Legoland and the Moral Obligation to be Intelligent

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Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eventually, this is going to come out, so let me just get it out of the way now. I have an intense man-crush on Lionel Trilling. Isn’t he dashing?I know that most men my age have these sorts of feelings for people like Vince Vaughn, but what can I say? I read The Liberal Imagination and felt the same kind of swoon that other folks had watching Old School.

At any rate, one of Trilling’s favorite phrases was “the moral obligation to be intelligent.” It was coined not by him, but rather by John Erskine in a famous essay. Here is a Wordle of it, compliments of Wikipedia:

At any rate, somehow the phase became associated with Trilling and even provided the title of a recent collection of his essays. I’ve always been drawn to this ostentatious collection of words myself, and I try to instill the concept into my students: being smart is not a gift or a stroke of luck, it is an ethical decision we all make. And education is not a pre-fabricated product you buy, but a messy, unpredictable process of submitting yourself to the best that has been thought and said, and letting it force you to grow out of yourself and into someone better.

So just what exactly does this have to do with Legoland you ask?

Fair enough. I just had the opportunity to take my kids to Legoland for the first time and I was overwhelmed with the desire to blog about it. My girls have only recently “discovered” the joys of Legos and this has been a great joy to me. If one word can define my life’s philosophy, it would have to be “engagement.” This dominates everything from my vacations to my teaching practices, and nothing says “engagement” like a chaotic pile of randomly shaped and colored plastic blocks. Legos just beg their users to touch, feel, and experiment. Central planning is frustrated, romantic exploration is rewarded. This is the joy of Lego-building in its purest form. Culture out of Anarchy.

I am obviously not the first person to find deep meaning in playing with toys. Recently, the great Michael Chabon broached this same topic in his book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs. Chabon’s position about this particular toy’s explosive creative potential is much the same as mine, and like him, I am vehemently against the new trend of pre-organized Lego “kits” that encourage children to follow corporation-approved ideas of, ahem, “creativity.” I highly urge you to read the following interview as Chabon is far more articulate than I am.

The point of this post, however, is not to worry about the dark side of industrialist hegemony. There will be no ranting against the newly-ubiquitous term “job creator” here. (This time at least. I do hate that term so).

I love Legoland.

Having been to more than a few amusement parks in my life, I’ve appreciated some more than others. Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, is a monument to thrill seeking, and it dares its patrons to conquer both their fear and their propensity for nausea. Its intense emphasis on the rhetoric of challenge makes it engaging and great. It requires something of its adventurers. Disney, on the other hand, is…well…crowded. And not just with people. Its rhetorical goal is to overwhelm the senses and completely immerse its subjects in the fully-enclosed fantasy that finances its multi-national economic interests. I’ve enjoyed Disney, or at least found it interesting, but gaining enough perspective to critically engage with the park’s experience is difficult when one is so fully subsumed into the fantasy. It’s hard to observe the ocean when you are desperately trying to stay afloat in it. There is a terrific mediation on this in E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel that I recommend reading during a visit to that great American cultural institution. It makes for a healthy, subversive moment.

Conversely, Legoland’s genius is, like Cedar Point’s, its daring. No, it doesn’t dare you to conquer your fear of speed and height. On the contrary, it dares you to pause. Do not run, do not even walk. Stop. Look. There are details in these Lego-structures that will capture your imagination and pull you out of yourself. The most impressive section of the park in this regard is Miniland, a collection of famous American urban landscapes. My photos will not do the park justice, but look at this image:

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It’s the White House. Yes, but its more than that. Pausing to note – no stand in awe of – the craftsmanship that went into this model can be, for the engaged patron, a sublime experience. First, look at the accuracy of the architecture. The columns, the windows, the slant of the roof, the steps, the neo-classical peaks. The detail is amazing, but, even more so, the thought of people having taken the time to meticulously reproduce the detail is inspiring. Look at the flags at either end of the entrance. Not only are the flags made of Legos, the stripes and stars are all tiny Legos that come together to spangle the banners. Furthermore, a quick walk past this too-familiar American image might deprive the viewer of noticing that the Obama family is reproduced, in Christmas garb, on the front steps. And that Santa and his reindeer are being held up by the Secret Service on the roof! Clever, no?

