Course Overview

“The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.”
-Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book? 

To start, this course takes seriously the following inquiry: “why study literature?” In this course, we will read and interpret literary works of various genres through a consideration of writerly techniques, aesthetic devices, thematic concerns, historical contexts, and socio-political inquiries—all while keeping this key question in mind. It is often assumed that reading literature makes a difference—for the better—in our lives: it allows us to acquire knowledge, exposes us to worlds outside our own, engages us in the delights of creative language and the pleasures of quiet, solitary time. I will advocate that the study of literature offers these things, but also something else, something more. Together, we will work on naming that difference in our individual and collective terms and we will also learn what some “experts” have to say on the matter. In this course, students will study a diverse canon of authors who represent multiple subject positions and write in a variety of genres across several time periods (e.g. Homer, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Anne Carson, and several more). Students will learn to: close-read with attention to literary conventions, engage in the critical language of the discipline, incorporate research into literary analysis, and deem noteworthy the surface or meta-textual experience of literature. For instance, students will be assigned a personal reading journal in which first-impressions and feelings should be considered as an important and noteworthy—extracts of the journal will be used as touchstones in polished short-response assignments.

Department Learning Objectives

1. Students will communicate effectively in oral, written, and other forms of discourse.

2. Students will analyze texts closely and critically, demonstrating how language, style, form and genre create effects and shape meanings.

3. Students will conduct research and use various critical methods and theoretical frameworks in scholarly dialogue with others about the interpretations of texts.

4. Students will articulate an understanding of how cultural, historical, and ideological contexts condition both the creation and the reception of texts across time and in today’s complex, diverse world.