Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Email to friend at Strathclyde university about ‘contemporary literature’ and attendant issues

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Filed under: reading

“Teaching” “Postmodernism”

So my class on postmodernism was on the postmodern short story and one of the big lessons I wanted them to take away from it is that we should move away from a reading position that looks for ‘meaning’ and switch to something more critical about ‘how we arrive at meaning’ so my idea with the class was to remove myself from the position of authority and let the group determine its own approach to the topic. My way of signalling this was to sit in the seats among them instead of standing at the front of the class. It freaked some of them out right away so that was good in that just a simple thing like my position in the room makes them more aware of their environment. In the first group I told them that I wasn’t going to give them any tasks but that they had to fill the next fifty minutes. They looked scared! I made some jokes to relax them. Then I speculated on some options for things they could do like talk in one big group or break into smaller groups or draw pictures on the board or stand up and read out one of the stories and someone hesitantly said ‘I think we should talk about the stories in groups?’ and others nodded and they broke into two groups and divided the stories among themselves. I was a member of both groups and there was some interesting discussion and though this did not feel particularly ‘postmodern’ it was useful that they had made a decision themselves which is not something they ordinarily do. The second group was more interesting. I did the ‘trick’ again of sitting in the ‘wrong’ place. I asked them why I had done this and someone said ‘to mess with us’ and I laughed. Then I told them to follow that idea through into thinking what the class would be and the same person said ‘I know what you want me to say but if I say it then people won’t like me’ and then they said ‘We are going to lead the class’ and I was like ‘yesssssss’. I was more ‘postmodern’ in this class in that I said things like ‘this sentence is me telling you that I am not going to guide the discussion, and in about 30 seconds I am going to stop talking for a minute and if no-one speaks then I will say something else but I hope someone speaks’ and so someone in about 20 seconds said ‘I think I’d like to talk about the Babysitter’ meaning the Robert Coover story that was one of the texts for today. About five students of the nine in the class then conducted a good discussion of the aesthetics of the story and the difficulty in understanding ‘what happened’. I occasionally interjected to tell them they were doing something interesting and then made it ‘postmodern’ by saying ‘I am performing the role of a seminar leader here and now I am going to stop talking again’. Those comments usually led to a momentary cessation of the discussion but it always started back up again. The conversation moved across different topics including the syllabus of another course that they do that is about the ‘canon’ and people were being critical of the idea of the ‘canon’ and trying to reconcile the ‘postmodern’ with it and I was feeling warm and fuzzy and thinking ‘they’re doing it they’re really doing it!’ and I tried to express this by saying things out loud like ‘this is the point of your education’ and ‘if you are dissatisfied with it then that means you’re also actually satisfied with it’ and I feel like the class was genuinely useful and positive and that it achieved what I thought it would achieve.

Filed under: teaching

About Me:

My name is Kevin O'Neill and I am in the fifth year of a part-time PhD in the English Department of Goldsmiths, London, UK. I used to teach undergrad classes there (now: not, because there are other PhD students who need teaching experience). I work (most of the time) in the Oxfam shop in Dalston because few people get paid to do humanities PhDs.

My research centres around the literary journal McSweeney's. My interest is developing into what McSweeney's tells us about two separate (but I guess related) fields: 1) literary institutions 2) American cultural production, more broadly. This blog was initially about my PhD but is now a more general thinking space.

See right for my flickr/twitter/delicious feeds, then below for other versions of me.

Email is looceefir on gmail.


March 2011
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