Foto: Taylor Holm

Professor of the month- Cassandra Falke

Reading has become a routine task for us in academic life, we tend to read for writing assignments, projects and exams, but not in leisure time. It sounds time-consuming and boring, because it takes hours of sitting quietly and we might miss some fantastic moments of knowing cool people during parties and hikes! The American professor of English literature in UiT, Cassanra Falke, would not deny this. However, a coin always has two sides and she encourages us to consider that reading could foster our interpersonal relationships. As a passionate professor of English literature for over 20 years and author of the recent book, Love Phenomenology and reading (published in Bloomsbury in 2016), some hints are given to motivate us to read with wisdom of life.

  1. It sounds interesting that you discuss in your book, Love Phenomenology and reading, that reading can be connected to love and interpersonal relationships. How do you explain the relationship between them?

One thing I wrote about is that the way we pay attention to the literary texts is like paying sustained attention to another person. They train us to explore and to be open to what a book offers, like making a commitment to a new person. Reading sounds a bit safer and less risky for those who are shy like Norwegians.  When we read about someone, we could have our horizon extended, like the way we are getting to know another person.

  1. Instead of reading literary text, reading web-texts is so common nowadays for youngsters. How would you differentiate them?

Reading on the internet (except for reading literary text in Kindle in electronic devices) is different from reading a literary text in a book. Reading web-texts is mostly for information. We simply go to the web for information like Wikipedia, which presents itself as readily comprehensible text. Reading literary text, such as poems or stories, is open for questions but not simply for information. Reading them is like a practice of relating us to the world and important skills in interpersonal relationships. I would refer it back to your first question, like in the real world we do not use a person for information only, but make a real conversation and commitment.  And literature is a good practice of that.

Another point is that texting, in other words media gratification, is quick. Authorities in literature deny medial gratification, because it challenges you a lot. Result-oriented questions like “What is the real answer?” often appear on the internet. However, in contrast, literary text invites us for questions. The Internet sounds simpler when comparing with literature.

  1. How did you become to be a professor of literature?

I have always loved literature, but I am not from a family of graduates in literature and education, or knew very much about academia. So, I did not view for me any possibilities to be a professor until the 3rd year of my university studies. Once there was a professor away for a week and I was asked if I could teach the class in his absence. I felt so shocked and honored to know I would be capable of it. But I loved doing this so much during the process of the class, and it was still fine that I was working as a waitress and landscape construction person. I still had not thought of being a professor.

Upon my graduation in summer and hiking with Daemon (Cassandra’s current husband, who is also teaching in UiT) in Tasmania, my professor who is an accomplished scholar and a graduate of Cambridge asked me “What are you gonna be?” I felt how wonderful it was they thought it was possible for me. After a couple of years I decided to teach literature from the romantic period, because I felt like a lot of ideas about education, imagination and individuality are actually inherited by us nowadays from that period.  In order to do that I had to have a Ph.D and so I went to York in England.  Then I went back to the states and taught in a college.

While I was doing this, at the same time Daemon had a kidney transfer and we had our first child. In America you had to have a medical insurance in order to take care of a child.  That means I had to have a full-time job. I began teaching full time in the states and came back to England in the summer to finish my Ph.D.  I enjoy teaching very much. If I had a traditional research position, I would not have enjoyed it very much.

  1. You were teaching, doing a PhD, being a mother-wife at the same time. Could you give us some hints in time-management?

First, you should recognize what part of day you can do different tasks, like I was a night person and did readings in the evenings. Secondly, I also think it is difficult to decide to have fun or do reading for your courses if the deadlines are still a few weeks later.  I suggest that you should be intentional in time-management. Nobody is able to read well a day before. And so, you may do reading intensively for a day or divide the process into 6 periods, so then you can relax and go out for a drink with the rest of your leisure time.

Text: Mo Yong Xin