Things dearly loved and seldom mentioned

Teaching an introductory class to literature and writing ones PhD are both exercises that make you ponder how much knowledge one can take for granted a lot, I find. Teaching in general does that, and I always try my best to adjust things I expect people to know to what they actually know, so there’s nothing new there, but it’s more obviously a large part of your life when you are pondering it on two different levels at the same time, and so it’s been on my mind, albeit not consciously or dominantly enough to make me consider posting about it, more on a case-by-case basis.

Something a friend posted elsewhere on the internet made me ponder it some more, and the levels on which it works. On one level, we have this tradition of naming ‘classic’ movies everyone should have seen (but probably hasn’t – Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Dr. Zhivago), on another one you have all those movies that media studies academia considers famous and one should have seen (and probably hasn’t – M, Panzerkreuzer Potemkin, North by Northwest) […] and on an entirely different level are things people love and know really well and in fact love and know so well that they think surely everyone else must know them too, because they’re classics/were famous once/… . So you never mention them to other people, because you think they’re old hat/everyone knows them/they are simply not something you discuss randomly with people/you don’t want to sound like a broken record/appear preachy/ you think you must already once have talked about with that other person (but actually haven’t), etc.

When we link people to things, or give them things as presents, we look for the news, the unusual, the exotic, the unexpected – because we expect them to  already be familiar with things that are:
a) reasonably well known in general, and
b) extremely well known by ourselves.
So you seldom find people giving other people a copy of, for instance, “Hamlet” as a random and unasked for gift. Not because its obscure or they don’t like it, but because they think, “Oh well, it’s Hamlet, they’re bound to know it!” Consequently, that hypothetical giftee might go a long time without reading or watching “Hamlet,” because while its famous and one ought to check it out, d’oh, one doesn’t always read famous things without some impetus behind it … or watch famous movies (see Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, etc from above).

I want to change that, at least for a bit. I want you to mention your ‘obvious’ favourites to me, and I want to mention my ‘obvious’ ‘common knowledge’ favourites to you. Because chances are that common knowledge *isn’t*, and what you love and think everyone knows not everyone does (know, that is – liking or disliking it is an entirely different kettle of fish).

So, let’s talk about ‘the woods [that] are lovely, dark and deep,’ why it “abwechselnd Stein in dir wird und Gestirn” and the albatross around one’s neck.  About A Day at the Races and “Fawlty Towers” and “Dalli Dalli.” About whether one is a falcon, a storm, a great song? Or, going back to “Hamlet,” about why “to sleep, perchance to dream” should really *not* be taken out of context or applied to, you know, sleep. (“To die, to sleep-To sleep-perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause-“).

So: Tell me your well loved and well known authors, poets, playwrights, movies, books, poems and plays, and I shall do the same!

In keeping with the season and the spirit of this post, my first famous  & well loved thing is this:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost, 1923

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

What well known and loved poem can you share in exchange? Is there one?


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