Reading & Composition
Experiments in Biography: The Forms and History of the “Self”
Popular culture today depends in part on a widespread agreement about what determines a “person,” or what constitutes an “identity”—the must-have elements of a biography. Nevertheless, these topics have recently generated intense controversies and public debates, which often involve literary and philosophical works. In this class, we will study how novels, poetry, essays, film, and other artistic and theoretical forms have dealt with the responsibility of representing persons, whether fictional or historical. We will ask: what stylistic or aesthetic patterns can we observe in depictions of characters? What is the ideological significance or effect of such patterns? Can we spot meaningful differences in representations of subjectivity across historical periods or cultural spaces?
Since this is an R&C course, its major goals are to improve students’ skills in close reading, critical thinking, and analytical writing, and to explore the relationships between the three skills. Students will discuss and write critical responses to the texts and materials in the course. Readings include Augustine, Rousseau, Dickinson, Sarmiento, Woolf, Johnson, Sartre, Hideo Kobayashi, Gide, Stevens, Eliot, Ashbery, Pessoa, Plath, Borges, Yukio Mishima and Barthes.
This course fulfills part of the University’s R&C (Reading and Composition) requirement.