This article uses a contemporary literature class titled Alternatives to Realism that the author taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the basis to argue for the special value of experimental, speculative, and otherwise antirealistic literature for introductory-level undergraduate literature pedagogy. The author argues that, rather than choosing realistic narratives that students are likely to understand and relate to on first pass, professors should deliberately seek out works students are likely to initially find confusing or strange and then endeavor to help them understand those texts. The article suggests that the difficulty associated with such texts, rather than intimidating students, actually invites them to engage with the reading process more actively and enthusiastically. The article discusses the premise and overall structure of the class and the rationale behind it; delves into specific examples of discussions and assignments based on such texts as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow; and examines students’ own ultimate responses to the class as presented in their final exam reflection essays. Ultimately, the author argues that teaching (seemingly) difficult, idiosyncratic literary works helps students appreciate the unique intellectual work of reading, strengthens their self-confidence, and leads them to a keener appreciation of the humanities more broadly.
“Give Books a Chance, Even the Really Weird and Bizarre Ones”: Toward a Pedagogy of the Strange
Kenneth Lota is a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he specializes in twentieth-and twenty-first-century American literature and film. He has taught classes in contemporary literature, popular genres, film analysis, film history, and rhetoric and composition. His dissertation explores the ways in which contemporary literary fiction reimagines and reinvents the tropes and themes of film noir and hard-boiled crime fiction. His work has previously appeared in Interdisciplinary Humanities.
Kenneth Lota; “Give Books a Chance, Even the Really Weird and Bizarre Ones”: Toward a Pedagogy of the Strange. Pedagogy 1 April 2020; 20 (2): 375–395. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-8091972
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