From the category archives:

Comp and Lit

A Quote on Quotes

by Dr Davis on January 21, 2017

From “Prominent and Pithy” in Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln by James C. Humes:

“The name should be recognizable and the quotations brief” (Humes 44).


PCA Reading Jim Butcher @ a Christian College

by Dr Davis on April 13, 2015

Jamie Dessart
Teaching Supernatural and Jim Butcher at a Christian College

How would you use Supernatural to teach composition?
How use Jim Butcher to teach literature?

Linda Holmes, “Monkey See,” NPR
Expert on monkeys? Need to “understand what monkeys actually eat”

Stanley Fish “Is There a Text in This Class?”
Need to step back to a point where we share language

All literature is popular culture, TSEliot’s “great tradition”
References classic texts… gateway drug for pop culture

Syllabus: 5 Dresden novels with their literary predecessors.
They had a great time.

Many of the readings are Christian, too.

So you just watch films all the time?

Critical reading skills
Interactive reading/viewing skills
From general to specific
Levels of textual connections
Connections to the students’ lives
Connections to contemporary world issues

Learning critical language
Use first episode of Supernatural for how to use music effectively.

A sample assignment
Before class
“Does Believing in Evil Make Us Less Tolerant” and “Heaven, Hell, Brothers, and an Impala” New York Times
Write and turn in a response to the article. (Looking for how they are connecting.)

In class
View “Jus in Bello” (reference to Augustine’s theology of just war)
Keep notes during viewing on specific dialogue or items or connections
Write a paragraph after.

Inverted Composition Pedagogy and Scaffolding
Writing occurs inside of class
One-on-one encouragement and correction
Repetition of assignment requirements during process
Adjustment of lesson plans as needed
Allows for individual learning styles and speed

Writing in pieces
Body paragraphs over a span of weeks
Research integrated into the writing process
Constant feedback from instructor
Last step is putting it all together


HOF: Limiting Topics Brings Knowledge to Life

by Dr Davis on December 13, 2014

Here’s why I and my composition-teaching colleagues do not let students write arguments about certain topics.

First, let’s remember that I’m talking about first-year students who are learning about argument–about logic, fallacies, good evidence, bad evidence, finding common ground with opponents, refutation, and so on–for the very first time in their lives. The three or four short essays that my students have already written for me are the most writing they have ever done in one semester and perhaps more writing than they did in all of high school. Nearly all of my students enter our community college underprepared for high school, much less first-year college work. Many of these students have never used a library and none of them has used a college library.

In the catalog, the title of the course is Composition I. But it could just as well be called “Basic Introduction to College through Writing.”

school_research computer martinI’ll begin with a banned topic that rarely has anything to do with religion: gun control. When I allowed students to write about gun control, those who chose this topic were almost without exception paranoid far-right survivalist/militia fanatics who see New World Order conspiracies everywhere, or the children of such people. It was a self-selecting group: those obsessed with the topic were those who chose to write about it. And to these students, the gun-control argument has two sides: people who love freedom, and people who hate America and want to destroy America and want this to become a land of mindless slaves. A person who wants any sort of gun regulations whatsoever belongs to the second group. A person who’d like to see 30- and 50-round detachable magazine made illegal isn’t merely incorrect; he is an enemy every bit as dangerous as any foreign terrorist.

And to those students, arguments that support regulation of firearms simply don’t exist. Any data used to support arguments for gun regulation are fake–simply made up–or come from some foreign dictatorship where the people are already mindless slaves. It’s not that my no-gun-restrictions students didn’t want to consider other points of view. It’s that they simply denied the legitimacy of those points of view, since the students already knew that such viewpoints are lies concocted by communists or fascists who hate America, and so on and so forth.

My gun-loving students simply couldn’t do real research or construct even part of a proper argument. I think the term is “epistemic closure.” There’s really not an argument to be made when the choices are Good and Absolute Evil, is there? It’s as pointless as explaining why one should prefer Mister Rogers to Hitler. The inevitable poor grade on the assignment merely proved that colleges are controlled by communists or fascists who hate America, and so on and so forth.

