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English 376-The Colloquium in English

About this Course

The colloquium is designed to give English majors and other interested students a firm grounding in the process and theory of reading texts. We will begin by honing your skills as a “close reader,” which entails your ability to explain the structure of a passage or poem and to put forth an interpretation of the same in a single coherent argument. Once we work through those skills, we will examine some of the various methods of reading and the assumptions of these different schools. It will be important to keep in mind that not all theories or methods work equally well for all texts. Through an understanding of the differences of literary criticisms, I hope that you will see the various values, assumptions, and limitations that shape many different methods of reading, including your own. This better understanding of how to “do” English should have practical benefits for you as an English major; it may also have more resonant, perhaps even troubling implications for you as this course asks you to think about how we see and what we privilege.

Requirements for the Course

  • Class participation–10% – This is the area of your grade over which you have the most control. By coming to class, being prepared, and participating in the discussion, you can give yourself a wonderful class participation grade and a better grasp of the material, which will be reflected in your tests and papers. If you miss more than three classes, we will need to have a conference to assess your progress in the course.
  • Leading a Class–10% – Think of this as the “other half” of your class participation grade. Pick a text (or a day) that sounds good to you for a class discussion. You will need to meet with me a full week before your discussion day so we can go over the text on which you will focus in your facilitator role. This schedule means that you will also need to read ahead for that week. Some good approaches include discussion questions for the class, a structured debate for the whole class, or possibly a contemporary point of connection with the older text. Try to find something that illustrates the issues of the text at hand; show instead of tell. Let your creativity roam free. Your main job is to interest your classmates in the dayís reading. PLEASE do not give a short biography or lecture about the writer (unless he or she had a particularly colorful past). We might fall asleep.
  • Exams–20% each – We will go over the format of both the midterm and the final before each test. The final will be cumulative.
  • Papers–20% each – The first paper, which comes due very early in this course, is a close reading of a poem from the poetry packet. We will discuss close reading at length in class; please feel free to seek me out for additional help outside of class. It is your option to rewrite the first paper, an option I heartily encourage you to exercise. You are welcome to write on a topic of your choosing for the second paper as long as you clear it with me no later than a week before the paper is due.

Course Materials

  • A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, eds. Easthope & McGowan (Toronto)–C
  • Writing Poems by Robert Wallace, Michelle Boisseau
  • Falling into Theory, ed. David Richter (St. Martins)-Falling
  • The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross C. Murfin, Supryia M. Ray
  • The Tempest, William Shakespeare (Bedford)
  • Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift (Bedford/St. Martins)–G
  • Mama Day, Gloria Naylor (Vintage)
  • Reserve Readings Packet, Hodges Library–R

Useful Hot Links

The following is a short list of some very useful hot links to other theory and literature sites on the web. I encourage you to use them when preparing for class, putting together your class discussion day, or writing a paper. Enjoy! There’s some great information out there.