Wednesday, June 12, 2024



Clive James (1939-2019), "Gianfranco Contini," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 133-144 (at 134, translating Contini):
Unfortunately, the custom of learning by heart has disappeared in the schools, and as a consequence the very use of memory has gone with it. Nobody knows how to read verse. My best students, notably gifted philologists, can’t recognize by ear whether a line is hendecasyllabic or not: they have to count on their fingers.

quoted in Diligenzia e Voluttà [Diligence and Enjoyment]:
Ludovica Ripa di Meana Interroga Gianfranco Contini, p. 100
Id. (at 135):
There is an untranslatable Italian word for the mental bank account you acquire by memorizing poetry: it is a gazofilacio. Contini believed that an accumulation of such treasure would eventually prove its worth even if it had to begin with sweated labour. He confessed that not all of the teachers who had made him memorize a regular ration of Tasso’s epic poetry had been inspired. Some of them had held him to the allotted task because they lacked imagination, not because they possessed it. But in the long run he was grateful. Most readers of this book will spot the sensitive point about modern pedagogy. Readers my age were made to memorize and recite: their yawns of boredom were discounted. Younger readers have been spared such indignities. Who was lucky? Isn’t a form of teaching that avoids all prescription really a form of therapy? In a course called Classical Studies taught by teachers who possess scarcely a word of Latin or Greek, suffering is avoided, but isn’t it true that nothing is gained except the absence of suffering? In his best novel, White Noise, Don DeLillo made a running joke out of a professor of German history who could not read German. But the time has already arrived when such a joke does not register as funny. What have we gained, except a classroom in which no one need feel excluded?

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