The same kind of thing happened when I and my colleagues let students write about abortion, same-sex marriage, or prayer in public schools. With those topics, the self-selecting group consisted of religious fanatics. Please note that I am not saying that all religious people are wild-eyed fire-breathing theocrats. But I live in a part of the country where we have lots and lots of fanatics and more than a few wild-eyed fire-breathing theocrats. Catch John Hagee’s or Rod Parsley’s act on television sometime. To many of my students, that’s what a real Christian looks like. Pope Francis? Not a Christian. Demonic, in fact. I’ve had to shut down such a diatribe this semester.

For the religious fanatics in Comp I, the argument over abortion has two sides: God’s and Satan’s. It ain’t complicated. They don’t write arguments. They write sermons. Other points of view simply do not exist. My students who wrote about abortion always repeated the usual claims: women who have abortions are more likely to get cancer; women who have abortions kill themselves; women who have abortions become sterile. Giving them evidence to the contrary–science-based evidence from good sources–accomplished nothing. The articles are lies; the data are fraudulent; it’s all the work of pagans or atheists who like to kill babies. There is no need to waste time considering the ideas of people who have already proved that they are demonically evil by having such ideas.

Some of our students have been taught to leave a room when ungodly or demonic talk begins. If, say, a beginning-of-class conversation about a science story in the news drifts into mention of evolution or the Big Bang, a student will quietly pack up his or her books and leave, because he or she has been trained to get out of a room when Satan starts talking. It has happened to me and most of my colleagues.

And as with abortion, so with same-sex marriage, prayer in public schools, and other topics with a religious component. The students who write about them will not, can not, consider ideas other than their own because they already know that those other ideas are quite literally lies from Hell. They don’t write arguments. They refuse to. They write bad sermons. And if they get bad grades, they know that the instructor is on Satan’s side.

Again, please note that I am not claiming that all Christians fit a stereotype or caricature. But I live where the stereotypes and caricatures originated. I live where it’s not hard to find ramshackle little churches–old single-wides, as often as not–on back roads, churches that fly the Confederate battle flag next to and sometimes above a cross, and where men go to worship service with their AR-15s slung over their shoulders.

So I proscribe some topics. I try to make students begin arguments and research papers not with an opinion, but with a question about an important topic about which they know little and about which they know that they know very little. Then they need to show me that they have learned to use the college library well enough to find sound evidence that steered them to a point of view on the topic, and that they have examined the evidence for other points of view, and that they can assemble the products of their research into a logical and coherent whole that meets the requirements of the assignment.

It’s easier to accomplish that by proscribing topics that begin and end with Us or Them, Jesus or Satan, Liberty or Slavery. If it’s a topic that sometimes leads to shouting and screaming, pushing and shoving, fisticuffs, or gun play, then maybe it’s a topic that first-year composition students will not handle well.

Then, once a student has constructed a reasonably good written argument, I can say, “See what you did here? This is what grown-up discussion looks like. This–this way of thinking–is how all of should approach everything we think and believe, because everybody believes at least a few things that just aren’t correct. What you did in this assignment is how we can make sure that the things we believe make sense.” And I repeat the old saw: If you never change your mind, what’s the point of having one?

And then, next semester or next year, my composition students can apply their new knowledge in other courses such as sociology and philosophy, and maybe even re-examine some of their own assumptions. My Comp I class, after all, is not the last one in which students will have to make arguments. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to tackle controversies in other courses. My goal is to help them take the very first step in learning how to tackle a controversial topic.

from eumaois


CFP: YA Lit and Comp

by Dr Davis on December 6, 2014

Original CFP from UPenn:

