Tu/Th 08:00-09:30 210 Dwinelle Instructor: Laura Wagner

Can a work of the imagination teach us anything about real life? Can literature make us better people or thinkers, and if so, how does it convey its moral or intellectual lessons? Or does it instead provide dangerous  temptations and immoral models, leading readers astray?

Comparative Literature R1A:1

T/Th 8:10-9:30, 210 Dwinelle

Spring 2017

Laura Wagner

l.wagner@berkeley.edu

Book Learning:

What Can Literature Teach Us?

Can a work of the imagination teach us anything about real life? Can literature make us better people or thinkers, and if so, how does it convey its moral or intellectual lessons? Or does it instead provide dangerous  temptations and immoral models, leading readers astray?  What distinguishes a good reader from a bad reader, and how do literary texts ask us to relate to their stories? How does the form of a literary text act on its readers? Where should we locate the value of a literary work: in the lessons it can teach us, in the entertainment it provides, in the beauty of its form and expression, or somewhere else?

These are just some of the questions that we’ll explore in this course, and we’ll approach them by reading and discussing a range of novels, short stories, poems, plays, and essays from a number of literary traditions and time periods. We’ll look at texts that are skeptical about literature and its influence, meeting characters who overly-identify with the fictional worlds they consume in books and are led astray by bad reading practices. We’ll consider works that put forth defenses of literature and its educative potential and whose authors think literary texts, and art more generally, might be an essential part of our intellectual, social, moral, or political formation. We’ll also evaluate arguments about different types of literature, examining how the form of a text acts on its readers.

With these literary works as our common terrain, we’ll devote ourselves to the development of critical reading and analytical writing skills, learning to become more careful readers and to advance increasingly complex interpretive arguments about literary texts. Course requirements include active class participation, daily in-class reading responses, a diagnostic paper, two close reading papers, and first and revised drafts of two analytic papers. Students in this course can expect to read (and reread) carefully and to write extensively over the course of the semester.

Required Texts:*

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

China Miéville, Embassytown

Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

*Wherever you choose to purchase your books, please buy the specific edition on order in the university bookstore.  Please obtain hard copies (as opposed to e-books) of all required course texts.

A course reader will contain Antigone by Sophocles, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursual K. Le Guin; poems by Marianne Moore, William Wordsworth, and John Keats; excerpts from Plato’s Republic, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Aristotle’s Poetics, Friedrich Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, and George Eliot’s Adam Bede; and selected chapters of Writing Analytically and other writing guides.