English R1A

Reading & Composition: Reading and Writing the City

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2015 Wilson, Mary
MWF 10-11 222 Wheeler

Book List

Pynchon, Thomas : The Crying of Lot 49; Sebald, W.G.: Austerlitz;

Recommended: Davis , Mike: City of Quartz

Other Readings and Media

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own; James Joyce, Dubliners (selections); James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (selections); Anne Carson, “The Life of Towns”; Charlie Chaplin, City Lights (1931); Paul Strand, Manhatta, (1921); Walt Whitman, “Manahatta” (from Leaves of Grass); Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing (1989); Michel de Certeau, “Walking in the City,” Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That”; Mike Davis, City of Quartz (excerpt).


The city can be many different things in literature. As a plot device, the city is often a place of danger and opportunity, a place where characters make their way or lose themselves in the attempt. As setting, the city may be open or closed; it may invite the freedom of exploration or provoke the anxiety that arises from exclusion. These interpretations consider the city as a backdrop, as the stage on which the drama of fiction unfolds. But what happens when we push it to the foreground? What happens when we consider the city itself as subject, character, or text?

In this class we will examine 20th-century texts that foreground the city in various ways. We will encounter moments in which urban space is conflated with mental space, private space with public power, cityscape with text. In our written assignments we will try to move beyond the old divisions between character and setting and consider the broader implications of these crossover moments.

The primary aim of this course is to develop your critical thinking, writing, and research skills, and to help you to write across the disciplines. To this end, you will write and revise three short critical essays (4-5 pages) during the course of the semester. Students will also be responsible for weekly reading responses and in-class peer writing reviews.

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