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

Spring 2010

E 314L • 3-Banned Books and Novel Ideas

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34057 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
PAR 303

Course Description

This course introduces undergraduates to the English major through discussion of literary texts that threaten social taboos relating to sexuality. (Note: We will read works that have caused controversy because of their sexual content. Our primary texts include scenes and passages that many readers have found disturbing. Portnoy's Complaint, at the time of its publication, raised particular concerns among readers.) We will read these texts to consider the obvious and less obvious reasons they have caused discomfort, to ask ourselves why critics have still seen merit in them, and to discover whether they change any views about banning we had prior to this class. To put our primary reading in perspective, we also will read and analyze secondary texts that use basic concepts of literary criticism to form their arguments. The secondary texts also will include magazine and journal articles revealing the cultural response to these texts’ "offensiveness." In addition, we will read a well-known court document that demonstrates how the law attempts to balance freedom of expression with the unwritten social contract governing perceptions of taste and decorum. The course will invite us to ask a range of questions about the extent of literature’s power to change culture, where we get our ideas about what is “moral,” and the implications of not permitting targeted populations—such as children, adults, or both—to read specific texts. "Banned Books and Novel Ideas" is intended to prepare students for college-level discourse about literature. Ultimately, the course should help students to learn a variety of skills: to retain detail and understand how literary form relates to content; to judge the power of written language relative to the power of other forms of media; to appreciate the basic differences among different “schools” of literary criticism; and to reflect in an informed manner about the purpose of reading in our culture.

Grading Policy

3 formal essays, 1000-2000 words each, 70% (Essay 1: 20%, Essay 2: 25%, Essay 3: 25%); Annotated bibliography 10%; Informal writing projects 10%; Class presentations 10%. Regular attendance is expected, and excessive absences will affect the final course grade.


Possible texts will include: J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye; Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye; James Joyce, Ulysses (brief excerpt: the "Nausicaa" chapter); Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”; J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace; A course packet will include secondary material commenting on the primary texts.


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