ENGL 494 B: Honors Seminar

Alternative Narrativities: Generic Form and De-Formation

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
PAR 206
Caleb Williams book cover
Gary Handwerk

Syllabus Description:

Course Syllabus: English 494B (Honors Seminar: Hybrid Narratives)

 Winter 2015                                                                 Professor Gary Handwerk

Tu/Th 12:30-2:20                                                         Office: A-402 Padelford

Parrington 206                                                              Phone:  543-2183

Office Hours: Tues. 2:30-4:30 PM and by appt.            E-mail: handwerk@uw.edu

Course Web Site:https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/946984


About the course:

 Narrative experience, telling stories in formalized ways and settings, is intrinsic to human culture, universal across human societies, and yet at the same time deeply localized in terms of specific practices.  We tell stories all the time, often without even thinking about the fact that we are telling them, much less that we are telling them in particular, typically codified ways.  Our primary goal in this class is simple: to make that story-telling capacity into a more reflective and analytical process.  Equally important, however, is using this seminar to prepare you to write your honors thesis in spring quarter, so we will be doing a lot of writing, both graded and ungraded, to work on honing skills specific to the practice of literary/cultural analysis.

 One way (historically) that critics and theorists have come at narrative is to break down the general abstraction into distinct and distinguishable modes, often called genres.  This approach (laid out already with Aristotle’s Poetics) helps considerably with categorizing and analyzing narratives.  But an intriguing fact about many narratives, especially ones that have traditionally been considered “high” or non-formulaic literature, is that they often deploy multiple, distinguishable forms of narrative method and/or structure; they are in a fundamental sense hybrid, composed entities, a level of complexity different even from, say, intricate Victorian multi-plot novels.  To examine how a diverse set of such composite narratives work, how they intermingle their various strands, is our broadest theoretical goal in the course.

As we read the texts in this course—both the narratives and the secondary literature alike—it is important to remember that they (like literary texts and works of art generally) are not simply descriptive accounts of what particular authors see or feel or think.  They are acts of persuasion, implicit arguments about how we should think and feel and behave that are frequently all the more effective thanks to the implicitness of their positions.  They are, in a word, crafty, and this is a big part of what allows them to play an important role in determining how societies think about core concerns such as religion, politics, or personal and civic identity; they help shape the deep base of beliefs and values that frame political and cultural debates.

Learning to read these kinds of texts well is, in addition, a skill that we can also bring to bear on non-literary texts.  Most kinds of discourse—even scientific or commercial or legal discourses—make extensive use of “literary” sorts of strategies, deploying narrative, imagery, allegory, and other elements typical of literary texts to help them achieve their own rhetorical purposes.  So the analysis we will practice in this class is in an important way transferable to the reading and the writing you might do in quite different, non-literary contexts.

Your writing provides the best measure of how well you can perform the kinds of analytical reading I will expect from you.  Effective writing is in equal measure a matter of conception and execution, of planning and practice.  We will talk about the former most specifically in relation to the longer assignments in the course, where I will try as we go along to clarify for you what you are being asked to do and why.  We will address the latter by having you write regularly, supplementing the formal, graded essays with a series of ungraded response papers (15 over the course of the quarter) that you will collect in a portfolio, along with your other writing, at the end of the quarter. 


Course Requirements:

1)      attendance, class participation                                 10%

2)      analytical essays: 15% each                                     75%

3)      class presentations                                                  10%

4)      portfolio                                                                    10%


            (and yes, I realize this adds up to 105%)


Written Work: Response Papers & Analytical Essays:

You will be writing a series of response papers (15 in all), ungraded initial reactions to each day’s reading; these will be collected into a portfolio with a self-reflective essay at the end of the quarter.  You will also be writing an analytical essay on each of the five main texts (Woolf, Bible, Milton, Silko, Lopez)—different in kind for each assignment (close reading, key word/personal essay, synopsis/analysis of secondary criticism, structural, philosophical).


Electronic submission of papers.  Please use your name as part of the file name for essays you submit for this class.  I.e., smith.response1.docx; smith.essay1.docx


Other Work:

In order to insure that you get practice with oral formats as well as written ones, you will be responsible for two kinds of presentation.  Throughout the quarter (though not for every single class), three of you will be assigned to select and bring to class a passage to start discussion; you should expect to do that twice during the quarter.  In addition to this, you will be asked to do a brief (BRIEF, as in short and pithy) presentation about the article or book chapter on Paradise Lost on which you will be writing your third paper.


Required Texts:

 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (Harcourt Brace: ISBN 978-1614272779)

The Bible (King James version recommended for historical enthusiasts, but any version is okay)

John Milton, Paradise Lost: Norton Critical Edition (ISBN 978-0-393-92428-2)

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (Penguin: ISBN 978-1-440-62282-6)

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (Vintage: ISBN 0-375-72748-5)

Background essays to be distributed in class

Course Syllabus: English 494B (Honors Seminar: Hybrid Narratives)


Course Calendar:


January 6          --         Introduction: Varieties of Narrativity: Story-telling and Us

                                                (The Four Principles of Narrative Analysis)

January 8          --         LIBRARY/READING DAY


January 13        --         Woolf, A Room of One’s Own; “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”

January 15        --         Woolf, A Room of One’s Own



January 20        --         Bible, Old Testament selections

January 22        --         Bible, Old Testament selections


January 27        --         Bible, New Testament selections

January 29        --         Bible, New Testament selections; ALSO: start reading of Paradise Lost



February 3       --         Milton, Paradise Lost: Books 1-4

February 5       --         Milton, Paradise Lost: Books 5-8; Samuel Johnson on Paradise Lost

                                                (Norton: pp. 384-87)


February 10     --         Milton, Paradise Lost: Books 9-12

February 12     --         Milton, Paradise Lost: Presentations



February 17     --         Silko, Ceremony

February 19     --         Silko, Ceremony


February 24     --         Silko, Ceremony; “Landscape, History and the Pueblo Imagination”

February 26     --         Lopez, Arctic Dreams



March 3           --         Lopez, Arctic Dreams

March 5           --         Lopez, Arctic Dreams; “Landscape and Narrative”

MARCH 9                   LOPEZ PAPER DUE


MARCH 12     --         PORTFOLIO DUE


Additional Details:

Course Description: For this course, we’ll be reading a set of hybrid narrative—narratives, that is, that do not fit easily into any single category (novel, short story, memoir, etc.), but instead intentionally mingle different narrative forms. We’ll consider the formal aspect of this, how and why particular writers combine various forms as they do and what the effects of that are likely to be for readers. But the formal question blends inevitably into key questions about content and about the limits of narrative forms to represent human realities (much less the bigger cosmic realities out there). We’ll read as well a couple short stories (tbd) and some short pieces on narrative theory. There will be frequent response papers, but the primary writing for the course will be a long paper dealing with the reception history of one of the texts we are reading, an assignment designed to prepare students to undertake independent research for their spring honors essays.

Required Texts:

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (ISBN 0-15-678733-4)
The Bible (King James version)
John Milton, Paradise Lost: Norton Critical Edition (ISBN 978-0-393-92428-2)
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (ISBN 0-14-008683-8)
Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (ISBN 0-375-72748-5)
Reading packet

Catalog Description: 
Survey of current issues confronting literary critics today, based on revolving themes and topics. Focuses on debates and developments affecting English language and literatures, including questions about: the relationship of culture and history; the effect of emergent technologies on literary study; the rise of interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Other Requirements Met: 
Honors Course
Last updated: 
March 16, 2016 - 11:01am