Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fall classes

Given that I had to order all my books for the fall term this week, I took this opportunity to rough out a thumbnail sketch of my course schedules. Or two out of three of them, anyway.

Fall term will be busy, given that the course remission I receive as new faculty expires this year and I go on to the standard 3/2 load -- i.e. five courses over the year, which unless you want to teach in the summer (I don't, yet) tends to translate into three classes one semester, two the next. And after two years of not teaching the same course twice, I finally reuse some lecture notes! I'm slotted in the Fall to teach 2000 (British Literature to 1800) and 2213 (Twentieth-Century American Fiction, both of which I've taught before ... and in the case of the latter, I'm forcing myself to make minimal changes. My inclination is to completely reinvent what I did this year, which is easy enough -- six novels over twelve to thirteen weeks of a semester doesn't exactly represent a significant chunk of the last hundred years of American fiction, and I could teach this course a hundred times over and never teach the same novel twice. And given my love of building new courses from the ground up, it's a struggle not to throw six entirely new texts on the sylabus. As I'll likely be teaching this course, or variations on it, a lot from now to my retirement, I've set myself a rule for the first few years: only two substitutions allowed each time I teach it, until I have compiled a pretty hefty library of lecture notes. My reading list this past year was:

Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine.
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon.
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.

So out of that I'm dropping Ellison and Hemingway, and inserting James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.

I've made even fewer changes to 2000, and those mostly in the form of cutting and streamlining. When I taught it for the first time last year, I tried to do too much. Now I'm breaking it down into seven units: Prosody (the sonnet), Medieval (Sir Gawain), Early Elizabethan (Marlowe, Dr. Faustus), Shakespeare (Othello), Metaphysical Poetry (Donne), John Milton (selections of Paradise Lost -- would that I had time to do it all!), and 18th Century (Pope, "The Rape of the Lock"). This is likely to be the general shape of the course for me from here on in ... about the only thing I'll be switching up next time will be the representative Shakespeare (last year it was Henry V, and next year? I'm thinking either Richard III or Julius Caesar).

I knew I was getting kind of tired and punchy yesterday afternoon when I started giving each of the units "funny" titles that I think were channeled directly from my father's sense of humour -- the nadir being "Moor Jealousy with Othello!"

Shut up.

And finally, I'm doing our grad students' mandatory theory course, which I'm very excited about. Whoever teaches it tends to make it over in his or her image, focusing on a specific theme that allows the students to really dig their teeth into a series of theoretical and critical issues. After some consideration, I've settled on "Theories of Mass Culture and the Role of the Intellectual" -- starting with Matthew Arnold, through Ortega y Gasset and T.S. Eliot, Adorno, Horkheimer, Raymond Williams and the Frankfurt-Birmingham debate, and ending with a consideration of theories of the role of the university, past and present.

Good times.

It just occurred to me that this post is really just me thinking out loud and probably isn't of interest to anyone outside of me or students thinking of taking my course. At least you got an Othello joke, though ...


Mandy said...

I'm vaguely sad that you're taking off the Hemingway, but since the Baker and the Wharton survive to the next round, I think my heart can keep beating...

Your concept for the theory class sounds great! Almost wish I were going to be around to audit! But I'll be busy in my other theory class back on your old stomping grounds ;)

Rebecca said...

I agree with Mandy! I really loved The Sun Also Rises.

If it was up to me (which it so is not), I would take off the Faulkner (I remember being the only one who had read it when we did group work), and replace it with... something cooler.

I'm clearly the best at giving advice.

Sheena said...

I'm one 4th level English course away from done (not including electives and my other major). Any recommendations?

Adam Riggio said...

I read through this post and remembered reading an article about a book the name of which I couldn't remember, but from the description of the plot, significance, and author, sounded absolutely amazing. The problem was trying to find it in the archives of a quite huge culture magazine when I couldn't remember the name of the book or who wrote it.

After twenty minutes of searching through several pages of archived column lists and nearly tearing out my hair, I found it.

It was called The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, and it's themes were very in keeping with the examination of the intellectual in society in that graduate course. I know it's Spanish-language literature, but it's still apparently awesome. Still looking for an English copy of my own, though.

Chris in NF said...

Mandy: Well, something had to go ... it will be a sad day when The Mezzanine gets rotated out, though. Hopefully I can replace it with something just as entertaining.

Rebecca: I think Faulkner (or a comparably difficult author) is one of those necessary rites of passage for English students. I wouldn't feel I was doing my job if I didn't make life at least a little difficult for you guys. And besides which, I think Faulkner's way cooler than Hemingway. You just need to give him a chance.

Sheena: I don't know what fourth-years are being offered by whom, but I'll keep my ear to the ground for you.

Adam: thanks for the suggestion. I'll see if I can track it down by summer's end ...

bullfighter6.2 said...

I think Faulkner is JUST as cool as Hemingway.

As I Lay Dying and Sun Also Rises are two of my top ten all time faves.

Once The Mezzanine goes, you could always substitute some Kerouac.

Good call on Lot 49!

Anonymous said...

Many students will have studied Othello in 1080.

queen B said...

I shed a tear for the loss of Ellison, especially since I just finished reading the recent biography by Arnold Rampersad. But keeping the Baker makes me smile.

You could also add a little James Baldwin. I'm just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Hi--I actually like posts like these, being an Eng. Lit. student at McGill...it's interesting to see how profs construct a syllabus, etc. It's nice to know the final selection is the product of quite a bit of work. It's funny how the course on theory is generally "taken up" by one professor--I know that at McGill, how Lit. Crit. (for the undergrads) is taught is often a bone of contention...

Emm said...

I just randomly stumbled upon your blog while searching the internet. It was very interesting to see that you are an English professor at Memorial.

I am going to be attending in the Fall and am taking English 2000. Strange coincidence!

Seeing as how you are also a Cohen fan, I will have to try to take your section! :)