"Holes" and "Explode."
All images on these pages were created by Sharon Burgmayer, Department of Chemistry,Bryn Mawr College.
For a file of her work see http://www.brynmawr.edu/Acads/Chem/sburgmay/watercolors/.
See also an on-line exhibit of Sharon's work called Transformation.

English 207: Big Books of American Literature
Gender, Race And Class Explored....[Exploding???]

Spring 2003 TTh 10-11:30 Anne Dalke
Ofc. English House 205 ext. 5306 adalke@brynmawr.edu

In this course we will (re-?) turn to the grand old mid-19th-century American literature narratives, (re-?) reading them through the lenses of contemporary theory and contemporary culture, which focus so insistently on the intersections of the four identity categories we use these days as shorthand (and use so insistently to shortchange). As we work our way through a number of the big books written between 1845-1865 (we will select several from among Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin & Melville's Moby Dick, Douglass's Narrative & Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl & Alcott's Little Women, Davis's Life in the Iron Mills & Thoreau's Walden; we could also look at Whitman's Leaves of Grass & Dickinson's Collected Poetry), we will think together about what cultural work these big books perform, and what their current value might be for us all.

We will begin our study with Uncle Tom's Cabin, as perhaps best exemplifying Mark Twain's definition of a classic: "a book people want to have read but don't want to read." We will play with the difference Jay Fliegelman illuminates between intensive and extensive reading practices (he shows how Americans in earlier centuries intensively read and re-read very few texts, especially the Bible, and works that against extensive practices--that is, reading all the exegesis on a given text). As we read, re-read, write, re-write Uncle Tom's Cabin during the first weeks of the course, we will also read multiple shorter texts of modern American literature criticism, including James Baldwin's denunciation of it as "Everybody's Protest Novel" and Jane Tompkins' celebration of its "Sentimental Power." We will also read it forward into other cultural forms. We will consider, for instance, its role in Rodgers and Hammerstein's1956 motion picture, The King and I, in Bill T. Jones's recent dance, Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land, and in the recent trial of Rodney King.

Throughout the course, as we explore the role classics play in the construction of our culture, we will consider American literature as an institutional apparatus, under debate and by no means settled. This project will involve a certain amount of anti-disciplinary work: interrogating (refusing?) these books as naturalized objects, asking how they reproduce conventional categories, how we might re-imagine the cultural work they perform. What narratives about the country, about ourselves (about our nation, its classes, races and genders) do we want our canonical books to tell? How we can read them to complicate notions of "America"? To answer such questions, we'll look at the problems of exceptionalism, aiming for some sense of field-imaginary as we examine these traditional texts relationally, comparatively and interactively.

Course Requirements:

Enrollment is Limited to 30.

Return to Course Home Page