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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

That "pornographic" novel, Love in the Time of Cholera

In other annoying news, a senior teacher in Victoria manages to get a government review of the decision to list Love in the Time of Cholera as a text for study in an English Literature course at VCE level. For people outside Australia, the VCE is awarded at the end of the final year of high school, immediately before university or college, so we are basically talking about 16 to 18 year olds. English Literature is not a compulsory subject of study, but is regarded as a somewhat specialist (and advanced, or difficult) subject. Most students choose the rather different subject simply called "English".

I would have thought that this is exactly the age when we want to give young adults a mediated experience of formally difficult, and perhaps emotionally or thematically challenging, novels. Indeed, I don't see why bright teenagers could not come to grips with such a text at an even earlier age - thinking back to myself and my friends when we were in our teens, we might have found Gabriel Garcia Marquez heavy going, but we were at an age where we were quite ready for the thematic concepts (and to learn about complex literary narratives and some of the ways they can work).

I am constantly surprised by attempts to infantilise bright young people. Yes, they are relatively inexperienced with both the world and the ocean of world literature. Their judgments may sometimes appear a bit simplistic and naive to older people, mainly as a result of that relative inexperience. But how on earth are they supposed to gain experience and develop more sophistication if they are constantly treated like infants?

This is apart from the extreme crudeness with which this "senior teacher" evidently approaches the task of literary interpretation. It does sound as if this guy might not be well equipped, intellectually and emotionally, for the task. His own critical statements sound simplistic and naive, so, yes, I'm not sure how he is well placed to help teenagers develop literary sophistication as they read and ponder, analyse and debate a book like Love in the Time of Cholera. But people teaching literature at VCE level damn well ought to be capable of teaching challenging texts; mine (in the equivalent system in NSW) did a pretty good job, back in the day; and I'm sure most literature teachers have what it takes.

1 comment:

Grania said...

I think it's a perfect book as an introduction to Marquez, more accessible to a teenager than say, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

And I'm still struggling to see how it's pornographic. Admittedly it has been a few years since I read the book, but that isn't an adjective I would use to describe anything in it.