FABLES AND FAIRY TALES: FICTION TEASING THE TRUTH
This course will explore the significance and uses of both fable and fairy tale, taking a global perspective. The shortest of short stories, fables tend to tell us bad news with comic conciseness. We will begin with the stories of Aesop, including the fabulous history of their supposed author. Fables relate human and animal, tying us to the reality of physical body and the world where we eat and get eaten. Fairy tales seem more concerned with emotion and aspiration for positive change, although “a fairy tale ending” is not always happy. Starting with the ancient Egyptian “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” and its encounter with a monster, we move to Aristophanes’ comedy The Birds After a couple of Ovid’s Metamorphoses we move to some of Pu Singling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Fairies come to us from ancient Persia; fresh enchantments arrive in Europe with the Arabian Nights. Perrault’s versions of “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty “established certain archetypal fairy tales in Western Europe; the versions of the brothers Grimm offer less elegant interpretations. Mother Goose and Scheherazade are fictional female sources of stories, but actual female authors emerge in print as named writers in the 1690s, taking the fairy tale’s examination of sex, gender and power in new directions. Fables and Fairy tales both offer a fresh look at morality. These narratives are strong, quick in transition, apt to surprise. They seem the essence of fiction itself. Modern examples include—but are not restricted to-- children’s stories like Beatrix Potter’s tales. Fable and Fairy tale may be skillfully blended within longer fictions, such as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Irrepressible, fable and fairy tale seem like the essence of fiction itself. Films are important carriers of these forms; students will choose the films that we show in the second half of the semester.
Literature and Citizenship
What does it mean to be a citizen? Both a legal status and a way of being in a community, citizenship folds together central aspects of political identity and touches on some of our most urgent concerns today. We will begin the semester with George Saunders’s amazing new novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for fiction. We will then consider the philosophical, symbolic, existential, and narrative aspects of citizenship in classic works including Pericles’ funeral oration, a speech by Cicero, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Works from America’s founding era, including the Declaration of Independence, Federalist 1 and 10, and Judith Sargent Murray’s “On the Equality of the Sexes,” followed by a cluster on the early republic, including writings by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, and Abraham Lincoln, will round out our readings. At the end of the course we will briefly return to Lincoln in the Bardo, seeing it again through the light of class readings and discussions. There will be around 25 pages of writing for the course, with opportunities for revision.
Shakespeare’s Major Tragedies
This seminar will examine the four tragedies upon which Shakespeare’s reputation most securely rests: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Our objectives will be to acquire an in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare’s four major tragedies; to become familiar with early modern English and develop an appreciation of the importance of linguistic history; to examine tragedy as a dramatic genre, as an experience, and as a cultural preoccupation; and to learn about Shakespeare’s age and his linguistic and cultural legacy. Along with our modern editions of Shakespeare, we will read Christopher Haigh’s Elizabeth I and a number of recent scholarly essays.
Master Writers from Latin America
This university seminar in English is designed to give first-year students an introduction to: (1) university writing, and (2) the reading, analysis, appreciation, and discussion of literary texts. The topic for this course is Master Writers from Latin America: Gabriel García Márquez, Rosario Ferré, Carlos Fuentes, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, and Alfonsina Storni. These four fiction writers and two poets are some of the most celebrated and distinguished of the region; in fact, among these world-class authors are the Nobel laureates Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda, as well as one winner, Carlos Fuentes, of Spain’s Cervantes Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel in the Hispanic world. Apart from stressing cultural and literary appreciation, this course will also teach students the concepts and terminology required for any productive discussion of literature. So as to stimulate the students’ engagement with the texts, class discussions will cover a range of universal and humanistic themes. Course Requirements include response papers, four medium-length essays, group presentations, and reports on campus literary/cultural events.
In this course we will examine a range of novels which might loosely be understood as “spy fiction,” yet each of them has a very different understanding of what it means to spy. We will ask what these novels can tell us about the relationship between literature and history, and what they reveal about ways of looking and narrative point of view. We will be reading novels by (among others): G.K. Chesterton, Ian Fleming, Patricia Highsmith, John Le Carré, and George Orwell. This course will be discussion based and will require regular written assignments designed to hone critical reading skills.
