The Freshman Writing Seminar, directed by the Department of Literature, aims to enhance the writing skills and literary acumen of first-year students through intensive composition and revision and the study of significant texts and models. Each seminar focuses on a literary theme chosen by the instructor, and each ranges across periods and genres. All of the seminars seek to instill rigor of argument, clarity of presentation, and stylistic grace. Students will be expected to write no fewer than seventy-five hundred words during the semester. Seminars will typically have fifteen students. All CMC students are required to take a section of FWS in their first year at Claremont McKenna College.
- American Dreams: Narratives of Nationhood and Subjectivity. Crockett
In this course we will read and respond to a variety of texts to foster critical thought about the “American Dream.” Each of the works we will read contributes to a larger conversation regarding intersecting discourses of race, class, gender, and nationhood as they complicate contemporary understandings of productivity, success, and privilege in the United States. You will join this conversation by sharing your perspective on the “American Dream” and by applying critical theory to various works. You will thereby flex your critical thinking skills as you practice writing in an organized, thoughtful, and persuasive manner.
- Meta: Representations of Reading and Writing in Literature. Crockett
Readers, writers, and books make their way into literary works with remarkable frequency. These meta-narrative representations of literature within literature invite us to take seriously our own reading and writing habits as we perform critical analysis. In this course, we will consider how, and to what end, readers and writers are represented in a wide range of literary texts and films. With the help of critical theories and close analysis of the texts, we will consider how individuals and their respective cultures are shaped by, and contribute to, the history of reading and writing.
- Reading with Nabokov. de la Durantaye
Books open out onto other books. This seminar will follow a book by Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature, as it opens out onto other books. We will read Nabokov’s famous and entertaining lectures along with the books they are about: Austen’s Mansfield Park, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dickens’ Bleak House, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and parts of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Joyce’s Ulysses. Examining Nabokov’s skills and faults, preferences and prejudices, we will look at what sort of reader he was, what sort of readers we are, and what sort of readers we want to become.
- Poetic Justice. Faggen
Literature is often motivated by a desire to depict justice, especially when justice appears to fail in the world. How do authors represent the triumph of good over evil, virtue over vice in a morally challenging world? We will read poetry, fiction, and drama from a variety of different historical moments and with careful attention to context in order to understand how literature finds poetry in justice and justice in poetry.
- How to Do Things with Words. Farrell
In this course you will see how great writers compel the interest of readers and you will learn how to do it too. You will study classic works in each genre and analyze their structure, diction, imagery, themes, and metaphors; you will attempt to employ these elements skillfully in your own writing. You will write at least one page per class, and one or two students will be selected to use the page they have written as the basis for a brief talk on the question of the day. Among our authors will be Homer, Shakespeare, Keats, Balzac, and Yeats.
- Post-Apocalyptic Humanity. Gallagher
Events like plague and climate change may be the catalysts, but humankind is both the protagonist and antagonist in post-apocalyptic literature. Starting with early modern accounts of newly-formed plague quarantine practices, this course will explore how post-apocalyptic literature both stresses and relieves tensions in the areas of identity, which includes topics of race, gender, and sexuality. In addition to the primary sources, students will work extensively with secondary articles and chapters from critical theory. This course will use the post-apocalyptic backdrop to help students learn the fundamentals of academic writing and revision by developing rich, evidence-based arguments that draw from multiple sources.
- Magic, Science, and Literature. Lobis
This course offers an intensive introduction to the study of literature organized around two rich and dynamically related themes: magic and science. Both have a long history of shadowing each other in Western culture, and both have long held a certain pride of place in imaginative writing-from Homer to Harry Potter, John Donne to Robert Frost. As we survey a range of literary forms and genres, our primary goal will be to cultivate the art of critical writing. Through frequent writing assignments and extensive revision, we will develop our responses to literature into cogent and coherent arguments.
- Shakespeare and Love. Lobis
This course offers an intensive introduction to the study of literature organized around a highly compelling author, William Shakespeare, and a highly complex theme, love. We will examine Shakespeare’s varied representations of love on the page as well as on the stage and screen, working through a selection of plays, poems, and adaptations. Our primary practical goal for the semester will be to cultivate the art of the “close reading,” analytical writing grounded in attentive reading and critical thinking. Through a series of exercises and essays, we will carefully consider not only what makes an argument cogent and coherent but also how to make our own more so.
