ENGL 125 (J15N70): Voice in Text: “Interfusional” Writing, Myth, and Culture

PAUL WATKINS

Location: Nanaimo, 356/313
Class Hours: Monday/ Wednesday 09:00-12:00
Office Hours: Thursday 1-4 pm
(or by appointment)
Email: paul.watkins@viu.ca
Phone: Local 2118
Office: 345/ 222

“‘Cultures’ do not hold still for their portraits.”
James Clifford, Writing Culture 10

In many cases, writing and orality can function within a unified synthesis that reflects the priorities of both mediums simultaneously. This course places responsibility on a reader’s own approach to a text, demonstrating that a sensitive reading plays a highly dialogic and integral role in the process of uncovering a human voice in text. I find a useful analogy in First Nations writer Thomas King’s description of the interaction between the written and oral in his analysis of oral storyteller Harry Robinson, which he dubs as “interfusional” writing, a style in which “the patterns, metaphors, structures as well as the themes and characters come primarily from oral literature” (“Godzilla” 13). This is not exclusive to First Nations literature, for as Harold Head attests in Canada in Us Now, “Black literature springs from a still vital oral culture. The close interaction between creator and audience, artist and community, is perhaps the single most important element in Black literature, especially poetry” (9). In this course, we will examine “interfusional” writing, myth, and culture by looking at three texts that have the aforementioned themes in abundance. In some ways these texts demand not only to be read but also heard. These texts are engaged with the communities from which they write, and they are largely concerned with the task of bringing greater cultural awareness to society. Ultimately, this course will offer you innovative ways to reflect and engage with how we fundamentally approach literature and culture. Not only will you develop an awareness of the relationship between literature and culture, you will also observe how broader struggles for voice, agency, and social justice are integral to the discussed literature.

Texts:

  • Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (HarperPerennial)
  • Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (Thomas Allen)
  • Wayde Compton, Performance Bond (Arsenal Pulp)
  • Diana Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (5th, Bedford Books)

Evaluation:

Participation 5%
Close Reading (500-750 words) 10%
Open Book In-Class Essay on Green Grass (approx. 750 words) 15%
Quiz on Half-Blood Blues 5%
Creative Intervention (with 500 word write-up) 15%
Essay Workshop 5%
Research Essay (1500-1750 words) 25%
Final Exam 20%

Assignment Breakdown: 

  1. Participation (5%) 

Since discussion is an important part of this class, active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors.

  1. Close Reading (10%): Due June 29th

 A close reading (explication) is a nuanced and thorough analysis of a literary text. A close reading functions to bring out the nature and interrelations of a text (such as allusion, diction, images, and sound) in order to illuminate a given passage or work. The act of close reading is an explication: explicate coming from the Latin explicare, meaning “to unfold, to fold out, or to make clear the meaning of.” On our 2nd meeting I will hand out two potential passages from Green Grass, Running Water. You will choose one and provide a 2-3 paragraph close reading of that given passage. This assignment will encourage close listening and will teach you the valuable skills of deciphering diction and incorporating textual evidence, as you engage in the act of synthesis.

  1. Open Book In-Class Essay (15%): July 6th

There will be an in-class essay on Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water. Details will be provided in class.

  1. Quiz (5%): July 15th

There will be one closed book quiz on Half-Blood Blues involving short answer questions and a one-paragraph write up on a select passage.

  1. Creative Intervention (15%): Due July 22nd

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).

Taking up the above Baudelaire epigraph, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. Through a combination of analytical and creative pedagogies we can create new hybrid spaces that allow for alternative epistemologies and learning spaces. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, a creative journal, a one act play, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. There are any number of possible approaches to this assignment: your piece could be prose, drama, visual, musical, dance, culinary, photography, etc. You could riff off of an episode in one of the texts or you could work with one of the larger themes of the course. You could examine an issue of African Canadian literature or history even. This assignment asks you to think a little outside the box/book, and go into the world and listen. After that listening you are called to produce a “creative intervention.”

Through critical creative work and soundings—interventions—we can further develop and help to define interdisciplinary approaches among the bordering fields of literature, music, and theories of multiculturalism and citizenship investigated in this course. By “creative intervention” I mean: to intervene through creative means, using the word as the OED defines as “‘stepping in,’ or interfering in any affair, so as to affect its course or issue.” I am also using intervention as in to be “intermediate”: to be between things, as in this case between the creative and the analytical, the scholar and the citizen. For example, Wayde Compton’s notion of acoustic intervention through his DJ poetics imagines a democracy (as embodied in sound) that is most effective when it is most discordantly free. The method of the assignment is itself an intervention against simply writing another paper. The intervention could also be a very real and tangible one.

