There is perhaps no older theme in literature than love. While we will discuss many things this semester, our readings have been chosen with the idea of investigating what we mean when we talk about love in its varied forms. At the center of the course are very different texts: a play from Shakespeare, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, and Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home. These texts will present you with challenging and moving explorations of the bonds between people and the different forms that love may take. These texts, along with others from a host of other traditions and perspectives, will give us the opportunity to interrogate our well-worn images of love and to assemble a sharper, more complex, and more inclusive understanding of love in literature writ large: not only romantic love but the love between friends, the love of life, and the love within a family. Welcome to the class. I am eager to see what we learn.
A few related principles are central to the course:
Attention: “The development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies,” Simone Weil. Our capacity to pay long and meaningful attention to a subject is becoming more and more attenuated in the information age. The class encourages you to place renewed value on that capacity, that “faculty,” and to think about how developing it might help you in your education and your life.
Difficulty: Some, but not all, of the texts we read will seem difficult. My strong encouragement to you is to see difficulty not as something to avoid or something to flee, but as a sign that you’re growing your mind. Don’t rush to the internet for answers to your questions. Rather, reflect on them, write them down, bring them to class for discussion. Likewise, it may (and should) feel difficult to have your preexisting ideas and views challenged. This difficulty, too, is a good indicator that learning is taking place. And that’s why you’re here.
Slowness: The pace of life at West Point militates against doing things slowly and thoughtfully. This course is deliberately counter-cultural in that you will get the most out of it if you allow yourself to go slowly, to allow ideas to build upon one another, and to take the time to think back on what you’ve learned.
Freedom: There may be no better time than your first year of college to get as many intellectual doors open as possible. Embrace the opportunity to ask many questions, to find out what you don’t know, and to move around in the wide mental space college affords. Do not hesitate to follow unconventional impulses, to pursue your own ideas, and to entertain ones you never have. And respect the process of others as they do likewise.
All you need for the bulk of the work we will do is a book, a pen or pencil, and a notebook. I’d prefer you not to use your computer in class at all, but if you strongly prefer to take notes that way, I won’t object, as long as it doesn’t become a distraction (which it will). Come each day having read the assigned pages and ready to discuss.
Representative Course Texts
The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays and The Sonnets, Greenblatt, et. al. eds.
The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Shorter 5th Edition), Ferguson, Salter, and Stallworthy, eds.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
This course studies ways in which writers use language imaginatively and critically in order for cadets to gain basic knowledge and comprehension of literary works, to explore the interpretation and articulation of meaning of literature, and to build empathy through examining diverse cultural perspectives. Cadets read, discuss, analyze, and creatively engage selected examples of multiple literary genres to include but not limited to fictional prose, poetry, drama, essays and speeches, and film. Cadets develop the writing techniques of EN101 in responding to assignments on selected works of literature from diverse authors and media. EN102 introduces ethical issues represented in literature so cadets cultivate judicious interpretation of evidence to facilitate later development of ethical reasoning in PY201.
a. Course Learning Outcomes:
1. To act and think “creatively” through textual interpretation, dramatic performance, and writing.
2. To “recognize ethical issues” as they are represented in literature by examining complex, ambiguous situations in which characters are confronted with difficult choices, and through authors’ critical commentary.
3. To listen attentively, think precisely and deeply, “read critically,” and speak and write effectively by engaging in dialogue with peers, faculty, and guest lecturers; memorizing and performing a speech from Shakespeare; and writing about literature.
4. To cultivate “the capability and desire to pursue progressive and continued intellectual development” by sharpening tools of textual analysis, learning to become judicious interpreters of evidence.
5. To broaden and deepen a knowledge of “cultures,” “social systems,” “human behavior,” and the human condition as these spheres are represented in literature.