English R1B

Reading and Composition: Suspension, Uselessness

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
9 Fall 2013 O'Connor, Megan
TTh 9:30-11 225 Wheeler

Book List

Austen, Jane: Sense and Sensibility; Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter; Melville, Herman: Billy Budd, Sailor and Selected Tales

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader that may include texts by Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and critical texts by Anne-Lise Francois, Barbara Johnson, Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, and others.


I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

- John Keats

As an R&C course, this R1B course will continue to build on the writing practices developed in R1A.  As students further refine the skills of exposition and argumentation, writing assignments in this course will focus on more complex and developed arguments.  The writing assignments will be longer than in R1A and the papers will incorporate a research component. 

We will engage the assigned readings – novels, poems, short stories, and critical essays – as texts that challenge us to read with greater attention to detail, think more critically, write with more precision, and argue with greater nuance.  More specifically, we will follow the assigned texts in asking questions about suspension and uselessness.  What are the potential benefits of lingering in a state of uncertainty?  How do our course texts theorize such states, and how can we use these theorizations to reflect on our own reading process?  How do states of suspension and indecision pose problems for the dominant logics of usefulness, purpose, efficiency, profitability, and productivity?  What are the advantages as well as the potential problems with dwelling in a state of indecision?  When does delay or deferral open up possibilities and provide a space for reflecting on unexamined thought/action?  How, alternatively, might perpetual indecision disable necessary judgment, change, or action?  Why would an author choose to set a story in a threshold or liminal moment?  How do formal features in the text produce an experience of suspension for the reader?  Is literature useless?  This course will move from Romantic ‘negative capability’ and Bartleby’s ‘I would prefer not to’ to questions about the role of the Humanities in today’s universities.


• 2-page diagnostic paper

• Research component to papers

• 16 pages each of preliminary drafts/revisions and final drafts

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