Thoughts on the First Meeting of the Williamsburg Circle
The organizers of the Williamsburg Center of International Arts and Letters, Terrance Lindall and Yuko Nii, asked the founding members for our ideas on the Center's purpose, and even though I hadn't been able to attend the first meeting in person, I felt myself involved enough to respond:
Dear WCIAL Members:That's my official letter to other WCIAL members, but I've decided to post it here on my blog in case readers have their own ideas on bringing the classics to a younger generation.
I'm sorry that I could not be present for the first meeting, but I participated from afar. I appreciated receiving Professor Wickenheiser's lecture notes on book collecting, and I especially liked his citation from John Ruskin:
"We ought not to get books too cheaply. No book I believe, is ever worth half as much to its reader as one that has been coveted for a year at a book stall; and bought out of saved half-pence, and perhaps a day or two's fasting."I was already familiar with these words from reading Holbrook Jackson's Anatomy of Bibliomania, which I finished sometime early last year, having read the book in the 'record' time (for me) of at least two years, maybe three, in minutes snatched from my busy schedule, mostly on Seoul's subway during commutes to and from my office at Ewha Womans University. Well, such a book must be savored, anyway, a point perhaps broached in the book's section on bibliophagia, though that part mostly dealt with more literal savoring.
Not that I intend to imply that Professor Wickenheiser himself is a bibliophage, or even bibliomaniac; no, he is clearly a bibliophile, one open to sharing his collection. Perhaps he is even one of the last of his kind of collector, given our liminal position on the cusp of the internet's brave new world of online books. Everybody can collect those, but nobody needs to.
As for the practical points of our Williamsburg Circle's activities, I'm quite happy to leave that side of things to Terrance Lindall and Yuko Nii, who are deeply experienced in such affairs and are, anyway, the organizers of our Circle. I look forward to hearing more on ideas for encouraging the younger generation to engage with the classics. Obviously, we will need to take the internet into account since everything will be available online. I expect that we will need to discuss what might be entailed by encouragement of young people to "engage" with the classics. There has been a great debate in academia over this general issue, which I'm sure we're all familiar with.
But setting that aside for the moment, I would suggest that we reflect upon our personal reasons for reading the classics. My own are at least two: 1) the ideas and 2) the style. Not necessarily in that order. I recall myself as a young teenager in the Ozarks rummaging about in my grandmother's home for something to read and coming upon a stash of textbooks from my uncle's university years. I opened one on literature and began reading "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I wasn't sure what the poem was talking about (the ideas), but I was captivated by its language (the style). I would therefore suggest that what first needs to be addressed is how to present the classics so that young people enjoy them.
Images can help, of course, and that's where art comes in, not merely to illustrate a text, but also to 'engage' with the text in an enjoyable way that raises issues of interpretation, and Terrance's Paradise Lost artwork exemplifies this well, as we can all see.
These are all the issues that I raise at the moment as we begin to reflect on our aims and approaches.
Assuming that one thinks this important . . .