[Milton-L] Memorization and Naomi Wolf

laurie johnson laurie.johnson1 at comcast.net
Wed Feb 25 09:22:45 EST 2004

I have to agree with Carol Barton's assessment of the Bloom/Wolf debacle. I
think Wolf's actions reek of self-serving, lime-light seeking opportunism.
Laurie Johnson

----- Original Message -----
From: "Carol Barton" <cbartonphd at earthlink.net>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at koko.richmond.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2004 8:35 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorization and Naomi Wolf

> I read the Wolf piece, John. At least, I skimmed it. I was frankly
> by the whole thing.
> I am not a big fan of Harold Bloom, but since you raised the issue:
> 1. I think an undergraduate female who invites her male professor to a
> candlelit dinner, and asks her roommates to disappear, delighted when they
> do, has more on her mind than reading some poetry. Why didn't she invite
> to lunch, by sunlight, al fresco?
> 2. Did poor, outraged (physically sickened) Ms. Wolf drop Prof. Bloom's
> class, and never take another with him, after his horrible act?
> 3. Why did it take a woman who was so devastated by this outrageous
> violation of her body twenty years to speak up, especially one who is so
> vocal and unafraid to be in the spotlight?
> I'm sorry: all I find "unsettling" about this incident is that she would
> have the temerity to "go public" with it at this point, regardless of
> whether (as Bloom alleges) it never happened, or even if it did.
> As the thread of the subject line suggests (at least in part), and as Ms.
> Wolf horrifically confirms, we are raising generations of successively
> self-indulgent whiners and complainers and me-ists, witch-hunting
> and offense and oppression over the most minor incidents (or fabricating
> supposed wrongs, like the 'DC residents who forced their city controller
> resign a couple of years ago in response to the "racial slur" to which he
> gave voice when he said the budget he'd been given was "niggardly"), and
> balking at anything that looks like work. My students tell me that
> thinking and analysis makes their heads hurt; I tell them that, like the
> Hulk's body when he's angry, their brains expand when they learn
> but despite indications to the contrary, there is no danger of that
> bursting their skulls at the seams. Asking a student to memorize a few
> of prose or poetry is not cruel and unusual punishment (actors do it all
> time, with no apparent damage to their delicate psyches), and most will
> memorization easier if they also attempt to understand what they are
> repeating---that is, if the delivery is to be interpretive as well as
> As a dry run for that, I have had a different group of students select and
> read poems aloud, individually, for the first five minutes of every class,
> then explain to their classmates why they chose what they chose, and what
> means. If they want to, they can recite (not sing) the lyric to a favorite
> song---but it must be one susceptible of serious interpretation (no "I
> Hold Your Hand"). Even my least skilled students seemed to be able to rise
> to that task, and to benefit from it: who among us does not learn more
> a work from trying to teach it competently than we ever did on the other
> side of the podium? I find that I have to do a re-recitation only rarely;
> students who monotone "THAT'S/ my last/ DUCHess HANGing on the WALL" with
> regard for punctuation or enjambment discover very quickly that Browning
> not write for Hallmark when their classmates twitter in response---and
> hearing competent readers read improves *their* skills, too.
> I have not had time to follow this thread in its entirety, but Roy is
> as well (as are the others who have suggested that students be asked to
> attempt to write some poetry themselves). Team assignments seem to be
> effective for this purpose: group A writes a Petrarchan sonnet, group B a
> Spenserian, group C a parody like "My Mistress' Eyes," and so on). I've
> asked groups of students to do creative presentations allied to the works
> we're reading (poetry and prose) that there will not be time to cover in
> class: for example, I have been to the trial of Oedipus, heard eulogies at
> the funeral of Cervantes, and attended a "Jerry Springer"-type show in
> Hendy Nicolas and Alisoun were confronted by John and Absalom (very clever
> concepts all, and the students came up with those things themselves).
> Torture? Maybe. But no one in that class will ever forget _Oedipus Rex_ or
> _The Miller's Tale_---not even the students who *didn't* read those works.
> My best teachers were the ones who pushed me to limits that were far
> what I thought I was capable of doing. Everything in the universe will
> the path of least resistance, if you let it---and as the two students who
> have posted in favor of memorization demonstrate, some young people even
> appreciate being challenged (if only after the fact).
> Lead us not into Penn Station,
> Carol Barton
> (with thanks to Jim: I doubt Carrol was very flattered by the verbal
> sex-change, either)
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