- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

Lonely world

“We are schizophrenic toward engaging with the rest of the world. If we’re liberal, we distrust globalization as a means of doing business, insist on multilateralism in our politics, and laud multiculturalism in the arts. … We’re likely to talk excitedly about how the Internet is shrinking the world, erasing boundaries that once impeded communication, putting us in touch with more people faster than ever before.

“And yet the world doesn’t feel smaller. If anything, the erasure of boundaries can make the world feel intimidatingly large, too large to feel at home in. [Several recent] movies play on our unarticulated sense of that scary bigness, and they posit the feeling of being lost as the unavoidable consequence of a world in which we can go almost anywhere — instantly, through virtual means, or in a few hours thanks to air travel. …

“When Scarlett Johansson calls a friend in tears from Tokyo in ‘Lost in Translation,’ she knows she can’t objectively justify her crying. She knows, after all, that she’s getting a free vacation in a great city. But the scene is about the gap between what we rationally know and what we can allow ourselves to feel. It’s about the difference between walking a city street and being able to look up at the buildings, and feeling that the buildings are looking down on you.”

Charles Taylor, writing on “Lost at the movies,” Tuesday in Salon at www.salon.com

Learned by heart

“If there’s one thing progressive educators don’t like it’s rote learning. As a result, we now have several generations of Americans who’ve never memorized much of anything. …

“Yet it wasn’t so long ago that kids in public schools from Boston to San Francisco committed poems like Shelley’s ‘To a Skylark’ and Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ to memory. They declaimed passages from Shakespeare and Wordsworth, the Psalms and the Declaration of Independence. Even in the earliest grades they got by heart snippets of ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.’ … By 1970, however, this tradition was largely dead.

“Should we care? Aren’t exercises in memorizing and reciting poetry and passages of prose an archaic curiosity, without educative value?

“That too-common view is sadly wrong. Kids need both the poetry and the memorization. As educators have known for centuries, these exercises deliver unique cognitive benefits, benefits that are of special importance for kids who come from homes where books are scarce and the level of literacy low. In addition, such exercises etch the ideals of their civilization on children’s minds and hearts.”

Michael Knox Beran, writing on “In Defense of Memorization,” in the summer issue of City Journal

Beauty and beast

“It’s always ‘King Kong and Fay Wray,’ the fictional gorilla and the actual actress. Who else has absorbed a role so completely but only played it once? …

“It might seem unfair to reduce someone’s life to a handful of half-remembered scenes from a 70-year-old monster movie. Wray starred in many other pictures, some of them quite good. … She was married three times, and she bore several children. …

“But the Fay Wray we know is not the Fay Wray who just died. The Fay Wray we know isn’t really a person at all. She’s a strip of celluloid, a beam of light, an enormous image on a screen; a few minutes of memories; a screaming starlet grasped by an impossible ape. Such are the building blocks of immortality.”

Jesse Walker, writing on “Can’t Blame the Big Ape,” Tuesday in Reason Online at www.reason.com

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