11 November 2008

Armistice Day and SocioCulturally Defined Literacy

A New York Times Op-Ed piece got me thinking this morning...

So I began with this quote from one of the great bits of American literature:

Whereasthe Congressof the united states byaconcurrentresolution-adoptedon the4thdayofmarch lastauthorizedthe Secretaryofwar to cause to be brought to theunitedstatesthe body of an Americanwhowasamemberoftheamerican expeditionaryforceineuropewholosthislifeduringtheworldwarandwhoseidentity hasnotbeenestablished for burial inthememorialamphitheatreofthenational cemeteryatarlingtonvirginia.

In the tarpaper morgue at Chalons-sur-Marne in the reek of chloride of lime and the dead, they picked out the pine box that held all that was left of

enie menie minie moe plenty other pine boxes stacked up there containing what they'd scraped up of Richard Roe

and other person or person unknown. Only one can go. How did they pick John Doe?

Make sure he ain't a dinge, boys.

make sure he ain't a guinea or a kike,

how can you tell a guy's a hunredpercent when all you've got's a gunnysack full of bones, bronze buttons stamped with the screaming eagle and a pair of roll puttees?

. . . and the gagging chloride and the puky dirtstench of the yearold dead...

The day withal was too meaningful and tragic for applause. Silence, tears, songs and prayer, muffled drums and soft music were the instrumentalities today of national approbation.

from The Body of an American, from John DosPassos 1919 (The USA Trilogy).

How do we express the horrors of war? How do we transmit those memories to generations long in the future?

Thanks to Paul Hamilton

Stanley Kubrik's Paths of Glory

and a reinterpretation...

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque.

"We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war."

T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.

The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.

and, of course...

"It’s a reminder that not all “victors” experience wars in the same way, and that their citizens can have almost as much difficulty as those of the vanquished states in coping with the collective trauma of conflict." Alexander Watson says in today's Times...

and perhaps also a reminder of the many forms of literacy used by humans, the culturally-defined nature of literacy, and the many ways in which we might bring these experiences to our students.

- Ira Socol


Anonymous said...

Ummm...I'm honestly not trying to troll, but I suspect John DosPassos spaced his words out better than the quote in your post. Just sayin'.

narrator said...

Actually anonymous, it is pretty exact - though your page width may vary the presentation here somewhat. This is an "extreme moment" in the USA Trilogy, and the devices Dos Passos uses elsewhere - such as run together words (he is often credited with creating many US English compound words, from "officeboy" on up) - is carried to an extreme here.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

Why would someone purposefully write something unreadable?

narrator said...

The same reason people make music which is difficult to listen to, or art that is difficult to decipher. Text has many attributes, it is understood in many ways, and "artists" (authors) can challenge those assumptions.

Why, for example, would anyone use calligraphy (or even handwriting) when simple print is easier to read? Why would anyone use complex words when simple words are easier to understand? Why - to make the point more clearly - would people write stories once films were invented?

- Ira Socol (who thinks the USA Trilogy belongs on every Americans reading list)

Anonymous said...

DosPassos isn't a great author, or even a mediocre author. He's someone who doesn't understand how and when to use a space bar.

narrator said...

yeah, I know, Joyce too, and Shakespeare, and Kerouac, and anyone who challenges people to actually think, instead of ingest. Worthless, all of them!

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about? Shakespeare knew how to space words correctly.

narrator said...

yeah, he just made up words. Of course The Bible was written completely without word spacing. Of course those guys were probably more educated than some around here...

narrator said...

I know you are probably unemployed since being fired last year, but please get a life. You promised not to read this blog anymore, and while your obsession might be taken as a compliment, it looks more like a sign of severe mental illness.

Anonymous said...

FYI, I wasn't fired. I quit. I quit because people like you are ruining higher education. I'm starting a new career. If you're going to be a crybaby and post my IP address, go ahead. The most you can get from that is a rough approximation to the city in which I live.

Anonymous said...

And why should I believe you? You're merely trying to intimidate me. Do you really think I'm stupid enough to believe that my former colleagues gossiped with you, a complete fucking stranger?

narrator said...

Abuse Team:

For the fifth time in nine months my blog at speedchange.blogspot.com has come under attack from your IP Address in Shawnee Mission. One unfortunate customer of yours periodically floods my comments with abusive and often obscene comments. Up till now I have simply deleted them, but this individual is now unemployed, apparently very angry and disturbed, and on an educational blog read by teachers and students, this is inappropriate.

Here is his latest comment

"And why should I believe you? You're merely trying to intimidate me. Do you really think I'm stupid enough to believe that my former colleagues gossiped with you, a complete fucking stranger?" posted at http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/11/armistice-day-and-socioculturally.html

Keep in mind, I've deleted four other of his comments in the past hour.

Is there a solution?

Anonymous said...

You're a coward. I wash my hands of you and your blog.