ENGL 131 O: Composition: “Critical Approaches to Popular Fiction, Or, Harry Potter vs. Twilight”
Autumn Quarter 2010
MW 12:30-2:20 PM
THE CENTRAL QUESTIONS for our class are: What is academic writing? What is close reading? And what might the Harry Potter and Twilight series when read through the critical lenses of James Loewen or Mary Louise Pratt, tell us about our world? How might we use concepts like Loewen’s “heroification” or Pratt’s “contact zone” as a way to consider, research, and make claims about popular culture? Much like gazing into the Mirror of Erised, what does reading, thinking about, and writing about J.K. Rowling’s and Stephenie Meyer’s famed series–both books and films–offer us? What do we see, know, desire? Can we read these texts as more than children’s literature or fantasy? How do we engage popular fiction as academic texts, as an objects of analysis? Harry Potter and Twilight here, serves as the occasion for academic inquiry, research, and writing. In the first half of the quarter, we will engage the question of why teach Harry Potter at the university in the first place and how to critically read and write about Harry Potter. In the second half of the term, we will use these critical approaches to and arguments about Harry Potter as a way to read and write about Twilight.
A REQUIREMENT for this class is a well-developed curiosity about the world, about the culture we live in, and about the cultural productions we imagine, produce, and consume. Martin Lister and Liz Wells, authors of “Seeing Beyond Belief,” argue for just this kind of curiosity, a methodology for unpacking cultural productions. They say, “Cultural Studies allows the analyst to attend to the many moments within the cycle of production, circulation and consumption of [a text] through which meanings accumulate, slip and shift” (459). They argue that our understandings of identities, meanings, and power, as well as the intersections of cultural and social locations like race, gender, class, nation, and sexuality, can be excavated through the analysis of the texts we create and consume. This class will spend the quarter reading, thinking, writing about various academic perspectives routed through Harry Potter and Twilight, and how and what these texts argue, reveal, narrate, hide, perpetuate, and complicate the world we live in.