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Josh Gibbs speaks to the new teacher or second-year teacher who has been given a long list of great books (which may or may not have been read before by the teacher) to teach without much time to prepare. In the lecture he makes a distinction between "representational art" and "presentational art." The former, he says, plays to the intellect or soul while the latter plays to the senses or the body. In discussing presentational art, the interlocutors can only present a second time the aspects they took in with their senses during the initial sight of it. Folks talking about the latest Transformers flick will only be able to speak of the sheer size or sublimity of the film and not much else. In discussing representational art, on the other hand, interlocutors present anew elements of the art that have inspired or elicited intellectual curiosity. Instead of drawing attention to itself, representational art draws attention to the ideas, questions, or elements that open up to conversation that transcends the art itself.

Great books are representational art and thus require the time to read, rest, and reflect upon the book and the thoughts and questions the book inspires--to be filled with time rather than destroyed by time. Because they do not play to the senses, they will not necessarily delight the reader immediately the way that a work of presentational art might. If students aren't aware of the nature of this difference, they'll be tempted to see the love of great books as a game, an exercise in faking it. Josh recommends that the teacher be explicit with the students about the limitations of popular art and tastes for such art to withstand the destructive force of time--what you enjoy today will be boring and forgettable in ten years. The great books, the representational art forms, on the contrary, not only survive time but absorb the force that time possesses and can become even better. Thus, the apology for reading great books.

Josh's lecture raises some questions that he doesn't answer (at least not explicitly), and I'm curious to discuss at least a couple with others here.

1. How does the teacher who is reading a great book for the first time provide to the students the right context for reading, resting, and reflecting on the book when the teacher may not have figured out that for himself? In other words, how does the teacher give what she doesn't yet possess and avoid being disingenuous? What can the teacher bring to a first read of a great book that will help the students get something good from it?

2. What traps does the teacher need to look out for in trying to distinguish representational art from presentational art? While the curriculum of great books is more or less given to the teacher without much input, it is the teacher who is more or less responsible for the examples, analogies, anecdotes, allusions, and experiences she will use to move students into discussion of the book. In his lecture, even Josh makes judgments about contemporary films that fall into either category. How does a new teacher discern the difference?

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On 1/29/2019 at 9:47 PM, JTB_5 said:

Josh's lecture raises some questions that he doesn't answer (at least not explicitly), and I'm curious to discuss at least a couple with others here.

1. How does the teacher who is reading a great book for the first time provide to the students the right context for reading, resting, and reflecting on the book when the teacher may not have figured out that for himself? In other words, how does the teacher give what she doesn't yet possess and avoid being disingenuous? What can the teacher bring to a first read of a great book that will help the students get something good from it?

2. What traps does the teacher need to look out for in trying to distinguish representational art from presentational art? While the curriculum of great books is more or less given to the teacher without much input, it is the teacher who is more or less responsible for the examples, analogies, anecdotes, allusions, and experiences she will use to move students into discussion of the book. In his lecture, even Josh makes judgments about contemporary films that fall into either category. How does a new teacher discern the difference?

I loved these lectures by Josh and I tend to read everything he writes for Circe's blog. I think he said either in these lectures, (I watched last year) or one of his articles, that what he did and suggests new teachers do is be a student with the students, show them your struggle. If a book is new to you too, you show them how it is to approach something new. But he also suggested two books as places to start for background: The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity by John McManners, and History of Political Philosophy, Edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey. He said he used these two resources to inform him for his classes. I imagine books like these are examples for kinds to look for in whatever area of study a teacher is covering. Angelina Stanford said she never teaches a book without a "guide" - she checks to see if Tolkien, Lewis, or Burton Raffel - who was one of her professors - has any commentary or translation on the material. I am going through Pinocchio with middle schoolers, so I looked up Vigen Guroian's, Tending the Heart of Virtue in which he also talks about the moral imagination.  

I think one of the traps of "knowing" the book you are going to use with students is just that: thinking you "know" it, rather than coming at it with fresh perspective each time. Surely if it's great book there is always something else to behold. I know for me, each time I read Jane Eyre I had predecided, based on my first reading and film adaptation, that I hated the book because of Mr. Rochester. But, upon the 5th reading, Thank God, I accidentally was smacked in the face with Helen. SHE is the Penelope of the whole book. She is the catalyst for Jane's change of heart and her desire to "serve somewhere else." Mr. Rochester is not her "bad boyfriend" she just can't get over, he is her service of love. That was what I discovered anyway, the last time I read it. But it opened my eyes for the need not to be so concrete and dogmatic about the "only" thing a book has to offer. So, teachers ought to be careful when leading students not to ruin their own first or fifth reads. 

