Tu/Th 02:00-03:30 115 Kroeber
Current Graduate Students
The purpose of this course is to improve your ability to write clearly, effectively, and accurately about literary subjects. The course works under the assumption that critical writing–and the kinds of thinking that lead to such writing–are a necessity for college students. The ability to write critically also represents a very significant step in one’s intellectual development more generally. The focus of this class will be on practicing the fundamental skills of writing and reading, both in class and out of class. Our topic as we do so will be totality.
Totalities (whether literary, social, or political) are rarely fixed entities. Totality entails both thinking about the world according to a wider scope, but also placing particular phenomena in relation to this broader whole. Our aim in this course is to consider the diverse ways in which totalities arise, with a special focus on literature. Thinking about totality enhances our understanding of how literary works present their readers with encompassing structures and relations. It shows us how the mind collects groups of phenomena and attempts to contain them through varying degrees of closure or more elastic rubrics. Totalities often group things through resemblance to other systems of consolidation.When the concept of totality appears in literature, it signifies images of the whole, as well as new relations between the whole and its parts. Here totalities are literary constructions and they are fabricated or delimited for different purposes. Totalities rarely exist in isolation, instead, they overlap, as is so often the case with competing notions of social totality.
Totality is a fecund concept. It can explain a language system. It can be a way to conceive of a human body and the trajectories of movement it makes. Totality even arises in everyday contexts through spatial movements which take place when urban dwellers engage in leisurely walks. Instead of thinking about totality as unlimited or ambiguous, we will examine it in terms of specific themes: movement and mobility, time, perception, and fluctuation. That said, we will primarily focus on this concept in terms of literary genre, the set of criteria which helps us to define different types of literary expression.
Writing literary works (and academic essays) involves rules which apply to the whole. The dynamic notion of literary totality will help us to explain developments and fluctuations in the rules for a genre like the novel. At the course’s inception, we will see how in Aristotle’s Poetics, totality involves a theory of genre for the forms of literature called tragedy and epic, while also stressing the value of a coherent plot with proper magnitude. We will then see how notions of totality are at the heart of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote. In Cervantes’ we will consider the emergence of the novel genre, seeing how overlapping and emergent notions of totality shed light on the question of literary world-formation.Later, focusing on a period in the early 20th-century known as modernism, we will see how through diverse literary experiments the rules of the novel can be rewritten. For example, we will look at how in Ulysses, James Joyce reconceived of the novel as a new type of literary whole. Totality also involves questions of time. Here we will see how modernist works like those of Joyce and Virginia Woolf approach the concept of totality through a literary interpretation of the idea of infinity.
Our notion of totality also extends beyond genre and time. Joyce’s Dublin and Woolf’s London, respectively, re-imagine urban space. We can thus create mental shapes of totalities through a complex “cognitive mapping” (Fredric Jameson’s term) that reconstructs urban space in terms of part and whole. Here we will turn to the French philosopher Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and his notionof “the itinerary.” For de Certeau, walking in the city creates different modes of an idea called “synecdoche” (the replacement of part for whole). Buttressed by brief selections from the work of the 18th-century British Empiricist David Hume, we will examine how the mind forms an idea of spatial totality on the basis of the impressions of objects. We wish to see how our impressions and ideas of space cohere (or fail to cohere) into stable images of totality or reliable narratives.
In examining these pressing issues, we will perform a significant amount of detailed analysis of various literary texts as well as analytic writing. We will learn how to perform sophisticated close-readings of passages from the assigned texts. Special focus will be placed on identifying and examining different literary techniques that authors employ as well as the effects of these literary techniques. We then plan to develop these dynamic interpretative skills in conjunction with learning how to formulate arguments and write well-structured papers. Ultimately the goal of the course is to learn how to write a superb academic essay, and to think in more clear, specific, and effective ways about literature and the arts in general.
Aristotle, The Poetics
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (Please note: this text will be read in selections)
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (read in selections)
James Joyce, Ulysses (read in selections)
Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being (read in selections), Mrs. Dalloway
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (read in selections)
Course Catalog Number: 17212