In Teaching and Learning English Literature, Ellie Chambers and Marshall Gregory discuss the importance of literary pedagogy as a framing system. Pedagogy not only encourages learning and growth, but it can also affect and frame course content to invite different types of understanding (14). The teaching of literature needs to better adapt to the modern world, addressing issues like postcritical thought, different student experiences, the corporatization of education, and the potential for personal transformations.
One of the more appealing aspects of literary studies, for Chambers and Gregory, is the “existential importance” of the field. As Erin Sherrets and Isaac Knapp note, many students are drawn to literature because of such existential qualities. Students are able to engage with serious issues and concerns about their existence, concepts such as grief, loss, and the human condition: “the most comprehensive and ubiquitous of all human strategies for both finding and creating meaning is the telling and consuming of stories” (13). Thus, students connect with such universal conditions and engage affectively and vicariously with literature in productive manners.
This engagement or connection creates a need for new and effective framing devices. Literature in the academy today tends to be organized in the following ways: periods and styles, authors, genres, feminism, themes, regional literature, and postmodern issues and themes. External factors like funding and accountability, including the growing insistence than knowledge be measured and standardized, also force teachers to rethink their framing pedagogies to adapt to the modern pace of academia.
Chambers and Gregory demonstrate the need for literature departments to work together to create welcoming environments for students, as well as effective teaching methods. Therefore, Chambers and Gregory assert that it is necessary to highlight the “universal” existential qualities that every student faces and that literature seems to engage with best.
Naturally, Chambers and Gregory are schooled in poststructural thought, so I am certain they are aware of the danger in using phrases like “the universal human condition”; however, the first chapter of Teaching and Learning English Literature seeks to work productively and positively to ensure literature departments carry on in the academy. Though subtle, Chambers and Gregory promote multiple ways of engaging with literature, in terms of affect and narrative studies (15-16), resisting the notion that literature is only effective when it engages in critiques of ideology. This is not to say that the hermeneutics of suspicion are old news; rather, Chambers and Gregory demonstrate that alternative modes of thinking may make literature more appealing and less exclusive.
Chambers, Ellie, and Marshall Gregory. Teaching and Learning English Literature. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2014.