Back in 2001, I taught an upper level Brit Lit class: British Romanticism. It was the first time I was teaching it, and I was thrilled. On September 10, I began a week of William Blake's work, primarily "Songs of Innocence and of Experience."
We talked about the idea of innocence as being a state of good and of experience as being a state that we see as bad. On September 10, we talked about the ways that Blake played with these traditions and turned them on their head. We talked about the poems, and we talked about how his illustrations (or illuminations, as one of my grad school professors called them) both helped undergird the poem, but often undercut the interpretation of the poem we'd have without the illustration.
We talked about Blake's work for pay as an engraver--what does it mean to have to think backwards in composing a print?
It was a great class--it was our fifth or sixth class together, and each one had been that perfect combination of spirited discussion and a smidge of my lecture. I closed the class on September 10, 2001, by asking, "Which world would you rather live in? The world of innocence or the world of experience?"
Of we went, and then on Tuesday, all the events of September 11, 2001 happened; I was at a different campus. When we returned on Wednesday, September 12, to discuss Blake, I couldn't resist beginning with my question of September 10: "Innocence or experience? Which do you prefer?"
I don't expect world events ever again to dovetail with my teaching as neatly as they did that week.
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