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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

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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