A comprehensively adequate interpretive account of a given work of art would take in, synoptically, its phenomenal effects (tone, style, theme, formal organization), locate it in a cultural context, explain that cultural context as a particular organization of the elements of human nature within a specific set of environmental conditions (including cultural traditions), register the responses of readers, describe the sociocultural, political, and psychological functions the work fulfills, locate those functions in relation to the evolved needs of human nature, and link the work comparatively with other artistic works, using a taxonomy of themes, formal elements, affective elements, and functions derived from a comprehensive model of human nature.

Joseph Carroll. Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice. SUNY Press, 2011.


All the little [children] in a half circle around Aunt Emily are getting an imprinting that will last for life. The sound of her voice reading will condition how they look upon themselves and the world. It will become part of the loved ambience of Battell Pond, a glint in the chromatic wonder of childhood. These small sensibilities will never lose the images of dark woods and bright lake. Nature to them will always be benificent and female.

We lived in our times, which were hard times. We had our interests, which were mainly literary and intellectual and only occasionally, inescapably, political. But what memory brings back from there is not politics, or the meagerness of living on a hundred and fifty dollars a month, or even the writing I was doing, but the details of friendship – parties, picnics, walks, midnight conversations, glimpses from the occasional unencumbered hours. Amicitia lasts better than res publica, and at least as well as ars poetica. Or so it seems now. What really illuminates those months is the faces of our friends.

Wallace Stegner. Crossing to Safety. Penguin, 2006.

Interpretations are difficult to arrive at and to accept.  They are not to be believed as statements of fact are, or not believed.  Accepting or rejecting them requires work, a shift, of the self.  Sometimes the shift is small, sometimes it is transformative.

Stanley Cavell. Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life. Harvard University Press, 2004.

I’m something of a connoisseur of acknowledgments pages in books.  This paragraph by film scholar James Lastra about his colleague Miriam Hansen (who has sadly since died) is particularly touching.

My deepest affection and respect go to Miriam Hansen, who has done more to shape my life and work over the past few years than I can adequately express.  Intellectually fearless, committed, brilliant, and original, she has served as a model for what a scholar and a teacher should be.  I have learned from her not only how to be a better academic but also how to be a better colleague.  More important, she has shown me what it means to have strength, integrity, and wisdom.  The book spends a great deal of time pondering the inhuman.  Miriam has expanded my understanding of what it means to be truly human.

James Lastra. Sound Technology and the American Cinema: Perception, Representation, Modernity. Columbia University Press, 2000.

One of the heartfelt aims of this book is to popularise the possibilities of film (of all moving sound-images) by reinventing the language of its description.  Too little is written about the power and impact of images – the writing on film that reaches the public is almost exclusively led by plot and acting and cultural references.  My argument is that reconceptualising film as thinking will hopefully allow a more poetic entry to the intelligence of film.  Filmosophy does not just offer a linking of thinking to film (not just an interest in making the comparison), but an analysis of film as its own kind of thought.

Daniel Frampton. Filmosophy: a manifesto for a radically new way of understanding cinema. Wallflower Press, 2006.

The farther you aim, the more an initial error matters.  As we become more ambitious in attempts to organize our lives and our environment, the implications of our perspectives, theories, and beliefs extend further.  As we take more responsibility for our future on larger and larger scales, it becomes more imperative that we reflect on the perspectives that inform our enterprises.  A key implication of our attempts to organize learning is that we must become more reflective with regard to our own discourses of learning and to their effects on the ways we design for learning.

Etienne Wenger. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

There is a kind of scholarly mind that is interested only in expert opinion and the sophisticated search for new discoveries.  Such a mind is bound to be contemptuous of student opinion and bored, or even pained, by having to listen to youthful efforts to think clearly and argue cogently.  But there are also, thank God, those who are fascinated by the gradual unfolding of a youthful mind and who revel in the everlasting opportunities and challenges of teaching.

Theodore M. Greene. ‘The Art of Responsible Conversation.’ The Journal of General Education 8.1 (1954). (Quotation transcribed as a reminder/warning to myself.)