YA Literature and Composition
full name / name of organization:
Dr. Tamara Girardi and Dr. Abigail Scheg
contact email:
[email protected]
While adult book sales have been down for the past few years, sales of young adult titles have increased as much as 30% according to some reports. The turn of the millennium brought an explosion of YA sales with the most notable Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, and Divergent series. YA sections grew from a few shelves to prominent areas in libraries and major bookstores. In fact, a recent Pew Survey reported that 16-29 year-olds check out library books more than any other group.
Despite assumptions that kids don’t read, young adults entering college classrooms are reading recreationally more so than any generation before them. Additionally, many popular films and television shows are based on young adult novels and series. With the prevalence of contemporary young adult literature in their lives, it is logical to question how a connection can be made to their learning in academia.
This collection will explore such connections, specifically in the college composition classroom, although some references to literature and creative writing classrooms are also welcome. While the heart of the exploration involves the reading and writing of young adult literature, the ultimate goal should be to discuss how one or both might inform composition pedagogy.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
-Early young adult texts such as Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and works by Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and Robert Cormier and how these texts relate to contemporary YA literature.
-Why specific themes or tropes connect well with high school and college students.
-Contradictions between YA reader’s interests in dark issues such as addiction, suicide, terminal illness, sexuality, abuse and their parents and/or teachers anticipation that such issues are too serious for them.
-Variations in genres within the YA framework and how knowledge of genre differences might influence greater understanding and appreciation for non-traditional literary works.
-Comparison between new adult and young adult genres.
-Popularity of YA literature with adults.
-The cathartic experience of writing and reading about challenges faced during one of the most formative times in a student’s life.
-Composition assignments and pedagogy that feature YA literature in some way.
Please send inquiries or abstracts of approximately 250 words to [email protected] by July 1, 2014. Editors for this collection are: Dr. Tamara Girardi (@TamaraGirardi), Harrisburg Area Community College, and Dr. Abigail Scheg (@ag_scheg), Elizabeth City State University.

However, Dr. Scheg’s Twitter feed today reads:
YA lit and comp


Novelists on Symbolism

by Dr Davis on November 26, 2013

Did they include symbolism on purpose?

It was 1963, and 16-year-old Bruce McAllister was sick of symbol-hunting in English class. Rather than quarrel with his teacher, he went straight to the source: McAllister mailed a crude, four-question survey to 150 novelists, asking if they intentionally planted symbolism in their work. Seventy-five authors responded.

Ralph Ellison: “Yes, readers often infer that there is symbolism in my work, which I do not intend. My reaction is sometimes annoyance. It is sometimes humorous. It is sometimes even pleasant, indicating that the reader’s mind has collaborated in a creative way with what I have written.

I found it on MentalFloss.

Full survey (with images of the answers) are at Paris Review.

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FYC, 2nd Semester, Retrospective

by Dr Davis on May 8, 2013

New Class, Again
Having moved to my university just last year, and having had to adjust to teaching totally different sources and works, I was not pleased to hear that the class was changing (again!—for me, but for the first time for everyone else). I was going to have to follow a common syllabus. I could not teach any introduction to literary analysis. The work on RAs (rhetorical analyses) that I spent so much time on last year was basically worthless.

Creative Commons image, by Equazcion

Creative Commons image, by Equazcion

I was not happy.

After a semester of working with the common syllabus, despite the fact that I am still upset about a common syllabus and am not allowed to add or change any major papers, I am less frustrated. The new coursework has definite advantages.

The Major Papers

PeopleResearch retrospective:
First, there is a research retrospective, a reflective essay, for the students. It requires them to think about and articulate what they have learned about research in previous classes. This is useful because it ties work they have already done in college (and perhaps in high school) into the work we are doing in this particular English course.

This is the only optional paper in the series and I talked to my students about what I had intended to do and how I had considered handling the paper. Then I allowed the class to vote on whether we would write the paper or not. (Research suggests/shows that giving students control over their coursework can improve outcomes.)

Both of my classes decided that they would take the research retrospective and make it an extra credit option. I like this idea because it still gets a lot of people to think and it gives me a low stakes introduction to the students’ abilities to write. I gave it four homework grades (content, development, organization, and grammar/mechanics) and students got ahead on their averages long before most homework assignments were even listed.

