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Fall 2013 Course Descriptions

English 5091  The Call of Stories: Narrative Theory in the Writing Classroom & Beyond

Section 001     CRN 98183
The Call of Stories: Narrative Theory in the Writing Classroom & Beyond    1900-2130 W

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes Joan Didion in The White Album.  This simple proclamation eloquently summarizes what might be seen as the basic tenet of narrative theory: storytelling is a fundamental human strategy we use to construct meaning, to engage with questions of identity, and to make sense of time, progression, and change. In addition to its prominent position in linguistics and literary studies, narrative theory has been utilized in anthropology, psychology/counseling, music, computers, and child development. In the first half of this course we will focus on the history of narratology, the umbrella term for both the theory and study of narrative. We will begin with the Russian Formalists, focusing on Vladimir Propp and Roman Jacobson. Propp identified the smallest irreducible narrative components in Russian folktales, while Jacobson extended the techniques of structural analysis to disciplines beyond linguistics. We will then move on briefly to Mikhail Bakhtin and his narrative methodology, ending with the work of more contemporary narrative theorists. 

The second half of the course will be devoted to the application of narrative theory in a wide variety of educational settings. Teachers use narrative not only to get students to write—the personal narrative, for better or worse, remains the most popular introductory assignment in freshman composition—but also to examine the stylistic choices authors make. We will discuss the debates surrounding the use of personal narrative in the freshman writing class. We will also examine how composition scholars are expanding the scope of the traditional narrative assignment by having students write stories that experiment with digression, multiple points of view, and disruptions of time and of storyline. 

Requirements include short typed responses to readings, a midterm and final exam, and a research project grounded in narrative theory.