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Remix Teaching: A Philosophy

Over the past few years of teaching, I have continually looked to the concept of adaptation as a lens through which to teach literature. This approach primarily originated from pairing Julie Sanders’s Adaptation and Appropriation with Kirby Fulton’s documentary Everything is a Remix, in order to introduce students to theories of adaptation spanning from antiquity to twenty-first-century media. Upon reflection, notions of remix and adaptation have also come to encapsulate the content of my courses as well as my teaching methods.

Approaching medieval literature by way of remix especially opens up means of presenting texts outside of traditional models. For instance, Beowulf is often taught in isolation, but students gain a greater understanding of its role in Anglo-Saxon literature when encountering it in combination with other Old English works in the same manuscript, such as the Passion of Saint Christopher and the poetic Judith. Both of these texts have commonalities with Beowulf and open up further discussions of heroism, monstrosity, morality, even orientalism. In once course, student engagement with Judith led to considering how medieval readers approached texts, how we engage with them, and how use of digital tools like Google Maps help to understand textual circulation.

An adaptive pedagogy for presenting literature also addresses assumptions about a single interpretation of a canonical author or text, and my role in imparting such explanation. This is particularly true of the Bible, which tends to foster singular, ideological interpretations; yet, in a World Literature course, showing students varieties of creation myths, interpretations, and influences across cultures seeks to shift the sense of a monolithic view. The same is true of medieval texts: the eponymous Beowulf may be understood as both hero and failure; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems like a romance but survives in its sole manuscript with starkly religious poetry; Chaucer’s Retraction in The Canterbury Tales is easily read as simultaneously ironic and genuine. Introducing students to conflicting hermeneutics promotes adaptive multiplicities in thought that I have seen flourish in classroom discussions as well as essays.

The concept of remix in the classroom also manifests in my belief that writing should be paired with literature, as a way for students to explore their own analyses. Writing is usefully theorized through the lens of remix: it requires combining multiple dialectic voices—from the self, literature, and critics—as well as adaptation over time through drafting and revision. Composition as remix especially stood out in one instance when a student combined the frame of folk narrative (“Once upon a time…”) with academic discourse (“I argue…”), equating his thesis with a moral to look beyond plot and write about the functions of “dramatis personae” and the “secondary world” of fairy tales both creatively and critically. Besides formal assignments, in-class writing also serves to spark student ideas for both discussions and longer projects—helpful when discussion falters. When I ask students to share their writing in class, it often leads to group collaboration about key issues, challenges in facing the materials, and ways of revising topics into longer essays.

Inviting student reflection on adaptation is especially key to demonstrating how literature endures, not only as an academic exercise but also as a way to identify relevance within and outside of the classroom. For example, one successful assignment asked students to find and present about biblical, medieval, and early modern literature in recent adaptations, resulting in reports on popular music, art, Internet culture, and video games—encouraging students’ independent learning through research and classroom presentations. I have seen the same kind of energy manifested in reading response papers when I have encouraged students to write about adaptations of World Literature in contemporary, twenty-first-century media. Exploring such enduring influences highlight for students how older literature continues to remain relevant in our own digital world, through the remixing of texts across cultures.

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