What I liked about the research retrospective was that it gave me an introduction to the better writers in my classes—since those are the ones who typically do the early extra credit assignments—and I could find out what experience those students had with research. I also liked the fact that the extra credit boosted their grades. (I assign a LOT of homework grades and make it a significant portion of the coursework. I think a writing class should be about writing and this allows me to keep them writing at a fairly steady rate.)

Ossian songs 1811 (Roman dreaming) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres WC pdTwo texts analysis:
The next paper was a two texts analysis. Thankfully I have an amazingly gifted colleague, Dr. Mikee Delony, who shared her assignment for this paper. She came up with the idea of comparing the lyrics of a song with an official music video for the work.

I introduced the idea using Tata Young’s “Cinderella” and Randy Travis’ “I’m Going to Love You Forever.” An interesting aspect of these two sets of lyrics, which was serendipitous, was that they both have a “they say/I say” aspect—which is the name of our new text for the course and a focus for the class. “Cinderella” says “My momma used to read me stories…. I’m going to rescue myself.” Excellent way to begin this discussion! Then Travis’ song says “They say that I’m … I’m no longer one of those guys.” That allows us to talk about reputation and change, something that students in a residential college setting may well have to deal with.

The assignment was very successful. The students enjoyed it because they were allowed to pick any music and the videos, it turns out, were sometimes quite bizarre. I think some of the students went looking for really odd videos to start with!

steampunk_vampire_slaying_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d54eetjCasebook essay:
The second major assignment was a casebook essay. The department suggested doing these as a class, using topics in the They Say/I Say text and developing them from there. Since I wasn’t too excited about doing sports, I went looking for some good videos to suggest other topics. We watched a TED Talk “Your Brain on Video Games” and a medical video on zombie brains, among others.

I allowed students, again, to vote on the topics for the classes. One class decided to do the American Dream and sports, both of which are in our text, and neuroscience. The other class chose monsters and video games. This meant that even though multiple students were working on the same topic, I was not terribly bored by the 700th rendition of whatever.

For the casebook essay, I provided at least two sources (obviously the ones from the book were easy) and then each student had to provide one scholarly source and one video source. The class got links for all of these, as well as the citations for them. Students had to create an RA for these two and these were also shared with the class. That meant that the class had multiple sources for each topic and different ways of approaching the subject. All told, the students had to have two scholarly sources, two video sources, and one popular source for the casebook essay.

One thing I did which I thought would be very helpful was to have students do annotated bibliographies for these five sources. (The assignment after this one requires them.) I thought they would help the students get focused, because the reading would have to be done ahead of time and students would have to at least project an avenue of thought for their paper.

I still like this idea but I would change two things. First, I would make sure the unofficial annotated bibliographies matched exactly the format for the official ones. That way the students would simply be able to use them for the annotated bib OR would be drilled in how to do them correctly, even if we switched topics. Second, I would clarify very specifically that the paper was not supposed to be simply a summary of the sources. I received many (ten perhaps out of forty) papers that introduced the topic and then summarized each source in order. I do not want that to happen again.

male studying computerAnnotated bibliography:
After the casebook essay, which really went in different directions, we worked on the annotated bibliography. Students did peer reviews on their classmates’ casebook essays, so they had seen all their sources and how the students used them. This gave everyone an opportunity to see other sources that they might have missed.

For the annotated bibliography I only required eight sources. Three had to be scholarly articles. Two had to be videos. The rest could be either of those or popular sources.

This was a problem because the students had already written their casebook essay on the topic (which is not the normal procedure for the course) and then they went and found additional sources. However, they did not find sources which added significantly to their knowledge base. What that meant was that when they went to write the researched long essay, the next paper, they really did not have sufficient sources to “lengthen” their casebook essay.

typingResearched essay:
After having “completed” their research and annotated bibliography, students ended up having to go find other sources after this and do annotated bibs on the new sources, since a complete annotated bib for each source was required for the research paper.

