Monday, January 9, 2012

CFP: Victorian Transnationalism

This is exciting. VISAWUS is doing a conference theme of Victorian Transnationalism this fall at SUNY Plattsburgh. What the advertisement on The Hoarding does not reveal is that Amanda Claybaugh, Professor of English at Harvard University, is to be the keynote speaker! (I confess that it was I who suggested to the Board when we met last fall that we invite Dr. Claybaugh. I really enjoyed her monograph The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World. My only complaint is that her scope was limited to literary/reformist relations between Britain and America. I think some targets of social reform, such as marriage, were global concerns, not just shared across the Atlantic, and some day I will substantiate this claim with a shiny new book publication.)

*edit: I just found my very long review of The Novel of Purpose on I'd forgotten I'd done that. How silly. I wonder if anyone has ever read it all the way through?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fall Quarter 2010 Recap

In the Fall, I took a few risks with my course design. I think I was reacting to the fact that for the past two years I've been teaching writing courses that were linked to large lecture courses. I had no control over the materials that my students were encountering in their lecture courses; my role was to teach context-specific writing. Although that is also a pleasant and rewarding gig, I was itching to develop my own course again, so when the English Department at local R1 University hired me to teach both an Introductory and an Intermediate writing course, I went to town.

For the Introductory course, I had students analyze Matthew Arnold's essay "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time." I asked them to assess whether Arnold's standards for cultural critique still apply to cultural production today. Then I assigned them George Eliot's essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists." Students wrote rhetorical analyses to evaluate the success of Eliot's arguments. Collectively, student papers articulated the continuing relevancy of Victorian prose and ideas. Memorably, one student compared silly lady novelists to the women on Jersey Shore (as in, hopefully they are not representative of women's intellectual capacities today). Another student argued that Arnold's conceptualization of the elitist role of the cultural critic is no longer relevant in this world of mass/rapid digital communications when everyone is a cultural critic via Facebook and Twitter updates and artistic production itself seems wildly accessible.

I entitled the Intermediate writing course "WTF?" ("Why The Fangs" hee hee) The main line of inquiry for the course was, why have vampire tales enjoyed such sustained popularity? We read Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819); Le Fanu's "Carmilla" (1872); Braddon's "Good Lady Ducayne" (1896); and Stoker's Dracula (1897). We watched Coppola's silly cinematic adaptation Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and various episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Limiting myself to these texts was difficult: I wished there was time for some of Meyer's bestselling Twilight books (or the blockbuster films), episodes of True Blood, and that amazing Swedish film from 2010 Let the Right One In (which I have already lovingly reviewed here). I think the most useful thing this course offered students was an intentional variety of writing assignments beginning with short analytical response papers—my opportunity to introduce them to some conventions of academic analysis including claim-evidence patterns and focused, coherent paragraphing. These were followed by a persuasive paper assignment that required students to read and summarize a challenging theoretical article about Dracula ("Textula" by Robert Ready) and then respond to it with an original thesis and bodies of evidence. Following this standard academic discursive practice, we dramatically shifted our approach to the course materials. The second half of the term was devoted to helping students develop and refine their writing voice. Students read what I thought were well-composed film reviews (from the New Yorker, NYT, and The Guardian) as representatives of the genre. We studied these for both their structural and stylistic lessons. (Basically I told students, "Given these examples, what seem to be the conventions of the film review genre?") Having deconstructed the examples, students then wrote film reviews of Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula. These were such fun to read! Lastly, I asked students to write expository essays engaging the central question of the course, Why the Fangs Still? I had them read Joan Acocella's New Yorker essay, and an article by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan in the NYT for sample archives and arguments. Students produced really thoughtful, risk-taking responses to this assignment, again.

I'm not sure how many regular readers of this blog are still with me, since this post lacks baby pictures! I would like to begin using this blog to create some kind of reflective record of my recent courses. This term I teach an Introduction to Reading Literature course that I've titled "Gender and Race in the Literature of the British Empire." First up: Flora Annie Steel’s historical novel On the Face of the Waters.