Theses Doctoral

Contributions Toward a Theory of Listening in Literature and Literary Pedagogy

Fraver, Brad

What does it mean to listen—and how can works of literature teach us about listening? Of the four modes of language—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—that together constitute the “language arts” as a curriculum area in secondary English education, listening is relatively undertheorized—and conspicuously so, given the prominence of student engagement and culturally-responsive pedagogy in scholarly and popular education writing. Western thought generally prioritizes the act of speaking or the concept of “voice” in conceiving of subjects and agency, and an emphasis on “finding your voice” and “having your say” implies questions about the modes of reception by which any particular voice actually might be heard. In the classroom, listening during discussion of literature, for instance, can be an enriching and even revelatory experience for students and their teacher.

This dissertation, which is variously theoretical, historical, and narrative, often captures the drama of classrooms and sometimes contemplates the communities that sponsor them. Grounded in some concerns of the teacher as listener as well as a sense of wonder and surprise in the literature classroom (Chapters 1 and 6), this dissertation is a series of contiguous explorations of ideas about listening in educational theory and pragmatist aesthetics (Chapter 2); psychoanalysis and rhetorical studies (Chapter 3); literary history and criticism (Chapter 4); historical poetics (Chapter 5); as well as particular works of literature (Chapters 4 and 7). While discourses about literature since at least the Renaissance arguably privilege visual metaphors for the literary imagination—as a way of “seeing” the lives of others across distances of place and time, as well as “reflections” of oneself in these others—a parallel and more ancient tradition among poet-critics invokes the sonorous, elaborating auditory metaphors for the experience of reading itself as a kind of listening.

Listening not only refers to modes of sociality, or relating to and with others in ways that manifest communicative exchange, shared experience, or mutual recognition but, importantly, also refers to an inner experience that to some extent remains private. Listening therefore instantiates a certain double consciousness. Like the imaginative participation of reading, listening is a temporal experience of engaging with the other as such—that is, an encounter with difference that might become an occasion for transformative learning.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Blau, Sheridan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 19, 2021