Thursday, 21 August 2008

A Thought on Conventions, Tillie Olson and Bolt

Apart from when working hard on the agent’s suggested re-writes for the novel (definite article) I find myself relaxing by watching other people sweat in the Olympic Games. Mr Bolt seems to be the fastest human on two legs now, the ability to propel yourself along a track faster than others is still quite compelling. He was considered too tall to be a sprinter, legs too long to move that fast. I was told the same at school I was pushed into (or should that be up to) the high jump. Trying to do the Fosbury Flop onto a wet concrete hard sand pit was probably the cause of my spine being re-arranged temporarily into something akin to a toppling Jenga tower. There was a particular kind of thud as you hit the ground and if unlucky the cat shit which the local feline community deposited there. I may have been crap at sprinting but at least I would have liked an opportunity to dodge the cat shit. Well done Mr Bolt, well done those people who told him that conventions can be overthrown

I was talking with someone a while ago involved in a project to introduce ‘literature’ to a group of young single parent women on a council estate that is struggling with a number of problems. These women firmly believed that literature was only for ‘posh’ people. When at school ‘literature’ was a special word used for books written only by a special few. I suggested they might like the short story ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olson, the American socialist writer from her book of short stories ‘Tell me a Riddle’ (If you haven’t read it then you should, it’s probably one of my Desert Island Books). All of them without exception instinctively understood this story at a deeper level; some of their lives had echoes of this story. All of them were desperate to read more stories by her. One woman apparently said, this was the first time she was glad they hadn’t been shown the film first as the teachers at school usually did that to make them think the story was worth reading. ‘This one was better with words and what was in my head.’ I mention this only because the new convention seems to be that adolescents will only engage with literature if the carrot of the DVD is there. You’ve seen the film…now read the book. If it isn’t selectively used this approach could deny some the right to create their own images in their head. Does Harry Potter look like the actor who plays him in the films in everyone’s mind now? I am still unable to shake off the trauma of seeing Great Expectations updated and transported to Florida and New York and Jennifer Day warbling in the background.

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