nualaBrobdingnagianity: Because We Are Teachers – Nuala Lincke-Ivic

Brobdingagian means colossal; the word comes from Brobdingnag, a land of giants, in Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels. I have always liked this word, and find it so appropriate when used to describe the aims of West, that I have made this word part of the title of this Letter to the Editor, changing Swift’s contribution to the English language, however, to a (newly coined?) noun: brobdingnagianity.

Why is the word brobdingagian such an apt description of the aims of West? When we were videotaping our poets’ interview for this issue of West, my fellow editors joked that I should title this Fall 2011 Letter from the Editor “Insane Ambition,” because our dreams for West are so brobdingagian. At first, we were somewhat aghast by our own effrontery/temerity/chutzpah/starry eyes, but then we thought, “Why not?” And now we’d like to tell you about our big dreams—and have you share them with us, maybe even become a part of them.

First, we want West to benefit from an expert, dedicated editorial staff that includes at least one artist faculty member from each of the nine LACCD colleges: directors, writers, poets, singers, composers, lyricists, visual artists, and other kinds of artists. In accordance with this ambition, we’ve welcomed aboard these LACCD faculty members in the Fall 2011 issue of West: Dr. William Wallis, English professor at Los Angeles Valley College; Jay Adler, English professor at Los Angeles Southwest College; and Dr. Anthony A. Lee, adjunct professor of African American history at West Los Angeles College and the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Wallis and Prof. Adler, both of whom are respected poets and writers, will act as poetry editors and write regular columns about the arts for us; Dr. Wallis’ column is “The Poet’s Corner,” and Prof. Adler’s column is “Poetic License.” Dr. Lee, who is also a respected poet and writer, will produce another regular column for us. His “The Subaltern Voice” will feature the works of writers who have often been (and still are?) marginalized: ethnic minorities, women, and gay people, among others.

Our second Brobdingnagian ambition is to invite quality artists who are well known in their fields to collaborate on artworks with LACCD students, staff, faculty and administrators. For example, we’d like well-known, gifted actors to take parts in the screenplays and plays of folks from LACCD—and to act alongside of them. In this way, we want to create a viable forum for quality artists (actors, writers, directors and others) who are unknown—but deserving of public recognition for their artistry. We ruminate about artists like Franz Kafka, John Kennedy Toole, Nathanael West, Emily Dickinson, and Van Gogh, who received so little public recognition during their lifetimes, and we think of the legion of other artists throughout time whose names and artworks were never known to others, even while they lived, and whose ultimate fate is so poignantly described by Thomas Grey in his poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Of course, not every quality artist can be (or even wants to be) rich and famous, but every quality artist is deserving of recognition for his or her artistry. And we think that all good artists crave this recognition—because without this acknowledgment of their artistry, even one appreciative set of eyes or ears, good artists might stop creating their art. They might think that their art is unworthy. And that would be a double tragedy. We, not just the artists, would suffer irreparable harm. Why? How? Let me answer these questions by telling you a story about Gertrude Stein, the writer.

Like so many great pioneers in the arts, Gertrude Stein, as an artist, was initially dismissed as unworthy. During her lifetime, her artistic aims were largely misunderstood. The general public did not understand the intent of her word art, just as many members of the general public did not (and still do not?) understand the intent of her friend Picasso’s artworks. When Ms. Stein was asked (sarcastically) for whom she wrote—because most of her works were rejected for publication and therefore unread—she replied: “I write for myself and strangers.” Having the great good luck to be more or less financially stable during her lifetime, Ms. Stein did not write with the single-minded purpose of becoming rich and famous at any cost, and for any reason, like so many of today’s celebrities, who seem, above all else (even more than their integrity?), to crave la dolce vita (designer duds and worldwide attention for their fleshly pulchritude and/or misdeeds?). No! Unlike today’s growing army of smooth faces with paper-white teeth who hawk overpriced “want” and not “need” merchandise in glossy, paparazzi-fueled magazines, and can be likened to spongy junk food in shiny wrappers (enough to put the mind into a carbohydrate-fueled coma), Ms. Stein created her art to…to create art. She created art for the sake of creating art, to make something meaningful…something sublime, something that could last longer than the envelope of flesh in which she came encased into this world: succor for future generations during this sometimes beautiful, sometimes bleak adventure that is called life, something that would tell others, long after she was gone, “I was here! You are not alone!” Ms. Stein understood the true importance of sharing her art, of having her voice heard by others, of having at least one sincerely appreciative reader (in addition to Ms. Alice B. Toklas): to be saved by being remembered, to leave her footprint in time that way, and in the process of being remembered, of being read…to save others. Whatever kind of serious, dedicated, quality artist you are, we want you to be heard; we want to give you a voice. We want you to be remembered…and in the remembering, to comfort, guide and inspire future generations as they live out their great adventure on this planet.

But there’s also a third reason—a crucial reason—why we promote quality art and artists in this publication. We, the editorial staff of West, are teachers, and we are aware, as Stephen Kreis writes in his wonderful online interpretation of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” that “education,” according to Socrates, “consists in directing students’ minds toward what is real and important and allowing them to apprehend it for themselves.” Therefore, we are (we need to be!) like the mother in Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, who encourages her young daughters to care more about the cultivation of their minds than the shape of their noses. And this idea that the mind is greater than the body is why we promote art, because art is purely a creature of the mind, no matter what external form it takes: words, paint, clay, paper, stone, steel, cloth. Art can make our students care more about the cultivation of their minds than their bodies: focus on the eternal internal, not the ephemeral external that will eventually fade, wilt, die, and disintegrate, become a part of the dust of this earth. Art can live forever.

Artists, submit your artworks to West; help us to realize our brobdingagian ambitions, and now and maybe even long after you have shuffled off this mortal coil, through the sharing of your artwork, to be like clear, cool water to travelers in a desert, the generations that have embarked and will embark on this sometimes beautiful, but sometimes bleak adventure that is called life.

I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. Everybody is a real one to me, everybody is like some one else too to me. No one of them that I know can want to know it and so I write for myself and strangers.

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans, 1925


Nuala Lincke-Ivic, Associate Professor
English Department, Language Arts Division
West Los Angeles College

Nuala Lincke-Ivic is an associate professor of English at West Los Angeles College, and she is also a poet and writer. She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at The University of West Florida and studied in Panama and Ireland. She is pleased to act as the Editor for West, where she can work with her colleagues to promote the varied artistic talents of students and others affiliated with LACCD. As a teacher, she believes that teachers have to love their students as Socrates loved his student Phaedrus: “We have to listen first, seek to protect always, and keep this crucial fact always in the forefront of our minds: We’re not teaching; we’re guiding—pointing students in the right direction, and then standing back, and getting out of their way. Students teach themselves.”