How have American authors imagined the activity of interpretation? What counts as a sign, and how do you know if you’re reading it accurately? Getting the message, or knowing if there is a message at all, can be a tricky business. This course will consider a wide range of texts that make scrutiny their central action: Jonathan Edwards and Thoreau reading the landscape for signals of cosmic meaning; Poe and Henry James piling up clues in their detective and ghost stories; Nat Turner and Melville dramatizing communication across the color line; Faulkner patching together history in Absalom, Absalom!; Pynchon detailing the quest to find hidden order in The Crying of Lot 49. These texts about interpretation have, in turn, spurred literary scholars to their own interpretive efforts. So along the way we will sample a range of approaches to decoding, unpacking, and otherwise making meaning from texts, and become more self-conscious of our own methods and choices as readers and critics.
The Class: Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: essays (4 or 5) totaling about 20 pages
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preferences: sophomores and first-year students who have not yet taken an ENGL Gateway course
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills