Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Picky Eater

I am sooo not grading any more essays tonight. Truth be told, I knocked off a long time ago; they're just gonna have to wait until next week because I'm not going to kill myself getting through them by Thursday.

I'm not a complete reprobate though; I've been picking away at my summer syllabus, so I'm doing work. ... It's just not the teaching work that is currently under deadline right now. And it's the fun part I could spend hours and hours on. I'm basically eating my dessert instead of my vegetables. Speaking of, the flavor in the bowl at my side right now is French Vanilla. Hmph. Needs some chocolate with it.

But anyway, the theory is that if I work on teaching prep (even though it's for the next class), then I'm not completely slacking off ---- I'm following the rules in Boice's guide for new profs, right? The trouble with this theory is that it contradicts with the previous plan: re-use the syllabus I made up when last I taught it and therefore not have any prep. Or have as little prep as possible. Well, I am sorta following the plan, honest! Because I have taught this course before (think: hello! Welcome to your major!), I know which stuff taught well and which caused various problems. And which stories or poems I just decided I don't really like. And which ones I don't really have anything to say except "hey, I like this." (To use the pedagogical lingo, I don't "have an entry point" into some of these texts and my students didn't have anything to say either, so we sat there and stared at each other. No fun.)

So my format and many of the larger works are set already, as are the breakdown of assignments (not the prompts, unless I recycle them). I'm just trying to pull out a few of the shorter things and replace them. However, this is the part I can tinker with for hours, just moving texts around, getting one book after another from my shelves, looking up various texts and authors and whatnot in Amazon or the library for availability ---- fun fun. I could dither around on this crap for days and never go back to my actual dissertation or grading work. (ahh, I love the shiny new potential of the future class ---- it always seems so close to perfection and joy, unlike the messy and compromised ordinariness of whatever is my present class, which never lives up to perfection or plans.)

I have a post or three percolating away about how, oddly enough, my intro class is very traditional: no theory or even criticism. We spend all our time learning explication and formal analysis. I have reasons for this (which will be explained in these future posts) but mainly I've noticed that getting our school's students to move beyond summarizing things and to actually quote the text and then talk about what they quoted takes an entire quarter in my other classes, so I feel they need more ass-kicking at the intro level than they're getting.

Compared to the way Brilliant Ex-BF teaches, my class looks mired in the fifties. He taught his class as if he were still at the tiny elite liberal arts college he graduated from. But you're not, I remember myself thinking. Your students are not the children of lawyers and old-monied professionals and they went to crappy public CA high schools not the whole "prep school" thing back east, and two thirds of my students weren't majors anyway, since there's a loophole that lets students in the social sciences take this course to replace a writing class. Hence my questions a while back about teaching to the top or the middle of the class --- raising the bar or and asking them to reach or pushing them up over it from below.

Ah, I'm getting distracted and writing those posts right now instead of what I actually want to discuss --- back to the matter at hand: the reading list. Last time I made the reading list very light and nagged them to re-read each piece multiple times; this time I've stuffed some more stuff in even though the course length is shorter, because I'd like them to write about stuff we haven't talked about extensively in class. They get no credit from me for regurgitating the reading we produce in class; I want them to create their own argument.

I'm also toying with the idea of a theme, but not a super-fancy cutting-edge one like Brilliant (you know, postmodern subaltern diaspora of the simulacrum, or something like that) --- what about food? I like food. I'm always picking food incidents out of texts and analyzing them for culture. I do a lot with how food teaches us about class, as well. (And yes, I've heard that food studies is going to be one of the new hot things; no, it's nowhere in my dissertation and I don't feel like changing topics and starting over a few spare weeks before graduation. Sigh.)

Anyways: food? I've got several good choices, including a lot of stories that deal with the refusal or inability to eat. Trouble is, all these food stories about poverty and death and anorexia and racism and sexism and madness are kinda depressing. Know of any funny or pleasurable food stories? Actually, any good food text suggestions are welcome; please leave them in the comments. Happy would be good though. And I'd prefer newer to older stuff in the vain and foolish hopes that it might make plagiarism a little bit harder.

Last time I did not have a theme but just an aggregation of poems and stories and a play, which had some accidental connections across them but it was clearly a random assortment. I've seen people who do this course under a theme focus their reading list way too tightly and just drive the students nuts with the incredible repetitiveness of the theme, or suffered because each text had too similar a "take" on the theme and students rebelled at the idea that they had to apply X to each text and get pretty much the same result every time.

