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Instructor Class Description

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Edmond Y Chang
ENGL 250
Seattle Campus

American Literature

Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.

Class description


ENGL250B: The American Imagination: Progress, Exploration, and Science Fictions

HENRY DAVID THOREAU ONCE SAID, “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” And central to the “American imagination” is a preoccupation with exploration, power, progress, innovation, and technology. It is no wonder then that writing about science, discovery, invention, and science fiction flourished in the United States. How then might we trace and track these themes, tropes, and formations as illuminating threads in American literatures from the US and its diaspora? What might these literatures reveal to us, reveal about us, and reveal about our culture? This class will take up these “threads” of possibility and impossibility in various American literatures, including texts not often considered sci fi, in order to see how and what these texts argue, narrate, hide, perpetuate, and complicate our understanding of American histories, politics, technologies, and ideologies. Texts may include in whole or in excerpt: Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Edward Bellamy, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, Elmer Rice, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, C.L. Moore, Vannevar Bush, Ray Bradbury, Allen Ginsberg, Ralph Ellison, Thomas Pynchon, Samuel Delaney, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, William Gibson, Don Delillo, Cory Doctorow, Octavia Butler, and others.

A REQUIREMENT for this class is a well-developed curiosity about the world, about the culture we live in, and about the cultural productions we imagine, produce, and consume. In other words, this class is about reading, critiquing, and analyzing our culture through literature. Martin Lister and Liz Wells, authors of “Seeing Beyond Belief,” argue for just this kind of curiosity, a methodology for unpacking cultural productions, such as novels or images or websites or film; they say, “Cultural Studies allows the analyst to attend to the many moments within the cycle of production, circulation and consumption of [a text] through which meanings accumulate, slip and shift” (Reading Contexts 459). They argue that our understandings of identities, meanings, and power, as well as the intersections of cultural and social locations like race, gender, class, nation, and sexuality, can be excavated through the analysis of the texts we create and consume. This class will spend the quarter reading, thinking, writing about various literatures and how and what these texts argue, reveal, narrate, hide, perpetuate, and complicate the world we live in.

FINALLY, as a class, we will engage the techniques and practices of reading and enjoying literature. We will identify and develop different ways to read different kinds of texts—from verse to prose to visual and digital—and understand and develop strategies, habits, and perspectives of reading, thinking, and writing. Foremost, we will read with pleasure and for pleasure. We will also rhetorically read, close read, read for analysis. And lastly, we will read and deploy literature as theory, as dramatizing the concerns, wonders, struggles, and politics of lived life and experience.

We will do a bit of writing in this class and W Credit arrangements are available. The class will also include film and new media texts.


Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Required assignments include weekly, short critical response papers, one in-class presentation, and generous participation in discussion and online on the course blog. Arrangements can be made for students that want the "W" credit for the course.

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.
See course website for additional information.
Last Update by Edmond Y Chang
Date: 12/28/2008