Combined Approaches (Thematic and Chronological)—Jeremy Proctor, CSU
Our main focus is the idea of colonialism. We have a discussion at the beginning of the semester on what the word conjures in the mind, and after we get through the basic denotation of one country dominating or imposing its will on another country or territory/people, we see that colonialism can go beyond the physical. The most threatening form of colonialism, and least noticeable, is mental colonialism. Mental colonialism is adopting a way of looking at the world which serves status quo or those in power. For example, mental colonialism might be accepting that women should always adopt the husband’s last name (one of the criticisms of patriarchy found in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway). We then talk about how that works which allows me to bring in many literary theory ideas regarding mental constructs that we use in our culture and others use in theirs as well. This strategy allows instructors to focus on any subversion they wish to focus on whether it is race, gender, queer/somatic studies, Marxism, etc. I personally cover these and more at various points in the semester. For example, I can discuss Althusser’s theory of the ISA (ideological state apparatus) to show that parents, religions, schools, and the media help shape people into good capitalists if a passage in a book deals with the this idea. Students love this type of information!
Other than that, I follow the prescribed description of the class and use texts that are multicultural and usually from some kind of minority position (Zamyatin’s We from Russia during the Russian Revolution, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway focusing on feminism in 1920s England, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Short Stories focusing on a Jew in Prague during the heightened times of anti-Semitism, Anand’s Untouchable to show the experience of a Dalit—member of the lowest caste—in India, Reed’s Flight to Canada focusing on a postmodern account of race—specifically African Americans—shortly after the civil rights movement, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude focusing on the tumultuous family life in South America/Columbia, and Pamuk’s My Name is Red focusing on the relations between Europe/the West and the Middle-East and how those are actually postcolonial constructs).
As for sequencing, I use a chronological sequence for the most part with a few exceptions. Recently, I started with Zamyatin’s We which was published in 1921. This text is not the first published in my course readings, but I find it is a great attention grabber and creates interest in my audience (non-major freshman and sophomores for the most part). I then move into the least liked text (at least in my class surveys most students found it to be the least enjoyable), Mrs. Dalloway (1925). This weeds some of the less serious students out, then I move into Kafka’s short stories (1912-1924) which students also find interesting. From that point on, the texts are all chronological.
So basically I follow the chronology of the century with a little meddling at the beginning of the semester to entertain and get the attention of the class, and then I show that literature requires some thinking as well.
I introduce each text with a lecture to help illuminate a new way to look at the work which usually focuses on a specific genre (such as magical realism or dystopian literature) or a literary theory to use as an interpretive tool (such as minor literature or feminist theory). The rest of the time we have discussions on the sections we read focusing on themes, literary devices (symbolism, imagery, diction, etc.), narrative point of view and strategy, character, personal response/reader response, and alternative interpretations (Marxist approach, feminist approach, postcolonial approach, etc.). I attempt to make these student-led discussions, but I usually have some back-up notes for passages I think are important or may spark a discussion among the class.