ENGL 236
Fields of Barley, Streets of Gold: Utopia in Fiction Fall 2021
Division I Writing Skills

Class Details

Each of the gates was a single pearl: And the street of the city was pure gold, As it were transparent glass. Revelations 21:21 It makes us happy to imagine the future in apocalyptic terms, partly because we love to say I told you so. You didn’t listen, and now look. Fort Lee is on fire, and zombies are smashing down your parents’ door. Catastrophe satisfies us on many levels; by contrast, the utopian vision provides a more delicate thrill. For a writer, the task is to provide a fiction that will not feel like a moral lesson or the illustration of some theory about how we should behave. This course will consider different utopian stories in a vaguely chronological sequence: Classical Era, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and then moving through the 19th and 20th centuries, and then into modern science fiction. You’d be right if you think this sounds as if I haven’t yet finalized the list, but it will include familiar and unfamiliar names–Plato, More, Bacon, Campanella, Fourier, Bellamy, Skinner, LeGuin, Bisson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and various Afro-Futurists. Mostly you will be reading (or else listening to the instructor describe) excerpts and summaries rather than full texts, as utopian visions are often quite long and we want to consider large numbers of them. The emphasis in this class will be on writing rather than reading. Most assignments will consist of either sketching out or actually writing a short story set in one of these imagined worlds, a story that would serve as a critique. In addition, as a final project, students will invent a personal utopia and present it to the class.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 1908
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: You will be graded on the basis of class participation, plus ten short written assignments and two longer ones. The instructor will require revisions on the longer assignments in order for you to receive a grade.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: If the course is over-enrolled, I will give preference to seniors, then juniors, then sophomores.
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
WS Notes: This course will involve weekly writing assignments of perhaps three pages each as well as two longer pieces of perhaps 15 pages each: In total, I hope, not more than sixty pages per student. The shorter assignments will consist of a page or so of commentary on a piece of utopian writing, and a scene-by-scene sketch for a story set in it that illustrates that commentary or critique. The larger projects are (1.) a full rendering of one of those sketches and (2.) your own utopian vision.
Attributes: ENGL Criticism Courses

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