English R1B

Reading and Composition: What Is Literature?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
12 Spring 2016 Ketz, Charity Corine
TTh 8-9:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Dostoevsky, Fyodor : Crime and Punishment; Shakespeare, William: Othello

Other Readings and Media

Other texts will be distributed electronically.


In What is Literature?, Jean-Paul Sartre claims that the prose writer “is in a situation in language; he is invested with words. They are prolongations of his meanings, his pincers, his antennae, his spectacles. He manoeuveres 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 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 by examining a set of classical arguments about literature (by Plato, Aristotle, and Sidney) and quickly turns to the broader questions these theorists undertake: what a literary work is and why we care about it. We will scrutinize one novel, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a few of John Keats’s major poems, and one Shakespeare play, Othello, deriving arguments from them about the moment-by-moment experience of reading; how we might describe literary force; what it means to read well or badly; how we might describe poetry’s relation to other discourses; what the reader’s role in understanding a text is; and so on.

Requirements for the course include a series of critical papers that build toward a final research project.

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