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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2006

E 314L • Literary Contests and Contexts

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
32701 MWF
10:00 AM-11:00 AM

Course Description


"Literary Contests & Contexts" is a course in literary methodologies designed to introduce prospective English majors to three main analytical approaches used in their discipline: textual, historical, and cultural. Students will first learn to perform close textual analysis focused on careful scrutiny of literary motifs and structures. They will then engage in contextual study by examining historical documents relevant to the text, as well as events that would have given the text urgency while at the same time constraining its possible meanings and effects. Finally, students will study the cultural "contests" in which the texts participate, such as battles over which works might form a canon of "great" art as defined by competing aesthetic, historical, and social criteria. Students will therefore read texts that are aesthetically complex, historically significant, and involved in cultural struggles or "agons" (sometimes with other texts, sometimes with broader cultural movements or traditions). The course will begin with Emerson and Poe as they assert the artistic worthiness of an American tradition while advancing competing Transcendentalist and anti-Transcendentalist views of nature and history. Hart Crane's modernist poetry will allow students to analyze texts that simultaneously engage with the history of the "machine age" and strive to make poetic tradition new. Finally, two rich and intricate postmodern American texts will help to weave a web of interconnections between text, context, and culture in what Nabokov calls the "link-and-bobolink" of literary analysis. Because this is a computer-assisted course, students will also study how technology can facilitate textual analysis and allow for hypertextual linkage to online information about historical context and cultural contests.

Grading Policy

Paper 1 20%
Paper 2 20%
Paper 3 40%
Quizzes 10%
Writing process (topic proposals, rough drafts, in-class writing, computer assignments, response papers) 10%


Ralph Waldo Emerson, selections from The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Edgar Allan Poe, selections from The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Hart Crane, excerpts from The Complete Poems of Hart Crane
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

There will also be a packet of critical readings on textual, contextual, and cultural methods of analysis.


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