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06:55 am: Superversive Blog: The Goal of the Superversive

Subversive Literary Movement

 

Any new venture needs a mission statement. So, what are the goals of the Superversive Literary Movement?

Well…let me tell you a brief story.

As a child, I distained Cliffsnotes. I insisted on actually reading the book. I would like to instill the same virtue in my children. But recently, I made my first exception.

My daughter had to read Steinbeck’s The Pearl for class. We read it together. She read part. I read part. The writing was just gorgeous. The life of the people involved drawn so lovingly. The dreams the young man had for his baby son were so poignant, so touching.

Worried about what kind of book this  might be, I read the end first. It looked okay. So, we read the book together.

Turns out, I had missed something—the part where the baby got shot.

Not a happy story.

Next, she brought home Of Mice and Men. We started it together. What a gorgeous and beautifully writing—the descriptions of nature, the interaction between the two characters. A man named George, who could be off doing well on his own, is taking care of a big and simple man named Lennie, who accidentally kills the mice he loves because of his awkward big strength. In George, despite his gruff manner and his bad language, we see a glimpse of what is best in the human spirit, a glimpse of light in a benighted world.

The scene of the two camping out and discussing their hopes of someday owning their own little farm, where Lennie could tend rabbits, was so touching and hopeful, so filled with pathos and sorrow, and so beautifully written. Steinbeck is clearly one of the great masters of word use.

But I remembered The Pearl.  I glanced ahead, but this time, I looked more carefully.

On the next to last page, while discussing how their hoped-for little farm with rabbits is almost within their grasp, George presses a pistol against the back of Lennie’s head and shoots.

Now, in the story, he does it with a terribly heavy heart. He does it for “a good reason”—Lennie accidentally killed someone, but…

That doesn’t make it better.

I sat there holding the remains of my heart, which Steinbeck had just ripped out and stamped on. The devotion of this good man George had led to nothing. All their golden hopes turned to dross, sand.

And it wasn’t just the end. The book was full of examples of “the ends justify the means” type of thinking – such as a man killing four of nine puppies, so that the other five will have a chance.

Very realistic? Check. Very down to earth? Check. Very “the way of the world”? Check.

Why give a book like this to children to read? What are we trying to teach them? That life is difficult and meaningless? That sometimes its okay to kill something we love for a “good reason”? That life is pointless? That dreams and hopes are a sham? That no matter how you try, you cannot improve upon your circumstance, so it’s better not to even hope? (That was what The Pearl was about.)

What possible good is such a message doing our children?

Maybe if a child grew up in posh circumstances and had never seen hardship—maybe then, there would be a good reason for letting them know that “out there” it can get hard.

But this was my daughter—whose youth resembles that of Hansel and Gretel, and not the fun parts about candy houses and witches. There are many things she needs in life—but pathos-filled reminders of how harsh life can be is not one of them.

The book was also full of cursing. I’m not sure I would have noticed, but my daughter kept complaining.

I closed the book and refused to read any more of it. I told her we’d find the answers online. She ended up getting help with it from her brother (who had been forced to read the book at school the previous year) and from a friend.

I’ve seen some of the other books on the school curriculum. Many of them are like this. In the name of “realism,” these works preach hopelessness and darkness.

They are lies!

So, you might ask, why does it matter if our children are being fed lies? They’re just stories, right?

What do stories matter?

Stores teach us about how the world is. They teach us despair, or they teach us hope. In particular, they teach us about the nature of hope and when it is appropriate to have it.

So why is hope—that fragile, little flutter at the bottom of Pandora’s jar—so important?

Because hope needs to be hoped before miracles can be requested.

In life, some things will go badly. True. Some things will go well. But what about everything in between? What about those moments when hope, trust, dare I say, faith, is required to make the difference between a dark ending and a happy one?

If we have been taught that hope and dreams are a pointless fantasy, a waste of time, we might never take the step of faith necessary to turn a dark ending into a joyful one.

Think I am being unrealistic, and my head’s in the clouds? Let me give a few examples.

Example One:

I heard a story on the radio the other day. A woman named Trisha is dying of cancer. She has an eight year old son named Wesley and no one else. No close friends. No relatives. No hope for her son.

