classrooms · collaboration

Syllabus + Sound: Remixing and Teaching

It is no secret that this semester has brought some challenges, and with the so-called storm of the century apparently heading towards those of us in the Eastern provinces I figure it is time for some levity. Indeed, it is time for one of my favourite crowd-sourcing activities. Friends, it is time to talk about music.

In almost every course I teach music — and often music videos — finds its way into the classroom as a teaching supplement. This term is no exception. I’m teaching a third-year literature course which the course catalogue briefly describes as “Traditions in 20th and 21st century Women’s Writing in English.” Given that I’m only here on a year contract I didn’t go through the tangle of renaming the course, but if I had it would be something along the lines of “Poetics of Form: Women Writing.” Here is my course description from the syllabus:

This course covers particular and recurrent aspects of twentieth- and twenty-first century literature written from the perspective of women. The course stresses the diversity of women’s authorial worlds, both through time and/or space. Rather than be organized in a strictly chronological fashion the course is organized thematically. In each unit we will address the historical, cultural, linguistic, and aesthetic ways in which women writers address some of the recurrent material and conceptual concerns for women. 

There are some limitations in this class: Namely, we are working with an anthology. Specifically, we’re working with the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: Traditions in English. The anthology, while huge and heavy, is limited in its scope. It deals only in writing that is in English, and it focusses almost entirely on North America and the United Kingdom. We are using the anthology through a fluke: I ordered the earlier version of this anthology for the first half of this class in the fall and the bookstore received them as a packaged deal. Given that several students in the fall class intended to take this course in the winter I decided to make the syllabus match their purchases so that they didn’t end up with an unused (& hard to resell) textbook. In addition to having a narrow linguistic and geographic scope the anthology is also limited by its temporal reach. The most contemporary writer in it is Jhumpa Lahiri who was born in 1967. If I were to teach the class again I would switch up the texts. As it is, I’ve supplemented. With these things in mind here is a glimpse at our course reading schedule as well as the various themes we’re unpacking:

Work I: Histories 

Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own,” Alice Walked, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens”

Work II: Gendering Work
Susan Glaspell, “Trifles,” Ruth Stone, “Things I say to Myself While Hanging Laundry”

Work III: Interventions
Mina Loy, “Gertrude Stein,” “Feminist Manifesto,” Zora Neale Hurston, “How it feels to be Coloured Me”

Work IV: Frame-off
Adrienne Rich, “Snapshots of a Daughter In Law,” Joy Harjo, “Deer Dancer”

Work V: Craft & Form
Amy Lowell, from A Critical Fable [On T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound], Gertrude Stein, “Ada,” H.D. “Sea Poppies,” Marianne Moore, “Poetry,” June Jordan, “Poem About Police Violence”

The Body II: As Subject
Lyn Hejinian from My Life, Anne Carson from The Glass Essay, Maragret Atwood, “Rape Fantasies”

The Body III: Motherhood
Diane Di Prima, “Song for Baby-O, Unborn,” Anais Nin, “Birth,” Jamaica Kindcaid, “Girl”

The Body IV: Desire
Jeanette Winterson, “The Poetics of Sex,” Radcyffe Hall, “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself”

The Body V: Writing
Adrienne Rich, “When We Dead Reawaken,” Audre Lorde, “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.”

The Body VI: Writing
Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves,” Carolyn Kizer, “Pro Femina” P.K. Page, “The Stenographers”

Identity/Politics I:
Nella Larsen, Quicksand 

Identity/Politics II:
Toni Morrison, from Unspeakable Things Unspoken
Identity/Politics III:
Carolyn Forche, “The Colonel,” “Elegy,” Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild”

Identity/Politics IV:
Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People”

Identity/Politics V:
Maxine Hong Kingston “No Name Woman”

Affect I: Lauren Berlant from The Female Complaint 

Affect II:
Sylvia Plath selection, Anne Sexton, “Her Kind,” “Sylvia’s Death,” Maxine Kumin “How It Is”

Affect III: 

Dionne Brand from Inventory

Affect IV:
Chantal Nevu from Coit

Affect V:
Shannon Maguire from fu(r)l parachute, Aisha Sasha John from The Shining Material

For some reason more music than usual has found its way into the classroom. Last week one of my students who writes for the campus newspaper, The Argosy, invited me to contribute to the weekly mix-tape column. I decided to give a partial playlist from the class. Like the syllabus it has holes and like the syllabus it could be remixed over and over. But! Here is what I submitted. Some of these we have discussed in class, others we’ve not: 
Le Tigre “Bang! Bang!” From the Desk of Mr. Lady EP, 2001

Nina Simone “Work Song” Forbidden Fruit, LP 1961

Alabama Shakes “Rise to the Sun” Boys & Girls, LP (2012)

Tanya Tagaq & Bjork “Ancestors” Sinaa, LP (2006)

Julie Doiron “Snowfalls in November” Julie Doiron/Okkervil River LP, (2003)

Angel Haze “Battle Cry” Dirty Gold (2013)

Julie Ruin “Tania” Julie Ruin (1998)

The Sounds “Queen of Apologies” Dying to Say This To You LP (2006)

Rae Spoon “We Can’t Be Lovers With These Guns On Each Other” Love Is a Hunter (2010)

Patti Smith “Horses” Horses (1975) 
Now for the crowd-sourcing part: what texts would you put on a course like this? What music?

2 thoughts on “Syllabus + Sound: Remixing and Teaching

  1. Hey Dr. Wunker,

    I am in your Literary Periods, 1800-Present (ENGL2301) course. Let me just start off by saying that I really appreciate the structure and organization of your lectures. They always make the topics so clear and compliment the given materials so nicely.

    ‘Freedom of Speech is Not Free’

    In context to your question about music, I think the Dixie Chicks controversy may fit very well into gender politics and identity. In 2003, during their ‘Top of the World Tour’, Natalie Maines criticizes President George W. Bush. Immediately after, the group is censored and their songs are banned from many country music stations. Natalie Maines also receives death threats for voicing her opinion publically. Due to the censorship/controversy the band takes a hiatus from the music business for approx. 3 years. When they return to the music business they respond to the censorship, the president and the death threat through the poetic form of lyrics. The event brings together, very nicely, gender politics and identity (particularly group identity and unity).

    Their album Taking the Long Way offers, at least three songs that come to mind:
    1. “Not Ready to Make Nice” (This song is the group’s, very real, reaction with the death threat)
    2. “Long Way Around” (In this song the group focuses on their reaction, in hindsight, to the outcomes of Maines’ comment about George W.)
    3. “Easy Silence” (This song makes clear their stance on war and the problems in society that need to be focused on.)

    There is also a documentary on this controversy called Shut Up and Sing, if you’re interested.
    Another artist that would fit in very well with this topic is Alecia Beth Moore Hart’s (popularly known as Pink) song “Dear Mr President”. Many of Pink’s songs are also political in nature but focus on gender identity and communication through the lyric. Robert Danton, author of Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris, suggests the nature of lyrics as ‘communication’. I think in our contemporary society, and certainly throughout the 20th century, lyrics hold a heightened form of communication for women.

    Anyways, just a thought! If you’re interested here’s a good article,

    ‘Freedom’s not something you can write on a wall. It’s something you live.’



Comments are closed.