English R1B

Reading and Composition: How Words Do Things

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2021 Vinyard Boyle, Lizzie
MWF 10-11

Book List

Marías, Javier: A Heart So White; Melville, Herman: Moby-Dick; or, The Whale; More, Thomas: Utopia; White, T. H.: The Book of Beasts;

Recommended: Borges, Jorge Luis: The Book of Imaginary Beings


When we speak of language, it is usually in terms of what it says, what it means, what it might imply or suggest.  What if we ask instead what words do: what can, or should words do, and what can we do with them?  What is a speech act, and is there a magical quality to words?  How does allegory work, and is this different from symbol and metaphor?  Is there such a thing as a pure image?  How do poetry and myth transform meaning, and in what way do stories conjure characters, or sustain plot?  Do works of literature exchange value, gather currency, or talk to each other? 


Our language is driven by such substitutions, and throughout the term we will also investigate how everyday practices operate by the same approximations and transferences – even as we transform our own writing through attention to these metaphorical conjurings and alchemical substitutions.  It will be the very seeming-ness of image, symbol, metaphor, and character that drive us to understand these concepts as they evolve across genres, modes, and literary eras.  In the process, we will explore renaissance allegory and medieval bestiaries, discover spell-making and christian miracles, examine symbols and myths as they make and un-make themselves, move through the echoes of poetry both ancient and modern, and delve into novels that take us to far-flung places as they plumb the depths of human experience.  Do words define our experience of the world, or have the power to generate new ones?  Along the way, we will consider the grammar of translated knowledge as we sharpen our critical eyes and become flexible in describing both language mechanics and the devices by which it makes and sustains meaning.  We will harness the potential of our own writing to uncover, respond to, and even generate these registers, developing a repertoire of attentive reading practices that will unfold and take shape through and as our writing, and which will culminate in a long paper designed to flex our descriptive power to do things with words.

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