Interdisciplinary Approaches To Teaching Literature English Language Essay

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Nowadays programmes abound in faculties that offer interdisciplinary courses to the interested students of not only literature, but others in varied fields of humanities as well. These courses are recognized to be essential according to the needs and interests of students of humanities corresponding to their personal life and intellectual objectives. To define what is meant by the term 'interdisciplinarity' one should turn back to the root 'discipline' in the first place and regard the especial views towards it which have ended up in the emergence of 'inter'disciplinarity. Michel Foucault defines disciplines as being "constituted through the limitation of knowledge, fortification of boundaries, and parsimonious authorization of their speaking subjects…[that] allow only certain speakers to say certain things in certain contexts" (qtd. in Scullion 5). Naturally the boundaries put by various disciplines cannot go with the essentially postmodernist/poststructuralist nature of various scientific realms of knowledge today. F.R. Leavis argues "'that the central problem with the modern university is one that afflicts society as a whole: the division of labour into self-contained units in 'technologico-Benthamite civilisation'" (qtd. in Moran 28). Interdisciplinarity then, may be a solution to this Benthamite era by breaking down the divisions between varied academic fields.

Surprisingly, scientific majors such as biochemistry, nanotechnology, medical engineering, or geophysics suggest that generally, scientific domains have proven to be more welcoming to the acceptance of interdisciplinary approaches than those of arts. The lack of interest in arts has been interpreted and justified in terms of the tendency of the practitioners to preserve their idiosyncrasies and uniqueness. Yet, the trend has also started to find path into the world of arts and of course literature in the post-War era.

As mentioned before, the idea of interdisciplinarity was originally presented through the works of Foucault and Bourdieu. Nowadays, varied disciplines including anthropology, literature and literary theories, sociology, psychoanalysis, historiography, linguistics and semiotics, demography, politics and cultural studies, and film studies together have created a network of discursive disciplines which can shed light upon subjects of studies from different perspectives, according to which the proponents of interdisciplinarity claim to have a better approach to the reality of things than each of them practised on their own. For instance, Lacan's contribution to post-Freudian psychoanalysis was influenced by the works of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss whose theory of signifier in turn, had originated from the assumptions of the linguist Saussure. Roland Barthes also extended his semiotic analysis to the cultural and political theories. It goes without saying that cinema and film industry have long since been affected by their interrelationship with the world of literature, especially in the adaptations of great literary works; the semiotic theories of scholars like Christian Metz also, stem from the same root. For Derrida, the basis of interdisciplinarity is founded upon the idea of 'gift' which provides the opportunity to escape "cold economic rationality" and traditional economism (Derrida in Wortham 92). The very discursive nature of gift (esp. in the fields of or connected to humanities) brings forth the interdisciplinary violation of rationality, "a violence that a critical discourse of culture would seem to effect as a condition of its response (to the call of the gift)" (qtd. in Wortham 97).

In interdisciplinary approaches to literary courses the emphasis is generally upon one broadly defined literary topic, period, genre, theme, or problem with a discursive program of courses relevant to the given inquiry. Each institution may hold their specific objectives and requirements within their rules and their objectives in such interdisciplinary courses can vary from one faculty to another. Yet there are methods which are shared among all. The cross-disciplinary fields can be chosen from among anthropology, arts, classics, comparative literature, European or other literature, feminist studies, history, modern thought and literature, philosophy, political science, and African American studies which should mainly focus on the field selected by the students.

In some literary courses students must hand out interdisciplinary papers in the end of the term having a full review of the impact of the secondary discipline they have applied in their study. Connecticut College, for example, provides "the CISLA scholars [Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, an innovative international programme of internship] with a broad, interdisciplinary background of knowledge related to both the internship and the final project" (Spenser 28). The programme entails a "most innovative aspect: the internship abroad... as "an attempt to internationalize every discipline on campus and to encourage students to think outside and beyond their chosen specialization" (28).

Claire Kramsch on the other hand, in Language and Culture: A Social Semiotic Perspective focuses upon the "social semiotic" aspect of language "as both meaning and meaning potential" and in regarding it as such gets to the interrelation between "teaching of language, literature, and culture" (Halliday qtd. in Kramsch 9). He proposes three models to study the mentioned matter: in "structural model" the teachers of advanced literary classes emphasize on the knowledge of "grammar and vocabulary," language providing access to the works of literature (9). The second is the "social model" which studies the ties between "a text and its social context" including "speakers, hearers, writers, and readers. Meaning is [then] not transmitted, it is negotiated" (9). The "Social Semiotic Model" includes the application of "Internet, e-mail, video, TV, oral tradition" besides the traditional literate sources" (10). This model introduces "ethnic, geographic, and gender-related variation in national languages and their cultural productions" (10).

