You come very close to successfully combining argument and explication here…

I recently came across a box of old writing, including a binder where I had saved some undergraduate papers.   When returning a Beowulf paper for a Brit Lit survey, my instructor had stapled a page of hand-written notes that began, “You come very close to successfully combining argument and explication here, much closer than most papers in the class.”   What I’m asking my students to do is not…

Details from the author’s life are not the magic ticket to “correct” interpretations in literature class

Students who are new to college literature classes often value literary biography very highly, expecting that one of their tasks is to spot one-to-one relationships between the literary texts and the personal lives of the authors. For instance, from the two Sylvia Plath poems that use Nazi imagery to describe troubled relationships with paternal figures, they begin their literary interpretation with the assumption that Plath’s real-life father was an SS…

AmLit Rescue — Scratch Game

A student in my “American Literature: 1915-Present” class used the medium of a 2D graphic adventure game to deliver her multimodal final project. (Students also wrote a traditional term paper.) You are the cameraman of a new TV show based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” But things quickly go downhill when a mysterious criminal shows up and takes over the set. Unexpected faces and scenarios appear at…

How reading fiction can help improve our mental health

In general, I avoid clicking on any headline with the weasel words “can” or “might.” However, I did enjoy this reflection on the positive impact of literary reading. I’m teaching a compressed online literature course, so that involves re-reading the literary works I assigned, as well as engaging with what my students write about those works. I’m reading ahead to prep for my spring courses, but in addition to the…

Consciousness: Where Are Words?

Words, words, words. With the advent of the stream of consciousness in twentieth-century literature, it has come to seem that the self is very much a thing made of words, a verbal construction forever narrating itself and reconstituting itself in language. In line with the dominant, internalist view of consciousness, it is assumed that this all takes place in the brain—specifically, two parts known as Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area…

The Case Against Reading Everything

Right now, I’m teaching “American Lit 1915-Present” for the last time. It’s the companion course to “American Lit 1800-1915,” which I’ll also never teach again. They are required courses for English majors who need to cover American Lit, but they were also designed to serve as electives. My colleagues and I have trouble covering the depth that we know our English majors need, without overwhelming students who are just looking to sample a bit of AmLit to fulfill a course requirement. So we’ve revamped both these courses, starting next fall. One new course will be “American Lit 1776-Present,” which will obviously cover fewer works than we can fit into 2 terms, but the benefit is we can be confident that any student who’s taken the course will have a clearer understanding of the scope of American literature. Another new course will be “Topics in American Literature,” which will allow us to go into some depth, without needing to cover a little bit of everything. I’m thinking of picking the focus “Literature and Government,” which could include “Rip Van Winkle,” All the King’s Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Invisible Man (Ellison, not H.G. Wells) and Farhenheit 451.