le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

syllabus decision-making

I finally got my spring teaching assignment confirmed, a couple of weeks ago (right before thanksgiving, I think). Two sections of Introduction to Literature, each a long night class that meets once a week. This is a gift of a schedule, and I need to work it hard and rip through my dissertation. Truly.

I've learned lessons from my efforts at teaching Intro to Lit this fall. I think I approached it from a far too meta-level for the kind of students I had (mostly hard science majors, non-readers, skeptics of literary criticism). This spring, we're just going to read a whole slew of books.
Because the class only meets once a week, I have to make my choices even more carefully than usual. The once-a-week class can go fantastically well (cf fall 2009, fall 2008) or a bit draggy (cf fall 2007).

I'd been kicking around the "travel/geography" idea for awhile, and finally mentioned it to friends on facebook, who roundly approved the idea. I'm hoping this theme will help me articulate and develop some of my geography/place ideas for the dissertation, but more than that, it's a theme that allows me to include a very broad swath of texts, including some I adore.

Books I am determined to teach:

Gulliver's Travels - at least parts 1 & 4 (Lilliput and the land of the Yahoos)
Around the World in 80 Days, which I am currently reading for the first time (and giggling periodically, because I keep being reminded that my initial introduction to the text was as a very small child watching Muppet Babies, when Phileas Frogg - aka Kermit - was making a similar trip)

Neverwhere (Gaiman)
Un Lun Dun - because I want to teach China Mieville whenever I can

Mopsa the Fairy (Ingelow)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland...

On the Road (Kerouac! My old beloved Kerouac! I never thought I'd be teaching a Kerouac novel. Ever)

Then we reach the tentatives:
The Tempest (I really should include a play)
A Moveable Feast (not sure I can do it justice, to be frank)

some kind of science fiction - maybe a handful of short stories? - I'd like to include space travel. Bradbury's "Mars is Heaven!" could be interesting (and terrifying). I just got, from the library, Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, which may end up useful. I haven't started it yet; I'm working on Around the World, which is such an odd little book. It also satisfies by desire to have something that at least briefly mentions colonialist enterprises, and since there are some significant passages in both British India and non-British-controlled India, it'll work.

some kind of excerpt from Bachelard's Poetics of Space

I ought to include some poetry, but I feel so off my game when it comes to poetry. I can't think of much poetry that works with my theme, either - Eliot's Wasteland, but I KNOW I can't teach that. 

I have to remind myself not to add too much children's/YA lit, though of course that's where I'm most at home. One of the unfortunate aspects of teaching is that I'm always fighting the last war; I adapt my upcoming class based on the class I had most recently. This occasionally produces very good results, or at least interesting ones, but sometimes it backfires completely. Still, I am going forward with the assumption that my students will be skeptical of the literary merits of any book(s) written for younger readers, so I'm trying to keep a good balance.
I also need to not include Diana Wynne Jones on my syllabus, though I always want to. I've had far too many failures teaching her books (Howl's Moving Castle excepted - that almost always gets good reception), and I just can't take it anymore.  A particularly nasty student comment (on course evaluations) about Jones very nearly made me cry, and I am not going to be the one to cast pearls before swine. At least not until I recover from the experience of trying to teach The Merlin Conspiracy.
[note: I am reasonably thick-skinned about my evals. I can't please everyone, and so naturally I will have some less-than-stellar comments. I don't take it especially personally. I have never been really upset by anything in my evaluations until I read the student remark about Jones. THAT was the single most upsetting thing that has ever been written in my evaluations.]

I can't quite get excited about the new semester until I've finished the old one, and that won't happen for another week or so. Grades are due on 20 December, so until then I'll be reading drafts, answering questions from students, calculating percentages, and reading finals.

Then I can start being excited about travel/geography books.


Jude said...

I recommend something by Ursula LeGuin--perhaps The Dispossessed. But travel and geography are common themes in science fiction.

Library Diva said...

What did the delightful student say about Diana Wynne-Jones?