Tag Archives: Literature

Think Piece: Fahrenheit 451

Fire

I have begun teaching Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” to my ninth grade high school students. It is interesting teaching this book realizing that all of the students in the room (from varying international backgrounds) have been raised with more advanced and “faster” communication technologies than I could have dreamed of when I was their age. Granted I am not that “old,” but do remember the day when a large satellite television dish was planted in what used to be a garden in our yard. The black monolith, which connected me with other virtual worlds, which greatly shaped my imaginative development.

It is difficult for some of them to relate to the overarching themes of a society obsessed with amusement and speed. Could this be due to the ways in which technology and amusements have already infiltrated their minds? And, am I, as their “teacher,” immune from the consequences of an over reliance on the various gadgets that make my life easier? Should the role of the teacher of a book like “Fahrenheit 451” be one who has become like the character Clarisse, “insane” to the eyes of an out-of-control society as described in the book? If so, wouldn’t, in the teaching of this book, it make more sense to conduct the class while sitting on grass, away from the technological pull of the city? More importantly, does this book resonate with the students in the ways in which Bradbury intended? What kind of student would it take to “take arms against a sea of amusements (Postman)”? What kind of research would be most applicable? What kinds of secondary texts would fill in the gaps?

In order for this book to achieve its own purposes as a so-called “novel of ideas,” it would seem necessary to me to foster an inquisitive classroom environment from which students could gain the capacity to critically and curiously question the technological devices and media influences in their lives that they are exposed to and that they expose themselves to on an hourly basis. The development of these capacities would be for the purpose of having them re-experience those devices and interfaces that shape the virtual landscapes of planet “my life.” What questions would one need to ask to enable students to ask the right questions to themselves about their connections to technology and what that technology could mean? Would this way of teaching (inquistive) make for the proper atmosphere of presenting the novel’s ideas?

At the end of a few lessons, I began thinking about how this book will influence and hopefully develop their ability to examine contemporary culture. For example, the character Clarisse says, “I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly.” This observation, which I felt captured a potent insight into culture didn’t seem to resonate with students, even though our location (Beijing) is a city of vehicles, an overpopulation of vehicles. None of the students walk to and from school and judging from their reactions to the idea of “walking for pleasure,” none of them see walking for the sake of walking as a choice by which one’s experience of the world and how one perceives it is enhanced as having any relevance to them whatsoever.

Other than actually taking them on a walk, how does one open up this idea and make it relevant? How can we teach students to regain the simplicity of life if they don’t want to learn it?

Thank you for reading. I hope that this edited yet stream-of-consciousness “think piece” is of use to you.

William T. Vollmann: 8 Audio Links (Interviews/Conversations)

william vollmann

A working list of William T. Vollmann audio pieces drawn from various websites. I have not listened to all of these interviews/conversations in their entirety yet, so cannot vouch for which one is “better” than the other. With that said, as always, if you know of any Vollmann audio links that I have missed, please drop a comment or get in touch via email. Thank you and happy listening.

Eight William T. Vollmann Audio Links

NPR: Riding Toward Everywhere

Drinks with Tony Vollmann Interview

Vollmann discussing his book “Uncentering the Earth”

Vollmann on Trains

On Rising Up Rising Down

Another Piece on Rising Up Rising Down

Vollmann on The Royal Family

Vollmann on The Bat Segundo Show

Five Quotations for Your Learning Pleasure (Selected by Your Humble Editor on a Rainy Tuesday Evening)

You will see throughout this blog, quotations from a handful of thinkers that I admire and learn from. The following are five selected quotations for your learning pleasure.

Perhaps, one or more of these quotations will help you along with your day or stick with you and re-emerge when the time is right or ripe. More importantly, though, I hope that you will use these words and do something with them. That is, these quotations are seedlings, waiting to be realized by the right person. I don’t know how you will interpret them or what you will do with them. That depends on you and where you are “coming from” with your ways of how you have become mindful of the world. Thank you for your attention.

Quotations

“Taking charge of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your life, which is the sine qua non in becoming an integrated person” – Warren Bennis from On Becoming a Leader

“Live your life skillfully, with grace.
Dance life so that your expertise appears effortless.
To develop such skill, immerse yourself in life.
Pay attention to life’s details.
Then see how the details fit together as a whole.
Then put your experiential understanding into further practice.
Keep upgrading your life.” – David K. Reynolds from Reflections on the Chuang Tzu

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett from Westward Ho

“The ideal personality for the opening age is a balanced personality: not the specialist but the whole man. Such a personality must be in dynamic interaction with every part of his environment and every part of his heritage.” – Lewis Mumford from The Condition of Man

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.” – Henry David Thoreau from Walden and Civil Disobedience

For more information on the authors quoted here, please visit:

