7 Quick Takes Friday (3/7/14)



My twin sister is coming to visit me for the next week! I am so excited! Perhaps I will bring her in for show-and-tell at school…



Something to meditate upon during Lent.

Whatever your views on the violence in Syria or what is happening between Russia and Ukraine, I think this video is very beautiful and very powerful. So often we take for granted that certain parts of the world are experiencing violence–in some vague, other-worldly kind of way. But what if it were happening here? Or what if it were happening in a country we don’t usually think of as war-torn?


Here are some samples of my students’ recent work on Julius Caesar. The assignment was to draw a cartoon of Act 1, Scene 3.

(Click them to enlarge)

source: One of my students drew this! See the lightning storm? And all the crazy prophetic events happening on the upper right? And Casca freaking out in the bottom left? So, so good.
source: Another student! Here are the strange, prophetic signs in much more detail. Caesar will notice all of these and decide whether or not he wants to go to work on the Ides of March…
source: Another student! A very nice summary of the discussion taking place between Casca and Cassius.


Speaking of old, classic literature that was written such a long time ago in weird language I don’t understand and which cannot possibly be “relevant” to my life now, Ms. Shea…

A UD student has a wonderful article over at Public Discourse: “A Rational Defense of the Humanities” by Antonio Sosa.

A taste or two:

Here, Sosa summarizes not only the arguments of scholars like Rebecca Schuman, but also of some of my own beloved high school sophomores who grumble about having to plod through Shakespeare:

More than being simply obsolete, the thought of previous times is thus seen as unintelligible and hence inaccessible in any meaningful way; only the thought of the present, of our time and our concerns, is intelligible and hence only the thought of the present can be studied seriously. In other words, the study of humanistic thought is ideological by definition. (Sosa, via Public Discourse)

And, further:

By this line of reasoning, Macbeth, for example, cannot guide us with respect to the problem of tyranny. Macbeth cannot teach us what is always true concerning the problem of tyranny as it is found in disparate moments across human history, but only what was true relative to a particular moment in history, i.e., Shakespeare’s moment.

On the basis of this view, the study of Macbeth should indeed be neglected in favor of more contemporary works. Or, if it is to be read, it should be studied in light of the recognition that the value of what it has to teach is obsolete. (Ibid)

Okay, I should stop before quoting you the whole article, but one last quote that reminds me a lot of G. K. Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead”:

If the greatest works of literature cannot emancipate man from his historical parochialism, then the greatest works of literature are merely the greatest statements of historical parochialism. Rather than study literature in order to acquire breadth of perspective, and so learn to distinguish the ephemeral problems that concern certain men at certain places from the fundamental problems that concern man everywhere and always, we would study literature to become further confirmed in the views to which our particular time has predisposed us. (Ibid… GO READ IT)

And this is the narrow, limiting sort of “broad-minded” English class I would like to eradicate from the face of the earth.


Here is G. K. Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead” quote for you to ponder and enjoy:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. (Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland,”Orthodoxy)


About my last post: If I Could Teach One Thing About Writing…

What I find really interesting is that so often, posts I spend a lot of time and labor over do not seem to resonate with people as much as posts (like that one) that I wrote rather quickly and did not revise or change very much. I wonder why that is.

It is true in my songwriting, too. I  find that a song I write in 10 minutes is usually better appreciated by most people than a song I begin, and stop, and begin again months (or years) later and finally finish after a lot of agonizing.

“Write drunk, edit sober.” – Hemingway

I wonder if that phenomena has to do with what Flannery says about “the truth being in you.”

Now, don’t tell my students this, but…

maybe too much editing and revising is a bad thing sometimes. Because then you rethink what you want to say, and you worry about “the message” you are sending, and you can be tempted to ignore whatever truth has miraculously bubbled up to the surface of your page without you really realizing it.

Of course, this would be contra to Hemingway’s dictum: “Write drunk, edit sober” or this interesting take on the art of writing:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris ReviewInterview, 1956)

Source: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/rewritequotes.htm

What do you think? Does revising sometimes inhibit the art of writing– or is it, as Hemingway seems to claim, itself the art of writing?


And this is a PERFECT ending to a 7 Quick Takes Friday in Lent, especially for someone who spent a little too much time in Louisiana:

Is it okay to eat alligator during Fridays of Lent? Does alligator count as fish or as meat?

Archbishop Gregory Amond’s Letter in response to a special request. Diocese of New Orleans.
source: Catholic News Agency

Read it all here.

