Teaching the Sermon: Lyric, Narrative, and T. S. Eliot
Mack, Joseph Edward
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This thesis is an examination of the subsection of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land that is aptly named "The Fire Sermon." The hybrid nature of this famous poem makes it open to a variety of readings, and these readings are often conflicting. Thus, the work, in spite of being a seminal text in literature, can be difficult to teach due to the complexity of the piece itself. This fact makes choosing a pedagogical approach to teaching The Waste Land a challenge. With the goal of making Eliot's poem more explorable, this thesis will undertake the task of an examination of "The Fire Sermon" using two distinctive theories. The theories in question are the theory of the lyric, exemplified by Jonathan Culler's writing, and the theory of heteroglossia established by Mikhail Bakhtin. However, that analysis will be merely a stepping stone for a more strictly pedagogical question that this project seeks to answer. That question is, namely, the query of which branch of contemporary theory, narrative or lyric, is more apt to present the issues inherent in "The Fire Sermon" in an effective and teachable manner. Both positions have a number of positive attributes and elements that make them uniquely suited to the examination of Eliot's writing.
General Audience Abstract
Teaching poetry can be a difficult task. The basic question of “Why should I study poetry?” is one that many a professor has had to answer. While the scholarly community has done a decent job of articulating the value of the liberal arts, the specifics of how to teach difficult poetry is more of a gray area in scholarship. Certainly, a number of articles, opinions, and theories on how to best teach poetry exist, but creating a clear blueprint with examples of how to apply complex theories to a poem is essential to guiding new instructors into the field of teaching poetic works before an audience. This thesis is a work that shows several of the methods of studying poetry via an examination of several important poetic and narrative theories and the theorists that created said methods, and then the thesis undertakes a practical examination of a poem, a section of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The purpose of this thesis is to make critical theories and abstract ideas more applicable and valuable as usable tools in the classroom, rather than having them exist as ideas without a practical application. Knowledge is, after all, something made to be shared.
- Masters Theses