First, I am writing with a shout out to all of you for your inspiring writing projects! Our conversations and editorial exchanges give me confidence that the process of reading and thinking and writing you are doing on the final project, and that you have complete din this class, will prepare you for your further work in English courses, in other classes, as well as in your activities outside of school.
As I read your preliminary work, and offer commentary on your ways of reading and thinking about Emerson’s writing, I could not help but recall the title of the essay by the critic Kenneth Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living.” In this essay and also in his book Attitudes Toward History, Burke proposes that literary genres are strategies—frames of acceptance or rejection, as he puts it—that permit us to assess our range of possible choices in response to the human condition. He is interested in literary forms as strategies that foster dialogue, debate, and self-correction leading to ideas better than any one person might produce alone. And your projects are doing precisely this as you think with Emerson about the literary arts of reading and writing; the relation between historical and social events and Emerson’s essays; the form of the essay and, in particular, Emerson’s last sentences; individualism and the self; the relation between the human and more-than-human world; Emerson’s essays as teaching reading and writing; and Emerson’s thinking about understanding and knowledge.
Second, I have a list of reminders about finishing our work this semester.
- Final essay will be completed and posted on your course blog by our final examination time block on Tuesday May 5
- Zoom meeting next week we will meet during our final examination time block on Tuesday May 5 at 10:30. Our agenda is 1) for each of you to share what you have learned in your final project and 2) to consider what we have learned this semester by reviewing the outcomes of the course.
To review the outcomes you will need to write them: to reflect on what you have learned and to write a list of three examples of what you have learned in the course. For example, Here is a list of outcomes that students wrote in an English and Environmental Studies Course that I taught last fall. Another list of outcomes is available on A Brief Debrief that lists what students said at the end of another course I teach on literature and democracy. Remember, too, that in your second thoughts essays you have articulated some of what you have learned; and so you might review your work as you reflect and draw up our list of outcomes. No later than Monday evening please send me three learning outcomes that you are taking away from our work together this semester. Be as specific as possible in your outcomes.
- Grading Please let me know if you have any questions. The Grading Contract is in the March 24 email in the course update archive on this course site. If you are planning to elect the Pass/No Pass option, you have received from the College links to the Course (In)eligibility Spreadsheet and the GPA Considerations and the deadline for you to select the Pass/No Pass option is the end of Finals Week, Friday, May 8 at 11:59p.m. The Student Request form is posted on Canvas, requiring your authentication to access the link.
- Course Evaluations should be completed byMonday March 4th at 6 PM. Thank you for taking the time to complete the online evaluations.
- Teaching and Learning Survey Will you consider sending me an email with an informal evaluation of the course? The transition in medias res to remote learning has been challenging for students and professors alike. In conversations with my kids (who are both in college, at other universities) I am learning how perceptions of what might work and what is actually working are not necessarily the same. Everyone is doing their best. But I am interested in talking with as many students as possible about their experiences with remote learning to see how we do better. My goal is to inform my own and other professor’s course development as prepare for the possible use of online or hybrid online/face-to-face learning in the fall. Your experiences and your recommendations are extremely valuable. Thank you!
A Note on Burke and Further Reading
Literature as equipment for living is a fascinating essay by the influential literary and cultural critic, Kenneth Burke. You can read Literature as Equipment for Living or read it in the Internet Archive copy of The Philosophy Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (Third Ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. 293-304.) Burke writes that works of literature, single out “a pattern of experience that is sufficiently representative of our social structure, that recurs sufficiently often mutandis mutatis, for people to ‘need a word for it’ and to adopt an attitude towards it. Each work of art is the addition of a word to an informal dictionary (or, in the case of purely derivative artists, the addition of a subsidiary meaning to a word already given by some originating artist).” Burke also speculates on the value of his proposed method. “The method has these things to be said in its favor: It gives definite insight into the organization of literary works; and it automatically breaks down the barriers erected about literature as a specialized pursuit. People can classify novels by reference to three kinds, eight kinds, seventeen kinds. It doesn’t matter. Students patiently copy down the professor’s classification and pass examinations on it, because the range of possible academic classifications is endless. Sociological classification, as herein suggested, would derive its relevance from the fact that it should apply both to works of art and to social situations outside of art.”
As it happens, years ago, a friend of mine, Randall Roorda, wrote a Burkean inspired essay for a book I co-edited that he called “Living as Equipment for Literature.” This idea aligns well with our conversations earlier in the course about meaning and interpretation and how we might define the reader of a book, with Whitman. “Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing,” Whitman writes, “but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not a few coteries of writers.”