Why study English? Why study literature? Are literary power or poetic beauty truly accessible to analysis? Does impassioned rhetoric move us because of its passion or because of its rhetoric? And whatever can it mean that various books or poems or writers are so often called great? Great for what, exactly?
This course is a "gateway" introduction to the English major. You need to take it if you are to be an English major (though you may also take it without any such intentions). It is designed to introduce students to the historical, cultural, and critical contexts of literature and literary study. Among other things, it will entail the reading and discussion of poetry, fiction, drama, and non-fiction. And it will introduce students to the kinds of debates that surrounded the creation of the first English departments in the nineteenth century, when the serious academic study of anglophone literature began. It cannot introduce you to every aspect of the English major (e.g., we will probably do no creative writing), but it will leave you with a broad sense of the field, with some grasp of major critical vantages like historicism and feminist theory, and with real training in the bread-and-butter parts of the discipline: genre analysis and explication de texte, or close reading. In it, I promise at least a little impassioned rhetoric and a lot of great reading.