"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Surprise; or, More Things to Learn

Dear reader, I'm glad that you enjoyed the poem "Watermelons" by Charles Simic, the newly-ensconced US Poet Laureate.
I was so glad to be listening to National Public Radio's Weekend Edition yesterday and to be able to hear Mr. Simic speak about writing, as well as to hear his reading of what I understand to be one of his most well-known works, wherein he imagines what it would be like to be a stone.
You may find the audio from the broadcast here. (I was sorry that the interviewer asked him questions about immigration and national identity when she could have been asking him more about his working with words; should you wish to go directly to the poem in question, it begins at about mark 4:24.)
What a simple joy it was to be washing up the dishes, the sun streaming in the window, the dish soap sliding down the china, and listen to this broadcast.
When I went to wipe the kitchen counter, I picked up an aluminum foil packet, a piece of cornbread I had made for supper a day or so ago. Unexpectedly, it was hot to the touch, the cornbread inside beginning to mold. When I held its warmth in my hand, I saw and felt the energy: the hum and the swarm of my old hive of bees rising up through the wood and wax of the hive, heavily fragrant and smokily humming; the body of my cello against my body, its throat, its bow the words of its song humming in my hand; the murmuring of the molecules as the metal is heated, excitement expressed in malleability, a fevered pitch; the eager feeding of simple organisms upon simple food, creating a funk, creating warmth.
I understood what Simic was speaking to--- of stones struck together, and sparks flying out: a moon that shines from somewhere, with just enough light to read by. It was a wonderful thing.
Cognitive dissonance: nobody expects the unexpected.
When it comes, may it more often than not be a happy visit.


swamp witch said...

I will never think of molded cornbread in quite the same way again.
My Barnes and Noble list has a new book on it: "The World Doesn't End."
You are an amazing writer.

I have lots of neckties said...

I share your frustration with radio (and TV) hosts who constantly try to turn an artist's or writer's discussion of his or her work into a tract on political matters. There's enough political babble on the airwaves without trying to inject such talk forcefully into discussions about works of art or literature.

We already know that the importance of the arts is often trivialized in our society; just look at how many public schools have eliminated art courses from their curricula, branding such pursuits as unnecessary.

In many ways, I believe we've lost sight of the concept "art for art's sake." A pity.

neroli said...

Dear Swamp Witch, if I am indeed becoming better at words, it is due in no small part to wonderful writers such as yourself, setting forth such beautiful work. Thank you so much.
"The World Doesn't End"---what a gorgeous title!
(going on bn.com when I'm done here!)

Dear Lots Of, as usual, you've gone to the most essential point of the rather large matter: and I absolutely agree---
it *shouldn't* matter if arts, or "specials" enhance the data-bound, state-assessed curriculum or not....
these classes *should* be available as a way to not only access other modalities of intelligence, thereby creating a more positive experience, but because they are_of_value in and of themselves. Yet we somehow often manage to belie the very nature of learning by fitting all the pegs into the same hole.

Of course, I just read an article in the NYTimes about this---find it here: