What Makes Great Literature Great?
Term: Fall 2008
Time: 2:00-3:20 p.m. MR
Place: HH 252
Prof. G. Steinberg
Office: Bliss 216
Office Phone: 771-2106
Office Hours: 3:30-5:00 p.m. MR
and by appointment
TCNJ E-mail Username: gsteinbe
- Homer, The Odyssey (Penguin, 1996), ISBN 0140268863
- Virgil, The Aeneid (Penguin, 2006), ISBN 0143105138
- Statius, The Thebaid (Johns Hopkins, 2007), ISBN 0801886368
COURSE DESCRIPTION. What makes great literature great? Is there something in the literature itself, some quality, that makes it great? Is it great because a conspiracy of rich white men in a smoke-filled room somewhere says it’s great? In this course, we read a number of theorists who have wrestled with what makes great literature great (e.g., Wolfgang Iser, Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, Hans Robert Jauss, Harold Bloom, Pierre Bourdieu, Stanley Fish, and John Guillory). Then we read three authors from ancient Greece and Rome, two of whom (Homer and Virgil) have “stood the test of time” as great authors (although Virgil’s reputation has slipped in the last 50 years) and the third of whom (Statius) seems to have failed to last in the same way. We apply the theories from earlier in the semester to the three authors in order to try to understand and explain how or why their works are great (or not).
GOALS. In terms of my goals for this course, I want you
- to approach the world, information, and knowledge ever more critically, questioning surface appearances, received opinion, and authoritative answers,
- to use writing, research, and reading for inquiry, learning, critical thinking, and communicating,
- to collect, analyze, and interpret information and to communicate it to others in a reliable way,
- to write essays that are clear, effective, correct (according to the norms of standard American English), and appropriate to an academic setting,
- to understand better how the literary, visual, and performing arts reflect and inspire the richness of human expression, and how language and other forms of expression convey meaning and story,
- to be able to analyze how forms of expression are used to reflect, exalt, or challenge the values of a culture,
- to be able to explain the many purposes for which art is created and the multiple contexts in which it acquires meaning and value,
- to have developed perceptual habits and conceptual lenses conducive to the appreciation of specific media, genres, and styles,
- to have pursued a sustained investigation of the idea of literature itself by examining what literature is and how it is culturally, politically, philosophically and/or sociologically defined and influenced, and
- to demonstrate sensitivity to the concrete historicity and cultural specificity of texts and to the development of literary traditions, cultural values, modes of thought, and uses of language over time and across national boundaries.
REQUIREMENTS. This course has the following graded assignments:
- three formal essays (worth, in order, 15%, 25%, and 35% of your final grade),
- five entries for the class’s annotated bibliography (worth 1% each, 5% all together), and
- 10 response papers (worth 2% each, 20% all together).
Your final grade will be based on the following scale: A = 93-100, A- = 90-92.9, B+ = 87-89.9, B = 83-86.9, B- = 80-82.9, C+ = 77-79.9, C = 73-76.9, C- = 70-72.9, D+ = 67-69.9, D = 60-66.9, and F = below 60.
RESPONSE PAPERS. In the course of the term, you are required to write 10 short, informal papers (about 2 pages each) on the readings for class. You may choose which readings you want to respond to, as long as you have completed 10 response papers by the end of the term. For each response paper on the theories that we’ll be reading at the beginning of the semester, think about the following questions and use them to to formulate a response to the reading assignment for the day:
For each response paper on Homer, Virgil, or Statius, choose one of the following topics and respond to the reading assignment for the day with respect to the topic you’ve chosen (you should write at least once on each of these topics over the course of the term):
Response papers will be graded Pass/Fail. I ask you to type them (so that they are easier for me to read), but they need not be a perfect, polished product. Rather, response papers should be just what their name says – a response. Think about one of the topics that I ask you to consider; then, write a response. Don’t worry about typos or comma splices or organization. Don’t worry about answering every question I ask under the particular topic. In fact, focus on the one question that seems most interesting to you, and be as specific as you can, getting down as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Treat response papers more like a journal entry than like a formal paper. I don’t want a five-paragraph theme. Rather, I want an exploration – as detailed and specific as possible – of the reading assignment for the day.
Normally, as long as you submit a response paper of suitable length, detail, and thoughtfulness (and as long as you turn in a hard copy on time in class on the assigned day), you will receive all the points that the response paper is worth. The purpose of the response papers is
- to help you in your preparation for class discussion,
- to help me see where you’re struggling with the readings for class,
- to help you develop your intellectual independence and your confidence as a reader,
- to help you explore and apply the theory we read, and
- to help you generate ideas for your longer, more formal papers.
You may submit more than 10 response papers in the course of the semester (to make up for any response papers that do not receive a grade of Pass), but no matter how many extra response papers you turn in, you will not receive credit for more than 10 total. You may not submit more than one response paper on a single day, nor may you submit a response paper for a day that you are absent from class – absolutely no exceptions.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY. This assignment is, in a sense, a collaborative effort involving the entire class. I doubt that any of us know very much about Statius, and we all should learn more. So, each of you is required to find five sources about Statius, the Rome of his day, the myth of the Seven against Thebes, or The Thebaid. Among your five sources, you must have at least one website and at least one scholarly journal article or book chapter. In addition, at least one of your sources must have been written before 1980 and at least two since 1980. No source that you find may be duplicated by any other student. In other words, each of you must find five completely different sources from everyone else. When you find a new source, you should post the name of its author, its title, and its basic bibliographic information on the class wiki in SOCS. Once you have posted a source on the wiki, it is yours; no one else may choose or claim that source. After claiming a source, you are responsible for carefully reading (and re-reading) the source and then writing
- a one- or two-sentence description of the source,
- a one-paragraph summary of its main points, and
- a one- or two-sentence evaluation of its importance as a source.
You will post this information on the class wiki as well. When you have all posted your summaries and evaluations of your five sources, we as a class will have an annotated bibliography of 80 sources on Statius. Your five entries for this annotated bibliography will be graded based on the following criteria:
PAPER 1, PAPER 2, and PAPER 3. You are required to write three formal essays for this class. The first of these essays will be on the Odyssey; the second will be on the Aeneid; and the third will be on the Thebaid. For each essay, choose an episode, scene, or passage from the text assigned for that essay. The passage you choose must be one that we have not discussed in class but that seems very important to you in terms of the significance, value, or reception of the work as a whole. Compose an essay of 4-6 pages in which you argue a clear, specific, and interesting thesis about the passage and its significance in the work. As you think about what to write, I strongly recommend that you use your response papers as a starting place. Once you’ve chosen a focus for your paper, look very carefully at your passage. Look for details that reveal or illustrate the significance of the passage in terms of your chosen focus. Use those details as evidence and illustration in your paper, but also use evidence from other parts of the work (to put your passage in the context of the work as a whole). You may also refer back to Homer when writing about Virgil or back to Homer and/or Virgil when writing about Statius, but you are not required to do so. You need not use outside sources for this paper (other than Homer, Virgil, and/or Statius); in fact, I would encourage you not to use outside sources (because I'd rather hear what you think than what some published scholar thinks). If you do use outside sources, you are responsible for documenting those sources appropriately, using any recognized documentation format (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.). The class meeting before the first two papers are due, bring to class a thesis paragraph (a draft first paragraph of your paper or just a paragraph that describes what you plan to write about), and your classmates and I will give you feedback on your proposed thesis.
Your paper will be graded based on the following criteria:
ATTENDANCE. Regular attendance is a virtual necessity for successful completion of this class. Class discussion constitutes important, useful preparation for your graded work. If you miss a class, you will essentially lose out on that day’s contribution to your preparation, since it is never really possible to reproduce or recapture the dynamics and flow of information for a missed class meeting (even if you get notes from someone). If, however, you positively must miss a class, I expect you to find out what you missed and to come fully prepared – without excuses – to the next class meeting. And please, don’t ask, “Did I miss anything?” Check out Tom Wayman’s poem about that question.
OFFICE HOURS. My office is Bliss 216, and my office hours are 3:30-5:00 p.m. on MR. If you cannot see me during these office hours, feel free as needed to call my office (771-2106) or to talk to me before or after class to arrange an appointment at another time. You may also contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or you may leave a message for me in my box at the English department offices in Bliss 124. Email is generally the fastest way to contact me in an emergency.
EMAIL. I may, on occasion, want to e-mail everyone in class. I generally only have access to your TCNJ e-mail addresses, however. As a result, if you regularly use an e-mail address other than your TCNJ address, I recommend that you have mail from your TCNJ address forwarded to the address you use more regularly. That way, if I e-mail your TCNJ address, my message will be forwarded to your other address automatically. To forward mail from your TCNJ address, go to http://www.tcnj.edu/~helpdesk/Zimbra.htm and click “Forward Email.” Follow the directions there to set up mail forwarding.
