English R1B

Reading and Composition: Senses of Magic

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Spring 2017 Alexander, Edward Sterling
TTh 8-9:30 225 Dwinelle

Book List

Berssenbrugge, Mei-mei: Hello, the Roses; Duncan , Robert: The Opening of the Field; Marlowe, Christopher: Doctor Faustus; Notley, Alice: Certain Magical Acts; Rothenberg, Jerome: Technicians of the Sacred; Shakespeare, William: The Tempest

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader with writings by Marcel Mauss, Lucien Levy-Bruhl, Ernst Cassirer, Emile Benveniste, Stanley Tambiah and Jane Harrison others.  Movie TBD.


In one common sense, we use the word “magic” to refer to the extraordinary, the otherworldly or the supernatural.  We associate this sense of “magic” with the belief that one can gain control over external events through special means that defy logic or rationality.  More seemingly excessive forms of associative and nonlinear thinking are referred to warily as “magical thinking.”  In this course we will consider not only these senses of magic as we find them addressed in a variety of literary representations and discourses, but also other possible senses, such as the more straightforward sense that the notion of magic pertains to what we might call the “self-existence” of the world.  In what way do things already have, at their most ordinary level, a mode of existing that it might make sense to describe as ‘magical’?  In what ways does the notion of magic have a sense that helps us to engage with the world at this most basic level?  Why might literary study be a privileged site in which to ask these kinds of questions?

Since this is an R1B course, students will continue to develop skills in critical reading and essay composition that they began to cultivate in R1A.  This time around we will build upon those skills by introducing students to research methodology as they produce final research papers on a topic of their choice pertaining to the course materials.  We will continue to work on writing and argumentation skills in a series of in-class exercises, revisions and peer editing workshops.

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