This unit will focus explicitly therefore on the complications of “literature” and “identity.” It explores the tensions that exist in these words themselves: the distinct and intensely personal lived experience of literature that at the same time touches on the universal elements of humanity; the idea that identity is a signification of the self, yet at the same time the signification conditions the identity it signifies. These two words are highly problematic, and more than to resolve these tensions, this unit hopes to highlight these issues for the students and force them to wrestle with questions that may not have answers. Ideally, however, students complete this unit with a sensitivity to these tensions and the confidence to engage with them with whatever text they come across (or create).
With this sensitivity will come an associated set of values too. If students can see that the tensions and paradoxes of literature have value, this will go a long way toward resolving difficulties students have relating to a text. This unit creates a space to shift the critical question of the students from “How does this text mirror my life?” to “Whose experience am I reading here, and why are they worth knowing?” Paradoxes have the negative effect of creating confusion, but the positive corollary is that they also embrace the universal: every student can see something of themselves in a story’s constructed identity, and something of their experience in the story’s extremely personal events. By spending time exploring how identities are created, what the implications are for their worldviews, and how fiction – as literature – aims to capture the essence of that identity’s lived experience, this unit creates empathy in the students for these other voices. The Relatability has the possibility to be transcended because once a sensitivity is cultivated to the literary nature of the identities involved, relatability becomes assumed: other voices have value, and they are worth listening to.