education

Nabokov’s “Lolita” (a second reading)

Posted in Books, Criticism, education, fiction on April 1st, 2014 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

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I read Lolita for the first time about five years ago and was overwhelmed by the style but thought it lacked substance in terms of plot and character. Upon a second reading I would concede the book has substance, and my initial sense of something lacking was really a reflection of my belief that the novel contains no likeable characters. I find nothing to like or sympathize in Humbert, Lolita, or Quilty.

Lolita’s name is Dolores—“pain” in Spanish––Lolita is a “pain” and painful for Humbert.

The book is setup as a confession: Humbert is definitely no St. Augustine, though he may have read some Rousseau. I have not read Rousseau’s Confessions (1782), but as a reader, I find the company of the literary children of James Joyce more tolerable than that of their father. In other words, the linguistic acrobatics of Nabokov’s Lolita, as well as Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962), work in ways Joyce never mastered. The Irish Oscar Wilde taught art-for-art’s-sake, and later Irish James Joyce believed in style-for-style’s-sake—but Nabokov and Burgess both know that the best formula is style-for-story’s-sake.

It’s quite a writer’s trick for Nabokov to make the narrator a professor of French poetry. Throughout my reading this trick made it difficult for me not to confuse Nabokov-the-author-poet for Humbert-the narrator-poet.

Early on Humbert confesses: “I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita,” (Part I, Ch. 15). This line might be compared to a reflection made by the character of Thomas Buddenbrook:

“I know that the external, visible, tangible tokens and symbols of happiness and success first appear only after things have in reality gone into decline already.” (Buddenbrooks, VII, vi, 378–79)

Later Humbert dreams of eventually impregnating Lolita (Part II, Ch. 3), so that he can have a second Lolita, somewhat like the character of Manfred in Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), P. B. Shelley’s remark that incest is the most poetic of all circumstances, and sentiments of the villain Noah Cross at the climax of the film Chinatown (1974). Nabokov’s line “my impossible daughter” (Part I, Ch. 29) is brimming with multiple meanings and interpretations.

I remain ambivalent but more accepting of Lolita after this second reading, but Nabokov has thought about the idea of re-reading, as found in his lectures on literature:

“I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book:  one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” (“Good Readers and Good Writers,” 3)

For Nabokov, a writer is a storyteller, a teacher, and an enchanter:

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer…. The three facets of the great writer—magic, story, lesson—are prone to blend in one impression of unified and unique radiance, since the magic of art may be present in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of thought.” (“Good Readers and Good Writers,” 5–6)

Finally, here’s Nabokov on artists and morality:

“I never could admit that a writer’s job was to improve the morals of his country, and point out lofty ideals from the tremendous height of a soapbox, and administer first aid by dashing off second-rate books. The writer’s pulpit is dangerously close to the pulp romance, and what reviewers call a strong novel is generally a precarious heap of platitudes or a sand castle on a populated beach, and there are few things sadder than to see its muddy mat dissolve when the holiday makers are gone and the cold mousy waves are nibbling at the solitary sands.” (“The Art of Literature and Commonsense” 376)

 

NOTES

Mann, Thomas Buddenbrooks, Verfall einer Familie. Berlin: S. Fischer. 1901. Translation by John E. Woods published as Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, 1993.

Nabokov, Lectures on Literature, New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1982.

What drew me to Harold Bloom

Posted in Criticism, education on October 11th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

I never knew until now just what it was that drew me towards Bloom. But after reading his 1991 interview with the Paris Review I think I know why:

INTERVIEWER

Are there [literary, fictional] characters you would like to have known?

BLOOM

No, no. The only person I would like to have known, whom I have never known, but it’s just as well, is Sophia Loren. I have been in love with Sophia Loren for at least a third of a century. But undoubtedly it would be better never to meet her. I’m not sure I ever shall, though my late friend Bart Giamatti had breakfast with her. Judging by photographs and recent film appearances, she has held up quite well, though a little too slender now—no longer the same gorgeous Neapolitan beauty, now a much more sleek beauty.

Paradise Lost in His Head (First Thoughts)

Posted in education, fiction on October 8th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Paradise Lost in His Head » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

“The Philosophers Song” (Monty Python)

Posted in education on September 10th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Monty Python’s  “The Philosophers Song”:

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, & What It Isn’t (Allen Barra – WSJ.com)

Posted in Books, Criticism, education on June 30th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Harper Lee’s contemporary and fellow Southerner Flannery O’Connor (and a far worthier subject for high-school reading lists) once made a killing observation about “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.”

Harper Lees To Kill a Mockingbird, and What It Isnt | By Allen Barra – WSJ.com.

One Possible Cause of Readicide…. (The Nation)

Posted in education on June 8th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

John Palattella of The Nation writes:

The book beat has been gutted primarily by cultural forces, not economic ones, and the most implacable of those forces lies within rather than outside the newsroom. It is not iPads or the Internet but the anti-intellectual ethos of newspapers themselves….

Carlin Romano, then the books critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, who was scolded by an editor for running as the cover story of his section a review of a new translation of Tirant Lo Blanc, a Catalan epic beloved by Cervantes. “Have you gone crazy?” the editor asked. “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Americas newspapers in the 1990s,” Romano reflected, “is their hostility to reading in all forms.”

via The Death and Life of the Book Review | The Nation.

Reading about European Exceptionalism in the Middle Ages (A brief comment)

Posted in education, reading on June 7th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

At the Catholic literary journal Dappled Things, Hugo-nominated sci-fi writer Michael Flynn puts to rest the myth that Christianity held back science during medieval times, and shows how it was rather the opposite that was true:

The philosophers of the “Age of Reason” called the Middle Ages the “Age of Faith,” and claimed that because “God did it!” was the answer to everything, no one searched for natural laws. Some have since imagined a “war” between science and religion, and accused the medievals of suppressing science, forbidding medical autopsies, and burning scientists. Bad times for science and reason!

Or was it? In fact, the Middle Ages were steeped in reason, logic, and natural philosophy. These subjects comprised virtually the entire curriculum of the universities.

Come on: “Steeped in reason, logic, and natural philosophy?” While I have no doubt “these subjects comprised virtually the entire curriculum of the universities” such a suggestion of steepness seems to imply that the majority of Europeans attended universities in the Middle Ages—a steep slope of argument much too slippery for my meager, Middle American footing.

The Age of Faith and Reason » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

School Bullies: Texas State Board of Education (Burnt Orange Report)

Posted in Books, Criticism, education on June 7th, 2010 by Christopher – 3 Comments

At this point, it is useless to get mired in the specifics of the damaged curriculum, after the board’s “death by a thousand cuts.”

Sorry, Rebecca Bell Metereau, but this is exactly wrong. Call me crazy, but it’s impossible to have an intellectual conversation concerning the fate of future intellectuals if you refuse to address “the specifics of the damanged curriculum.” And if you’re not going to have an intellectual conversation, you might as well nominate yourself for a place on the SBOE.

via Burnt Orange Report: School Bullies: Texas State Board of Education.

The Twilight of Textbooks in Texas (Final Thoughts on the State Board of Education)

Posted in Books, education, publishing on June 7th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

I should confess that, being a product of the public education systems of Texas, Bookbread is prone to assume a topic in haste followed by a knee-jerk response. Despite this disclosure, I, Bookbread, stand correct in my assertion that the recent revision to the social studies curriculum by the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE] will implant Things-that-are-Not into these textbooks, particularly when the SBOE replaces the term “capitalism” for “free enterprise system” and obscures, and thereby devalues, the concept of a separation of church from state [01].

After accepting Ann Althouse’s dare [02], and having read the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills [TEKS] documents from the links she provided, Bookbread believes this data only confirms my earlier accusation of the elaborated couching of terminology concerning a “free enterprise system” and the dithering of teaching concepts involving the separation of many churches and religions from a single nation-state. While TEKS does acknowledge “capitalism” as a legitimate synonym for “free enterprise system” [03] such a system, as taught according to TEKS, focuses only the positive aspects and consequences of free enterprise, implying that such a system is infallible [04].

Bookbread concedes that the TEKS display multiple moments of teaching diversification and multiculturalism where the concept of a separation of church and state (the unique segregation of many religions from a single government under one constitution) might indeed be a relevant, overlapping topic of discussion [05]. But other than one mention in one high school class of the Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale concerning school prayer, throughout TEKS, there is no specific focus on the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom via said separation even when other First Amendment rights are specified and elaborated upon [06].

Yet at the end of the day, one can be thankful upon realizing that, in its policies, SBOE has provided an avenue towards a kind of self-criticism within its TEKS texts—a path towards criticizing the way this bureaucracy has institutionalized conformity regarding two concepts: one, of a free enterprise system as infallible, and two, the separation of church and state as obscure. Such a path is to be found in the SBOE’s high school psychology requirements: “The student will understand the influence of society and culture on behavior and cognition. The student is expected to: explore the nature and effects of bias and discrimination [and] describe circumstances in which conformity and obedience are likely to occur,” [07].

Notes

[01] See BookbreadsThe Lies in Textbooks are Upon You.”

[02] See Ann Althouse’s “If you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it.”

