Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Power of Re-visiting Text

Wild Strawberries (1957) is not nearly as "artsy-fartsy" or maudlin as this trailer makes it look... honest!

Each school year, despite the best efforts of our department leadership to clearly inform teachers which novels are assigned to be taught at which of the four grade levels (9 thru 12), invariably teachers will high-jack a text for use a different grade level. Whether out of a passion for a particular title or because they don't feel the obligation to research materials for a novel they have not previously worked with, this is an annual conscious choice on the part of some that results in a completely avoidable bone of contention. While this does create problems (beyond the need to find alternative resources, let's face it, the thematic content of some texts really is more accessible and meaningful to older more experienced students), there is also an opportunity created through this lack of etiquette: the potential for revealing for students the power of a re-visiting a text.
A favorite title from my
youth I look forward to
revisiting this summer.

This idea is even more relatable when considered in the context of movies, a fact I was once again reminded of while re-watching one yesterday. The opportunity to re-visit a text (whether traditional hard copy or film presentation) creates a situation that illustrates the difference between simply reading a book and really READING a book. As teachers and adults, we can appreciate finding new information each time we read a story or novel, or after re-watching a movie. High school students, however, often view the reading expedience as a chore which, once completed, is finished with little necessity to revisit it beyond identifying cited textual evidence for responding to an essay prompt.

VHS box for Federico
Fellini's La Strada (1954).
While an undergraduate English major wa-a-ay back in 1988, I took a film study course entitled "Fellini and Bergman." As a product of an urban Western New York public school system, I had zero familiarity with the idea of watching foreign movies other than those produced by Toho Studios and (badly) re-dubbed in English. A large part of the course requirement consisted of independently watching films outside of class. This task required going to the bowels of the campus library and viewing videotapes at a desk with large headphones on. It was there that I also gained a level of comfort reading subtitles--an underappreciated skill I continue to develop to this day. While at my local public library yesterday, I came across a DVD copy of one of the films I had seen in the library basement, Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1954), a film I had last seen 26 years ago.

After finishing the movie this second time, many years later, the difference in the experience was clear. Eighteen year-old me dutifully viewed Bergman's meditation on aging and acceptance, coming to some basic conclusions based in great part on my professor's book explaining the movie's themes, structure and story. Yesterday, 47 year-old me experienced with greater depth (and a stronger personal connection) the philosophical themes such as the value of introspection and the transient nature of human existence. I am also fairly certain that 65 year-old me (fingers-crossed!) will draw even more from a future viewing experience.

Stories, poetry and novels are no different; all benefit from the occasional re-visit, especially after time and experience have filled in some cognitive and emotional gaps. A part of me looks forward to the realization that this year's new crop of budding scholars have somehow been fed a novel that I had intended to teach. Rather than cursing the previous ill-advised professional, I will take advantage of the opportunity and challenge of demonstrating the power of revisiting text. Beyond the additional structural and thematic low-hanging fruit ready to be dropped, I am confident a great connection between the student (reader) and content can be facilitated... and the real magic of literature validated!

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