Christopher B. Patterson
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
The Social Pleasures of Genre Fiction
The literary critic Roland Barthes famously divided novels of “pleasure”—formulaic, enjoyable texts that follow conventions—from novels of “bliss”—novels that shake-up our way of seeing the world, and that cause intense joy rather than sedate pleasure. Often texts of bliss are reserved for the classroom, while texts of pleasure are what we turn to for our “guilty pleasure.”
This class will question these assumptions about texts of pleasure and bliss through an investigation of genre fiction novels, which are produced within the bounds of particular niche markets, such as Science Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, Coming of Age, Action-Adventure, Horror, and Mystery. We will consider how genre conventions are formed historically, socially and politically, and how conventional forms, like Fantasy, can smuggle along particular values and political positions. How can genre conventions be used to expose socially conventional ways of seeing race, gender, class and sexuality? What value-laden assumptions are inherent in particular genres, and how have such genres been appropriated over time to reflect social, economic or political changes?
To direct our inquiry, we will focus on authors from marginalized social groups who have appropriated genre conventions to make new critiques, create new worlds, and expand the genre for future writers and readers. We will read W.E.B. Du Bois’ Dark Princess and Otonno Watanna’s A Japanese Nightingale to explore how these writers have used Romance and Coming of Age to expose deeply held assumptions about race, nation and masculinity. In a similar mode, we will read Octavia Butler’s Dawn to look at Science Fiction, Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea to look at Fantasy, and Rudolfo Anaya’s Zia Summer to look at Detective Fiction.
This course fulfills the University of Washington’s W-requirement and VLPA requirement. As such it will include 10-15 pages of graded, out-of-class writing, in the form of three short papers.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading