14 June 2006

Post-modernism -- and a funny....

There is an interesting discussion going on at Of Books and Bicycles regarding how to describe post-modernism and experimental fiction. Be sure to check out the comments section.

Reading through the comments -- which contain a interesting thread on Tristram Shandy -- I thought about an incident from many years ago when I was teaching an Intro to Lit class. Most of the students were considered 'non-traditional', that is working adults aged mid-20s to mid-30s. But, because it was a summer class, there were several recent high school grads, most with a horrifying lack of exposure to reading of any kind. As an adjunct, I had to teach the assigned syllabus, including Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Now, I'd read Cat's Cradle before, and for awhile enjoyed Vonnegut's works, and I had no problems teaching it; it just wasn't the choice I would have made for a novel for inexperienced readers (or an inexperienced adjunct instructor). The younger students really struggled with the work. "Just enjoy it" was what I wanted to say to them, fearing that they would be turned off reading forever.

One day, a young student approached me after class. "I'm really trying to understand this. It isn't the first book I've ever read, but it is so different." "But", she continued, "my boyfriend suggested I asked you if this was right. He just didn't think that anyone would publish a book like this". When I asked her what she meant, she showed me her copy of the book. About 50 pages in the middle of the book had been bound incorrectly -- upside down and backwards! That's great! I thought; what a perfect way to have fun with that book. I wished I had been able to supply the entire class with the incorrectly printed books.

My 17-year old son read Cat's Cradle over the holiday break last December. He loved this story about the book and said he was surprised that Vonnegut hadn't thought of it himself. And then he continued to tell me about Ice-9 and the different types of ice he had studied in Physics. (I was thinking 3 -- the kind from the freezer, the bagged kind from the store, dry ice.) But...that's a different post, I think.


Dorothy W. said...

What a great story!

litlove said...

This is a great story. I once had a student who used to ring up her mother saying, 'Mum, you'll never guess what she's making me read this time...' I was always slightly afraid the mother would turn up one day and tick me off.

BikeProf said...

I love this! I assigned A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and one of my students got a book that started all over again from the beginning at about page 180. She first thought it was Eggers being too cute until I showed her my copy.