20 April 2012

Ideas for Classes

Classes I'd like to teach, someday.


ENGL480: Labelmaker
Kierkegaard famously said, "Label me, and you negate me," referring to the obliterating power of categorization on a person's individuality.  Much of contemporary literary theory is focused on genres and labels, such as feminist, post-colonial, fantasy, or postmodern.  This course will explore the power and danger inherent in such labels, and the associated expectations.  Primary texts will include Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union as a work of counter-historical fiction, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar as a feminist text, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit as a children's book and fantasy, and Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as a political and science fiction book.  A heavy engagement with critical theory will also demand an examination of the work of Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, and other prominent theorists.

ENGL353: Matryoshka
Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, Jose Luis Borges' short stories "Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", and Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, as works of deliberate obfuscation that function as larger puzzles. The reader's initial expectations are part of the author's plan of misdirection, eventually being turned around to a surprising final conclusion.  There are dangers and advantages in this approach, but it can turn a narrative into a metatextual game, as the reader's uncertainty and gradual realizations are anticipated by a careful inlaid plan.  The course will attempt to ascertain the mechanics of such writing, discovering the method by which the author builds their maze.

ENGL221: Grand Theft Classic
This course explores the liberal borrowing and rewriting in which playwrights have indulged from time immemorial, focusing on Aeschylus' The Libation Bearers, Seneca's Thyestes, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, Joseph Addison's Cato, and Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Mouches.  Seneca stole Aeschylus' dramatic conventions.  Shakespeare stole Seneca's plot.  Addison stole Seneca's characterization.  And Sartre stole almost the whole of Aeschylus' play.  What is the line between tribute and theft?  Can there be any true writing, or is there only rewriting?

ENGL314: Wikiliterature
The essence of scholarship is the determined expansion and dissemination of knowledge, but in a fluid and uncertain environment, can any work of reference be said to be "finished."  "Wikiliterature" will examine unfinished texts, edited texts, and ambiguous texts in order to decipher the gap between an author's intentions and his results.  Special attention will be paid to the various contradictory versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the metatextual ideas of Jose Luis Borges, and the critical theory of reader-response.  Students will also spend time learning how to contribute to Wikipedia, a contemporary example of a fluid text.

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