ENGL 391 Spring 2013 American Portraits: Capturing the Self in Word and Image

Cross Listed as AMST391
We've all seen pictures of ourselves that we thought got it right, and others we've rejected as wrong. This class will weigh the different powers of words and pictures to represent persons, asking how each medium tries to define and achieve something lifelike. Considering (mostly) nineteenth-century American fiction alongside a variety of visual portraits, we?ll identify the ways writers and artists try to convey the slippery thing we call identity. Can a writer get us closer to "the truth of the human hear" by manipulating our view, "mellow[ing] the lights" and "enrich[ing] the shadows of the picture," as Nathaniel Hawthorne claims? Are new visual media like daguerreotypes, as he suggests, able to make the secrets of the heart visible? Questions about how to portray the true self will lead us to questions about how to find the true self. We'll ask, with Henry James, about the difference between private and public selves, and whether it's possible to maintain that distinction. And what might signal identity if something supposed to be as essential as race isn't even visible (a possibility treated as a cosmic joke by Mark Twain and as a tragedy by Nella Larsen)? We?ll also consider who has the authority to judge likeness. Are self-portraits the most or the least reliable picture of a person (a persistent question in "The Amber Gods")? By the end of the term, we won't have decided whether words or images finally win the contest for the best representation of human life. But we will understand better what it takes to make a character look like himself and come to life, whether on the page or in a frame. Readings will include Poe's "The Oval Portrait," Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, Harriet Prescott Spofford's "The Amber Gods," Melville's "Bartleby," James's The Portrait of a Lady and "The Real Thing," Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, and Larsen's Passing. We will consider a variety of 19th-century portraits (from Gilbert Stuart's George Washington to miscellaneous silhouettes), and students may extend the class's attention forward to contemporary portrait artists like Chuck Close, Kara Walker, and Cindy Sherman.
Class Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: active participation and presentation in class discussion; two essays (one of about 6-7 pages, one of about 9-10 pages)
Additional Info: may not be taken on a passfFail basis
Additional Info2:
Prerequisites: a 100-level English course, or a score of 5 on the AP Exam in English Literature or a 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate
Enrollment Preference: English majors & American studies majors
Department Notes:
Material and Lab Fees:
Distribution Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AMST
Divisional Attributes: Division I
Other Attributes: AMST Arts in Context Electives, ENGL Literary Histories C
Enrollment Limit: 25
Expected Enrollment: 20
Class Number: 3944
ENGL391-01(S) SEM American Portraits Division 1: Languages and the Arts Ashley C. Barnes
TR 11:20 AM-12:35 PM Griffin 1 3944
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