Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

retsuko: watanuki freaking out with a pig in his hands (omgwtfbbq!)
Apparently, it's more likely than I think: Today, in the mail, I received an unsolicited desk copy of Volume 8 of _Culture and Values_ (sans readings, more ranting on that below), and for the chapter on Shakespeare, the front illustration is... (wait for it) not a picture of Shakespeare, or the Globe theater, but instead a still of David Tennant in the BBC production of Hamlet. I did enjoy this interpretation, and I'm pleased that Culture and Values is acknowledging more modern interpretations of the works they feature, but I am 99.99% certain this picture was included solely because of Doctor Who and its growing popularity in the U.S. I'm of very mixed feelings about the fact that the textbooks' writers and designers thought that a picture of a modern star was more important than a time-appropriate/relevant piece of artwork, or a photo of the theater where it might have been performed.

Speaking of mixed minds, there are many improvements in Volume 8, like some material from film (finally!), critique of sexism in the contemporary art world (Guerilla Girls, double finally!), explanation of critical theory relating to the Male Gaze (so much finally! that I just hit the jackpot), etc. etc. The graphics are gorgeous and the reproductions are much larger. But the default setting of "excerpts of famous literature," which are usually no more than half a page, just make me want to weep. It's bad enough that because this is a survey, 3-credit class, I cannot assign the original works themselves, but to see Virginia Woolf and James Joyce cut down from a three- or four-page selection to half a column on one side is a travesty. Great literature needs time and space to breath, to make its point. Likewise, to give any readers the illusion that they're familiar with all poetry because they read a sonnet here and a haiku there is downright silly. This is an approach to learning that reminds me of nothing so much as an annoying person at a buffet who insists on picking out everything you eat, rather than letting you make your own choices. The more readings there are, the greater the reader's choice to engage (or not) with what's available. If we reduce "The Inferno" to simply, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter," we're doing students/readers a grave disservice and creating a crowd of learners who didn't actually learn or have to think; they just snacked.

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