Sunday, November 22, 2015

my iTunes U

I've been walking a great deal, in part for my health, over the past 6 months. I like to look around, pay attention to my surroundings. But I'm of a bent that I feel occasionally guilty for not spending the time reading, or writing, or doing something (alas) productive.

Over the course of the semester I've taken to listening to podcasts on my phone, mostly by way of the iTunes U application. I can without reservation, indeed enthusiastically, recommend John Rogers's series of 20-odd Milton lectures from Yale. They are wonderful. He's talking to an undergraduate Milton course, twice a week (the third meeting is apparently discussion sections) for about 50 minutes a shot. The lectures are beautifully paced, well-written, and delivered with a delightful sense of off-the-cuffness.

More recently I've begun listening thro Susanna Braund's Stanford series on Virgil's Aeneid. Not so happy an experience. This is not an undergraduate course but an "adult learning" class of some 30 students, meeting four times for 2 hours a session. Braund's got a wonderful English accent which I could listen to all day—but she's clearly much less prepared than Rogers: she's working from outlines rather than composed lectures, and sometimes fumbles her way thru things she knows well. She does a decent job of fielding questions from the class—sometimes off the wall, often very sharp indeed—but she's all too likely to get diverted from her main point by answering an ancillary query.

Most irritating of all is her round-up of available translations. Day Lewis she dislikes—too "monumental." Mandelbaum is okay. Fagles she's not so keen on. Lombardo she owns but hasn't yet assessed. She is of course teaching from Fitzgerald (and one gets the sense that she's doing so more out of inertia than anything else). But her primary criterion for picking a translation, in the end, seems to be that it stay close to the Latin in line-count, so that students reading criticism that cites the Latin line numbers don't have too much trouble finding passages in the English.

I know it's more complicated than that—but that's the impression she gives to her adult learners. In the end, alas, I feel all too often than Braund's talking down to her not-quite-up-to-Stanford-standards students. Which isn't the way I'd go about doing an adult learning course.