- The novel's critique of biography as a mode of writing lives,
- Tt's position as a feminist novel, and how the narrative seems to be trying unlink naturalized categories of sex, gender and sexuality,
- The focus on the difficulty language has in conveying and narrating the desire and love, and the ramifications of the novel's suggestion that sometimes silence (even in a 320-page novel) can be "filled to repletion" with meaning, perhaps more so than language.
- The narrative's very complex imagining of time, memory and history.
Why? Because I have been hammering home all semester (as I do all the time), that the study of literature is not about getting "the right answer," but about asking the right questions. I have often thought of novels, plays, poems, as flowers...it sounds corny, I know, but I have often thought of a text as a rose, one that opens petal by petal as we read more closely. Questions, not answers, open each petal to a fuller bloom, and we can only observe what our questions reveal.
Some years ago, Gerald Graff proposed "teaching the conflicts," where we introduce our students to the debates going on around any number of texts, and they engage with the text through the mdeium of debate. I see that this works, but really, I hate the debate model of literary study. Students often ask for debate in class--they see it as a way to get involved--and while I have had some successful classes built around this model (Is Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice anti-semitic, critiquing anti-semitism, or simply laying out the terms of the discussion? Go.), I find it reductive, working on the assumption that if we debate it well enough, we'll find the answer. Blech. Isn't literature best when it indulges heteroglossia? when it accomodates many voices? many readings? Instead of thinking of a text as a conflict that can be resolved, I prefer to think of it as a resource, a wellspring of ideas, of questions to ask about the world, and ways that we could think through those questions. Even rhetorically charged, political literature works best when it asks hard questions rather than merely pounding out loud answers.
So today, I'll underscore this whole philosophy by ending our time with the text by having them all ask their own questions...Not by closing the book with finality, but with opening up petal after petal after petal, leaf after leaf, page after page, idea after idea after idea.