This is more or less how I greeted students on this first day of class:
Try to remember your first, or a very early, experience with a story...
How many of you thought of a book?
How many of you thought of someone telling a story, or reading you a story?
Most of us encounter stories first by ear.
...and then we get tricked into thinking what matters about literature is on the page.
I want to challenge that idea, and I want you to help me by proving that we can have intelligent, meaningful, important conversations about stories and poems we hear.
People who study literature use a technique called "close reading" to pay attention to the choices an author makes--about style, and language, character, point of view--all the elements that make up a story or poem or other work. We're going to pioneer a technique of "close listening," seeing if we can pay just as much attention to what we hear as what we see.
I believe that listening to one another--in conversations, in stories, in songs--is fundamental to what it means to be a human, and also fundamental to what it means to be humane. (Q for students: What's the difference?)
We tell each other stories, and if we listen to those stories--really listen--we may be inspired to treat one another better...so you'll see this course also fulfills a social justice theme, which means that we'll be thinking not only about how stories are constructed, but also the way that society is constructed.
We'll be thinking about the relationship between literature and society, and asking ourselves: can literature really change the world? or is that just a cheesy slogan?