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.)
Experience which, if assimilated, would involve a change in the organisation of self tends to be resisted through denial or distortion of symbolisation. The structure and organisation of self appears to become more rigid under threat; to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat. Experience which is perceived as inconsistent with the self can only be assimilated if the current organisation of self is relaxed and expanded to include it.
Carl Rogers. ‘Student-Centred Teaching.’ In Teaching Thinking by Discussion. ed. Donald Bligh. SHRE & NFER-NELSON, 1986.
A lovely description of the ideal kind that Roy Heath of Princeton University saw his students as progressing towards during their time in higher education (from his 1964 book The Reasonable Adventurer, and quoted at length in Noel Entwistle’s 1998 book Styles of Learning and Teaching, which I have been reading today):
The principal characteristic of the Reasonable Adventurer is his ability to create his own opportunities for satisfaction. He seems to have his psychological house in sufficient order to release him to attack the problems of everyday life with zest and originality. And he seems to do so with an air of playfulness.
The A is characterised by six attributes: intellectuality, close friendships, independence in value judgements, tolerance of ambiguity, breadth of interests, and sense of humor. […]
In the pursuit of a problem A appears to experience an alternation of involvement and detachment. The phase of involvement is an intensive and exciting period characterized by curiosity, a narrowing of attention towards some point of interest. […] This period of involvement is then followed by a period of detachment, an extensive phase, accompanied by a reduction of tension and a broadening range of perception. […] Here A settles back to reflect on the meaning of what was discovered during the involved stage. Meaning presumes the existence of a web of thought, a pattern of ideas to which the “new” element can be related. One imagines that this is the sort of mental operation that takes place in a stance often referred to as the critical attitude.
From an interview with Joss Whedon on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, BBC Radio 5 Live, Friday 14 June 2013.
SIMON MAYO: We were talking about work ethic just before the news and sport, because everyone in comparison with your output Joss, and your work ethic, would appear to be slack and lazy, because, y’know, people work very hard in life and they get their pay but you seem to be working like a hundred times harder than anybody else.
JOSS WHEDON: Well, um, part of that is smoke and mirrors I think, but part of it is that I, I… do love the work and also I have a problem, serious mental problems, workaholism and it’s not fun. I don’t do anything else. Other people have lives and they’re nice to their friends and do all sorts of things that I forget to do in the morning. Also basic hygiene but let’s not talk about that.
MARK KERMODE: Do you genuinely not switch off? You’re not – you can’t stop?
JW: Um, every now and then I’ll take a few hours and go, ‘I’m not gonna have a purpose for what I’m gonna do next, maybe I’ll go for a walk; that was fun, and I had an idea for a new movie during it.’ Um, no I can’t, I really can’t turn it off. I can’t sleep very well, not out of anxiety so much as just sort of anticipation of the next thing I want to do.