I liked using the same topic for the casebook essay, the annotated bibliography, and the researched essay. It allowed students to learn a lot about a single area and really develop their thoughts.

In addition, students have a university-required course which created an annotated bibliography the previous semester and, if they desired, the students could write their researched essay on the topic of that annotated bibliography rather than over the topic of their casebook essay. Only one student took advantage of that option and the paper was not particularly well done. I am not sure if that was an artifact of the quality of the annotated bib required in Core or the student’s own abilities/work.

(It turns out that even though all Core students are required to do a twelve text annotated bibliography, the level of quality varied based on teachers of the course AND at least two professors did not require it—even though it is the major assignment for that class.)

The students were frustrated after they wrote their casebook essay and annotated bibliography to discover that they had already used all the information in their sources and needed to find other sources on tangential or related topics in order to expand their essays to the length required for the researched essay. This is definitely something that I will discuss/present next time I teach the course. While I know that, I am not sure how I will present it to ensure that students understand the importance and are able to adjust their research search appropriately.

CalendarDue Dates
The annotated bibs and research essays were due a week before the other professors’ deadlines. This was not a popular decision with the director of composition, but it gave me time to grade them before finals—which means unless I am ordered not to do that, I will have a similar deadline next year.

One thing that I think will be important, which I did not expect would be necessary, is having student conferences over their research papers. The quality of the research papers was significantly reduced from the casebook essays this semester. I want to avoid that next year.

With so much work already done for the researched essay ahead of time, the level of incompleteness in the researched essays came as a surprise. I did not—and will not—assign/allow time for revision of this essay, especially when it is the third in the sequence building on the same topic. However, I think I will have to introduce/include student conferences for this paper next semester.

I also had one week where we wrote practice finals on an old topic the week before the research papers were due. The director of composition was particularly critical of this and, while I don’t see why it should be a problem, I am willing to agree that it was a problem. Therefore, next year, I will not do that but will instead use that week for conferences.

video from roughly drafted dot comDigital Presentation
Since I required a digital presentation over the research topic (and these were generally very good in content), I may also require that they bring their videos to the conference for critique. Many of the students lost points for not including the URL list for the photography and music as well as for not having a title frame on the video. These are very basic aspects of the digital presentation which should not have been missed by students.

Last year something I did in fyc was to have students bring their videos and have a peer review of the digital presentations. This worked very well. I may want to incorporate that into this course as well. It will add a bit of difficulty to the schedule, but maybe I can figure it out….

Those last two will definitely change the time available in the course. (Especially at the end.) That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Best Things
The best things about the course as structured were:
the two-texts analysis using the video and song lyrics
having multiple topics for the casebook essay, ann bib, researched essay
assigning and spending the last week before the final preparation watching digital presentations, with goodies brought in.

CelebrationNote to remember: Students eat a lot less at these things than I expect. Maybe make my own sausage balls next time? And also maybe tell them there will be food.


FYC: Retrospective, part 3

by Dr Davis on February 10, 2012

Success: As a class we studied visual rhetoric. We read the chapter in the book and I introduced additional information on color and composition. We looked at several sets of images in the text, and the text itself, and analyzed those rhetorically. Finally, the students chose an artifact to analyze. They brought it to class and we did prewriting exercises on the material they chose.
Students wrote an in-class essay analyzing the visual rhetoric of the artifact they had chosen. These artifacts ranged from unique art pieces, to book covers, to images from football games.

Success: Moving from a static image to a video gave the students the opportunity to employ the same rhetorical analysis strategies to a video that they had used for an image. I introduced analysis of videos, with a post from Teaching College English.

As homework, the students watched a video on education by one of our professors and in class we watched one of the university’s recruiting videos. Both of these videos were analyzed and evaluated in class.

