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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

E. Laurie George
ENGL 440
Seattle Campus

Special Studies in Literature

Themes and topics offering special approaches to literature.

Class description

English 440: Special Studies in Literature Section B: Double Exposures: Literary Character and Reader Salvation Fall 2009 T/Th 4:30 JHN 111 Dr. Laurie George

"As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.¨

Kay Eiffel, writer and character, "Stranger than Fiction"

"The limitations on the comparative analysis of literary fiction and the feature film are dominated by the socio-political situation of the two forms and disciplines which examine them. Literary fiction is an elite, privileged form--one which is legitimated by its commitment to an objective of excellence, however that is defined; while the feature film is produced by a commercial industry which is unable to survive without creating a popular audience. . . . The discomfort of the literary critic with popular cultural forms has a long and distinguished history . . . Similarly, film studies; recognition of its situation as an area which has had to establish its respectability has produced a jealous wariness of the imperialism of other disciplines. . . . So the limited degree of intercourse that occurs between the two disciplines has to deal with suspicions of elitism and imperialism on the one hand, and accusations of 'trendiness' on the other."

--Graeme Turner "National fictions: film, fiction, and culture"

"I still believe that we can act when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things and that here and now we will meet history's test, because that's who we are. That is our calling. That is our character." --President Barack Obama in a 9/9/09 Speech to Congress

Conventional wisdom tells us to turn to psychotherapy or philosophy or religion or history rather than to literature and film for words of wisdom, for insights into the human mind and heart. This course would widen that lens, focusing upon a source of salvation given only marginal attention in contemporary culture: fictional characterization. In particular, this course tests the benefits of analyzing characterization in our age of multimedia, when the person silently printed on the page is also embodied and enacted on radio or screen. In tandem, contemporary literary characterizations might combine forces to "save our lives."

Our primary means of investigating this theory to gain insightful, critical revelations will be in-depth, multi-genre studies of literary characterization in print and in audio/film adaptations of fictional narratives.

Some central questions for research and discussion over the course of the quarter:

 What constitutes “character” in life and in literature, both in the past but particularly in the present?

 Are we in contemporary society more or less likely to flatten existing traits of “character” into “caricature,” shaped as we can be by conventional cultural norms and relying on vague or conflicting notions about what it means to “have character”?

 Can the study of literary characterizations broaden and deepen our study of actual people while enriching our own moral and mental selves--while saving our lives?

 Do audio and visual adaptations flesh out character profiles, fusing words in print with resonant-voiced actors so as to allow readers richer insights into literary characters and conflicts?

 Should we adjust our aesthetic values, viewing multimedia and traditional print literatures as literary complements rather than competitors as a means of enhancing our own lives, our own characters?

Course work includes a willingness to challenge one's current aesthetic values about film and literature; weekly engaged, in-person critical discussion; online research of literary and film terms via UW databases; critical written analysis of stories and films, as well as published reviews and critiques of those stories and films; a midterm and final examination. Course texts to purchase at the University Bookstore include novels adapted into films; I will add stories and critical film texts to this list according to availability and cost, so please attend class before you purchase the books.

I will also make available short stories that cannot be found online.

Film adaptations will be screened in class for course discussion, and class attendance for these screenings is required. For review of films for the midterms and final examinations, you will be expected to rent or otherwise check out from libraries these same films. Again, please attend class before buying any books, as DVD availability might affect the textbook orders before the first day of the quarter.

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 E. Laurie George
Date: 03/28/2013