M/W/F 12:00-01:00 89 Dwinelle Instructor: Nicole Jones

Literary traditions have developed and continually redefined the often complex relations between author, poet, narrator, character, and reader in literature.

“An excellent poet – who is called divine for no other reason except that by working like the supreme Artificer he comes to share in his divinity – can shape a poem in which, as in a little world, we read of mustering armies, land and sea battles, conquests of cities,… drought and starvation, tempests, fires, prodigies;… and see sedition, discord, wanderings, adventures, enchantments, cruelty, boldness, courtesy, kindness, and love – sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes joyous, sometimes pitiful.”

– Torquato Tasso, 1544-1595

Literary traditions have developed and continually redefined the often complex relations between author, poet, narrator, character, and reader in literature. The author implicates himself in the narrative intentionally or unintentionally, offering overt or subtle commentaries, opinions, digressions, or self-reflections. The first person narration proves biased, unreliable, limited in the perspective of the storyteller. Even the “omniscient,” godlike voice can be destabilized by the poet’s subjectivity or self-conscious awareness of herself.


So, how does the poet figure into his poem, the author into her text? In a given piece of literature, are there clear relationships between author, narrator, poet-persona, and the world, space, and characters of their texts? What kind of (divine) insight does the narrator claim to have, and how does her authorial voice affect the characters of the text? How does the poem as a place of communication between these authorial figures and their readers become a space for such exchange?


We will begin our exploration into these questions around the literary figure of the poet-persona with Dante’s Inferno, tracing the “poet-pilgrim” relationship that governs the narrative of the otherworldly descent, and examining both the author’s self-fashioning as a voice of authority within the poetic space that he constructs, and the divine inspiration with which he purports to write. Using our understanding of Inferno as an essential foundation, we will read a range of literary works that develop the role and agenda of the poet/narrator/author within the text; the space of the text as meta-poetic, spectacular, and/or theatrical; and the problem of narrative claims of insight, which can successfully suspend (our) disbelief or else culminate in the limits of sight and the failure of language.


Additional texts may include selections from authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Francis Petrarch, François Rabelais, Michel de Montaigne, Christopher Marlowe, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Franz Kafka, Tom Stoppard, and Marguerite Duras.


Course Objectives

While these questions and proposed texts will furnish us with material for rich discussions, this class is chiefly geared toward improving your analytical writing skills. We will concentrate on both mechanics and style, learning how to read closely, formulate interesting arguments, gather evidence, and organize claims into persuasive essays. Over the course of the semester, you will produce approximately 32 pages of written work through a gradual process of drafting, editing, reviewing, and revising. The assignments will also include shorter close reading papers, in-class reading quizzes, and a research paper, satisfying the R1B course requirement.