I have a good class this semester. There, I said it.
A couple of weeks ago, we read Italo Calvino’s story “Meiosis” which is an exercise in messing up reader expectations, and so we were talking about re-reading. The issue that sparked this was the question “Is a story which is essentially a mindfuck any good the second time, when you are aware of the mindfuckery?” (Not giving any more detail, since I do not wish to spoil the story for anyone who has not read it; if you haven’t, you totally should.)
So we were talking about reading as the sum of the textual experiences you bring to the text, and then I asked what I thought might be a harmless question, viz. “Have you ever read something you liked, and then hated it on second reading?” and one student said Twilight, and all hell broke loose, but in a good way. We spent the rest of the class discussing Twilight (which I have not read, but I can still totally discuss it), which was not the plan, but it was a great learning experience.
Not that this is a class of angels, by any stretch. This week is Heart of Darkness, and there was a notable lack of enthusiasm in class on Wednesday. I let them go early and told them to finish their darn reading by today, and we would tackle it again.
There’s an exercise I like to do with a class when there is reading that is hard, which is to give them 15 minutes at the start of class to write any questions they have about it on the board. I give them this instruction, and then I leave the room and let them get on with it. The leaving the room is key, because I find that students often have questions they think are stupid and they may be reluctant to ask them when you are looking. Writing your stupid question anonymously (or at least not in front of the prof) is easier, somehow.
So this morning, this is what I did, and I was absolutely astonished to find that before I left the room, one student had said “let’s be systematic about this,” and another one had agreed, and a third was calling for the best speller in the class to stand up and do the writing on the board. This has never happened before.
So I went and grabbed a coffee and came back, and there were a score of really good questions on the board, and the rest of the class was an energetic and intelligent discussion.
Awesome. Sometimes my job is really cool.
Also, I got to give them Howard Felperin’s awesome explanation of how Kurtz’s last words really might have been the Intended’s name, if Kurtz was speaking French, which is always good for a giggle.