Matthew J Vechinski
Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.
“Borrowed Literature: Investigating Inclusiveness and Exclusiveness in Literary Traditions”
We recognize a poem or work of fiction as literature by comparing it to other texts we deem literary, from which we have constructed a general definition. The literature that we still read today is usually highly valued for its originality, but that measure is of course a relative one, and many times what was once innovative now seems commonplace. Our general definition of literature expands every time we welcome a departure from the norm, absorbing the force of the new. And perhaps that makes literature as a concept rather unwieldy, or even devalues it, because it is too inclusive--or that could mean that our definition becomes refreshingly democratic.
Allusions, generic conventions, thematic similarities, character types, and parody allow for continuity of a literary tradition, thereby helping us to define literature, but they are also evidence that texts borrow from one another. To an extent this borrowing is tolerated and even expected. But how much and what kind of borrowing is too unusual, and how does unusual borrowing make us rethink the value of the specific texts and the definition of literature? How does borrowing change our regard for the works that become the lenders? In the face of borrowing, how do we reassess the values we associate with literature, such as originality?
We will pursue those questions throughout the quarter by reading several examples of unusual borrowing. First we will read a section from _Don Quixote_ and consider how Cervantes draws from the picaresque tradition to create what some have called the first modern novel. Next we will explore the highly allusive poetry of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and consider how some critics viewed the intentional difficulty of their modernist poems as a mark of literary achievement. Kathy Acker parodies and plagiarizes Arthur Rimbaud and William Faulkner in service of postmodern angst, and we will read her novel _In Memoriam to Identity_ to consider how borrowing can be creative with and critical of lender texts, as well as disrupt tradition. We will conclude with Derek Walcott’s book-length poem _Omeros_, exploring how its cross-cultural and cross-historical borrowing transposes Homer’s _Odyssey_ to an island in the Caribbean, formerly a colony of France and Britain. In addition to these four principal texts, we will read related shorter fiction and poems from a variety of periods and national traditions (including summaries and excerpts from lender texts), and criticism and theory pertaining to intertexuality and literary history.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading
English 200 is designated as a writing-intensive “W” course, and accordingly you will complete a series of essay assignments that together make up well over half of your final grade. You will be graded on how well you use certain modes of inquiry essential to writing about literature that you will learn as part of the course. Expect to write four major papers: two essays centered on a close reading of a literary text (two pages in length each), an essay pairing a critical piece with a close reading of a literary text (three pages in length), and an essay that makes an argument about a topic related to the course theme that will require that you use three readings, both literary texts and critical pieces together (five pages in length).