Friday, April 01, 2011

Another good idea (or two) from Ta-Nehisi Coates

In this post, Ta-Nehisi Coates does two great things.

First, he once again demonstrates unbridled enthusiasm for great writing--in this case, King Lear. Let's all do more of this. Let's shove great writing under our friends' (or blog readers') noses, or read it to them aloud, without any comment other than our own obvious joy.

How often do we come upon a passage that just knocks us back on our heels? That makes us just want to sit there and let the words flicker around our heads like fireflies? Nabokov called this the "telltale tingle between the shoulder blades." That's a central aspect of the experience of art; and I think it actually happens pretty frequently. Unfortunately, too often, those of us who write or talk about art (semi-)professionally tend to brush that experience aside, so we can get down to the business of criticism. The feeling is hard to articulate, which makes it seem, I don't know, less than worthwhile, possibly even silly. Yet critics who adopt a purely sober, droning voice when discussing even works they love do a disservice to potential readers, not to mention students. If these guys who are supposed to love literature can't muster anything more than formal statements of approval, why should I bother? What am I going to get out of it? Dude, you can be ecstatic! Look! Listen!

Second, Coates makes this passing suggestion: "I think it might have been better for me to enroll in college at 35, instead of 17." Agreed. Or, rather than "instead of," why not "in addition to"? I bet they do this in countries like Sweden all the time! Every (say) fifteen years, the government pays you to leave your job and get a degree in anything that interests you at the time. Or you take a bunch of different classes, if you have lots of interests, but real, college-level classes, full-time. Then, after three or four years, you go back to your job, or to a different job, refreshed, enlightened, ready to innovate.

My own little fantasy is to go back and get an undergraduate math degree. You're laughing! I am the person with the recurring nightmare that I've signed up for some high-level college calculus class, but somehow forget to go all term, only to realize that I must now take the final. But that's the point. I want to learn math outside the stakes of high school and college, when you're under pressure to figure out the thing you're good at, asap, so you can major in that thing and be that thing for the rest of your life, climbing relentlessly higher on that thing's ladder of success till you die at the very tippy top, whence you are vacuumed into heaven--and yet your math scores are telling you that at age 18, it's already too late for any of this to happen to you. Your peers will climb that ladder, growing ever smaller in your tear-blurred vision, as you watch from your refrigerator box on Skid Row or your parents' treelawn. Now I just think math is cool and I want to learn it.

Still, I doubt I will really do this. At least not until I am rich and insane, and right now I am only one of those.

Blog note: With this post, I am going to end my brief experiment of posting every day, minus weekends, federal holidays, and travel days. I am going to aim for a more manageable schedule of twice a week, say, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

No comments: