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25 September 2012


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Not to mention students seem to accept multiple choice type answers far more readily than something that requires a nuanced explanation--like an actual essay answer to an open-ended question. The kind of BS explanations that many students here think they should be granted credit for--after all, "open ended" is supposed to mean that every answer is the "right" answer, right?--is almost unbelievable and having to convince them why their answers make no sense is a giant drain on one's energy and time.

The Twisted Genius

Ahh. Your point is now crystal clear. I was initially thrown by your mentioning of Faulkner as a member of the literary gang of old. My literary education was more concerned with passing on the collective Jungian essence of the narrower New England people. I don't know if the omission of Faulkner and other "sons of the South" was intentional or not. I do remember that the first reading of my formal literary education was from Cotton Mather. That was heavy stuff for a fifth grader. Hawthorne was a welcome relief. Cooper and Melville were joys. It now seems like my entire community was intent on inculcating us with what it meant to young ladies and gentlemen of New England. Even the Jesuits taught us to go forth and set the world on fire in a decidedly New England way.

I would have a hard time describing the Jungian essence of the American people without reverting to my New England base. Given our history, that's probably appropriate. I'm only slowly learning what it means to be a Virginian. Give me time.

The Twisted Genius

J Y B,

I don't know if it's a testosterone thing or not, but I enjoyed reading Cooper. I even spent my paper route money to buy used copies of several of the Leatherstocking Tales. Natty Bumpo was a literary hero of mine... along with Sgt. Rock, Lt. Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank and, of course, Dynamite Joe the Blast Crazy Marine.



I suggest "Jeb Stuart" by Captain Thomason, USMC with his wonderful sketches. It may not be true but... pl


Someone called Hemingway wordy which I think is a mischaractization. I think of him as an impressionist creating stories out of small dabs of paint (sentences) that only when you step away from do you see a beautiful scene (thematic truth). Hemingway said he always left something out of the story. He didn't always explain motivation or causality. I always thought Nick Carter went fishing to overcome the trauma of war. Shakespeare did not explain a lot either: was Hamlet feigning insanity to hide his intentions or was consience driving him over the edge?

That is when life was seen as seamless: one day you're a king, the next day you're mad; one day you're married and the next you and you're bride are dead. Life's tragedy is the seamless flow from high to low or low to high through no fault of your own but todya's art demands every person be neatly boxed and labeled. I read a review of the latest Sherlock Holmes movie where the director said he saw Holmes as a composite of newly defined mental illnesses: ADHD, obsessive compulsive and a few others I can't remember. Whatever happened to the eccentric genius, someone beyond our own capabilities?

I read The Complete Sherlock Holmes in 8th grade, have enjoyed rereading them and the BBC's series but I won't watch the comic book version.


I have. I had learned some of it in my History of Ed. class, but much of it was new to me. That book changed my husbands mind re: schooling. He had been determined to send our kids to public schools, but now he it utterly opposed and enthusiastic about homeschooling.

Martin Oline

Thanks to all of you for contributing to this thread. The crippling of the American intelligence I have witnessed my entire life. If Tocqueville returned today he would discover that the works of Shakespeare mentioned above has been sold for a quarter in a garage sale, leaving only the bible.
I had the good fortune to own a small book store for 5 years (2000-2004). I say good fortune because this unfortunate leap of faith has left me with a wonderful library. It also gave me exposure to a great many book lovers and their various favorite authors.
Owning a book store today is more naive than starting a DVD rental business. I do not have much hope for the future of American culture. The popularity of "magical thinking" and survivalism makes me believe that a great many of my acquaintances and neighbors are actively rooting for chaos.
Thank you Colonel for keeping this site going. It is a wonderful resource for all of us.


I was ashamed to admit it and "torture" is too strong of a word. Like I said, I don't blame the author. I figure if it's attained the recognition it has, assume the fault is mine. I read it 20 years ago and I agree with the post that said that sometimes we approach these books before we're ready. I'll give it a second try when it's my children's turn to read it. I may have another opinion.

As to "Ivanhoe," there will always be too much jousting and warfare for me. I can only plod through so much action before my eyes glaze over. I'm sure I am NOT in good company on this website.


And to add to the self-destruction of our once-literate culture, twitter has eliminated the need for coherent syntax. We are headed in the direction of grunting.


Henry James is wordy. I had to read him in college and bet he drove the pleasure out of reading for many a young mind.


Welcome to the Old Dominion. (I miss living there, Detroit is definitely a different world.)

Charles I

or, if they were not sports fans, they might just say: Dante! Who the hell is he?


As you say, therapy and drugs seem to be ubiquitous to our modern culture, whether someone is young or old. I'm not aware of many doctors who are willing to medicate a child without consent from a parent or guardian. I'd also throw in that I'm a den leader for cub scouts with 2 boys that have strong ADHD. The days they are off their meds are black and white for them being able to participate and not drag everyone off track. We would have called them "spirited" in the old days (and "a total pain in the ass" later), but the medication works and its extremely welcomed.

Again, self-mutilation? I assume you are talking about piercings and tattoos? Young people do this because it pisses off the old people (you and me.) If there is a difference between this and people growing long hair and not bathing in the 60s, it escapes me.

