Friday, August 12, 2011

On "Home" Again...One More Time...for now

Both the Wizard of Oz and Harold and the Purple Crayon end with fervent desires to recognize and remember what it feels like to be at home. Harold is really only able to get back home (or really to re-create a new home) because of something he remembers from the beginning of his adventure--that the moon will give him a context where to find his bed. The emotional power behind both stories derives from the fact that they are parables. I have always found the form of the parable to be particularly powerful because it is not as oppressively didactic as most narrative forms. Allegories (e.g. Animal Farm) or fables (e.g. Aesop's Fables) instruct in a way that there is a one to one correspondence between characters and ideas that operates like an answer to a puzzle.

Parables teach-- but the lesson is one that the reader constructs in conjunction with the story.So, parables are explicitly joint efforts between the story and the reader that can be read over and over again with very different interpretations. With Harold, in particular, there are a lot of possibilities for what the "meaning" of his journey could be. The "moral" of the story is something you create, not something that is told to you. In short, good parables raise questions as much or more than they provide answers.

For example, I think that baseball is a kind of parable--that is why it is the most "literary" of sports with the most written about it.

Quite a few years ago, my friend Buddy and I taught a course called Baseball Literature. We got interested because we were fans, but also because we kept looking at the game and coming up with puzzling questions--Why is it one of only games where only the team without the ball can score? Why is it that it has no time limit? Why is it that you can "fail" as a batter 70% of the time and be on the All-Star team? But the question that always fascinated me was, "Why isn't the last place you run to on the diamond called fourth base? Why is is called "home?"

The objective of baseball, afterall, is to "get home." Why? Well, perhaps it is because we are a nation of immigrants, and, therefore, that is our natural yearning? Perhaps. My interest, however, is what it feels like to be home. My conjecture is that the feeling of being at home is similar to what it feels like to be involved in deep learning. Therefore, it stands to reason that, if we can get clear about what it feels like to be home, then we will gain an insight into what kind of environment we need to create in order for transformative learning to occur.

One of my favorite baseball writers is former Yale University President and Major League Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. Here is what he wrote in his book Take Time for Paradise:

“‘Home’ is a concept, not a place; it is a state of mind where self-definition starts; it is origins—the mix of time and place and smell and weather wherein one first realizes one is an original, perhaps ‘like’ others, especially those one loves, but discrete, distinct, not to be copied. Home is where one first learned to be separate and it remains in the mind as the one place where reunion, if it ever were to occur, would happen.”

So, I am wondering whether if you can create that feeling that Giamatti describes, then could you defy Thomas Wolfe's dictum, You Can't Go Home Again.

The end of the search--home--would then be much more like what T.S. Eliot envisioned:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Doing that would really be a home run--a walk off home run.

1 comment:

  1. This is lovely, David. Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of helping us to explore the unknown, and to look at the familiar in new ways. (The experience of re-reading Gatsby in your class is a revelation I'll always remember.)
    I'm so glad you've been able to update this blog so often in the month before CITYterm starts again, because I know things will be too busy to do much once the semester begins.