|It's hard to illustrate "I've been sunk in grading all week," so I've given you instead this object lesson in why proofreading is important, from the lovely Lunenburg, NS. Also, check out those amazing seamen top right.|
This time of year, the hills are alive with the sound of academics bitching about the tedium of grading. With songs they have sung for a thousand years. In all seriousness, I am willing to bet that medieval monks rolled their eyes exhaustedly every time a student brought a scratched-over piece of vellum to them for appraisal, and muttered in Latin to each other about the lack of proofreading and cavalier attitude to original texts. I'm sure that's why Socrates developed his method - to elicit student involvement in such a way that he wouldn't be burdened by huge drifts of scrolls demanding response and correction.
Who am I to buck the trend? I've been in the throes of grading torment all week, and I only emerged on the other side of my mountainous pile after two solid days of barely sleeping, barely eating, and timing my encounter with each paper to prevent pigritudinous slow-down or obsessive micromanaging in the margins of these essays.
But, frankly, there are always moments, both of brilliance and of inspired error, that conspire to delight and entertain me on the slog up Mt. Grademore. Here are some of the best from this round:
- A glancing mention of the importance of "the suspense of disbelief" to the theatre.
- I am fascinated by this slip: it seems to imply that disbelief is always waiting to be proved wrong, the element of hope transforming it into belief (the doubt of doubt, the skepticism of skepticism). Should I believe? Should I? Can I? The suspense is killing me!
- A colleague hastened to say that perhaps the phrase implies that doubt is more dramatic or suspenseful than belief, rather than that doubt always ends in belief. I agree.
- What is most intriguing about it, however, is the fact that suspense is, in essence, a hybrid endeavor, lingering somewhere between belief (I know what is coming next...) and disbelief (...will it actually happen?)
- "Through their melodic vices, the Chorus played the role of an average citizen who would observe and comment."
- I wish my vices were more melodic. Maybe if I got together with some vicious friends they could even be harmonic?
- Just delightful: "In the everyday world, were Oedipus a friend or worse, a relation, you might not find his reactions justified."
- Or: "The Chorus [of Bacchantes] is not content with shrieking about past events or with the simple information dump and dime store piety offered by other Greek Choruses."
- I love how so many of these papers are filled with a wry, teasing affection for the texts we are studying. Like the average Greek Chorus is their eccentric aunt.
- Earlier in the week I intervened when a student spent a whole paper talking about his intention to "analize" certain aspects of a play. Finally I wrote in the margin, "Alas, this word (even if it existed) wouldn't mean what you think it means...."
- But maybe I was just underestimating the profound Freudianism of his argument.
- Or maybe, just maybe, I was overlooking his desire to become a chronicler (annalist) of the play for all posterity. That's right - posterity.
- "Alas" is a word that shows up frequently in my marginal comments - more than perhaps in should in contemporary conversation. It isn't conscious, but when I turn my mind to it, I think it gives corrections a more sympathetic, if wilting, air. But it does seem to fill my responses with a tone of melancholy lament.
We had the first meeting of my new book club this week - the first for which we had actually read a book, that is, rather than just chatting, planning, and getting to know each other. It is an extraordinarily good group; if only my classes had conversations this lively. Our first choice was my suggestion (although voted on by the whole group): Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.
This was the first Robinson I had ever read, and forty-eight hours before the meeting (which I was supposed to lead) I was only on page 25. "This is not a novel to be hurried through," Doris Lessing says on my cover, "for every sentence is a delight." Sorry, Doris: I slammed through it over the next three days, and although that wasn't the ideal method of consuming the novel, which is rich with slow, subtle, elegiac poetry, it did prevent me from bogging down in the marshy liquidity of the prose. Some of my fellow book-groupers did, and were profoundly turned off by the narrative, which they felt you couldn't get any purchase on. It slips through your fingers.
Interestingly, I had gone into the meeting with a very strong set of sympathies (for the narrator Ruthie and her eccentric aunt Sylvie, and against her pragmatic and conventional sister Lucille), and prepared to talk about how Robinson manipulates you irrevocably into this sympathetic stance. But the majority of the group had quite the opposite reaction: they felt that Lucille's harshness about the unconventional ways in which Ruthe and Sylvie "keep house" was a desperate bid for survival, and a necessary attempt to escape the horrors of her upbringing. I was shocked, and then impressed by the novel's ability to evoke such disparate responses. "It's like a prism," said one of my friends in the group, "You turn it this way and it produces one reading, and you twist it that way and it produces another." But it can never produce both at once.
I also finished the Miltonic first season of Justified, and am filled with antsiness about how long I have to wait until the second season airs. Luckily I have the three final discs of Deadwood sitting in front of my tv, or I might go into Timothy Olyphant withdrawal. And no one wants to see what that would look like. Messy.
Lastly, I'm a hair's breadth from finishing George Elliott Clarke's Nova Scotian cycle Blue, and frankly I have been putting off reading the last two poems because I am not yet ready to be done with it. Perhaps I should pin a copy of his "Marginalia" (a model of pithy advising) up on the wall while I hike up Mt. Grademore, strewing "alases" like wildflowers here and there in my students' margins:
Grace is excellence performed casually.
Virtue is like bootleg liquor:
Don't claim you got any unless you got a lot.
Ugly don't age
and it don't wear out.
Ugly be thoroughly dependable. (152, excerpt)
If only I had advice this good to give.
Happy Sunday, Saloners....