Teaching Literature As/Is a Process
I would like to use an anecdote about the Oprah Winfrey show to begin this discussion. This story embodies certain assumptions and expectations, which I want to discuss further, about reading and literature. In 1997 Oprah Winfrey interviewed Toni Morrison via telephone. The conversation went something like the following:
Winfrey: Are you aware that some people find your books difficult? They can't just go straight through the books. They find they have to go back to certain passages, back and forth between sections at times in order to find connections they feel they have missed, in order to try to make sense of things.
There was this rather long pause, then:
Morrison: That's called reading, my dear.
Many of us within the field of English studies quickly identify with Morrison's comment, implicitly bemoaning the lack of reading ability our students seem to manifest. We understand that reading is the kind of process Winfrey, perhaps unwittingly, describes and wonder why our students do not seem to see it the same way or seem to appreciate and enjoy this process. Students just don't seem to read in the same way we do: they don't seem to understand its complexity. Ah, what to do.
To my mind another question lurks silently in the midst of this conundrum, and a different puzzle emerges if we hold a mirror up to our-