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English Freshman Course Descriptions Fall '17

Course descriptions from the English Department to supplement the information in the college catalogue.

I. Introduction to Literary Study

101.01

Mr. Hill            MR     3:10-4:25        

Allegories of the Self

This seminar offers students intensive practice in close reading and interpretive writing and conversation through the examination of symbolic worlds inscribed in various media, including original works in Vassar collections, with a focus on the development of allegorical narrative in classical and Medieval textual sources and Medieval and Renaissance art.  Our consideration of allegories as knowledge systems will introduce students to the formulation of liberal arts education in the medieval schools, as well as to the culture of libraries.   Each member of the class will be asked to present an allegorical reading of a modern work selecting from narratives of literary authors such as Kafka and Orwell to works of painting and sculpture by artists such as Thomas Cole, Frida Kahlo, and Kara Walker, to fantasy and science fiction film, television series, and game environments. 

101.02

Ms. Dunbar            TR       3:10-4:25

Troubling Girlhood

In 1692, the remote and wooded Massachusetts landscape as their backdrop, a group of Puritan teenage girls were at the center of a community panic that ended the lives of 14 women, five men, and two dogs. Haunted by the preternatural and cloaked in mystery, these Puritan girls mark the starting point of this freshman writing course. From witch trials to teenager girls stricken catatonic after their first sexual encounters, this course explores U.S. cultural anxieties surrounding the public and private lives of girls and women. The aim of the course is to “trouble,” to challenge and struggle over, our cultural assumptions about girlhood. Using novels, short stories, plays, historical documents, and visual texts we’ll consider and write about how race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identity categories trouble our sense of the various meanings of growing up gendered a “girl” in the United States.

101.03

Ms. Dunn               TR       3:10-4:25

In Search of Silence

“Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around” (John Cage).   Silence is often defined as the absence of sound, which makes sense when you live in a noisy world.  But silence can also have presence and expressive power, whether as a formal element in the arts, an alternative language, a spiritual practice, or a political act.  This course explores the meanings and uses of silence through a variety of encounters, both critical and experiential:  through reading, watching, and listening, as well as walking, meditation, and field recording. Texts include a graphic novel (Shaun Tan’s The Arrival), poetry (Emily Dickinson, ASL poets), film (Pat Collins’ Silence), writings and musical compositions (Takemitsu, Cage), and essays (Helen Keller, Audre Lorde). There will be frequent writing in a variety of forms, culminating in a final project. 

101.05

Mr. Joyce                MR      3:10-4:25                    

Contrasting Americas

Given the chaos, division, and hatred—but also the resolve, resistance and reaffirmation— unleashed by the last presidential election and the vast divide between not only the coasts and the imagined center, but also our visions of ourselves and/as others, perhaps the only way to consider where and who we are as a nation is from (at least) two directions at once. Thus this course offers an examination of American culture through contrary literatures, including meditative, polemical, lyrical, graphical (comic) texts; with themes including America Dreams, Walking and Falling, New English, The Western Passion, Fall of the Rustbelt Archipelago, and Rise of Creolized Cities. Readings may include Ana Castillo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Susan Howe, Nella Larsen, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Charles Olson, Joseph O’Neill, Suzan Lori Parks, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gertrude Stein, Chris Ware, and Karen Tei Yamashita.

101.06

Mr. Langdell              TR       12:00-1:15

Human Rites

This course focuses on rites of passage: from adolescence, to first love, adventure, loss, renewal, reinvention, death. We will work across a range of media – poems, novels, memoirs, essays, short stories, films, songs, graphic novels – to question the interplay between individual formation and communal rite. How do rites such as courtship, college acceptance, family tradition, or marriage define an individual life? How relevant is each rite today? Why do we turn to literature to remember our childhoods, our teenage years, the particular gut-punch of first love? Authors may include: Michael Chabon, Alison Bechdel, Jeffrey Eugenides, Justin Torres, Junot Diaz, Stuart Dybek, Jamaica Kincaid, Anne Carson, Joan Didion, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dorothy Baker, Zadie Smith, James Baldwin, and J.D. Salinger. We’ll gravitate towards moments at which dimensions change; stories shift; feelings settle or inflate; and the world becomes noticeably wider and harder to explain.

