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West Chester University

Spring 2006 and Fall 2005

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Fall 2004and
Spring 2005

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Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

Fundamental Questions about Literature

As you begin this course, you may be asking some fundamental questions like:

  • What is literature, anyway? And why should we study it?
  • How do people study literature?
  • Is there a distinction between literature that's worth studying and literature that isn't? If there is, how do we draw that distinction?

I think these are all fair questions; the first two are briefly answered here, and the last in the notes titled "Valuing Literature."

First, what is literature?

That may seem like a simple question, and I guess we can make the answer simple if we try. But simple answers are deceptive. And the only way to get a simple answer to this question is to ignore an awful lot.

First, the kind of literature we're speaking of is more specific than that broad term implies. "Literature" can refer to anything written—it can refer to the menu at Iron Hill Brewery if you want it to. So the kind of literature we're speaking of is more specifically, "imaginative literature" or "creative writing." The kind of literature you know is not "real."

That kind of literature can be defined as verbal art. It's verbal, and it's an art. A "verbal art." The implications of that definition are twofold: first, we acknowledge that we're dealing with an art, which implies that an artist has constructed this thing, this end product, which is now available to its audience, and is meant to strike that audience as profoundly beautiful, or meaningful, or (ideally) both. Just think about some of the art you love best (your favorite painting, or sculpture, or film, or book)—whether its something visual or verbal, or both, literature is aiming for that same kind of impact. That impact is not just intellectual; you don't just think something is profound; you feel it, too. It moves you. Even slightly, but it moves you.

It's important to recognize the verbal aspect of the art of literature, because words are the literary artist's only tool. How does the writer shape language? Bend language? Twist language? Outright manipulate language so that it has that impact? There are lots of tricks to learn about and observe, depending on the genre we're speaking of. The short story writer uses character, plot, and narrative point of view, description, and dialogue in interesting, provocative ways; poets use figures of speech, predetermined structures, and other devices to make words sound striking together; dramatists use dialogue and sets, and the talents of live actors and actresses to give their work its punch. And what makes a good poem might not make a good drama, or what makes a good drama might make a boring poem, etc. But what's common to fiction, poetry, and drama is that the writer has this unique, profound, beautiful vision to somehow embody in words. And if those words add up to something neither unique, nor profound, nor beautiful, nor in some way useful, then it's probably not good art.

People study literature because it enriches them; it's (literally) a repository of the wisdom of the ages; it's entertaining; it's profound; it's beautiful and moving. The best of it can deepen our experience of being alive, taking us beneath the superficial surface of people, into their inner caverns. As a discipline, the study of literature is an excellent way to sharpen your close reading skills, assemble excellent critical thinking apparatus, and refine your general sense of art appreciation.

Literature is a verbal art that explores what it means to be human from the inside. It's the inside story. It's a million and one snapshots of the human heart in all its mystery and perfection, and imperfection. It's philosophy, psychology, sociology, ideology and history rolled together without any attempt to clear up the unanswered questions. It's the questions, it's the questioner. It's you and what you make of it.

And that's about as neat and tidy a definition as I have to offer. In defense of it, I offer you the first line on page one of your textbook: "Literature does not lend itself to a single tidy definition because the making of it over the centuries has been as complex, unwieldy, and natural as life itself" (Michael Meyer, The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, 5th ed.). But, because he's writing a textbook, Meyer does offer this definition a few paragraphs later: "[Literature is] a fiction consisting of carefully arranged words designed to stir the imagination" (Meyer 2). Carefully arranged words….stirs the imagination….in other words, "a verbal art." I can live with that definition, and I encourage you to, as well.

But I would be remiss if I didn't direct you another professor's profound answer to this question (I have special access to his notes because he's my husband). Read the file called "Jim Esch on the Meaning of Literature" for a continued discussion of this fundamental question.

Another interesting, fundamental question to ask: how do we study literature?

If you read the chapter in CBIL, "Critical Strategies for Reading" (pp. 1533-1556), you will discover all the different ways scholars have approached the study of literature. You can read a brief summary of this chapter in the file "Critical Approaches to Literature."

It's clear there are a number of useful and interesting ways to pursue a serious study of literature, but they are not all equally represented by the instructional apparatus in your introductory-level text. You might notice, if you were to carefully observe, that your textbook takes a decidedly "formalist" approach; that is, it encourages students to see the literary text as the sum of its compositional elements; it is viewed as an "organic whole" whose "form" and "content" reflect one another and merge in meaningful ways.

The formalist approach is defined by Meyer:

  • "Formalist critics focus on the formal elements of a work - its language, structure, and tone."
  • "Formalists offer intense examinations of the relationship between form and meaning within a work, emphasizing the subtle complexity of how a work is arranged. This kind of close reading pays special attention to what are often described as intrinsic matters in a literary work, such as diction, irony, paradox, metaphor, and symbol, as well as larger elements, such as plot, characterization, and narrative technique. Formalists examine how these elements work together to give a coherent shape to a work while contributing to its meaning."
  • "Other kinds of information that go beyond the text - biography, history, politics, economics, and so on - are typically regarded by formalists as extrinsic matters, which are considerably less important than what goes on within the autonomous text."

But as you can see here, the formalist approach is just one among many that are possible, and I encourage you to keep that in mind as you study the works I assign. You are free to step beyond the kind of formalist approach our textbook prefers and explore the wide world of biographical, historical, textual, psychological, mythological, sociological, deconstructionist, feminist, or reader-response criticism. There are more approaches (believe it or not) that haven't made the list. Reading closely, reading strongly, opening yourself to insight, being creative and imaginative as you read—expressing, sharing your insights clearly—that's what's most important for us in this course.

Is there a distinction between literature that's worth studying and literature that isn't? How do we draw such a distinction?

The answer to this question is addressed in the next file, "Valuing Literature."

 

 

 

     

 


Questions? Contact me.

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