Winter Quarter 2017
Class: English 250A—MW 3:30-5:20
Instructor: Robert Abrams
Course Description: We'll be reading a wide range of American literary texts, from poems by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson to novels by Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ralph Ellison. Students in this course should expect to do lots of reading, and they should come prepared to record their responses to all reading assignments through detailed journal entries keyed to each session of the course. Several papers will also be required. Two major issues that we'll be grappling with are the challenges that these texts pose to: 1) the often unexamined American concept of e pluribus unum--one indivisible national whole emerging out of many strands; 2) the tendency to think of American time as progressing forward into a future that displaces the past, makes historical memory largely irrelevant, validates youth over age, and directs attention away from current disappointments toward promise and hope. In contrast to the concept of e pluribus unum, the focus of this course will be on how shifting voices and perspectives from disparate dimensions of US culture often collide to the point if ambiguity, friction, and dissonance; they resist easy synthesis, although their collisions often prove to be considerably more fascinating, and far less dismal, than naïve dismissals of dissonance sometimes assume. We'll also be exploring challenges to the glib assumption that time inevitably moves forward in the USA. As Ralph Ellison writes in Invisible Man, he has learned that history moves like a "boomerang" rather than an "arrow."