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My experience as an English major had primarily revolved around three professors who repeatedly drew me to their classrooms. I had found that each of these professors teaches literature from a distinct position. The first tends to teach literature from the perspective of the writer, while the second does from that of the literary critic. However, the third, professor Richard Nochimson, chooses to teach literature from the perspective of the audience member.
One might question whether the skills involved in reading literature as an audience member really qualify as a serious literary method. If the study of literature means approaching texts with a measure of academic rigor, that would imply that objectivity and detachment constitute the basic premises of study. Many feel that keeping literature at arm’s length ensures that analysis remains rigorous and systematic. In this type of model, the subjective reactions of the individual reader become displaced by more objective priorities.
However, while literature as a discipline might deeply depend on detachment, no one first approaches literature as a literary critic. Those drawn to read and study literature do so because of the power of an individual reaction, the same subjective power which fuels the creation and cultural eminence of literature in the first place. By organizing his courses around the reading experience, professor Nochimson harnesses this essential appeal of literature while crafting students into sensitive and intelligent audience members. He encourages the individual reaction and places it at the center of classroom discussion, fostering an atmosphere of genuine literary excitement and engagement.
Professor Nochimson manages to balance this commitment to individual experience alongside a softly guided approach to encountering literature. While I had initially taken his facilitation of classroom discussion for granted, I have come to appreciate his guidance as quietly masterful. These discussions often extended into his office, where professor Nochimson always welcomed both personal and academic conversations with his characteristic warmth. His departure from the college entails not only the absence of our resident Shakespeare scholar but the loss of a genial and genuine personality.
In my first semester as an undergraduate, I attended a core class taught by professor Nochimson called, Classical to Renaissance. The course covered many essential works of western literature, including The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Othello, and Don Quixote. In retrospect, it remains significant to me that in formulating this introductory course, professor Nochimson opted not to present a particular theme or method which united the syllabus. Instead, he gathered what he perceived as several instances of essential reading, and we read them.
The importance of reading and discussing these works seemed natural and self-evident to our professor, and this confidence framed the reading of each text as a meaningful encounter. The course and its professor epitomized the values of a liberal arts education, fostering thoughtfulness, cultural literacy, and a sincere appreciation for the humanities. Professor Nochimson’s commitment to this foundational literature became for me a mark of real admiration and emulation. He has made the most of this commitment over the course of a long and rich career, guiding his students through the best that literature has to offer while always reminding us why we choose to read in the first place.