Thursday, August 15, 2013

Speaking of Colons

Whoever coined the term "those who can't, teach," hadn't tried teaching.

Ryan managed to learn about negative integers  this week despite my teaching, not because of it.

We do happen to be studying the digestive system in science this week as well, but have only made it through the small intestines.  No colon there yet. 

The colon I am speaking of is one that no one in my generation seems able to grasp.  I blame my own lack of grammatical knowledge on the gifted and talented program which decided we were all too bright to concentrate on this stuff and rushed us past (or is it passed?!) in favour of creative writing. 

Great.  Now I can write creatively with improper grammar and punctuation.  (Great: now I can write creatively with improper grammar and punctuation?  Hey Dee, Hey Lorraine: is the colon the answer to some of these debates we've been having on sentences: has our generation just forgotten how to use the colon?)

Does that make me more gifted or talented than someone who actually learned how to do it so that other people could understand them?!

Youtube to the rescue: if that young and perky woman actually knew what she was teaching her high school class.

And then I pick up The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  Turns out a Czech living in France knows how to use a colon better than anyone else I've read.  Or at least his editor does.

He uses a colon in his very first sentence!  Four times in the first segment, including a beauty of a sentence with a colon, two semicolons and a comma.  Followed by four beauties in a row at the end of the second segment.  All this by page five.  The beauty of the sentences isn't in the punctuation: the punctuation only serves as an elegant frame that enhances an exquisite work of art.

How'd you like that one, huh, huh?  Better learn to love them because I plan to use them until I get them right.

The problem in using Kundera's work to teach colons to an uninterested thirteen year old girl is the subject matter.  Take the first sentence: "The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!"


"Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them:  they appear without the mitigating circumstances of their transitory nature."

Uh, I guess.

The colon, two semicolon and comma beauty is about Hitler: "Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood.  I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler's concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?"

Oh.  That's two sentences.  So much for gifted and talented.

Let me redeem myself with Parmenides: "He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/non-being.  We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which is positive, weight or lightness?"

"Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative.
"Was he correct or not?  That is the question.  The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all."

Sigh.  This is the sort of thing that got me labelled gifted and talented.  Not only have I drawn a connection between the colon as an organ and the colon as a form of punctuation in the third sentence - oh so clever of me - but now I am connecting the correct use of the colon by Milan Kundera to draw a parallel to my anxiety.

No matter what Nietzsche says (and I'm not sure exactly what he said, since I am only going on what Milan Kundera says he said!),  I find both the idea of eternal return AND the transitory nature of life to be a heavy burden right now.  Nothing is light: nothing is insignificant.

But lookie there: at least I am learning to use proper punctuation when I whinge about it!

Although I probably still shouldn't be teaching it.

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