English R1B

Reading and Composition: What Is Literature?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Spring 2021 Wang, Jacob
MWF 12-1


What is literature? According to the literary theorist Jonathan Culler, the answer is simple if a 5-year-old is asking: literature is stories, poems, and plays. But what if university students are asking? In this course, we’ll ask the question for ourselves and investigate the range and complexity of answers and issues that follow. For the concept of literature proves not as simple as it appears – if we dig a little deeper, we find that it arises from a history that touches on everything from the formation of nations to the development of capitalism to the invention and proliferation of new media, and more.

The primary aim of this course is to develop your skills as a writer and researcher – someone who engages with other people’s work and investigates the conditions of the world around them in order to shape their own thinking and writing. We’ll achieve this aim through a regular series of shorter writing assignments that will culminate in longer essays. And just as the category of literature potentially includes a broad range of writings, we’ll practice different modes of writing that are appropriate for different contexts, purposes, and disciplines.

Possible topics include: literature as language, literature as genre, literature as media, literature as social value, history of books, literary education and canons. In addition to the question of what is literature, we’ll also ask: what should we do with literature? What, ideally, should literature be? And why care about literature?

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