ENGL 242 C: Reading Prose Fiction

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MW 9:40am - 11:50am
SMI 304
Aaron Ottinger

Syllabus Description:

Course: ENGL 242C: “Prometheus Bound and Unbound”: Science and Literature in Prose Fiction

Meets: MW 9:40-11:50am SMI 304

Instructor: Aaron Ottinger, PhD ajo3@uw.edu

Office: Padelford B-415

Office Hours: MW: 12:00-1:00pm


Literature tends to regard science in one of two ways—bound and unbound. Science can be calculated, rational, and set on reducing risk in its progress towards a better world. But, as in the case of Victor Frankenstein—the exemplary Romantic-era Prometheus—these characteristics can be exaggerated to the point destroying the self, others, and even the planet. The bound view may recall images of harmony, inventions, and utopia. The unbound view may recall images of chaos, monsters, and dystopia—even apocalypse. While this double-sided coin is a convenient way to describe how literature represents science, we will also investigate the nuances of these representations. How were they responding to the actual science of their day? How have they developed over the centuries, since the rise of prose fiction? And how can these developments in literature aid us in our own technologically and scientifically advanced age?


Students will begin with the myth of Prometheus (Aeschylus) and from there will examine pairs of texts, including four variations on the theme of Prometheanism. Classes will include a variety of approaches, from in-class discussions to hands-on group activities. Grades will be determined based on participation, in-class reflective writing, three mid-sized analyses of the texts, and one group adaptation project with a final presentation. Accordingly, students will not only access texts through examining representations of science, they will actively explore texts by participating in their creation.


Course Works (* indicates a required work for purchase at the University Bookstore)


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound. Dover, 1996. 0486287629*


Butler, Octavia. Dawn. Aspect, 1997. 978-0446603775*


Cavendish, Margaret. The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (excerpt)


Eliot, George. The Lifted Veil and Brother Jacob. Oxford, 2009. 0199555052*


Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage, 2006. 978-1400078776*


Levine, Ken. BioShock. 2K Boston/Irrational Games, 2007. Note: BioShock is a video game and will be on reserve throughout the term in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries’ “Media Arcade.”


Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Edited by J. Paul Hunter, 2nd ed., Norton, 2011. 978-0-3393-92793-1*


Stevenson, Robert Lewis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dover, 1991. 0486266885*


Course Resources


The schedule, assignment prompts, and secondary reading materials will be made available on our class’ homepage on Canvas. We will use the Homepage and Modules almost exclusively. Scores and feedback on assignments will be made available through Canvas as well.


Course Outcomes


  • Students will develop and demonstrate an understanding of select literary concepts, devices, and genres, from narrative structures to the epistolary novel, in an attempt to better understand how literature represents, celebrates, and/or critiques science and Prometheanism.


  • Students will investigate ethical approaches to texts, treating the novel or short story not only as a work of art, but as a test case for living one’s life.


  • Students will engage with and practice adaptation as a mode of accessing, critiquing, and preserving texts—but also making new ones.


  • Students are encouraged to take risks in their thinking, feeling, and writing. Oftentimes, taking risks means avoiding the first question or comment, argument, or approach that comes to mind (and going with the second, third, or fourth).


  • Students will improve their academic writing skills, with particular emphasis on focus, organization, argument, support (evidence), and generic awareness.


Goals and Expectations of the Course:

Goals for the Class:

To create a learning community in which each student’s experiences and perspectives are valued, and we learn to listen carefully to each other, and to examine our own perspectives and positions.

To develop a greater appreciation for the ways that science (broadly speaking) and literature (especially prose fiction) are in a developmental relationship together—rather than operating in total isolation, in what C.P. Snow called “the two cultures.”

To challenge our ideas about the nature of artworks. Are they “just entertainment”? Or do they play a far more significant role in determining who we are?

To consider not only how art objects (literature) impact us or how we think and feel, but also how they impact the way we relate to other humans and non-humans.

To think about the way artworks have changed over the centuries, and how changes in our everyday media contribute to the evolution of human consciousness.

