Having wrapped up a long semester here in Albany, I finally have some time to update this website. My dissertation is moving smoothly towards completion, and I am hard at work revising an essay on close reading for a book slated for publication with Fordham UP. Though this was a very hectic and challenging semester, I managed to get a lot of work done and look forward to teaching an upcoming course on the elegy . This semester was spent teaching a general education course entitled “Media, Technology, and Culture.” We focused on William Carlos Williams’s long poem Paterson. This class was an experiment informed by much of the teaching I’ve been doing over the last few years. We started the semester by reading a set of historical and theoretical essays by Andy Clark, Rebbeca Solnit, Lewis Mumford, and Manuel DeLanda intended to help students see how Paterson engages questions of urbanization, history, epistemology, and gender. Rather than ask students to compose conventional essays, I had them to respond to the poem with collages, recorded podcasts (a la PoemTalk), and short books or zines (see the images below). These textual objects were designed and published in conjunction with Patrick Kiley from Publication Studio Hudson, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with him in future classes.
For some time I have been trying to develop alternatives to the two dominant forms of undergraduate writing: ‘close reading’ or theoretically-informed ‘critique.’ As invaluable as these forms can be, I have found that the infrastructure that once supported these modes is crumbling. Undergraduates have been severely underserved by the prominence of high-stakes testing in High School, and they lack the sorts of literacy that made the typical kinds of reading and writing done in literary studies practically viable. It is unsurprising that undergraduates are fleeing from English departments in droves. Our expectations and habits as teachers often make texts appear to be needlessly obscure or idiosyncratic. It is, therefore, an opportune moment for pedagogical innovation and the challenge is finding ways of showing students how the experience of reading and discussing difficult texts is both exciting and deeply pragmatic. As a teacher, I am trying to move past traditional periodizing frames and to organize courses in ways that reveal the deep continuities between literary texts and the questions posed in other disciplines. The goal is not to be interdisciplinary but to highlight how literary texts might refract and alter the subjects discussed in the laboratories and lecture halls our students inhabit.
Williams’s worldly curiosity and subversions of academic boundaries made for rousing, funny and generative discussions with students and asking students to respond to Paterson using digital and print technologies gave them an opportunity to draw on skills and ideas they had picked up outside of my classroom. On the whole, the course was a success, and it was energizing to see a group of young people animated by such a challenging and complex work of art.
In the coming months, I am going to do my best to keep posting about the reading, writing, and teaching I am doing. I hope all of you enjoy the holidays. Here is to a productive and pleasant New Year.