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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Donald L Anderson
ENGL 200
Seattle Campus

Reading Literary Forms

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.

Class description

“There is Nothing I Don’t Like, Only Things I Don’t Know How to Like”

I often find myself reflecting on the above phrase whenever I am faced with a work of literature, a poem, painting, piece of music, or film that appears to foil my preconceived expectations of what art is supposed to be. Certainly there is a kind of “pleasure” in seeing a film and having your expectations fulfilled, for example; identifying closely with the main character; vicariously watching that character overcome an impossible obstacle; and sharing in that character’s gradual resolving of the main conflict in the story. But, perhaps there is a different kind of pleasure involved in being “tricked” by a work of art and not receiving what you expected? Is this a perverse kind of pleasure? Imagine being able to discover new pleasures while developing the critical and analytical habits of mind that would allow you to appreciate literature or a film that escapes your preconceived expectations. Encountering challenging works of literature, music, and film (as we will in this class) will provide you with a dare. Can you think on the level that these texts are thinking? Will you, in doing so, reach a richer and more complex level of understanding and appreciation of the human condition? If we can agree that art is somehow “beyond human”—that it attempts to widen our perceptions and sensations and expose us to new ways of understanding, seeing, and feeling the world around us—then shouldn’t we all strive to become more than human? This will be our goal in English 200—to think beyond our current abilities and to become more than human by absorbing the lessons of these challenging texts.

One of the key ways to achieve the above goal will be to read texts that attempt to explicitly expose the act of reading for what it is: an active, frustrating, pleasurable, push-and-pull exercise that ultimately resists a final definition of itself. What is reading? What is this “thing” we do and more importantly, what is our role and what are our responsibilities upon opening a book? This course will challenge preconceived notions and definitions of the terms “reader,” “text,” and “author.” Often these terms are accepted at face value and as self-evident. However, as we investigate their possible roles during the act of reading literature we might find that they fail to maintain their popular definitions. However, whatever anxiety resulting from such an investigation will productively fuel our class discussions and your own writing. And, if we go about it effectively, the anxiety itself will become pleasurable and we’ll no longer see anxiety and pleasure as polar opposites.

To this end we will read Italo Calvino’s uncannily self-referential novel “If on a winter’s night a traveler”; Mark Z. Danielewski’s encyclopedic and labyrinthine “House of Leaves”; and Thomas Pynchon’s unresolved and postmodern short novel “The Crying of Lot 49,” as well as short stories by Shelley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. We will also be reading short critical work that explores the act of reading. In order to further our inquiry into the nature of reading literature and enrich our discussion of literature we will also consider film (Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”) and music (Miles Davis, J.S. Bach, Steve Reich, John Cage) that, like the above literary texts, invites engaged and active participation and challenges our expectations.

The assigned writing for this class will take the form of various short writing assignments, and 2 short papers that together fall within the scope of 10-15 pages (with required revisions). There will also be opportunities to peer-review one another’s work. Participation in class discussion is absolutely necessary. Please be prepared to be challenged in this class. The readings are difficult but infinitely rewarding. Since this is a “W” course we will also spend some time on composition and revision. Each paper will be read and commented on with revision in mind.

Books: Mark Z. Danielewski, “House of Leaves,” Italo Calvino, “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” Thomas Pynchon, “The Crying of Lot 49” Shelley Jackson, “My Body,” (available online)

Film: Quentin Tarantino, “Pulp Fiction”

Course Packet: “The Big Money” (short excerpt), John Dos Passos “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World,” Thomas Ligotti “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault “Inhabiting House of Leaves,” N. Katherine Hayles “Liminal Terror and Collective Identity,” Matt Cardin * slight shifting of texts in the course packet only may occur between now and the beginning of Spring Quarter.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

lecture, class discussion, groups

Recommended preparation

if you want to read ahead, we'll be reading Calvino's novel first.

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 Donald L Anderson
Date: 01/29/2010