western culture...

In all a very satisfying first day back...

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