31 January, 2010

Survey of British Lit 1

Beoeulf. AGAIN.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  AGAIN.  Paradise Lost. AGAIN.
Why why WHY did I sign up for British Lit 1?  We slog through all the above and finish right before the romantics.  Like, right when things start to get fun.
Ugh.  Reading stuff that's good for you is not all it's cracked up to be.

The textbook we will be wading through is the four-inch-thick Norton Anthology of English Literature, first volume.  

And it is very heavy.
And the print is very


Oh, somebody call the waaaaambulance! 
Jan 31:
Beowulf was not as bad the second time around.  It's, undeniably, total man-lit, but the language (I'm reading - big surprise - Seamus Heaney's translation) is nice.  Elegant.  Which really, isn't really the point, is it?  I understand - according to Mr. Beowulf on the Beach - that there's another translation which retains some of the thudding, abrupt feel the actual poem has.  Or, at least, has the thudding, abrupt feel a piece of bloody, wassailing, guy lit ought to have.  I might check this version out and compare it to Seamus Heaney's.  Or I might not (read: probably, almost 100% sure, will not). I don't think I care enough.
I actually learned some cool stuff about the book when we discussed it in class.  Well, actually, the teacher lectured on it. Which, just so you know, I INFINITELY prefer to hearing guy-probably-named-Ryan-who-drinks-three-Red-Bulls-an-hour's opinion about things.   

Feb 5: Sir Gawain was better the second time around too.  The ceremonious armor putting on (how do you say that?  Armoring?) and hunting scenes got a bit tedious, but mostly good.  Even pretty occasionally.
 A lot of "well, I think..." in class instead of lecture. Discussion and opinions are all right in their way, but I can't handle three hours of it.  I want some facts and good history, here!  
You know, it really is amazing how many kids in my generation are named Ryan.  Why?  It's a fine name, but I don't get it.  Three Ryans in one class has been the record so far.  But I'm not complaining.  Can't remember someone's name?  I guess Ryan.  Nine times out of ten, Ryan is right.  It's great.

Feb 15:  I do try to understand why Chaucer is supposed to be so great.  Really, I do.  The bits declared humorous aren't lost on me - I just don't think it's that funny.  I liked some of the character descriptions in the General Prologue, but the rest of the "ohmygosh so funny!" parts didn't thrill me. (Read: bawdiness doesn't make me laugh.)  No major comprehension problems. I appreciated nice language here and there.  But I just can't like it.  Didn't like it in High School, don't like it now.   Maybe having to go back and forth between text and side notes and footnotes is what bothers me.  Breaking off in the middle of a sentence to figure out what the heck that means makes reading it feel choppy and disjointed.  Okay, honestly?  I usually don't have to use footnotes or word explanations - relying on them (okay, more being rescued from drowning by them) hurts my pride.  I don't know why I feel ashamed to have to look up words like "swynke" (work), but I do.
Disappointing not to see any of the double or triple meanings on words that my teacher told us to watch for.  I have no penetration and never stop to think when I'm reading.  I just read.  Um, why do I think I can manage an English degree?
Next day: Gee whiz, I love this class.  Reading Chaucer may have been a pain in the rear (oh dear, remembering some things...) but totally worth it.  I don't know that I would have caught this if I hadn't read an intro to the text beforehand, but the Miller's tale - as I understand it - basically jeers at the courtly love of the previous tale told by the knight.   But the info our teacher gave on it, expanding on that idea, was simply amazing.   The way Chaucer sort of overturned the genre of the miller's tale.  The commentary on religious beliefs of the time.  Good stuff.
One of the great things about this teacher is the way he doesn't foist his private opinions - about the text or author or ideas or morals - onto us.  I have never ever before felt I could trust a professor to be fair to every and any philosophy.  Explanation for that last singularly ambiguous sentence:  Tonight, we were discussing the elements in the Miller's tale that are based on the then-state of the church.  As the Bible was not written in the language of the common man - and, besides that, most people were illiterate - the church held sole control over what the people were told, and this gave them immense power over said people's lives.  The carpenter in the miller's tale fully accepts this - forgive the paraphrase - essentially saying, "we are not to pry into God's secrets."  A very nice way to be told, "we interpret for you, so don't even think about it, buddy."  My professor explained this, but then said something like, "and this all has to do with Martin Luther.  It was after this that he came along and said, 'No, people should be allowed to read and interpret for themselves.  Before that, the notion of a personal relationship with God didn't exist."  Gee whiz!  This is the first time in my entire college career that I have ever heard Martin Luther spoken of without venom.  First time EVER.  How sad is that?
In short, my prof gives us historical social and cultural background, unpacks the text, and discusses the issues at the heart of it all in the context of the times.   As far as I can tell, converting our young minds to his worldview is not high on the priority list. He just teaches us stuff.  Rather refreshing that. 

Feb 18: Margery Kemp strikes me as a, well... freak.  That is all I have to say.

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