ENGL 200 D: Reading Literary Forms: “Literatures of the Fantastic”
MTWTh 11:30 AM-12:20 PM
URSULA K. LE GUIN ASKS, in a now famous eponymous speech and essay, “Why are Americans afraid of dragons?” Central to her question and her argument about the reading, enjoyment, understanding, and analysis of literature, particularly fantasy and science fiction, is an engagement with the imagination, with other worlds, with our own world, with recovering the value of these things, and with growing up but not outgrowing our desire for the fantastic. She says, “For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.” This class will take up Leguin’s fascinating and provocative question and explore a long yet often dismissed or narrowly defined tradition of “fantastic” literature (and other media) including, in whole or in excerpt: Homer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Albert Einstein, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, Allen Ginsberg, Samuel R. Delany, Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, Maureen F. McHugh, Octavia E. Butler, and J.K. Rowling.
IN OTHER WORDS, what is fantastic literature? Is it more than just children’s stories or flights of fancy? Is it important? How do we read and understand fantasy or science fiction? What might the literature of the fantastic, in all of its incarnations, reveal to us and about us? A requirement for this class 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. We will try to answer Le Guin’s proposition that “fantasy is true” and the question, “Why are Americans afraid of dragons?”
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 literary to scholarly 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.