English literature and literary theory today are indebted to French cultural thinking and in critical interpretation of texts students and scholars both, seriously have to resort to it. What matters here is that much of the French sources are translated to English language. Rosemarie Scullion in her article Considering the Possibilities regards this issue as a barrier to total understanding of French critical thinking for their different aspects can get lost "in the translation of their writings to Anglophone academic contexts" (Scullion 29). Therefore, she suggests that by bringing "foreign literature scholars in the world literature [programmes] and in courses on postcoloniality...routinely delivered in English departments" along with "future exchanges, collaborative teaching projects, and interdepartmental course cross-listing" such misconception can be definitely reduced (29). This view can cause "the benefits of exposing students to a broader range of national, international, and transnational literary cultures" (29).

Among all such disciplines cultural studies is best attended among literary theoreticians as an interdisciplinary field for it can embed distinct aspects of real life which are defined and justified through cultural issues and beliefs. Therefore, so far as interdisciplinarity in literary contexts is concerned, it is going to be studied in more depth than the rest afore mentioned. In University of Maryland for instance, there is an interdisciplinary major offered in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics which is titled as M.A. in Intercultural Communication. In Foreign Language Education, Intercultural Communication, and the Conditions of Globalization, John H. Sinnigen believes that the course provides "an alternative to traditional master's [programmes] in foreign languages that have tended to focus on language and literature... [and] strives to prepare students to analyze and deal effectively with the complex intercultural dynamics of globalization" (Sinnigan 21). For bachelor degree students "rich cognitive and social contexts" are provided which include fields of "history, linguistics, social sciences, second-language pedagogy, bilingual education, and literature" (21). The instructors are grouped in teams of two and teach "three core courses that [students of] all department majors... study as part of their undergraduate programme" (21). The first major deals with the structure of language and the way it is acquired as a human process and regarding language as one way of communication, compares it with other systems of signification. The second, puts language within "a broader social and political" context and analyzes its problems (21). And the third finally, "presents students with the complexities of real communicative events, from advertising and poetry to music, painting, and film" (21). The proposed courses out of which three are supposed to be chosen are titled as: Language, Discourse, Society; The Ethnography of Communication; The Political Economy of Culture; and Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication (22). In the mentioned article he describes the objectives of such courses as follows:

"Students are urged to develop ideas for their final research projects throughout the [programme] so that theoretical concepts from the required courses can be appropriately applied to research topics in the chosen area of concentration. For example, one student did her thesis by testing hypotheses from feminist and reader-response theories on the reactions of a group of students in our undergraduate core course Textual Analysis... From The Political Economy of Culture she used an ideological perspective emphasizing the concepts of gender, race, and class. Language, Discourse, Society provided her with tools for carrying out a pragmatic analysis of the class interaction as a communicative event. In The Ethnography of Communication she developed a methodology to frame her study as part of an interdisciplinary field that studies language as a cultural resource and speaking and reading as cultural practices (Sinnigen 22).

After all, there are serious and inevitable questions which deprive interdisciplinarity from a totally welcoming ground. The challenge of determining who is authorized for a given discipline to speak for, the impediment of language in foreign language and literature departments (which "strive to create as much linguistic and cultural authenticity as possible") (Scullion 7), where they are to be positioned in the curriculum, the shortcuts in budget specified to extradisciplinary matters which Stanley Fish refers to as "War on higher education" are to mention only a few (qtd. in Scullion 7-8).

There are scholars like Henry Higgins who take the growing trend of interdisciplinarity an outcome of today's consumerism and suggest that 'good' literature will eventually wither if interdisciplinarity is to be overvalued (Bloom qtd. in McCarthy 10). To him, "we must still teach literature in its fullest sense if our goal is the liberation of the spirit. We must not be seduced into thinking [that] literature is unimportant simply because the forces of consumerism, materialism, and the Hollywood entertainment enterprise all work against the refinement of critical thinking, linguistic expertise, and literary sensitivity" (qtd. in McCarthy 12).

Regardless of the oppositions to interdisciplinary nature of today's different disciplines, the benefits seem to outweigh its disadvantages. It is believed that the atmosphere provided is one of collaborative teachings between neighbouring faculty members as well as freeing students of their ignorance of the world around and beyond their own majors. Furthermore, it is decided that regardless of benefits or drawbacks, the essence of the times we are living in, demands the interdisciplinarity of seemingly diametrically opposing fields of thought and practice.