Class. Every once in a while, I think up hypothetical English classes for college that I wish I’d had. My favorite has been “How not to write,” in which the class dissects great works of literature that they’ve always hated. Or Danielle Steele, I’m not sure yet. Maybe a smattering of classics and popular fiction both. –The point being that “What I hate about this book” is the real class that’s going on behind the professor’s back. Might as well use the angle to deliver the technique, I say.
Today’s hypothetical class is “Writers’ Writers.” I’d start out with Don Quixote, move to a couple of Borges short stories (the one about Don Quixote and the one about the infinite library), continue to The Name of the Rose. The Don Quixote section would be about including the reaction to one’s writing in the writing itself, as well as contextual criticism. The Library section would be about the purposes of books, the act of writing versus the work itself, that kind of thing. There’s a third section, too, but I’m not sure how to present it. I’d like to use a Foucault essay, “Preface to Transgression,” and The Illuminatus! Trilogy, but I think I might send someone to the emergency room from brain hemorage. The third section would be about the differences between descriptive, metaphorical, and programming language–does the language describe reality, does the language give ideas about reality, or does the language try to influence reality (or one’s perception of it) itself?
Probably not a freshman-level course.