The Arvon effect


When the Arvon student
is put in posession of that creative self,
which was hitherto inaccessible,
two things, in particular, suddenly
became much more interesting:
the working of language,
and the use of literature. In other words,
that event brings about, often
in a very short time,
but in an organic and natural way,
what years
of orthodox English teaching
almost inevitably fail
to bring about, except
in the most artificial and external way.
The student is awakened
to the real life of language,
with all that implies of the physiology
of words,
their ancestry and history and dynamic behaviour
in varying circumstances
(of all abbreviated, in conventional teaching
under the heading: grammar).
At the same time she is introduced to literature
as a living organism,
part of the human organism,
something which embodies the psychological record of this drama
of being alive,
something which articulates and illuminates the depth
and range and subtlety of being human.
Literature becomes as personal to her as her own struggling abilities
– no longer, as conventional teaching presents it
(and can only present it), a museum
of obsolete manners
and dead artefacts,
without any relevance to ‘now and the future’.

And in all this,
the student has not swallowed anything from outside,
it has all been awakened inside.
In the true sense of the word
she has been ‘educated’.

Ted Hughes, from the foreword to The Way to Write, by John Fairfax and John Moat (Elm Tree Books, 1981).

With thanks to Peter Carpenter for reminding me of this passage.


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