Thursday, March 26, 2009


On 20 July 1975 I gave a talk on teaching literature. I began:
'I came to English teaching in search of the El Dorado of literature. Ever since I seem to have been hacking through a jungle of linguistic grammar and the sociology of language acquisition. Some jungle! It grows so quickly. Take a bird’s eye view of that jungle. Is it not life, ever-changing, ever-renewing life. Life, not existence. There is a difference in these words. Words which are my limits and my wealth, they are the machetes with which I attempt to clear a way through that jungle. Literature is the attempt at clearing a path through life by the use of words.'
I later said:
'The English teacher helps his students explore the ambiguity and chaos that is life and language. Literature is one of our methods of putting order into that ambiguity and chaos. Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning. A literature lesson is a raid on the inarticulate. And it will fail. And tomorrow we shall try again. And in the trying is the success.'
My words sound like a person in mid career, a confident being, though still out to impress, masculine, whose liking for metaphor often stood in the way of his argument - half-way between the university student and this elderly guy tapping words into the word processor. Also obviously someone at that time reading too much T.S.Eliot. I’m not sure now that I admire that man. And yet he was chasing something valuable.

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