101.07

Ms. Gemmill            TR       1:30-2:45 

Playing with the Devil

As modern readers, we take it for granted that literature is a force for good in the world, but in fact it has a longstanding association with the devil. This course invites students to cultivate their critical skills by reading and writing about literature that engages the concept of evil—whether by imagining it, managing it, condemning it or being accused of it. We start by reading banned books, contextualizing them within the long history of cultural anxiety about the novel’s potential to corrupt young minds. Next, we turn our attention to the famous villains of literature, examining how writers have imaginatively explored the darkest human impulses through these characters. Finally, we will consider how writers have used writing for healing purposes, to process and purge acts of evil on both individual and collective scales. Students will regularly write short critical and creative responses; texts may include Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Bechdel’s Fun Home, Shakespeare’s Othello, Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Coetzee’s Disgrace, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Morrison’s Beloved.

101.08  

Mr. Kumar               TR       1:30-2:45

The Essay Form

The high-school essay trapped in the Darth Vader facemask called the topic sentence.  And the immobile drapery of the five-paragraph costume armor. This is an exaggeration, of course, but to write in more imaginative ways let us examine the experiments in prose undertaken by essayists of the past hundred years or so: George Orwell writing about shooting an elephant, James Baldwin on his father’s death and race riots, Jorge Luis Borges on his “modest blindness,” Susan Sontag looking at photographs, Joan Didion bidding goodbye to New York, Adrienne Rich recalling the strands that make up her identity. Also, Geoff Dyer on sex and hotels, Lydia Davis on “Foucault and pencil,” David Shields on the lyric essay, Jenny Boully on the body, Eliot Weinberger on what he heard about Iraq, and David Foster Wallace on anything. We will write brief essays (one to two pages) for each class and two longer essays (about eight pages in length).

101.09  

Mr. Perez                MW     10:30-11:45

The Instruction of Citizenship

Emma Lazarus’s celebrated poem, “The New Colossus,” identifies the Statue of Liberty as the “Mother of Exiles” welcoming the world’s “wretched” and “tempest-tost.”  However, the popular definition of the United States as a “nation of immigrants” repeatedly comes into crisis when the state faces the arrival of new groups. This course examines how literature by first- and second-generation Americans brings to light conditions that either bind or divide us as communities.  Beginning with but not limited to scenes of classroom instruction (literal and metaphorical), we consider at what sites the instructing of citizenship takes place and what it mean to be “naturalized” as an American. We also interrogate citizenship as a model of political inclusion. Some guiding questions for us: What do we gain or lose with assimilation?  How is “cultural citizenship” different from formal, legal citizenship?  How does immigrant writing respond to or disrupt abstract notions of American citizenship?  What is at stake in the language we use to describe displaced people(s): exiles, refugees, migrants, immigrants, asylees, etc…? What might popular culture teach us about citizenship?  

101.10  

Ms. Zlotnick             MWF   10:30-11:20

Jane Eyres

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre tells the story of a heated romance between a “poor, obscure, plain” governess and a Byronic landowner with a Gothic past. Published pseudonymously in 1847, the novel was a literary sensation as well as a bestseller, even though Brontë’s rebellious heroine upended nineteenth-century notions of propriety and femininity.  While popular in its day, Jane Eyre has also had a hypnotic hold on subsequent generations of writers, who have revised and re-imagined Brontë’s text in order to contest its representations of love, madness, colonialism, Englishness, feminism, and education.  In this freshman seminar, we will explore Jane Eyre’s complicated relationship with its literary descendants and ask fundamental questions about literary influence, canon formation, narration, and women’s writing.  In addition to Jane Eyre, readings may include Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.  We will also screen different film adaptations of Jane Eyre in addition to Hitchcock's Rebecca.  

