What is “English,” after all? And what is reading? This course in the theory and method of literary study has two goals that might, at first, seem contradictory: (1) to introduce the conventions of reading, thinking, and creative concept-making crucial to flourishing as a Georgetown English major; and (2) to examine those processes from critical and historical vantages, so as to turn naïve practice into self-conscious method.

To those ends we’ll read literary works by authors like G.M. Hopkins, Bram Stoker, Lewis Carroll, and J.G. Ballard alongside critical texts from a range of traditions: Marxism, psychoanalysis, postcolonial studies, formalism, gender and sexuality studies, deconstruction, and ecocriticism. In light of our literary texts, these short interventions will provide new models; ask new questions; and push us to see from new angles the processes of reading, interpretation, and contextualization that are the bread and butter of college English.

This term, we will devote one unit to considering the challenges to humanistic literary and critical activity posed by climate change; the course will incorporate the 2016-2018 Mellon Sawyer Seminar, “Approaching the Anthropocene: Global Culture and Planetary Change.” To close the term, we’ll use literary reading practices and concepts of “environment” to examine what may be today’s most dominant cultural form, the video game.

Throughout, our aim will be to develop a self-aware, historically-grounded sense of how we read and why — a particularly urgent problem now, perhaps, when new media forms threaten to diminish forever our capacity to think critically. (Or so we’re told.) No prior exposure to “literary theory” is necessary.

1 Response to About

  1. Jack Braumuller says:

    Character Reflection in Wonderland and the Real World

    In Wonderland, Alice’s experiences consist largely of social interactions with new, different, and remarkable characters. These characters are constantly avoiding, challenging, and contradicting Alice and her perception of Wonderland. While Alice ventures through different parts of the world, she attempts to get a grip on who she is and make sense of the ever-changing environment. Carroll uses Alice’s naïveté/youthful ignorance to give the book a constant curious and fantastical tone. Through Alice’s perspective, we come across characters who reflect real attitudes and personalities in Victorian society. By extension we can realize that much of Wonderland is an attempt by Carroll to tell us something about the English society he was living in and the people that it consisted of. For example, the March Hare embodies the seemingly pointless anxiety we all tend to have towards time. In the real world, time ties us to our future responsibilities. When Alice encounters the March Hare for the first time, we see him moving about hurriedly constantly saying “I’m late! I’m late!” However, when Alice finally arrives at the tea party, she realizes that the March Hare’s watch does not even tell the hour, only the day, and it is a completely useless object to her. In this way, Carroll uses the metaphor of the March Hare to point out our unnecessary commitment to time in society, and the unnecessary stress it causes us. Many of the character metaphors reflect similar messages about Victorian society and the negatives of living in a rigid, capitalist social class system. When we finally get to the end of the story, we meet the Queen of Hearts, the supreme embodiment of the rigid socio-political structure. We find out in the end that all of the characters in the story are ruled by a fear of execution from the Queen, who has the most power. One can certainly see a connection to Queen Victoria in England and the way that society is run there. Carroll uses these character metaphors to point out the pointless anxiety and toil that humans were subject to in England at the time. Each character can be read as embodying a certain social structure or norm and breaking it down to its roots. At the end of the day, Carroll is really asking his reader, at a humanitarian level, to realize the negatives of society and understand that we should never be driven by fear, but attempt to view the world in a more critical and open-minded way like Alice.

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