Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Dan Wickett


I agree with you on both major counts you bring up - contemporary writing should be viewed as literature, and only that writing from the past that does meet whatever today's standards for such should join the ranks of the contemporary material.

I also think it's pretty sad that those in charge of teaching this don't seem to be able to demonstrate themselves what it is they are teaching and/or why.

Great reading, thanks.


I agree that the defenses of the move to contemporary literature are less than inspiring. The teachers quoted don't seem to know the word 'pedagogy'.

It might be possible to teach high school students concepts like plot, characterization, point of view, and style from contemporary best seller type novels. It might also be quite possible to work with poets who are easy to swallow to start students down the road to serious poetics: verse, rhyme, meter, etc.

It's *possible* that reading 'Cold Mountain' in high school could prepare you in some way for reading Faulkner in college (the only place where, in my view, he is likely to be comprehended). But the contemporary lit has to be taught with the goal of preparation in mind, not just entertainment (or 'infotainment').

I would agree with shifting to a mixed diet including some contemporary literature if it were done for the right reasons. The key idea should be to get students reading, and give them basic tools and concepts (as partially enumerated above) and a measure of exposure. In my view high school students probably aren't ready for 'The Tempest' anyway.

But this seems to be occurring more out of laziness and lack of imagination than out of a desire for improved pedagogy.

Hapax Legomenon

Dangerous opinion to discontinue the teaching of literature! ( A lot of tenure-track people with PhD's will be out to get you). Teaching books as part of a canon is dry; far more natural is to give students a chance to choose their own books.I like the idea of students giving input about their preferences and the teacher forging a list on that basis. Less formal settings like bookclubs probably result in greater enthusiasm and participation.

Having taught literature and writing at several universities, I can say that college lit courses can be unrewarding. Why? 1)some of these books involve major time commitments, 2)students may not be interested in the subjects/themes (and why go through a book that means requires such a commitment of time?) 3) political issues about what constitutes great literature/art tend to cloud discussions and 4)the high cost of college tuition raises the question the "value" of a literature course vs. a computer course. Interestingly, I found the most enjoyable place for discussing literature was foreign language classes. Students are thrilled at discovering a foreign literary work and are not really concerned with analysis so much as gaining linguistic competence.

I never particularly enjoyed the teaching of literature at the graduate level, but at the high school and undergraduate level, literature can be a good way to allow students to discuss their problems and emotions. However, older readers may actually gain more from these "ancient themes" and have more tolerance of traditional storytelling without the videogame effects. Older readers can also critique a work on the basis of what they have already experienced; unfortunately, undergraduates look at fiction (both contemporary and classical) without having experience to hang it onto; reading at that age results in a less organic, more abstract approach to narrative (i.e, more appreciation for formal structure and less appreciation for realism or motivation). The ideal literature class (for me) would involve 10 college students, 10 people in their mid50's, and one teacher too passionate about literature to pursue a PhD.

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