In addition to readings and workshops by visiting authors in the Writers-at-Muhlenberg series and the Living Writers course, the English department is becoming increasingly more interdisciplinary in its curriculum and pedagogy. Faculty not only team-teach courses with colleagues from other disciplines but they often invite guest speakers and experts to their classes. Specific material in courses is designed to coincide with on-campus readings and dramatic performances, concerts and events sponsored by the Center for Ethics. And field trips to art exhibitions and lectures serve to extend the reach of the classroom and make the lessons learned there more dynamic and tangible.
Some examples of these events include:
“The Graphic Novel,” a hybrid course co-taught by a creative writer and graphic artist, with an analytical and workshop component.
A Dramatic performance of Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in class and a musical adaptation of “Ode to a Nightingale” for an upper-level course on English Romanticism.
A political scientist and professional pollster visit class to discuss the campaign narratives of presidential candidates John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
A neuroscience professor visits one of our department’s First Year Seminars to discuss Freudian psychology and contemporary neuroscience theory, especially the dynamics and neurology of dreams and the narrative of dreams in novels.
A director and theater historian visits a course on the nature of narrative and talks about interpreting and staging a Shakespeare play.
A field trip to New York City to see “William Blake’s World,” an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, including a special guided tour by the museum’s curator.
Class visits to the foundation course, Theories and Methods of English Studies, by professional musicians and artists to discuss Modernism and Postmodernism in contemporary music and art.
The Blake Gallery
“The Blake Gallery” was a multi-disciplinary, multimedia senior seminar designed by the students and me in Spring 2008. It focused on the work of the visionary Romantic writer William Blake (1757-1827), who was a poet, engraver, painter and prophet. The seminar culminated in a full-scale exhibition of Blake’s work in Muhlenberg’s Frank Martin Art Gallery. True to the spirit of Blake’s iconoclastic vision, we wanted to break many of the rules of a standard art gallery where most work is hung at five feet. We filled the walls with text to the ceiling and stenciled on the floor. We painted the gallery with washes and acrylics, liberating some of Blake’s most powerful images from the rare books on exhibit in display cases. We rearranged words, tipping letters off the line, opening up visual spaces between verses, marching a poem up rather than down the stanzas. And we entwined the words and images, making these media converse much as they do in Blake’s own artwork.
The class also devised ways to avoid the static nature of most book exhibits, the fact that once the gallery is installed it tends to take on an air of permanence and authority. Because we intended it in part as homage to Blake, we knew the exhibition should be unconventional and that it should find ways to honor his unique modes of production, his ideological commitment to transience and change. And so we did our best to make it a living gallery, arranging a dance performance, reading, radio interview and concert within the space. Rather than a museum presentation, the gallery itself became an artwork, a multimedia adaptation of Blake’s illuminated books. The original music performed live in the gallery was composed especially for the exhibition and became part of an album of work based on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794). These songs became an integral part of the gallery’s design.
-Grant F. Scott
Presentation of the Blake Exhibit
Spring, composed by Scott Clausen and performed by Brian Kirchner, Christina Razzi, Scott Clausen and Ryan Acquaotta