Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Transliteracies Challenge

To celebrate the bicentenary of Wordsworth's poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," the Cumbria (England) tourist board has made a video of a large squirrel rapping to the poem. This raises all kinds of questions for me, and I hope you'll consider sending some replies. How should we think about relationships between form and content when viewing/reading this version of Wordsworth? Is classic literature that which can withstand/benefit from/remain unchanged in light of such treatments (see also the Flocabulary Shakespeare Hip-Hop)?

Another way to think about this is to consider what Wordsworth wrote in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800): "I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes it origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, similar to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on." My source for this quotation, LIT: Literature and Interpretive Techniques asks how this quotation works in the daffodils poem. I wonder how you think it works--if at all--as a comment on the hip-hop version.


dan said...

Wordsworth's poems will always exist in their original traditional form somewhere (until we destroy all the world's books)but versions, interpretations, translations, and adaptations will continue to be produced. Many times a classic is considered so because it possesses a timeless element that can cross contextual and temporal boundaries. There will always be clouds, wanderers...

Perhaps William would cry if he saw a giant squirrel rapping his poem or perhaps he would laugh and realize the significance of a modernized version in contemporary literature that is more accessible than his own original. While it seems more logical to me that content would influence form, it is also possible to work backwards and begin with a form and fill in the content. Writing for a specific audience that expects a certain structure or presentation of materials is one instance where form may inform content. In school, teachers many times begin an assignment with "it must be 4-6 pages, double spaced, 12 point font, yadda yadda..." Your content is going to be affected. There are many aspects of this relationship and there are many that we have yet to encounter as new forms and methods of transferrance are being created almost daily. Instead of coming to any specific conclusions about form and content i feel that looking at and analyzing relevant examples, such as Wordsworth and the squirrel, is our best bet toward informing ourselves and eachother.

Personally, i think Wordsworth would get a kick out of the rap and be flattered that someone had taken the time to stylize his work so that it could be heard by more than just "serious poetry types."

Anonymous said...

I found this video to be a bit on the disturbing side. However, I have to wonder if this modernization is the only way to continue to make "classics" accessible and, more importantly, relevant to today's youth. I feel that as time moves forward the connections to many of the classics, the one's that are seemingly timeless, are beginning to show their age. It seems, that teachers are having to work harder to build bridges in order for their students to see the relevance between a classic work and their own lives.

Along these lines, I have to wonder how classics become classic in the first place. Especially since they seem to exclude a large portion of the population (gender, races). I do mean to say that the "classic" works are not valuable or important in their own right, as a whole they seem to be illustrating one point of view. It might be interesting to discuss with students the historical culture that has produced the specific classics of today.


Anonymous said...

I have been a strong believer that at the heart of a great piece of art is something that can withstand the changes of time. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was still beautiful in its faded form, Shakespeare is everywhere used in our common language without our knowing it.

Still, a squirrel rapping? Taste is still taste. I might use The Simpson's version of Poe's "The Reaven," but what does it mean for a spuirrel to rap? It's cute, but I don't see it benefitting me viewing it, in fact, seeing the squirrel rap the poem as my first experience of the poem might ruin Wordsworth for me.
It's harmless internet-garbage...

Carrie said...

A work is "timeless" when it can reach across generations and social constructs and still speak to an audience. Although its essence is reproduced in various forms, the meaning of the piece remains. Giving students the option to express their understanding of "classic" texts in a form they themselves use and relate to is one way of encouraging students to make connections to literature.

I think it's important to allow students to retell their understandings in ways that make sense to them and are meaningful to them. I agree with Dan that the traditional essay is not the only way to assess understanding. Exploring other forms of communication allows students their creativity without necessarily watering down the content.