you’re fired

Reading a bunch of books from the 19th century because this semester positions me as a teaching assistant, part of one’s contractual obligations when a PhD candidate, and I was assigned a course about that period in American literature and am trying to do much ahead of time. The hours necessary to be a good assistant might be easier if I already know the materials since I’ll have other courses nearer my heart and reason for attending the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, here in Guelph. The most famous of these seven titles is Tarzan of The Apes or at least it’s the most famous to me, due to Saturday morning cartoons when I was small and the many black and white film reruns on CKND TV, Pembina, North Dakota. Ordinarily, I would be disinclined to read this book but the interesting thing I’m finding is half the time it’s about my incorrect assumptions. I would never ever have realized what’s great about Buddy Holly’s 1950s Peggy Sue if I had not heard John Lennon’s 1970s version. I couldn’t stand 50s music. The result is I can hear Buddy Holly and have a different “in” to understanding it. So little time in life, yet so many assumptions to pack into it, right or wrong, ready for war. Each year since I started being a teacher in 2013, I encounter certain students who identify with heavy metal, hip hop, edm etc., and I am no expert in any of it and each year I have to grin when invariably some aspect confronts my bias and the story changes from dismissal of what they hold dear to the reappraisal of taste and remembering it doesn’t matter if it’s kimchee or popsicles, whatever you like you like, it’s fair. All of these 19th century American writers seem linked because they’re addressing the wild vs. the civilized. It would be easy to miss how that relates to the writer’s ambitions because the racism, sexism, Christianity, entitlement blah blah blah is simultaneously present making it easy to dismiss the whole thing.

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