I could post dozens of pictures that won’t do the experience justice, but I won’t. I will simply argue that this particular amusement park, like the classic toy that gave rise to it, makes the audacious move to require something of those who explore it. It doesn’t blast the senses with loud music and bright lights; it quietly and confidently sits back and dares the visitor to immerse oneself in the experience. It won’t do it for you. This is also, I think, the goal of education and of living the good life. The park, like the chaotic, random pile of toys my girls received for Christmas, offers the us an opportunity to fulfill our moral obligations: be inspired, dream, think. Be intelligent.

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Re-Visiting Philip Roth at Christian Humanist.org!

Hello everyone. I just wanted to take a moment to extend my hopes that we all had a terrific holiday season.

I will very soon be publishing a post about my amazing trip to Lego Land in Florida, but first want to point interested parties to another blog that I will occasionally be posting to. I have decided to use the moment of Philip Roth’s retirement to re-read the novels in order and post my reflections on my friend and colleague’s blog, Christian Humanist.org.

The first one is up. It’s about Goodbye, Columbus. Please check it out!

http://www.christianhumanist.org/chb/2012/12/re-visiting-philip-roth-goodbye-columbus/

Banned!

Philip Roth once wrote that “the ecstasy of sanctimony” is America’s “oldest communal passion.” This is difficult to argue with, but I will suggest a runner-up. Our culture values oppression to an alarming degree. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to think of our rights as under assault. The annual War on Christmas pageant is a good example and far from the only one. America is a great reality show with assorted victims clamoring for the right to be, “The Biggest Loser.” Often this quest is presented as resistance to some form of conspiracy or another under the auspices of “The Man” (Mainstream Media, Religious Right etc…). This, I suppose, provides us with the ecstatic experience Roth noted and offers a righteousness to justify our indignation. Whenever we perceive that something stands against our rights to behave or think in a particular way, we must fight said Man.

Well, I am part of the conspiracy this time. I am The Man.

I have decided to ban a certain term from my classroom. The term is “flow.” I was astonished this semester at the degree to which my composition students depend on this term. Dependence, however, is not the worst part. The word has the capability of impairing thought to such a degree that I think its user should not be allowed to drive a motor vehicle. I will explain in a moment.

Predictably, when confronted about it, my students did what any good freedom-loving American would do. They assumed defensive postures and declared that their high school teachers said it was a good word to use in intelligent writing. They’ve apparently been made to believe that the term contains some kind of meaning and my challenging them was paramount to robbing them of their rhetorical principles. The battle-lines were drawn.

The War on Flow had begun.Flow

Students who use this term in class discussion will be mercilessly ridiculed. Those brave, indignant warriors who righteously stand against my tyranny and dare use it in their papers anyway will lose points. They will lose many many points. I will crush this particular class of victim.

The reader may wish for an explanation and that is fair. Here is a typical sentence using the banned term:

The ideas in this essay really flow well.

This may seem harmless enough, but the term is vacant and therefore the thinking of the student is limited and shoddy. I assume that what the flow-monger means is that the essay’s author provides a logical structure to his or her argument, with one claim laying the foundation for the next, and he or she uses transitions to effectively guide the reader through the essay’s argument. The use of the term-which-shall-not-be-named hurries through this more detailed kind of analysis in order to provide an unsatisfying evaluation.

It’s like calling a movie good. What makes it good? Well I liked it. So what makes it good is that you liked it? I guess I don’t really want to put much thought into it; it’s just a movie. The reviewer in this hypothetical case simply doesn’t want to think. He only wants to be entertained. This vile term, similarly, is a short-cut in thinking and this will not do in my class.

In all honesty, though. If this were the extent of the vulgarity of the term’s usage, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. It get’s worse.

The writer flows his evidence really well.

You see my concern. Once we allow this monstrous term into our classrooms, it infects our very minds. Thinking will cease and life as we know it will end.

I’m not an ogre. I have tried to kindly and humorously explain to them that their teachers were fools and their whole rhetorical way of life is a lie. I tell them that this word’s linguistic function is no different than the term “smurf” in The Smurfs. When Smurfette tells Jokey that his jokes are “just smurfy,” and Brainy tells Papa that he saw Gargamel and “got the smurf out of there,” we know what they mean. That doesn’t mean this is a appropriate language system, though.