ENGL 101.10 is offered at the same time as FREN 186.01 (Madame Bovarys). Students enrolled in ENGL 101.10 and FREN 186.01 will have opportunities for exchange and engagement with each other.

101.11

Ms. Mark                MR      12:00-1:15

Deception:  Some Truth About Lies

Narratives told by someone who can’t be trusted invite readers to explore the ambiguous border between truths and lies. An author’s perceptions may differ from those of the first-person narrator—the “I”—who tells the story, and that discrepancy opens up intriguing psychological space. “Good readers read the lines, better readers read the spaces,” the novelist John Barth has written. This section of English 101 will analyze both words and spaces—both what is said and what is unspoken or unspeakable. We’ll investigate a rogues’ gallery of unreliable narrators who bring varying degrees of mendacity, self-aggrandizement, and self-deception to the stories they tell. Then, from both literary and neuroscience perspectives, we’ll think about memory, the mind, and the brain. We’ll ask: Are memories always fallible? Are they ever-evolving stories we tell ourselves? Is remembering an act of creation rather than straightforward retrieval of the past? Are we all unreliable narrators? Authors may include Alison Bechdel, James Baldwin, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Lydia Davis, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ralph Ellison, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jamaica Kincaid, Tim O’Brien, Michael Ondaatje, George Orwell, Oliver Sacks, George Saunders, Charles Simic, Zadie Smith, and Oscar Wilde. Students will write both analytical and imaginative responses to the texts.

101.12

Mr. Means            TR       12:00-1:15
Into the Apocalyptic Landscape

This course will explore characters caught in the dreamscape of violence and apocalyptic visions that is perhaps unique to American history and culture, from slavery to skinheads to school shootings.  We'll examine the concept--coined by rock critic Greil Marcus--of Old Weird America, a folkloric history that has spawned murder ballads, the music of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, and a wide range of literary work, including poetry by Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Lucille Clifton, and Etheridge Knight; stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O'Connor, Christine Schutt, and Denis Johnson.  Longer works may include novels by William Faulkner, Gayle Jones, Robert Stone, William Vollmann, Hunter Thompson, and the graphic artist, Lynda Barry.

101.13

Ms. Funke              WF      9:00-10:15

Banned Books: Literature and Censorship

In 1928, a journalist wrote about Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness: "I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel." The book was subsequently banned as obscene in England, and all copies were ordered to be destroyed. On this course, we will examine the rich history of literature and censorship across different countries from the nineteenth century to the present day. We will explore various kinds of censorship, ranging from self-censorship to government-imposed bans. Who gets to decide whether a text is ‘dangerous’ or ‘obscene’? What are the different reasons for censorship? What effect does it have? What arguments have people made for and against censorship? Do we need censorship today? The texts we discuss may range from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Oscar Wilde’s Salome, James Joyce’s Ulysses, D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

101.14

Ms. Funke             WF      1:30-2:45

Banned Books: Literature and Censorship

In 1928, a journalist wrote about Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness: "I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel." The book was subsequently banned as obscene in England, and all copies were ordered to be destroyed. On this course, we will examine the rich history of literature and censorship across different countries from the nineteenth century to the present day. We will explore various kinds of censorship, ranging from self-censorship to government-imposed bans. Who gets to decide whether a text is ‘dangerous’ or ‘obscene’? What are the different reasons for censorship? What effect does it have? What arguments have people made for and against censorship? Do we need censorship today? The texts we discuss may range from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Oscar Wilde’s Salome, James Joyce’s Ulysses, D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