For instance, given that one of the lenses through which we are reading the writers of this course is their focus on social change, it might be appropriate to think of these creative interventions as having a public or community-facing dimension. Broadly, try to imagine how your creative intervention might move beyond the walls of academia and make an intervention in a broader community. Essentially, how might we take many of the tools we learn in academia (particularly in English Studies) to enact social change or challenge simple conceptions of the citizen? You may draw on local resources and social organizations, many of which are right here in Nanaimo, or you might simply relate to a larger web-community through a blog, a podcast, radio, or through some other media. It is not required for you to have a direct community-facing dimension to your project, you could simply write a poem, but I do want you to think and theorize about how the works studied in this classroom challenge us to move beyond a simple reading of them to some sort of enactment, however conceived.

You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavor. It is for the above reasons that you are required to write a one-page (around 400 words) discussion of why the intervention was conceived as it was. You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavor. You will present your work in a short 3-minute presentation the day the assignment is due. You will also be graded on your ability to critically explain the efficacy and process of your “intervention.” I am also open to the idea of you collaborating with another student, in which case the grade will be shared. More details will follow in class. 60% of the mark will be for the creative piece and 40% of the mark will be for the analysis.

  1. Essay Workshop (5%): July 27th

In one paragraph you will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis), as well as an outline that shows a critical engagement with both secondary criticism and the primary text(s) you have chosen. On a second page you will provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. An unmarked version of your essay’s argument (essentially a proposal) will be handed (or emailed) in to me at the beginning of class. More detailed instructions will be provided.

  1. Essay (25%): Due July 29th

The Research Essay will be around 5 pages in length, not including a Works Cited list. You are required to actively engage with three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. More detailed instructions, as well as possible topics, will be provided. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing.

  1. Final Exam (20%): August 5th

Part I: Passage Analysis / Part II: Essay

Schedule:

 June22 Introduction to Course
·      Discussion: What is culture? What is myth? What is oral                  literature?
·      Thomas King, “You’ll Never believe What happened” (online)
·      Go over syllabus
·      Introductions
 June24 Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (GGRW)
·      Short Lecture on Literature, Culture, and Myth
·      GGRW 1-144
·      See Reading Notes by Jane Flick.
·      On intertextuality, References, and Allusions.
·      Armstrong, “The Disempowerment of First North American           Native Peoples”
 June 29 ·      GRRW 144-312
·      Midterm Prep
·      Close Reading Due
·      Finish Reel Injun
July 1 ·       CANDADA DAY- NO CLASS
July 6 ·       GRRW 312-441 (Finish Book) and discussion
·       Midterm [In class essay] (10:30 -11:50)
 July 8 ·      Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (1-65)
·      Lecture: Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi                          Germany
·      Book Review
·      Interview, Esi Edugyan in Studio Q
·      Berlin Wall coverage.
·      Edugyan reading.
·      Review of Creative Intervention
·      Listening: Armstrong’s “Heebie Jeebies”

  • Part One of Jazz.
 July 13 ·      Half-Blood Blues (66-193)
·      Listenings: Oscar Peterson; Robert Johnson, “Crossroad                Blues”
·      Topics for Research Paper
 July 15 ·      Half-Blood Blues (194-end of book)
·      Armstrong, “West End Blues”
·      QUIZ

 July 20  ·      Wayde Compton, Performance Bond, poems: “Declaration of         the Halfrican Nation”; “Afro-Saxon”; To Poitier”; “The                         Essential Charley Pride.”
·      Compton’s “Mixed Race, and Schizophonophilia” (online at             VIU library).
·      Compton Reading, Halfrican.
·      Listenings: Charlie PridePoitier’s Oscar Speech

 July 22 ·      Performance Bond, poems: “Illegalese: Floodgate Dub” and               “The Reinventing Wheel”
·      Interview between Compton and Watkins
·      Creative Interventions Due and Presentations
 July 27 ·      Essay Workshop (9-10:20)
·      Rune (“Blight” and “Veve”) and “Seven Routes to Hogan’s                Alley”
·      Listening: Compton talk on Hogan’s Alley.
·      Jimi Hendrix’s Shrine in Vancouver.

 July 29 ·      Performance Bond [Rune]: “Forme and Chase”; “The New                  Station”; Ghetto Fabulous Ozymandias”
·      Exam Review
·      YouTube Videos
·      Essay Due 

Aug 3 ·      BC DAY, NO CLASS
Aug 5 ·      FINAL EXAM

Featured Image of Bill Reid’s Raven and the First Men, from here.

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Ph.D. Professor. Writer. Musician. A space for riffings on film, literature, and music.

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