English 38: Spring 1999

Shelley Reid, Austin College

English 38: Interpreting Literature -- To Boldly Go...

Course Description and Brief Explanations

See also the Syllabus and Assignment pages for this course, and the Space/Time Continuum page of attendance and late policies.

To Explore Strange (New) Worlds...

English 38 is primarily a course in exploration. One main goal is to introduce you to the wide variety of odd life-forms inhabiting contemporary literary studies: genres and terminologies, critical theories of reading and writing, electronic forums, research sources reliable and otherwise, and alien beings having heated conversations about topics that probably haven't shown up on your scanners before.

Of course, sometimes the worlds close to home are worth exploring, too. So a second goal is to prepare you to continue exploring literature and reactions to it that seemed familiar and ordinary but which may prove to be quite intriguing upon a second look. Thus this course has a strong emphasis on the recursive processes of exploring familiar territory: rereading, reconsidering, reviewing, and rewriting.

My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts.

Few people have Vulcan mind-reading abilities or even the fuzzy empathic abilities of a character like Deanna Troi--yet literature is a public art, a form of communication that in turn aims to generate further communication. Since a significant part of participating in a community of literature scholars is exchanging ideas and learning to see from other points of view, a significant part of this course will also support the exploration of clear expression: through small group discussions, electronic conversations, peer review, and formal oral presentations.

I'm a doctor, Jim, not a bookstore....

Required Texts: An Introduction to Literature (Barnet/Berman/Burto/Cain), The Awakening (Chopin, ed. by Walker), "Sweat" (Hurston, ed. by Wall).

Optional Texts: Bedford Glossary (Murfin & Ray) & A Writer's Reference (Hacker). You will have steady short reading assignments from the Glossary; copies will be on reserve at Abell, but those of you planning further literary study might find it a useful purchase. If you do not already own a writer's handbook, it may be time to purchase one, and Hacker's the best deal going.

Etc. You will be required to write on or near the texts as part of reading actively; if you plan to re-sell the books at the end of the semester you need to invest now in pencils & erasers, post-it stickers, a photocopy fund, and/or other notetaking devices. You should also purchase two or three sturdy pocket folders (just the most basic kind: please, no three-hole brads, plastic slipcovers, or ring binders) to use for handing in your writing assignments.

Until they invent replicators, reuse/recycle is the best we can do; you are strongly encouraged to print notes, drafts, and even "final" assignments on the backsides of previously used paper.

Plot a course for May 7th, Mr. Data

See Assignments Page for more information about the following topics.

The first four weeks of this course will focus on close reading and clarity of written and spoken communication. In this "Phase I," you will read widely, check in with your peers occasionally, and write two short essays. As part of "Phase II," you will focus on polishing your individual analytical and writing skills, and revise and expand an earlier essay.

The middle section of the semester will provide opportunities for re-reading the earlier texts from a variety of viewpoints. Kate Chopin's short novel The Awakening, and a collection of critical essays on that novel, will give us the chance to experiment with a range of critical "lenses" through which to see literature. As part of this "Phase III," you will write an exploration essay that touches on at least two alternative critical perspectives.

The final five weeks will move away from assigned reading, set terminology, and prearranged perspectives into individual, independent research and writing. As part of "Phase IV," you will use all your literary scholarship skills to do in-depth research on a topic of your choice, producing a short annotated bibliography and a final analytical essay. You will also give a brief oral presentation to the class based on your discoveries and theories.

Along the way, we'll spend time in formal and informal discussion groups. There will be four formal Discussion Group Meetings during class. For each one, you will bring copies of a brief set of discussion starters. We will also experiment with e-mail and other electronic discussion forums. Consistent participation in one form or another will be expected. To encourage you to keep up with the reading, several short quizzes of relatively low intensity and impact will be given throughout the course.

Attendance, in body and mind, and on time, is expected. (See Space-Time Continuum sheet). You are responsible for making up the work missed, in advance if possible, on any days you are absent. If you plan to miss a class, please notify me, in writing, in advance.

Rules of Acquisition #96-111.


Class time: This is a class more about processes than products. Active students, even (or perhaps particularly) those acting out of uncertainty rather than out of knowledge, will gain more from it. The nature of exploration is that it generates more questions than answers. Moreover, you must take initiative to find answers to the questions generated by this class: participation both in and out of class, as well as patience with the texts, other students, and your own frustrations will make this course significantly more valuable to you.

Reading time: There is more material listed on the syllabus than we can "officially" cover in class. This directly benefits you: more selections give you more opportunities to find a piece that you like or understand or respond to or are curious about, which allows you to have some moments of enjoyment and makes finding topics for Discussion Starters and essays a lot less horrifying. Try not to give in to the temptation to read passively or inattentively: take notes both on and away from the texts themselves, since we will be returning to these texts throughout the course. In Phase III, an alternate reading strategy may make more sense: aim to comprehend the major principles and arguments, and to generate questions about the theories and details that seem less obvious. Exploring your own reading habits, and finding alternate approaches where necessary, is central to this class.

If you need special assistance or assignment modifications to complete the requirements for this class, they will be provided upon request.

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