[03] Everything below comes from 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

See [§113.46. Sociology (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (b) Introduction, (3)]: “Students identify the role of the free enterprise system within the parameters of this course and understand that this system may also be referenced as capitalism or the free market system.” However, this is an elective half-credit for high school. It is only after passing the middle school and [§113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012] are students first exposed to, according to the TEKS, of the legitimacy of this synonym.

[04] An example of attaching an aura of infallibility to the concept of a “free enterprise system” can be found in [§113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills, (16) Economics] where we learn:

“The student understands significant economic developments between World War I and World War II. The student is expected to”:

(A) analyze causes of economic growth and prosperity in the 1920s, including Warren Harding’s Return to Normalcy, reduced taxes, and increased production efficiencies;

(B) identify the causes of the Great Depression, including the impact of tariffs on world trade, stock market speculation, bank failures, and the flawed monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System;

(C) analyze the effects of the Great Depression on the U.S. economy and society such as widespread unemployment and deportation and repatriation of people of European and Mexican heritage and others;

(D) compare the New Deal policies and its opponents’ approaches to resolving the economic effects of the Great Depression; and

(E) describe how various New Deal agencies and programs, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Social Security Administration, continue to affect the lives of U.S. citizens.

(17) Economics. The student understands the economic effects of World War II & the Cold War. The student is expected to:

(E) describe the dynamic relationship between U.S. international trade policies and the U.S. free enterprise system such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo, the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

So that when talking about failures of free enterprise such as Great Depression, the SBOE couches the language of TEKS by not specifying what failed within (or because of) the current free enterprise system and why the country felt the need to amend the system after these failures occurred. Or does TEKS assume students will intuit “the flawed monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System” as an example of a kind of failure of (or in) our free enterprise system?—as when it suggests in [§118.1. Implementation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits, High School, (c) Knowledge and skills, (6) Economics]:

“The student understands the basic characteristics and benefits of a free enterprise system. The student is expected to”:

(A) explain the basic characteristics of the U.S. free enterprise system, including private property, incentives, economic freedom, competition, and the limited role of government;

(B) explain the benefits of the U.S. free enterprise system, including individual freedom of consumers and producers, variety of goods, responsive prices, investment opportunities, and the creation of wealth;

(12) Economics. The student understands the role of money in an economy. The student is expected to:

(A) describe the functions of money;

(B) describe the characteristics of money;

(C) analyze the costs and benefits of commodity money, fiat money, and representative money; and

(D) examine the positive and negative aspects of barter, currency, credit cards, and debit cards.

One would think SBOE would have sorted all this out—particularly when they bothered to add to ibid.:

(22) Social studies skills. The student communicates in written, oral, and visual forms. The student is expected to:

(A) use economic-related terminology correctly;

[05] Despite the lambasts of other bloggers (see note 4 of BookbreadsThe Lies in Textbooks are Upon You”), Bookbread is in no way accusing SBOE of xenophobia, when all evidence in TEKS suggests otherwise:

§113.18. Social Studies, Grade 6, Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(b) Knowledge and skills.

(15) Culture. The student understands the similarities and differences within and among cultures in various societies. The student is expected to:

(C) define a multicultural society and consider both the positive and negative qualities of multiculturalism;

(D) analyze the experiences and evaluate the contributions of diverse groups to multicultural societies;

(16) Culture. The student understands that all societies have basic institutions in common even though the characteristics of these institutions may differ. The student is expected to:

(A) identify institutions basic to all societies, including government, economic, educational, and religious institutions;

(B) compare characteristics of institutions in various contemporary societies; and

(C) analyze the efforts and activities institutions use to sustain themselves over time such as the development of an informed citizenry through education and the use of monumental architecture by religious institutions.

(20) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the influences of science and technology on contemporary societies. The student is expected to:

(B) explain how resources, belief systems, economic factors, and political decisions have affected the use of technology;

§113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(7) History. The student understands the domestic and international impact of U.S. participation in World War II. The student is expected to:

(D) analyze major issues of World War II, including the Holocaust; the internment of Japanese, German, and Italian Americans; and the development of conventional and atomic weapons;

(26) Culture. The student understands how people from various groups contribute to our national identity. The student is expected to:

(A) explain actions taken by people to expand economic opportunities and political rights, including those for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as women, in American society;

(C) explain how the contributions of people of various racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups shape American culture;

§113.46. Sociology (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(15) Social institutions. The student identifies the basic social institutions of education and religion and explain their influence on society. The student is expected to:

(C) examine religion from the sociological point of view;

(D) analyze the functions of society and the basic societal needs that religion serves; and

(E) compare and contrast distinctive features of religion in the United States with religion in other societies.