We don’t live in mushrooms. Although I’m sure they provide quality air flow.

Georgia Chronicles Part One – The Georgia Guidestones: Conspiratorial Kitsch

Being a new citizen of Georgia, I’ve relished experiencing its culture for the first time. From chicken farms to the great BBQ debates to the local pro wrestling scene (more on this later, I’m sure), it’s all been dazzlingly interesting. So much so that I’ve decided to make my observations a semi-regular feature of this blog. How our patron saint Matthew Arnold fits in, Lord knows. Perhaps this is the anarchy part of Culture and Anarchy.

Episode one is the Georgia Guidestones (pictures by Yours Truly).

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For those of you unaware of this cultural oddity, the Guidestones are a Stonehengey-like monument located in a field in rural Georgia (happily only 20 minutes from my house!). They were anonymously designed and constructed by a man known only by the pseudonym R.C. Christian, and their purpose is a source of vast controversy and eschatological speculation. I first saw this monument on an episode of Brad Melzer’s Decoded (back when that streamed on Netflix) and was excited to find out that I would be neighbors with a menacing sign of apocalyptic doom.

To quickly summarize, the big issue seems to be a combination of the apparent Rosicrucianism indicated by the Guidestones anonymous patron (R.C Christian –get it?), and the strange message the stones convey. They basically lay out 10 commandments for a new world order.

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Unfortunately, my photo cut off the Big One – the first commandment, which is to “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.” This of course implies bad news for the New Earth’s 500,000,001st person. It also stokes fear among the conspira-rati, who see New World Orders and secret societies under every anonymously-engraved rock-and-bull story. The Guidestones do, in fact, have a rhetoric of ambitious power carved into its Elbert County granite. But – and not that I don’t love my new home – how this monument is supposed to guide a new race of Super-Men from a desolate field in rural Georgia is a question I haven’t seen an adequate answer to yet.

The nifty part of the Guidestones is its design, which in all honesty is pretty cool. The message is carved in eight contemporary languages and four ancient ones on granite tablets that would make Charlton Heston (and Mel Brooks!) proud. Here are some assorted views:

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And one with my daughter climbing on them (of course – what else would she do with such a thing?).

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So billions of those searching for enlightenment can find it handily translated into their native tongue. Again, though, just how many speakers of Swahili and Russian will pass through Elberton, Georgia looking for “Guidance,” I’m not sure.

In addition, there are astrological – excuse me – astronomical alignments (that sounds so much more scientific) built right in:

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…along with instructions!

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I suppose this neatness and clarity is the main problem I have with the whole project. Where’s the mystery? Unlike ancient, enigmatic Stonehenge, we have a detailed description of how it works. How can the Spinal Tap of 1000 years from now incorporate this into its inept stage show if there is no mystery to stoke its members’ imagination?

Also, as seen in the above photo, under the heading “Sponsors,” we are told that they are “A small group of Americans who seek the Age of Reason.” Great. The New World Order will be all about Cold Hard Facts. And militant birth control. Not that Reason in itself is a bad thing; we most certainly could use more of it in our current state, but the emphasis of this monument’s architectural rhetoric leaves no room for imagination, and this is where life is lived to its fullest (I guess I’m finally making the link to Arnold here).

For as much attention as the population limit gets, I find the fourth commandment to be more obnoxious:

“Rule Passion-Faith-Tradition

And All Things

With Tempered Reason

Tempered Reason as the solution to all the problems caused by not only blind religious faith, but also by our loves and imagination. Methodical, Vulcan reason as antidote to our venomous, irrational humanity. I understand that it’s now orthodoxy to look down our noses at Religion and such things (this is a debate I don’t wish to engage in at this moment), but extending that to Passion? What would the world be like without passion? Limited to the mechanical measurements of 500,000,000 dull technocrats, I say. This deification of Reason confirms my biggest fears about the New Atheism. Once they take down Religion, who do you think is next? Bye bye Shakespeare. Whatever threat that Religion poses for Reason is inherent in the Humanities as well. The life of Faith and the life of the Mind share an elegant, symbiotic dance. This is, I think, some of the point Terry Eagleton was trying to make in his hilarious response to the God-debates in the book Reason, Faith, and Revolution.