David K. Reynolds: Reflections on the Chuang Tzu
Warren Bennis’s Qualities of a Leader
Samuel Beckett On-line Resources
Lewis Mumford: Megathinker and Master of the Metaphor
Henry David Thoreau: American Transcendentalism Web

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Lady into Fox by David Garnett: Thoughts for Consideration

David Garnett

David Garnett’s 1922 novel, reprinted by McSweeney’s, Lady into Fox is the tale of a one Mr. Tebrick, who, upon out walking with his wife one day, finds to his surprise, that she has transformed into an animal, a fox. From this, we follow Mr. Tebrick as he struggles to preserve (keep) the humanity of his wife, in spite of her beastly transformation. At first, he insists on her being clothed, eating cooked meat and holds on to the “human” image of her. Sadly, day-by-day, his image of her changes as her personality gradually slips away. She becomes more and more “animal-like” with each passing day.

Through this touchingly dark novel, we see Mr. Tebrick, himself, losing touch will other people and with his former life. His love for his wife, even in “fox” form, is deep and enduring, although, perhaps harmful to himself. Nonetheless, in this act of clinging to her – in her animality – he loses touch with the social world, with the world of other people. Does he do this for love or out of sheer confusion?

In his struggling acceptance of her as she struggles to break free of his controlling grip, he becomes obsessed with her, fearing for her life amidst the elements. He is not willing to fully accept her as being a “fox.” Finally, and without giving away much of the story, we find him living his life through her, unable to give up his love or hope, unwilling to wholly accept this strange transformation that has so altered his life.

Through the frame of this story, I think about the idea of love and change. Sometimes the one we love, changes, or we ourselves greatly change. When this change occurs, do we accept the other person in their newness or do we see them through the past image that we have of them? What do we give up in trying to cling to a love that has fallen out of our hands? Sometimes, perhaps, the line between love and obsession becomes blurred when we try to form the loved one to fit our image of how we think that they should be. Or, is it more worthy to love and continue loving despite a great change in appearance or personality? What would you do if the one that you loved suddenly, and without warning, transformed before your very eyes into a wholly different form? How would you approach and live through that love?

Quattro Poesie di Mattina

the morning creeps aching in your foot
to the beginning of another situation,
a new task, a set of masks to don.
I awoke feverish in the after-glow of night
visions and now staring down an imagined
trajectory of this day’s unfolding chaos.

Brought close, brought too close – you always
sleep when I awake, but not today, today in this
once-occurring time-bloom. Oh, to a new day as
the train’s distorted hum signals movement, the perverse
movement of passengers of whom you do not know, maybe.

In this autumnal cool stillness, even the birds cry such that
you could extract truth from their screeching howls – from
the deafening mechanical purr of an automobile as it passes
too close, obscenely close.

Move, walk, put your limping foot forward, ahead of you and
forge something grand out of this renewal of sameness, this renewal
of ever-changing semi-sameness.

A Book Before Bedtime (Six Aphorisms for Contemplation)

THE RABBIT HOLE: Reading is a collaboration between author and reader, the shared creation of another world – a world that could be, but isn’t.

THE MELDING VOICE: The more time we spend with those authors, the more they penetrate us and we end up finding their voices among our own voice.

INFILTRATION: Reading a book on a place I have never been while, simultaneously, fraught with the irrevocable influence that is occurring, with my permission.

HAVEN’T WE MET?: With each page turned, I create a new and ever-evolving image of the author – a relationship with a ghost!

MORPHOLOGY: Sometimes, I fail to envision the facial details of the main character, yet he spins around me with more reality than a “real” person. Then, suddenly, his face warps into a thousand faces, renewing themselves upon each new read.

WHERE AM “I”?: Re-reading a book is necessary for me. Each time upon entering the text, without fail, a new thought emerges, a new reconfiguration of “me” takes form.

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Denis Johnson: Two More Audio Pieces (Readings + Conversation)

Two more Denis Johnson audio pieces have come to my attention.

1. The first, readings from The Incognito Lounge, Jesus’ Son, and more, was generously introduced to me by the artist behind the website, Horse of Bone. It is an hour long reading well worth listening to. The audio file can be found by following this link:

A Beautiful Magical Hour of Denis Johnson

2. The second, I found simply by searching via Yahoo. It is an hour and twenty minute reading/conversation with Denis Johnson. The reading is a long excerpt from Johnson’s magnum opus, “Tree of Smoke,” read by Johnson himself. This is followed by a conversation between Johnson and executive editor and founder of Salon.com magazine, Gary Kamiya. The conversation, in particular, is insightful as they discuss the craft of writing, the success of Jesus’ Son, influences and much more.
The audio file can be found here:

Lannan Foundation: Readings and Conversations – Denis Johnson

Thank you and enjoy.

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