Timothy J Welsh
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
For AUTUMN 2007: In “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag criticizes a style of engaging works of art that “digs ‘behind’ the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. ” Though polemical at its time of publication in 1964, Sontag’s thesis was not a new one. The history of American literature, in fact, features a tradition of addressing this very “X is really - or, really means – A” style of interpretation. As far back as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s narratives about Puritan society it seems US authors recognized, just as Sontag does, that “interpretation” is a particular problem in America. This class will take up Sontag’s charge and will focus on the theme of interpretation as it appears in US Literature from Puritans to the Postmodernists. Surveying major literary works and forms in a basically chronological order, we will attempt to answer the inevitable question, if not interpretation, then what? Due to the nature of our inquiry, participation will be expected regularly and writing assignments will be frequent. Readings will likely include Mather, Edwards, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Emerson, Stevens, Eliot, Williams, Stein, Evans and Agee, Pynchon, and Auster. Most will come from a course pack. Required text will include The Scarlett Letter, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and either The Crying of Lot 49 or City of Glass.
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