English R1B

Reading and Composition: Reading and Writing the City

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
17 Spring 2016 Wilson, Mary
TTh 2-3:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Joyce, James: Dubliners

Other Readings and Media

Readings: Wordsworth, The Prelude (selections); Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (selections); Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”; Virginia Woolf, “Flying Over London,” “Street Haunting”; Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (selections); Joan Didion, “Bureaucrats”; Ralph Ellison, “An Extravagance of Laughter”; Clarice Lispector, “Brasília”; Anne Carson, “The Life of Towns”; Mike Davis, “City of Glass” (excerpts); selected poems by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbury, Juliana Spahr, Myung Mi Kim, and others.

Films: Paul Strand, Manhatta (1921); Charlie Chaplin, City Lights (1931); Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing (1989)


The city is 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 a 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 to 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 two short critical essays (4-5 pages) and one final research project (8-10 pages). Students will also be responsible for weekly reading responses and in-class peer writing reviews.

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