The Jeremiad tone I take here is, of course, somewhat hyperbolic. I understand for instance that Christopher Hitchens lived an enviably imaginative life. I just hope that come December 22, the survivors have a say in amending R.C. Christian’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. This is why I love the picture of my energetic, irrational, beautiful daughter using the Guidestones as a jungle gym. It is the best use of these guidelines we can hope for.

I’m all for Reason, but not at the expense of Magic.

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By the way.

The anarchist graffiti was there when I showed up. Honest.

Literature and the Christian Imagination

During the last few years of my life, I’ve felt as if I had a foot in two worlds. One foot (left or right – I’m not sure) stood on faith, and the other in academia. All in all, I kept my balance pretty well (yay me). As a student of literature and a person of faith, I instinctively felt that there was a compatibility between the two, invisible perhaps on the outside, but inseparable for me. It made perfect narrative sense, then, that I would end up teaching English at a small, Christian liberal arts college.

This confluence of events and interests has led me to inquire more deeply into the role the imagination and Culture (big C) in the lives of Christians. My thinking is that this will benefit both my students and my sanity, though the latter notion may turn out to be delusional. (I’ve been called worse, both by myself and others).

At any rate, this inquiry has implications not just for how Christians engage with or avoid literary cultural productions, but also how they engage with their faith. For example in The Gospel Coalition today, Greg Forster takes exception with a recent article in The American Conservative in which Rod Dreher claims that Evangelicals are hostile to religious expressions of wonder and awe (sacraments and such). This may seem to have little to do with Christian consumption of literature, but it does address the issue of Evangelical engagement with physical, cultural expressions of metaphysical ideas. In this way the conversation explores the depths and limitations of the Christian imagination – a subject of great interest to me as I attempt to challenge my students and myself going forward. Disruption as engaged learning.

As happy coincidence would have it, my department has decided to read the 1989 book, Literature Through the Eyes of Faith, by Susan Gallagher and Roger Lundin. I thought this to be a good occasion to dip my toe in the subject matter, bloggy-style.

Being written during the height of the Culture Wars, the book seems dated and reading it now is frequently to nod impatiently and say to oneself, “yes, I remember that. People used to talk about this back then.” However, the book does a fair job of establishing the history and logics of long standing debates about the role of literature in the age of High Theory (though not with the panache or precision of Robert Alter’s book The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age). To its credit though, the book is a sincere attempt to inquire into the relationship between faith and literature. It is a serious-minded study of the joys and dangers of Christian consumption of literary art.

This virtue is, however, also its vice. The book is far too serious about this subject and makes the idea of danger too large an ectoplasmic boogeyman for the Christian reader. An example of this is found in a meditation about overt Christian themes in literature. The authors write, “Although we may be pleased to find works based on Christian narratives, characters, or practices, we must not hastily conclude that they endorse or advocate Christian ideas” (123). Implicit here is the idea that “good” literature must ultimately only validate Christian orthodoxy. I challenge this notion and feel that a Christian faith slavishly seeking opportunities to affirm cherished orthodoxies becomes intellectually dead. The Imagination uniquely offers a means to challenge assumptions, keeping their holders keen-witted and productively engaged with the world. Added to this limited engagement with literature’s richness is a repeated insistence that it not dare tread too close to the divine and ostentatious practice of doing anything. It must only reflect, not create realties or challenge existing ones. These themes run throughout the book, buttressed by a cautious rhetoric meant to keep literature safely in its place.

I wonder, in the end, how much the book really believes what it is saying. The section about metafiction, toward the conclusion, seems to suggest that philosophies that challenge Christian ontological claims have value both in their requirement that the reader question their conception of reality and in their engagement of the reader in the process of fiction-making. As much as the book claims a role for sanctified reading practices, it can’t seem to shake a respect for the sheer excitement of world-creation and energizing effect that literature, as an agent of chaos, can have if given the opportunity.

This contradiction is, to me, ultimately good as it complicates an otherwise overly-simple argument (though the book suffers as a pedagogical resource because of it). Let me just focus briefly then on what the book says rather than what it actually does, as the former contains the larger implications for Christian education and engagement with Culture.

