Friday, April 27, 2012

Another dream course I'd love to teach

Two years ago, I participated in a four-session on-campus faculty seminar on meditation and the teaching self.  Fascinating experience (and the primary reading was Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach...what's not to like?!) One of the culminating assignments for the seminar was to write up an overview of a dream course I'd love to teach at our institution, if scheduling and general education core requirements and basically "real world" concerns weren't factors.  The assignment I submitted (a course on critical thinking) resulted in my college sending me to an intensive three-day conference on critical thinking; subsequently, a Math colleague and I spent over a year developing and presenting faculty workshops at our institution on how to foster critical thinking in our students and courses. Very much a privilege to be given that much support by my institution but also a tremendous responsibility.  I'm still rather amazed at how that personal assignment mushroomed into such a major and continuing career development.

So it's with a little caution that I put in words another dream course that's taken over my imagination. I have oodles of them, not all of them very practical but filled with stuff I'd love to read and study and discuss...including a combination sociology/lit or psychology/lit course.  I'm sure a course like the one I'm about to describe is already on the books at some institutions...probably as a 400-level or graduate course.  Alas (or perhaps for the good of my sanity), I don't think it's likely that this would fit a community's a little too narrow in focus for students who need/want to complete 100- and 200-level coursework...and are not likely to be English majors.  (But I'll leave the subject of English major for another day.)

The Lost Generation
After reading Paula McLain's novel The Paris Wife, a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, told mainly from his wife Hadley's point of view, and after teaching some of the Modernist poets in my Modern (and Contemporary) Poetry course this semester, I'm consumed by a burning desire to teach a course on The Lost Generation, that post-WWI group of novelists, poets, artists, etc. bouncing around Europe like so many billiard balls with each encounter affecting their trajectories.
Ezra Pound
TS Eliot
Gertrude Stein
Ernest Hemingway
Wyndham Lewis
James Joyce
F. Scott Fitzgerald
and let's not forget the artists like Picasso and Matisse

I'm already fascinated by the near-incestuous literary relationships between Pound and Eliot and Stein...and by Pound's apparent charisma (EVERYONE wanted this man's opinion and approval...not just Eliot but William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, lots of "big name" writers of the age). Reading The Paris Wife (which I found compelling and heart-wrenching) and then going back to Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast, I'm struck anew by the energy and power of this nexus of writers. While they were very much individual and idiosyncratic, it's easy to see that their interactions fed their collective creativity and honed their writing tremendously.  (I'm still critical of Pound's extensive editing of Eliot's The Waste Land, but that's a post for some other day.) No one would confuse their voices, but their interactions (not necessarily friendships) couldn't help but drive their writing and editing and development.

It would also be interesting, I think, to explore the somewhat peripheral role of women in this conglomeration. Certainly, Stein's regular "salons" and her advice for writers like Hemingway suggest an active role in this literary movement. And her voice and poetics were very much her own. But I'm a little put off by the overall promiscuity of the group...Hemingway's infidelity in particular. (Yes, okay, personally, I'm rather morally inflexible about things like that...but I'm also kind of fascinated by the historical relationship between male charisma and infidelity...Bill Clinton was often described as charming and charismatic...we've all seen the power of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s personality...BUT I digress...that's a completely different course topic and probably not an easily constructed one....Also, not really in my discipline.)

(Note:  yup, clearly in the throes of grading hell.  My brain is grasping at all kinds of interesting and engaging topics, pulling me away from the actual work I know I need to get done.  I suspect this is very INFJ of me...Grading papers is a very detail-oriented task AND I spend a lot of time and mental energy couching my feedback in ways that are, I hope, productive for students.  So it's no wonder that my brain wants instead to play in fields of big, fun ideas, tossing around concepts and questions and texts.)

Anyway...if you could teach a course on anything...what would you want most to teach people? and who would you teach it to? And why?  Discuss.

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