Professor Posnock is a brilliant man. He is a terrible lecturer, though. His lectures were completely disjointed and it seemed as if he would rather be doing anything else besides teaching this course. We didn't even get a complete syllabus until the third week of classes. He also assigned papers seemingly out of the blue and allowed 5-7 days to complete them, always over holidays, (Fall Break and Thanksgiving). He is the kind of professor that has spent so much time with the works assigned that his knowledge actually gets in the way of teaching. If you pay close attention to everything he says you can glean some themes, but, honestly, my education was not enriched by this course. I just wanted to get through this class and took very little away about the subject. Also, I am an English Major, so I think this is the worst possible literature class for anyone looking to fulfill core requirements. Like many have said, I am sure his seminars are very rewarding, but this lecture course was virtually useless.
Professor Posnock was way too hands off, and frankly, seemed like he didn't want to be teaching the class. Most people had no idea what was going on in the class or even what book we were reading because we were going off a vague, undated syllabus that wasn't in any sort of recognizable order. He was completely unapproachable, condescending and seemed to have no regard for his students as people with lives and would refuse to answer emails and assigned us long essays with only 3 days to do them, often over a holiday (Thanksgiving). His distance was very discouraging of enthusiasm for the course. The TAs seemed nearly as intimidated and clueless as to what was going on in the class as the students were, and yet graded the papers harshly with no explanation of what they were looking for in the first place. That said, Professor Posnock is unbelievably eloquent and his lectures were very interesting, in spite of the fact that it was often obvious he didn't prepare for them. Also, the readings assigned were admittedly all masterpieces, but the study we did of the books was almost entirely about content and the biography of the author and had almost nothing to do with style or literary analysis. Often it seemed like he hadn't even attempted a lecture plan and was filling up space with reading pages and pages of the text aloud and reciting interesting but relatively useless facts about what the author liked to do for fun in college. Professor Posnock seems like he could be a great professor in a seminar setting of his own choice and creation, but he did not want to be teaching this class and took it out on the students.
It's not surprising that Posnock has pretty good reviews. It's a bit annoying that we're not more cynical of his agenda though. For each lesson, he will give us the popular public opinion and interpretations of the book, which he is in complete agreement with. Most of these interpretations follow the neo-liberal scheme, and one with a different, refreshing take does not even have a chance (seriously, there is no time in the class) to present their views. I hear you all yelling at me already: "this is a lecture class!" and I hear you, but if we can't bring in alternate interpretations, he should take the responsibility to do it himself. Also, once he said something , I can't remember what now, but something about how the muslim faith is all off, and there was a silence in the class after he said it and we just kept moving on. We sat there like a sedated bunch of wussies, the same bunch of wussies writing these 'posnock's great' reviews. He does get interesting when talking about philosophy, I'll give him that. He starts making fluid sense. Also, his arrogance can be entertaining; he often scoffs at remarks made by other critics or writers. But his lectures just ramble on for the most part. In one class I wrote down nearly everything he said, and looking at it I could identify no coherent thought or link between the ideas. I didn't know what to "walk away" with, so to speak, after the lecture.
Margaret Vandenburg is a perfect impression. I once left her Post 1945 lit class, only to hear a girl in front of me go on and on about how she felt class was like a "Vandenburg Time Warp," and that she "felt bad for Margaret.." something about how she must be so intellectually plagued, swimming in philosophical appendices. Margaret is brilliant, not so much because she is, actually a brilliant mind, but because she is a brilliant person. Her personality radiates. Yes, lectures invoke literary/critical/philosophical theory; and yes her delivery of the material may be interpreted as presumptuous (i.e, kant, lacan, barthes, freud, etc are constantly lingering behind discussion). If I wasn't a Philosophy major, particularly inclined to "connections," applicable theory, further understanding, I don't know if I would have enjoyed the class nearly as much. Also, Prof Vandenburg has a clear view point, a particular, consistent edge. You know..the whole feminist liberal thing. If you aren't sympathetic to/tolerant of to these ideas, class may be frustrating to you. But back to the important part: there is not one iota of Professor Vandenburg's presence and disposition that is condescending or pretentious. The fact that the majority of her students, ... and there is a cult...., are just as intellectually and theoretically stimulated as Margaret, is tantamount to her class engagement). It is often students who provoke discussion. It is amazing how much lecture time is spent in class discussion (a class of 60+). Professor Vandenburg is incredibly interested in and committed to understanding students remarks and responses. She comes to class to learn. You always see her writing down students comments. Margaret is also the most welcoming, devoted, and responsible professor I have ever had. If you go into her office hours, you will both leave knowing something about the other as individuals - not so much as teacher, as student. She is just an incredibly positive force.
I've taken two courses now with Posnock and am still not entirely sure how I feel about him. I can definitely see how he might be dry to people not interested in the subject matter, but I find that he picks great books and brings them together brilliantly to make a substantive course. He also has some really interesting, kind of great quirks that are unreconciled in my mind, like his refusal to assume any baseline of knowledge in his students (he'll ask if you've heard of Henry James or Jim Crow laws) and his insistence on correcting people he's asked to read out loud. Posnock has very interesting things to say but he won't spoon feed them to you. Probably only take his classes if you're interested in the topic, or stop by during the add-drop period and see how he strikes your fancy.
Do not be fooled by the reading list, this class is unbearable. Yes, the required books, such as On the Road, Human Stain, and Ragtime, are phenomenal. However, Professor Adams has a knack for over-dissecting each passage, concentrating on the historical context of the book more than the content, and talking each book to death. No matter how boring the lectures are, and they are tedious, do not miss classes and take VERY thorough notes. The midterm and final were take home and focused heavily on the notes. My advice: download the syllabus, read the books, and chose another class to fulfill Lit requirements or electives.
Posnock is an experienced lecturer and his knowledge of the material is unquestionable. We learned quite a bit about not only the authors and their works but how each played into the overall scheme of literary movements not only during the period officially included in the class (1945-) but the periods preceding the so-called rise of modernism and post-modernism. I can truthfully say that I learned a lot in this class and am glad I took it. My only criticism of Dr. Posnock is his frequent need to speak of whites and, specifically, white males negatively. It's certainly a valid perspective with some of the material covered in class but I felt that he seemed to go out of his way to make race and/or "whiteness" an issue worth mentioning in just about every class. I wasn't offended by this but began to feel like the unwilling subject of some kind of pathological obsession of his.
This was my first class in the department, and I really enjoyed it. The class and the professor throw around phrases like "existential moment" and "Post-modernism." I really got a good idea of American literature in its transition from Modernism to Post-modernism, his choice of works was really good (far-ranging but all tied together), and Prof. Posnock is a good lecturer too. Although it only satisfies two distribution requirements for the major (and the two easiest to satisfy, in my opinion), it's a good class that I would recommend.