15 November 2006

You say crazy, I say sublime

Matthew Cheney on teaching Nabokov:
Inevitably, there were students who were convinced Nabokov was insane or a drug addict or both. This accusation comes up all the time when we read anyone who is not among the hardest of hardcore realists, because imagination is something that has come to be associated only with the stimulus of drugs or madness. That someone could think up a story like Invitation to a Beheading -- where a man is imprisoned for "gnostic turpitude" in a fortress of porous walls and fake windows and rules against improper dreams -- without being addicted to hallucinogens or lacking a couple of screws is at best inconceivable to many people, if not threatening. The people who issue these accusations would never think of such a story or such imagery themselves, and therefore they can't imagine how anyone else could, unless there was something wrong with their brains. I am sad to see this way of thinking in my students, because it means they are suspicious of one of the fundamental techniques of art, but at least in the classroom I am able to challenge and undermine those beliefs; the effect of such suspicion on the world at large is depressing to contemplate.
Thank God there are teachers like this still out there. I've personally observed too much accomodation of the outside realm to suit students, rather than adequate preparation of students for the world beyond the classroom. This is where it all begins...but willingness to look beyond immediate perceptions is all too rare.

1 comment:

Robert said...

The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book. -Walt Whitman

My wife is currently reading _Teaching_Lolita_In_Tehran_. Apparently it is a riveting account of teaching banned books in the Middle East. The title certainly caught my attention, and the cover with Arabic young women in head scarves crowded around a text.