As you might guess from the quotation marks above, the terms "primary" and "secondary" have been bugging me, especially because as an undergraduate I tended to take them literally. Critical essays weren't pieces of writing in themselves, they were commentaries on the main attraction, and as long as I gleaned the information they contained, I didn't have to read too carefully or actually think about how they were written. Two things changed in graduate school: first, in-class presentations that required attention to detail, synthesis of an argument, and analysis of that argument's presuppositions and construction. Second, teaching composition and learning a bit how to use critical essays as models for student writers.
So one of my goals in putting together this syllabus is to build in ways to help students recognize and negotiate different types of secondary readings, especially because these particular students will likely not have had much guidance in this area (probably not a whole lot of literature majors). I'm mentally categorizing them something like:
- Background readings that provide historical information I don't want or need to deliver in lecture format. There aren't that many of these, and I'm going to label them as such.
- Readings that introduce key theoretical terms or conceptual frameworks, usually in the context of close readings of particular texts.
- Readings that offer one interpretation of a particular text and provide an opportunity to discuss how that interpretation is contextualized, introduced, and supported.
My plan is to have each student present orally on one reading from category 2 or 3. In addition, I'll have some exercises with category 3 readings when we talk about how to construct an analytical argument, and the concepts from category 2 readings will be recurring themes in lectures and discussions.
What productive uses of secondary/critical readings in a literature course am I missing? Suggestions for using them in the classroom? Or experiences of particularly good or bad moments with secondary readings as teacher or student?