The Extraordinary Americas: “Magic” and Reality in 20th and 21st-Century Latina/o and Latin-American Literature
What is the difference between reality and magic or reality and legend? What if magic were conceived of as an accepted part of reality? This course allows students to question the origins of essential myths through some of the most legendary accounts of the supernatural in 20th- and 21st-century literature of the Americas. Specifically, we will be focusing on work from such renowned voices as Junot Díaz, Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Achy Obejas, Gabriel García Márquez and Alejo Carpentier. Students will engage in discussion and critical thinking on what constitutes the fantastic, the magical, the uncanny, the marvelous real, or the spiritual from colonial times to neoliberalism to a distant science-fictional future. Course requirements may include response papers, presentations, a short essay, and a longer final essay.
On the Move: Migration in American Literature
In this class, we will examine the importance of migration in twentieth century U.S. Literature. We will consider how migration has been integral in telling or representing the American experience, particularly by investigating how movement has been used by authors to shape texts, ideas, and characters. In asking ourselves how the ideas of flux and movement impact both the content and the structure of a novel, we will reflect on how migration alters political ideas, ideals, and trends. Finally, we will explore the many ways that migration shapes or constructs our conceptions of homeland and region.
The Art of the Short Story in the U.S.
Our course will celebrate the history and impact of the American short story throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. We’ll pay particular attention to major literary movements from modernism to post-postmodernism, and to the connections between a story’s form and its content. We'll be keeping an eye on writers’ innovations and experiments as we explore the subjects they take on: power, poverty, immigration, labor, race, identity, and alienation.
We'll also think about the ways short stories resemble (and differ from) other literary forms, and even other art forms. We'll look at visual art to think about how critics have defined periods such as modernism and postmodernism, and how much those terms overlap in the fields of visual and literary arts. If schedules permits, we'll meet visual artists in residence at the Segura Arts Center and visit the Snite Museum. You'll also attend several readings by fiction writers and poets to think about the performance of literature as yet another art form.
We’ll read, discuss, and write about forty-five stories over the course of the semester. Perhaps most important, we’ll take pleasure—enormous pleasure, I hope––in a surprising, challenging, and satisfying literary art
What Is Nature Now?
Nature’s meaning has never been more important than now, during what one environmental thinker describes as the “most crucial decades in the history of the human species on earth.” This seminar will put our environmental moment in a larger context by exploring visions of the natural world embodied in works of literature from the 20th and 21st centuries. Through study and discussion of poems, novels, and environmental non-fiction, we will consider the role of nature (or “Nature”) in its rich range of imaginative meanings, from Edenic escape to ecological responsibility, from nature poetry to “climate fiction” by novelists such as Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, T.C. Boyle, and Paolo Baciagalupi. Seminars proceed through collaborative conversation, so participation will be important. Students will be responsible for introducing our class discussion once or twice during the term, writing several short papers, and completing midterm and final examinations.
"Books as Data"
Contemporary literary criticism has a problem. We long ago gave up the idea that our task was to appreciate and explain a handful of great texts. We replaced that goal with a much more important and ambitious one: to understand cultural production as a whole by way of its (many) books. Even the ones that aren't so great. But how do we do that, when it takes days or years to come to grips with even one novel?
This is a course in the analysis of thousands or millions of books by way of computational methods. We will, in other words, treat books as data to be mined. But it doesn't assume any specific background in programming or computer science. Instead, we'll learn a handful of analytical techniques and read the best existing work in fields including literary history, media studies, information science, and sociology to help us understand what's possible when we apply computation to digital texts. The course thus serves as an introduction to computational methods in the humanities and prepares students to begin carrying out literary data analysis on their own.
This course counts toward the interdisciplinary minor in Computing and Digital Technologies. No prerequisites.