Trisha met another Trisha…the angel who ministered to her in the hospital in the form of her nurse. When the news came that her illness was terminal, Trisha worked up the courage to do something astonishing. She asked her nurse: “When I die, will you take my son?”

The nurse went home and spoke to her husband and her four children. They said yes. They not only agreed to take Wesley, they took both Wesley and Trisha into their home, caring for them both as Trisha’s illness grows worse.

What if Trisha, laying in her bed in pain, had not had the faith, the hope, to ask her nurse this question? What would have become of her little boy?

If Trish believed the “realism” preached by Steinbeck and other “realists”, she would never have had the courage to ask her nurse for help.

Example Two:

Don Ritchie is an Australian who lives across from a famous suicide spot, a cliff known as The Gap. At least once a week, someone comes to commit suicide there.

Don and his wife keep an eye out the window. If they see someone at the edge, Don strolls out there. He smiles and talks to them. He offers them a cup of tea.

Sometimes, they come in for tea. Sometimes, they just go home. On a few occasions, he’s had to hold someone, while his wife called the police. Sometimes, the person jumps anyway.

Don and his wife figure they’ve saved around a hundred and sixty lives.

What if Don had believed that hopes and dreams are dross, and he never walked out there? What if he had spent the years standing in his living room, shaking his head and cursing the fact that he bought a house in such an unlucky place?

There are people living lives, perhaps children born who would not have been, merely because Don did not give up on those caught by despair.

Example Three:

Andrea Pauline was a student at the University of Colorado. She traveled to Uganda to study microfinancing for a semester. While she was there, she discovered that some of the local orphan children were being abused.

Andrea refused to leave the country until the government did something. She received death threats. She would not back down.

The government of Uganda took the forty-some children away from their caretakers—and gave them to Andrea. She and her sister now run an orphanage in Uganda called Musana (Sunshine). They have over a hundred children. (Matthew West was inspired by her story to write the song Do Somethinghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8 )

What if Andrea had believed the things preached by Of Mice and Men and The Pearl?

What if she had come home to America and cried into her pillow over the sad plight of those children back in Africa? What if she pent her time putting plaintive posts on Facebook about how the sad state of the world and how blue it made her feel?

Over a hundred children, living a better life, because one teenage girl refused to give up hope.

This is what the Superversive Literary Movement is for—to whisper to the future Trisha’s, Don’s, and Andrea’s that miracles are possible.

That hope is not a cheat.

The goal of the Superversive is to bring hope, where there is no hope; to bring courage, where without courage, hope would never be manifested.

The goal of the Superversive is to be light to a benighted world.

The goal of the Superversive is: 

To tell the truth.

 

 

 

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Comments

[User Picture]
From:Amy Sterling Casil
Date:November 26th, 2014 02:35 pm (UTC)

AUUGGGHHH! Steinbeck!

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That is horrific ... you're right. It isn't that Steinbeck wrote his work and that adults read it. It's that it is most certainly given to children, and at young ages.

I have a more personal gripe about Steinbeck in that he has been often used as representative of my state. I'm one of the few 5th generation native Californians left and my family predates Steinbeck. He portrays a harsh world of despair in the absence of God. That has never been the case here, and never will be.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 26th, 2014 06:08 pm (UTC)

Re: AUUGGGHHH! Steinbeck!

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Beautifully put!!

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From:nancylebov
Date:November 26th, 2014 03:29 pm (UTC)
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More generally, extremely depressing fiction is presented as realistic, but not only does the real world present much better stories as you've said, but most of the real world isn't as bad as those stories.
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From:Josh Young
Date:November 26th, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
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There's a scene in the show "The Middle" in which the older brother bribes his younger brother, an avid reader, to read Of Mice and Men for him as they're tearing around town looking for their sister's coat. It's really pretty hilarious, with a lot of screaming coming from the back seat of the car, but I can't find it anywhere online =/

I've not read Steinbeck, but I think the viewpoints presented by him and those like him-- that the world is dark and meaningless, that there is no hope-- find footing because it reflects the worldview that people want out there. If the world is dark and meaningless, no one can be held accountable for what they're doing-- because what's a senseless or greedy act mean if nothing has meaning?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 26th, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
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The terrible thing about Steinbeck is that he doesn't present a world without hope...that is easy for readers to see through.