- Voice, Variety, and Vernacular. Martinez, M.
Variations in speech patterns and the use of dialect can represent emotion, intelligence, social identification, geographic origin, gender, age, and economic status of characters. Sociolinguistic shifts in Literature inspire readers to compare their own speech structures and relate to, learn from, or even distance themselves from literary figures. In this class students will examine dialectical patterns in literary texts and consider their own relationships to words. Students will analyze the effect of language when it comes to representing gender, age, race, culture, and other human variations.
- Literature of Los Angeles. Moffett
This course will look at the popular mythology of Los Angeles and how it has evolved over the past 100 years through novels, short stories, and essays that are set there. We’ll survey a variety of genres (noir, satire, magic realism) and investigate how the city that Aldous Huxley described as “nineteen suburbs in in search of a metropolis” has been appropriated by natives and non-natives alike. We’ll think critically and creatively about Los Angeles as a place, a factory for its own myth-making, a volatile intersection of cultures, a harbinger of the future.
- Literary Genres through Film. Morrison
This course examines the key literary genres of the novel, the short story, poetry, and drama by pairing significant literary texts with cinematic counterparts. The course is less about film adaptations of literary works than about reaching an understanding of distinctive elements of these genres through a study of the differing forms they take in the media of literature and film. Authors will include Poe, Dickinson, Nabokov, Shakespeare, and Chekhov.
- Seeing, Sounding, Saying Poems. Parker
Seeing, Sounding, Saying in Poetry will emphasize three aspects of poetry at an introductory level. First, the uses of visual or mental imagery; secondly, the metrical and other sonic devices of a poem; and lastly, the abstractable meaning. The course will teach how to write clearly and distinctly about each of these three elements. There will also be a consideration of important figures of speech. Four longer essays and several shorter writing exercises will be required.
- Literature and Consciousness. Pertile
The problem of consciousness is now at the forefront of philosophical and neuroscientific research. Yet literary texts have been interested in consciousness at least since the Middle Ages. How do literary texts go about representing conscious states? Where might a literary approach to consciousness differ from a scientific one? How has the expression of consciousness changed in different historical periods? How might the study of literature change our definition of consciousness today? In this course we will be thinking about such questions through readings of authors including Sidney, Shakespeare, Marvell, Keats, Shelley, Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, and Beckett.
- Monstrous Tales. Rentz
This course examines the important role that monsters play in the literary imagination. Monsters inhabit borders of difference, and this semester we will explore the complex interplay between the normal and the marginalized, the hero and the villain, the human and the animal. What constitutes a monster? What role do monsters play in the construction of myths and communities? What do monsters tell us about our own monstrosity? Readings to include Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Lais of Marie de France, The Tempest, and Grendel. The craft of writing will always be front and center this semester, from short in-class writing exercises to collaborative workshops of full-length drafts. You will write weekly one-page homework assignments and several short papers.
- Gender and Epic. Rentz
This course looks at gender, family, and society in classical and medieval epic (the Homeric epics, Beowulf, the Epic of Gilgamesh), chivalric romance (Chretien’s Lancelot, the Lais of Marie de France), and drama (Euripides’ Medea, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus). As we read, we’ll discuss how these works raise questions about a wide range of topics: public and private identity, masculinity and femininity, individual and society, household and battlefield, the domestic and the political. The craft of writing will always be front and center this semester, from short in-class writing exercises to collaborative workshops. You will write several one-page homework assignments and four papers.
- Animals in Literature and Film. Schur
Why do animals figure so prominently in literature, especially since they do not presumably participate in language? If language is the foundation of literature, how can literature do justice to animals? These are among the questions that will inform our writing in response to both classic and contemporary fiction. We will also consider animals in film, with a case study of King Kong (1933) and its 2005 remake. Special attention will be given to the problem of anthropomorphization: as a rule, this approach to representation and interpretation obscures the human-animal relationship; we will be alert to exceptions, and in search of alternatives.
- Detectives and Detection. Schur
We will write in response to texts spanning the history of detective fiction: from Poe’s “tales of ratiocination,” through the Golden Age between the Wars, to the hard-boiled tradition-concluding with a contemporary “metaphysical detective story,” which we will read in both prose and graphic novel versions. We will also consider the relationship between hard boiled detective fiction and Hollywood film noir. Texts-and the genre itself-will be treated less as “established facts,” more as “mysteries to be solved”; texts will also be seen as potential models for interpretation, by analogies we will draw between detection and literary analysis.
