English R1B

Reading and Composition: War Writing: What Is It Good For?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2021 Furcall, Dylan
MWF 10-11

Book List

Aristophanes: Lysistrata; Orwell, George: Homage to Catalonia; Rankine, Claudia: Don't Let Me Be Lonely; Sontag, Susan: Regarding the Pain of Others

Other Readings and Media

Excerpts and shorter works by Isaac Babel, Thomas Hobbes, Julia Ward Howe, Langston Hughes, Yusef Komunyakaa, F.T. Marinetti, Gertrude Stein, Wilfred Owen, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, and W.B. Yeats. 


It is commonplace to conceive of the war writer—whether journalist, memoirist, novelist, or poet—as a dispeller of fictions and purveyor of cold, hard truths about the "reality" of warfare. Yet writers themselves have often questioned the written word’s capability to represent that reality; those most skeptical have asked whether such representations ever amount to more than propaganda of one stripe or another.

In this course we will study the relationship, both storied and fraught, between war and writing in Western literature. As such, the historical and generic range of the course will be quite broad: we will read ancient Greek comedy and Vietnam War journalism, Civil War poetry and stories from the Russian Revolution; we will also engage with political oration, visual art, and film. Rather than studying the literature associated with any single war, or the phenomenon of war more generally, we will consider the relationship between writing and warfare primarily in writerly terms: how does one write about war, and to what end? What standard of truth can various kinds of war writing be said to satisfy? If not truth, what value does war writing afford? Of course, as our conception of war writing develops, so too will our picture of “war itself.”

As a composition class, the point of this course is not to “master” content; indeed, the range and complexity of the materials with which we will engage make mastery an impossibility! Instead, our objective will be to hone our analytic, argumentative, and research skills, and to practice those skills in academic writing. To that end, in addition to covering poetry, fiction, criticism, memoir, and film, we will spend a significant portion of class time practicing and reviewing rhetorical craft, logical argumentation, and research methods.

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