English 143N

Prose Nonfiction: Traveling, Thinking, Writing

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2008 Giscombe, Cecil S.
Giscombe, Cecil
TTh 9:30-11 305 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Students should come to class before buying texts. The list below is tentative. But, that said, it will likely include most of the following books: Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness; Eddy Harris: Mississippi Solo; Jack Kerouac: Dharma Bums; Linda Niemann: Boomer. We�ll also read excerpts from Travel Writing: 1700-1830 (Ian Duncan and Elizabeth Bohls); Paul Fussell�s Norton Anthology of Travel Writing; Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing (Farrah Griffin and Cheryl Fish); and items from the popular press.


"Much of American literature has had to do with a sense of motion. Note the journeys, e.g., in the best known texts of Melville and Twain. But note also that Harlemite Langston Hughes� autobiography, The Big Sea, begins on a boat and details his adventures in Europe and Africa; Canadian writer Gladys Hindmarch takes on Melville with her Watery Part of the World and Zora Neale Hurston travels to Haiti in Tell My Horse and through the American south in Mules and Men.

The point of this course is multiple and full of inquiry. Judith Thurman, reviewing Catherine Millet�s

instantly notorious autobiography, The Sexual Life of Catherine M., for the New Yorker: Lust is a great and inexhaustible literary subject, but writing graphically about what excites one isn�t literature. The same stupid things excite everybody.

Substitute �travel� for �lust� and you have one of the fields of inquiry here this spring semester. The

familiar question, �Is this trip necessary?�, is joined to �What makes this trip important enough to


Another field is the role of Americans and/ or Westerners��subjectivity� in the vernacular�as travelers in the world. (I�d note that the world is both within and beyond our national boundaries.) What things are we heir to? What are our responsibilities and blindnesses? What�s the relation between the imperial West (of Conrad�s writing) and our current situation? The point in this�and any writing�is to write consciously and to be mindful of the political import of our writing.

A third field is the defining of the relation between travel and place (and imagination). Place is �hot�

right now, as a topic. What are the elements of the sentimental here and what assumptions?

We�ll read and write about travel. The writing vehicle will be, for the greatest part, the personal essay."

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