Dawn Gieringer

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Scholarly Identity

My scholarship is focused on two periods, the Modernist period of 1880-1945 and the Postcolonial/Global period of post-Second World War to the end of the twentieth century. In the first period, I am mainly concerned with Irish literature and modernist aesthetic, on how the flow of tradition in Irish literature stems from mythical, heroic and legendary roots to the oral, storytelling, folkloric stage to the modernist, nation-building stage: the national tale and nationalistic, revivalist literature and plays of Lady Gregory, Yeats and Synge. The continuum lingers and is reinforced with the high modern English novel of empire and the “writing back” of the empire later in the twentieth century, with which I use postcolonial theory to consider how imperialistic writers made sense of their country’s colonizing practices and the satiric response of the empire after decolonization.

My pedagogical style and strategies are informed by my scholarly pursuits in that I believe it is imperative to expose students to Western epistemology-the source of knowledge and ideology and how it has been handed down to most of them through culture, not the least of which is the literature they have read as students. I also invite students to explore non-canonical literature by actively teaching alternative literature and celebrating it as relevant and vital.

Teaching Philosophy

Literature is a way of understanding the world and people, not a way of finding “universal
truths”; on the contrary, from my point of view, one reads literature to understand differences
between people, cultures, and the ideologies that make them what they are. To do so, I offer
students a combination of canonical and non-canonical literature. Anthologies designed for
freshman survey courses provide a sampling of “the best” of their kind or texts that are
“representative” of “great literature,” but all too often these texts do not indicate the ways the
literature within that volume reflects the Western literary tradition and authors. I guide my
students to the awarenes that literature is the supreme vehicle for the passing of ideology and that
educational institutions, no matter how liberal they seem to be, function as an Althusserian
ideological state apparatus. To set the tone for open skepticism and inquiry in the classroom, I
begin the semester with one of Simon Gikandi’s PMLA editor’s notes in which he discusses his
childhood in Africa, his thoughts on the power of literature to educate and to marginalize, the
power of language to interpellate and illuminate, and the seeming “magic” of the written word in
an oral culture. Students learn from this that reading and writing are not without controversy, not
without politics.

As a way of moving beyond anthologized texts, I offer websites such as Words Without Borders
which offers non-anthologized, often unpublished work—poetry, creative non-fiction, and
memoir—along with multi-media adumbration such as music, sound bites, and interviews. A
wonderful memory and example of the importance of using alternative texts and medium is a
story of how one semester a student who had recently emigrated from Mexico thanked me for
providing this resource and assigned readings and conversations; she was proud of her Mexican
heritage and pleased that her classmates were reading and learning about her country from
someone living and writing there.

One of my goals is for each student, whether American-born or an immigrant to this country, is
to understand that he or she is a member in a community. The process of acknowledging this fact
and defining what that community stands for is key to the student understanding the concept of
world view. Realizing the epistemology of one’s own point of view has liberating and humbling
effects. Students who might feel marginalized based on ethnicity or class now understand that
humanity is made of many facets, all of which I value in the classroom. I ask students to write
about a community with which they feel a sense of belonging as a starting point, and often begin
literary discussions with the question, how does membership in your community inform your
understanding of this story, poem, or play? The idea of membership in a community encourages
insightful and symptomatic reading and responses in which student identify slippages and
“symptoms” of underlying issues in a text that only reading through his or her point of view

My personal scholarship and field of interest is novels of empire, anti-colonial literature and
contemporary world literature. Inherent in critical approaches to these literatures is the
identification of hierarchy, “contact zones” and sites of injustice and the presence of cultural
hegemony. My love of literature written by the colonizer and the colonized allows me to see that
people are always searching for something—a home, freedom, identity, understanding—and I
believe the hierarchies that exist in the world are often replicated in the classroom. My teaching,
then, reflects my interest in leveling the playing field and to helping the privileged student
understand just how lucky they are, and to understanding the marginalized student that his or her
day has come: education is the key and my classroom is the place to explore the possibilities.