ENGL 170 - Approaches to Literary Studies Semester Offered: Fall and Spring
Each section explores a central issue, such as “the idea of a literary period,” “canons and the study of literature,” “nationalism and literary form,” or “gender and genre” (contact the department office for current descriptions). Assignments focus on the development of skills for research and writing in English, including the use of secondary sources and the critical vocabulary of literary study. The Department.
Topic for 2020/21a: Reading Narrative. Everyone today has a story to tell. But are all stories worth telling? What makes for a good story? What’s the difference between telling stories and telling lies? In order to come to terms with the “narrative turn” in the arts and sciences we adapt a dual approach: the first technical and the second imaginary. On the one hand, we pillage useful studies of narrative from the ancients to the moderns. Here our goal is to acquire a durable set of tools and concepts: plot, description, narrator, free indirect style, focalization, storyworlds, etc. On the other hand, to test these lenses, we examine (and perhaps create) fictional texts that both bind and unravel narrative conventions. These might include: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragic Comic, and short fiction by Ernest Hemingway, Kathy Acker, Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekov, and others. Heesok Chang.
Topic for 2020/21b: Journeys of Transformation. The course investigates the journey as a representation of fundamental change. Not only a plot of movement through space, the journey acts as a figure for transformation in or disruption of physical, emotional, and spiritual states of being, in individuals and groups. We focus on the status and function of the journey as a determinant of bodily character, identity, genre, plot, and history. Each unit also addresses a philosophical framework, an interpretive issue, or an analytical practice important to literature as a discipline. Students develop their skills through class discussion, short, directed assignments, and longer essays, including a research essay and an annotated bibliography. Primary texts include Christine de Pisan’s allegory City of Women, the verse romance Gawain and the Green Knight, Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir Maus, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original pulp Tarzan, Colson Whitehead’s recent novel The Intuitionist, selections from Harriet Jacobs’ memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Jean Kane.
Topic for 2020/21b: Bodies of Literature. From medieval mystery plays to gothic horror to speculative futures literature, both living and dead literary bodies reflect social norms, values, fears, and hopes of the cultures that wrote them. They also establish, reinforce, threaten, and transgress cultural boundaries. In this class we will focus intensely on a small set of primary texts, using a variety of theoretical lenses to explore how they can illuminate different aspects of our primary sources. These theoretical lenses introduce you to the breadth of critical approaches available to literature scholars, but especially ones that allow you to productively discuss the ways literary bodies are used to evoke horror and doubt. For example, we examine how Gender Studies, Critical Race Theory, and Necropolitics all elucidate, individually and in collaboration, the complex body politics of Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.” For this tale, we use our critical lenses to explore the intersections of gender norms and reproduction and also the horrors and ethical quandaries of procreation in situations of biological, cultural, and political hierarchies. You additionally are introduced to: Poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, Monster Studies, the Medical Humanities, and the foundational structural and generic principals of poetry and prose. Other primary texts may include: Middle English Soul and Body Dialogues, Chaucer’s “Clerk’s Tale,” the Croxton Play of the Sacrament (also Middle English), Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, tales and poems by Edgar Allen Poe, and modern horror and zombie literature (list is subject to change). Some primary texts are read in Middle English rather than in translation. Erin Sweany.
Open to first-year students and sophomores, and to others by permission; does not satisfy the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.
Two 75-minute periods.
Course Format: CLS
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