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Reading Closely, Reading Historically

Semester and Year FA 2015
Course Number IDSEM-UG1840
Section 001
Instructor Gregory Vargo
Days MW
Time 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM


Now open to all.


What does it mean to read closely? How does a work of literature change as you learn more about its historical context or the history of its own production? This is a class on reading and perspective meant to cultivate our skills as students of literature or other kinds of texts. In the first half of the semester, we will approach short stories and lyric poems (drawn from a variety of periods and genres) as worlds unto themselves, taking seriously the texts’ internal logic while probing their peculiarities, ambiguities, and paradoxes. We will attend to how poetry fuses intellectual, emotional and aesthetic concerns while developing a shared vocabulary in order to better understand and describe the ways poets utilize wordplay, figurative expression (such as metaphor, synesthesia, and synecdoche), and sonic devices (like rhyme and rhythm) as they transform ordinary language into art. For fiction, we will consider how stories are narrated, their arrangement of time and space, their experiments with point of view, and the ways in which they instantiate character. In the second half of the semester, our perspective will broaden as we look at two case studies. We will set Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel  Jane Eyre  against the backdrop of nineteenth-century ideas about women’s work, the cult of the home and domesticity, the early feminist movement, and roiling debates about the British empire, all issues which intersect Brontë’s strange novel, which is at once a coming-of-age story, a spiritual memoir, and a Gothic romance. Similarly, we will explore how issues of race, diaspora, and urban life shape Langston Hughes’s 1949 poetry volume  One-Way Ticket . In the process, we will consider how literary forms themselves are marked by genre (a different kind of history) as they play with and against longstanding conventions.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)