English R1B

Reading and Composition: Monomanias

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2016 McWilliams, Ryan
MWF 2-3 41 Evans

Book List

Melville, Herman: Moby-Dick; Orleans, Susan: The Orchid Thief; Pynchon, Thomas: The Crying of Lot 49

Other Readings and Media

A course reader will include critical essays as well as short stories.

Films may include: Spike Jonze, Adaptation; Werner Herzog, Fitzcarraldo; Les Blank, The Burden of Dreams; Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation, etc. 


Note the change in instructor, topic, book list, and course description for this section of English R1B (as of May 10).

This course will give you a framework to think (and write) more critically about the things you can't stop thinking about anyways. Throughout the semester we'll pay attention to the role of monomania as an epistemological coping strategy for a world bewideringly overburdened with significance. Our readings will explore the potential of such fixations while also considering the darker side of obsession. We will ask how and why the seemingly random or arbitrary interest—a flower, a sperm whale, a mysterious symbol—consumes the attention of literary protagonists and readers alike. In addition to investigating the complex psychological mechanisms of such attention, we will consider why certain objects, hobbies, and texts tend to cause monomaniacal absorption.

To aid these investigations, we will consider the ways that obsessions have been theorized: as a sign of madness, creative brilliance, or both; as addictions; as fixations, fetishes, and projections; as commodities, collections, and collations; and as "possessions" that own or inhabit us even while we think we control them. Later in the semester we will turn out attention to the question of academic obsession, asking what differentiates research from monomania. As we refine our own research projects through formal research questions, annotated bibliographies, drafts, and peer review, we will keep in mind Barbara Tuchman's observation that, "Research is endlessly seductive, but writing is hard work," using our insights into the nature of obsession to help us manage the transition from prolonged investigation to selective application and synthesis. Over the course of the semester you will produce 32 pages of written work.

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