Course Description and Objectives
Just walk the streets of Toronto, and it is clear that we live, study, and work in a global city. It is easy to forget that the place we encounter every day is the result of centuries of transnational and global history. With our location in Toronto—and its connections to this history—as our inspiration, this course explores how authors have used literature to respond to, imagine, and make sense of a global, transnational, and contemporary world. This is our first objective. Certainly, over the course of the semester, we will learn about some canonical authors, their literary works, and the historical and cultural contexts that informed the texts. But you will also read a few works that may not be familiar to you. As we encounter novels, poetry, and drama, we’ll travel to and from a wide variety of places. Some will be close to home and set during our time, like a university classroom or a suburban home in Scarborough. Others will be far away: a neighbourhood in northwest London, a nightclub in the Dominican Republic, a small college town somewhere in the United States, the bustling streets of Calcutta; the boroughs of New York. We’ll see the past and future, from our province in the nineteenth century, when aboriginals and colonials both claimed the same land; to a haunted house in Ohio during the 1870s; to an eerie version of our possible days to come. We’ll think about events on small and large scales: a global health care crisis; migrating to new places; a mother struggling with dementia; slavery and empire; environmental disasters and food shortages; war both then and now; and the relationship between science and art. We’ll meet time travelers and ghosts, university first-years and their professors, opera singers and poets, struggling parents and searching teenagers. How does literature examine a transnational and global past, present, and future? What is literature’s unique place in this world? What does literature teach us about our connections to the past, and how we might connect with each other in the present?
Along the way, this class will accomplish a second objective: to introduce you to literary genres (poetry, drama, and prose fiction), to the skills you need to analyze different forms of literature, and to some key terms we use in literary analysis. Therefore, this course is also an introduction to the English major and minor (although you need not be an English major/minor to succeed in the class). Our final objective will be to practice critical analysis. By this I mean that you should be able to 1) notice interesting details in a work, 2) think about the meaning behind these details, and 3) be able to talk and write about the link between these details and their cultural meaning. A central claim for this course is that cultural texts make debatable claims and arguments. You will learn how to examine these texts, ask questions about them, and formulate your own opinions and answers. What key details are important and why? How are these texts imagining and constructing race, nation, class, gender, sexuality, and ability? What cultural issue or problem does the work identify? What is its argument regarding this issue? How does the work support this argument? Does it offer any solutions? If so, what are they? If not, why not? Ideally, you will leave this course with tools and strategies that you will be able to use beyond the boundaries of this course: thinking critically, analyzing evidence carefully, developing original and creative opinions and arguments, and most importantly, communicating effectively.
Reading for 2016-2017:
Fall Term (*Note: books will be available at the U of T bookstore as a bundle for roughly $79, before taxes): Allen Ginsberg, “Supermarket in California” (1955); Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985); Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987); Tony Kushner, Angels in America (1993); Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), Souvankham Thammavongsa, Light (2014)
Winter Term: Junot Diaz, A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007); David Chariandy, Soucouyant (2008); Keith Barker, Chris Hanratty, Shira Leuchter and Jordi Mand, The Speedy (2014); Mona Awad, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (2016); George Saunders, Tenth of December (2014); Zadie Smith, “The Embassy of Cambodia” (2014); Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2006)