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Notes Who Ain’t an Ishmael? Moby-Dick and Visual Imagination in China KENNETH SPEIRS Fudan University, People’sRepublic of China erman Melvilleis a global writer not just because he treats other parts of the world in his fiction but because he made intercultural contacts ,andnegotiations the substance of much of his writing. My own intercultural experiences provide the substance for the thoughts about teaching represented here; the assignments and discussions that follow are part of a graduate seminar devoted exclusively to Moby-Dick that I am currently teaching at Fudan University in Shanghai. My two years of teaching in China have increased my understanding of the powerful hold cultural and ethnic background exerts on students’ learning patterns. To begin to understand, for example, the distance between my students ’and my own concept of what happens in a good class, I have had to look seriously at how Confucianism, with its injunctions to revere age and the wisdom of inherited ideas, still structures many of the ways Chinese relate to one another in all social contexts. Armed with my Emersonian ideals of selfreliance and of setting the past and its authority at naught, I was bound for certain defeat when I stood for the first time facing a veil of silence and passivity, woven of a vast web of learned codes that I was unable to decipher. Student interaction, a fundamental element of my teaching, is a way of learning I have had to inculcate in my students over time and in the face of their strong predisposition to defer to authority, to seek acceptance before praise, and to work toward group-defined success in lieu of individual achievement. My efforts both to understand the cultural values structuring learning patterns, and in turn, to help move my Chinese students to the center of their own learning, build upon my experiences at New York University where I worked with colleagues in the Expository Writing Department from 1993 to 1998 to develop a number of sequenced assignments, or progressions. Fundamentally, progressions consist of a series of interconnected reading, writing and thinking exercises that provide a way for students to learn how to develop an essay from start to finish. Although they lay out a creative pathway for students to pursue and focus class discussions on a group of common readings , progressions also encourage experimentation. As students complete the L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 1 0 1 K E N N E T H S P E I R S various writing exercisesspecified in the progression and begin to combine the results in the drafts of their essays, they move more into areas of inquiry that interest them, building always on the foundation that the exercises establish. Out of a progression’sordering methodology students come to a clearer understanding of how academic essays work, how they make meaning, how they cohere, how they give readers pleasure and insight. The following assignments and reflections belong to what I call The Visual Imagination Progression. Recently used in a graduate seminar devoted to Moby-Dick, this progression asks students first to examine a non-verbal or pictorial representation of Melville’s novel, then to mine that representation for ideas, and finally to write an essay which deepens that idea using as evidence both personal story and textual analysis drawn from the novel. It is a challenging essay, but we found the work rich, complex and rewarding. Lesson #I: Word Picture of an Art Object Images hold us; indeed we can be in the grip o f an image. They can be gutsy. -James Hillman The Assignment Our journey with Ishmael has demonstrated the importance of a reading process that is active. In “The Spouter-Inn” Ishmael helped us extend the active reading process to an art object: the “boggy,soggy, squitchy” painting hanging in the entry to the inn. Following Ishmael’s lead, in this next Progression -or series of reading and writing assignments leading to Lesson #2 -we will extend the active reading process to an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 101-109
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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