Defining the ‘Contact Zone’ – Response to Chad’s Post

Chad’s response to Bizzell’s theory of reorienting our approach to literature instruction brings up the serious flaw in that theory — exactly how do we define the curriculum for an individual course? If we are expected to toss out chronology as a means of ordering literature, then we must seek out other means of doing so. Ultimately, there must be some guiding principle by which we organize information for the sake of presentation.

Innovation in the instruction of literature is not ostensibly a bad thing. However, we must design a curriculum that avoids complete chaos. ‘Contact zone’ is an interesting guiding principle, though it is by no means the only idea out there. Even if we do place a contact zone at the center of a curriculum, we must define it by some guiding notion of chronology for the sake of context. Or is that just my desire for the historiographic approach showing?

I have been very fortunate to take literature courses that were defined outside the realm of periodization, gender, and author. For example, I took an undergraduate course that surveyed the implementation of notions of ‘chivalry’ in literature, which examined texts from Beowulf to Lord of the Rings. Of course, the drawback would be that such a course cannot be exhaustive but rather a survey of such ideas with representative texts. For example, there was one female author in the group (Marie de France), which could be seen as a kind of tokenism.

Ultimately, no matter how a literature course is approached, it cannot be exhaustive and inclusive but that should not prevent instructors from designing new curricula based around a variety of guiding principles. The approach and the objectives in the course design must be clear, but they should not necessarily be rigidly tied ideas of temporal and spatial taxonomies.

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