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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Talking it out

In the Modernities Seminar the other day I gave my paper by simply talking it out. I had the printed paper in front of me, and read some quotes from it, but I did not read a paper aloud. I always feel stupid reading a paper to an audience when I feel I should be talking to them.

The process of talking allowed me to come up with a new conception of what I was doing, to synthesize material. I was articulate enough to put forward my ideas. The other attendees at the seminar then grilled me for an hour and a half. I responded to whatever was thrown at me.

In the graduate course I am teaching, a student gave a presentation on René Girard, then we talked about the ideas. I didn't lecture at all. At most, I gave longer-than-I-should have interventions.

In Unamuno's Niebla, a novel I am teaching in my other course, the main character goes around and asks questions of everyone he knows. What is love? How do you know if a man is really in love. He contrasts his opinions with those of everyone else. To teach the novel I also used a Socratic method.

The soliloquy, whether in Shakespeare or Unamuno, is still a dialogic form, a kind of self-questioning. What should I do? Unamuno is the author of every word in the novel, but he invents characters with differing perspectives in order to figure out what he thinks.

Writing is a form of staged dialogue. For example, I might use a series of quotations from other critics or from my primary sources. I might answer imaginary objections to my arguments. Someone else could respond to my arguments.

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