Thursday, November 15, 2007

I'll put $20 on Derrida for a fourth-round knockout ...

One of the things I've been doing this term is schilling for my second-semester special topics course. Given that our department doesn't currently have a course in literary theory prior to fourth year -- and even then, it's only the students taking the honours degree who have to take it -- a few of us made the case last year for an intro course at the second-year that would be mandatory for English students. So as a trial run, next semester I'm offering a second year special-topics course on the subject.

The trouble is, getting most students to study literary criticism (like poetry) is a little like getting them to eat their vegetables. It helps if that's the only thing on their plate. Or if it's mandatory. Or followed up with dessert. And given that if should I get less than a certain number of students in the class it will be cancelled, a fairly aggressive marketing campaign was called for.

So I went to classes pitching my course, telling them why it would be beneficial. Also (this is the "dessert" part of the vegetable pitch, if you like) that we would be only doing one book in conjunction with the various essays, which would be used sort of as a "control"--a single work that we'd workshop in class in by way of the different critical schools under consideration. The book? Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

So in addition to my traveling salesman schtick, I've also been putting up posters of this kind around the building:

I have a whole series of them: Harry vs Lacan, Harry vs Roland Barthes, Harry vs Aristotle; at the prompting of one of our profs who wished for some feminist content, Hermione vs Helene Cixous and Hermione vs Virginia Woolf; also, given recent "revelations," Dumbledore vs Freud; and just to round things out (and at Loman's suggestion), Draco Malfoy vs. Karl Marx.

The things I do for the sake of pedagogy, I tells ya.

I was actually pleased with my campaign. There's now a buzz about the course, and if as one anonymous commentator suggested, the posters are "gimmicky" (this was scrawled atop one of the posters on a colleague's door) ... well, meh. I wasn't about to get bums in the seats with the ever-so-sexy course title "An Introduction to Literary Theory and Criticism."

Also, there's a method to my madness: I want in this course to approach a text that students will likely (a) be very familiar with, even if they haven't previously read it, and (b) if they have read it, probably have not done so with a critical eye. And out of all the Harry Potter novels, Azkaban has the most interesting stuff happening in it while still being mercifully short.

I sent the Harry Potter vs Aristotle to a friend in philosophy, thinking he would get a kick out of it, and he promptly sent me back a revised version that was utterly hilarious. I was going to post it too, but then thought better, considering it has adult content and the friend in question is currently going on the job market (plus, I am untenured). Suffice it to say: Harry Potter vs Plato. With an, um, interesting photo of Daniel Radcliffe from his appearance in the play Equus. 'Nuff said? Heh.


Anonymous said...

I was won over by your spiel in one of my classes, and the posters were just icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, meeting a certain foreign language requirement (Read: ACK!) on Thursday mornings will prevent me from taking the class this winter.
Good luck with the course, I think your marketing scheme worked like a charm.

bullfighter6.2 said...

Ahh...Gone are the days when the joy of literary theory stood on its own, and people took the course because entire worlds of new thought would be opened up to them.

Well into my M.A. now, I see the Eng200 course I took during undergrad was invaluable.

Hope you're throwing some Freud, Marx and Lacan in there ;)

airfair crew said...

Yahoo! He's back!!!!!!

Invisible Shield said...

yeah— that course should be mandatory! I'm pretty sure I didn't really get most of my literature courses before I took lit. theory! the sooner the better. . . well, after first year, anyway.

Chris in NF said...

Actually Bullfighter, I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how *little* pitching I had to do ... a large number of the students I spoke to were aware on some level of the need for a class like this, and a lot were quite excited at the prospect of taking a theory course (one actually said, in reponse to my characterization of the topic as "unsexy," "Well ... *I* think theory is sexy!")

Anonymous said...

"in class in by way of the different critical"

This should actually be written without the word 'in' preceding 'by way'.

"Suffice it to say"

This should NOT have 'it' written after 'suffice' Suffice to say should suffice.

Those who 'can', 'do' and those who 'can't', teach.

Chris in NF said...

And those who don't have the courage to sign their name to snarky criticisms leave anonymous comments.

I'm just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

My alleged lack of courage is balanced by what I posess in basic english language skills, much to the chagrin of one held to a higher standard. Is editing so much to ask of an english literature professor?

I'm just sayin' EH?

Chris in NF said...

Tell you what: if you comb the two years worth of blog entries I have, I'm sure you can find a multitude of typos and errors I've missed. Come to think of it, you could also find a number of them in my dissertation, and that's after it was read and reread by my adviser, second reader and the four members of my examination committee. Would you like to send them snarky notes as well? After all, they're also held to a higher standard.

But seriously, if finding finicky errors in an informal forum makes you feel better about yourself ... well, actually that's kind of pathetic. But knock yourself out. I'm happy to own my mistakes, given that I sign my name to what I write.

Invisible Shield said...

I don't know who reads a blog to inspect punctuation, professor or not.

I might take the time to correct your own punctuation usage, anon, should I care enough to do so.

But, suffice to say, you're missing a period, you have improperly capitalized a word, and you seem confused on the correct usage of the single quotation mark. (This is a North American blog, after all.)

I don't pretend to be perfect (that requires editing), but I don't cast stones either.

I'm just sayin', yo!