Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fall Teaching

I learned last week that I will be teaching an Introduction to Literature course, which fulfills the 200-level literature core requirement (our students must take both a 200 and 300 level literature course).

After a week of thought, I settled on the following texts:

-Beowulf (Liuzza's translation)
-Early in Orcadia by Naomi Michison
-Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
-Dover collections of poetry Lord Byron, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Butler Yeats
-A Midsummer Night's Dream
-"Farmer Giles of Ham" and maybe "Leaf by Niggle" by J.R.R. Tolkien

We'll also use Rob Pope's The English Studies Book which I used with much success last time I taught this course. The book's sophisticated enough to be of use to new graduate students while also being practical and accessible enough for a lower-division course made up of non-majors.

The course is going to be loosely based on the idea of stories, myths, and legends, why we tell stories, and the social role of story-telling and narrative, drawing from John Niles' Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature, though, of course, we'll be considering much more than oral narrative or even orally derived works.

We'll probably begin with Pratchett's Hogfather which is all about the power and function of story. It begins:

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. The wonder aloud how the snowplow driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spellings of the words. Yet there is the constant desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, raveling nets of space-time on which a metaphorical finger can be put to indicate that here, here, is the point where it all began...

Something began when the Guild of Assassins enrolled Mister Teatime, who saw things differently from other people, and one of the ways that he saw things differently from other people was in seeing other people as things (later, Lord Downey of the Guild said, "We took pity upon him because he'd lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit about that").

But it was much earlier even that that when most people forget that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving*), and then wondered where the stories went.

And earlier still when something in the darkness of the deepest caves and gloomiest forests thought: what are they, these creatures? I will observe them...

*That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids.

And we'll use The English Studies Book to do a lot of working with texts both in and out of class. One of my favorite Intro to Lit assignments is a collaboratively annotated and explicated text. I have the class break up into groups of 4 or 5 and have them create a student edition of a poem or other text.

Since we work extensively with the The English Studies Book, I expect not only explanatory notes but a series of critical readings drawing from both the "Theoretical Positions and Practical Approaches" (practical and new criticism; formalism and functionalism; psychoanalytic; Marxism, cultural material, and new historicism; feminism, gender, and sexuality; poststructuralism and postmodernism; postcolonialism and multiculturalism, and what Pope calls the "new eclecticism" which also incorporates ethics, ecology, and the like) and "Common Topics" (which include such issues as "Absence and presence, gaps and silences, centres and margins," "Bibles, holy books and myths," "Discourse and discourse analysis," "Drama and theatre, film and TV," "Poetry and word play," and "Text, context, and intertextuallity" to name a few).

Of course the theoretical positions and practical approaches draw from and rely upon many of the "common topics," but the common topics also include such issues as "character and characterization," "versification," "addresser, address, and addressee," "genre and kinds of texts," and "narrative in story and history: novel, news, and film" which transcend any particular methodology. Our Information Technology Services has set up PmWiki for us to use with classes and I'm planning on using the wiki for this project.


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