In the 1930s, broadcast radio introduced an entirely new form of storytelling; today, micro-blogging platforms like Twitter are changing the scene again.
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This short video led me off on a contemplative journey about what and how we literary reading educators perceive the literary merits of the works we include in our courses.
Remembering Bob Dylan's song, "The Times They are a changin'," I couldn't help but remember the second stanza which went...
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.
Speaking to writers and critics and I would suggest teachers of literature, Dylan reminds us that "Things change" as in "paradigms shift" as in "the more things change the more they remain the same." Really? What exactly is it that stays the same when inevitable change happens? One thing that never seems to change about change is the tendency to reject the change.
Remember Socrates and Gallileo and Picasso and e.e.cummings? Remember the immediate skeptical concerns regarding calculators and spell checkers? Remember Bob Dylan himself, not a rock and roller exactly, but not a folk singer either. And that voice?
And yet we all know that while so many of history's game changers were not so welcome in their time considered losers, that in the long run so many came to be admired as winners.
We can see that much about change stays the same. We live in times when digital reading and publishing is disrupting the status quo in ways that many of us find quite disturbing. There is no shortage of public praise by those who welcome digital reading and condemnation and those who are less welcoming.
The same is certainly true regarding exactly what literature is. If e.e.cummings was too "out there" and Bob Dyland was "too out there" why should it be any surprise that many of our colleagues struggle with the "new forms" of storytelling arising in the digital age? How can Twitter with its 140 character limite possibly be a media for serious literary work?
You can listen to National Public Radio's take on Haiku via Twitter here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127774103
Does this all mean that paper-based reading is bad? No. There are just new ways to access great literature.
Does this mean that Literature had "dumbed down" because people are experimenting with new storytelling media? No. There are just new media possibilities for literary expression.
When we contemplate why we began to be avid readers, I can't help but think that is wasn't because we had a test to pass, but rather because we began to appreciate plain old fashioned good story-telling. It engaged our imaginations and took us to places we had never been and to places that never would be. And, we were fascinated. As we began to get "serious" about literature, we did discover the value of a well-crafted story and learning more about the craft of writing gave us ways to discover depth between the lines and thereby to engage more deeply, to discover relevance in our own lives, to learn more about what it is to be human and humane beings. And, we were hooked and went on to major in Literary Studies.
It was that new-fangled Dylan that intrigued me in an unprecedented way that led to an appreciation of the lessons I'd been told were between the lines in "better literature." Dylan took me forward because he was "in my time." on the cutting edge. But, not only did he take me forward, but he also cracked my inherent resistance to all that "old stuff" in the literature textbooks of the day. Dylan took me forward AND backwards towards T.S. Eliot and Wood Guthrie and Alan Lomax.
It was "reading" the cutting edge, unprecedented lyrics of Bob Dylan that planted the seed of receptiveness to the great literary heritage upon whose shoulders Dylan stood as he disrupted the contemporary notions of lyric poetry.
A last word...
The quote above from Dylan's "The Times they are a Changin' " was the second stanza. The first stanza follows.
The Times They Are A-Changin'"
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
Many of us may well be the very "people:" Dylan was referencing in the opening lines of "The Times They Are A Changin' ."
If we are not open to the changes we may well be passing up an opportunity to engage our students via their existing interest in cutting edge of storytelling in ways that also open opportunities to engage them in the old school classics. The waters around us have grown and if we don't accept that we may drown and sink like a stone.
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