This Week In My Classes: Where Did It Go?

It really does not feel as if it has been a whole week since my student’s thesis defense — where does the time go? This sense that the days are racing past is probably a function of how busy this time of term is: it’s one thing after another after another, and it will stay that way until exams. In some ways, this is how I like it (remember how mopish I get during the summer?). But it has been frustrating for me for the past couple of weeks that I haven’t been able to focus on much reading or writing outside of work. I did finish Crewe Train, and then this week I finished Wide Sargasso Sea–but I can’t seem to work up anything I want to say about it yet. My book group meets tomorrow to discuss it, so I’m going to reread some parts of it between now and then, and I’m sure the conversation with everyone else will get my reading brain working again…and then my blogging will perk up again too! Things have been so sluggish around here I thought I was going to have to do a meme of some kind just to pick up the pace–something like this one. Maybe I’ll do it anyway this weekend, just for fun. Nobody ever tags me for memes! Maybe I don’t seem like a meme-doing kind of blogger. At any rate, much as I’ve been enjoying all the book blogging goodness from all the folks on my Reader feed, I was starting to get depressed that I wasn’t adding anything to it.

Not that I’m not reading for class, of course. On Wednesday we started Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only in Mystery and Detective Fiction. I enjoy working through this book with the class, though I sometimes imagine (or am I imagining?) a faint simmering of resistance to its overt feminism. Every year there are a few students who remark that V.I. goes “too far” talking back to the men she finds belittling — they seem to think she doesn’t need to make such a big deal about it. I usually bring up the context of “tough talk,” which is a convention of hard-boiled detective fiction: in a way, she’s just carrying on that tradition, except her relationship to authority figures is affected by her sex in a way that Sam Spade’s isn’t. I also put the novel in a bit of historical context (it was first published in 1982). But in the end, I think we just have to deal with V.I.’s political assertiveness as part of her character and part of the agenda of the novel. Overall, I think the novel doesn’t so much preach a particular feminist agenda as it tries to model it. In case anyone’s interested, a couple of years ago I wrote at greater length about Paretsky at Open Letters.

In Introduction to Literature we’re in our short fiction unit. Today’s story was Alice Walker’s wonderful “Everyday Use.” They seemed pretty interested in it. For Monday, we’re reading Raymond Carver’s “A Small Good Thing,” which I love. I’m having them work on finding what we’re calling “exemplary passages” for discussion. I find it’s a good exercise because in order to decide on a passage that really repays close attention, they have to figure out what they think is really important to say about the story as a whole. Then they can take their ideas about its themes and problems and patterns and focus on how specific details of the language convey and illustrate those themes. Back and forth between general and particular: that’s the basic process of literary analysis, right? The other reason we’re taking this approach, though, is that in the era of control-C control-V plagiarism I really can’t risk assigning a straight “interpret this story” essay — there needs to be some kind of twist. Sadly, I’ve already sent my first plagiarism case of the term on to the appropriate authorities.

In the Somerville Seminar, they have been working on their collaborative wikis and independent reading projects this week. I see a lot of material starting to go up on the wiki site, which is reassuring! And the first student Pecha Kuchas are Monday. I’m looking forward to them. I’m trying to plan ahead to make the technological side of it as simple as possible because we need to fit five into each class session. If things go smoothly, that should leave us about 15 minutes for some Q&A after each round. I hope they have some fun putting them together. I know some of them are chafing at the restrictions of the format, but the more I’ve conferred with people about them, the more pleased I am that they are having to think about the slides less as a projected version of what they are going to say themselves and more as a different dimension of the story they want to tell.

In between classes I’m marking midterms for the mystery class. I’m also preparing a short talk I’m giving for the Dalhousie Theater Department to introduce their production of Helen Edmundson’s The Mill on the Floss. Can you imagine a stage version of The Mill on the Floss? I couldn’t either, but I’ve been looking through the script and it’s fascinating. I’m speaking as an expert on the novel and novelist, not the play, but of course I wanted my remarks to be pertinent to what we’re going to see. File under “Things that make me feel old”: the brilliant, charismatic director, also an award-winning teacher, was a student in one of the first classes I taught at Dalhousie!

4 thoughts on “This Week In My Classes: Where Did It Go?

  1. Alex in Leeds November 24, 2012 / 7:43 am

    I love the idea of presenting Pecha Kuchas on books, it seems a great way to focus on core themes and issues in a text. I’m sure the students will get a lot out of those sessions. 🙂


  2. Rohan November 25, 2012 / 1:19 pm

    I like the idea too, not least because one tendency I see a lot of in both writing and presenting on books is to give a lot of summary. When your time and options are limited, you find yourself forced to think in a different way — what matters? what does it contribute to our thinking about novels or issues or styles or themes? what’s it worth? When pressed, most of my students have admitted to often feeling bored or restless or disengaged when watching other students’ longer presentations, too, so though they may be uneasy about using the Pecha Kucha form themselves, I have the impression that they like the idea of it from the perspective of their role as spectators. I know I’m going to learn a lot, just because of the variety of books they will be talking about: that’s a nice twist, too.


  3. Kaarina November 25, 2012 / 9:10 pm

    I loved the overt feminism of Indemnity Only, especially because it involved V.I. reaching out to the women and girls in her life. It was a good reminder that feminism plays into relationships between women, not just interactions between the genders. I think this is something feminists are very aware of, but it doesn’t always factor into more general discussions of feminism and gender relations.


  4. Rohan Maitzen November 26, 2012 / 12:46 am

    I really agree with that, Kaarina, and tomorrow, in fact, we’ll be talking about Lotty and Jill. And I also really like how sassy V.I. is, and how unapologetic. It’s harder than she makes it look to talk back to authority, or to stand up against sexism.


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