Writing a Paper

I haven't written a conference paper in a long time. After I was promoted to full prof in 2003 I made a conscious decision to cut back on conferences, though in truth (with the exception of several years of AWP) I'd never been a big conference-goer. The MLA meeting always gave me the creeps. Too many desperate, sweaty people (including me) wandering around with frozen faces like something out of The Night of the Living Dead. The best conferences I've attended over the years have been smaller -- the American Literary Translators Association & the Society for Science Literature & the Arts being my two favorites. When I saw a call for papers on Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2, which is one of my favorite novels, I decided to send in a proposal. A proposal, once accepted, is like a loan from a bank -- eventually you have to pay it back with a paper, which I have been working on this week. I'm enjoying the process & think I may eventually write an essay worth publishing. I'm looking forward to the conference.

What I'm doing is using Power's novel -- specifically, it's storyline about teaching an artificial intelligence to read literature -- as a comic analogy to my experience teaching Introduction to Literature for the first time in a decade last spring. It struck me that my students' minds were matters of artifice as much as any neural network made of circuit boards. That is, all our intelligence is artificial & I'm trying to understand that in terms of pedagogy in the Literature classroom. This has had me reading Rorty & Dewey & trying to apply them to my experience. The paper is descriptive: my experience teaching five poems -- Blake’s “London,” William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz,” Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” and Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” --but that description carries along with it a line of speculation about the nature of literary learning. In short, that learning has to be informed in certain ways by previous experience & must also draw on what Dewey calls the "awake" and "alert" qualities of thought. What I don't want to write is a complaint against students, but I do want to confront & understand their pervasive passivity before literary texts.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.