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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Erik B Jaccard
ENGL 242
Seattle Campus

Reading Prose Fiction

Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.

Class description

The year 2012 provides an appropriate occasion to consider the way the intertwined ideas of crisis, catastrophe, and apocalypse function within and inform our collective historical imagination. While each of these three concepts can be traced back to antiquity, what they have meant and how their dominant images and lexicons have been used has shifted across various times and places. Therefore, if crisis, catastrophe, and apocalypse are events—-moments we can examine—-they also imply a certain vocabulary, a way of critically viewing and interpreting these events. Furthermore, how and why these interpretations take place remains tied to the specific historical frameworks in which they occur. Modern prose fiction, and particularly the narrative novel, works much the same way, both reflecting and challenging the social and cultural conflicts of its historical moment.

This course will examine a wide variety of modern fiction in English which deploys representations of catastrophe and apocalypse as a way of mediating specific moments of social and historical crisis. While we will develop an understanding of what catastrophe fiction is and what it does, we will nonetheless pay strictest attention to how different writers manipulate its conventions for specific purposes. We will investigate how writers have used catastrophe narrative not only as a method of criticizing their taken-for-granted social, historical, and economic norms, but also as a way of intervening in, understanding, and transforming them.

We will likely read a number of short stories by authors such as Harlan Ellison, Joanna Russ, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and E.M. Forster, as well as the following novels: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham July’s People, by Nadine Gordimer The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

This class will focus on the practice of close reading, and the subsequent translation of our analytical success into well-crafted essays that make clear arguments based on evidence found in the text and other sources. Class time will be dedicated to comprehension, examination, close reading, and application of the texts we have read. Daily attendance, active participation, and a clear engagement with class materials are vital for your success in this course.

This course fulfills the University of Washington’s W-requirement. It will include 10-15 pages of graded, out-of-class writing, most likely in the form of two, 5-7 page term papers or two shorter papers and one longer course paper. The course may also include a presentation component, with the additional possibility of in-class quizzes, short writing assignments, etc.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

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.
Last Update by Erik B Jaccard
Date: 01/31/2012