The Inevitable Multiple Question Mark Review (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and STILL Hate The Blog)

December 21, 2010

The concept of comparing the old school of thought with the new revolutions is as old as revolution itself is.  Some people yearn for older, simpler times, while many have a preference to more advanced and realist ideas.  Literature is no exception, with books being compared, analyzed, and otherwise evaluated in order to determine the worth of the story to humanity’s long list of achievements.  Of course, opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got them and they’re all full of shit.  What makes my opinion any more valuable than my professor’s, especially considering my professor is definitely more well versed than I am in her studies? Still, everyone is entitled to their ideas and this class is a forum for us all to bring them to the table, not so much for answers but intellectual exchange.  I’ve already shared my ideas about Old Canon versus New Canon, but I’ll take this opportunity to elaborate, share my ideas, and (hopefully) get a better grade.

The Old Canon and the New Canon are actually more alike than people think.  When people think “old literature” they seem to get this image of a white-dominated, peachy keen collection of stories where the main characters are all dressed like Little House on the fucking Prairie. To be sure, I think that description of “old literature” only applies to two things: T.S. Eliot’s works and my grandmother’s crappy stories at Christmas and Easter.  I do see a common thread between between certain works of the Old and New Canons in the issues they address.  Sure, the authors were mostly white in the old days, but to be fair black education and influence wasn’t what it is now (to say the very least).  That doesn’t stop Heart of Darkness and Dreams from My Father, in my eyes, from covering common ground of race issues.

People often accuse Conrad’s story of being racist, portraying Africans as savages.  Hell, this criticism even appears in Obama’s book when an Afrocentric friend of his finds it! What most people miss, however, is that Marlow views the Europeans as more savage than the people whose land they’re plundering.  It’s not a story of the glory of European expansion, but rather a criticism of it and how power can drive a man insane.  Obama’s memoirs have also come under attack, being seen as a political tool just to gain votes.  I say that the most political thing about the book is the fact that the author became the President.  Obama evidently had a love of helping people, and he is portrayed as a man who wants to make a difference, even in small ways, to his community.  He’s shown a taste of power when he becomes the only black executive at a major corporation, but he turns it down because it’s not as fulfilling to him as being a community organizer.  Yes, he’s got great power now, but it’s different from being an executive in that it’s not just a money game: he can make real decisions to affect the world and his people.  Both books deal with race relations appropriate for the times: Conrad showing the horrors of dehumanization of Africans in the most objective way possible, and Obama growing up as a mulatto and coming to embrace his black identity.  Marlow ends up with mental scars from witnessing Kurtz’ depravity, while Obama decides that a power trip is neither in his best interest nor the interest of the community.

The Canons also have their differences, don’t get me wrong.  I’d like to assume that Eliot’s trite is about some sort of sexual encounter (because God knows if he was half as much of a whining bitch in real life that he didn’t have many) in the same way that some of Diaz’ stories are.  Granted Diaz writes in more graphic (and straightforward) terms than Eliot, but the use of Latino slang in order to bowdlerize sexual terms could be seen as something similar to Eliot’s burying his work in figurative flowers.  It’s comparing a disco song to a reggaeton song: one uses disgustingly sweet terms, the other uses an actual foreign language.  They both beat around the bush instead of straight up saying “let’s fuck,” and ultimately they’re both just shitty dance music… Actually, you know I take back two things: using these examples as differences, and calling the Bee Gees shitty.  Certainly, though, sex was not as openly discussed back in the day, even though it predates you or me (and believe me, we wouldn’t be here if it didn’t).

For all that, though, I’ve professed myself to be, and still remain, faithful to the Old Canon.  Make no mistake, I wish we could all just shut up about the merits of one versus another and just enjoy the books, but there’s something about Conrad and Hemmingway that speaks to me.  Hell, maybe even that schmuck Eliot was right in not coming out and just saying what he thinks! There’s an art to conveying emotions in writing.  I’ve always been told about writing that it is imperative to “show, not tell.”  I like the way Conrad doesn’t just come out and say in his writing what Heart of Darkness is about, but rather he lets his writing speak for itself.  It’s a testament to his writing that it is so hotly debated, even if I disagree with certain opinions on it.  Fact is that books like that are more appealing to me, not because they’re classics but because they’re timeless.  Obama’s memoirs will only have significance because it will be studied as current events now, or historical research in the future on both his history and the state of America.  He talks a good game, but ultimately I don’t believe that Dreams from My Father will hold up as anything more than insight to a civilization; it won’t be studied with the same passion as Conrad’s work.