Lastly, it does seem strange to interact with a device in your hand more than face to face. But if you watch young people (talking teens here) use their devices, so very much of it is social in nature. They aren't checking out so much as staying in touch with each other remotely. Texting reminds me most of the old passing notes in class game, except the notes are electronic and the passing is a satellite in space ;) What I'm getting at is the younger generation mostly uses cell phones and electronic devices to enhance their relationships, not replace them. I'm sure if we could go back in time, we'd hear the old men screeching about how the tele-phone was destroying the young peoples personal graces in public.

Somehow the human race survives. I think this generation will eck through somehow, maybe even crafting some art and literature along the way.


Throughout grad school and even now, in order to maintain my connection to the real world, I keep my nightly bed-side reading squarely in the classic fiction realm. It was and is my only means to counteract the devolution of soul wrought by those stacks of "wonk-books" and journalistic historical "insights" you mention above, which largely consumed my daylight hours for years.

I agree with you, Col. Lang and others, that Melville, Mitchell, et al. would be hard pressed to find publishers or an audience in contemporary America, but there is something else at work here too. There must be a corollary premise to the notion that our culture now lacks the capacity for the consumption of good and true art.

It must be also be considered that our culture lacks the capacity for the production of good and true art, especially of the literary form. When Tolkien created Middle Earth, he didn't stop at the geography and its inhabitants. He went on to endow the place with complete languages and writing systems, and three thousand years of "historical record". Conrad is a titan of English literature, but few people realize that, as a native-born Pole, he wrote his masterpieces in his second language. It took a committed American Lit professor to explain to me the genius and purpose behind Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness style, but as a result, "The Bear" and "As I Lay Dying" are two of my favorite works of American fiction.

Our society simply no longer produces creative intellects of such might. It's highly unlikely that there are currently young Faulkners, Melvilles, and Hemingways starving for an audience but finding none. I also find it hard to believe that the uber-successful authors of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and The Help had the ability to produce classic works of literature, but instead merely chose to write for an attention-deficient contemporary audience and its consumptive tendencies. No. They are mortals who made the most of their limited creative capacity, and they just so happened to find resonance in a society with increasingly limited appreciative capacity. Lucky for them.


The printing press was not a Chinese invention. Movable type was a Chinese invention. Chinese printing was done by pressing paper with your hands, which was a far slower process and had much less of a cultural effect. The printing press was invented by Gutenberg.

I'm not sure your point on oral traditions. Cultural transmission was not oral by any means before Gutenberg. You don't need a printing press to have a fair number of books. The Romans, for example, had a publishing method by which a slave read a work to a roomful of slaves who methodically wrote down the words. Gutenberg's invention (and subsequent necessary tweaks) was revolutionary in that it greatly increased the volume and decreased the cost of printing, enabling a much quicker transmission of ideas, etc. By the means by which cultural information survived in many parts of Europe since at least 500 B.C. was writing.


Unless you would prefer to believe that the USA began with the Articles of Confederation being accepted, in which case the first five are:
Hancock ( popular old smuggler served several times as president )
The presidency degenerated after the coup de état of 1787.

The Moar You Know

Thanks for being the only person who actually replied to the content of my post.

Kids who are being trained by the intervention of their parents to believe that there are no consequences to not doing their work are not going to fare well in any kind of employment situation, public or private.



Try "Silas Marner." For decades in NYC public schools, this god awful work was required and at the top of the list for all sentient students. How this happened ? Probably some Victorian spinster lady in 1901 made the decision and no one ever bothered to rescind it. Survival of "Silas Marner" was made possible by religious reading of the excellent pieces in the sports pages of NYC newspapers at the time, and the instinctive feeling that written English could not have evolved just to enable us to be tortured by "Silas Marner."

The Twisted Genius

Thanks for the suggestion. I started reading it last night on line. I bet my local library still has a print copy. I also thank you for your trilogy and consider it an essential part of my education. I go out on my deck in the evening and can see Balthazar and the others sitting around a small campfire under the sycamores. I can smell the captured yankee coffee brewing and the potatoes frying in bacon fat with wild onions. They often invite me to share in their conversations where we speak of all manners of things. I think these flights of imagination are a beautiful gift provided by good literature.


No one has mentioned it, but a much-read essay on the effect of the Internet on the human mind is Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

You can find it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

steve g

It would be interesting to find out
if within the new technology of
books, kindle etc., any of the classics
mentioned are read in this format.
If so, maybe there is hope.


Reminds me of the joke about the James brothers: William wrote psychology like a novelist, while Henry wrote novels like a psychologist. Try "The Turn of the Screw." It's actually quite good.

The Twisted Genius

Thanks, Fred. Virginia is indeed growing on me. I have easy access to the Potomac, the Bay and the sea. That's important to me. The mountains are also close by. Whenever I return to Virginia from up north, I pass through Ashby Gap and descend past Paris. I often see the most marvelous sunset over the ridge above Paris. It's a wonderful welcome home.

The Twisted Genius

I doubt any of us are enthralled by every book we read or attempt to read. Recognition as great author or work of literature certainly does not guarantee enjoyability. I loved Moby Dick, especially the meticulously detailed descriptions of whaling and life before the mast. My wife found reading those same descriptions to be boring and torture. Vive le différence!



I hope Dr. Smith has made a kettle of his excellent turkey soup for the bivouac. They talk to me also. PL

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