Modern Literary Criticism
Preliminary thought: you could read the best work by the best authors at the best times, be taught the best techniques in the best way with the best supplies, but if the professor doesn’t 1) know how to articulate that what you’re doing is valuable or 2) actually believe that what you’re doing is valuable then you’re probably going to spend a semester just barely stimulated enough to not fall asleep. That being said, I only chose courses taught by professors who understood this, did thus, etc. Therefore there’s no better course to begin with than Dr. Tate’s Modern Literary Criticism.
To borrow a metaphor from Dr. Weichbrodt, this course gave me a toolbox and taught me how to use everything inside it. And then the tools inside happened to be everything I needed to build all the things I wanted to build. Having a predilection towards conversations about “the new politics of difference” I was already set up to enjoy the course. However, as I said before, my interest wouldn’t have furthered my understanding or assuaged my existential anxieties if I hadn’t had a professor like Dr. Tate. He led us through the material with sensitivity—to our intellects, emotions, and spiritual well-being. And we needed that because, and I say this with some trepidation, the ideas discussed in this course are dangerous. I don’t believe they have power over the Christian faith, more specifically the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ, but I do believe these ideas have influence. Suffice it to say, now—after several semesters’ distance from this course with continued interaction with similar material in later courses—when I have a friend who is legitimately under fire by his or her intellect, emotions, or spirit over issues of systemic injustice at large, the incomplete nature of language, failures of and/or atrocities committed by the Church, I don’t point s/he to Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, or Julia Kristeva. What’s that going to help? In my experience, honestly, deconstruction of institution or ideology feels good to do not necessarily because it’s right (though it absolutely is sometimes, i.e. Jim Crow, New Jim Crow, etc.) but because sometimes it feels nice to be smart enough to undo something. It’s pride. It’s the satisfaction of pulling at a loose thread on a sweater. You know you’re going to lose something that keeps you warm, but you continue to pull because you have the power to do so.
Art & Criticism
Pretty much everything I said about Modern Literary Criticism could be said for this course. Dr. Weichbrodt was (is) pretty fantastic. Contrary to what John Piper says, having a woman teach me and bring me through intellectually and emotionally difficult material wasn’t distracting. It was irreplaceable. And it wasn’t irreplaceable because she is a woman, though she is and that’s a rather unavoidable fact (the same way it’s an unavoidable fact that Dr. Tate is a man), but because she is who she is, herself, which happens to be an intellectual powerhouse as well as a kind person. These two qualities are ones I interact with daily in Covenant’s faculty members regardless of height, weight, sex, gender, class, race, whatever other thing you want to qualify their identity with. Take the course. Learn from someone who knows way more about something than you do.
I feel like I’m reiterating the same things about each professor and course, which might be because the courses I have dealt with study much of the same material. Continental, taught by the truly quirky Dr. Davis is the backbone for Modern Lit. Crit. and Art & Crit. and does not deal with practice or creative work other than philosophy. Though many of the theoretical positions take interdisciplinary approaches, you’re going to be reading people who are pretty much all brain. But, again, though the material is tough, and Dr. Davis leads his students through each article with a significant amount of care and poise.
Creative Writing Non-Fiction
I don’t have much to say about this course other than 1) it’s the most fun I had in a two-hour course while at Covenant and 2) it was one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever taken at Covenant. Also, everything I’ve said about every professor before, guess what—it can be said for Professor Huffines, too. She’s been my advisor for 5 semesters so I’m a little biased, but, whatever, who isn’t? Anyway, this course is great because you basically get to have all the fun of writing and are given none of the massage that sometimes comes from a bunch of creatives getting together and “editing” each other’s work. Professor Huffines went to Penn State and knows how to run a workshop. If you were planning on just working on your craft in a vacuum, then you probably shouldn’t take this course. I mean, Covenant undergrad isn’t an MFA so things are still pretty tame, but Professor Huffines doesn’t hold back and you and all your colleagues are, thankfully, way more vicious than you expect. So, not for the faint of heart. But that’s what a writer needs. No one is going to be kind to the Christian writer in the 21st century American literary sphere. If you can’t handle a workshop like this you probably won’t make it or at least you won’t write anything worth-while. You’ll just be writing to yourself.