Reading & Composition
“Tell me, how does it feel with my teeth in your heart?”
- Medea, Euripides
“There’s always a part in every [episode] where the narrator goes, And that’s when she snapped.”
- Bill Hader
Why do stories of female rage seem so resonant? From Macbeth to The Cell Block Tango, from Carrie to Mad Max, there seems to be something powerful about the image of a woman who has had enough––who avenges herself, often violently. What are we to make of the appetite, everywhere from true crime television programming to some of the most esteemed works of world literature and art, for these narratives?
This course will concern itself with this and other, closely related questions. What does it really mean for a woman to “snap”? Does a story have to involve murder, revenge, and fury to feel like it fits under the umbrella of “snapping,” or can the term be more broadly applied to tales of grievance and upset? Can people other than women “snap”? And how are we defining “woman,” here, anyway?
The texts in this course range across different time periods, languages, cultures, genres, and forms; they are united only by a shared engagement with these questions. Together we will explore different imaginative, affective, and ethical implications of the notion of “snapping,” alongside applications of literary theory and training in close reading and college-level literary analysis.
Course Goals and Methods
As an R1B, this course will be working toward three interrelated goals. First is the ability to read, engage with, and relate to a variety of texts and forms at the college level. Much of this involves embracing the immateriality of analysis itself: like the variegated narratives that can fit under the loose title of women who “snap,” college-level analysis is rarely just one thing. Instead of fishing for “right” answers, you may find that meaning starts to be something that emerges from our interactions with texts––that ineffable genesis that is more than the sum of its parts. Some of you may feel very comfortable with this already; some may not. I hope this course offers something on this front regardless of where you fall on that spectrum. You may find that the novels you read in high school were simply not your thing, but that “reading” and analyzing experimental mixed-media is exciting to you. Or you may find that the close readings we do in this class shift or expand the ways you have interacted with literature until now.
The second goal of this course is to further refine the skill of college-level analytical writing you learned in R1A. We focus on how to generate an original argument about a text, based on the process of what’s called close reading: thinking less about what is happening in a text than how things happen. What does a text “do”? How does the form of a text create its meaning? And as critics, what might we offer––what new meanings can we generate––by interacting with a text? To this end, we practice regular, weekly writing workshops to help remind you of the nuts-and-bolts of analytical writing, as well as regular writing assignments that encourage you to start from focused close readings, and then expand and revise that work into a full analytical paper. Memory becomes key here: writing in this class never disappears into the ether, but comes back as we return to it over and over, working with and through it.
The final goal of the course is to do secondary research for analytical papers in the humanities. How do you find and discern strong works of theory or analysis to bring into your own papers? Once you find them, how do you get through the often frustrating, difficult style in which these sources are written? We build up to this over the course of the semester, including by reading secondary sources and theory alongside some of our primary texts in the course, and finally through an analytical research paper which you will present to your peers in the last week of the course.