Expectations of Students:

Texts will be excerpted and abridged when possible to help students balance the demands of contemporary college life. In turn, students are expected to read all assigned work, to make notes and annotations (which means writing on paper or digital copies: there will be a short lesson on taking notes), and to raise questions in class with respect to assigned texts.

Students ought to be respectful to peers’ and instructors’ questions and comments. If you disagree with an opinion, try formulating your response in terms of a question (rather than an attack). Oftentimes, what offends us is based on a misunderstanding: attacks reinforce confusions whereas questions untangle them.

Students should take risks in their thinking, conversations, and writing. This expectation has become a cliché…so let’s put it in perspective. In many respects, we have nothing to lose. Due to the classroom context, it is highly unlikely that we will suffer from trauma, serious physical harm, or death. Thus, students who go “above and beyond,” who contribute their most radical questions and ideas, and who share their feelings and frustrations will be rewarded most.

Final word:

Please view this classroom experience as something other than a requirement for graduation. We have nine weeks together. Let’s make the most of it because these are our lives. They matter. Our time matters. Let’s not waste it. It is my wish that you consider this class as an integral part of your life (it is an integral part of mine). We are here to learn, grow, and change. These should not be empty words to you. Rather, they should be scary, frustrating, and difficult. Change can be very difficult. But if we have not changed by the end of ten weeks, then we have learned little or nothing—only then can we say that we have truly failed. And yet, if we are still frustrated at the end of ten weeks, then perhaps we are on the edge of a new plateau of thought and feeling, a new way of seeing ourselves, or appreciating others.


In-class Reflective Writing (1 participation point each)

In-class writing assignments are for the purpose of encouraging Inquiry in small groups and as a class. Sometimes these will be collected for participation points. Students will receive written feedback, primarily in the form of questions; thereby providing “food for thought” in hopes of developing a larger and more complicated inquiry (for short assignments and MA1). These assignments do not count towards the W credit (see below).


Major Assignment 1: Academic Literary Analysis (100 points/20%)

The first major assignment is modeled on a professional academic analysis of a literary text. Students will engage with primary text(s) and secondary texts assigned in class. Additional research is not required. Students will have the option of responding to 1 research question or developing their own line of inquiry. In these essays students are expected to define and apply key concepts from the course through close readings of texts (i.e. engage directly with quotes from primary sources). Essays will be 2 single-spaced pages (front and back) to meet the W credit, and should follow MLA style formatting (see the Online Writing Lab (OWL) for instructions). Students will receive numerical scores and qualitative feedback corresponding with each outcome that the assignment targets.


Major Assignment 2: Opinion Paper (100 points/20%)

This assignment will ask students to weigh-in on the ethical issue of producing “life” (Frankenstein/Never Let Me Go). Rather than analyze the text for its formal or rhetorical dimensions, this assignment asks you to consider the moral dilemma at the heart of the novel. What position do you think the author takes (if any) in relation to the issue as it plays out in our “real world” discourse? Where do you stand on the issue, and why?  


Major Assignment 3: Collaborative Academic Literary Analysis (100 points/20%)

The third major assignment will also be a literary analysis, but students will work collaboratively as a pair or group of three. Each student will receive the same score for the assignment so it is imperative that students work together and distribute the workload evenly.


Final Reflection (5 points)

The final reflection will ask you to meditate on speculative fiction more broadly. It is a chance for you to connect what we have learned to your personal life in school and outside of academia. The reflection will be one single-spaced page. Your feedback will come in the form of questions for the future or “food for thought.”


With the exception of in-class writing, all assignments should be submitted electronically via Canvas. Each assignment will have its own rubric according to the course outcomes it targets. After one week of submitting your work, if you believe that I have made an error in my assessment or that you have not received feedback, please notify me immediately via email.


60% Major Assignments

20% Adaptation Project

10% Reflective Writing

10% Participation    



This class has been designed to meet “W-Course Criteria,” and requires no special arrangement on the part of the student. According to the university: “A W course must require 10-15 pages of graded, out-of-class writing, in the form of a longer paper plus a revision or two or more short papers.”

