I’ll be teaching a few sections of English Composition at North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s in the Fall. To say that a few goosebumps sprung on my neck upon hearing “Professor Press” is putting it pretty mildly. This is the best birthday present a guy could have.
It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like “It’s really important not to lie.” OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I really don’t feel it. Until I get to be about 30 and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can’t trust you. I feel that I’m in pain, I’m nervous, I’m lonely and I can’t figure out why. Then I realize, “Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie.” The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting — which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff — can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.
David Foster Wallace, quoted by walkwhilereading. There is quite a lot in Wallace that I love and think about now knowing that I will probably be spending the rest of my life teaching literature and writing. This interview has a number of interesting points on his teaching:
I like to teach freshman lit because ISB gets a lot of rural students who aren’t very well educated and don’t like to read. They’ve grown up thinking that literature means dry, irrelevant, unfun stuff, like cod liver oil. Getting to show them some more contemporary stuff — the one we always do the second week is a story called “A Real Doll,” by A.M. Homes, from “The Safety of Objects,” about a boy’s affair with a Barbie doll. It’s very smart, but on the surface, it’s very twisted and sick and riveting and real relevant to people who are 18 and five or six years ago were either playing with dolls or being sadistic to their sisters. To watch these kids realize that reading literary stuff is sometimes hard work, but it’s sometimes worth it and that reading literary stuff can give you things that you can’t get otherwise, to see them wake up to that is extremely cool.
This is my number one thought regarding teaching lit: be passionate about what I’m teaching and be excited and if I’m excited hopefully the kids will be also. The other aspect is to really push the idea of finding something you can relate to in the text we’re reading, which is something Wallace reinforces:
What do you think is uniquely magical about fiction?
Oh, Lordy, that could take a whole day! Well, the first line of attack for that question is that there is this existential loneliness in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking or what it’s like inside you and you don’t know what it’s like inside me. In fiction I think we can leap over that wall itself in a certain way. But that’s just the first level, because the idea of mental or emotional intimacy with a character is a delusion or a contrivance that’s set up through art by the writer. There’s another level that a piece of fiction is a conversation. There’s a relationship set up between the reader and the writer that’s very strange and very complicated and hard to talk about. A really great piece of fiction for me may or may not take me away and make me forget that I’m sitting in a chair. There’s real commercial stuff can do that, and a riveting plot can do that, but it doesn’t make me feel less lonely.
There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone — intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.
We’re doing “Consider the Lobster” in my English 2 class and I don’t wanna spoil what we’ll be doing regarding the essay, but I think it will be a neat exercise.
I did not read a comic in public today. Instead I taught one in a classroom.