He presents, with beautiful prose, a vivid everyday world full of hope...

...then he kills it at the last moment. Right when the characters have some hope of their dreams coming true.

The baby in The Pearl is discovered to have been shot just after the main characters are finally free of their pursuers.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 27th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
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My tentative theory is that too many people in the educational system believe that the point of school is forcing students to do things they don't want to do.
[User Picture]
From:idic_writer
Date:November 26th, 2014 07:47 pm (UTC)

WOW

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Just wow. Sharing...
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 26th, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC)

Re: WOW

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Thank you. ;-)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 26th, 2014 08:30 pm (UTC)

There's only one way to say this . . .

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I love you.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 26th, 2014 08:35 pm (UTC)

Re: There's only one way to say this . . .

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I have no idea who you are...but thank you!
From:April Freeman
Date:November 27th, 2014 03:20 pm (UTC)

Tell The Truth

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Great post, and very true! We don't want to take hope away from children, or anyone really.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 27th, 2014 05:21 pm (UTC)

School

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I could wish I had found you before the schools killed the love of reading in my boys. Mice and Men may have been the end. Awful books they make them read.
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From:arhyalon
Date:November 27th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC)

Re: School

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I am so sorry!

How old are they? Any hope of introducing them to something more fun? Or have they grown beyond such a stage?
[User Picture]
From:joekatzman
Date:November 28th, 2014 03:02 am (UTC)

We need to start using the #superversive hastag

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Many readers have Twitter accounts. One good way to start the signal is to begin pointing to worthy works, and using the #superversive tag.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 28th, 2014 04:13 am (UTC)

Re: We need to start using the #superversive hastag

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Ooo! Cool!

(Had to resist the desire to say "Shiny!" I never say that!)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 28th, 2014 03:14 am (UTC)

Love this!

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SInce I was unschooled, I didn't have to read anything I didn't want to read...but I always felt just a bit guilty for not being interested in these "wonderful American classics."

This piece ended that guilt and I can continue to read Lewis, Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, etc., without excuses!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 28th, 2014 04:14 am (UTC)

Re: Love this!

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I did read all those "American Classics." You're not missing anything. Works like Tolkien cover the same grounds as far as the good things and leave out the bad.

(I do recommend War and Peace, though. I really, really, really loved that book. I should do a review of War and Peace.)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 28th, 2014 07:36 pm (UTC)

Yes, yes, yes!!

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We have been given an awesome (in the non-slang sense) responsibility by Illuvatar, that what we believe/desire is woven into the fabric of our world. Dis-graced we may be, yet not dethroned; we keep yet the rags of lordship which we owned (to paraphrase the Professor).

If we accept or appropriate that which is of darkness, we become part of the problem. If we weave darkness into our sub-creation, we will surely not escape punishment. That's worse than burying our talent in the ground, it's returning a lead coin for a silver.

Beauty will save the world!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 28th, 2014 07:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Yes, yes, yes!!

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Hear! Hear! Beautifully put!
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From:bojojoti
Date:November 29th, 2014 01:08 pm (UTC)
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I read The Pearl as a teen, and I've never picked up another Steinbeck. I had a difficult childhood, and I needed hope--not to wallow in Steinbeck's sad perspective. I still hope to read Grapes of Wrath someday.

Steinbeck was always heralded as a "realistic" writer, but, truthfully, how many of us have pulled the trigger on someone like Lennie. As a teen, my sister came to live with me during the era of the after-school specials on television. Those movies were horrendous! They always revolved around a young teen who was abused by her parents, sexually molested, or in the depths of alcohol or drug abuse. When my sister would see me watching a black-and-white movie--often a musical with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers--she would snort derisively and ask me how I could watch such nonsense. I asked her how she could stand to watch those after-school specials, and she told me they were "real life." I assert that my happy musicals were every bit as "real life" as her depressing dramas. It's just which viewpoint you wish to follow.
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From:arhyalon
Date:November 29th, 2014 02:59 pm (UTC)
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Exactly!

