E 314L • Banned Books and Novel Ideas
"Adam was but human - this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent."
Whether we judge the quote above from Mark Twain to be irreverent or not, it is clear that he knew something about the matter of forbidden knowledge. We are often fascinated with representations that challenge our notions of decency and that offend our political and moral sensibilities. Censorship has had a long and storied history, and over the years authors that have transgressed the dominant political and cultural values of their time have provoked attempts to cloister their works from the public view.
This semester, we will be discussing some of the ways in which literary works have and continue to incite debates about issues of decency, censorship, political correctness, and literary merit. In doing so, we will examine novels as well as selected poems and short stories through the lens of their historical contexts and the controversies that they became embroiled inas well as contemporary debates about the interpretation of literary texts.
In order to better understand the social and moral implications of the texts we will discuss, we will be honing skills of literary analysis and scholarly research that will also be necessary for success in future English courses. Indeed, as we shall find, our grasp of the controversies surrounding these texts can only be understood in relation to a close and informed reading of the works themselves. Throughout the semester, we will be focusing on aspects of literary form, genre, and style. Furthermore, we will also explore how researching critical discussions about literary works helps us to develop further insights into the works as well as to find our own say in debates about texts that have had (and sometimes still have) the capacity to offend and inspire their readers. Course includes computer-assisted instruction.
Three 4-6-page essays: 70%; Short papers & informal writing assignments: 20%; Attendance & participation: 10%
Possible Texts Include: Typee, Herman Melville; The Awakening, Kate Chopin; Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov; "Howl," Allen Ginsberg; The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison; Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison; course reader.