Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Ideal Introductory Literature Course

Today in my Literature Humanities class, we were a bit reflective, reflecting over the year and critiquing our syllabus from the year. There was much catharsis, I think, in this discussion. There were several issues raised, but the root of much frustration with the syllabus is that there are simply too many works on it (other issues are that it is too western-focused, too androcentric, too historicist--the last refers to the structure or sequencing). And so this evening, I have begun to reflect what my ideal introductory literature course would be like. What if we started from scratch?

I decided that my ideal course would be one in which we would read a single work for the entire semester in great detail intertwining our close readings with the various approaches that have been taken in studying literature (formal, Marxist, feminist, Freudian/Lacanian, historicist, new historicist, etc.), skills, theoretical approaches, and methods of reading and writing that would then be transferable to other works. In fact, everyone would write papers using these skills, methods, theoretical positions on other works and presenting them to the class (that is where the diversity of literature would come in). That one work could be most anything....almost. Many may not be complex enough to sustain a semester's reading and the various approaches of reading. And this is where my curiosity set in. I have asked my class the following question and asked them to think on it a bit: if you had to choose any work of literature in the world (whether it was on Columbia's Lit Hum syllabus or not) to read for an entire semester, what would it be? And why?

OR: If you simply object to this ideal course, what would your ideal course be?

4 comments:

Patrick George McCullough said...

"I decided that my ideal course would be one in which we would read a single work for the entire semester in great detail intertwining our close readings with the various approaches that have been taken in studying literature (formal, Marxist, feminist, Freudian/Lacanian, historicist, new historicist, etc.), skills, theoretical approaches, and methods of reading and writing that would then be transferable to other works."

It strikes me that this is precisely the approach that I had in an undergrad course on biblical interpretation, except for the bit about it being "transferable to other works." The Bible was the "single work" (though you can't call it a "single work" in actual fact) with which we used these various approaches.

I wonder, if you do this approach, would you have to select a very large work, or a corpus of works (like the Bible or Shakespeare)? Seems like it would be difficult to analyze the same literary passage via all those different methods.

I think I would select the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas if I could personally spend a whole quarter on different perspectives/approaches to it. Or how about something from Dickens? That might be fun.

Jared said...

Thanks for your comments, Patrick. No, I do not consider the Bible a single work. But I could easily spend an entire semester on a single book: Job, Genesis, John, etc.

In my class, we spent two hours on Gen. 1--so even if I chose one work by Shakespeare, etc., you wouldn't have to worry about repeating the same passage necessarily throughout the semester to discuss different approaches--different approaches may be best illustrated with different aspects of the work. In fact, that could be part of the point--that different theoretical models illuminate certain aspects of works, while obscuring others.

Perpetua would be fantastic.

What by Dickens? Any particular favorite?

Patrick George McCullough said...

Well, you could do one of the high school English classics (Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities, etc.). A Christmas Carol might be neat. Personally, I like Hard Times for a good robust conversation.

Jared said...

Haven't read it, but I particularly appreciate robustness.