Narrative Assignment

Narrative Assignment-33
We also sought to provide an opportunity for peer review in the small discussion groups that had become a standard feature of our teaching together.What evolved, then, was a series of exercises closely related to the thematic and formal issues of the course: how narratives shape reality.

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We suggested that students review their work on the stories and examine the exercises for evidence of the relationship between story and value, but encouraged them to use other material as well, including library research.

The intent was a formal, even theoretical, reflection on what they had learned about the relation between the stories we tell and the values we profess.

The process began in the first class, when as an introductory exercise, we asked students to join in pairs and tell each other a story that would in some way reveal themselves.

We assured them that the story need not be profound or violate their privacy, but that it should help the listener to understand something about their lives.

At the next class meeting, in the small groups, we asked students to help each other identify the differences in their narratives and particularly the biases and assumptions--the hidden narratives--that were shaping the new story, applying to their stories the same critical questions we were addressing to Faulkner's fictions.

Our next assignment relied on the venerable technique of imitation.Many were quite successful at both, and the change of pace was welcomed, since some students had begun to exhaust the narratives they had chosen to tell.We had decided not to collect or comment the stories to this point, wanting both to allow students to develop some self-confidence as critics in the peer groups and also to give individuals as much flexibility as they needed in choosing their own "'comfort level" for the self-revelation their stories demanded.Faulkner's challenging novel gave us ample opportunity to introduce students to the basic elements of narrative theory as it functions both in literature and in religious studies.One notion we emphasized, for example, was how stories are not only "about" their contents--the quest of Sutpen for a dynasty or the ideological failure of the Southern plantation system--but also "about" the shapes they assume, offering us ways of thinking about reality, ways that both limit and reveal the assumptions of a society--so that Faulkner's complex and multiple narrative voices reflect the cultural conversations about race and gender and subjectivity and power that were central to mid-twentieth-century North America.This portion of our exercise was probably the most helpful to students in learning to appreciate the significance of Faulkner's style--as well as the most easily excerpted for other courses and contexts.By this point in the semester, after nearly a month of re-working their initial narrative, most students were thoroughly engaged by the project and eagerly awaited our next "pitch"--which was a change-up.Recently, I've had the pleasure of team-teaching several courses with a colleague from the discipline of Religious Studies.1 The latest and, in many ways, the most exciting of these cooperative ventures was entitled "(Looking for) God in Faulkner," a course that focused on Absalom, Absalom!as a way to explore the role of narrative and intertextuality in defining culture and values.We reviewed all of the exercises for the first time, giving students our thoughts about the significance of what they had been finding, which they could couple with the continuing feedback they had been getting from their small groups.We did not grade their efforts at this point, reserving that evaluation for their final products--which generally turned out to be excellent.

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