I think it's hard to do a theme well, but on the other hand, my students last time weren't particularly jazzed or energized with my class, and they said that pretty straight up on their evals. (Sigh. I will have at least one whole post on those damn evals.) I was thinking that maybe a theme might change the way they react on the final evaluation. Or at least the comments would be source-able in some aspect of the course.

Ok, my ice cream bowl is empty ---- got any tasty poems or stories over there instead? I promise to at least taste everything.


kermitthefrog said...

Oooh, check out Serve It Forth by M.F.K. Fisher. She's got a bunch of stories about enjoying food.

kermitthefrog said...

Well, essays/narrative reflections, really.

Anonymous said...

Trying this comment again: Denise Gigante's Taste has a chapter on Keats (and nausea), among other things, and an old friend pointed out to me once that "The Eve of St. Agnes" is full of tasty food. My favorite literary work about eating remains Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K., but that's not very uplifting for most people.

Meansomething said...

Not happy, not funny, but definitely worth considering: "A Small, Good Thing" by Raymond Carver.

Graphic narrative aka comic strip?: Lynda Barry has some amazing ones. I'm thinking of the one in "Big Ideas" where the woman keeps eating toast. Or the one in "Come Over Come Over" where Marlys and Maybonne prepare a birthday party for their working single mom using all these packaged 70's foods: "Jello 1-2-3" and German chocolate cake mix and orange Kool-aid.

Robert Frost, "Blueberries"
Robert Hass, "Meditation at Lagunitas" ("blackberry, blackberry, blackberry"--not really about eating, but about the way "the word is elegy to the thing it signifies")
Mona Van Duyn, "Homework" (about canning peaches)
And of course Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"!

Cool idea! Will think about others!

Renaissance Girl said...

"Eating Poetry," Mark Strand
"Swell me a bowl with lusty wine," Ben Jonson
Various odes of Neruda
(a stretch, but) "Emperor of Ice Cream," Wallace Stevens
"Pomegranates," Kimberly Johnson
"Persimmons," Li-Young Lee
"Blue Wine," John Hollander

k8 said...

Candy Freak by Steve Almond is a fun book. I've use individual chapters with my students and they've responded well to it. The March 2008 issue of College English is all about food writing and rhetoric of food. There is an article titled Books That Cook about a food lit course (I saw a conference presentation that came from it that was great). If you can't get the articles email me. I can send pdfs of the articles to you. Here is the url for the table of contents: http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ce/contents/125133.htm

Of course, there's always Green Eggs and Ham. ;-)

Earnest English said...

Damn food and literature! I was going to do my dissertation on that years ago -- and then I stopped and got scooped and now some College English issue that I've missed is on food and lit? I can't stand it!

Sisyphus!! I'm sorry I didn't make it to Foglandia. It was too much to get there. I have so little energy I poop out before any fun begins anyway. And I get totally overwhelmed (can we talk about crying in the bathroom at work?) so I don't know what made me think I'd be able to handle the drive up there. But I miss you! And you're not that far away anyway, are you? And you did get cheese. =)

Sisyphus said...

kermit: I've heard of Fisher; maybe I'll have time to check her out.

phoenix: I've actually taught the Eve of St Agnes before in this class! I was thinking of possibly swapping it out, but you're right, lots of fun sensual food passages. Personally, I like it way better than Goblin Market, but they might pair well together to teach, eh?

meansomething: I love the Hass poem and I know someone who knows someone who got blackberries as a tattoo because of that poem. Very cool. Not relevant to food and lit, but still cool. I will check out all your other suggestions.

Renaissance Girl, why is the wine blue in the Hollander piece? I know some of the others you mention, but not all.

Wow, k8, I knew that this field was hot but hadn't realized how this train has already left the station. Not that I would be able to jump on it anyways, but it sounds like it's been brewing (heh heh) for quite a while.

EE, I responded again on your blog! That thing is going to look very strange in the comments.

k8 said...

It is an interesting issue of CE. It isn't all food/lit articles, though. I contains an article on rhetorics of sustainability and another article in the same vein. While College English does have literature-related articles, it does seem to lean towards pedagogy and comp/rhet scholarship.

So, there is still plenty of space to get those ideas out there in print EE. I would think of it this way: Having a special issue on the topic makes more people aware of interest in this area, thus making it more likely to get an article published about food/lit.