The one course I dread teaching
Last fall (autumn 2006) I taught my Holocaust course again. I love teaching the modern and contemporary American poetry course, English 88, and my annual spring Writers House Fellows Seminar, but I can't say I "love" teaching the Holocaust course. Do I feel obliged or committed to do so? Am I part of the "chain of witness"? That seems much too simple. My feelings about teaching this subject are more complex than I can say. I have doubts about every part of the enterprise. Well, the proper title of the course is "Representations of the Holocaust in Literature & Film":
This course is about the enormous difficulties faced by those who felt the urgent need to describe their own or others' experiences during the genocide of the European Jews, 1933–1945. We will explore the complex options they have faced as narrators, witnesses, allegorists, memoirists, scholars, teachers, writers and image-makers. Some linguistically (or visually) face the difficulty head on; most evade, avoid, repress, stutter or go silent, and agonize. Part of the purpose of the course is for us to learn how to sympathize with the struggle of those in the latter group. This is not a history course, although the vicissitudes of historiography will be a frequent topic of conversation.
I dread the semester going in, and sometimes still feel dread at the end. But this time the students' response was extraordinarily good and positive — otwithstanding the confusion the course (the topic but also the course as designed) creates. You can get a good sense of the students' response by listening to what they had to say on the last day of the semester: mp3 audio.