Category Archives: 490

EN490: Alexander the Little and the Furious Sappho

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This upcoming Spring, I’ll be teaching our Major Authors course–organized around Alexander Pope, Mary Wortley Montagu, and the material culture of authorship. I’ve not taught these authors in any extended fashion before, so I’m very excited about the opportunity! Given those butterflies in the stomach, I’m making a draft available on Google Drive–any and all feedback, comments, and suggestions are very welcome. In addition to suggestions about adding/cutting/replacing the readings, I’m particularly interested in ideas for scaffolding the major term assignment options.

Students will have three options to choose from: editing/creating Wikipedia pages on selected works of Pope or Montagu, creating a new Librivox recording of Pope and/or Montagu (I have dreams of students reading the correspondence between AP and MWM!), or correcting the OCR of selected works by Pope or Montagu using 18th Connect’s Typewright. I want to keep it as simple as possible, while allowing for the highest degree of (within reason) flexibility, so I plan to organize the students into “clubs” of 3 or 4 students each. They will be able to draw on these clubs for peer review, research, and general technical assistance, but I decided not to have the projects be more fully collaborative in nature–I think this allows students to benefit both from the familiarity of individual authorship and the organized difference of the media they’ll be working within. Learning how to edit a Wikipedia page is hard enough, without being forced into what for many students still feels like an artificial collaborative activity. Ultimately, I want the collaborative elements of the writing to emerge organically from the medium and the selection of primary source texts, becoming instantiations of the critical contexts we’ll be examining–public poetic debate, authorship, print and manuscript culture.

Highsmith student/faculty film event

Recent years have seen a dramatic upswing in the popularity of Patricia Highsmith’s work. In this century, two biographies have been written about the prolific pulp novelist, and an array of laudatory articles have appeared in forums like Slate, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, and The Times of London. As of this date, three new films based on her novels—there are over ten films currently in existence—are in varying stages of production, including a British teen version of Strangers on a Train, an arthouse adaptation of her lesbian romance The Price of Salt, and a treatment of The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortenson and directed by Hossein Amini (Drive, 2011).  Yet, her work has received very little critical attention. This term, my EN490: Major Authors course was organized around four of her novels, including Strangers on a Train, The Cry of the Owl, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Price of Salt (in addition to several short stories).

This past Saturday, my students pulled off quite a nice class event as their final experience in the term–we worked together to develop an afternoon with Patricia Highsmith’s Talented Mr. Ripley, which included a three-student, two-faculty discussion panel. The students did most of the work to plan and organize the event–they spoke with campus newspaper representatives, created posters and other publicity materials, traveled to classes to encourage student turnout, learned how to use the projection booth and the auditorium technology (very effectively, I might add!), book the room, contact the faculty panelists, arrange snacks, and generally ensure the event happened without hitch. We discussed which film to show, why we wanted to show it, what we wanted the audience to leave with, and so on; I still think the MU community could have benefited from seeing René Clément’s 1960 Plein Soleil, instead of the 1999 Minghella version, but the students made a good case for guerrilla education, and we went with the American film. We did have to pare down our plans a bit, but in the end, it worked well. I’m awaiting final reflections from the class, but I would definitely attempt it again–we learned quite a bit!

As a bit of tech and Highsmith indulgence on my part, I created a mashup-slash-mini-documentary about the author, which you can view online.

Front cover of the program

Event program

Introducing Patricia Highsmith

Tomorrow I meet for the first time with my EN490: Major Authors course, which I’m so excited about! It’s a larger class than I’d anticipated, but hey–the more the merrier. And, the more folks I can turn to into followers of Patricia Highsmith, the better! This is a writing intensive class, so we’ll be doing weekly critical responses (or revisions to previous responses) in preparation for two substantial essays. But, instead of a final exam, I’m giving the class the opportunity to stage a public event of some sort around Highsmith’s films and/or their research over the course of the term. Students will be responsible for envisioning, organizing, advertising, and executing the event. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

We’re reading four novels this term, in conjunction with some short stories and three films–of the novels, I’ve included Strangers on a Train, The Cry of the Owl, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Price of Salt–now that I’ve ordered the books and everything is set to go, I’m sort of wishing we were reading Deep Water. But I think we’ve got more than enough on our plate as it is, especially since we’re only meeting once a week.

Our first class, I’m hoping to get more on board with my twitter backchannel experiment, and I can’t forget to discuss the crowd-sourced class policies–I somehow got sidetracked in 240 and 203, though I did remember to ask students in 240 to review mine and consider what they would change. We’ll go over the projects, Highsmith’s biography and her critical reception, and then read one or two of her short stories to start our discussion. I’m still trying to figure out which short stories would be best for the purpose–maybe “Quiet Night” or “Oona, the Jolly Cave Woman.” What fun! I was also able to arrange a guest lecture for the third week of classes–one of my colleagues will come to give an overview of American crime fiction, and particularly its gendering, as a context for Highsmith. I say again: what fun!