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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Christopher John-F Martin
ENGL 200
Seattle Campus

Reading Literary Forms

Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.

Class description

James McLaverty once paraphrased F. W. Bateson in order to draw our attention to the difference between permanent and fleeting works of art:

“If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where are Hamlet and Lycidas?”

This paradoxical question asks us to consider that if the physical object that is the Mona Lisa exists spatially, where do non-material performance-based art like Hamlet or Lycidas exist? Is “Hamlet” located in each performance, in the copies of the stageplay, in the earliest known surviving exemplars, or in a hypothetical “ideal”? In this class we will discuss the nature of text, of authority, and of editions. We will critically engage with the source material by looking at multiple versions of works of art.

What Is Textual Studies?

Textual studies is often defined as the study of the physicality of an artifact, but what is it really? Is it the study of a text's content and form? Of authority? Of the history of the codex, the papyrus roll? Of versions, editions, and revisions? All of the above? Since the field of study is known to co-opt terms and ideologies from literary theory, numismatics, palaeolography, linguistics, digital photo manipulation and myriad other fields, it has rightly been called, by D. C. Greetham, an “anti-discipline” that “has no definable Fach, or subject matter.” In this definition textual studies sounds very much like an amorphous blob that absorbs and assimilates whatever it touches: think “Trapper Keeper 3000” from South Park.

This class has been designed to give this “anti-discipline” some Fach. We will be covering a great deal of content, spanning multiple cultures, literary movements, genres, and continents, so our theoretical focus (editorial theory) will be our organizing factor. Each theoretical discussion that accompanies the texts has real-world consequences. How do readers interpret texts? Which edition is “best”? Is the text you’re reading the text the author intended (whatever that means)?

Literature we will likely read: (from the Old English period 7-10th centuries) Caedmon's Hymn, Genesis A&B, (the Middle English period, 14th century) Piers Plowman, (19th century) Mary Shelley, Keats, (20th century) Marianne Moore (selected poems), Vladimir Nabokov Pale Fire, Jorge Luis Borges (selected short fiction), (21st century) Judd Morrissey The Jew's Daughter. We will probably also watch a film (TBA) that will be scheduled to be viewed on an as-of-yet unscheduled out-of-class day.

The reading load of this class will be rigorous, and the content difficult, but rewarding. Attentiveness to the literature and criticism is a requirement. Students will be required to write weekly Go-Postings, commenting on critical positions raised in the texts or in class. In addition, each student (with a group of 3 others) will give one 15 minute presentation of a selected text and then lead classroom discussion that day. Since this 200 level literature course is also a W-course, students are required to write two 5-7 page essays over the course of the quarter. Paper topics must be submitted in writing to me two weeks before the paper is due. In preparation for the second paper, students will select a single edition of a work of literature and keep a journal as they go through it. For this second paper, students will be asked to answer this question about their selected edition: “Are there any interpretive consequences to a scholarly edition of the work? What are they?”

For more information on W-course requirements, see the University of Washington description:

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Course texts must be read by the day assigned. Recommended intelligent note-taking, scrutiny of assigned texts.

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
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Last Update by Christopher John-F Martin
Date: 06/24/2011