Teaching Start of Week 3

20th Century Literature: Lectures yesterday on Conrad and Imperialism. I found it difficult yesterday to implement student interaction during the lecture. This was largely because I felt the pressure of time. One student last week observed that she felt she was not getting “enough content” in the lecture… so I felt some need to cover the topic before any discussion. Heart of Darkness is a wonderful work, but it is very hard to teach well because there is so much going on in those “few” pages. At the same time I am aware that students in general do have a real difficulty reading this work: it is so packed with images, metaphors, wide connotations. So I have a real challenge to hone my teaching to get the essence of this work across so that students are empowered to read it and understand it. During the tutorial I decide to spend a little time on this – to try to help to get a focus on the language. We looked at a couple of sentences at the end of the 3rd paragraph on the first page: Marlow’s descriptions of the sky and the sun setting over the city of London. This produced an energized class and some real understanding began to flow as we explored the literal and symbolic meaning of some of the key images… to do with light and sky… and then those wonderful descriptive words capturing the shape, feel and movement of the mist on the Essex marshes. That word “diaphanous” sticks in my mind… and what does it mean… Answers.com to the rescue:
di·aph·a·nous (dī-ăf’ə-nəs)
adj.
1. Of such fine texture as to be transparent or translucent: diaphanous tulle.
2. Characterized by delicacy of form. See synonyms at airy.
3. Vague or insubstantial: diaphanous dreams of glory.
[From Medieval Latin diaphanus, transparent, from Greek diaphanēs, from diaphainein, to be transparent : dia-, dia- + phainein, phan-, to show.]
di’a·pha·ne’i·ty (dī’ə-fə-nē’ĭ-tē) or di·aph’a·nous·ness n.
di·aph’a·nous·ly adv.

There- that is a wonderful exposition…. transparency is the one meaning we did not come up with yesterday… so a reminder to myself to always carry a dictionary to class!…. but this transparency also carries associations of soft winnowing movement as of lace… etc etc…

So if we could do this kind of intensive work on a few more sentences in Heart of Darkness we would be well away.
We then did some work on First World War Poets: chiefly Rupert Brooke’s “Soldier” and Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”… students picked up pretty quickly the difference in attitude and language in these two works… one from the start of the war, the other from near the end. These poems illustrate well the impact the war had on poetic language. The shift from Georgian sentimentality and jingoistic nationalism to hard-edged realism of the trenches..

jin·go·ism (jĭng’gō-ĭz’əm)
n.
Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism.- now isn’t Answers.Com a fantastic one-click tool!

During the lecture I also went rather quickly through some of the key ideas the group needs to know about Imperialism… especially as it relates to Ireland and to Chinua Achebe and his response to Conrad. I will have to put these lectures up to WebCT today.

In Australian Literature I lectured on Alexis Wright’s Plains of Promise: this wonderfully rich book on contemporary Aboriginal experience. We laughed at the episode where the corpse of Pilot Ah King nearly squashes the grave diggers… black humour indeed but exposing the ironies of racial and religious tensions in Queensland. Students seem to be very interested in this text.

As a result of reading last semester’s student evaluations last night I have had two thoughts. While students overall -with some complaints- seemed to benefit from LiveJournal, they found it too unstructured and they found the evaluation scheme attached too loose and unclear. I agree with this, but am not sure what to do about it. One student suggested creating LiveJournal themes that all could follow… if they wished to… that might help to give structure???? But the other issue seemed to be: how can students be encouraged to participate more in each other’s LiveJournals… or how could conversations or interactions be fostered between journals…. there is a challenge here to come up with the right answer.

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