Nov 05, 2008, 11:42AM

A look inside the machinations of a syllabus

A surprisingly unboring window into the life a literature professor's curriculum.

The class is Murder, Madness, and Mayhem:

As with any class, my first step was to decide what to give up. For a while, I was thinking of including both Titus Andronicus and King Lear, but then I realized that, much as I might find the comparison scintillating, it was likely to be quite difficult to drag the students through two Shakespeare plays in one term -- I taught Shakespeare every year for 10 years in high school, sometimes with success and sometimes not, but it seemed like too much of a risk for this particular class, partly because I just don't know how to teach Shakespeare when the class doesn't meet every day, and the time and effort it would eat up could be used more productively, I thought, with other texts.

Next, I gave up on trying to represent the world. For a while, I kept things like Bolaño's By Night in Chile, Tanizaki's Seven Japanese Tales, and Zoe Wicomb's Playing in the Light on the possibles list, but they came off one by one for different reasons (Tanizaki because I wanted novels rather than more stories, Wicomb because I find the shifting viewpoints of the novel annoying and didn't really look forward to rereading it [and though I adore her You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town, I once included it in a class and it was just too subtle for the students to appreciate], the Bolaño because it requires a certain kind of readerly sophistication that I just don't know how to teach to kids who've just come from high school and, more often than not, don't like reading). I also wanted to include some plays by Euripedes and maybe John Webster, but then had to remind myself that it's not a course in dramatic lit.


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