English R1B

Reading and Composition: Profane Illuminations

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2013 Ahmed, Adam
TTh 11-12:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey; Blake, William: Selected Poetry; Breton, Andre: Nadja; Dick, Philip K. : Ubik; Knight, Michael Muhammad: Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing; Rimbaud, Arthur: Illuminations (trans. John Ashbery);

Recommended: Hacker, Diana: Rules for Writers

Other Readings and Media

A course reader/bSpace readings including:

literary works by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mina Loy, Hannah Weiner, Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery, H.D., Ariana Reines, Adunis, and Aimé Césaire

and critical works by Walter Benjamin, Edward Said, Charles Taylor, M.H. Abrams, William James, Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Zizek, Simone Weil, Ian Balfour, and Talal Asad

Films:  Dead Man (1995), Melancholia (2011)


Though Walter Benjamin coined the phrase to describe a specifically “materialistic, anthropological inspiration” that signifies “the true creative overcoming of religious illumination,” the profane illuminations this class will examine represent a broader site of contact between secular and religious experiences. Beyond evoking the supernatural as an acknowledgement of archaic traditions or dead superstitions, the works we will look at in this class reveal the scope and limits of our secular beliefs. In doing so, these works pose a new kind of space. From the “natural supernaturalism” of the Romantic poets and the fictive claim to reality in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey to the perceptual experiments of the Surrealists and the speculative realities of Philip K. Dick, these works offer an insight into the living vestiges of magical thinking within our secular age, as well as a chance to suspend our critical skepticism. We will address the ramifications of this in-between space for areas as diverse as experimental poetry, the belief in fiction, the Western/nonsecular divide, and the late capitalist experience.

While we look at some of these wildly imaginative and speculative texts, the goal of this class will be to develop your own interpretative leaps without sacrificing coherence. As an R1B, this course will develop students’ organizational and rhetorical strategies for an argumentative essay (5-6 pages), while introducing them to some of the scholarly and analytical techniques for a longer (8-10 page) research paper. Through themed groupings of critical material, small writing exercises, and analytical papers, students will learn how to engage with outside source material to support their own original theses.

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