I sat in on a first set of lectures today. Amazing. If there was ever any doubt that I should be studying for an undergraduate degree at Cambridge, that doubt has disappeared. Elizabethtown College was just what I needed to be opened to a world of inquiry and creativity and introduced to the disciplines of formal intellectual pursuit. But at Cambridge can be found a level of refinement and quality I never heretofore imagined.
I was initially rather skeptical about the very idea of lectures, since it brought to mind large lecture halls and boring presentations. But I find (at least within the faculty of English) that the lecturers are so capable and artful with their turns of phrase, and so completely full of content that an hour passes by with amazing rapidity. I understand now how full term can be a mere 8 weeks. The quality and quantity of information during those weeks must be massive.
I have four finely-written pages of notes --I will have to move to Tinderbox, if I am to keep up, although I actually write in some cases faster than I type, since typing tends toward transcription rather than the adaptive rephrasing/summary which is required by the slower process of handwriting-- but here are some ideas culled from the lectures.
- The idea that the universe began with words is quite radical. It is one thing to describe something which already exists, but how can language describe the very things which give words their meanings in our minds?
- Tragedy (and I suppose much of literature) brings moral ideas to specific situations. Tragedy from the past reminds us that the idea of social progress is in some ways naive; humanity still faces the same deep problems with which the ancient Greeks struggled.
- What is criticism? Giving reasons for our reactions to something. Why do it? Why seek others' responses?
- To gain assurance that we share a common experience
- To find ideas unique to others, thus improving our world view
- "Good criticism holds moral and technical qualities of literature in tension" --D.S. Logan
- "We read literature to modify our modes of experience and -- I'm sticking my neck out here -- live better." -- D.S. Logan
- More Logan: Why study literature and engage in practical criticism?
- To help us get the full significance of communication
- To guard us from being duped
- To sharpen our historical insight (history is most immediate, most alive through the literature of a time)
- To become aware of the limitations of the ideas of our own age through the discovery and evaluation of the attitudes and assumptions of the past.
- Just like science, literary studies strive for a consensus which it knows will never be reached, but which produces a swath of interesting and useful ideas in its path.
and my personal favorite:
- Stupidity and perceptiveness coalesce in interesting ways. (D. S. Logan)