How Should We Teach Literature?

Thanks to Clarissa for highlighting this article, which has been removed from the paywall. In my graduate program, some courses were all theory and no content, others historical materialism, others cultural studies. My own academic work has some structuralist inflections, but also treats Kafka’s stories as if they are real. Thoughts on whether my approach to seduce more Americans to the Deutsch Side is valiant, or in the immortal words of FULLPROF, high-school level platitudes?

Clarissa's Blog

Rebecca Schuman has published a very interesting article in Chronicle of Higher Ed about the prospects of salvaging the field of Germanic Studies from disappearing into oblivion. The article offers an impressive contrast with the poorly written, extremely predictable and painfully embarrassing stuff CHE has been publishing lately, so do read it.

What I like the most about the piece is that it outlines a project that used to be my own but that was almost completely beaten out of me in grad school:

So here is my new mission: I want to inspire everyone to see that although worthwhile as entertainment and edification, German literature also provides praktische Erkenntnis (practical insight) into more-successful living. For example, also in Faust, the title character’s deal with Mephistopheles brings into stark relief an important point about boundless ambition at any cost. And we can recognize Gregor Samsa, the cockroach-esque monster from Kafka’s Metamorphosis, as a cautionary…

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2 thoughts on “How Should We Teach Literature?

  1. I agree with you – anything to hook -’em. My studies had a distinctly Marxist bent, so you can imagine there were at least a few germans I held dear.

    As for how to teach literature, there are multiple ways to do so. Anyone who thinks they have the one right way hasn’t been around long enough to see their theories go passé. I was often criticized for my focus on content at the expense of structure and aesthetics – but my committee was rightly looking for balance rather than dismissing my approach outright.

    Glad to see you getting some love in the comments over at CHE!


  2. I love theory. But I’m in Latin American Studies and we have never not talked about “content”. The way to win people over to a language discipline is to get them interested in the culture and cultural debates; not everyone studies a foreign language so as to study its literature but many will continue if it means talking about culture/history/etc. and-or issues that have to do with life in general. Literature for the gen-ed student is different than for the specialist … and whoever was teaching Clarissa at Yale was not very sophisticated intellectually, if the story she tells is true.


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