Challenge: One of the goals introduced for students and faculty during my orientation was collaboration. I decided that a group project analyzing a video would be a positive strategy for implementation of collaboration in the classroom.

Group leaders were chosen based on the highest level of technical experience in a given class. Then the groups configured themselves, though I did limit them to three to five students. Each student watched three videos and then sent the one they thought would be the most fun to work on to the others in their group. Each group watched all the members’ preferred videos and then chose one. Individual emails with URLs to the three commercials and a paragraph summary of each and a group email identifying the URL of the chosen commercial as well as the justification for the choice were assigned and submitted.

Success: While out of class the students were working on coming up with an analysis of their group’s commercial, in class we watched a series of commercials and analyzed them both in small groups and as a class. We began with the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial about Chicago, starring Eminem. This commercial had been used in Core and so it was familiar to all of them. Thus the students started the analysis in class from a position of strength.

Tech: Students suggested other commercials to watch and we looked them up on YouTube and watched them in class. For example, we looked at both Dove’s “Evolution” and “Beauty Pressure,” analyzing them for audience, authority, design, rhetoric, visual impact, race, and gender.

Hurdled: Digital storytelling took me a two-day class and about fifteen hours of work. I was asking the students to learn this technology on their own, while engaging in a rhetorically complex analysis, and produce a video as a group. They did a fantastic job.

In all three classes I only had one group that did not produce a video. One student withdrew from the group, sending them a notification email and cc’ing me. She created her own project. There was a second group that had significant technical difficulties, partially due to assigning the technical part of the job to a person with PC expertise, but not Mac experience. They ended up turning the project in late, with penalties applied.

Success: The students turned in amazing videos. They did an excellent job in analyzing their chosen commercials, following the assignment requirements, and creating interesting videos.

Challenge: Two groups were unaware of the contextual realities of the commercials they chose. One group chose “Stop the Bullets” ( ) and the other chose “Nolan’s Cheddar” ( ). The first group was not aware that handguns have been illegal in England since 1989 and, as a result, even the police do not carry guns and the English Olympic Pistol Team practices in Switzerland. Because of this, their analysis of the audience was problematic; they thought it was aimed at voters who could implement gun control. The second group did not realize that Nolan’s is not an actual brand of cheese, that the commercial was British, and that the commercial was actually a video résumé for an animatronics creator.

To do: While a quick internet search did not turn up articles discussing the reason for the “Stop the Bullets” video, “Nolan’s Cheddar” showed up quickly in a videographic résumé. I am not sure that students would have recognized that is what it was, though. Next time I teach, I may want to have the students individually find three different articles—not just repetitions of the same information—on their commercials. This may help to avoid similar problems.

Success: The students used the commercial and their analysis of it as prewriting for their evaluation papers.

To do: Next time I need to be clearer on the difference between analysis and evaluation. While most of my students understood, there was a significant number (though less than a quarter) who simply wrote up their group’s analysis in their own words for the evaluation essay. This was insufficient.

NOTE: Most of the professors I have spoken with say they do not see a difference between analysis and evaluation. If that is true, then they need some rhetorical education.

In addition, the grading on that aspect of the paper actually only made a single letter-grade difference. So I may need to re-examine my grading rubric as well.


Introducing Shakespeare

by Dr Davis on February 2, 2012

From a friend on Facebook, I have found a video that is a wonderfully funny and pertinent introduction to Shakespeare’s language through comedian John Branyan’s Shakespearean translation of “The Three Little Pigs.” It is AMAZING.

I am using it tomorrow in fyc, since we are practicing writing about literature using the fairy tales. Next semester I will use it to introduce Shakespeare in my Brit lit class.

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Teaching Intro to Literature

by Dr Davis on January 22, 2011

The CHE forums have a good thread on Teaching Intro to Literature.

This is second semester freshman composition at my school and it’s been a year or two since I’ve taught it. There are some good ideas in the thread though.


MLA: Why Literature Matters

by Dr Davis on January 9, 2011

This is a live blogging of the session.

