One of my colleagues was kind enough to collect final portfolios for me, and so I’m doing final grades tonight, enjoying reading through portfolios, tallying up points, wishing some students had come to class more often, being pleasantly surprised by how well others have done. The pneumonia’s still kicking my butt — I feel like I’m too tired to do practically anything, and the goop in my lungs made me gasp for breath after five minutes of shoveling snow, although I’ll also say my landlords are overwhelmingly sweet in their concern — but I’m going to try to get through the rest of the grading tonight. So probably no dissertation post tonight, unfortunately.
But all this reading of student writing, plus the fact that a couple students asked me for advice on what literature courses to take, has been making me start casting yearning glances at my bookshelves, and thinking about books I’d love to teach. One thing I’ve always wanted to do would be to teach a course on the history of political rhetoric, from the Pro Ligario to the Letter from Birmingham Jail. I’ve enjoyed teaching a couple of intro-level creative writing workshops, and I’ve enjoyed teaching a couple of 100-level literature survey courses, and I think the coolest thing I got to do was plan, propose and co-teach a 300-level course called Writing and Emerging Technologies for our school’s new IT minor program; we started with the Phaedrus, read Frankenstein and Shelley Jackson’s hypertext Patchwork Girl and Neuromancer plus a bunch of critical stuff and had a terrific time. And last spring I got to co-teach an experimental writing workshop on surrealism and the avant-garde, and there have been other fun projects, too: I’ve been lucky in the things I’ve been able to teach.
But my dream course? What do I long to teach, right now in the middle of winter, thinking about the fun things I might indulge myself in reading over the holidays before getting back down to serious work on the dissertation?
The contemporary American Novel. It’d be a 400-level course, I think, with some serious reading assignments, and there’d be a big final project where students would have to choose another, longer novel by one of the authors we’d already read in class. So we’d read The Crying of Lot 49 together in class, and Gravity’s Rainbow would be an option for the final project. We’d read Beloved, and Song of Solomon would be an option for the final project. Lolita and Pale Fire. White Noise and Underworld. Tracks or The Beet Queen and Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.
And looking back over that list, it strikes me that it’s ultimately a syllabus about American myths and mythologies. Which would beg me to include Steve Erickson, Joan Didion, James Ellroy, Lydia Davis, Philip K. Dick, Carole Maso, A. M. Homes. . . .
What would your dream syllabus be?