Rasma Says

Musings, deliberations, flashes of unaccounted for brilliance…

On teaching literature

I just listened to a podcast of Andre Dubus III read from The Garden of Last Days, and I was blown away both by his writing and by what he says about writing… my favorite being that he doesn’t plan, he doesn’t think, he doesn’t OUTLINE; he dreams as he writes, living in a state of sustained empathy with his characters. A woman at one of his readings had said, “Ah, then readers are dream interpreters.”

Yes, in fact it is often the readers who “get” what a piece is about more than the writer. This is why writing groups (of insightful, talented, ego-free comrades) are important to a writer. I try to bring this perspective into teaching literature to students who are so jaded by being told to “find the theme” in a literature that they believe they hate to read.

“What does the author want us to think about…” asks the textbook, and what 18-year-old can dare to assume the intention of genius? Anxiety sets in and they feel inadequate, simple minded and at a loss to explain literature.

They feel reading is not for them.

Andre Dubus III’s readers can tell him he has written a 9-11 book, despite the fact that he doesn’t think he has, and be right. But let us get this straight, for it is key to understanding literature: he could not have written the book that hits people in the gut with 9-11 if he had not followed his gut, which was to write about a wad of money, tips from a waitress, no a stripper, lying on a dresser top. He wrote about the wad of money, the stripper, then lo, the men who frequent the club, and presto…

…he ends up 8 years later with a book about 9-11. This is the beauty of it: the writer, too, must read his story as it develops, just like the reader. If reader and writer come away with different interpretations of THE THEME, good. All the better. That’s the complex nature of literature, what makes it worth coming back to, and makes it worth teaching.

I went for a walk with Hector at 6 a.m. this morning, intending upon my return to directly fetch myself a cup of tea and write. But I had listened to the podcast of Andre Dubus III on my walk. To begin with the man sounded excruciatingly insecure, evident in his forced self-deprecating humor, but in the end he delivered a gem of a reading (but next time, Andre, slow down, please!), and some of the best comments on writing I’ve heard in a long time.

Once back from my walk, there was nothing to do but go online to buy his book. Now, three hours later and some $150 poorer (for I had to buy just about everything else he has written, as well as most of what his father, the late Andre Dubus, had written), I am ready for my second cup of tea, and (if I can get focused on it…) writing.

I need focus, yes, but no other plan than to listen, and follow.


This entry was posted on 16/08/2008 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .


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