Grade Scale

Percentage Earned 

Grade-Point Equivalent

Letter-Grade Equivalent





















B / B+












B / B-









C / C+























C- / D+



et cetera

Participation and Attendance:


Students are expected to attend all classes prepared to discuss assigned readings with partners, in small groups, and as a class. Unexcused absences will result in .5% deduction from your participation grade. Ten absences will result in a zero for participation. In-class written assignments are worth 1% of participation each. Participation in Major Assignment Two is mandatory and worth 4% of your participation grade, as determined by your peers.


Late Work:

Each assignment will have a prompt available under Modules in Canvas. Deadlines for each assignment will be clearly marked in the prompt. Once the deadline has passed for an assignment, submissions will no longer be granted and the student will have to discuss the matter with the instructor. Late papers lose one point per day.


Plagiarism / Academic Dishonesty:

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is a form of misrepresentation; it is the act of presenting a different author’s ideas or writing as your own.

Plagiarism includes the following:

  • failing to cite sources
  • failing to cite sources of paraphrased material
  • failing to cite sources of specific language and/or passages, i.e. quotes.
  • submitting someone else’s work as your own, i.e. substantial parts or the whole essay are written by someone other than the student

If you are unsure what plagiarism is or how to cite materials, please see the instructor or read the pages on “plagiarism” and “summarizing, quoting, and paraphrasing” at the Online Writing Lab (OWL). Because some cases of plagiarism follow from innocent confusion, if I suspect that material has been plagiarized, first the student will meet with me to discuss the matter in person. To receive credit, the student will have to re-write the assignment following proper MLA style formatting. As for the grade, the same policy regarding late work will apply (above).

If the problem persists, the student will receive a zero for the assignment and the incident will be reported to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Please review the College’s policy here: http://depts.washington.edu/grading/pdf/FacultyInfo.pdf

Commitment to Diversity, Emotional and Intellectual Growth, and Future Applications

Because it is the aim of this course to include a wide array of views, students of color and minority students are especially encouraged to speak in class, ask questions, and lead group discussions. Some views expressed in class may conflict with students’ beliefs and values. While discussions of race, gender, and sexuality especially may challenge students’ personal perspectives, please bear in mind that all materials in this course are intended to challenge personal perspectives. So if the goal in this class is to grow intellectually and emotionally, students (and the instructor) are expected to question the limitations of their personal histories “to make room” for the personal experiences of others.

But the path to emotional and intellectual growth may not be won merely by challenging one’s own personal beliefs and values. To embrace new ideas, skills, and values for future use in different contexts, we must also conduct personal investigations that ask why our views are being challenged in the first place. Ultimately, this course is not intended to merely increase our knowledge of a list of literary terms, but more importantly to alter the fundamental ways in which we understand ourselves and our relationships to other people and non-humans.


Additional Resources

If you would like help with your writing outside of class, you can visit CLUE, The Center For Learning and Undergraduate Enrichment, located in Mary Gates Hall Commons and open Sunday though Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to midnight. No appointment is necessary for CLUE. See their website, http://depts.washington.edu/clue/ for more information.


If you have a registered disability that requires accommodation, please see me immediately. If you have a disability and have not yet registered it with the UW Disability Service Office, please contact DSO at (206) 543-8925 or via their website, http://www.washington.edu/admin/dso/. I will do my best to provide appropriate accommodations for you.

Course Calendar:

Module I: Promethean Minds




Materials Covered



Meet and greet: Names

and Previous Experience


Review: Syllabus


Goals and Expectations


Definition: Myth


In-Class Inquiry: What is Prometheanism?