Two statements epitomize my complaint with the book. The first has to do with literature’s ability to transcend circumstance. The authors write, “Though literature can provide us with relaxation and with images of the world as it might ideally be, it is neither an escape from reality nor a saving transformation of it” (xxiv). In other words, literature can do little to escape the forces of history. The book argues that its value instead lies solely in its reflection of God’s truth. For those of you in academia, think Foucault meets John Calvin. This is a kind of theological New Historicism, with the text unable to escape the material (and spiritual) conditions of its production.

In the context of a liberal arts education, this is a disastrous perspective. If the humanities cannot both provide perspective on the world and an intervention of imagination then what good is it? This absence leaves the world solely under the sway of material forces. Economics and politics are left as the only means by which God’s creation functions. Furthermore, this calls into question the authority of the Bible. Is it merely a record of events that reflect a world that God made and continually redeems while Human Beings continually ruin? Or is it an intervention in the world that shapes its reader and creates a new and richer reality?

Matthew Arnold

This is, of course, the same war Matthew Arnold, awesome side-burns and all, waged with those that marginalized Culture in favor of mechanical forces like economics and politics. Gallagher and Lundin reduce Arnold to his wish that Culture replace a diminished Religion in society (60), but they neglect to account for his definition of Culture in the early pages of Culture and Anarchy. Defending it against claims that it seeks and values mere curiosity, Arnold offers an alternative definition:

But there is of culture another view, in which not solely the scientific passion, the sheer desire to see things as they are, natural and proper in an intelligent being, appears as the ground of it. There is a view in which all the love of our neighbour, the impulses towards action, help, and beneficence, the desire for removing human error, clearing human confusion, and diminishing human misery, the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it, – motives eminently such as are called social, – come in as part of the grounds of culture, and the main and pre-eminent part. Culture is then properly described not as having its origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection.

By denying curiosity as the defining feature of Culture, Arnold simultaneously denies that its primary service is that of reflective mirror. Literature and art do not simply wish to explore a pre-fabricated world, crafted through the forces of sin, salvation, and free-will enterprise, it also seeks to create a world that is better than the one formed through strictly material forces. Christians, and particularly those in the liberal arts and humanities, should then identify a comrade in Culture, not an adversary to be only leery of.

The historicist-influenced line of thought in Literature Through the Eyes of Faith also motivates the next statement I take issue with. In a chapter depressingly called “Keeping Literature in Perspective,” the authors write, “A Christian perspective on reading lies between the extremes of hedonism and redemption. Books are neither objects of pure pleasure or instruments of unlimited power. Instead, they are one way in which humans have developed the potentials of God’s world” (59). I, of course, would not claim “unlimited power” for books, but to demote them to just “one way” of reflecting divine influence is to make sociology out of literature and to deny a special-ness that narrative has in our lives as created beings that have creative potential. Metafiction, which the authors apparently like, in spite of their own argument, foregrounds the vitality of narrative-creation in our lives. It is not mere sociology, only reflecting images of truth back at ourselves. Nor is it distinct from “the real world.” Fiction is part – perhaps the most important part – of how we create the world.

Imagination is indistinguishable from reality. Christians too often neglect it at their peril.

Revision

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As a teacher, I feel a gnawing obligation to push my students to revise their work. I try to convey to them the notion that writing is inseparable from thinking. We don’t ask them to write research papers because we think they already know so much about bio-ethics or what have you. We ask them to write so that they learn and grow. What they know now is not all they will know later. The papers that we grade are simply documents of each student’s engagement with the process of learning at the time the assignment is due. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the student stops thinking about what they’ve learned. It simply means that their “final” paper is a kind of photograph. It is a frozen image of their intellectual development at a given moment in their lives. Sometimes, unfortunately, that image resembles a Neanderthal preserved in an ancient glacier. This can be distressing, but often the captured moment instead suggests Monet – beautiful, impressionistic, still un-crystalized visions of intelligence inherent and always coming into focus, yet to be fully realized. Aesthetic beauty in progress.

