E 314L • Literary Contests and Contexts
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
Our interpretation of a literary text depends upon the questions we ask of it. This apparently simple statement might be the motto of "Literary Contests and Contexts," a course that will familiarize students with three complementary ways of reading literature: close reading of the text, historical reading that places the text in its context, and cultural reading that investigates the contests in which the text participates. In reading from a textual angle, students will learn to interpret texts based on the formal features that writers use to achieve certain effects. Reading from a contextual angle will involve analyzing historical documents as well as other literary texts from the period in order to get a sense of how the work in question was shaped by--and itself shaped--historically-specific events, issues, and literary trends. Finally, you will learn to see each work as participating in a broader cultural contest, which could include debates about cultural and national identity, the literary canon, gender roles, and social change. All three ways of reading will be supplemented by recent literary criticism and theory.
In this particular section of "Literary Contests and Contexts," we will develop these approaches by exploring a body of literature loosely connected by the themes of travel and dislocation. The readings venture across several centuries and landscapes, from the imagined Land of the Houyhnhnms to twentieth-century North Africa, from Renaissance Venice to 1940s New York City. We will begin with close readings of short fiction; move on to historical (contextual) readings of longer fiction and drama; and finish with twentieth-century novels that provide rich grounds for investigating cultural contests. This progression will allow us to hone close reading skills at the beginning of the semester before moving on to ask broader historical and cultural questions of the texts we will encounter on our literary journey.
Reading quizzes 10%, Ten one-page reading responses 20%, Two three-page essays and revisions 50%, One five-page final essay 20%
Course reader including works by Henry James, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, and Katherine Anne Porter
William Shakespeare, Othello
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (Books 1, 2, and 4)
Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
[N.B.: The finalized list of materials will include fewer texts.]