Happy Lenten Friday! Enjoy your alligator!

The Fault in Our Selves

This wonderful quote by the extremely quotable C. S. Lewis appeared on my Facebook newsfeed today:

“In order to pronounce a book bad, it is not enough to discover that it elicits no good response from ourselves, for that might be our fault.” (Lewis, “An Experiment in Criticism”)

I think I am going to have these words painted in large letters right above the front board in my classroom.

And then I will have my students memorize this quote during the first week of school.

And at any point during the year, when a student complains that a book is “boring,” I will have him stand up and recite the words of C. S. Lewis from memory and see if anything happens.

But I am as guilty of Lewis’s implicit criticism as any of my kids. There are great works of literature I have had absolutely no taste for–and I readily admit the fault lies with me and not with War and Peace, Sir Gawain or Gulliver’s Travels.

There are other works which bored me the first time I read them but delighted me when I returned to them years later: Pride and Prejudice (gasp!) and Robinson Crusoe come to mind.

It’s not the book that changed. I did. I think for the better–at least insofar as I became able to appreciate what these books give.

In other cases, there are books that I used to think very profound and now have realized (or at least believe) that I misjudged.

But again, the books didn’t change, I did. And hopefully (though not certainly) for the better.

The relationship between text and reader is so complex that sometimes it is hard to tell where the “fault”–if any–lies. Flannery O’Connor’s first novel Wise Blood has been criticized as an ungainly novel, and some critics suggest she should stick to the short story where she belongs. Honestly, I did not enjoy Wise Blood when I read it years ago, and sadly I have not attempted to read it since. But O’Connor is one of those authors whom I think it is better to approach again with humility as well as criticism.

A case in point. In one letter, O’Connor says:

I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart. And it seems her heart had not been lifted up by anything of mine she had read. I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up. (The Habit of Being: Collected Letters)

I’m inclined to agree.

During Bell Work today, I had a different but related quote written on the board that I asked my students to try to paraphrase in their own words:

“The fault […] lies not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

I did not cite the quote because I’m still leaving our next unit as sort of a surprise, but as many of you probably know, it is from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Cassius says this to Brutus early on in the play, when he is trying to convince him to take action against Caesar and eventually to join a conspiracy to kill him. Cassius insists that it’s not because of fate (“the stars”) that we little Romans are oppressed by a dictator– it’s our own fault. We let him have the power. Now we have to do something about it.

Louis Calhern as Cassius (left) and James Mason as Brutus (right) in the 1953 movie version of Shakespeare’s tragedy

Of course, in this particular instance, Cassius’ wise statement about human nature is really only a ploy to manipulate Brutus into joining him in his dark plans. A central question of the play actually does turn out to be whose “fault” is the tragedy really? Caesar’s, because he is “ambitious”? Brutus, because he is disloyal? Cassius’, because he is scheming? Marc Antony’s, because he is eloquent and manipulative? The Roman people’s, because they are gullible?

source: wikipedia

A lot of my students have been talking about (and even reading!) a book called The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a novel about two teenagers suffering from terminal disease who fall in love with each other. Interestingly, Green inverts the original quote. His title seems to suggest that the “fault” really is “in our stars”–that is, outside of our own personal control, rather than “in ourselves.”

Which is, of course, what most teenagers (and human beings in general) like to hear*.

If I don’t like a book, it must be the book’s fault. If I don’t like a movie, it must be the movie’s fault. If I don’t like another person, it must be his fault.

How seldom do we wonder if our lack of joy, or of feeling entertained, or of liking someone else is because of our own deficiencies!

And not in a “1950’s Catholic guilt” way, either. That’s just too easy.

Real humility acknowledges what is true. As one of my UD Professors (Father Maguire) put it, “Humility is the reality principle.” It is the virtue of seeing oneself truthfully, both the good and the bad.

I notice that Christians (like myself in particular) bring this sort of “fault” misplacement to prayer and liturgy just as much as to our reading. The Mass is boring. The music is bad. The priest can’t string a word together in the homily. So-and-so was distracting me. This is so “Spirit of Vatican II.” This is so “Pre-Vatican II.” I prayed and nothing happened. God isn’t listening. It didn’t make me feel better. I wasn’t uplifted.


Maybe if my heart had been in the right place…

*Caveat: I have not read Green’s book. But I’m thinking of doing so because so many of my kids are reading it. Though many of them may just wait to see the movie version that’s coming out soon.