Teachers too must think, I think, and therefore should constantly revise as well. A class, like a term paper, is a document of the teacher’s abilities and experience at the time it is scheduled. Ready or not, here Gen Ed comes. This post then is an occasion for me to reflect on how I would approach teaching a certain class again, armed with the experience of this semester. This past semester, I taught Freshman Composition using a new syllabus and a textbook that was new to me as well. This course was designed in light of the experience I’ve had teaching Freshman Comp in the past and those grand failures and modest successes dictated much of what I did this time.

I strongly believe in the value of liberal arts traditions (see the title of this blog after all). This disposition comes not only in theoretical form, through my dissertation, but also practically, from my teaching experience in composition classrooms. The following statements are bound to offend someone, but . . . Pedagogical approaches that prize the mechanical, objective “skills” of writing too often miss the point of struggling, failing, growing, and thus thinking. On the opposite end of the spectrum, sexy-time topical composition courses often push aside the formal writing practices that encourage thinking to support immediate political and social agendas. Both approaches are mechanical in the end, and both inhibit the educational potential that a seat at the window above Matthew Arnold’s “darkling plain” provides.

With my insufferable idealism stated and out of the way then, how this applies to my composition class is as follows:

From day one, I instill the connection between writing and reading. Academic writing is a conversation much larger than any single individual and the person who merely wants to state their opinions is a bad conversationalist. Therefore, I sequenced my assignments in the following manner – Summary Paper, Response Paper, Formal Analytic Paper, and Academic Book Review. This sequence of assignments was meant to mimic the process of academic conversation while taking time to dwell on each element of the process. Denying students their “opinions” at the beginning was a painful, but necessary step in this process. Some of them never got it, of course, but most did, and this struggle paid dividends at the end of the semester, when I received much better book reviews than I might have otherwise.

For me, the best decision I made was with the final book review assignment. I was asked by my department to use They Say/I Say by Graff and Birkenstein and I’ve always struggled teaching from that book in the past. My solution to the problem this time was to use the book not exclusively as a teaching tool, but also as an object of analysis. We studied rhetoric all semester from our main textbook, From Inquiry to Academic Writing, by Greene and Lidinsky, which gave us the foundations for the sequence of assignments leading up to They Say/I Say. Our final unit, then, became both a review of the concepts we’d already studied (with Graff and Birkenstein providing a lighter, fresher approach to essentially the same material) as well as an opportunity to apply the lessons of that sequence to a real object, thus allowing students to take part in a real academic conversation.

By and large, though I have yet to look at the course evaluations, I felt the course was extremely successful. I did, however, learn a great deal along the way. First, this generation is particularly good at communicating in certain rhetorical situations, namely texting/tweeting/facebooking-speak. It is, I think, a mistake to simply write that fact off as a generational character flaw. Instead, I hope to build on that strength by making that kind of communication an object of rhetorical analysis from the beginning of the course. My hope is that I can help them identify rhetorical structures and practices in this familiar form of communication and use that to strengthen their ability to see and replicate similar practices in more conventional forms of writing. For example, the hashtag in a tweet is a kind of recognition of audience and rhetorical situation is it not? By employing that textual device, the writer (tweeter?) directs his communication to a specific conversation. What ways do we do that in academic conversations? These questions might lead to pedagogical breakthroughs for some students.

Similarly, I think that I will replace my standard Reading Response assignment with a possibly more familiar blog requirement. In other words, instead of having students come to class with response forms and discussion questions, I will ask them to keep a weekly reading/reflection blog on our in-house online system. This will (in theory anyway) open up the “comment” feature of this interface as a means to further emphasize the conversational nature of academic thought.

Finally, in future semesters with this course, I hope to develop a program in which students will sign up for a certain class meeting and present a very short (5 minute) summary of some grammatical or textual concept in the English language of their choosing. This will be meant to encourage engagement and individual initiative in the course. Most of my students come to class engaged and eager to participate, however, there are a significant number who do not and I hope to stand against that in my teaching. Without engagement, writing and, by definition, thinking are in peril.

If anyone happens to read this, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below (or email I suppose). A conversation about this would be most helpful for me.

Best wishes

Danny

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Ah, love, Let us go to Dover Beach

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DOVER BEACH

By Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!

Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

1867