English | Introduction to Writing & Study of Literature I: "WRITING DISASTER"
L141 | 2041 | Susan Gubar


Topic:  WRITING DISASTER

Entitled "Writing Disaster," this course will concentrate on a cluster
of questions about the reasons why and the means by which a range of
writers deal with personal and public disasters.  In what ways does
the expression of imaginative vision help people survive in a time of
suffering?  What roles can the imagination play to help us confront,
comprehend, and survive inexplicable catastrophe?

After starting with the biblical BOOK OF JOB as a paradigm that sets
up the problem of representing calamity, we will then focus most of
our attention on literature composed in an American context.  Poetry,
fiction, and films will be chosen to illuminate three crucial
cataclysms in western culture:  African-American slavery, the
Holocaust, and the Viet Nam war.  We will therefore be dealing with
diverse forms of violence associated with the Othering of various
groups of human beings, be they African-Americans, Jews, or Asians.
Given the pain addressed in the texts with which we will deal,
participants need to be forewarned that the material of trauma can
itself traumatize, that our common discussions may disrupt and disturb
us as much as they record the disruptions and disturbances that have
resonated throughout our country's history.  In the last two weeks of
the semester, we will look more explicitly at a transnational context
through a contemporary British novel about what it means to feel
oneself living in a post-disaster age amid cohorts (members of the
so-called Generation X) that experience what might be called
disaster-envy.

The course, which meets twice a week in large lecture and twice a week
in smaller discussion sections, requires students to do their reading
before they attend class.  In the composition component of the course,
we will struggle to avoid writing disasters more pedestrian than those
we encounter in the literature but nevertheless disabling.  Students
will be asked to complete four differently structured writing
assignments, to keep a journal of reading responses, and to take two
exams, one at midterm and one at the end of the semester.