Saturday, November 3, 2012

Turnips and chestnuts: Goethe and many-sidedness

Gravity and tenderness: Goethe by Stieler, 1828
I've a column in today's Canberra Times, 'Turnips for work; chestnuts for play'.

Prompted by one of Goethe's aphorisms, I'm discussing the importance of many-sidedness in education. Not simply developing many skills, but cultivating a rich, integrated character. A sample:
Goethe was also unafraid to be crude, without losing his various refinements. Take his epigram: ''Wanted: a puppy which neither barks nor bites, but eats broken glass and shits diamonds.'' The humour in this comes, not just from the incongruity of it, but also from its very wise portrait of human longing: the absurdity and vanity of our desires. It is by recognising the petty, lazy and sordid parts of the psyche that we can best sublimate them. Repression, hypocrisy and violence are happy bedfellows. 
And the classroom, particularly in high school, is often a milieu of false bloodlessness, in which teachers try to retain authority by denying human frailty. The point is not to be thoughtlessly vulgar, or to teach children to forgo introspection in favour of impulse. The point is to exemplify maturity by recognising, without false primness, the sometimes unsavoury facts of life. And to do so cleverly, artfully - without giving in to lazy boorishness.

1 comment:

Rolly Christian said...


Back in 2011 an Age opinion writer noted,

"My nephew had on his prescribed school reading list great titles like ‘The Day my Bum went Psycho’, ‘Bumageddon’, and ‘The Final Pongflict’. I have not read the books but he tells me they are about a group of unruly anuses (or is that ani?) and a global conflict. These books were even on the Premiers Reading List. Sure, they are just harmless and fun titles. But where is the ennobling and inspirational literature our children are learning? The Bible is the most influential and inspiring book in the history of humanity, as well as the most read and most sold. Let kids learn about obnoxious bottoms, but don’t deprive them of the beauty, wisdom, poetry, and challenging literature we call the Bible. As well-known literary critic and cultural commentator, Peter Craven wrote recently, “however much we might decry the crimes committed in the name of religion – the bloody deaths and persecutions and maiming of minds – of course we should keep alive the stories of the Bible and the beauty of the language in which they speak. Does anyone really want their children to be without knowledge of that heritage?”

I don't know Damon thoughtlessly vulgar or in this case deliberately vulgar (offering dirty ditties that little boys may like) can make you a "successful award winning author - for children no less" and more importantly some filthy mammon.

Your can't serve two masters,

fine timeless ageless written art or
the lessor, other stuff...

You are compelled to do your best.