Early this morning I read Michael Finkel’s recent GQ article, “Here Be Monsters,” about three Tokelauan teens who survived fifty-one days adrift at sea. It proved an uncanny read on the Kindle, considering I pushed it there mostly to try out Readability’s new “Send to Kindle” option, and I have also been slow-slow-Kindle-reading Arum and Roksa’s report on the failures of colleges, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Some sort of reading device-based juxtaposition in this, I guess.
The fruits of this pollenation, if they can be called fruits and not flotsam, include a hypothetical reading list for a course I will probably never teach on different types of drifting (dreaming it up, so let’s consider it a course on curriculum).
From “Here Be Monsters,”
Some-times boats are blown off course; there’s even a Tokelauan word for this: lelea. It’s theorized that the very existence of people on the island–is has been inhabited for a thousand years–is because a Polynesian canoe drifted off course. But there is also another, more complicated Tokelauan word: tagavaka. This applies to boats that have purposely sailed away–for love, adventure, or suicide.
What, for example, comes of viewing academic drift in terms of lelea and tagavaka? And what of the here/there reference to monsters (in the article’s title) might productively refocus academy drift characterizations on drifting from and drifting toward?
And we would need additional readings in this speculative scenario: Singer’s “The Castaways,” Menand’s “Live and Learn” (an ENGL328 student just shared this one with me), Haynes’ inestimable “Writing Offshore,” and, why not?, something on The Essex. And, it’s undeniable, I wrote an entry a lot like this one just about four years ago. I have continued in the intervening years to drift away from and, having surrendered to currents, back toward ideas like these–ideas rekindled, of course, by my dissatisfaction with academic drift-states cast too singularly as a problem to be buoyed simply by resetting drifters on a fixed, positionally precise course.
The “Here Be Monsters” article includes a nod to assessment from a New Zealand psychiatrist who examined the boys: “‘They won’t ever forget this,’ he says. ‘It won’t be put out of their minds. But young people tend to be resilient, able to work through tragedies with reasonably good long-term results.'”