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Ray Brassier, “Prometheanism and Its Critics” (excerpt)

Read: Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Ask & Answer Questions: Prometheus Bound


Review Questions: Regarding PB

Inquiry: Oral Culture vs. Literacy

Activity: Medium Hot and Cool

Discuss: MA1


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (excerpt)

Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (excerpt)


Read: George Eliot, The Lifted Veil

Read George Combe, Elements of Phrenology (excerpt)

Ask and Answer Questions: The Lifted Veil


Week Two



Inquiry: Vision and Certainty in The Lifted Veil

Writing Workshop: Making claims


George Eliot, The Lifted Veil

George Combe, Elements of Phrenology (excerpt)



Ask and Answer Questions: Frankenstein

Read: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein vol. I

Read Ellen Moers, “Female Gothic: The Monster’s Mother” (included in Norton ed.)

Ask & Answer Questions: Frankenstein, vol. I



Definition: Gothic Novel

Inquiry: Beyond the Bounds of Human Experience

Discuss: MA2

Writing Workshop: Dialectical Method

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, vol. I


Read: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein vol. I

Ask & Answer Questions: Frankenstein, vol. II


Module II: Promethean Children


Week Three



Definition: the Sublime

Inquiry: Enlightenment Education: What Makes a Monster?



Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, vol. I&II

Sir Humphry Davy, Discourse, Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry (excerpt)

Read: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein vol. II & III

Ask & Answer Questions: Frankenstein, vol. III



Activity: The Trial of Victor Frankenstein

Writing Workshop: Citing Sources

Peer-review Workshop: Talking Through MA1

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein



Read Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, part I

Ask & Answer Questions: NLMG, part I.

Due: MA1 7/7




Week Four



Inquiry: Is NLMG a Gothic novel?

Definition: Dystopia



Kazuo Ishiguro, NLMG, vol. I

Abrams, “Dystopia”

Daniel Vorhaus, “Review of Never Let Me Go


Read Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, part II


Ask & Answer Questions: NLMG, part II





Inquiry: Sex Without Birth

Inquiry: Ideology in NLMG

Kazuo Ishiguro, NLMG, vol. II

Žižek, Ideology (clip: They Live)



Read Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, part III

Ask & Answer Questions: NLMG, part III.




Week Five



Peer-review Workshop: Talking Through MA2

Kazuo Ishiguro, NLMG

Foucault, Society Must Be Defended (excerpt)


Read Octavia Butler, Dawn


Activity: Medial Experiment

Inquiry: The Impact of Technical Objects and the Scientific Revolution

Watch: “How a Gutenberg Printing Press Works”

Discuss: MA3

Writing Workshop: Collaborative Writing / Picking Groups


Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World

Spiller, “Reading through Galileo’s Telescope” (excerpt)



Octavia Butler, Dawn

Due: MA2 7/21



Module III: Promethean Media


Week Six



Activity: Drawing the Oankoli

Discuss: MA3

Writing Workshop: Selecting partners

Octavia Butler, Dawn, pt. 1 “Womb”

Octavia Butler, Dawn


Inquiry: From print media to alien media

Definition: Afrofuturism

Inquiry: Is Dawn about a slave ship?

Writing Workshop:

Comparing notes to parts 1 and 2

Octavia Butler, Dawn, pt. 2 “Family”


Octavia Butler, Dawn



Week Seven




Octavia Butler, Dawn, pt. 3 “Nursery”







Octavia Butler, Dawn, pt. 4 “Training Floor”



Read: Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Read: Collin Pointon’s “BioShock’s Meta-Narrative: What BioShock Teaches the Gamer about Gaming”






Module 4: Promethean Adaptations


Week Eight



Definition: Avatars


Inquiry: How am I not myself: Avatars in BioShock


Inquiry: Narrative, Linear, Non-linear and Meta-Narrative



Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Ken Levine, BioShock


Pointon’ “BioShock’s Meta-Narrative”


Read: Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (excerpt)



Design and Make: Adaptations for group presentations


Theories and Methodologies:




Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (excerpt)

Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation (excerpt)



Due: MA3



Week Nine



Design and Make: Adaptations for group presentations





Presentations: Adaptations



Due: Final Reflections 8/18



Catalog Description: 
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 10:20pm