Reading & Composition

Reading & Composition

Just A Touch of Magic
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Max Kaisler and Yana Zlochistaya
12:30-2 PM
Hearst Annex B1

A barber wakes up one morning without his nose.

An old man with wings shows up in the courtyard of a small town.

The Devil disguised as a professor decides to pay a visit to 1930s Moscow.

All these stories fall under the umbrella of what scholars call magical realism. Magical realism is one of those vague literary terms that becomes harder to define the closer you look into it. Put simply, it describes a genre of literature which imbues an otherwise realistic world with an element of the magical or supernatural. In this course, we will be reading a (by no means exhaustive) selection of works of magical realism by authors from around the world, with a focus on South America, the former USSR, and the United States. These texts will allow us to think about a variety of issues: Where is the boundary between the real and the magical? What happens to a text when that boundary suddenly blurs? How might including an element of the fantastical in an otherwise realistic narration allow the author, and the reader, to confront the issues of the everyday?

Every class session will be divided between a discussion of the assigned texts and a writing workshop. Together, we will work on sharpening both sets of skills—close reading and critical writing. But the acts of reading and writing are not easily separable; expanding our literary toolbox allows us to produce more nuanced prose, while learning to write carefully allows us to bring a greater clarity to the text. Much like the literary works we will read and watch over the course of the semester demonstrate the permeability of the fantastical and the real, our course seeks to emphasize the permeability between reading and writing as essential to producing thoughtful and well-written work.

Though writing is generally thought of as a solitary activity, the most interesting ideas arise through dialogue, and as we move through these texts, we expect and encourage everyone to take part in that dialogue. Good writing engages in conversation with a text, and those conversations often begin in the class setting. That said, we want to acknowledge that everyone comes into this class with different writing backgrounds and experiences. That’s why the assignments are structured to build off of one another, ensuring that you have a strong foundation before moving on to more complex tasks. In the first third of the semester, you will compose three close reading assignments. Then, you will expand one of those assignments into a close reading essay which presents an original argument about one of the class texts. Finally, you will write a comparative paper which combines close reading with an analysis of two of our class texts. For each of the two major essays, you will be asked to submit both a completed draft and a final paper with significant revisions.

We look forward to exploring the nebulous realms of fiction together with all of you.

This course fulfills the first half of the university R&C requirement, and as such, its primary function is to develop your writing skills. We will be spending time breaking down how to engage critically with a text and how to compose a high-quality college essay, from brainstorming to revision. Please note that this course is reading and writing intensive.