Showing posts with label Elaine Showalter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elaine Showalter. Show all posts

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Elaine Showalter's Teaching Literature: A Short Summary

Elaine Showalter's Teaching Literature: A Short Summary

What should be the primary pedagogical goals of/for the teachers of literature? The question has never been out of scholarly interest since literature was introduced as a subject in universities. The question has become even more important and central to teaching literature since B. S. Bloom introduced the taxonomy of educational objectives in 1956. Now, almost every field of learning faces the common question: What are the goals, objectives, and outcomes of what you are going to teach or learn? In this case, the teaching literature is not an exception. Elaine Showalter has also taken up this question in her Teaching Literature, a book that we can call Showalter’s Taxonomy of teaching literature.

Elaine Showalter has, through examples and anecdotes, tried to address the question in Teaching Literature, especially in Chapter-2: Theories of Teaching Literature. At the beginning of the chapter, she agrees that like the definition of literature, the goals of teaching literature cannot be universally defined: “If we can’t agree on a definition of literature, can we agree on the goals of teaching literary texts? Probably not” (22). To her, the inability to “articulate a shared vision of our goal that that can provide a sense of ongoing purpose and connection” (24) of teaching literature is one of the present anxieties of literature teachers. To ES, the goals of teaching literature have not always been the same. Different ages and movements have set different goals of teaching literature: to make “people better human beings” (22), “to moralize, civilize, and humanize” (22), and “to engage in a significant relationship with others” (23).  According to ES, these goals are still relevant to teaching literature. However, several literary and critical movements have defined the goals of teaching literature differently during the 20th century. New criticism set the goal to isolate “the texts from historical contexts and subjective interpretation” (23), during “the 1960s and 1970s, teaching literature became a political act” (23) and during the 1970s, teaching literature became a branch of philosophical inquiry about signification, representation, aporia, and ideology” (23). According to ES, apart from these explicit goals, the implicit goal that is always relevant is that literature is “important not only in education but in life” (24). On page 26, ES lists 12 explicit goals of teaching literature, which can be summarized in her own language: “Overall, our objective in teaching literature is to train our students to think, read, analyze, and write like literary scholars, to approach literary problems as trained specialists in the field do, to learn a literary methodology, in short to “do” literature as scientists “do” science” (25).

What are the methods by which the author advocates achieving these goalsI think an implicit answer to this question is found in the opening chapter of the book, where ES describes the seven leading anxieties that are commonly experienced by literature teachers. One must overcome these anxieties to become a good literature teacher. However, the explicit answers to the question of how these goals can be achieved are found in Chapter-2. She, at first, says that literature teachers are often baffled when they are “asked to describe our (their) pedagogical theory” (27). Moreover, teachers often are not consistent and conscious about the theory they apply in teaching literature (27). ES has suggested three theories or methods which are again subdivided into several approaches: “subject-centred theories, teacher-centred theories and student-centred theories” (27). Apart from these theories, ES also talks about creating a “personae or the teaching self” (38) in literature classrooms. 

Poetry, as a distinctive piece of literature, requires a special pedagogy, which is not or cannot be used in teaching other forms of literature such as dramas and novels. According to ES, for teaching poetry the instructors need “to combine a range of techniques and methods” 64). Teaching poetry also involves awareness about the audience on the part of the instructors. One must “ask herself about the intended audience of learners- beginners, advanced, majors, graduate students, dabblers, artists, scientists” (64). ES discusses how the three pedagogical approaches she has just mentioned (“subject-centred theories, teacher-centred theories and student-centred theories”) can be tailormade by the instructors to teach poetry well in classrooms. To say in brief, in the subject-centred approach to teaching poetry, the instructors have to decide how to teach “the subjects of poetics, metrics, and prosody” (65). They also should focus on the figurative language, genres and background of the poetry they will teach (66-67). In a teacher-centred approach to teaching poetry, teachers should read the poems aloud, which helps learners engage in the poems more. In a student-centred approach, students should be involved in poetry which is sometimes absent in a teacher-centred approach. In this approach, asking students to memorize poems also can be (a good pedagogical tool” (69). Sometimes, instructors even ask students to compose poems in their poetry courses. Thus, poetry demands a distinctive pedagogical approach to teaching.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

How does Elaine Showalter use Ardener’s Diagram to redefine the relationship between the “dominant group” and “muted group in her essay 'Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness'?”

