English R1A

Reading and Composition: Screens, Pages, and Visual Rhetoric in Contemporary Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2020 Catchings, Alex
MWF 9-10

Book List

Browning, Barbara: I Am Trying to Reach You; Carillo, Ellen: MLA Guide to Digital Literacy; Lin, Tao: Shoplifting from American Apparel; Ullman, Ellen: The Bug: A Novel


A study from the Global Web Index reveals that internet users aged sixteen to sixty-four averaged 6 hours and 43 minutes online per day in 2019. This amounts to 102 full days of screentime per person. If people are spending nearly a third of their lives engaging screens now, what has changed about the way we engage things that have always existed off of screens? Like, for instance, a physical page from a codex book?

This course will cover three contemporary novels and examine how they represent text that is normally rendered on computer or smartphone screens. From Gmail chat to Java compilers and plaintext that has been copied and pasted, these novels work to replicate visual facets of screen-interfaces that make us use the books differently. In addition, these novels try to represent through language lives that are lived both digitally and "in reality." During this course, we will explore theories of human-computer interaction alongside the history of the book to understand precisely how the power of typography changes as it appears in different mediums. We will begin devising responses to questions that define this century: how do interfaces manipulate our sense of agency? Which holds the most revolutionary potential—smartphones, desktop computers, or books? How ethical is the "open source" mentality that underscores coding languages, Wikipedia, and YouTube?

This course will develop students’ abilities to read texts in close, granular ways, paying attention to form and taking time to understand how texts generate meaning. Likewise, students will sharpen analytical skills and express increasingly complex ideas in writing. There will be two analytical essays, a variety of assignments practicing revision, and creative exercises for brainstorming and rhetorical expression. These elements will help bridge observation to ideation to writing and revision, ultimately aiming to help students become more powerful, structured writers and thinkers. 

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