That said about the course material, let’s get on to how the course is presented.  I gotta say, I like the informality of the blog.  However, I don’t like the blog itself.  I wouldn’t mind assignments like this informal essay being presented less frequently than the twice a week schedule we’d been abiding by all semester.  I like having ideas germinate, having me wrestle with them so I can come to a point of view rather than reading a part of a story and meditating on predictions and limited knowledge.  To me, it’s the difference between a diary and a memoir.  Not to say that diaries can’t be insightful, like Anne Frank or Nikki Sixx’s, but I’d prefer to write a better reflection with a clearer idea of what I’m experiencing as a reader than keep a diary of my progress in the book.  I do feel that this class was ambitious and moved a little too fast for that sort of approach, which resulted in shoddy performance on my part.  For that I do apologize, but I hope that you can understand my feelings on why I don’t believe that the class’ online  methodology was a success.

That said, in contradiction to my criticism of diaries, let me take this opportunity to express how cathartic and pleasing I’m finding this particular entry.  This is what it’s all about: reflection, opinion.  The informality doesn’t hurt either, I can be sharp with my criticism, I can be funny or sarcastic.  I appreciate the relaxed guidelines for writing, and as I’ve said before I do believe that if the workload was lightened up a bit that the rest of the class could have been as enjoyable as this.  I do feel that I got a lot out of the blogs I’ve submitted, being able to exchange ideas with the entire class and keep a permanent record of my thoughts.  True, the blog felt like a chore, but when I felt capable of doing it I appreciated it.  That’s not to say that this was a bad class, not at all.  As I’ve said, I’ve enjoyed the readings and parts of the assignments, I just feel that it could use some adjustment.  What couldn’t though? The internet is a new tool to the classroom, because it is still being innovated and evaluated on how it can be used.  I’m not holding this particular class against you, it’s a new thing, it’s okay to fumble a bit.  I’ve done it, you’ve done it, no biggie.

I don’t think my opinion of the course changed much, but I’ve come to appreciate the opinions that people have and shared in class.  We may not always agree, but I think it’s wonderful that this class in particular stresses the opinions and individuality of the students.  It allows the students to come into their own as writers for these blogs and papers, develop their own voices.  This isn’t a class on hard analysis, this is about you finding what you can in the book, along with evidence to back it up and saying it as you believe it.  I’ve not had many classes like that, but I do wish to have more.  Hopefully this blog thing will be fine-tuned in the future so I can see what a more fully realized version of this format would be like.  You learn from your mistakes, too, and I think this class has given me some pointers as to what I hope to do, or not do, when I become an English teacher.  I’ll keep these critiques and use them as a guideline to design courses, asking myself “what would I have wanted when I was in their desks?” I want to encourage people to develop their voices: as writers, as critics, as people.  This course, for all my gripes and faults, has given me a new appreciation of what an opinion is, what individuality is.  I thank the class and professor for that, and wish you all the best.

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3 Responses to “The Inevitable Multiple Question Mark Review (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and STILL Hate The Blog)”

  1.   Felicia Says:

    Peter, you know very well that I’ve always loved your writing. You’ve got a talent for expressing your opinions in ways that are both entertaining and informative. I especially enjoy your sarcasm and courage to be straightforward.

    Unfortunately, I can’t comment much on the subject matter of your blogs, seeing as I haven’t read any of the material. Regardless, I’ll always encourage you to continue writing. I’m sure there are plenty of others who will enjoy your talent.

  2.   lisamaher Says:

    I respect anyone who can make their title an allusion to Strangelove.

    That being said, you have some valid points about cannons. At some point, everything was revolutionary and then kind of faded. It’s a sometimes tedious debate.

    I guess the only frame of reference that’s similar for me is a reading I went to last year. Chuck Palahniuk was reading parts of his new book and somewhere along the line started to talk about the romance novels his grandmother read and how antiquated and unarousing/not shocking they were. And I kept wondering if in 50 years, my grandkids will say the same things about the copies of Fight Club and Diary on my bookshelves (I suspect and hope they will).

    In any case, this was a really interesting blog. Thank you for being angry and having an opinion.

  3.   beverly gross Says:

    I’ll add my thanks to Lisa’s.
    (frankly you didn’t seem all that angry–I saw it as courageous honesty). I wish I could give you a higher grade based on the last few entries, but the spottiness you alluded to has its weight.

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