English 165

Special Topics: Narrating Absence: Not-Knowing in Literary Analysis

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2010 Clowes, Erika
Clowes, Erika
MW 4-5:30 103 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Eliot,  T.S.: The Waste Land; Beckett,  S.: Waiting for Godot; Ellison,  R.: Invisible Man; Faulkner,  W.: Sanctuary; James,  H.: The Turn of the Screw; Course Reader,  including Freud’s essay on fetishism, excerpts from Muller and Richardson’s The Purloined Poe, Nabokov’s “The Vane Sisters,” & D. F. Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

Films: Coppola,  F.F.: The Conversation (1974); Hitchcock,  A.: The Birds (1963)


Critical reading usually involves reading “between the lines” of a literary text, picking up on the implications of its manifest content. In this course, however, we will focus on reading what is altogether missing: for example, the lack of a coherent narrator in Eliot’s Waste Land; the act of waiting for someone who never comes in Beckett’s Godot; or the literally unspeakable horror represented by birds in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Though the assigned texts come from several time periods, one of the primary goals of the course will be to understand why the explicit inclusion of ellipses and “unrepresentable” ideas is most characteristic of modernism. Does the nameless or “undomesticated” element serve to subvert the dominant culture, or, conversely, to define it? Do blank spaces unsettle narratives, or provide a harmonious “negative space”? How do they function in concert with other experimental techniques, such as stream-of-consciousness narration and fragmentation, from which seemingly nothing is excluded? Finally, we will consider the relationship of narrative absences to paranoia—both the characters’ and our own—as we attempt to impose meaning upon these non-signifying spaces.

This course is open to English majors only.

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