Saturday, May 19, 2012

As Seen on the Spring 2011 Introduction to Literature Course Syllabus

Although I personally believe this course theme to have failed overall, I still fantasize about a section of students that would take to it like ducks to water rather than cats...

Course Overview:

The “Element of Otherness,” which is the theme of this course, focuses on texts that contain the weird, the supernatural, and the fantastic. However, rather than condemning these texts as escapist literature, this course will examine how this kind of fictional literature can help us to make sense of reality. Critic Thomas Howard writes that “there is a story afoot in all worlds, and that to ‘escape’ from the silence of our own world into the clarity and luminescence of another may be to find ourselves suddenly face to face with our own story, only in a clearer light and with starker colors.” Therefore, rather than only escape, the stranger forms of literature might actually be a condensed thrust into reality.

Mostly, I enjoy this quotation from Howard and believe it made a great access point for students into this type of literature. It creates a way to relate the "Other" of literature to real life and humanity, even though many of my students never chose to entertain this interpretation. Perhaps this impasse was due to the fact that they found Mary Shelley's Frankenstein "difficult" and "boring," Marlowe's Doctor Faustus to be written in "Old English," and the selection of short stories and poems to all be "depressing" and "tragic." Although I was self-satisfied with this original reading list, I'd be open to trying this theme again with other selections (should I have the freedom of choice) to see if it could still be a successful one. (Along with that, I might also make sure I don't have an 8:00 AM section, first!) 

With non-majors and non-specialists, I have found (mostly) contemporary world literature to work much better, but that discussion is for another post. Yet, something of this sort might still work wonders with this theme in particularly antagonistic sections. Dealing with more popular, or at least recent, fantasy and science fiction works could generate ample discussion (although I can also see it promoting off-topic and unproductive arguments) while still moving towards the goals of the course theme. It may be less challenging in terms of reading, but my hope is then that the work done on these literary choices could be much more substantial and "difficult" (or rather, complex) in argument. Therefore, the purpose of these kinds of courses, getting at the why this all matters, could be moved closer to the forefront rather than being buried underneath student frustration.

(And this is all, of course, only a possibility if I have the opportunity to teach literature at the college level again.... *sigh*....someday....)

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