Great Books II: Playing with Time
Course Description and Objectives
With the turn of the century only recently behind us, and with major developments in science and world affairs occurring almost daily, the fundamental question of time seems to have taken on greater urgency. How did we get here? Where are we going? How does the passage of time shape us both as individuals and as a community? In this section of Great Books, we will consider how some of the most influential writers of the past three centuries have sought to answer these questions. In essence, we will be traveling through time: either to imagined futures, as in The Time Machine, Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, or to the past, as in the historical novels Notre-Dame de Paris and Beloved. Our two other major works, Great Expectations and Deliverance, each in their own way examine what happens when the future and the past come into conflict with each other. Some of the overall questions that we will explore include:
• In what ways does childhood and family history determine who one is in the present? When is the past a burden? When is it something to preserve and commemorate? How can historical fiction or verse–by definition products of the imagination–convey the reality of another time period? How has new attention to cultural diversity reshaped the portrayal of the past in academia and in the culture at large?
• What will become of civilization in the future? What is ‘progress’? Will advances in technology create greater opportunities for individuals or lead to isolation and a loss of freedom? How will traditional forms and values adapt to a rapidly changing world? How, in other words, can imagining the world of the future teach us about our present-day hopes and fears?
These questions are intended to guide you through the assigned reading and to provide a means of linking books that might otherwise seem very different from each other. These questions are not intended, however, to limit the topics that you can explore in your essays and in class. In fact, I hope that you will bring a broad range of issues and concerns to your writing and to our discussion of these works. Class discussion, group work, and writing assignments are intended to further the basic goals of the Great Books sequence, which are:
• To develop better reading skills: not just the skill of comprehending what the words on a page say, but also (and more importantly) the skill of interpreting the meaning of what you read–that is, literary analysis.
• To develop better writing skills: the skill of articulating opinions in an intelligent, clear, and well-organized manner; the skill of constructing a persuasive argument about a literary interpretation; and the skill of academic writing.
• To develop critical thinking skills: by learning to become a better reader and writer, you will also learn to become a more critical thinker, acquiring the skills of close reading, analysis, and argument.
• Please buy the editions indicated below. For each entry, the first year represents when the work was written, the second when the edition we are using was published.
Applebaum, Stanley, ed. English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology. Dover, 1996. (Abbreviated RP on your schedule.)
Hugo, Victor. Notre-Dame de Paris. 1831. Oxford, 1993
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1860-61. Penguin, 2003.
Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. 1895. Broadview, 2001.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932. Harper Collins, 1998.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor, 1986.
Dickey, James. Deliverance. Delta, 1970.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Plume, 1987.
Course Work and Grading
• Two 5-page papers, each worth 20% of the final grade. Assignment sheets with suggested topics will be passed out during the semester.
• Reading quizzes: there will be at least one–usually two–unannounced reading quizzes per week. At the end of the course, I will drop the lowest quiz grade and count the rest 20% toward your final grade. See additional handout on how to prepare for quizzes.
• A mid-term exam (20%) and a final exam (20%).
• Active participation: participation is expected of all students and will be taken into consideration when the final grade is assessed. Read every assignment thoroughly and bring the appropriate text to class. If you are unprepared or do not bring your book, you may be marked absent. For each class discussion, make it your goal to say at least two constructive things about the assigned reading. During group work, be attentive, considerate, and helpful. At the end of the course, if your numerical average is on the borderline between two grades, strong participation will earn you the higher grade. Poor participation will insure that you get the lower grade. See additional handout for more details.
Visit http://www.auburn.edu/english/gb/index.htm for course policies on prerequisites, grading, exams, excusable absences, and academic honesty. These policies will be in effect except as altered below:
Absences: You are given two unexcused absences to use at your discretion, except on days when a paper is due or an exam is scheduled: in fairness to those students completing the work on time, I must verify any excuse that results in an extension. If you have used up your two absences and an emergency occurs that requires you to miss class, you must provide appropriate documentation to excuse the absence. Absences will be excused only for the six types of reasons given in the Student Handbook and in the Tiger Cub. See me during office hours to discuss any work that you missed: that is, please do not ask me before the following class about work missed or send me an e-mail requesting a recap of the previous day’s discussion and assignments. Students with more than two absences will have one full grade (1.0) deducted from the final grade for each additional unexcused absence.
Late papers/missed quizzes and exams: Papers and other assignments are due at class-time on the days noted in your syllabus. A paper turned in after the due date will be penalized one letter grade for each day that it is late. If illness or another emergency prevents you from meeting a deadline or sitting for an exam, please contact me as soon as you know that you cannot come to class. If you miss a quiz or arrive for class while a quiz is in progress, you will have to make up the quiz during my office hours or at the end of the following class period. It is your responsibility to arrange a prompt make up of any missed quiz; if not made up by the end of the day of the next class meeting, the quiz will be counted a zero (e.g, a quiz missed on a Thursday must be made up by the following Tuesday).
Classroom behavior: Avoid discourteous behavior that creates an unpleasant learning environment for your classmates. Examples include arriving late; sleeping; not turning off your cell-phone; not bringing your book; and talking to a neighbor when you should be listening. If a student continues any of these behaviors after being warned to stop, he or she risks failing the course.
Special Accommodations: Students with documentation of special needs should arrange to see me as soon as possible.
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