English R1A

Reading & Composition: Perpetual Decadence

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2017 Creasy, CFS
MTuW 1:00-3:30 237 Cory A

Book List

Moore, Alan: From Hell; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four; Stevenson, Robert Louis: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Other Readings and Media

A course reader that may include excerpts from Max Nordau, Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Vernon Lee, Henry James, Walter Pater, W.B. Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Sigmund Freud, Gottfried Benn, Ezra Pound, Mary Butts, Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, Samuel Beckett, and others.

Visual Art may include works by J.M. Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley, James Ensor, Walter Sickert, Jack B. Yeats, and others.

Film and Television may include: Penny Dreadful.


Please note the changes in the instructor, topic, book list, and course description for this section of English R1A (as of April 14).

Discourses of decadence (etymologically, de- down + cadere to fall), responding to crises about history, science, and culture, have been haunting us for longer than we know. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the anything-but-falling ratings of the current television program Penny Dreadful, ideas of decadence, decay, and degeneration have been lodged within the European and American imaginary. This course will approach decadence in the cultural—and, more specifically, literary—history of the last century or so, in order to think history as decadence. We will begin with the end of the 19th century (with its concern that the fin de siècle might be, as Oscar Wilde put it, the fin du globe) and then move to modernist and more contemporary appropriations and revisitations of the idea of the fallen, the belated, and the dangerously degenerate. Along the way we will consider issues of modern urban life, transgressive sexuality, and (often pseudo-) scientific discourses of decay. We will focus primarily on novels and poems, but we may also consider painting, films, graphic novels, music, and television. The course aims to provide students with a sense of what literary criticism offers as a mode of engaging with culture—in its more rarefied as well as more popular forms—and as a mode of interrogating the historical and aesthetic contours of our own world.

Beyond the 'intrinsic' interest of these works, our readings will open onto the underlying pragmatic goal of this course, which is to facilitate the development of your critical reflection and writing skills. We will use the questions that this material poses of us, as well as those we pose of it, to construct persuasive and cogent arguments out of them, writing progressively larger essays with progressively more sophisticated conceptual substance. The summer session will begin with a short diagnostic essay, followed by two essays of increasing length. A peer review process will help you as you revise at least two of these papers. In all, you will produce at least thirty-two pages of writing over the course of the summer session—including drafts and revisions. But we will endeavour to bear in mind how each of these steps may transform that "all"—that is, the whole process of our learning.

Please note that the textbooks for this course will be available at University Press Books, on Bancroft Way.

This 4-unit course will be taught in Session A, from May 22 to June 28.

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