English N1A

Reading and Composition: Awakening

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2014 Blevins, Jeffrey
MW 2-4 222 Wheeler

Book List

Kafka, Franz: The Metamorphosis; Proust, Marcel: Swann's Way; Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Other Readings and Media

Most of the reading for this course will be uploaded to bspace or will be available in a course reader. There will be semi-weekly film screenings.


This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
   – Theodore Roethke, from “The Waking”

Few people delight in awakening from sleep. Even for those who do, awakening can be a strange experience. Marcel Proust calls it a “stupid moment,” one of confusion, bewilderment, stupefaction. Stories about stupid, or stupefied awakenings are legion and timeless. It is immediately upon being jarred from a deep sleep that Penelope is informed of Odysseus’s return in The Odyssey, to which she reacts venomously, threatening the nurse who has told her and, in a twist, speaking of her interrupted sleep in terms that one might expect her to reserve for Odysseus himself, calling it “sweet” and speaking ardently of how it had just “possessed” her. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character Bottom falls asleep in the woods with companions, but awakens alone, at which moment he begins to oscillate between ecstatically recounting the "rare vision" of his just-vanished dreams and dishearteningly confronting the lonely fact of his now-friendless reality—occupying a disoriented state that is, as Lysander later says, "half sleep, half waking." Gregor Samsa, the hero of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, awakens to find himself radically transformed, his body now the carapace of an insect, a condition he initially blames on the fact of waking up at all: thinking, nicely in tandem with Proust, that "getting up early all the time ... it makes you stupid." In The Hangover, Stu (Ed Helms) awakens to his glasses lying on the floor, facing him, the dizzy gap between dazed eyes and clarifying lenses betokening a similarly puzzling gap between Stu's being asleep and awake—in the background, Lux Interior fuzzily croons: “Fever in the morning / Fever all through the night.”

In each case, a person is caught between sleeping and waking, somehow experiencing aspects of both at once, unable to tell which parts are dream and which reality. Think of this as the two-way street of emergence: as we awaken, we emerge into consciousness, yet we also emerge out of sleep. The tension between out and in—“coming to,” yet also “coming from”—creates a moment of confusion, when we struggle to reconcile two opposed states, like sleeping and waking. This is a course about that moment of awakening. How do artists depict awakenings? What are they generally like? What formal choices communicate the feeling of awakening, whether that feeling is dreamy and soft, harsh and disorienting, or something in between?

Students will consider poems, novels, plays, songs, paintings, and films that, in one way or another, organize themselves around awakening(s). The main interest of this course is literal awakening from sleep, because it provides a simple test case for discovering how art registers the emotional, aesthetic, cognitive, stylistic, and structural aspects of awakening or emerging out of one state and into another. That being said, we will also consider awakening’s applications as a broader synonym for realization: political awakening, sexual awakening, spiritual awakening, intellectual awakening, and so on. We will also look at small selections from philosophers who have thought hard about what it means to awaken or to emerge, especially as far as consciousness is concerned. (After all, what is waking up if not becoming—possibly slowly, maybe with great difficulty—conscious or aware: whether it be of our desires, needs, failings, potentials, fulfillments, etc., or just of our own basic selves, as newly wakeful entities, embedded in the fact of our lives?).

The hope for this course is that study of these texts about awakening will help students to awaken, as it were, into a greater enjoyment of critical reading and writing. Students will develop their reading and writing skills through a series of short analytical essays, in addition to other written exercises in observation, description, and reflection, often on their own experiences with awakening.

This course will be taught in Session C, which runs from June 23 to August 15.

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