“Your Mom Went to College!”

Today I pulled the “do you see that paper over there? It means I know what I’m talking about.” In a conversation about inference and theme I made a sweeping generalization that, with the exception of a FEW things that I can’t even think of right now, there is no such thing as pure entertainment. Now, stay with me…

We’re crafting our Science Fiction stories about injustices in the world and my students would NOT accept what I had said about entertainment. So I clapped my hands and asked, “Raise your hand if you have graduated college. Raise your hand if you have a degree in literature.” Some smart asses raised their hands, but at the end of the day: they’re still just smart asses. I proceeded to tell students that while I am not an expert, it seems I am the only one in the room close enough to one. So I started to explain to them why my statement was true.

Upheaval.

I back pedaled for an example they’d understand. Three or four months ago, one of my very bright seniors crafted a story about pancakes. I asked her to explain what the story was about. The story centered around an agency one could call, one being a pancake, if they felt threatened or belittled. Her witty and satirical story was captivating and funny — it was entertaining. I asked her why she wrote the story, “Because another student told me he didn’t like pancakes and I think that’s silly so I wrote it to — oh, I see what you did there.”

Lightbulbs. Everywhere.

I proceeded, “While you were just being funny, and we were all entertained, you had a purpose in writing the story, did you not? You sought to defame the student’s prejudice and to make fun of it — you had a purpose. You had a reason. You had an underlying cause for writing the story.”

Lightbulbs dimmed and students began to yell at me saying I was just searching for meaning, to which I retorted, “Without some significance or meaning, what is there?”

Another student told me he wrote a story in church about a flower that strangled a hiker and said he had no meaning. I couldn’t get into it in class but there is meaning there whether he knows it or not. He feels suffocated by church, and has told me as much, and said that he saw the flower on the pulpit and thus concocted the story. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar… but that’s coincidence.

If we are the sum total of our experiences, then one cannot believe in coincidence because without those “coincidences” (ie experiences) we wouldn’t be who we are today. Until time travel is invented and alternate realities are brought into existence, all we have is this one chance as survival. One cannot believe in coincidences. And if one cannot believe in coincidence, then one cannot believe that there is no such thing as entertainment. Instead, there is purpose and only purpose. There is purpose and there is theme and there is something to “take home” from every story, whether crafted with a purpose or not.

And no, I do not exactly know what Philip K Dick was thinking when he wrote “The Crystal Crypt,” but I can tell you that he wouldn’t be as highly acclaimed, as widely published, or as well-read as he was/is if there wasn’t PURPOSE in his writing.

Also, if you stuck with a last name like that… you’d HAVE to be purposeful in all you did.

But I didn’t say that in class either.

Some things you just can’t teach high school students. And I’m sure some of my college professors are reading this thinking the same thing about me. And thus the dialogue and the Promethean struggle continues.

MK

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Science Fiction and Civil Rights

I’m embarking on a very interesting journey in my Science Fiction class. This may prove more work for me than my students, but the idea of it is piquing my interest…

We just read “The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K Dick. It’s a really great story about prejudice and a Catch-22 of sorts. I found it on a whim and we just finished it today. The next two days we will be focusing on a project where we will attempt to address issues of Civil Rights via a science fiction short story.

I started to research race and ethnicity and civil rights connections in science fiction and while I got some google hits, my academic researcher either isn’t up to snuff or there’s nothing out there. This has happened to me before when cross analyzing David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life with TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and its section “V. What the Thunder Said,” as well as Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.” All of them have to do with the transience of life, inability to affect change, and the general melancholy of the modern man. I poured my heart and soul into that 20 page paper (only had to be 12!). And when I presented it to Dr. Hagans, he looked legitimately surprised that that kind of cross analysis and information had come from my brain, mouth, and fingertips. To be honest, I was a bit surprised myself. But what I learned is that though each author has his own statement, they’re all basically talking about the same things. My hope, and encouragement from Dr. Hagans, was to pursue some more lit theory and add it to my paper. I never had time to, and I hope that when I further my eduction (sometime ages and ages hence) that I can revisit it. I’d like to devote some time now to this new venture, but it seem as though my research is leading me to more research, and so on… What started out as a simple compare-and-contrast with high school students is quickly becoming a full-time project. Not that I’m complaining…

I think the subject is very interesting for a number of reasons. 1) humanity expresses itself through literature, it stands the test of time, 2) humanity instructs itself through literature, 3) science fiction is not a mere “what if” but it is also a “watch out” and a “pay attention” and a “caution!” to all that read it.

In every Doctor Who episode and every Science Fiction journal article and story there is that underlying theme of accepting The Other. I want to know why we use Science Fiction to get that point across. I also want to see if some of the mid 20th century writers were using their works to promote/defame the civil rights movement. A lot of science fiction stories look at the struggle, prejudice, and eventual destruction or resolution amongst warring parties or different races/species. Star Trek is riddled with the idea of accepting The Other. This isn’t anything new, I know. I’m not coming up with anything new, and I know some of my academic friends may read this and scoff. And that’s fine. I’ll write you into my next science fiction story as another world that denies the existence of a different world — or something like that.

It is my belief that all literature is hiding something. And you can blame Marxist-moral-neohistorical reader within… but if you think about literature for very long, you’ll begin to see it to. That’s why I teach: because who were are a human race (our struggles and differences and fall-outs and future outcomes) it’s all in the literature. Whether I agree with it all or not, I see the situations amoral literature as inevitable and the science fiction as a warning to mankind.

Do not tell me that Art is For Art’s Sake. It may well have intended to be just that, but it’s not. It was created with a purpose. And when we understand that: I think we become more fully human.

Civ haunts me. In the best way possible.

MK