Macrat Musings

24
June
2014

Pastoral seductress or victim of the pagan gods?

Reading ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ is like watching the Titanic sail across the glimmering ocean knowing  that disaster is just beyond the horizon: despite all its beauty and intensity, you can’t shake that ‘sinking feeling’. I wonder how many modern teenagers read the novel for the first time without knowing its storyline, and how they react to it.

Hardy’s language is striking, his descriptions evocative and many passages are extremely sensual, but how does one introduce the novel to modern, young readers? The novel has many features that have general appeal – fascinating characters, complex interpersonal relationships and romance to keep the girls’ hearts fluttering – so it seems to me that it is essential to first deal with those elements which the learners might find ‘foreign’, even unbelievable , for example Hardy and his characters’ sense of fatalism; the social class system; paternalism and the role of women in the 1800s. By exploring these issues first, learners can discuss them and consider whether any parallels still exist in our society. When they read the novel they can identify the issues and perhaps judge the characters in a more balanced way.

Following the pattern of my previous blog (‘What is literature?’) I have to ask whether ‘Tess’ is good literature: without a doubt it created many emotional reactions in me – not only the plot and the actions of the characters, but also the exquisitely written text that painted vivid pictures, stirred my heart and tickled my brain. Hardy’s authorial commentary might be annoying at times, but it does offer opportunity for challenging debate.

If the novel suitable for Grade 12 learners?
Yes, I think it is. While the language is ‘old fashioned’, it is readable. It’s the underlying issues that learners have to grapple with. But these issues are essential to their modern ‘freedom’. They need to explore and understand what impact these issues had on earlier generations in order to enjoy the ‘luxury’ of social, moral and intellectual freedom.

MacMo

Categories: Macrat Musings

27
May
2014

What is literature?

This was one of the many questions posed at the recent Franschhoek literary festival, and one which certainly didn’t get a definitive answer. The jury is still out on whether popular reads and crime fiction should be classified as ‘literature’.

However, it was generally felt that literature should evoke an emotional reaction in the reader, whether it be positive or negative. No writer wants to be categorised as ‘OK’ – they would much rather be hated than be tainted by mediocrity.  As readers we need to be able to verbalise our reactions. Saying “I really like your book” is so lame – you need to put into words what you liked, how you reacted to it and what meaning it gave you.

With this in mind, I thought it was time that I gave you some feedback about my reading of ‘Absolution’. Generally, I enjoyed the first part: I found the characters interesting and believable; the plot was intriguing, and the pace was slick, making me want to read further despite the unnerving aspects. However, this all changed at the beginning of part two where the momentum was lost. There is too much repetition and it plods along. It does improve towards the end and I wonder whether tighter editing would have improved the novel.

Categories: Macrat Musings

07
April
2014

Why is non-fiction not often prescribed as a setwork?

When I was in matric, we studied ‘A Rose for Winter’ by Laurie Lee. I thoroughly enjoyed the change in genre and, I suppose, it was my first ‘armchair travel’ book. But I haven’t come across any other non-fiction titles that have been prescribed for Grade 12.

A valued colleague of mine mentioned that it is a shame that we don’t study non-fiction titles as there are so many good ones to choose from. Herewith a list of her (local) recommendations – perhaps you will be able to use them in the classroom, or at least add them to your suggested reading list.

Categories: Macrat Musings

27
March
2014

How professional is our teaching fraternity?

Having recently read more about the Finnish educational system and its body of professional teachers, I couldn’t help wonder whether it isn’t time to adopt a truly ‘professional’ approach to teaching in our country.

Yes, we have bodies that represent our teachers, but I very seldom hear them comment on the need for assessment of teachers in the workplace, or of action being taken against teachers who have behaved inappropriately. When teachers strike, do we hear SACE voice their position on the situation? In your experience, how supportive of the profession are the organisations that support teachers?

It makes a lot of sense to create a new professional teaching body – one that has a high-profile and has some clout,  and is seen and heard to support professionalism, like the bar association for lawyers or the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Teachers should be skilled and their behaviour beyond reproach, and they should undertake to follow a code of conduct. If the code is breached they should be banned from teaching.

Categories: Macrat Musings

19
March
2014

Would you be devastated if your local library closed down?

 ‘Library Lovers have strikingly positive views of public libraries compared with other groups, and with the U.S. population as a whole; they use libraries and library websites more than any other group, and believe libraries are essential at the personal as well as the community level.’ ~ The PEW Center’s Library Services Survey 2013

As it is South African Library Week from 17-22 March, I got to thinking about the last time I entered a library. And the truth is – I’m ashamed to say – I can’t remember. I like to think of myself as a ‘Library Lover’ but I don’t own a library card and don’t have a public library close to my home. I do, however, belong to a book club and so I do have access to books which I read for pleasure. In a very real sense my book club has replaced my need for belonging to a library. I also have a mini library of my own at home consisting of hundreds of books I have acquired over the years and happily lend them to others. (Just don’t ask me to get rid of them as I can’t!)  I also own an iPad with a Kindle App and buy e-books online. And…  Google has replaced my need to do research at a library. As a result I don’t need to visit a library any more. I think I have become what the PEW survey referred to as an ‘Information Omnivore’! (Except that I have not been into a library for ages.)

Categories: Macrat Musings

10
March
2014

Again I ask, does local literature have to be so bleak?

I have asked this question before, and I still don’t have a satisfactory answer. I also don’t have a host of inspiring titles that I can suggest you explore as my research hasn’t yielded too many options.

But a recent review caught my eye: How does a writer tell the story of a traumatised nation without being unremittingly bleak? NoViolet Bulawayo manages it by forming a cast of characters so delightful and joyous that the reader is seduced by their antics at the same time as finding out about the country's troubles. (The Independent)

Categories: Macrat Musings

21
February
2014

I've decided: I don't want to be on the literature selection committee.

I thought it would be a fabulous job: reading books, sharing ideas and making what I consider ‘valuable’ decisions. Having spoken to a number of teachers and colleagues about which titles they thought should appear on the prescribed list I’ve realised that it is a mammoth task, and, sadly, you are never going to keep most people happy!

Categories: Macrat Musings

04
February
2014

You can call me an ostrich, if you like.

First we had Disgrace and The Native Commissioner, then The Beneficiaries was foisted onto learners, and now the IEB selection committee has chosen Absolution (by Patrick Flanery) as a HL option for Grade 12 in 2015/2016. Angst and guilt abound – what are we trying to say to our youth about growing up in South Africa?

 

Categories: Macrat Musings

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