A Response to David Gilmour
Guest Post By Liam Comerford
I have, for quite some time, promised an article for Softcover. Over the summer, there seemed to be no end to the topics that either intrigued me or frustrated me to begin creating a thorough and thoughtful response. Whether it was the admittance of Justin Trudeau that he smokes pot and a comment from a musician I look up to that the policy of abstinence from drugs like marijuana or alcohol is downright conservative, or my reading multiple stories and novels set around quirky non-fiction topics that would seem silly for a writer. And yet those provided me with the most rewarding and interesting reads of the summer.
But none seemed to push me past a couple of points that ran through my head. And admittedly I also lacked the motivation it takes me to write a piece of this nature. Recently though, there has been a good deal of debate about comments made by David Gilmour in his interview with the website/journal Hazlitt. Gilmour is quoted as saying to the interviewer that the literature he wants to teach “is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
Not surprisingly, there has already been a line drawn about whether he as an educator and lecturer should hold a more open and less ‘misogynistic’ view of literature. Over the last two days, the Globe and Mail has been posting editorials from former University of Toronto students and current ones about their views on the subject. Most recently is the response of a student, described as a feminist, who had actually been taught by Gilmour and enjoyed his class. In fact, she saw no issue in how he has set up his 300-level course, even describing it perfectly (I feel) as “David Gilmour’s Bookshelf”. But her response is not the trigger for my writing, though I do side with her values and stance on the issue.
The whole reason I decided to write this response stems from my point of view on education and educators. I read both the editorial from a former English student who felt that Gilmour was doing a disservice to his students by being so narrow minded in his course readings (not untrue), and a response by Gilmour himself to the Globe. Yes, the student made some strong points for the inclusion of a wide variety of literature and authors in literature studies, and I don’t disagree.
But he pointed out a rather large issue that arises when there is such diversity in literature courses; that is the issue of interest and desire to learn and teach a novel that really doesn't connect with either the professor or the student. Gilmour makes the point that he teaches literature that he relates to and that, to many persons displeasure, is the literature of white, middle-aged men. And Virginia Woolf. But she’s an outlier in all this.
Gilmour, by teaching only what he relates to and is interested in, is able to really present to his students an in-depth and invested look at interesting and varied literature. It just doesn't consist of women or not-white authors. In his response with the Globe, Gilmour makes clear that he respects and revels in the work of writers like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. He just doesn’t relate to them. The man’s not a misogynist; he just doesn't feel he can relate to authors of different races, or women, which would not allow for the most interesting lecture a la Gilmour. And this approach to teaching is one that I can sympathize with. I study music education at Western; I am training to join a field of specialists in my area of study, not unlike Mr. Gilmour. Specialists are a desired type of teacher because they have such a skill set and interest in their particular topic. So why then, at an institute where our young-adult minds are meant to be challenged and stretched to form our own opinions, are we going after a specialist in white, middle-aged male literature who had his words taken out of context in one interview? But I digress.
I have never taken a class from Gilmour. I go to a completely different school, I’m not an English major, and I am writing a purely opinionated piece in response to all that has been put out there so far. But as that former student of Gilmour’s pointed out, I’m writing based on my opinion and my gut feeling, and so I am not wrong. And in that respect, I have a great deal of respect for both sides of the argument. Each is writing form their gut feeling on what has been said. In that respect, neither side is wrong. I can see the value to both arguments. If you have time, read the articles of both sides, which are easily found by typing in ‘David Gilmour’ on the Globe and Mail website. It’s a chance for you to do that mind stretching and opinion forming that we pay the big bucks for.
To sum it up, I have a great deal of respect for the educational approach that Mr. Gilmour is taking with this special elective. The philosophy of education is such a topic of discussion in my program; I couldn't help but see the approach Mr. Gilmour has taken and look at it from my philosophy on education. Gilmour is teaching his specialty. Whether you see it that way is completely your own opinion, the same as whether you see him in the right or wrong. Myself, I don’t see Gilmour in the wrong for his opinions, or method. If you want a variety of authors, it may just be that you will never choose his course. And that’s totally up to you.