UPCOMING COURSE: ENGL 242 B: “Banned, Bowdlerized, and Burned: Reading (and Writing) as Political” (Spring 2011)

Here’s the course description and information about my upcoming Spring 200-level literature class:

ENGL 242 B: Reading Prose: “Banned, Bowdlerized, and Burned”
MTWTh, 9:30-10:20 AM

GIVEN THE RECENT, hullabaloo over the NewSouth Books’ “new and improved” version of Huckleberry Finn and the abridged reading of the Constitution by the House of Representatives majority, we will take up the question and challenge of understanding how reading is a political act. Maya Angelou once said, “When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” It is this sense that literature is important, that reading (and by extension writing) can reveal something about ourselves and the world, and that reading is a practice and lifeway maintained and sustained over time that is central to this class. In other words, literature is more than just words on a page, literacy is not a destination or a merit badge, and reading is as much about rereading as writing is as much about revising. This class will take up reading and rereading as critical practice by pointedly embracing literature considered controversial, inappropriate, subversive, or obscene. Many of these texts are commonly taught in high school curricula in the US and subsequently banned, bowdlerized, even burned because they are “dangerous.” We will rescue and re-catalyze this literature. This is not your usual high school novel class. Texts may include in whole or in excerpt the fiction of Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Franz Kafka, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Shirley Jackson, J.D. Salinger, Ray Bradbury, Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, and J.K. Rowling.

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. In other words, this class is about reading, critiquing, and analyzing our culture through literature. 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 fictions and how and what these texts argue, reveal, narrate, hide, perpetuate, and complicate the world we live in.

FINALLY, as a class, we will engage the techniques and practices of reading and enjoying literature. We will identify and develop different ways to read different kinds of texts–from fiction to scholarship to visual and digital–and understand and develop strategies, habits, and perspectives of reading, thinking, and writing. Foremost, we will read with pleasure and for pleasure. We will also rhetorically read, close read, read for analysis. And lastly, we will read and deploy literature as theory, as dramatizing the concerns, wonders, struggles, and politics of lived life and experience. The class counts for W credit, requiring you to complete 10-15 pages of revised writing including a set of short response papers culminating in a longer seminar paper project.

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