- Blackness in American Cinema. Smith, D.
In this course students will strengthen their writing skills while studying the representation of black life and culture in popular American cinema. The course will begin with D.W. Griffith’s brutal vision of race in The Birth of a Nation (1915), and it will end just over one hundred years later with discussion of films released in 2019. Considering a century of American movie-making, the course will chart and analyze evolving representations of blackness through historicization. In other words, through reading, writing and discussion we will spend a lot of time thinking about how Hollywood depictions of “African-Americana” have both reflected and informed American culture in the past century. The approach will require students to engage a variety of critical and theoretical writings that will suggest a “subversive” (and usefully portable) method of textual analysis. Rather than searching for the intended meaning of films, we will be more interested in their unintended meanings-in the cultural anxieties, longings and repressions that show up in these texts when they are considered closely. As students work their way through almost two dozen films-some quite influential and others merely representative-they will strengthen their writing, even as they enhance their understandings of individual filmic texts, of traditions of racial representation in Hollywood texts, and of the various forces that shape racial representation in these texts.
- Poetry, Myth, History. Stergiopoulos
In this course we will consider modern recastings of classical myths in a variety of different poetic traditions, following the development of particular mythical figures (Odysseus, Orpheus, Helen, Aphrodite) from their ancient sources to their later iterations and transformations. From Homer to Dante to Pound and Auden, Ovid to Rilke and Marcel Camus, Euripides to Poe and Yeats, each trajectory will reveal a new aspect of the definition and reception of classical myth in modernity. By examining how ancient myths surface in the work of modern artists, we will be thinking in particular about the relation between myth and interpretation and about the cultural work that myths accomplish. Do myths necessitate or deflect critical reading and re-adaptation? Is the use of myth opposed to an interest in the contemporary, or to history? Over the course of the semester, we will explore the relationship between our three terms-poetry, myth, and history-and slowly, through weekly written responses, build an argument for what it might be, culminating either in a final critical essay, or in a creative project accompanied by an analytical account.
- Contemporary Women Writers. Vallianatos
This course will examine via the novel, story collection, lyric essay, graphic memoir, and occasional poem some of the vital female voices writing today. We’ll discuss issues of love, class, connection, feminism, racism, sexism, nationalism, the body, belonging, family, and others in these diverse texts, and respond to them both critically and creatively. Though these books might not (yet) have made it into the canon, they illuminate, in precise and perceptive ways, what it means to be alive today.
- Art of the Personal Essay. von Hallberg
We will study the essay by reading a very wide variety of them. In class discussions, we will focus on the artfulness of our authors, though our objective will not be limited to admiration. We will regard these texts as instances of the range of the genre. The techniques commonly recommended to students concern clarity and economy above all else. We too will talk about these virtues, but our discussions will also examine the roles of imagination, playfulness, and surprise in essay-writing. Our objective will be to open up to each student-author a wide sense of the art of the essay.
- Language and Life. Warner
The purpose of this course is to help students become more effective writers. To this end, we will read, discuss, and write about works from a variety of genres-essay, poem, drama, short story, novel. Throughout the course, we will examine the ways that form, feeling, and idea converge in master works of writing. Thematically, our readings center on uses and abuses of language in different personal and social contexts. Our writing concerns will range from the perils and pleasures of punctuation to larger questions of logic, organization, and style, and to the modes of exposition, narration, description, and argument.
- Development of the Short Story. Wyman
Together we will explore the roots of the short story in Europe before moving outward and forward into more global contexts, into the form’s present and perhaps its future. While learning to identify the key features and techniques of short prose narrative, students will also practice reading carefully and joyfully, enriched by engagement with their classmates and, occasionally, with criticism and theory. We will learn to think and write clearly about a literary text’s many meanings and begin to discern the many sources of those meanings: to consider carefully style and structure, cultural usefulness and material history. Authors may include-with some allowance for student interest-Hoffmann, Flaubert, Poe, Chekhov, Joyce, Chopin, Welty, Hemingway, Cheever, Borges, Kincaid, Packer, Wolff, Munro, Diaz, Davis, Butler, Murakami and others.
- The Art of the Unserious. Wyman