(Re-) Capturing the Novel

By Kamm, Lewis | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

(Re-) Capturing the Novel


Kamm, Lewis, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

We can help students (re-) capture the power and wonder of the novel by simultaneously involving them in numerous explications of text and in a mode of scholarship seldom seen today--a present state of studies--that needs merely to focus in an abbreviated manner on one of the most fundamental aspects of the genre, the one in which it is written: time. Sharing with the reader a detailed week-by-week syllabus, I attempt to show how this combination of elements enables students to come to grips with central issues, themes, and challenging questions that rest at the foundation of the interconnecting elements of virtually any great novelist's work.

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Many professors and students believe that requiring as much as 100 pages a week is too demanding for students who attempt to read fiction in English, let alone who face the challenges of being able to read and analyze it in a foreign language. Nevertheless, I have found that we can help students (re-) capture the power and wonder of the novel by simultaneously involving them in numerous explications of text focusing on verb tenses, adjectives, phrases in apposition, choice of nouns, point of view, elements of space, and so forth and in a mode of scholarship seldom seen today--a present state of studies--that needs merely to focus in an abbreviated manner on one of the most fundamental aspects of the genre, the one in which it is written: time. The primary goal of this article is to share this approach and much of an actual syllabus as a specific example that will allow the reader to evaluate and perhaps adapt as appropriate to his or her own teaching style the exploratory methods proposed. The complete syllabus is available at .

Inasmuch as I begin the course with a lecture on major critics' interpretation of time in Emile Zola and require oral reports based on a bibliography on this subject, some readers might be concerned that my approach could emphasize bibliography at the risk of minimizing the students' exposure to great literature. However, I believe in the commanding effectiveness of bibliography and its ability to lend historical lineage, credibility, and justification to our understanding and interpretation of fiction. Moreover, requiring students to examine secondary resources in this manner, to make state-of-studies oral presentations, and to write several explications related to two novels has actually resulted in their becoming far better readers of fiction than in courses where I have guided them through a whirlwind of five, six, or seven novels. I would like to emphasize that I require students to submit all of their written work via my web site and, with my guidance, to be engaged in the reading and evaluation of one another's explications, all in a secure password-protected environment. The three-fold purpose of this collaborative approach is to promote a professional environment of constructive criticism, to encourage responsible, serious and professional commentary, and to make it possible for students to follow up one another's comments and engage in further discussion of the primary and secondary works privately or collectively.

This combination of elements enables students to come to grips with the precise kinds of central issues, themes, and challenging questions that (a) exist at the foundation of the interconnecting elements of virtually any novelist's work, (b) exemplify the richness of different approaches to literature, (c) provide an orientation for two brief lectures from me, numerous explications of text by all of us, and presentations and reviews by them of specific chapters or articles from the "state of studies" bibliography, and (d) the return to which in the many other writers whom we love to read and to teach can expand and heighten the literary experience for all of us; in this regard, I utilize only representative texts, rather than complete works, of additional authors. …

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