Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In which my prof rocks

Today was, as my friends and I have dubbed it, "the second first day of school." School started yesterday, but we still had new classes to go to today (which is also the reason I've been sparse online--sorry fellow campaigners. I'll get commenting soon.)

In my last class of the day, English 291, my professor went over the syllabus. We're starting off the year with Beowulf. And so my professor asks, "Why are we reading Beowulf?" We give him some decent answers, but none of them really fulfill his question. So he dives further. "Why read Beowulf? Why read Shakespeare? Why read Charles Dickens? Why read Twilight?"

Now, I don't know if you've ever been in a college English class when the title Twilight was dared uttered. But you get an explosion of groans at the mention of the word. I think the English classes I go to have extra contempt about it, because our university's name is on the back flap of all the books, so in order to compensate, students need to be ultra-hateful and superior toward it.
So, now you can imagine it, a room of 30 students verbally declaring their superior intellect through moaning while I stay silent since, yes, I once loved the books and I do admit I have a guilty pleasure in them.

Now of course I realize that my prof had set this all up. Hearing us, he asked, "What? What's so bad about Twilight?"
The rest of this really just has to be told in script form.

Twilight hater: It has no substance! Bella doesn't even do anything!
Prof: You realize that we'll be reading about guys sitting around, drinking mead, and boasting about how he swam against another guy for 13 days? How is that substance?
Twilight hater: Ugh, I just hate Bella, she's annoying!
Sensible student: Whether or not we like Twilight, it's had a huge cultural impact. Before Twilight, vampires were unpopular. Now authors are spitting out vampire books, and there's movies and TV shows about them.
[We have some more discussion about cultural impact]
Prof: A lot of you mentioned Harry Potter earlier and how much you like those books. What makes it better than Twilight?
Harry Potter fan: Harry Potter has a lot more depth to it and layers, like references to the Holocaust and WWII.
Prof: How do you know Twilight doesn't have a meaning between the vampires and werewolves as outcasts from society, but still can't work together?
[More of the Twilight hater. She was very vocal]
Prof: Okay, but you guys know that Pride and Prejudice has no depth or substance, either. The "novel" was considered to be trash when it was written.
[All of the girls (97% of the class) breaks out in protest. Prof quickly assures us he likes Pride and Prejudice, but he hates the 2005 Kiera Knightley movie, gains approval again, and discusses the awesome 6-hour version]
Twilight hater: Bella's annoying. She doesn't do anything. She can't even choose!
Prof: You know, in the 1950s thru the 1970s, Hamlet was seen as the man who couldn't decide--it's even a line in the Lawrence Olivier version. And that's Shakespeare. Besides, do you guys know why Shakespeare wrote? He wanted to make money. He wanted a coat of arms, to become a gentleman, and he made money off of his plays. Very few of them published in his time. He didn't care about writing [cue snooty English accent] literature. But now Shakespeare practically has his own religion. So what is substance in literature? Is it there already, or do we put it there?

Then class was over.
This was a really amazing experience for me. I mean, you take something that is now currently mocked by all of those in scholarship, and you argue that it could be as great as Shakespeare.
Now, I don't really believe that. As much as I can bring out the fan in me, I'm not going that far. But it still made me consider more possibilities, and why things are put into the canon we study as English majors. Maybe it doesn't need the symbolism and deeper meaning. Maybe it just needs to be culturally impacting, and that's what really makes it literature.


  1. Sounds like this class if going to be interesting. Stay clear of the Twilight hater. Her arguments are shallow, even more shallow than the angst that made me want to take Bella by the shirt collar and shake her silly. Of course, as a writer my dislike for the annoyance is tempered by my excitement about Twilight for the reason's the Sensible student mentioned. It makes me feel pretty okay about writing my vamp YA book, though I'm hoping to take it a slightly different less angsty and NON-SPARKLY vamp way.

  2. I think I want to sit in on your English class now... :)

  3. You have a good point and I admit that I used to enjoy Twilight, but all of the hype about it made me annoyed with it and now I avoid it. One of the things that frustrates me is how quickly she was published and that never happens. J.K. Rowling took more time with her books and was rejected, but it was worth it. Stephenie Meyer... meh. Sounds like it will be an interesting class!

  4. Your teacher sounds just amazing. His will be one of those classes you look back and smile on years down the road.

  5. Hello, fellow campaigner! I'm not in your group (but I am a YA author), but I still wanted to check out your blog and say, "HI!"

    I pursued a psych degree instead of an English one. If I had, I'd want your professor! :)

  6. My friends and I have had this exact same discussion dozens of times. :) I love it!

  7. your teacher rocks.

    and yes, I too, fantasized about Edward...but that was before the craze really got momentum.

    dropping from the campaign group. Nice to meet you!

  8. I would have LOVED to sit in on this English class. My English profs were all amazing -- except for one who seemed to dislike anything fantastical -- but having such discussions about TWILIGHT and the contextual "literature-ness" of classics? That sounds absolutely awesome.

  9. Hello, Jenna. I'm a fellow campaigner and new follower.

    What a great conversation, and it rings true. Maybe Twilight will be seen through a different lens in the future.

  10. Very interesting. I've often wondered the same thing about some of the older works. Why did they make such a huge impact? I have my own reasons, but I agree with the general consensus of the class.