Women have been left out of culture and history because history is considered to be a male centered term. Again there are some places where men cannot enter. In defining female culture, historians make a clear distinction between the male considered appropriate roles, activities, tastes, behaviors for women and the reality of women’s lives. Women’s sphere is defined and maintained by men. By this, women constitute a muted group.

To redefine the relationship between the “dominant group” and “muted group” Showalter takes help from Ardener’s Diagram. By the term “muted” Edwin Ardener suggests problems both of language and power. Both muted and dominant group (male) unconsciously generates beliefs but the dominant group controls the forms or structures which make the muted group bound to express their beliefs through the allowable forms of dominant structure. Ardener shows a diagram on the relationship of the dominant and muted group.

In the diagram, much of the muted circle “Y” falls within the boundaries of dominant circle “X”, there is also a crescent of ‘Y” which is outside the dominant boundary and is called “wild”. This wild zone is considered as women’s culture specially which means literary no man’s land, a place forbidden to men. The opposite thing happens to man’s “X” zone. Experimentally, it stands for the aspects of the female lifestyle which are outside of men. “X” zone of male alien to women. But metaphysically it has no corresponding male zone because all of male consciousness is within the circle of dominant structure and female knows all about male. Here from the male point of view, the wild “Y” is always imaginary. In terms of cultural anthropology, women know what the male crescent is like but men do not know what is in the wild.

In some feminist criticism, the wild zone becomes the place for the women-centered criticism, theory and art. It makes the invisible visible, the silent speak. French feminist critics would like to make the wild zone the theoretical base of women’s difference. In their texts, the wild zone becomes the place for the revolutionary women’s language, the language of everything that is repressed. Many forms of American radical feminism also romantically assert that women are closer to nature or environment. So, they should build the place fully independent from the control and influence of “male dominated” institutions- the news media, the health, education legal systems, art, theatre and literary worlds.

But we must admit that no writing is possible without dominant structure. No writing, no criticism, no publication is fully independent from the economic and political pressures of the male dominated society. The most important implication of this model is that women’s fiction can be read as a double voiced discourse containing a ‘dominant” and “a muted story.”

The concept of a woman’s text in the wild zone is a playful abstraction. Women’s writing is a “double voiced discourse” that always embodies the social, literary, and cultural heritages of both the muted and the dominant.  Every step that feminist criticism takes toward defining women’s writing is a step toward self- understanding as well. Women writing are not then inside and outside of the male tradition, they are inside two tradition. Indeed, the female territory might well be envisioned as one long order, not as a separate country, but as open access to the sea.

The more important aspect of Ardener’s model is that there are muted groups other than women such as the blacks in America. In America the blacks belong to the muted group and the white dominant group. The dominant structure may determine many muted structures. For example a black America woman poet may be affected by both racial and sexual politics. So, cultural situation should not determine women’s writing, but women’s writing should be considered in the background of cultural pattern.

This reminds Alien Showlter about the duty and responsibility of female writers. A female writer who writes under the influence of the male dominated culture is more or less influenced by that culture. Now the duty of gynocriticism is to precisely map out the cultural field of women and prevent the influences of the dominant look on the muted group.

Regarding the major literary movements, Elaine Showlter says, in the history of literature women also have no place. The movement Renaissance was not a movement for women. The Romantic Movement was also not for women. Now it is the duty of “gynocriticism” to provide women with a respective place in the history of literature.

In order to make the rule of muted group more clear Alien Showlter says, from female perspective a text is not only mothered but also parented. A women’s text confronts both paternal and maternal forerunner and must deal with the problems and advantages of both lines of inheritance.

Thus, women’s text is rich in the experience of both muted group and dominant group. In this way, she uses Ardener’s model to show the condition as well as the possibility of women.