I had to drop a class. It was a real shame because I was really excited about the reading (I will probably still do most of it on my own). I just didn’t really want to fool with the discussion group. I was the only philosophy student in there, and I feel like my perspective was a little drowned out. It was full of comp lit kids. No offense to comp lit peeps out there (some of you are friends of mine. you know who you are), but what the fuck are you talking about half the time? I mean, I get it. You analyze style and look for textual resonances. But why? I don’t understand how we gain any purchase on any significant intellectual problems in this way. It’s perfectly understandable to perform stylistic analysis when some difficulty in the text presents itself. When you can’t grasp the meaning of text on the level of a naive reading, it is, naturally, time to shift your mode of interpretation rather than to give up on the text altogether. I just don’t understand the point when we don’t begin with some sort of basic hermeneutical goodwill and try to take the author at his/her word, at least for a start.
The bottom line —I couldn’t gain any purchase on what we were talking about because I couldn’t understand the logic of the conversation. It just seemed to buffet about, capriciously, with no regard for any intellectual goal or problem. I my mind, a seminar should go something like this:
Teacher/speaker/presenter: Ok background info on text and author, blah blah, brief thematic and programmatic remarks on the text, the author, the historical and intellectual context in which it was produced, blah blah, history of its reception blah. Here are the questions this raised for me 1.) Blah? 2.)Blah blah? 3.)Blaaah?? Ok, thanks. I leave the floor open.
Scholar 1: I had the same question(s)/I had different question(s)/I think your questions are bullshit, blah blah…
Scholar 2: Concur/disagree blah… maybe the question(s) should be reframed thusly: XYZ, blah, blah.
Teacher/presenter/speaker: great, we are having a conversation and trying to understand what is at stake in this text! BTW, my questions are awesome bc they address central issues as to if the text does what it purports to do blah, if the issue which the text addresses is legitimate, blah blah blah, if this tells us something new and interesting about how to interpret the world, blah, if the author has an ideological axe to grind, etc blah etc.
and so on…
Here’s how the class was going:
presenter: basically what i listed above, except no questions, just a statement.
Student 1: hmmmm… well I thought this about it, blah blah blah the author presented the material in such and such a style
Student 2: Ok. But I thought this: it was in such and such a style, and that suggests XYZ to me.
Student 3: I think the first guy was right. Why? Not for some basis in the way the text coheres or does not as a rational whole, as a program, as a project, as a trajectory of argumentative interest, but rather, because of the way so and so says such and such in this passage, i.e., a competing vision of the way the style “suggests” something.
comp lit is fine and dandy. i think it is a pretty cool idea. but on the ground, i haven’t seen much to make me like it. maybe i just don’t get it. i am pretty sure a seminar is supposed to look more like the former and not the latter instance. but perhaps that is just my prejudice for a particularly philosophic style which focuses on rational analysis of language and concepts —and when we see something than simply insinuates itself, we carry that insinuation back to the text and attempt to see if it cashes out in conceptual analysis,i.e., if what is suggested by the style of the text can be backed up by some content in the text (this is not to say authorial intent, but a reasoned approach to what the text is about).
OK. Back to work.
- nickthejam likes this
- thesoviette said: That’s too bad that you had such an experience in a comp lit class. Surely you can’t really base knowledge of a whole field on one bad class, with one bad professor! In my experience Comp Lit classes usually foster excellent discussion..
- savage-america likes this
- grapesofmath posted this