WELCOME UPR STUDENTS!
I’m glad you’re signed up for one of my classes. If you ever need help or have any questions, please don’t hesitate, just email me or come to office hours. Here’s some points about my classes you might want to know:
I teach literature courses primarily, not language courses. And so, while you will be writing and discussing literature in English, I will not be giving you in-depth feedback about your grammar or use of English. I will be grading you on your ability to understand and interpret literature. If you do want some feedback outside of class on your level of English just let me know.
Mainly, I want you to be engaged in the class. It doesn’t matter what your major is or what your level of English is. I want us to discuss literature, art, and ideas. And I hope you are both challenged and stimulated by the class! Outside of class or at office hours, we can certainly have a discussion in Spanish. Although English is my native tongue I do speak Spanish (with a funny American accent)!
The Study of Literature
Here’s the deal with the study of literature. There are two basic levels of truth to keep in mind. There are facts about a story (who wrote it, what a character says on page 6, etc.). These facts can be true or false. Then there is the level of interpretation (the story can be read as an allegory of World War II, the story uses its unreliable narrator to undermine a character , etc.). In that case, the claim is not so much true or false, but weak or strong. In a way, it is similar to the fields of history or philosophy, where what is important is the creation of an argument that is backed by reason and evidence. Interpretations are not the same as personal opinions.
So, it’s important to distinguish these two basic levels of truth. There are facts of literature and there are interpretations. In your own writing, make sure you know which level you are working on and how to deal with each level.
Ludwig Wittgenstein writes: “Don’t Think, but Look!” This quote is meant to redirect our thinking about the nature of concepts and categories. I want to use this quote to help redirect our thinking about literature. Make sure to always go back to the story when you are interpreting it and look closely. Don’t rely on your memory from reading the story, go back and check it, and very often you will find that your assumptions were a bit off or even entirely wrong!
Creativity and Curiosity
In my classes I always assign a number of creative projects such as writing short stories, doing podcasts, comics, or digital poetry. These creative projects are important in the learning process. The best way to learn about the nature of a plot, for example, is to have to construct one yourself. Creative projects give you the perspective of the writer and what it takes to create stories. In addition, I think that it is imperative that we foster creativity in students. We live in a complex, information-rich, world. It takes extreme creativity to wade through this virtual-real environment and to make it your own. We are all at risk of being washed away by the media waves. Plus there are serious problems in the world, like the destruction of the environment, and we need creativity to solve it. So let’s get creative!
At the same time, we need to keep an open mind, a curious mind, a wondering and wandering mind. There are many problems in the world, but the world is also marvelous and always surprising. Curiosity keeps us in contact with the wonder of nature, culture, and each other. Curiosity does not have an external reason, like getting a job, making money, impressing your friends or family. It has an internal compass that points you in the direction of whatever you are interested in and drives you to discover more about it. It also arises when you are faced with something that you may not believe you are interested in but that is complex and fascinating. So, though you may not feel a desire to learn about literature, keep an open mind, activate your curiosity and see what you can discover!
Alright, check out your syllabus for more information about your class. And have fun at the Literary Cafe!