101.15

Ms. Kim               MW  12:00-1:15

Reading the Romance

Romance fiction accounts for over a quarter of all books sold annually with an estimated revenue of 1.37 billion dollars.  Though immensely popular, this genre is ignored by both academia and mainstream media. All other genre fictions—mystery, westerns, scifi, fantasy—have a place in the New York Times book review and in the college classroom. Yet, romance remains invisible. This class will consider why and how the genre has become culturally marginalized. What does romance’s historical trajectory and contemporary status say about gender, class, race, capitalist culture, and the shape of the literary canon? How did we get from the genre of romance being an important node in English literary production to a popular moneymaker but invisible cultural player? What about the audience? How do these reading communities from the Middle Ages to today impact the genre’s shape? We will explore a variety of romance texts in verse, prose, and drama including: Apollonius of Tyre, Lais of Marie de France, The Romance of Silence, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, St. Juliana, the works of Shakespeare, John Donne’s poetry, Aphra Behn’s Oronooko, Jane Austen’s Emma, E. M. Forster’s A Room with A View, and popular paperback romances.  

 

English 170

Entitled “Approaches to Literary Studies,” English 170 is designed as an introduction to the discipline of literary studies.  While each section has a different focus (see descriptions below), they have a common agenda: to explore the concerns and methods of the discipline.  Topics range from specific critical approaches and their assumptions to larger questions about meaning-making in literature, criticism, and theory.  Assignments will develop skills for research and writing in English, including the use of secondary sources and the critical vocabulary of literary study. 

As an introduction to the discipline, English 170 is recommended, but not required, for potential majors.  It is open to freshmen and sophomores, and others by permission. Although the ideal sequence of English courses for freshmen interested in majoring in English is English 101 in the Fall and 170 in the Spring, 101 is not a prerequisite for 170.  Freshmen wishing to take English 170 in the fall semester must have AP English credit. The English department does not recommend that students take 101 and 170 during the same semester.  Note that English 170 does not fulfill the Freshman Course requirement.

170.01

Mr. Antelyes             TR       10:30-11:45

Approaches to Literary Studies

Topic for 2017a:  Changing the Subject

Questions about the nature of subjectivity have become central to contemporary literary studies.  What is the relation between the subject of the work of literature and the subjectivity of the author who produced it?  How is that subjectivity constituted by and encoded in literary form?  How have specific subjectivities, as well as subjectivity in general, been conceptualized in literary history, criticism, and theory?  This course will consider such questions, and their implications for the study of literature generally, by focusing on current areas of contention over the claims of subjectivity, such as gender, sexuality, race, postcoloniality, and postmodernity.  Works may include Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (gender and sexuality); Gayl Jones’s Corregidora (race); Nicholson Baker’s

The Mezzanine (postmodernity); and Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (postcoloniality).  In addition to placing these texts in their historical and cultural contexts, we will explore a variety of critical perspectives, including semiotics, feminism, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies.

English 174 - 179 – Special Topics

Courses listed under these numbers are designed to offer to a wide audience a variety of literary subjects that are seldom taught in regularly offered courses.  The courses are six weeks in length, and the subjects they cover vary from year to year.  Enrollment is unlimited and open to all students.  Instructors lecture when the classes are too large for the regular seminar format favored in the English department.  These courses do not satisfy the Freshman Course requirement.  These courses are ungraded and do not count toward the major.   They may be repeated. 

177.01
Mr. Hsu                  MW     12:00-1:15
Special Topics

Topic for 2017a:  Imagining the City. This six-week course will survey various approaches to thinking and writing about the city. How do our surroundings change us? What power does an individual have to reshape or reimagine the vast urban landscape? We will consider the city via a range of topics, from the rise of automobiles and suburbs to the questions posed by gentrifcation, in a diverse array of depictions: the ethnic underground of Chang-rae Lee's Queens; the forlorn Baltimore depicted in the television show The Wire; the midnight wanderings of Teju Cole and Junot Diaz; the global bustle of Jessica Hagedorn's Manila; present-day graffiti artists and urban farmers reclaiming their “right to the city.”

1st Six Weeks.