English 100

The Seminar on Criticism: The Poetics of Prose

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Fall 2022 Turner, James Grantham
TuTh 3:30-5 Dwinelle 89

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All the readings will be available as pdfs to download


Everybody knows that poetry is an art-form, that it transforms words into music and dance, creates patterns like a Persian carpet, demands special close reading, and draws out emotions as well as ideas. But all too often prose is treated as mere communication or information, a neutral medium whose meaning is its content. Historians of the novel also assume, sometimes, that prose is modern while verse is historical, traditional or antique. The line-breaks and other formal features of poetry – including rhyme, meter and stanza – force us to read it as a deliberate work of art, but we often forget to read prose with the same aesthetic eye, looking for the rhythms, pauses, sound-patterns, word-choices and images that generate emotional meaning. This seminar will explore ways to analyze prose as artefact ‒ as poetry in effect ‒ and to sample its deep history. We begin with Chapter 14 of Ulysses, where James Joyce evokes and imitates the “embryonic development” of English prose over two millennia. Then we go back in time. For each section of Joyce’s chapter, from early-medieval to contemporary American English, I have curated an authentic passage from the period that he is echoing. After working through these, students will select their own prose passages and present their close readings to the class.

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