At CUNY, a New York state public university where I teach an introductory course in literature and writing, undergraduates like thinking about power. Their material disadvantages make social critique come naturally. Knowing this and wanting to get them hooked, I present Romantic literature as an early expression of dissatisfaction with social processes and conventions, a perspective to be developed later by Marx. This semester, I threw Jane Austen into the mix, and oriented reading and discussions of Persuasion around questions of social class. We spent a lot of time discussing the historical attributes of Austen’s class system that seem strange to modern sensibilities: the phenomenon of rank, the marriage between cash and land, the ambiguous category of the “gentleman” and the expanding mercantile economy.
As we march ahead, perhaps forebodingly, into a new epoch in America’s political climate, one might wonder exactly what can be the value of teaching Romantic poetry and prose. In the weeks immediately following the recent historic election (however one chooses to define “historic”), we must consider whether undergraduate students really want to spend their time reading Wordsworth’s “A slumber did my spirit seal” or Keats’s “To Autumn” or Austen’s Emma. When these students are otherwise preoccupied with what Twitter and Snapchat have to tell them about the current state of the world, why would they choose to bow their heads over texts that, while they may have something to say about the early nineteenth century in Britain, seem to be so distant and disjointed from our own time and place? This was a question I set out to explore this fall…and then November 8th happened.
Reflections, questions, & forum for response.
The dawn of another academic year always comes with a slew of first year Teaching Assistants. Graduate students must now stand up in front of the classroom and, if any of them are like me, spend more time reflecting on their own learning processes than ever before in their academic life. Like so many gradate TAs I don’t have the option to choose which courses or syllabus to teach, but rather am assigned courses that vary between English Composition 100 and Intro to Literature. I’m not complaining as each opportunity provides the space to learn a new topic that otherwise might have slipped my academic history.
One of the last panel slots of NASSR 2016 was reserved for a roundtable with contestants of the Romantic Circles‘s Pedagogy Contest, hosted by RC Pedagogies editor Kate Singer. This year’s competition featured these finalists:
- Simon Bainbridge (Lancaster University) – “Wordsworth Online and On Location: Teaching Romantic Writing Beyond the Literature Classroom”
- Michelle Levy (Simon Fraser University) with Alex Grammatikos (Carleton) and Kandice Sharren (Simon Fraser) – “Remediating Lyrical Ballads”
- Lauren Neefe (Georgia Tech) – “Romanticism’s Social Media”
- Tristram Wolff (Northwestern) – “Poetics of Stone”
In general, I was floored (and, to be honest, a little intellectually intimidated) by the pedagogical innovations on display yesterday. And while Wolff was unfortunately unable to present, I was excited that the remaining panelists and audience would have plenty of time for the presentations plus a vibrant lengthy Q&A discussion session to round off the entire conference. Here’s more:
Sunday’s Tweets about NASSR 2016 via Storify
So here we are, at the end of NASSR 2016, with all of us likely traveling across the U.S. and Canada this evening, or on our way across the Atlantic or Pacific, heading back to our home institutions. Hopefully we’re re-invigorated with an exceptional amount of insight, inspiration, and innovation that will carry into our research and teaching over this coming academic year.
For me, today’s panels provided a surprising amount of vim and vigor on this, the final morning of our annual conference. When I imagine the Sunday morning of any conference, I envision a small gaggle of weary academics dragging their feet and their suitcases to the free morning coffee buffet before plopping in their seats to process, with half-closed eyelids, the final papers that our poor presenters must still deliver after the three action-packed days. To my pleasant surprise, however, both rooms were animated, engaged, and quite lively! Here’s some of what I heard… Continue reading NASSR 2016 Rapid Response: Final Day!
After an arduous year one of grad school I have come out alive. In anxious preparation for year two a few good friends and myself set quite the task this summer to read Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit that haunted us all year. Given the complexity and reputation of the great man himself I find our “Adventures in Hegel” will entertain readers on how we successfully managed reading his “Preface” to the book. What follows is the affective and intellectual journey myself and friends Katy and Liz have embarked upon.
In lieu of actually trying to explain Hegelian thought or even relay my precise thoughts on the preface I provide some useful tactics we employed to “mastering”, well, getting through difficult texts such as Hegel. Now at the end of year one of graduate studies I can attest the most common nerve-racking question from new grad students to be “How do I read X?” Whether long novels, poetry, images, and of course theory/philosophy everyone has that one form they consider impenetrable to decipher. My fellow book club interlocutors agreed our reading of Hegel to be extremely enlightening and cleared up many conceptual gaps. It does help we’re all good friends but we actually had a great afternoon discussing Hegel? It was fun, and not soul-crushingly dark and intimidating? But how?! Our satisfaction shows such texts are indeed very approachable with just the right attitude.
I’ve long been fascinated by two Romantic objects that figure prominently in poetry and prose: the Aeolian harp and the Claude glass. The Aeolian harp is a stringed instrument that is placed in an open window so that the strings vibrate with the wind, sort of like a sideways guitar.
Image source: http://chestofbooks.com/reference/American-Cyclopaedia-V1/Aeolian-Harp.html
Like many readers of this blog, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Wordsworth lately. As all who’ve read the “The Prelude” know, “nature” is really important to the developmental trajectory that Wordsworth traces in recursive manner throughout the various versions of the poem. It’s hard to say, however, what exactly Wordsworth’s concept of nature is. The relation between the speaker’s mind and “nature” is configured in different ways, and “nature” is continually being lost, subordinated to the poet’s creative impulse, and recovered. Continue reading Spinoza with Wordsworth: substance and “the life of things”
The boys of the newly formed Dead Poets’ Society are holding one of their weekly meetings (except Knox Overstreet, who’s at a party trying to talk to the girl of his dreams) when there’s a sound—the likes of which strikes terror into the hearts of teenage boys: a girl’s laughter. Charlie leads them in, offers them cigarettes, while the rest of the group stares on in silence, not sure what to say, what to think, or even whether or not they’re allowed to speak. The boys eventually try to talk, though it’s Charlie who eventually succeeds in properly “wooing” the girls by of course reciting poetry: first a poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning, and then a second one by George Gordon, Lord Byron. Continue reading In Defense of Mr. Byron
This semester happens to be my last in grad school, and so I thought I would treat myself to only two classes; that way I would be able to spend more time writing. My, what a foolish dream that was. In my ignorance, or clueless bliss, I’m not sure which, I forgot that Graduate School, even if it’s just for a Master’s degree, is a Deathclaw from Fall Out 4: a monstrous soulless beast designed to rip, tear, bite, and devour the body before digesting the soul in its black pit of a stomach. Despite that colorful description, I should note for the reader that I am actually enjoying school, despite the fact it’s slowly killing me. Continue reading Evil Tyger Max -#12