Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Rick Moody on teaching

What would happen if we understood the workshop to be not tidy and orderly but large, unpredictable, and uncertain? What if long monologues about German metaphysics could sit right beside arguments from the stylebook of Flannery O’Connor? What if the worst story of the semester were subjected to a half hour of sentence-diagramming exercises? What if no one turned in a story for three weeks, and all you did was sit around talking about the ugliest kid you knew in childhood, or the worst job you ever had? What if all you did in class was assignments? What if you rewrote one sentence all semester? What if everyone got a chance to be the instructor, and everyone got a chance to be the student?

Rick Moody on the need for teaching (in this case, creative writing, but applicable (I think) to all humanities (and probably more disciplines but I don’t want to claim more than I have experience of)) to be a bit more creative/fluid in how it trains people to think.

Add ‘make them eat apples’ into the above paragraph and you’ve got my teaching manifesto.

Filed under: teaching

“Stream of consciousness”

We did Modernist short stories in class this week. I didn’t really dig the stories (Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf). I decided to have some fun with “stream of consciousness” as a literary technique. I wanted to simultaneously suggest the possibility for language to represent something approximating ‘real’ thought processes and illustrate the impossibility of this.

I took in a bag of apples and instructed my students to eat or not eat the apple. We sat in silence while the apple experience proceeded. A few people giggled but all but one person ate an apple. Only two people took up my challenge to ‘core’ the apple, i.e. eat all of it, leaving nothing. I felt happy watching my students eat apples.

After we had finished I instructed them to write an account of their apple experience as quickly as possible. This representation could take whatever form they desired. I secretly wanted someone to write “apple apple apple apple apple apple apple apple apple” &c but no-one did. Everyone wrote something interesting. They were generally funny and affirming of the validity of the apple experience as an exercise in fostering understanding and communication. I am still unsure of its benefit as a literary exercise but I do not regret doing it.

Here are the apple monologues I created to make it ‘fair’ for my students:

1.
The clunk of the neglected, abandoned core. Failure. The pea-sized remnant on the desk. Not-quite-as-disappointing failure. Backwards. The apple presents her preferred position to the eater, finger and thumb. We are sizing her up. The star-like holes where once pits nested — the configuration is a primitive stick-drawing of a man. She contains him. To consume her completely forces us to reconsider our position. We encounter her stickiness, become tainted, blessed with it. We are she. The apple and I. I am the own apple of my own eye. I consume myself. The apple is a green fruit. I am envious of my own consumption.
2.
This is my second apple of the day. This is not an unusual amount of apples to eat, I think. Three would be an unusual amount of apples to eat, I think. The males in the room finish their apples before the females. Is this victory, or petty competition? To finish the apple and discard the core is an admission of defeat. This seems not a cowardly but brave act. “I cannot conquer this apple and I am OK with that.” This admission spreads in a crescent along the right-hand side of the room. E breaks this process by discarding out of turn. This displeases my love of patterns but I admire her decision nonetheless. S’s sudden realisation that she is the only one left is endearing. O’s apple remains intact, taunting our attempted genocide with this stern reminder: there will always be more apples.

These seem strange and fun to look back upon. The rest of the class consisted of me attempting to inculcate a suspicion of literary methods into them. We are on a loose trajectory of realism > modernism > postmodernism. I feel one of the biggest problems with undergraduates is to spark their awareness of the constructedness of everything. It is not that we want them all to be poststructuralists but that we feel an awareness of this will benefit them in terms of thinking critically about the possibilities of text. This is also an issue with my second-years; I will write about those concerns later.

Filed under: teaching

Sandwich Sunday Reprise

It’s nice when you don’t have to read papers or blogs because your friends fill your Facebook feed with everything you need to know/see/read/hear.

The following things were all either liked by at least five people or were posted by several of my friends separately at various points throughout the day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: reading

Sentences

“He tells Green that his phobic fear of timepieces stems from [his stepfather, [an Amtrak train conductor [with deeply unresolved issues [which he used to make Lenz wind his pocketwatch and polish his fob daily with a chamois cloth [and nightly make sure his watch’s displayed time was correct to the second [or else he’d lay into the pint-sized Randy with [a rolled-up copy of [Track and Flange, a slick and wicked-heavy coffee-table-sized trade periodical]]]]]]]].”

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (1996), p.557.

I’m using parentheses a bit loosely here as in they’re not indicating totally discrete clauses or sets of noun phrases but they’re representing where Wallace adds this extra level of sense to hold in your head to just fuck with you and force you to pay attention.

Other things I like about this sentence. Some of the adjectives:

  • phobic fear
  • deeply unresolved issues
  • pint-sized Randy
  • rolled-up copy
  • slickĀ  and wicked-heavy coffee-table-sized trade periodical

That last one. Boy!

Thinking about Carver and realism and this post on good stories. Thinking about using tomorrow’s class on Carver to interrogate my own interests in realism and experimentation.

A Carver sentence for the hell of it:

“She looked into the back of the bakery and could see [a long, heavy wooden table [with aluminum pie pans stacked at one end]]; and beside the table [a metal container [filled with empty racks]].”

from ‘A Small, Good Thing’ (1983 (sort of)).

The parentheses here are reaching a bit? Should probably spend more time on this before tomorrow but going to watch football soon. Sometimes my better classes happen when I make stuff up while sitting in the lecture before the seminar. Carver’s adjectives: long, heavy, wooden, aluminum, metal, empty. LOL.

Filed under: teaching

Short Story Quiz

Did this today at the end of the first term of teaching this class.

Dumping text here, cos, you know, why not.

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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.

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