Towards a Pedagogy of Disturbance in the English Classroom: Aesthetics Affecting A Life

  • Author / Creator
    Howe, William R.
  • Abstract

    Literature has the power to change lives. Most English teachers trust this to be true. But while there are numerous arguments, of varying merit, that defend literature on cognitive grounds, few studies convincingly point to the underlying mechanisms of what makes it ‘work,’ or explain the sources of literature’s potency. This thesis rests on the assumption that to the degree that we come to understand how literature works, or how it might work more effectively, we will make better informed choices of materials and methods in the creation of affective learning spaces for literary encounters for students.
    In taking this position, accepting that discourse in education will likely always be dominated by cognitive theory, I embrace comments such as that made by Chris Danta and Helen Groth, who observe that such a limited view “represents the death of an aesthetics that embraces the uncertain, the unknowable and the inchoate meanings and difficult forms that render the literary distinct from the real” (2013, 2). In this thesis, recognizing what I consider to be dangerous and conflicting claims of literature which threaten to mediate or undermine its place in compulsory curricula, I draw on multiple provocations in considering unconscious forces behind literature’s educational potential. In moving beyond the cognitive, I consider the role of aesthetics in the classroom, deferring to the concept’s etymological roots in the Greek, Aisthesis – to sense – and recognizing the primary processing of the art of literature as largely precognitive, presubjective and prelingual. In the process, I hope to stimulate new conversations with respect to the profound role of literature, notably the only mandatory art in upper secondary, in stimulating the event of learning.
    Drawing predominantly from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, as well as their theoretical progenitors and progeny, following an opening discussion of several motivating factors that led to this work, I proceed through a more thorough elaboration on what I consider to be the primary channels of disturbance implicated in education – affect, problematization and micropolitics – anticipating that a deeper appreciation of these will not only inspire but inform the selection and approaches to literature in the classroom. Two subsequent chapters explore the nature of teacher and learner agency and various theoretical and practical implications for literary studies.
    Having rather arduously laid the foundations for what I refer to as a pedagogy of disturbance, I conduct my own experimentation with three very different texts, all examples which I suggest are appropriate selections for secondary school readers. Choosing relatively accessible material, I hope to demonstrate how such a pedagogy might apply, not as a methodology or prescriptive program, but as a set of principles or considerations that might inform new approaches to literary studies.
    The next three chapters are devoted to the novel, Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, the play (in translation) Scorched, by Wajdi Mouawad, and selected poems by Métis writer Marilyn Dumont, respectively. In each case, I proceed by highlighting signs of disturbance potentially emerging from reading encounters, followed by explorations of various ways disturbance might be put to work, politically and educationally, as inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis. The first of these makes a case for play and digression in education; the second for the potential force and work of silence, and the third for the affective capacity of poems to address Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process and move non-Indigenous subjectivities towards visions of good relations.
    In my final section, I respond to what I anticipate will be ethical challenges a pedagogy of disturbance might provoke. As both an apologetics of sorts, and an appeal to educators, I contend that a nomadic or immanent ethics challenges us to consider experiments of disturbance as not only pedagogically justifiable, but in the face of current global crises, pedagogically urgent. In this context. I am especially interested in how literary encounters embody the potential to dissolve ‘us’ and ‘them’ divisions in society and create the possibilities for a ‘people yet to come,’ a people connected to and acting according to non-egocentric and non-anthropocentric interests of ‘a life’ through expressions of compassion.  

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.