See also [§113.42. World History Studies (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills] and [§113.43. World Geography Studies (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills].

[06] In [§113.18. Social Studies, Grade 6, Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (b) Knowledge and skills, (19) Culture] We learn that “The student understands the relationships among religion, philosophy, and culture” but for some reason the SBOE omitted the relationship of government to “religion, philosophy and culture.” In other instances, the curriculum appear well-balanced and thorough, except for the de-emphasis and sometimes omission of specifying the separation of religion from government when teaching on the First Amendment. This is most particularly evident in [§113.44. United States Government (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills. (16) Citizenship, (B)] where we read: “The student understands the importance of the expression of different points of view in a constitutional republic. The student is expected to: analyze the importance of the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech, and press and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms” but the specific mention of freedom of religion is omitted. This is the attitudinal pattern of the SBOE repeated throughout TEKS (with the single exception of Engle v. Vitale):

§113.20. Social Studies, Grade 8, Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(b) Knowledge and skills.

(15) Government. The student understands the American beliefs and principles reflected in the U.S. Constitution and other important historic documents. The student is expected to:

(A) identify the influence of ideas from historic documents, including Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, The Wealth of Nations, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and selected anti-federalist writings, on the U.S. system of government;

(B) summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation;

(C) identify colonial grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and explain how those grievances were addressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights; and

(D) analyze how the U.S. Constitution reflects the principles of limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, and individual rights.

(16) Government. The student understands the process of changing the U.S. Constitution and the impact of amendments on American society. The student is expected to:

(A) summarize the purposes for and process of amending the U.S. Constitution;

(19) Citizenship. The student understands the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States. The student is expected to:

(B) summarize rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights;

(25) Culture. The student understands the impact of religion on the American way of life. The student is expected to:

(A) trace the development of religious freedom in the United States;

(B) describe religious motivation for immigration and influence on social movements, including the impact of the first and second Great Awakenings; and

(C) analyze the impact of the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom on the American way of life.

§113.44. United States Government (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(1) History. The student understands how constitutional government, as developed in America and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution, has been influenced by ideas, people, and historical documents. The student is expected to:

(A) explain major political ideas in history, including the laws of nature and nature’s God, unalienable rights, divine right of kings, social contract theory, and the rights of resistance to illegitimate government;

(7) Government. The student understands the American beliefs and principles reflected in the U.S. Constitution and why these are significant. The student is expected to:

(D) evaluate constitutional provisions for limiting the role of government, including republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, and individual rights;

(8) Government. The student understands the structure and functions of the government created by the U.S. Constitution. The student is expected to:

(H) compare the structures, functions, and processes of the national, state, and local governments in the U.S. federal system.

(13) Citizenship. The student understands rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The student is expected to:

(A) understand the roles of limited government and the rule of law in the protection of individual rights;

(B) identify and define the unalienable rights;

(C) identify the freedoms and rights guaranteed by each amendment in the Bill of Rights;

(D) analyze U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution in selected cases, including Engel v. Vitale, Schenck v. U.S., Texas v. Johnson, Miranda v. Arizona, Gideon v. Wainwright, Mapp v. Ohio, and Roe v. Wade;

(E) explain the importance of due process rights to the protection of individual rights and in limiting the powers of government; and

(F) recall the conditions that produced the 14th Amendment and describe subsequent efforts to selectively extend some of the Bill of Rights to the states, including the Blaine Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court rulings, and analyze the impact on the scope of fundamental rights and federalism.

(16) Citizenship. The student understands the importance of the expression of different points of view in a constitutional republic. The student is expected to:

(B) analyze the importance of the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech, and press and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. [But no religion]

[07] §113.45. Psychology (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012:

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(13) The individual in society. The student will understand the influence of society and culture on behavior and cognition. The student is expected to:

(B) explore the nature and effects of bias and discrimination;

(C) describe circumstances in which conformity and obedience are likely to occur;

One might also examine:

§113.44. United States Government (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(20) Social studies skills. The student applies critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of valid sources, including electronic technology. The student is expected to:

(D) analyze and evaluate the validity of information, arguments, and counterarguments from primary and secondary sources for bias, propaganda, point of view, and frame of reference.

“¡Viva Data Libre!” (The Texas Tribune)

Posted in education on June 1st, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

All Bookbread can say is muchas gracias for this streamlined collection of public data on the State of Texas, including many metrics helpful for understanding the SBOE and the twilight of textbooks in Texas. This is true twenty-first century journalism.

The Texas Tribune contends: “We hope to have about 7 million records available to the public by year’s end.” Memorial Data | The Texas Tribune.