I've been having some email exchanges with a student whose smart, thoughtful, and critically stuck in the 50s. He's realized that when he reads, he reads like a white male from the 1950s or so. He's concerned, and not really finding much new to say. As my first Shakespeare prof told me, it got to a point where it was hard to come up with basically competing close readings of the same canonical texts and it wasn't rewarding to read more close readings of canonical texts.
Our conversations have me thinking about Frankenstein, the part when Victor Frankenstein's new professor can't believe he's been spending all his time reading Paracelcus instead of more recent science texts.
I've suggested some ideas to help him write a good paper for my class, but it's the longer term I'm thinking about.
He says he's totally uninterested in cultural criticism; he reads articles and is just uninterested. He wants to read Shakespeare for Shakespeare, as Shakespeare. He's mostly self-taught about his Shakespeare, and read the one or two books you'd guess he'd have picked up at the local bookstore, uncritically, with much admiration. Those one or two books are very big in his experience.
I'd really appreciate some suggestions of readings for him, not about Shakespeare, but readings that will help him get a better sense of the development of the profession and of the value of understanding cultural contexts for any text.
It's hard, because I like Shakespeare a LOT, but for me the real pleasure comes in trying to understand the complexities of the culture, theater, history, textuality. I understand how valuable close reading skills are (invaluable for teaching, especially), but I want more of a pay off to reading criticism than I find in most close readings.
So, wisdom of the blogosphere, what would you suggest?
Am I totally off base thinking that he's going to find a lot of frustration trying to do new criticism now?
How can I help him find what he's looking for in literature AND succeed in his graduate program.
There's a lot to be said for just enjoying and appreciating Shakespeare (or any lit), but that's not really what graduate work in lit is about. Or is it? Should it be?