Tag Archives: literature

Cantos This

That Pound should from the castle walls on high
weight his Cantos with bricks,
and with great gusto and abandon hurl these gems
into the fosse
so that the Philistines encamped and overnight drawn nigh
should fall prey to such childish tricks
and thinking this some halva fit for soldier food, feed it to them,
and they die, ’tis no great loss.

That these dense tomes of senseless stringing symbol chains
should be enshrined as modernism’s best,
and critics and professors fawn the same on them as free wine and cheese
is no real surprise,
so that the Philistines, tuitions and subscriptions paid in full,
should sit in vapid classrooms taking tests,
and still end up ensnared in culture’s swamps, and s’il vous plaĆ®t,
can parrot with enthusiasm, lies.

That Pound should further speak in tongues no longer taught
to weave cryptographers into a funk,
and with a sense of mystery turn A from B to C and back
without tremble or pause
so that the Philistines could say with half a chance of wit, “Fear not!”
and should some gray stranger on a train, sans trunk,
approach quoting the Cantos, place a gun against their back
and shoot them, naming Poetry the cause,

for such things to transpire, would I …

19 May 2005

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College Board and the Great Books

Found this link at The Rage Diaries.

Apparently the College Board (you know, the folks that gave us the SAT and ACT) has put together a list of 101 Great Books recommended to be read by those entering freshman year college. Well, it’s actually 101 novels, 19 miscellaneous (uncategorized and non-Fictional works), and various works by 15 identified poets.

On a whim, I evaluated my own performance, reading-wise:

Novels:   71 of 101 (70%)
Miscellaneous:   14 of 19 (74%)
Poetry:    11 of 15 (73%)

Now, as I recall, the 70% range is either a C or D. That’s not good. And even if any of the identified works I actually still own, 21 years out of high school, that still doesn’t put me on the College Board’s “Dean’s List”, does it?

But they have a short list (I guess, if you’re only going to read a LITTLE). On that one, I got 9 out of 10 (90%). A solid B, by my reckoning. Not much room for error on a 10 item quiz, is there?

Of course, there are many, many, MANY authors and poets not represented here that I consider essential reading. But this is the College Board, after all. You can’t expect them to be TOO avante garde, can you? Standardized reading lists and standardized tests go hand in hand. If you want to pass their tests, you have to read their books. Or pretend to have done so, or at least have slept with the Cliff Notes under your pillow.

But that brings up an important point. While a great many of these books I actually read in high school, I would not have had room to complete anywhere near the entire list considering my other reading. Who does the College Board suggest that I should have given up in order to accomplish their curricula? Allen Ginsberg? ee cummings? Krishnamurti? Julius Caesar? Ken Kesey? Rimbaud? Baudelaire? Henry Miller? And what if was more interested in reading “The Idiot” than “Crime and Punishment”? Do I get a point off for that one? It’s strange the authors they include, versus deliberately seem to exclude. Dickens is nowhere to be found. Jack London likewise. Ambrose Bierce — how would I have survived high school without the “Devil’s Dictionary” I ask you …

Fortunately, my reading requirements are not dictated by the College Board’s vision of an educated and well-read young person. But I worry about my step-daughter, who is a high school senior (almost) looking at colleges. I know for a fact that she’s not interested in reading most of this stuff. And neither are any of her friends. Sadly, reading is not one of her great pleasures. So it goes with this generation. I’m almost surprised that the College Board doesn’t require some kind of minimum television show exposure. That seems more appropriate.

Anyhow…

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My Blunderbuss versus the Western Can(n)on

So here’s the beef:

Having effectively (unless suddenly the possesor of a winning Powerball ticket) pissed away my opportunities to pursue formal education, I find myself often wondering what exactly I might have been forced to study had I attended a major university and undergone matriculation towards a degree in say, English. As a result, I find myself (much like W.B. Yeats) scrambling after knowledge from a myriad of sources. And not so much to falsely claim the title of a scholar, nor to compare myself in any public way to a degreed individual of any kind, I have been looking for lists of required texts, reading lists, or curriculum that encompasses the range of knowledge I would like to have – or would like to share with someone with the benefit of college education.

The blunderbuss seems like a very apt metaphor for my education to date – a wide barrel with not a lot of focused output that can be filled with ANYTHING, from ballshot to nails to pieces of scrap iron. Not a weapon of much accuracy, but deadly useful, particularly at close quarters, and especially if one is interested in deterring nuisances (LOL). As a comparison, the Western Canon (or “Great Books”), often used to describe those works of literature, science, philosophy and history that shaped and directed Occidental thought, is more like a streamlined, hard-shelled, compact ball projectile piercing the veil that is Western Culture.

So I traipse off across the Net hoping to find a plethora of lists for undergraduates and so on that would give a person like myself an idea of what I SHOULD have been exposed to in order to call myself well-educated. And frankly, other than the “Rutgers Reading List”, and a lot of “one from column A, two from column B, a minimum of three selections from 45 – 55 AD, etc.” I have not been able to find any sort of concrete agenda for study. Is it that universities are afraid that their competitors will “steal” their lists? That they’re afraid people will just read these books on their own, and forgo the expense that represents their salaries, their atheletic stadia, their ivy-covered walls and yew-tree lined walkways? Or what?

I understand that there is a great deal of contention out there regarding what one “should study”. And I also understand that most of the “intellectual community” (HA) feel that debate on this subject is best held within their hallowed halls, without the intrusion of some ignorant, unread, unwashed interlopers trying to muck up their glory road to tenure. But how about a little help?

Bah.

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