Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cutting through the Fog

I spent most of this week rather out-of-it. Staying up too late trying to get to sleep, rushing about preparing for class jolted to attention by several cups of coffee or extra-strong powdered green tea. I marked and handed back my first batch of papers in what seemed a daze. I did finally manage to see a doctor about this cold my students gave me along with their essays on Death, the medieval Church, and regurgitation. Which resulted in my being even more mentally unmoored in the latter end of the week due to the side effects of the drugs he prescribed, some of which I refused to take.

But through all the fog, I must have done something right because what I think was a tremendous thing happened in my upper level Renaissance class.

I've been calling it "Reading, Writing, and Poetry in Renaissance England." It's a (insert adj, noun here: "delicious romp"? "satisfying schlep"?) through Elizabethan poetry paying special attention to the materiality of the text. This means not only looking at facsimiles and copies of original editions, but paying attention to the way poets write about writing. (It's very meta). And printing. And book-making. And reading. And how their poems will be read in years to come. And whether or not they will survive, due to the instability of all the aforementioned practices.

Anyway, I've tried to get my students to really look at these Renaissance texts, to understand the many hands that shaped them, and to try to conceive of what Renaissance readers might have experienced.

And I think maybe I am actually getting through to them. Because one of them sliced through my foggy stupor on Thursday.

Every student has to do a short presentation on the reading for class. On Thursday we had one presentation on Spenser's Faerie Queene.

And my student, my undergraduate student, all on her own, prepared for her presentation in the following way: She decided to wander up to the Rare Books Room in the library, talk to the librarian, and convince her to come to class with the 1609 Folio edition of the text, so that the class could look through the books and more fully comprehend the factors at play in this particular material text (which is heavily ornamented and lavishly portrayed). As the books were passed around, students began to notice more and more. They asked intelligent questions. They handled the books with reverence. They each had something to say, something entirely original based on their individual experiences with this particular printing of this particular edition.

I keep telling them to check out the Rare Books Room, to use the Early English Books database. I keep bringing in facsimiles to class. But our visit to the Special Collections is slated for later in the year, when we look at emblem books (though the library is small, they do have some nice old books including 16th century editions of Alciato and Horapollo).

My student did this all on her own.

It totally made my day.


Jonathan said...

"along with their essays on Death, the medieval Church, and regurgitation"

That would snap me right out of it.

muse said...

Ah yes, the regurgitation essays. Mostly about taking in my words in class and spitting them out in a mess. But I think there was one paper about decomposition and resurrection in the Danse Macabre that kinda did both.

Diogenes Teufelsdröckh said...

In my Renaissance Readin' Writin' & 'Rithmetic class, it makes my day when they shower and spit out their gum.