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On 2/8/2019 at 5:48 PM, Cheryl Floyd said:

I loved these lectures by Josh and I tend to read everything he writes for Circe's blog. I think he said either in these lectures, (I watched last year) or one of his articles, that what he did and suggests new teachers do is be a student with the students, show them your struggle. If a book is new to you too, you show them how it is to approach something new. But he also suggested two books as places to start for background: The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity by John McManners, and History of Political Philosophy, Edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey. He said he used these two resources to inform him for his classes. I imagine books like these are examples for kinds to look for in whatever area of study a teacher is covering. Angelina Stanford said she never teaches a book without a "guide" - she checks to see if Tolkien, Lewis, or Burton Raffel - who was one of her professors - has any commentary or translation on the material. I am going through Pinocchio with middle schoolers, so I looked up Vigen Guroian's, Tending the Heart of Virtue in which he also talks about the moral imagination.  

I think one of the traps of "knowing" the book you are going to use with students is just that: thinking you "know" it, rather than coming at it with fresh perspective each time. Surely if it's great book there is always something else to behold. I know for me, each time I read Jane Eyre I had predecided, based on my first reading and film adaptation, that I hated the book because of Mr. Rochester. But, upon the 5th reading, Thank God, I accidentally was smacked in the face with Helen. SHE is the Penelope of the whole book. She is the catalyst for Jane's change of heart and her desire to "serve somewhere else." Mr. Rochester is not her "bad boyfriend" she just can't get over, he is her service of love. That was what I discovered anyway, the last time I read it. But it opened my eyes for the need not to be so concrete and dogmatic about the "only" thing a book has to offer. So, teachers ought to be careful when leading students not to ruin their own first or fifth reads. 

These comments are very helpful, thank you.

I've noticed over the years of teaching that when I read books aloud to my students I discover things that I had not discovered reading them silently to myself. Something about putting voice to the words slows down the mind and allows it to take notice of small details.

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17 hours ago, JTB_5 said:

I've noticed over the years of teaching that when I read books aloud to my students I discover things that I had not discovered reading them silently to myself. Something about putting voice to the words slows down the mind and allows it to take notice of small details.

Oh, I agree with this. Even for myself, lately, as I am trying to get through difficult reads, I plug my ears and sort of read out loud under my breath. It really helps me concentrate, though I'm sure I look crazy, but I need to hear nothing else but the words on the page in my head - plugging my ears has that effect. 

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That's a good point--reading aloud. Many works of literature were intended to be shared orally anyway, and speaking the words adds another dimension to the way we experience them. Rhyme and rhythm, and thinks like assonance or  sibilance (why does my software say that is misspelled???) can only be appreciated that way.

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On 2/11/2019 at 2:17 PM, Cheryl Floyd said:

Oh, I agree with this. Even for myself, lately, as I am trying to get through difficult reads, I plug my ears and sort of read out loud under my breath. It really helps me concentrate, though I'm sure I look crazy, but I need to hear nothing else but the words on the page in my head - plugging my ears has that effect. 

 

3 hours ago, KarenG said:

That's a good point--reading aloud. Many works of literature were intended to be shared orally anyway, and speaking the words adds another dimension to the way we experience them. Rhyme and rhythm, and thinks like assonance or  sibilance (why does my software say that is misspelled???) can only be appreciated that way.

Wouldn't it be awesome if a movement toward read-aloud book clubs started?

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I'm considering reading Dante's Divine Comedy for the first time. My library has several translations, including an older one by Longfellow and a recent paraphrase by Clive James. Does anyone have a recommendation on a translation that I should consider?

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A friend of mine recommends the Anthony Esolen translations. The Everyman's Library all-in-one version by Mandelbaum is supposed to be good as well, but I've not read either of them myself.

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I have read the translation of Inferno by Dorothy Sayers. The notes are wonderful, but for me it introduced me to numerous vocabulary words I'd never heard of before (which made for some difficulty in the flow of reading).

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I've really only interacted with the Esolen version. But I am using a kindle version, "Cary's translation" to read out loud to my children, and a large "Chartwell Books, Inc." edition with beautiful art for looking at as I read to them. I can't find my Esolen! However, I highly recommend the Great Courses series on The Divine Comedy. The two professors obviously love their work and give amazing insights into Dante's ideas, form, and structure. I used my Audible credit to listen to it rather than purchased it through Great Courses. I have a video set of Esolen also explaining it, but I haven't sat down to go through it yet. Maybe I'll do that a little at a time with the kids too. 

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