Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wasteland

One day this week I wore white shoes, my fancy blue jeans, a brown belt, a grey and blue sweater over a brown shirt with a black jacket. Is that okay?


(This picture depicts how we went to the BYU-Utah basketball game. Ammon's year is accurate. Steve's and mine are not)

Also this week, in my favorite class, Dr. Talbot read aloud T.S. Eliot's poem, The Wasteland. Dr. Talbot speaks Latin, German, French and Spanish (as best I can tell -- I have a feeling he started with Latin), so he had no problem switching to the various languages as he read. It was so nice to go to a class and just listen to poetry. No PowerPoint (aside: PowerPoint is to education as Agent Orange is to forests). No equations. No code optimizations. No bickering about points on homework. And in fact (this one deserves another paragraph)...

Dr. Talbot revealed a great secret just prior to reading the poem. He spoke for a minute about how intellectuals and professors find all kinds of symbolism and meaning in The Wasteland. They find great ideas and wisdom. It was truly a revolutionary poem. "But," he said, "do you want to know the reason I like it?" (he actually repeated this question several times during his explanation of the poem's intellectual merits)

"I like it because it sounds nice." He enjoys it in much the same way that we enjoy good music, not because of the words at first, but because of the sound and the feeling it evokes. "In fact," said he, his love of literature and poetry in general is primarily not from intellectual study of the works, but whether or not he likes it. What a relief! Since my first English class in Jr. High, I've wondered what's wrong with me! All these teachers naturally find all these deep meanings and expect essays to be written in comparison and contrast. Find the theme, find the point, find the technique, get inside the author's head. Finally I have an English teacher who's honest enough to admit the true reason he likes literature -- and it's the same reason I like to read: I just like it! I enjoy reading the stories. It's fun. I like the puns and the tricks. I like meeting characters and watching them go about their lives. I love alliteration.

After the initial draw, secondarily he enjoys an intellectual perusal of the literature. So, stop it, all you English teachers. Stop making me feel like a dolt for just enjoying the "music" without listening to the "lyrics." I don't mind learning deeper meanings, but don't pretend like you read it primarily for those deeper thoughts.

No one will have made it to this paragraph... I usually stop reading posts that are this long. But one more thing I noticed. During Dr. Talbot's reading of the poem, I noticed one kid, in the back of the class -- a kid in my major with whom I have a class or two -- doing his homework. He couldn't be bothered to care about dumb English. He's too cool for that, I guess. How could English possibly help in real life? I'm just glad that I have been trained to enjoy things that aren't redeemable for cash.

8 comments:

Barbaloot said...

Good thing I wasn't in that class with you. I probly would've been sleeping and that you would think even less of me...

But I agree with you; I like books just for pleasure.

Matt said...

Wait wait, Barb... I think highly of you, so I can't think "even less than" you... it's the wrong direction.

And I don't think you'd sleep -- this teacher is the best English teacher I've ever had. You can come visit some day, if you'd like. MWF at 1:00pm.

anne said...

i wish i could have been in that lecture. i'll just have to read it on my own, i guess. don't you just love things that have such a simple way of making you feel good?

martha said...

in my creative writing class, we talked about the same reasons for liking poetry. i too felt a sigh of relief escape my lips when i rested against my hard chair and thought, "thank heavens, because i have no idea what this poem means."
ps. you should read long posts.

Megan said...

I'm glad your teacher took that approach. I love T.S. Eliot - probably for the same reason your teacher does, because I certainly can't ever figure out what he's talking about. There are bits and pieces that stand out to me, and we talked about The Wasteland a lot in my WWI class (which made some sense) but I just love lines like, "April is the cruelest month," and "I grow old, I grow old, I will wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled" and "Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute can reverse." Eliot is just lovely, and I've heard so many stories about people who had to read The Waste Land and go through every stupid footnote and look up every reference. I know I had a hard time getting through it the first time because I kept being distracted by all of the extras. So even though I like picking things apart, I just want to throw out there the fact that I think you should enjoy poetry for its own sake before you try to enjoy the other things that can be so much fun about it when you're a crazy poetry nerd. :)

Magoo said...

Matt, you have to give us credit, I think most of us read the entire post.

Tammy said...

I am really glad you wrote a post about the Wasteland :) I am going to write a full fledged response to this blog someday soon about why this depressing poem is actually one of the most promising and clever poems of the 20th century, even religious. It all lies in the outline of the whole poem, plus the message at the end
Da. Datta. Dayatvam.

(my spelling may be inaccurate on the last word but hey, pretty good for off the top of my head yeah?)

Great poem :)

Steven said...

You should wear t shirts that says "Third Row Fanatics".