Reading & Composition
Vision, Voice, and Portraiture: The Figure of the Poet as Narrator
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.
The three key words of the course title will provide a starting point for our examination of a wide-range of literature, in which we will consider the notion of the poet, narrator, or author’s vision, perspective, sight, or perception within or onto a text; the text’s voice as testimony, history, or (possibly) truthful accounting; and the notion of poetic portraiture, that is, the self-representation of an author, poet, speaker, or narrator in a text: what kind of self-portrait gets painted by these writers?
In this class we will focus on narrative devices and the ways that stories are told in a variety of literature. We will question our preconceived conceptions of how “narrative” as a form, genre, or style is defined, considering the ways in which lyric poetry, essays, artwork, film, and drama, in addition to novels and short stories narrate or tell a story. With a focus on the figure of the narrator in literature we will also consider questions of reliability and truth: what makes us believe, suspend our belief in, or reject the notion that a work of fiction (in any of these forms) is attesting to some truth? Is fiction simply a veil over deeper truths or meaning? Can narrator’s deceive their readers, and if so, what is the consequence of this deception?
Readings may include works by Plato and Aristotle, Dante Alighieri, Luigi Pirandello, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and contemporary poets such as Maya Angelou, Danez Smith, Tongo Eisen-Martin, and Layli Long Soldier. Films may include The Return of Martin Guerre (1982) and Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). We will also consider artworks by such artists as Caravaggio, Velázquez, Artemisia Gentileschi, among others.
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.