questioning the cannon

questioning the cannon - by Andrew Montalenti I was in the...

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by Andrew Montalenti I was in the best of settings when I realized that Shakespeare was indeed great. My freshman year in high school, I had English class with an esteemed teacher, Mr. Broza—hailed as the Paul D. Schreiber High School Shakespeare aficionado, founder of Schreiber’s Annual Shakespeare Day, and, perhaps most heart-warming of all, a self-proclaimed Shakespeare lover whose posters of The Bard could be found as wallpaper in his small office. How lucky I thought I was. Indeed, if I wanted to appreciate Hamlet, I was in the right hands. But how misled I actually was—at least, in Walker Percy’s eyes. In his essay, “The Loss of the Creature,” Percy recalls a scene from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: …the girl hides in the bushes to hear the Capehart in the big house play Beethoven. Perhaps she was the lucky one after all. Think of the unhappy souls inside, who see the record, worry about the scratches, and most of all worry about whether they are getting it, whether they are bona fide music lovers. What is the best way to hear Beethoven: sitting in a proper silence around the Capehart or eavesdropping from an azalea bush? (521) Percy here contrasts two different approaches to viewing art—the girl who informally and spontaneously encounters the work of art, out of context, as opposed to the “unhappy souls inside” who formally prepare themselves for a kind of pre-packaged listening experience. Percy wonders which is better—a question meant for the reader’s pondering. But his essay offers his answer: we can only truly see or hear a piece of art by “the decay of those facilities which were designed to help the sightseer” (514). Perhaps Percy is right—it might have been better if my experience with Hamlet had been an accidental discovery rather than a guided tour, an “eavesdropping from an azalea bush” rather than “proper silence around the Capehart.” Perhaps I should have encountered the text unaware of its origin but intrigued by its mystery. After sitting by a tree and reading the text front-to-back, perhaps then I would be able to “see” Shakespeare in Percy’s sense of the word. Percy’s noble task is to open our minds to the possibility that we are not the masters of what we know—that, in part, what we know and what we see, when approached
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passively, have a lot more to do with “preformed symbolic complex” than with ourselves (512). Percy’s exploration achieves one of the main goals of all philosophy —to change the way we think about things. He changes the meaning of many concepts human beings tend to take for granted. Sight is no longer the mere act of seeing, but “a struggle,” an act of understanding and appreciation (523). “Sovereignty,” in relation to things, is no longer some abstract concept of “power,”
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This note was uploaded on 04/12/2011 for the course WRITING 101 taught by Professor Jabaker during the Spring '11 term at NYU.

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questioning the cannon - by Andrew Montalenti I was in the...

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