Introduction to Fiction

When I was still on a lit & theory track at KU, I taught two different versions of the Introduction to Fiction course that rounded out the three-semester Freshman/ Sophomore writing requirement. The first was a Summer Semester course title Literature and Oppression. We read some pretty catastrophic things (Manlio Arguetta’s One Day of Life, Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye, Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero) over the course of the semester. A main focus of the course was to go beyond the horror and find ways to talk about how the texts did what they did, aesthetically and polemically. Those were my early days of reading Bakhtin, so I was trying to reconcile the ways he talked about voice with my old Lukác-inspired fixations on conflict and typicality and all the rest of it. As the semester went on, I found myself constantly waving my arms and saying “Yes, but how is the text doing that thing you’re saying it’s doing?!?”

Because of the emotional drain that the Literature and Oppression course put on both me and my students, I opted to try a different syllabus the following fall. Because I was interested in antebellum American fiction, I started with some cannon texts (House of the Seven Gables and Benito Cereno) and Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall, which I was in love with at the time. We moved forward from there, with some Charles Chesnutt  stories,  Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man, and The Jungle. Like the Lit and Oppression course, my emphasis was on putting the literature in dialogue with students’ interests from outside of class, which is generally what I understood to be the function of a gen-ed literature course. The heart of this class was a pretty standard mutt genre research paper, which asked students to take the text as an illustration of a situation, making us think about that situation in a more nuanced way.

When I was teaching high school, the cultural work that texts were doing was what I liked talking about with students. I blogged (poorly) about books and voices and politics in my sparse spare time, with some of that material showing up in one-on-one reading ventures I got into with the special kind of kids that sometimes happens with. Stories are important, which people don’t always expect to hear from someone who teaches comp.

But I would love to come back to an introduction to fiction course some day. Thinking about the rhetorical impact of stories has been central to a lot of my FYW courses, which usually include narrative arguments that ask students to think about how someone like Laura Gottesdiener uses narrative elements to make her investigative journalism especially compelling. On the other hand, a radical science fiction course reading things like Octavia Butler and China Mieville and maybe Halo Jones would be fun.