Reply – Committee Cafe: Pennsylvania Committee of Correspondence
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Committee Cafe: Pennsylvania Committee of Correspondence
— by Dr. Brandon Dr. Brandon
Use this thread for discussion among your Committee.  After this first week, there will be more serious discussions but, this first week, to get started, introduce yourself and try to get to know one another. Over the next sixteen weeks, you're going to be reading and discussing one another's work.  This will be easier if you know something about the folks who will be reading and commenting on what you have to say.  

Begin by letting your committee members know something about yourself in terms of what your plans are for when you finish up the course or finish up at Reynolds.  Where are you in your program of study?  

Are you looking forward to the course?  Why, or why not?

It's OK if you aren't.  Too many students have flashbacks to horrible literature classes where they'd read something great, got into discussing it, only to find out that no matter what they thought the lit was about, it turned out that the important meaning was hiding somewhere in the teacher's head.  This class won't be an exercise into getting at what I think the lit means.  

This also won't be one of those lit classes where any interpretation is as good as another.  Authors write because they want to accomplish something and, usually, because they want to be understood. Most of this course will be about your learning how to put yourself in the author's place and ask, "If I wrote what I just read, what would I be trying to do and how would I want to be understood."  

Just as in everyday life, understanding others is a complicated process.  However, it's how we learn about others and one means we learn about ourselves.  Because it's complicated, understanding others (and ourselves) is often a process we get wrong.  If we didn't ever get an interpretation wrong, there would never be any misunderstandings and we'd never make decision that later turned out to be wrong on a "gut" level.  Worse, understanding others often involves us taking the risk of others getting to know us and taking a long look at ourselves.  We have to really understand ourselves well if we're going to understand why we'd do or say something we didn't do or say.  We have to risk sounding silly or getting an interpretation wrong, that is, if we're going to discuss our interpretations with others and learn from their interpretations. Take it from a teacher who does it every day, taking the chance of sounding silly in front of a group of relative strangers can be scary, but it's one of the risks involved with a greater joy.  It's sort of like asking someone out the first time.  Yes, you might get shot down.  Yes, you might sound silly, but the risk is sooo worth the joy.    

The bottom line?  One of the main reasons we study lit is to practice understanding what others mean in a low stakes environment.  Let's face it: if you get Poe or Emerson wrong, chances are there aren't going to be huge consequences.  It's not like misunderstanding your boss or significant other and getting fired or getting dumped. We read lit to practice how to get higher stakes, critical readings right, and we study lit to learn how to share our interpretations with others and--in the process--learn to take the risks involved.

Very few of us are really, really good at reading and understanding ourselves and others.  I do it for a living.  I've been getting paid to interpret for a couple of decades.  I've got a doctorate in reading and understanding literature, myself, and others.  All this means is I can successfully get into someone else's head with more success than not.  No one gets it right every time, and the world wouldn't be much fun if people didn't do or say things which just don't seem to make sense, that is, until you get to studying and get to know them.  The bottom line is that you're a sophomore in college.  By definition, you're just getting started and learning the tricks involved in learning to know yourself and others.  Worse...many of you have had horrible experiences, some of them in literature classes, which turned you off to the joys of really getting to know others.  The upshot?  Many come into our course expecting not to like it.  You'll have to take my word for it, but the folks who stick it out--most do and earn a high grade--end up enjoying literature more, and most report really enjoying the class.

So, quit reading me and introduce yourself.