Book reviews, Oct. 31
By Kane Faucher
October 31, 2013
Learning at the Ends of Life: Children, Elders and Literacies in Intergenerational Culture
Rachel M. Heydon
University of Toronto Press, 2013. 235 pages
Making up for a critical deficit in studies pertaining to intergenerational curricula and pedagogy, Heydon’s foundational text addresses not only the need for, but the multiple advantages of, understanding intergenerational learning.
Richly detailed in descriptive studies and supported by fine-grained data that confirms outcomes, Heydon’s main approach is indexed on multimodal social semiotic theory taking under consideration the affordances of each communicative context. This is especially salient in intergenerational programming whereby the very young and seniors are in the same learning environment. In pedagogical contexts where education is built around assumptions of developing “future capital” among young people, this may be considered restrictive if not dehumanizing, if not also denying the development of immediate meaning that is developed in the context of an intergenerational classroom in terms of identity construction and the multitude of opportunities that exist in leveraging the different literacies existing across the generational divide.
Rather than beginning with assumptions on the capacities and literacies of different generations of learners, and thus imposing a restrictive curricular model that denies their alterity, Heydon advocates for empowering the mechanisms of mutual responsibility and opportunities that arise from respecting the knowledge base of multi-generational learners, and precisely what they can learn from one another.
Some of the narratives are particularly touching in the emotional resonance that is created in the relationships formed by young and old. Among the many ‘take-aways’ from this book, and a lesson already well heeded by those who support lifelong learning initiatives, is the discovery of meaning has no age restriction – and, in fact, the pairing of learners both young and old are generative of new knowledge.
Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse: Uses and Meanings of the Past
University of Michigan Press, 2013. 411 pages
What was the role of social memory in Athenian public life? Does it constitute a far too subjective and unreliable narrative in understanding the core values and beliefs of Athens?
Steinbock explores the significant role occupied in the reliance on social memory and grants this a more robust role than simply mythologies that informed critical decision making in domestic and foreign policy. Inasmuch as archaeologists have traced the key locations, interpreted the written texts and constructed a narrative of Athenian life by appealing to artifacts, Steinbock effectively demonstrates these, on their own, are insufficient to grasp the full social and cultural narrative of what it meant to be an Athenian.
Steinbock achieves this, in part, by effacing the division between Greek orators and historians as standing on the antipodes of truth and falsehood, and, instead, traces a careful line in indicating that both rely on a collective remembrance, although take different approaches.
Depending on the needs of the moment, and which memory community one belonged to, relying on social memory for the purposes of persuasion was fairly common practice. And, given memory itself can be considered a fluid or dynamic record, it is rarely consistent among different groups even if they presume to share the same or similar identity.
This is a point that is more than sufficiently evidenced in Steinbock’s discussion of Athenian-Theban relations that varied from positive to hostile, and, in each case, drawing from myth and collective memory to determine a future course of action.
What is patently unique about social memory, as it was initially introduced by Maurice Halbwachs, and later adapted by others to the domain of historical study, is how our memory is inextricably bound to our conception of identity and belonging, and the key locus, or site of memory, is mediated by the groups to which we belong.
In sum, Steinbock provides a compelling case for why we ought to (re)read ancient Greek culture through the lens of social memory, and the history of that relationship between the Greek citizen and memorialization.
Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace: Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives
Linda M. Morra and Jessica Schagerl (eds)
Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012. 335 pages
If the acquisition, deposition, preservation and access of archival records were simply an “uncluttered affair,” there would be no need for a strong interest in devising and interpreting archival practices. This issue is further problematized when we consider the largely traditionally male assumptions surrounding archival practices, and in what relation these stand with respect to the literary and cultural works of Canadian women scholars and artists.
In some respects, it is more than just the archiving of work produced and collected by women, but the under-examined conceptual biases that seek to archive the identity of women themselves as ordered objects subject to the male gaze.
This book of collected essays explores these issues from the perspective of creators, researchers and archival practitioners. Each of the volume’s authors explores some of the unacknowledged, yet crucial, ethical, material and cultural boundaries that pertain to the archiving of, and access to, the works of Canadian women.
Traditionally, the archiving of prominent Canadian women had been woefully incomplete, fragmentary, revisionist and narrowly male-centred. Not only has a discussion that brings together feminist concerns to all aspects of the archival process produced a much more revealing historical knowledge, it also shifts emphasis to considering archival materials in their broader context that is richly benefited by considerations of community and aspects hitherto deemed “unimportant.”
The book’s contributors also address issues extending beyond gender, such as the challenges of archiving digital works and those of a more ephemeral nature, modes of resistant reading and in every way challenge the static view of how we might come to understand both archives and the process of archiving.
The Perilous Journey of Gavin the Great: A Fable
Borealis Press, 2010. 288 pages
Loyal readers of Don Gutteridge might know him better through his lushly painted historical fiction, and so it might strike some as an odd detour that he undertook to write a book geared to a younger audience. (Although, it is not unprecedented given this reviewer’s belief there is some tentative complementarity between the literary foci of both Gutteridge and Saramago.)
Written in the fable genre, perhaps one could be forgiven for being reminded of Watership Down, but there is always a moral lesson nested in the narrative trials of animal characters.
In this case, a raccoon by the name of Gavin exemplifies how the challenging circumstances of a devastating deluge can make even the most meek and unassuming individual rise to the occasion to become a leader. As Gavin of Earthwood, his brothers and various survivors they attract along the way delve ever deeper into Everdark, they encounter many horrors, but through Gavin’s decisive leadership and the troupe’s teamwork, their difficult quest amidst nightmarish creatures eventually – according to Gollah’s will – leads them to prosper.
The story is peppered with clever and readily identifiable allusions such as Noab’s Arkle, Hex-Calibre, Zeebub, The Arabian Lights and Knaves of the Round Tablet, and populated by a cast of very colourful characters whose names betray their natures. That the story ends happily is no spoiler, for it is truly the journey (that makes Gavin great) that is more important than the destination, what he learns about the maligned and feared Tallwalkers, and the lessons he learns about friendship and leadership that are immediately transferable to audiences both young and old.
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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