Teaching with Youtube

If I can digress off the Victorians for this post I was teaching a course on Women’s Writing and Feminist Literary Theories to second year undergraduates this week.  It’s the point in the course where I attempt to explain Judith Butler to them and her notion of the peformativity of gender.  I had just read the latest edition of Wordplay, the English Subject Centre’s Newsletter, and Anna Palko’s article on ‘Teaching with Youtube’, where she mentions using the Dove ‘Evolution’ advert to introduce ideas around essentialism and gender performance.  The advert is quite mesmeric, and Palko rightly says that it is “extremely powerful, as it displays an issue of which many, if not all, of the class is aware and are affected by”.  I showed it as my very first slide, with a reference to Joan Rivière’s 1929 essay on ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’ and the notion of “performing the pantomime of femininity”.

It felt like it was only the start though and I am not sure it entirely ‘works’ for a discussion of Judith Butler.  Certainly the image of the woman that you see on the billboard at the end of the advert has been constructed — and it’s the photoshop adaptations in the ad that are somehow the most impacting/shocking to me — but Butler wasn’t the first to say femininity is culturally constructed by a long way.  Her point is much more about the way in which society produces gender from an a priori sex and Butler in Gender Trouble argues against that ‘logical’ causality.  For the first time I also showed my class a clip from the 1991 film Paris is Burning, which Butler discuses in Bodies That Matter (1995).  Despite the fact that Butler is often taken as advocating drag as a way of parodying the constructed nature of all gender (with no originary sex behind it), she is ambivalent about the extent to which the drag performances on offer in the film are liberatory.  There’s certainly some interesting discussion to be had around the category of ‘Realness’ which the men attempt to approximate and perform in the Balls.

The Pre-Raphaelites Online

My first online session with my third year class on the Victorians is now over.  They came up with an impressive bank of comments and discussion about how the Victorians have influenced us now, and their legacies still with us.  I kept logging on to the first Forum excitedly the day after my first class to see who was posting.  It took a little while to get going but I do always find I want to see the Forum in progress as it were.  The dynamism of it is part of the appeal and what makes it work.

As well as the Forums for each specific designated exercise our VLE also has  general forum on the menu of each online topic area which I as ‘Admin’ person can change the name of.  In past years we haven’t been able to do that, so I also set the class the task of renaming the general forum for their own use.  I’m not really bothered what they talk about in here.  As long as it’s not offensive or illegal it’s fine with me.  It helps if it’s course related but I’m not really policing it.

The suggestions for names for our ‘Virtual Victorian Inn’ were great:  The Literary Lounge, The Stiff Upper Lip, The Chamber of Converse, The Punch and Dickens, The Queen Vic, The What-the-Dickens?!, The Brontë Bruiser’s Bar, and The Having a Gas(kell).  As our second class was exploring Chartism, Reform Bills and working class pressure for the vote, we had our own secret ballot to vote for the winner.  The What the Dickens?! won, but there’s now a snug in the back called Having a Gas(kell).

Our second Victorian Vision Online session, which accompanies the third class, is one of my favourites, and works incredibly well.  The class build their own bank of weblinks to Pre-Raphaelite paintings, thus creating a resource for the class, and then make a post in a ‘Pre-Raphaelite Painting’ forum on their chosen painting, telling their classmates about it.  They are encouraged to do some research on their painting, alongside using the useful information available on good websites such as those of Art Galleries which have PR holdings.

I’m also trying out a ‘Pre-Raphaelite Poetry’ forum alongside it using the online Morris Edition being created by Florence Boos at the University of Iowa.  Margaret Lourie’s excellent annotated edition of William Morris’s The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems (1858), long out of print, has been made available online.  There are also copies of some of the original first reviews of the volume, so it’s possible for my class to see how critics of the time referred to these poems as somehow ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ and doing in verse what they perceived the PRs to be doing in paint.  I thus also set my class the quite challenging task of discussing one of choosing one of the 30 poems to discuss.  In what ways might it be perceived as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’?  Is it possible to translate techniques in painting to poetry?