Reading & Composition
Prolonging Life: The Short Story
The short story delights in paradox: at once dependent upon brevity and capaciousness, it promises more than it can ever deliver. Deprived of the great spatial expanse that longer works afford, a short story must begin immediately, must attack the reader rather than simply welcome them in. Similarly, it must in its beginning move inexorably and maliciously toward its ending. While standard tropes of the genre protest that for a short story to earn its due, a character must learn something, a movement must be enacted, a world must be unveiled, the stories we will encounter accomplish none of these things. The short story demands a logic of exclusion, yet this exclusion comes to be undermined by the story’s desire to tell more and yet more within an ever shorter amount of time. The pieces we will examine - in a variety of media - refuse closure, reveling in continually deferred resolutions with all attendant anxieties and joys of finality. In other words, they refute death for an endlessly expandable life of inquiry.
This course will be structured primarily around the practice of close-reading as it leads to analytic thinking. Each week, students will submit a textual analysis of a single excerpt, paragraph, or sentence from the week’s story. Our discussions will revolve around that which we glean from each story, while writing workshops will help focus analytic writing skills, sharpening these gleanings into the more rigorously academic work of argument-making. We will embark on the writing process early on, giving you room for revision of each of the three major essays you will write this semester. As an R1A, this course will help you realize your writing prowess. As with any seemingly herculean task, you will not be alone. Alongside meetings with your instructors, you will also work with your classmates to revise and strengthen your papers. This course will welcome both the reader’s immediate impressions and the development of these impressions into original claims about the text. As is suitable for a class devoted to the short story, all ideas are welcome, and all ideas will be rigorously explored and problematized.
Our readings will include short stories from Anton Chekhov, Natalia Ginzburg, Raymond Chandler, Shirley Hazzard, Lydia Davis, Vladimir Nabokov, Namwali Serpell, Lucia Berlin, Louise Glück, Flannery O’Connor, Varlam Shalamov, as well as examples from a variety of genres, including poetry, film, music, journalism, podcasts, and social media.