Elaine Showalter
Teaching Literature

pages 109-10

THE BEST PLACE to find models and ideas for teaching theory now is the Web, where a number of teachers, following the example of Alan Liu's monumental Voice of the Shuttle, are building sites and posting their syllabi, assignments, exams, and synopses of classes. An ideal and inspiring example is that of Professor Dino Franco Felluga, at Purdue. Felluga typifies the posttheory generation; a Canadian who did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Ontario, he completed his PhD on the verse novel at Santa Barbara with Alan Liu and Garrett Stewart, and then did a post-doc at Stanford with Barbara Gelpi and Regenia Gagnier. His website offers the syllabi for several of his undergraduate and graduate courses, on subjects from nineteenth-century fiction to trauma theory; and an undergraduate guide to criticism and theory that students can study on their own. All of his courses incorporate a significant amount of theory, and all are student-centered. For anyone of my generation still wondering about how to teach theory and nontheory; or for those in the posttheory generation seeking inspiration, Felluga's website, http://icdweb.cc.purdue.edu/~felluga, is the place to go.

In his ambitious course on "Great Narrative Works," he uses Paradise Lost along with Citizen Kane, Conrad and Apocalypse Now, and theories of narratology in literature and film; but with impressively sophisticated and lively exercises for students all along, including a mock-trial of Satan in which they are the jury. Listed among his "Class Policies" is "Class Participation [class, Germanic, kla/kela: to shout, roar]: Dialogue is the only path to knowledge; here we do it verbally and I do expect you to roar, or at least speak. I believe in an interactive classroom in which we learn from each other and respect (although not necessarily agree with) the opinions of others. Remember, if you count the Trial of Satan, 20% of the grade will be given on the basis of your class participation."  
Felluga illustrates what he means by the interactive classroom by writing and posting a synopsis of the class discussion for every meeting. On the very first day of class on August 22, 2000, for example, he showed the first minute of Citizen Kane, and had the students try to figure out from the images in this brief sequence—a "No Trespassing" sign, some gates and fences, and a mansion in the distance—what they infer. [For the exercise, follow the Narratology: Lesson Plans: Citizen Kane pathway.] In other words, he has the students work out the difference between the very basic "story" and the much more complex "discourse" of the narrative. Felluga gives his own narrative of the discussion, identifying each student's contribution to an analysis of director Orson Welles's techniques, including gothic images of the haunted house, lighting, gloomy music, the sense of mystery and trespass, the use of house and landscape as psychological metaphor for Kane, camera angles, and literary echoes. As Felluga concludes, "Nothing is actually happening in this scene and, yet, students were able to determine all the major interpretive issues of the film from this apparently innocuous first scene, suggesting indeed that the discursive presentation of a story and not the story itself is, in fact, the heart of the narrative." In subsequent classes, he has the students continue to make their own discoveries, learn the theoretical terminology, and apply their insights to increasingly complex literary texts.
Too often, the problem-based elements of a theory course consist of the students' critique of the course itself, but courses like "Great Narrative Works" are a model of the ways that theory can be used to help students work out central literary problems. Making theory relevant to students' lives is a worthy cause, but theory developed in order to answer literary questions, and the excitement of that inquiry can be recaptured in the classroom by demanding and imaginative teaching.