“Literary Flowers” in a Western Survey course to “plant” formative voices in the community as students “sow” final narratives.

“Literary Flowers: Using a Literary Garden in the Western Survey to ‘Plant’ Formative Voices and to ‘Sow’ Final Narratives” was an article with a wonderful idea about how to overcome the gap between 21st century and 17th century literature.  The students could apply the concepts individually and then share with the community, through the display of artistic “flowers,” to promote classical literatres of the time period that they were studying in the course.

“All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes. They are the words in which we tell… the story of our lives.” (Mark Edmundson, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Virginia, borrowing words from Richard Rorty.)

Shawn Rubenfeld, the author of this article, states he had an assignment when he was a graduate student to promote interest and awareness of the 17th century literature into a lower division course that was teaching, and then to have the students create a service project to spread the words into the community. He asserts that he modeled his project after the “New York City’s Library Way” which is a series of plaques with quotes of literature that line the pavement to the library.

The students were asked to choose a quote from a 17th century writer that spoke to them individually, and then to create a “flower” that they would plant symbolically in the community to promote interest of early literatures. The students were able to connect themselves to the literature personally while also spreading awareness into the environment, which resulted in an amazing narrative.

The flowers did need to resemble a flower in a sense, but creativity led students into many different directions. One student who picked the first line spoken by Goethe’s Faust: “Alas, I’ve studied Philosophy,/ The law and Physic also,/ More’s the pity, Divinity,/ With ardent effort, through and through/ And here I am, about as wise/ Today, poor fool, as I ever was” ended up posting his “flower” with the stem staking through an old economics book that the school would not buy back, as part of his artistic expression decoration, he then “planted” it in front of the administration building for everyone to see. It was meant to be humorous, and some found it to be.

Another student chose a line from Goethe’s Faust as well, she chose: “The god indwelling in me causes/ Deep turmoil innerly” and her flower creation was then a design of multiple shapes and colors to represent feelings of chaos within, the flower was planted at the bottom of a hill symbolically because the student stated that “there is a perception that humanity starts at the bottom and must strive for divinity, when it is really with them the whole time.”

Rubenfeld states that the assignment was a success because it encouraged his students to “look for themselves in two-, three-, four-century-old literatures.” He states, “It encouraged them to consider the relevance and importance of these texts, and at the same time, to keep them alive and in bloom.”

It was a huge success! The only real problem was the weather, but luckily the students had taken pictures of their projects straight away so they had a picture of the monument to place with the narrative. The flowers were destroyed by a small hurricane like storm with hail and rain that blew through the region. He says they had five to seven days of admiration and attention. Some of the other professors Rubenfeld worked with even gave their own students extra credit if they went on a scavenger hunt to find all of these quotes. The community was touched in many ways! The only improvement to this project, he states, would have been if they weatherproofed it.

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