Tuesday, August 23, 2005

New Broom Sweeps Clean

The wisdom of my mother is rarely expressed in aphorism. Oh, she has lots of aphorisms, but so far I haven't found them very wise. Her wisdom is best expressed in certain non-verbal habits.

I have found one of her aphorisms very useful in life: "A new broom sweeps clean." Every time a new foster child came to live with us, after a few weeks people would ask how the child was adapting, and my mother would usually reply, "You know ... new broom sweeps clean."

Yesterday began the new semester. My first class, 8AM, was my upper-division Studies in Medieval Literature: Love, Sex, and Marriage in Medieval Literature. When I arrived, the class seemed tired, and slightly bored to have to go through all the first-day housekeeping chores (like discussion of the syllabus).

Given the topic, I'm trying to keep the tone rather light, so that no one feels threatened by the sex stuff (which is rather tame anyway, for the most part). My strategy is to employ little risque jokes throughout the lectures, ribald but not raunchy. In that way, I'm hoping to keep the focus on the literature, and off of the individual students' anxieties.

When I began discussing "the problem of love," however, the room got very quiet. Several students leaned forward in their desks. In earlier posts (here and here), I've discussed the lack of good theoretical thought on romantic love. I realized yesterday that the lack may be felt even more than I had originally thought. These students seemed genuinely interested in giving deep and prolonged thought to the problem of love in literature.

Of course, all that is on the first day of class. We'll see if they are able to persevere through the semester, or if they are merely new brooms sweeping clean.


  1. Especially at 8 in the morning ;)

    Still, of the topics that might get some attention, this one may rate.

    And, there's always the possible of discussion love, sex and Cylons!

  2. Unfortunately, the BSG is classical, not medieval. Now, Babylon 5 I could have done!

  3. What? You always stay in topic in class?

    Hmm, I might want to try that...

  4. My wife, a dear friend, and I were recently discussing Arthurian movies with the conversation following a similar path.

    Our friend was surprised at the filmic representation of the Lancelot/Guinevere relationship. Her question, essentially, was "why would Guinevere even be interested in Lancelot when her husband is already both handsome and noble."

    Her examples included the disappointing First Knight (Connery vs. Gere) and Boorman's Excalibur (where they were genuinely in love at the beginning). My wife pointed out how it might be best, given the fragile and potentially gossip causing nature of "courtly love", to have the accusation of impropriety be a lie.

  5. Anonymous2:12 PM

    Dr. Nokes, we are having a discussion about "a new broom sweeps clean" and can't come to agreement on meaning. Your use here agrees with my definition. Where did you learn of this idiom?

  6. Genetically. My mother uses it all the time. Her use for the idiom means something like "A new broom will always sweep well, so you have to wait until it gets older to see if it is still a good broom."