Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Night Babbling!

Oh, hi there. How have you been? I've been pretty busy, and it's just not as easy to update this blog while teaching an English class as it is when you're sitting at a desk next to a computer with a pile of work that you have no interest in doing. I've started teaching a second class in the daytime, Advanced Grammar on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Much more stressful than the regular ESL classes I teach, because I keep going in there and getting whacked upside the head with left-field questions like "Why is 'everybody' singular?" (Me: "It's not. Wait...what? Oh, I guess it is. Huh.") I never really had trouble in English classes navigating the verb tenses, but trying to explain them to someone else is an entirely different matter. There's also the fact that the textbooks I use for Level 2 and Level 3 intentionally pick clear, unconfusing examples, but this one really throws you into the messiness of English.

So I had a learning curve over the first few weeks. The revelation was to just say "English is not Latin." English doesn't have these strict, logical rules that can guide you through any situation. English is a goddamn mess, designed by agents of chaos, more in common with the American character than the English one. And I love wrestling with this slippery serpant of a language that you can never get a hold of. It's a challenge, and it's something I seem to be pretty good at.

This reminds me of this old MetaFilter post where there was a huge debate about the line in the Simpsons where Ralph Wiggum says "Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!" Most people assume that means that Ralph has dreams about being a Viking when he falls asleep. But there are some folks who think it means "Oh boy, sleep! That's an area I really excel at. I'm a fucking Viking when it comes to sleeping!" I had actually wondered the same thing myself. Well, I guess I never really thought it meant he excelled at sleep, but I always thought the phrasing made it SOUND like that might be the meaning of it. But the point of this is something one of the commenters said:

English is a flexible, nimble, shifting-pathogen language and is more than able to absorb that slight stretch of a figure of speech -- even if the writers just made it up. Or, more likely, even if the writers just made Ralph or Clancy make it up.

A few comments later, another poster elaborates on this point:

Yes, exactly - which is why people are arguing about this in the first place - we're used to this goddamn inexterminable cockroach of a language having umpteen layers of literal and figurative meaning.

God, I love the Frankenstein's monster that is English. Sewn together out of dead languages and living ones that it kills and uses for spare parts. If the human race were exterminated, English would find a new host or wait for one to evolve. English does not sleep. It waits.


I'm learning just how much I love this fucking language by teaching it. See, all this time I thought we were teaching Radio...but he was teaching us!

Ahem.

OK, here's another thing. Some good writing about the new Beyonce video: Feminist Critique 1, Feminist Critique 2. Some people probably think this is wanky overthinking, but I love this stuff. This is what criticism is supposed to be. I don't think I got my point across a couple years ago when I posted about the Anton Ego character in Pixar's Ratatouille as coming from a place that doesn't really understand criticism. I still find the idea that these poor, sensitive artists pour their SOUL into a work of art and these critics just want to tear it down to be a pretty shallow reading. Because real criticism (the kind most critics would prefer to write, if they could make as much money doing it as they can giving "thumbs up/thumbs down" reviews) isn't about whether a work of art is good or bad. It's about what a work of art MEANS. Good criticism makes art MORE interesting. At least these two essays make that Beyonce video more interesting. (Also worth noting: criticism is a conversation, so even a negative review of a work of art is a setup for another critic to come in and point out how wrong it is. Man, how did I end up getting this far off the point?)

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