le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

what a tangled web we weave

Today my class discussed Charlotte's Web. They are all such smart kids. I was intrigued by a few comments they made, though, especially one girl whose basic stance is:

this book is allegedly all about the cycle of life and death, and how dying is a natural part of life. except wilbur never dies; he becomes famous, and fame is a way to live forever. so really, the book values immortality more than it naturalizes death.

This student did not especially care for the book, I think. Or rather: she had issues with it.

it was interesting. this re-read of Charlotte's Web, for me, really focused on the wonderfully orderly structure of the book. it feels so organic - as it's meant to, i think. we move so easily from season to season, and White lingers over details of the natural world so beautifully - it's quite a symphony of words and structures, really.

i've never been a special fan of Charlotte's Web - i mean, it's a great book, I like it a lot, but it's never been one I hold especially close to my heart - but it's a beautiful piece of craft.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

winnie-the-pooh is a doll

I taught Winnie-the-Pooh today for the first time ever. I hit the jackpot with students for my summer teaching premiere; they are beyond fabulous. they even laugh at my dumb jokey comments!

I admit: I put Pooh on the syllabus because I thought it might be nice to dovetail at least ONE teaching text with my material culture/toys project.

Today, naturally, we didn't have time to get to everything, because we were churning over Ursula LeGuin's "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" for the first chunk of class.

But all my students reported a similar experience: reading Pooh, you forget that these are stuffed animals. toys. Pooh reports pain and discomfort in the first chapter (when he goes after the bees and their honey), but only a few pages later, Eeyore evidently painlessly submits to having his tail hammered back in place. This is a bit odd. Is it a failure of internal consistency? how do we understand the inhabitants of the Forest as toys, dolls, stuffed friends? does it MATTER that they are stuffed animals? Their toyness seems most important in the way it gives Christopher Robin total dominance over them.

Other Pooh notes:

  • Eeyore gets all the best lines. When read aloud, in a very sarcastic quasi-deadpan voice, Eeyore's lines were HYSTERICAL.
  • The eternal question - "IS PIGLET A GIRL?" - was raised by the group discussing gender in the text. (for what it's worth, Piglet is not a girl. He may, however, be a transpig. it's hard to tell).
  • Winnie-the-Pooh may be a fantasy text, but it is NOT an animal story
  • All the characters LOOK like stuffed animals in their illustrations, except Rabbit and Owl. Interestingly, Rabbit and Owl are the only two characters to not have their basis in real-life toys belonging to Christopher Robin (Billy Moon) Milne. Instead, Rabbit and Owl are entirely the creation of A.A. Milne.
  • This may account for their....grown-up-ishness.
  • "In Which Kanga and Roo Come to the Forest, and Piglet Has a Bath" is hands down the funniest chapter in the book.
  • Rabbit gets a great line in this chapter, which had me snortling throughout class: "Suppose I my family about with me in my pocket, how many pockets should I want? ... that's eighteen. Eighteen pockets in one suit! I haven't time" (88). (my italics).
  • I love the idea of not having time for eighteen pockets. I know EXACTLY what Rabbit means here.
  • Owl is a terrible speller, though his words are strangely impressive and long.

On Thursday, I teach The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, and I am flat-out terrified! I've never taught it before, and I'm not sure how I want to handle it. I have a call out to my friend the medievalist/religionist/general genius to see if he'd be willing to do a bit of guest lecturing. I want to think about: nature/natural world (I remember an interesting discussion about this book way back at Georgetown, where someone pointed out Edmund's resistance to the natural world as a marker of his "badness"); family; religion (obviously). I think gender is always good to think about, and perhaps in this text more than others, masculinity seems central.

but what else can I say?
I'm not a lewis expert! Once we get past Charlotte's Web I'll be sturdier on my teaching feet; all the other texts I've chosen are ones I've either really thought about extensively, or ones I've thought about even MORE extensively because I'm studied and/or written about them.

But the richness of today's Pooh discussion was an absolute joy. There was strong positive feeling for the book, and a real eagerness and willingness to dive right in and engage in critical conversation about the text.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


well, I have a large selection of books in varying states of read-ness, all at a standstill. the reason for this halt in reading action? NONE of these books are ringing my bell, if you see what I'm saying.

On this list we have:
Puck of Pook's Hill by my friend and yours, R. Kipling
Memoirs of a London Doll by Richard Horne
"A Very Ill-Tempered Family" by Juliana Ewing (in a collection of her stories)
"The Story of a Short Life" also by Juliana Ewing (in, I think, Jackanapes & other stories)
With Clive in India, by G.A. Henty
Floating Island by Anne Parrish

Truth be told, the London Doll and Floating Island are both all right. London Doll is more about London than the doll, which is pretty interesting. But right now, near the end of the book, nothing too captivating it happening. Floating Island I started today and I KIND of like it, but I'm getting tired of all the natural history lessons.

With Clive in India appears to be nothing but several hundred pages of small print of military history of the colonization of India. urgh.

Ewing's a good writer but her moralizing is tiresome. I don't know why children didn't rise up in some sort of pitchfork and garden-hook revolution against such preachy books.

Kipling....what can I say about you, Kipling? You're the source of my favorite joke, ever ("do you like kipling?" "I don't know, I've never kippled!" this joke never gets old to me).
I like Kipling. I like The Jungle Books and the Just-So Stories and Kim and the parts of Stalky that I've read. Puck of Pook's Hill has me somewhat baffled, though it's also pretty obvious what's going on (reinterpreting English history, reclaiming England for the English, teaching us all how to be good Englishmen).

I just wish these were all a little more - I don't know - compelling. I have most of my list of doll-and-toy-and-thing narratives to work through, and so far those have been much more interesting and enjoyable to read (ie, Floating Island!).

However, With Clive in India may kill me.