We began today's class by building a "web" among us, using points of likeness. This seemed hard to do, and we ended up using very general categories ("woman," "student"). We next turned to discussion about the klutziness/user-unfriendliness of our course page...there are too many places to "click," and so we get discouraged from being responsive to one another's comments....how to work w/ this limitation?
We then talked through how some of our postings were speaking to one another; next we reviewed a series of essays arguing among themselves about the consequences, for literary study, of the emergence of digital databases. I was chafing from the formality of hand-raising; might we get beyond that, or....
Then we broke into pairs and threesomes to engage in the "conceptual experiment" Robbins proposes, of imagining a new English Department hire. In doing so, could we refuse the "pseudo-anthropocentric, lazy" norms of period and nation, indulging in a "momentary alienation" from our "familiar, narrow, strong commitments"? In particular: we asked how the BMC English organizes itself, and how might it be re-organized: where are the holes, and how might they be filled?
We ran out of time before we got a complete report, but the general sense seemed to be that the department is organized according to time, place and topics; that the time seems centered in the 19th century, the place in the U.S. and Britain, and the topics various (and random?). The big hole is in 21st century literature. The few proposals we heard were to hire someone who has a thematic specialization, rather than a time- or place-based one (we heard few proposals for what the specialties might be, aside from a focus on non-print forms). Discussion also considered the appropriate means for organizing the relation between English and other languages and literatures: what sense does it make, in the 21st century, to organize the College curriculum around language-specific literature departments? This prevents not only the teaching of literatures in translation, but also cross-overs and linkages among texts written in different languages.
For further reading on this topic, see an essay by Carlos Alonso on Spanish: The Foreign National Language , which appeared in the Winter-spring 2006 issue of the ADFL ("American Departments of Foreign Languages") Bulletin, and circulated widely among us as we were discussing our proposal for a new colleague here.