Next semester I’m teaching:
1. my signature Hispanic Civilization course (in English), which is always fun
2. Intermediate Spanish II, which will be great because I only have 9 students (the course is offered off sequence) and I can REALLY teach them to speak fluently in such a cozy group
3. And the course that I dread teaching. It’s the second part of Advanced Spanish called “Introduction to Reading Literature.” I taught it once, and it was a complete and utter failure.
What we are supposed to do in the course is spend the first month reviewing grammar rules (again! for the 6th semester in a row!) and dedicate the rest of the semester to reading entirely unconnected literary texts from the textbook. A short story by Borges, a poem by Quevedo, a short story by Clarin, a play by a Mexican playwright from the 1990s, a poem by Vallejo, a short novel by Unamuno.
My problem is that I don’t know how to teach literature out of context. Of course, I’ll ditch the stupid grammar overview, that’s the easy part. But I can’t talk about works of literature when they are ripped completely out of the historical, regional, chronological, and cultural context. Call me old-fashioned, but I think context matters. And I don’t know how to teach St John of the Cross without talking about the Spain he knew, the culture that nourished him, the terror and the ecstasy of his religion. I don’t get how one can skip from Lorca to the realists to medieval moralists and then all the way to the Mexican revolution.
So I’m stumped. This is, incidentally, the reason I was having trouble in grad school. I don’t see a work of literature as a closed world that is fully self-sufficient and detached from surrounding reality. I’m simply a very different kind of literary critic. I hate the idea of anybody being “a universal writer.”