Who would teach a college class in the rock 'n' roll novel? Pauls Toutonghi, born in Seattle in 1976 to Egyptian and Latvian parents, author of the novel "Red Weather" (Random House, 2006) and an English professor at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon. He talked to us about his class -- and why it ended up in the basement -- which he taught for the first time this spring.
What was the general arc of the class -- did you have a question or thesis
about rock 'n' roll novels?
The class was really a quest in pursuit of an answer to that very question: Is there some kind of thread that unites these books?
What books did your students read?
We started with Tom Perrotta's "The Wishbones," then we read Frank Portman's "King Dork." Then Salman Rushdie's "The Ground Beneath Her Feet," then "Meat Is Murder" by Joe Pernice -- this book is interesting because it's one of the few books of fiction in the 33 1/3 series. And it touches on one of my favorite albums of all time: The Smiths' "Meat Is Murder" [above, the Smiths frontman Morrissey performs at SXSW 2006]. Then "The Gangster of Love" by Jessica Hagedorn, "Graced Land" by Laura Kalpakian, "The Rotters' Club" by Jonathan Coe and then, finally, "The Exes" by Pagan Kennedy. Which was great!
We also read excerpts from Don Delillo's "Great Jones Street" and watched "High Fidelity." How did we survive? I'm not quite sure.
What did your students think of the books?
As is the case with a lot of literary study, it ended up depending on the lens through which we looked at the novels.
So if we read Dick Hebdige's "Subculture: The Meaning of Style," then we ended up thinking a lot about the ways that a dominant culture (the media marketplace, say) harnesses and exploits a smaller subculture. We ended up seeing that -- in nearly all of these books -- the exploitation of artistic expression took center stage.
But if we read, say, Lyotard's "The Postmodern Condition," then we ended up looking at something like the indie-rock movement and emphasizing the way that it was "characterised by an abundance of micronarratives." And so on. . . . Greil Marcus made everything seem historical. . . . Or if we read Kant's "Critique of Judgment," we then talked about the ways that early rock bands, like the Stooges, for example, combined anxiety and pleasure, and turned it into the sublime. Especially for their fans, who were, in large part, hypnotized by the transgressive nature of their music. We listened to "Now I Want to . . . Be Your Dog" many times over the speakers in the classroom.
The sound system was really, really awesome. We had a technology-enabled, auditorium-sized, basement classroom -- so we could generate some noise. It was a little wild. Intellectual, but a little wild.
In what way was the class wild? Was it something more than playing music loudly?
The answer, plus why students might take a rock 'n' roll novel class and an in-class playlist, after the jump.