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.
Topic for 2021/22a: Narrative Theory and Practice. What makes for a good story? What’s the difference between telling stories and telling lies? In what ways do narratives inform, distort, illuminate, and police “reality”? In order to come to terms with the “narrative turn” in the humanities and sciences we adapt a dueling approach: the first technical and the second imaginary. 1. We pillage useful studies of narrative from the ancients to the moderns (Aristotle, Oscar Wilde, Nietzsche, Roland Barthes, René Girard, Mieke Bal). Here our goal is to acquire a durable set of tools and concepts: plot, description, narrator, free indirect style, mimetic desire, focalization, storyworlds, and more. 2. To test these lenses, we examine fictional texts that both bind and unravel narrative conventions. These might include: Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel Ghost World, and short stories by Franz Kafka, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Kathy Acker, Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Mary Butts, and others. Heesok Chang.
Topic for 2021/22b: Sex and Psyche. This course examines the relationship between literary works redefining gender and sexuality through their depiction of androgynous hero/ines, femmes fatales, and outré sexual practices and the ‘invention of the homosexual’ at the close of the nineteenth century. The course details the legal and social constraints on sexual difference that frustrated writers’ efforts to affirm same-sex passion, which Oscar Wilde called “the love that dare not speak its name.” The coded nature of homoerotic themes in texts encourages close reading of works that reward literary scrutiny as well as polemical interpretation. The course employs psychoanalysis and queer theory to address the male aesthete’s quandary: homophobia and misogyny encourage him to align himself with the privileged Victorian male through his vilification of women (as tasteless and insatiable consumers of objects and men), at the same time, as he is drawn to the feminine. Theorists consulted: Foucault, Lacan, Butler, Barthes, Deleuze, Sedgwick, Felski. Authors read: Flaubert, Balzac, Poe, Sacher-Masoch, Wilde, Swinburne, Pater, James, Bataille. Wherever possible, we try to draw connections between the nineteenth century and our own embattled times. Wendy Graham.
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
Add to Portfolio (opens a new window)