World Literature Through the Renaissance
Dr. John Harris
Office: BUS 207a
ENGL 2362.001 & 002
h: 903-566-4985 Spring 2013
Office Hours: MWF: 9-11,
(and by appointment)
The Macintosh iPad (II) or other means (e.g., a laptop) of downloading text. All readings are in one large PDF download posted on Blackboard and a single short additional download (Gilgamesh): no bound texts are required, and no purchase of discs is necessary.
Objectives: Any survey course seeks to provide an ample breadth of information (often, unfortunately, at the expense of depth). The objective in this class is for you to emerge with a general sense of major historical transitions in Western culture and of several significant authors whose work defined these transitions; furthermore, we shall aim to grow cursorily familiar with some of the world’s most influential texts and to understand how they relate chronologically and stylistically to our own traditions. Yet to suppose that we can even begin to cover all the world or all great literature, though the word “survey” be understood ever so broadly, would be presumptuous. (For instance, most of the non-Western works we shall study are Indo-Chinese: nothing from Japan, nothing from Africa, and just a bit from the Islamic world.) Hence my second general objective is based on the stylistic relationship mentioned above: you will acquire in this course a functional comprehension (which you will be able to apply to works and times not covered here) of the main characteristics distinguishing oral and literate cultures. The history of literature around the world has continually migrated along this spectrum, though at very differing rates. Hence the spectrum’s study is what the ancient Greeks would have called a “prolegomenon” (or necessary introduction) to the study of any complete literary tradition. I have accordingly broken this semester into three basic parts. First, through the ancient Greeks and Romans, we shall study how our own culture proceeded from an oral/tribal stage to a more literate/cosmopolitan stage; then we shall very briefly follow a similar sequence of stages in several Eastern cultures; and finally we shall return to Europe to observe how it achieved an unprecedented degree of literacy on the brink of what might be called modern times. I shall also strive to help you enjoy literature. The works of the past, especially those based in myth, frequently served religious, historical, and quasi-scientific ends without much thought to “aesthetic pleasure”, so we cannot simply assume that ancient authors intended to entertain us. Yet their assessment of religion, history, and science often turns out to be more aesthetic (that is, in search of an imaginative and poignant order) than they would have admitted. We need scarcely feel guilty, then, about stepping back and admiring the dream-like simplicity of their creations. In this course, you will learn how to unveil and admire the powerful narratives at work beneath odd or alien-seeming mythic surfaces. Finally, you will improve your analytical skills, not only through close reading and class discussion, but also and especially through writing. It is my particular objective that you continue your growth as thoughtful writers now that the freshman year is behind you.
GRADING: Your grade will be determined through several means.
Class Participation (40%): This component of the grade could actually reach 50% (see “additional 10%” below). Because we have such a massive amount of reading material to cover and no classes to waste on formal exams, daily quizzes are the obvious choice for evaluating who is keeping up with the assigned reading and how well. A brief quiz will be administered at the...
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