Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Today, for the first time, I was the Toastmaster. That means that I hosted the meeting – calling up people as their turns arrived, and then thanking them afterward. April marks the first time since I joined the club that I have gone an entire month without giving a speech, but that’s just fine because I’m busy with school now that the semester is wrapping up. In fact, the agenda for the two Toastmasters’ meetings in may was passed out today and I was happy to notice that I am not scheduled for a speech at either meeting. I mean, I still plan to attend, of course, but it’s difficult to write up a competent speech when I’m busy with school.

Speaking of school, I may have mentioned this before, but there are assigned readings to do before each class. For tomorrow’s class, we have the biggest reading assignment yet: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Yep, an entire book. Fortunately, I have already read this book, so I have at least a fading memory of its contents. Also, since I saw this book coming up on the horizon, I decided to secure a copy of the book on audiocassette and “read” it in the car going to and from work this week. I finished “reading” it today on my way home from work. The downside to doing it this way is that, when I come across a memorable passage to write down on the assigned worksheet, I just kinda gotta remember where it is and then look it up when I get home. The upside, however, is that I managed to “read” the entire book without taking away any time for family/work/sleep.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Have I mentioned that, though I now work in a new department, I still have the same cube that I’ve had for over four years? Yeah, it’s true. This leads to the odd predicament wherein the people I used to work with walk by and wonder what I’m still doing squatting on their turf, whereas the people I now work with have no idea where I vanish to when not in meetings or in the lab. So, I’m kind of inhabiting a kind of purgatory right now where I both belong and don’t belong in two places.

I kind of like it.

More interestingly, we continued our discussion of Edgar Allen Poe in class today. Once again, the professor acted like he was going to share the Simpsons’ classic interpretation of “The Raven” with us, only to run out of time at the end of class.

Here’s a fascinating question:

Do we study texts like “The Raven” because we’ve studied them?

Yeah, it didn’t make any sense to me either, at first. But here’s what he meant: Does “The Raven” actually have outstanding artistic merit or some other historical importance, or do students and poetry aficionados study, read, and discuss it simply because it’s what has always been done (and, therefore, has lasting fame).

The answer, of course, is both, thought several students seemed to feel the answer fell squarely in one camp. This included one student who expressed her opinion that “The Raven,” as odd as this may sound, really isn’t that good.

The thing is, no one in class was alive when “The Raven” was first printed. They didn’t live through that time when it was first read and analyzed as new. Overall, though, the general consensus was that it was a superb poem and, consequently, it has endured through time. This leads to the fact that it gets printed in anthologies, such as the one we have for class, in which later generations get exposed to it, and they have the opportunity to like or dislike it.

Here, then, are two examples that, I think, explain this better than my previous convoluted paragraph:

I have this friend who is waaaay into music. He is proficient at several instruments; he has recorded dozens of albums, been a member of many bands, and has performed live at quite a few venues. As you can imagine, he’s also quite the storehouse of music lore – he knows a lot about the history and industry of music, so much so that he frequently cites musical acts I have never heard of.

One day, about 10 years ago, I stepped into his new bedroom, scanned the room, and announced, “I think John Lennon is overrepresented here.” He laughed, but then went on to explain that the reason why three of his eight music posters featured John Lennon was because there’s plenty of Lennon merchandise out there. And he’s correct: were he to make a list of his 100 favorite musicians, then walk into a music shop with the express idea of purchasing merchandise featuring these individuals, it’s hard to see how any musician would have more paraphernalia than Lennon (especially because Elvis would not be on his list).

You could say the same with me: Why do I have Star Wars Monopoly? Because it exists, while a version of Monopoly featuring far better films does not.

More relevant, let’s look at a list of films I’ve seen from the 1920s:

Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, das
Kid, the
Nanook of the North
Our Hospitality
Navigator, the
Wizard of Oz
Go West
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin)
Gold Rush, the
Lodger, the
Ring, the
Downhill (When Boys Leave Home)
Easy Virtue
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Jazz Singer, the
General, the
Singing Fool
Cameraman, the
Circus, the
Broadway Melody
Farmer’s Wife, the
Manxman, the
Juno & the Paycock
Chelovek s Kinoapparaton (Man with a Movie Camera)

…Yeah, that’s it. A list of films I’ve seen from any year of the past twenty would be longer than this. Now take a look at the list, there are a lot of classics on here; it’s likely you’ve heard of these films or, if you haven’t, that I could give you one or two facts about the film that would make you nod and go, “Oh, so that’s why we give a rat’s ass about that film.” And that’s the point: I am living in 2011. I do not know which films are the greatest of this year, and I do not know which films from 2011 will still be considered great films in 2100. However, the 1920s were several decades ago. As such, many of the films from that time are lost, and the only ones from that era that I care to see – or, indeed, have even heard about – are likely to be the ones that have stood the test of time because, for whatever reason, they’re considered classics.

The best film from the 1920s may be one I’ve never heard of, but then it’s likely I won’t ever see it.

Same thing with “The Raven.” The best poem from the 1840s might be one that no in class – including the professor – has ever heard of. But enough people felt “The Raven” was worthy enough to be reprinted and so, today, we have it as an example of poems from the 1840s. And if any of us like it, then we continue to perpetuate the myth of importance.

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