English R1B

Reading & Composition: What Is Literature?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
9 Fall 2015 Ketz, Charity Corine
MWF 10-11 35 Evans

Book List

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment; Garcia Marquez, Gabriel: Strange Pilgrims; James, Henry: The Figure in the Carpet; More, Thomas: Utopia; Sartre, Jean-Paul: Nausea; Shakespeare, William: Othello; Williams, William Carlos: Imaginations

Other Readings and Media

Also a course reader


In What Is Literature?, Jean-Paul Sartre claims that the prose writer "is in a stuation in language; he is invested with words. They are prolongations of his meanings, his pincers, his antennae, his spectacles. He manoeuvers them from within....[Whereas] the poet is outside language. He sees words inside out as if he did not share the human condition, and as if he were first meeting the word as a barrier as he comes toward men." In describing prose as a mode of ecstatic and embodied engagement and poetry as a mode of estrangement, Sartre resolved generically a set of arguments routinely made about literature: that it is uniquely tied to action and that it resides at an absolute distance from the world and its actions. This course begins by interrogating Sartre's distinction and quickly turns to the broader questions Sartre undertakes: what literary work is and why we care about it. We will scrutinize a small group of novels, short stories, poems, and one Shakespeare play, deriving arguments from them about the effects of reading, what it means to contemplate an ideal world (or to have such an ideal fictively excised from the mind), what the reader's creative role is, and so on. We will also examine a selection of classical and contemporary arguments which describe the literary as a special modality, as a means of training our minds to handle certain kinds of problems, as a manifestation of the gap between authorial intention and the logic of language, and so on, comparing these arguments with what we find in our sample literary group. Requirements for the course include one short (three-page) diagnostic essay, two mid-length (five-page) essays, and a longer (eight-page) research paper. 

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