Literature," according to Daniel Aaron, "is the most searching
and unabashed criticism of our national limitations that exists."
This course aims at examining these limitations through a selective
reading of major American writers from the 17th to the 20th century,
tracing the development of major literary forms, themes, and historical
and cultural trends.
Explicit throughout the course will be the notion --as Robert Scholes once explained -- "that reading and writing are important because we read and write our world as well as our texts, and we are read and written by them in turn. Texts are places where power and weakness become visible and discussable, where learning and ignorance manifest themselves, where structures that enable and constrain our thoughts and actions become palpable." At its most fundamental level, then, this course will use the study of literature to help its students become better readers, writers, and thinkers.
But also at stake in this course will be the notion of an "American identity," the historical emergence of something called "American Literature," and the ways in which the issues of race, class, region, sexuality, and gender affect these constructions. We will also explore how marginalized groups face the prospect of self-formation. In this way, issues of descent and dissent and the role they play in the formation of a democratic culture will constitute the focus of our study.
The approach will be loosely historical, though the large period we will attempt to cover will necessitate some rather big jumps in time.