Review of Week 1: January 11, 13 (by Dr. Seaman)
I’m offering the Weekly Review for Week 1, in part because there’s little to review and in part to offer a model for your future reviews. Bear in mind that those will have quite a bit more to cover, since the first half of the first week was introductory and committed to discussing course requirements rather than course content.
This week we got our grounding for the semester to come by, on day 1, going over the class policies and schedule and briefly getting to know one another, especially through the first blog posts. We talked about your different expectations of the course and in response to a couple of your questions I offered some initial introductions of the new English major curriculum and the aims and ideologies behind it. I tried to give some sense of the “pretend research paper” you’ll be working on through much of the semester. On the second day, we used Ann Dobie’s chapter on “Familiar Approaches” to reading and interpreting literature to begin our discussion of the ways we tend to read in literature classes, and to start discussing reasons for the popularity of such approaches. In class, our discussion was very fruitful, with students asking questions and raising issues that pointed toward much of the conversation we’ll be having in the first 3-4 weeks of class. You had much to say about the pros and cons, from our perspective, of a New Critical approach. I think we should do more with the genre-oriented approaches described by Dobie, which will come in the next couple of weeks. The first week made me very optimistic about where we will be able to go this semester, given the energetic and informed and critically thoughtful contributions made eagerly by much of the class.
[Here, in the future, you will include passages from the reading that we discuss in some depth in class, as well as any observations offered or questions posed by students that directed our discussion in productive and significant ways. Since I wasn’t able to be a successful secretary while running the class this first week, I can’t repeat them very well here.]
Social approaches (incl. historicism and biographical approaches)
Preview of next week:
On Tuesday, we will continue our discussion of ways of reading, in particular pursuing in more detail the “familiar approaches” we spent time with on Thursday. This we will do through a couple of chapters from Garrett-Petts’ book Writing About Literature: A Guide for the Student Critic to consider further the kinds of critical stances introduced last week. Here he engages with academic discourse and critical discourse, which will be constant concerns of ours throughout the semester. I’m curious to see what you think of his parlor conversation analogy. Toward the end of the Preface he says that “Put simply, knowledge is power. The more you know about the field’s issues, techniques, and motivations, the easier the subject is to learn. Knowing ‘about’ provides ‘know-how’” (16). What kind of knowledge is this? And what kind of learning? Throughout the preface and Chapter 1 Garrett-Petts offers tips of various sorts, clearly aimed at a student audience. What do you think these tips and strategies have as their main goal? What is she encouraging you to think about, and why?
On Tuesday we will also begin our shared investigation of a particular literary text, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. We will be reading the introductory material provided by our modern editor, Peter G. Beidler, but we will do this with the purpose not only of learning more about Chaucer and his texts but also with the aim of analyzing the ways such canonical texts from the distant past are made palatable to modern audiences. I’m starting us off with the “Introduction to the Text” portion of the editor’s introduction, very clearly aimed at undergraduate students but also invested in a particular approach to editing medieval texts. Consider, as you read, what Beidler thinks he needs to “justify” about his techniques and strategies in presenting the text (originally appearing in various posthumous manuscripts) to us.
Thursday is committed to looking at the history of the development of English as an academic discipline. This we will do through two chapters from Robert Eaglestone’s book Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students, in which he describes the development of modern English Studies. The canon is central to the development of the study of English literature in the modern academy, and he traces here how the canon came to be–and introduces the different difficulties caused by the canon. In “Where Did English Come From” he gives us a history not of the canon but of the discipline, which as he says “tells us not only about the subject, but also about the changing ways in which people see and have seen the world” (9). As you read, pay close attention to “The Leavis Method” and to the different questions Eaglestone poses. Also, consider what this history, as you see it, “tells” us. What can you conclude about the position of English today from the development traced here? Comparing his approach to that of Dobie from last week and Garrett-Petts from Tuesday wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.