All of the panelists are authors on books on this topic. There was a handout of seventeen other books on the topic on a handout.

virtual-student-sittingGregory Jusdanis,
Ohio State U: Columbus
“Literature as Alternative Reality”

In my book is an aesthetic theory, literature is important because it helps us mediate between literature and reality.

win_0709_hermione_statue_243x317There is a tradition that Helen remained in the Nile area and someone else-a ghost, a faux, an alternative- went to Troy. Plato’s excerpt, two lines, is all we have of this alternative tradition. The poem undoes the Homeric story. Further twist, Herodutus claims that Homer knew that Helen did not travel to Troy but Homer wrote the literature as he did because it was good literature.
Dig against politicians lying about “real cause of the hostilities.” Why was this necessary?
Is the meaning of the simulacrum its absence?

sunshine-w-womanWe love the contrast between the real and fake. This comparison is fascinating to us. It is mistaking the deception clear.
Okay, he says that we need to see this deception to recognize the option for deception in real life. So there is a purpose to the political insults. At least that is reasonable, unlike the other three speakers (the ones I heard) who did the same this weekend.

We need the tension between Helen’s real body and the ghost in order to make sense of the Trojan war. “Terrible beauty” Homer said. The war was fought because it made a good story. Life is literary, Helen says; “Other men amuse themselves in hearing our tale.” Men and women die so they will become immortal in a story.

If we know it is deception, we can throw it out.

Literature promises to give access to the signifier and the signified. Human practice that promises to open the door to reality while highlighting that it is just a door. We look not at the truth but at looking in a way to get at the truth.

The main problem that people have with imitation is the fear that resemblance takes place, a reader becoming confused in the literature. We fear that art erases the distinction between literature and reality. But in fact art emphasizes the distinction between the real and the simulacrum. (Pygmalion was neither real nor false, “so cleverly did his art become his art.” Ovid. The statue is not a reality but a construction of representation of reality.)

Today we are confronted with surface effects rather than the depths. Representation tries to show the false. Simulation of reality replaces reality. Art dramatizes the difference between fiction and truth.

Basis of making fiction is simulation, the capacity in which humans can represent an event with another event. Through simulation we are able to project ourselves into other experiences and think through them, to put ourselves in another situation and “experience” it.

This is a crucial aspect of the literary experience.

Pretense, simulation, and deceit is what defines us as humans.

The whole moral epic of the Trojan War is not true, as we experience it in the literary form. We return to the art, the imagination, to understand the world we are in now. We like to compare the real and the representative because we like fiction, but also because it helps us make sense (a way of knowing) of the real.

little-boy-blue-readingCristina V. Bruns, Chapman U (California), “Literature as Formative Experience”

Encounters in literature that interest me most are those that leave us changed. Have you had experiences of these? I have had several.

Short story in The New Yorker that I read with all the rest of my mail sitting in my lap.
Six word poem by Marie Ponsot which I heard on the radio that felt like it tripped me.

“Bliss and Grief”
No one
is here
right now.

Brothers Karamazov took me out of the dorm.

Branch of psychoanalytic theory, optic relations. (Wittencott?)
baby-in-pooh-costumeProcess by which humans move from symbiosis of infancy to individuation.
Object helps infants establish their separateness from the world and recognize themselves.
For a period of time the infant needs illusion of object as both me and not me.
This work of individuation establishes the pattern for interpersonal relationships.
Culture’s pattern of maternal care shapes the culture’s patterns of social relationships.

Any object which allows us to be me and not me (religious experience, sports activity) is good. Why?
1. tangible shape of activity or object can become part of us
2. shape of activity stimulates a re-working of the boundary between the self and the world.

Transitional space between the collective self and inner world.
Literature facilitates transitional reality.
The world of literature takes place in our inner world but is prompted by an outside object. Not merely knowledge or content, but how we see it, through what eyes.

We can use these readings to shape our internal selves. We can take them on to shape ourselves.

