Should we teach "Twilight"?

Once again, this perennial question has resurfaced, this time on the NASSR list-serv. While I do not shy away from negative criticism, as I believe that there is something to be gained from even distasteful projects (either through the reading process or the work itself), this question seems to me to be beside the point.

The larger question that seems to be at stake is whether we should open up the canon to “lesser” works.  Or maybe it’s that we shouldn’t consider works that haven’t been thoroughly vetted by the IVORY TOWER.  Or maybe it’s that we can’t trust any book that actually turned a profit because that would be “selling out.”  Whatever that means.

The anxiety surrounding Stephenie Meyer in particular (and YA angsty-vampire love in general) is not new; it’s not going away; and it can’t be resolved–today, at least.  Remember Keats’s theory of Negative Capacity: we have to accept that there are things about which we will be uncertain.  The unresolvability of “Twilight” stresses academics and high-readers out even though they have no problem looking the other way when analyzing “The Excursion.”  Francis Jeffrey infamously begins his 1814 review of Wordsworth’s great poem by claiming “This will never do!” He claims that “The Excursion” bears little in common with “Lyrical Ballads” which wavered “so prettily … between silliness and pathos.” Ouch!

And while I’ve often taken the cantankerous Jeffrey as my critical anti-hero (Say what you mean and mean what you say!), the response of academics to Meyer has been resoundingly (and I would argue, un-critically) “This will never do!”

Really?  Millions of readers seem to think it will do just fine.

Critical readers may say (and already have said in other venues) that Meyer does not “deserve” critical attention.  I’m not sure from whence this animosity arose.  No, I haven’t read “Twilight.”  I watched 20 minutes of “New Moon” on the flight from Paris and decided it wasn’t my thing.  Did I think that it wavered between silliness and pathos?  Sure.  But Meyer’s not writing for me.  I find Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult to be equally silly and pathetic.  Does that mean they’re not good at what they do?  No, it means that I’m not reading the right book.

Preparing a course and deciding whether or not to teach a text depends on the teacher and the course.  “Twilight” would not be appropriate in a course on Shakespeare, just as “Hamlet” may not be appropriate in a post-modern class (I kid; “Infinite Jest”? C’mon, “Hamlet” reeks of post-modernity).  My point is, it seems like a waste of time for academics to keep wringing their hands and clutching their pearls about a book that’s not going away anytime soon.  If you can’t say something nice, at least say something constructive.

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6 thoughts on “Should we teach "Twilight"?

  1. Neurotic Workaholic says:

    I haven't read any of Meyer's books either. I rented Twilight a year after it came out, but wasn't interested enough to rent the other movies. Maybe there could be a "vampire literature" class, since there are so many vampire novels out there. It is interesting to think about why so many people are attracted to this genre these days. I'm terrified of blood and can't even watch a horror movie without covering my eyes for 90% of it, so vampires never really did much for me. 🙂

  2. Laura Campbell says:

    As an English teacher, Twilight was part of my daily discourse. The girls were obsessed. Some of the boys read it. One of the parents gave me credit to spend at the Scholastic Book Fair (love book fairs!). I broke down and purchased Twilight. I just recently finished reading the fourth and last novel of the series, Breaking Dawn. I liked them, but I'm also a sucker for love stories. To be in love as a teenager again. I could be so lucky. I know a lot of adults that read them with their children. The movies aren't as good, but the soundtracks are phenomenal. Do I think it's literature? No. Do I think it might be useful in a classroom? Absolutely. Students hate reading with a passion. Students need to be lead to water. Bring something in they can relate to and they'll devour it. But it shouldn't be taught alone. Bring in a more high brow novel for comparison. Make connections between the two novels. The student will see the difference between popular fiction and literature. The students will be encouraged to appreciate literature through the comparison. Just a thought.

  3. Misha says:

    Once again, I think this is a situation of "Those that don't…"Seriously, teens aren't buying Twilight or its sequels because it is wise and literary and all things intelligent…They're buying it because the read is a fun ride that sucks them in and doesn't let go (despite the decidedly rough patch that is New Moon). Why must Twilight be explained or classified? It is what it is.And here I stop before I write another novel. By the way, Laura, I think you might have a good idea. 🙂

  4. Anna says:

    I completely agree with you Laura. Getting kids to read can be like pulling teeth, and if you can make a comparison between, say, Heathcliff and Edward, that kids understand and to which they can relate, then pedagogically it makes sense.I guess what really gets under my skin is the high-academic argument of worthy and not-worthy books to teach. Who gets to decide?My rant for the week. We'll be back to something more light-hearted this afternoon :)PS-Have I told you that I love you yet? Seriously, I do. Your comments make my world go round.

  5. Alyssa (Redhead Heroines) says:

    Thanks for bringing this up!The thing that I keep thinking about while reading this post and the comments, is why we are still bothering with classification at all. Those who claim that Twilight is "not literature" are part of the thousands of uppity snobs who do so because they think they are smarter than the average reader and are trying to remain true to the canonical works they've read in college, like T.S. Eliot and Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn."But even "Huckleberry Finn" was not received well in its day. It came after a long period of Twain publishing ridiculous sequels to "Tom Sawyer" which all but demolished his so-called literary merit. And yet today, Huck Finn is hailed as one of the most integral coming-of-age stories in literature.See? Even I'm doing it. I'm being an uppity snob myself while trying to prove to you that I'm not an uppity snob! Why do we do this? Why does everyone who has something to say about Twilight feel the need to justify their answer with something smart? So that people will believe them? So that they feel better about themselves?I think the real question here is why are people so sensitive about popular fiction like Twilight? Probably because it threatens their intelligence and makes them feel the need to prove their standard literary knowledge, like I just did. I was thinking, "Well, I have a BA in English, I should be able to say something smart about this!"So here's what I have to say: I've read Twilight. All of them. I enjoyed them. I own the entire series and I may even read them again someday.I have also denied that I've read Twilight in one of my literature classes. Why? Because I was embarrassed. Because the person that asked was attempting to delude themselves into thinking that because they were a student of literature at the university level, they had the right–no, the NEED–to discredit every literary infraction they possibly could, thus staking their claim in the world of literary criticism. Because what is a critic if not a self-conscious know-it-all attempting to feel better about their own place in the world by defining everyone's literary work into two neat boxes: LITERATURE and NOT LITERATURE.Well, isn't that ridiculous.

  6. Anna says:

    EXACTLY! And I couldn't write a post about "Twilight" without dragging Wordsworth and Francis Jeffrey and a whole cast of "who gives a crap" characters into it! (Well, I give a crap about WW and my Romantic homies, but that's because I'm a nerd and we've already accepted that on this blog, so yeah. Moving on to my original point.)Read what you like. Teach what makes sense for you. And keep an open mind. Yeah, I like that. Open mindedness never hurt anybody.

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