Monday, December 13, 2010

A Loose Thread

The opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities seem to invoked to characterize every epoch, example and event from the current economic crisis to the disappearance of three young brothers in rural Michigan, from the annual holiday season to a looming journalism publication date.

We've so liberally applied an ever-thinning layer of literary consequence to the most mundane of activities that the effect has worn similarly thin. An overuse of pop literary references is but one of the innumerable reasons to darkly prophesy about the demise of American Culture, but it's not really worth it.

What's kind of worth thinking about is how literature has continued, to whatever faint degree, to pull together an increasingly diverse and, one might argue, disparate group of people - because in high school, they all had to sit in relatively uncomfortable chairs and stare at the words metaphor and symbol on the blackboard and write out quotes that might be useful in supporting their theses and more likely than not, read The Great Gatsby.

Our required reading, although seldom relevant and frequently irksome, means any given student and I share a literary history. If our conversational skills are abysmal enough, we can at least rely on finding common ground about The Awakening's dreadful pacing and how much English teachers tend to enjoy letting their classes in on the "secret" that Shakespeare actually had a relatively foul mouth and a dirty mind (see Romeo and Juliet).

It's not 'elite' to recall literature. We all read it. And odds are, it went something like this.

"Our freshmen schemes, best-laid but undone
Were for the east, and Harvard was the sun.
Then Lords of the Flies at last were we,
Brave New World of living skills and Chem AC.
Puritan dilemmas and APUSH all night
Fed American dreams of Gatsby’s green light.
Then the sun rose on our Neverland of seniority
East of our Edens, footloose, fancy free
This last time will required literature hold us akin.
But soft! – the light beckons! – Let the golden age begin."