Why does literature matters?
Reading it gives us opportunities to form and re-form ourselves.
Reading is as significant as it feels to those who really get into reading.

But we suffer from the strain of self and others. We relieve that stress through transitional spaces/objects/experiences. Literature is one of those.

Trying to put them into words can seem to reduce the experience to much less significant than it is.
Experience of the object immersion, following immersive state allows reflection on the state. That is the transitional potential.

Allowing one’s self to get lost in a book is the state through which the power of literature and its value resides.

These broadly generalized modes– suspicious reading, …
Broad modes of generalized modes of reading are especially important. Paul Ricouer, From Text to Action
Naive in its openness… Explanation…
“explanation has no autonomy. It’s advantage and its effect is to allow us to follow the story better… ”

computer-reading-book1Mark W. Roche,
U of Notre Dame
“Literature as Other to Our Age”

Literature serves many purposes. Here I highlight three.
1. rare elevation of intrinsic value
2. evokes imaginary worlds in an era obsessed with the here and now
3. draws on complex hermeneutic x in an age that emphasizes practical

Counter cultural value.
Literature is an activity like play in which we enjoy the intrinsic joy.
Enjoyed for its own sake.
Valued versus “useful”
“Useful” is only useful for something else.
Often what is valued in itself is actually more useful/worthy.

Kant recognized an aesthetic experience takes us outside our self interest.

I do not want to say that emotion fades from aesthetic experience.
Vital impulses that are their own end remain.
When we love beauty “we do not desire to possess or own it.”

The experience of great literature is different from reading for use.
Not reducible to what we carry away from the work in literature.
Experience of what reader lives through during the experience of reading is what is important. The immersion, which helps us forget the external world, is essential.

Communication that is not driven by economic need becomes essential to our psyche.
Shared values in reader and book, an end in itself.

Focus on the concerns of the individual in contrast to the world in general.
Arts and humanities… peerless works help us engage today… Do not “supercede” each other but build upon them. Understanding of the past is essential for us.

Great literature addresses universal themes.
By showing us what is great about the past, we see what can be/is/has been lost in “progress.”
Shows us what we might be giving up.
Shows us where we are now.

Study of the past as a genuine partner in conversation helps us gain a better understanding of the present.

6_samburu_01Immersion in another culture. To look at alternative models.
Certain virtues are more prominent in other eras.
Grace as antiquated. Similarly rare today is one’s disinterest in status. Loyalty, generosity, and hospitality.

Past gives us different perspectives and alternative to the contemporary.
Familiarity with another culture allows us to have distance from our own.

Kant’s argument that aesthetic arguments are essential/universal.

Beauty’s universality takes us beyond ourselves into the collective understanding.

Proliferation of more and more complex situations = modernity
Each sphere has its own autonomous logic.
One pursues with an eye to autonomous logic.

wikipedia-puzzle-globe-greeped-dot-orgLiterature, in contrast, helps promote a sense of wholeness.
Study of literature develops broadly applicable hermeneutic skills.
In a work of literature all the parts have a sense of autonomous but is fully compatible with each part belongs to the whole. Every part belongs to the whole. Full meaning only survives in their relation to the whole. Gives pleasure to the experience of the mind. Whole cannot be grasped without understanding the parts in their autonomy. Part to whole and back to whole “philosophical circle”
Hermeneutic virtue of deciphering complex patterns and meanings and hidden connections.
Challenges the spontaneity and interpretative ability of the reader.
Study of literature teaches us to look at the whole and not just the parts. Whole may only make sense in relation to its parts.
This contributes to flexibility of the mind.

Students who argue literary criticism: helps them develop understanding, see relationship to whole and part, anticipate objections to their positions, simplistic or one-sided readings are insufficient. Complex interpretations that recognize alternative readings and help student guard against dogmatic discourse.

Photograph of Hermione/Hermione’s statue in Winter’s Tale comes from The photo of Wikipedia Puzzle comes from The other illustrations are purchased from