I have an essay on why Realism isn't. I'm going to dust it off and put it up here in mid Dec.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 29th, 2014 03:57 pm (UTC)
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Great work and wonderful reasons why parents should be aware of reading assignments and curriculums. What would be interesting would be the age of your children when assigned these books to read, as it is clear you believed them not to be inspiring.
Perhaps your own reading list to supplement the outside world might achieve balance.
Have them watch Bill O'Reilly.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my favorite authors!
Ken Rossignol
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 29th, 2014 05:05 pm (UTC)
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Hey Ken!

Thanks!

My daughter is 19, but her English is very limited...so her reading time is very precious. But it is a freshmen English class...so the average kid reading this is 15.
From:Colleen Cahill
Date:November 30th, 2014 02:12 pm (UTC)

I agree

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I have heard the argument that children should be able to make their own reading choices, but I am never convicted, especially when I hear "well I read that and I'm ok". That was you and you know yourself in ways you can never know anyone else. Some books need to wait for more experience and self understanding and that varies wildly between individuals; better to err on the side of caution than go into a possible emotional or moral pit.

Years ago Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game was released as a children's book. While I had read the book and was very impressed, I would not offer to anyone under 16 because of the very complex issues involve. You say you could have handled it at 16? Well, I know I would have misunderstood a lot of it, especially the politics. I also would not have had the maturity to deal with Peter, who is an incredible disturbing character.

So keep reading ahead and knowing what you daughter reads. Not only are you protecting her from possible danger, but I am sure you are both also growing closer.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:November 30th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)

Re: I agree

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Thank you!

My daughter went to her sweet girlfriend, who also speaks English as a second language, who had read the book, for help with the questions. Her friend liked it...because it was interesting in many points, and she didn't see the evil...because that's the point of it.

Now my daughter is suspicious of me not liking it. So, I will have to sit down with her and tell her a little bit more why I didn't like it. ;-)

For a kid who reads a lot, I think they can handle a few disturbing books, even if they might wish they hadn't...but for someone like my daughter who reads so little...the few books the school is choosing should be something really worth reading!

Thanks!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 2nd, 2014 06:05 pm (UTC)

Truth

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Love the truth. St. Paul put it rather bluntly: "...God will send them an operation of error to believe lying because they will not love the truth..." Carry on.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 12th, 2017 10:49 pm (UTC)

You Go Girl!!!

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Totally agree
[User Picture]
From:St_Beavers
Date:March 27th, 2017 11:31 pm (UTC)

Beautifully put!

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You've gone and written exactly how I feel about fiction today! (And not just books.)

I was (and am) a voracious reader all through my school years, but I always hated the books we had to read in English class. I remember The Pearl and many others, and I remember rejecting them as garbage (what can I say, I was opinionated).

It seems to me that many people today think that hope isn't deep, and conversely, that a lack of hope (that "gritty realism" that's so popular right now) is super deep and oooooh how literary.

It's lovely to see someone out there eloquently arguing for the merits of hope - and better fiction.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 28th, 2017 11:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Beautifully put!

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You might possibly enjoy this...a bunch of young people (including two of my sons, age 14 and 18) talking about the subject of school reading lists.

http://superversivesf.com/2017/03/23/whippersnappers-talk-school-reading-lists/
[User Picture]
From:banner
Date:June 26th, 2017 07:40 pm (UTC)

Steinbeck, UGH

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Steinbeck was a terrible person. I can tell that from just having read several of his books. The writing is good, but the stories all suck.

Really, they do (and some of the stuff he puts in them shows that he probably never traveled more than a mile from home, lived a very sheltered life, and knew very little about reality or human nature). It's like his source material was comic books.

I have always wondered just how in the hell his stuff got held out as 'masterpieces'. Then again, I look at the people doing the praising and I see that for most of them, they've lived very sheltered lives and never really been exposed to the greater world around them.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:June 30th, 2017 10:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Steinbeck, UGH

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You may be right.
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