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Shame….she reads!

This was once said of me when I was forced to live for three years in some god-forsaken dustbowl with my then husband, who worked (for more daily hours than seemed totally necessary, to be honest) on many and various gold mines. Why are gold mines always in god-forsaken dustbowls? Anyway, the wives of the permanent miner-type people were very much the moral, social and everything else yardsticks by which all newcomers were measured and then categorised. I was merely the live accessory attached to a random itinerant, as engineers tended to be, because once a job was done they moved on to bigger and better things – supposedly. At my “Welcome Tea Party” – I had one because my husband’s position warranted various people on the lower rungs of the mining ladder to be obsequious up to point (oh lord, I can’t believe I’m telling you all this), I was asked what I “did”. Now that USUALLY meant like baking or knitting or sewing or gardening -“wimmins'” pursuits basically – pottery and flower arranging could be included. But foolishly, I admitted that I was reading for a degree in English Literature. That was, to all intents and purposes, me committing social suicide. I was branded “odd” and banished from all wimmins’ gatherings forthwith. I wasn’t terribly bothered – err – no, I wasn’t bothered at all. But it did get me thinking about reading and English Literature, generally. Why DID I do it?

Well because of the language, you see.

I remember this:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
— Ezra Pound

and this
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.(5 words of such strength, I can’t hold them all at the same time)

and this:

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

Emily Bronte

And it seems to me that language – English, in this case because it is the langauge I know – has many functions. And writing beautiful things that move people – often to tears – is just one of them. And it isn’t that function that I need to be teaching. I am not teaching linguists, or writers, or poets or lovers of great literature. The language I teach is not an end in itself: it’s a means to some other end. And what that end is dictates what I teach – which tools I use and pass on and which I keep to myself.

I’m not teaching people who are pursuing this course of action because they love the language and its interplay with emotions and images and memory and dreams. I’m teaching people who need to take the language and use it quickly to effect some other end – not to mould it and challenge it and wrestle with it and savour it and love it.

And perhaps the changes that are being wrought upon the language for business and global communication, to lubricate social networking and to work towards another end of most interactions, are all well and good and the tools of the teachers’ trade. But for us lovers, us for whom literature is a balm and refuge, the LOLs and GR8s, the ASAPs and the OMGs, the blurring of meaning and the diminshing of the power of the word is neither here nor there. The words and works remain and we will still read…….


11 responses »

  1. What a lovely fiery post, Candy. If the engineers wives don’t love language, they can go fuckemselves – what do you care?

    I regularly get my Ss to write little bits of fiction in class regardless of what’s on the Needs Analysis. Very often they find the process gripping, and very often they are proud of the results. It seems to me that producing fiction seems more natural and captivating than reading it. I’ve never felt very comfortable with bringing in a text and dissecting it on the table. Haven’t you had similar experiences?

    By the way, not everybody thinks that language is going down the toilet – (


    • Hi Alan
      Funnily enough it was just that post that made me write mine. I have no worries about the language dying – I just think that more and more English is diversifying into all sorts of “apps” , if you will. People can choose as many as they need and even some they just like. We need to make as many of them available as possible….
      Writing fiction! I did that for both first and second language learners – the second language learners were far “freer” than the first language ones. Could make an interesting study.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Ah, but Candy, you cross-stitch! You were just deliberately causing trouble.

    • Hi David!

      Wasn’t causing trouble – honest! I started quilting MUCH later on….. 🙂

      How are you and Liddy?


  3. Sorry, quilting, Liddy reminded me.

  4. All good thanks, let’s meet again!

  5. I do so envy them as has poetry in their soul. Where poetry is concerned I’m almost tone deaf, usually left feeling mystified,excluded and slightly resentful.

    I’ve given up worrying about the ‘dying’ language, figuring that there have always been linguistic clods – it’s just that they’ve never before had access to so many platforms. Those who value it and fuss over it (I keep revising posts that long since fell down the back of the blog) will continue to do so.

    What does make me see red is the flat, nasalised upspeak of teenagers: ‘say, tommorray, yeah, were like gaying to gay to like Kayleigh’s? Cos she’s like got her like birthday?’ I have to walk to the other end of the train to avoid this when kids get on on their way to like school? Cos it like rarely, rarely pisses me off?

    • Teenagers- my complete bete noir. I think I am actually terrified of them en masse. What drives me mad is the VOLUME at which they insist on nasalising their upspeak. Interestingly, non-native teenagers speak far better – at least they speak in full sentences and can follow through a train of thought. I wonder why? And I wonder if they do this in their native language too?

  6. A colleague is teaching a compulsory module on discourse for the degree in journalism. All participants N/S and teenage to early twenties. When he elicits reporting back from them,they moan ‘why should we answer, we answered last time, ask THEM!’ This, mind, is a university, not year 10.

    • Very, very scary that they are the energy source for the wealth creation of the next 40 years. What did we do wrong? Or are we just saying the same thing our parents said of us?


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