English 2011 Literature, the Self, and the World (2 Sections)
Section 001 CRN 90662
Literature, the Self and the World: Poetry 1100-1150 MWF
In the Bible in the book of Job and in the poetry of Sappho we are given two of the earliest poetic glimpses into the minds and hearts of individual human beings, and into the cultures which shaped the beginnings of western society. Through poetry, human beings have conveyed the most intimate parts of themselves and of the times in which they live. Yet what is poetry? Why do people write poetry? We will try to understand poems through the specific voices they present to us, and we will examine the efforts they make at revealing the many truths about being human. We will read mostly modern poems from different times and places, and we will see how diverse experiences shape the voices we encounter, and how they in turn affect our reading of the poems. Possible requirements: in-class essays, 2 papers, final exam. (General Education)
Section 002 CRN 90663
Literature, the Self and the World: Fiction 1400-1450 MWF
He sat on the edge of his bed with his elbows on his knees and scanned the stack of cartridges. Each cartridge in the dock dropped on command and began to engage the drive with an insectile click and whir, and he scanned it. But he was unable to distract himself with the TP [Teleputer] because he was unable to stay with any one entertainment cartridge for more than a few seconds. The moment he recognized what exactly was on one cartridge he had a strong anxious feeling that there was something more entertaining on another cartridge and that he was potentially missing it.
- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
The technologist Linda Stone coined the term “continuous partial attention” to describe what ails us in the early twenty-first century: an increasing inability to give our full attention to any one thing for very long for fear of missing everything else that is out there (as if one could, really, “have it all”). Reading a big novel is, among things, practice in the art of attention. In this course, we will undertake an extended adventure in reading with David Foster Wallace’s extraordinary 1996 novel Infinite Jest. It is difficult to describe this novel without giving too much away. All I’ll say here is that it is hilariously funny and achingly sad, sweet and grim by turns. Principal themes: addiction, entertainment, and terrorism. Principal settings: a tennis academy and a halfway house for recovering addicts, the one at the top of a hill, the other at the bottom.
Requirements: As with any great endeavor, “the effort is the prize,” as the jurist Benjamin Cardozo said. The primary work of the course is reading and participating in an ongoing conversation about the novel. If you do not see yourself keeping up with the reading (a modest twenty-five pages per class), please consider taking another course. Writing: a few short responses to the reading, a longer essay (5 pp.), and a final examination. (General Education)