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Teaching Aesthetics in World Literatures: Beyond Identity Narratives

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Organizer: Samuel Jaffee

Co-Organizer: David Contreras

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The core objective of this seminar is to discuss methods to teach non-canonical, counter-hegemonic, fringe, or minor literatures. This seminar is situated in a long tradition of debate about the role of literature courses within department curricula. We take as a starting point the scholarship and practice of Pre-Texts by Doris Sommer and the interactive theatre protocol developed by Augusto Boal. These approaches share a commitment to critically examining cultural production generated by the tension between national hegemony and its others. We remember that Ben Okri remarked that “literature has no country.” How, then, to teach world literatures as intelligible identities to the current generation? How to teach language-cultures, across borders rather than nations or national literatures? While recognizing the limits of “borders” of many types, including those of empire and post-empire cultures, we will examine both how national institutions mark the space of literature and how literature places a certain tension on the space of the nation and its traditions. We invite submissions in this vein from a range of curricula, regions, genres, languages, theoretical lenses, and institutional structures. Participants will share experiences, course and curriculum proposals, methods, teaching approaches, and student-learning outcomes.

This session considers approaches to studying literature’s contributions to the poetics of identity, both within and beyond the borders of the classroom. Teaching world literatures as an analytical exercise in nation-specific, thesis-based argument obscures the transformative effects that reading literature can have in terms of connection, perspective, creativity, intellect, imagination, satisfaction, and admiration. Instructor-imposed explanations or directed questions turn students away. Socratic or New Historical approaches seem inaccessible to many students of the current generation and antithetical to the possibilities of great literary art to spark civic agency and critical thinking. This problem presents a need to revise the scope of the hermeneutics of pedagogy to incorporate the realm of aesthetics. Kant, Adorno, and Rancière have dealt with the question of aesthetic experience, and we will collectively seek insights into how instructors may harness aesthetics as a tool, integrate it with students’ critical thinking, and evaluate it as its own course goal.


Possible topics:
  • Pedagogies of critical race studies, gender studies, or Less-Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) and associated cultures

  • Regional consciousness

  • Multiple logics in the construction of a contested place

  • Ecocritical approaches to setting

  • Literary challenges to nationalist projects

  • Politics of nostalgia and reappropriation of pre-national social life

  • Literary treatment of history, art, music

  • Post-hegemony/post-subalternity political movements

  • Posthumanism, technoculture studies, biopolitics

  • Border theories

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