Sunday, November 2, 2014


With this repost, I relaunch this 'blog, one I maintained in support of a humanities course I taught for 14 years as a secondary English teacher at Fredonia High School. My sudden retirement due to illness last summer has shellacked me with several new layers of poignancy, the clearest, most golden-hued one inspired by the fact that I will never again teach this class. Early in my career I learned that, though my subject matter may be English literature and argumentation, what I *taught* and continue to teach even in retirement is *people*. That said, I was blessed to be allowed to develop and teach this particular course; I thoroughly believe it is what I was put here to do.

The course urged an examination of not only how we (the people/society/tribes across time) tell ourselves the truth: i.e., "make narrative structure" to explain ourselves to ourselves and others across time and space, but also how we as individuals draw our selves and our sense of self from the truths and"truths" and outright lies we tell: just as fictional characters are sculpted via their words and actions, so too are we.

So, starting in 2006, I directed my students to this as their initial foray into our mutual cultural examination of narration and their own, more personal one.  It seems a good place to begin again once more as I attempt to transition away from teaching in a formal setting and whispering across the darkness in this cybersphere.  Perhaps you will find reason to whisper back.

September 2006:

Recommended to me in the spring of 2006 by a colleague whose taste I trust is IRELAND, by Frank Delaney. Now, here's a boy whom I had not previously met, but his ken is dear to me, and my friend knew I would find syncronicity in his words.

So I acquire a copy of the book, and took it to hand the first moment I could--much later into my summer than I had intended; but then, everything about that season had been out of time...

I sit myself down in my favorite reading chair, turn the fan to "low" and "breeze", and turn back the cover and the first several pages, coming to rest upon the Author's Note:

"Beneath all the histories of Ireland, from the present day through her long troubled relationship with England and back to the earliest times, there has always been another, less obvious reporter speaking--the oral tradition, Ireland's vernacular narrative, telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy.

"This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history, and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination.

"But we all do that [emphasis added]; we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All 'truths' are only our truths, because we bring to the 'facts' our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling--from wherever it comes--forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth [again with the emphasis]."

Oh, Frank Delaney! Who on earth are you that you so closely channel the ways I speak about truth and how it's told? Is there some synaptic charge that informs us? Because we share a bloodline, do we share an urge toward a particular philosophic bent?

Yes, I added emphasis in two particular places: Where you, my brother from across the sea, acknowledge the inclusion of "other" in your view, your cant is decidedly toward our family, the Irish as a tribe. Here our paths diverge: My view is really always toward those who are "not" "mine;" it is always and urgently my nudge toward recognition that there is no other, that we are all far more alike than different, that cultural/systemic distinctions provide nuance but should not stand as barriers and borders and evidence of "wrong"/not "right"/alien and deserving of, even inviting fear, derision and loathing.

But it is a small point, is it not? I see that you agree with me on this. Your subject happens to be our little family, the Irish; my subject happens to be our big family.

And so, Frank Delaney, how do we tell ourselves the truth? Well, as you note, some of us--gifted with gab?--"get it" that the straightest, surest path to truth is nevertheless a landscaped one.

Ah, Frank Delaney, how I would enjoy a pint and a convo with you!


Andrew Mignoli said...

Hey this is Andrew. I have found a surprising amount of connections with this class in my art history class. At least in the book it uses "But is it art?", which talks about the progression of art over time, and how it is perceived, from a western perspective. It outlines the various paradigm shifts that art has taken over time, beginning with art as a form of imitation. Which Plato criticized, along with tragedy, as being incapable of expressing true reality; however, it goes on to state how Aristotle defended both art and tragedy as natural ways for humans to share ideas and learn from. I even got to revisit the words "tragedy and the emotions of pity and fear." Its also interesting how over time art has shifted towards something extremely individualistic. It is no longer graded on how well it matches various levels of aesthetic, but rather it has become any idea that an artist wants to express, whether it be personal, or universal. Another thing the book often visits is the inherent differences between western art, and art from other cultures, often tribal art or art from collectivist societies. Which poses a difficult problem in how, and in what context, it should be displayed. Art from these cultures is often symbolic or utilitarian. The idea of art, as westerners see it, simply isn't a thing in their cultures. So whether it should be displayed in a history museum, or an art museum, and whether it should be observed and thought of the way western art is becomes a problem. I think art, as we see it, is very intertwined with the growth of the individual, and has its own role in allowing people to see the world. When individuality isn't being restricted, you may get a photograph of a crucifix soaked in piss, or a canvas splattered in paint, and though very different, each movement in art has its own way of challenging the viewer, and sharing ideas.

Mrs. C said...

Hey back atcha, Andrew. Yeah, the course was designed to encourage you to think broadly about where we have been as a tribe and where that may take us, whilst encouraging you to make connections across the breadth of inquiry. Glad you are making those connections!