If you would like to send an e-mail message to one or more of your classmates, you can do so through SOCS. To access SOCS, go to http://socs.tcnj.edu and, after you have logged in with your TCNJ e-mail username and password, choose this class from the list of your courses this semester. Then, when our course page comes up, click the “Email” button. From there, you can select individual e-mail addresses or the entire class and send a message to the address(es) you’ve selected.
Accommodations. The College of New Jersey prohibits discrimination against any student on the basis of physical or mental disability or perceived disability. The College will also provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations to enable students with disabilities to participate in the life of the campus community. Individuals with disabilities are responsible for reporting and supplying documentation verifying their disability, and requests for accommodations must be initiated through the Office of Differing Abilities Services (Eickhoff Hall 159). If you require special assistance, I will make every reasonable effort to accommodate your needs and to create an environment where your special abilities will be respected.
LANGUAGES ACROSS THE CURRICULUM. A one-credit Languages Across the Curriculum independent study in ancient Greek or Latin may be added to this course for those students who have intermediate level proficiency in Greek or Latin and who wish to complement the work in this course by utilizing their language skills. Please visit the LAC website at http://internationalstudies.intrasun.tcnj.edu or contact email@example.com for more information. Students must meet with Dr. Deborah Compte to enroll in the LAC independent study by September 2.
COURSE SCHEDULE. The schedule below is subject to revision at the discretion of the professor. I recommend that you check this online syllabus regularly over the course of the term. Changes and updates will be indicated in red.
|R Aug 28||Introductions|
|M Sep 1||NO CLASS (Labor Day)|
|T Sep 2||“Bloom: Introduction and Clinamen” (available under “Resources” in SOCS), “Tintern Abbey,” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”|
|R Sep 4||“Michael Riffaterre” (available under “Resources” in SOCS) and A Rose for Emily|
|M Sep 8||“Barbara Herrnstein Smith” (available under “Resources” in SOCS) and “The Red Wheelbarrow”|
|R Sep 11||“Jauss: Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, Chapter 1” (available under “Resources” in SOCS), “Dover Beach,” and “The Dover Bitch.” In “Jauss,” focus especially on sections VI-XII (the seven theses).|
|M Sep 15||Odyssey, Books 1-4|
|R Sep 18||Odyssey, Books 5-8|
|M Sep 22||Odyssey, Books 9-12|
|R Sep 25||Odyssey, Books 13-16|
|M Sep 29||Odyssey, Books 17-20|
|R Oct 2||Odyssey, Books 21-24|
|M Oct 6||Bring a thesis paragraph for PAPER 1 to class. Click here for some examples of bad paragraphs.|
|R Oct 9||PAPER 1 DUE in the dropbox of SOCS before class|
|M Oct 13||NO CLASS (Fall Break)|
|R Oct 16||Aeneid, Books 1 & 2; Click here for a list of Greek and Roman gods.|
|M Oct 20||Aeneid, Books 3 & 4|
|R Oct 23||
Aeneid, Books 5 & 6
By this day, you must have posted the names of the authors, the titles, and the basic bibliographic information of all five of your sources for the annotated bibliography on the class wiki in SOCS.
|M Oct 27||Aeneid, Books 7 & 8|
|R Oct 30||Aeneid, Books 9 & 10|
|M Nov 3||Aeneid, Books 11 & 12|
|R Nov 6||Bring a thesis paragraph for PAPER 2 to class.|
|M Nov 10||PAPER 2 DUE in the dropbox of SOCS before class|
|R Nov 13||Thebaid, Books 1 & 2|
|M Nov 17||Thebaid, Books 3 & 4|
|R Nov 20||Thebaid, Books 5 & 6|
|M Nov 24||Thebaid, Books 7 & 8|
|R Nov 27||NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)|
|M Dec 1||Thebaid, Books 9 & 10|
|R Dec 4||
Thebaid, Books 11 & 12
By this day you must have posted your descriptions, summaries, and evaluations of all five of your sources for the annotated bibliography on the class wiki in SOCS. Bring copies of your non-online sources to class.
|Finals Week||PAPER 3 DUE in the dropbox of SOCS|
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