[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Dennis Danielson danielso at interchange.ubc.ca
Thu Oct 1 19:22:27 EDT 2009

I appreciate David Ainsworth's simple suggestion for avoiding the
potentially coercive "we" construction, which I notice often and find
insidious in many forms of academic discourse.

Secondly (and I'd better speak only for myself!), I find it a useful
exercise to ponder just the sorts of issues that this discussion has
brought to the fore: How does one balance the need to be authentic to
one's deepest commitment, reject the notion that public discourse must
be neutral or even atheistic discourse, and yet be as respectful and
inclusive as possible? One response is "Do unto others ..." etc.

If I'm in conversation with a Muslim and she refers to plans we share
in, and adds "Insha'Allah" after, let's say, "See you tomorrow," I feel
included, not excluded. I know she's being what she is--pious in a
certain way--and is relaxed enough about it that she feels no need for
self-censorship. That's sort of how I heard the original reference to
Christ in the writing of Margie's student (although the cases obviously
aren't parallel in lots of ways). I try to encourage students to speak
as who they are, and I promise to do everything I can to respect their
attempts to do so (while of course asking for good analysis and critical
thought, not just gushing or assertion supported by a "hier stehe ich").

As for A.D. and C.E., I use the former partly because I'm a
stick-in-the-mud who was taught that way in the Olden Days, and partly
because the huge majority of printed work out there uses it. I also
prefer it because I'm a Christian, though I'd not use it if people
didn't know what it means in purely calendrical terms. I ask students
to use whichever system they prefer, but to make sure they understand
both conventions. I did, though, once have a student who positively
criticized me for using A.D. because of the meaning of Dominus. I
promised to respect whichever system she preferred to use in her own
speech and writing, while assuring her I'd continue to use A.D. and B.C. 
in mine.

Thanks to all for an interesting conversation.
Dennis D

David Ainsworth wrote:
> I'm finding the responses so far to Margie's original message 
> fascinating and informative.
> I wonder if the problem with the "we read of Christ that" construction 
> isn't the "Christ" part but the "we read of?"  As Margie points out in 
> her comment, the writer is effectively citing John as (ahem) gospel in a 
> way which implies that any reader will accept it as such.
> Wouldn't "John says of Christ that" work?  That statement doesn't 
> require that one accept John's claims (or accept that John speaks God's 
> words), while still presumably establishing a useful point for discussion.
> I'd see rewriting a sentence which started "In Marx, we read of the 
> proletariat that..." to "Marx writes of the proletariat that," or even 
> "Marx presents a proletariat that..." as an improvement in the name of 
> clarity as much as in the name of inclusiveness.
> David
> Margaret Thickstun wrote:
>> I would appreciate guidance, especially from professing Christians, 
>> about how to advise believing students in their use of "Christ" in 
>> academic discussions of religious poetry.  Normally when my students 
>> refer to Jesus as "Christ" they do so because they think "Christ" is 
>> his last name, so I point out that to refer to him as Christ is to 
>> make a faith claim, which they hadn't intended.
>> But this semester I have two very devout students who, in writing 
>> about Herbert poems, are using "Christ" in ways for which I don't have 
>> easy corrections.
>> Here is an example from a superb and subtle analysis of "The Windows" 
>> which ended:
>>> Such an example of wordplay serves as the perfect ornament to 
>>> Herbert’s poem; for, just as the Christian is called to be like 
>>> Christ and thus to be as a kind of filter for his image, so too 
>>> Christ’s image filters through this poem about man.  He enters 
>>> subtly, symbolically and yet perceptibly; and, in-so-doing, this poem 
>>> about windows becomes, itself, a window for Christ’s light.     
>> I could just ask him to substitute "God" there, but that is not 
>> precisely what he meant.  Here is what I wrote:
>>> “Christ,” as you know, is an honorific and a faith claim.  As such, 
>>> it needs to be used carefully and sparingly in literary analysis.  
>>> When you refer to Christ in your intro paragraph, you present the 
>>> argument—that the preacher must let Christ’s light shine through 
>>> him—as Herbert’s argument.  So I think “Christ” is okay there.  But 
>>> in your concluding paragraph, when you say that in John “we read of 
>>> Christ that. . .” you not only reveal your faith position, but 
>>> include your reader in that community.  What if the person reading 
>>> your discussion of the poem does not identify as a Christian?  Is 
>>> that person excluded from the paper’s audience?  Does the argument’s 
>>> success require that readers share this faith position?
>> I would appreciate knowing how others handle this issue.--Margie
>> -- 
>> Margaret Olofson Thickstun
>> Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English
>> Hamilton College
>> 198 College Hill Road
>> Clinton, NY 13323
>> (315) 859-4466

Dennis Danielson
Professor and Head
Department of English
University of British Columbia
#397 - 1873 East Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z1
telephone: 604-822-3174
Author: The First Copernican
Editor: Paradise Lost, Parallel Prose Edition
WEB: http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/ddaniels/

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