Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mother Advises Son On How To Teach a Class

This just in from Mother:
Dear Beholdmyswarthyface,
So I heard you're going to be giving lectures. Great news. I wanted to send you a thought on how to teach literature at a college. I've been reading Delueze & Guatarri's Thousand Plateaus, which I highly recommend if you haven't read it already. Or at least read the translator's note and the introduction, "Rhizome." Aside from the philosophy, I'm also struck by how fun it is to read, and it's given me an idea for a way to teach literature.
The idea is to teach it backwards; in other words, begin with the references. I think a teacher should, more than anything, make it possible for the student to fully experience the work. This not only means they should understand the work but that they should experience the joy (jouissance?) that one feels when encountering art. In school, thought too often "gets combed out" (to borrow John Ashbery's phrase); in other words, I think teachers too often simply explain the work or show their enthusiasm and hope that it's contagious. Both of these are good, but they should also set up the curriculum so that the student can subjectively experience the text. I think there's something special about the first read. So you might want to start by studying/explaining the city, social structures, artifacts, allusions before ever mentioning the texts. Only after such preparation will the student be ready for enjoying/confronting the work. What do you think? -Mother
BMSF's response:
I totally agree. During my interview for the position, I proposed doing something similar. But they said that would take too much time, and that for an undergrad class I shouldn't worry too much about explaining social/historical/political contexts. "That will come later," they said. "What's important now is to get students responding 'in a personal way' with the texts." I think they might be right.
I haven't read Deleuze and Guatarri's book, but I have read the Routledge book on them, and there's a long section about their rhizome idea. From what I remember, an intriguing concept. I think Zizek attacks it somewhere, though.
And again from Mother:

I read your tentative syllabus: sounds interesting. I particularly like the theme of the interdependency between jitsu and sou.

Here are some of my feelings about the specifics. 20~30 min presentation in groups? While it sounds good, this could turn out to be a disaster: confused kids who may or may not have read the book trying to explain literary theory does not sound fun to listen to. If you insist on having them do presentations, I suggest you keep them brief and be very specific. Perhaps you could assign each person of the group a particular topic, like social structures / political context, etc. The group explanations should provide the context, while the in the class discussion students can try to analyze the ideas presented.

Being a survey course, I understand you have to cover a lot, but it would be nice if there were certain "landmark" texts to help the students navigate. Maybe you could assign 3~5 books that are covered in depth, to which other works can be quickly compared. This will also give you more time to spend on the books you actually know and have something to say about. (Actually I re-read your syllabus, and I see you have both primary and references texts, so OK.)

You may want to read Nabokov's account of when he started teaching. At the time he was still learning English, so he wrote out all his lectures word for word and simply read them in class. I don't recommend that for today's students, but you should prepare quite a bit to say for each of the works you'll cover. 

But I would say overall it looks very interesting and promising.

As for the lectures, just get up there and entertain them for an hour . Channel Grandpa Cigar. And of course, know your stuff inside and out.

As for Deleuze and Guatarri, their work is sort of beyond critique, partly because it stands in opposition to and tries to undermine what would normally be considered critical analysis, and also because it is borderline art.

To illustrate here's a small exerpt from Deleuze's small publication "Dialogues" :

"The art of constructing a problem in very important: you invent a problem, a problem-position, before finding a solution. None of this happens in an interview, a conversation, a discussion. Even reflection, whether it's alone or between two or more, is a not enough. Above all, not reflection. Objections are even worse. Every time someone puts an objection to me, I want to say: 'OK, OK, let's go on to something else.' Objections never contributed anything."
Having said that, I don't doubt that Zizek takes issue with him; while both parties are certainly revolutionary, Zizek is authoritarian and Delueze is the more laid-back child-of-1968 type, like me, your mother.

Best regards,


Ian Hogarth said...

"Child-of-1968"? Your mother was eleven when she had you?

Sally Suzuki said...

No, Ian. I think she means she that she came of age politically in or around 1968.

Ian Hogarth said...

If that were the case, wouldn't she be more Zizekian than Deluezian?

Yukolee Imper said...

パッションあふれてる、愛、哲学だ。- 実のところ私ちっとも分かってないんだけどね。パパ、読ませていただいてありがとう。

Anonymous said...

For Ian, do not put me in a little box and label it. I was 13 in 1968 and painfully aware of the world, wars and politics because of my Russian born grandmother and Canadian born mother.

Ryan's loving mother.

Anonymous said...

The pictures make Grandpa look crazier than he is, or maybe not crazy enough. Good grief. . . .mother

fumi said...

wow. is your mom a professor or something too?